Tag: two stars

April 26, 2017

Mini Reviews | Historical Fiction

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Dressmaker's War by Mary Chamberlain
Publisher: Random House, January 2016
Pages: 304

In London, 1939, Ada Vaughan is a young woman with an unusual dressmaking skill, and dreams of a better life for herself. That life seems to arrive when Stanislaus, an Austrian aristocrat, sweeps Ada off her feet and brings her to Paris. When war breaks out, Stanislaus vanishes, and Ada is taken prisoner by the Germans, she must do everything she can to survive: by becoming dressmaker to the Nazi wives. Abandoned and alone as war rages, the choices Ada makes will come to back to haunt her years later, as the truth of her experience is twisted and distorted after the war. From glamorous London hotels and Parisian cafes to the desperation of wartime Germany, here is a mesmerizing, richly textured historical novel, a story of heartbreak, survival and ambition, of the nature of truth, and the untold story of what happens to women during war.

During my latest historical fiction kick, I wanted to love this book so dearly. The cover was so beautiful and the story sounded so intriguing…but it was utterly uninspiring. Ada’s childish tendencies made her appear selfish and ignorant. While this would have been a great launching pad for her growth into a fantastic character, the character development was overshadowed by the powerful historical backdrop. In the end, Ada faded into the background instead of helping to tell the story of World War II.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Publisher: Vintage, January 1970
Pages: 434

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha.
In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

I’ve always heard excellent reviews about Memoirs of a Geisha and after finally reading it, I understand why. The powerful narration made it easy to hear the difference between the storyteller’s past and present, even the narrator’s occasional interjections. Combined with the fascinating history and culture of the geisha and a compelling main character, I can see why this book is a winner again and again.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
Publisher: Pegasus Books, March 2016
Pages: 512

London, 1912.
The suffragette movement is reaching a fever pitch, and Inspector Frederick Primrose is hunting a murderer on his beat. Across town, Fleet Street reporter Frances “Frankie” George is chasing an interview with trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly-laced acrobat and follows her to a Kensington corset shop that seems to be hiding secrets of its own. When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie and Primrose are both drawn into the shadowy world of a secret society with ties to both London's criminal underworld and its glittering socialites.
How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory? From newsrooms to the drawing rooms of high society, the investigation leads Frankie and Primrose to a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined.

In the midst of the girl power era, I’ve fallen in love with the suffragettes. These women turned convention on its head so we can work, vote, and be ourselves. So, therefore I wanted to love The Hourglass Factory just as much, but it wasn’t in the cards.

The novel started out strong enough with a vibrant atmosphere built out of beautiful attention to detail and descriptive that dropped me in the middle of London. The main character of Frankie was engaging, inspiring, and familiar. She’s the underdog you want to cheer for. But it started to take too long for anything to happen. Overwhelmed by minor characters grabbing possession of the story, The Hourglass Factory quickly lost its way.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionThe Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel
Series: Empress of Bright Moon,
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2016
Pages: 395

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power. . . .
A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.
Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.
The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.

Thank goodness for GoodReads’ annual book contest, or I would miss gems like The Moon in the Palace. I loved the insight into another historical era I’d never heard of before. Together with the powerhouse of a main character, the dynamic Mei (later known as Wu Zetian or Empress Consort Wu), The Moon in the Palace is a must for historical fiction fans, whether or not you’re interested in Chinese history. Between the historical backdrop, the forbidden love, or the astounding atmosphere that dropped you into Mei’s shoes, you’ll find something to love.

 

Mini Reviews | Historical FictionMr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Series: Maggie Hope Mystery,
Publisher: Bantam, April 2012
Pages: 358

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary should be a great book. Set in WWII London, it follows American-British Maggie Hope as she works for Prime Minister Churchill in the early to mid days of the war. Sounds like a winner, right? Yet behind the historical drama of England in the midst of the war, I finished the book with a wanting feeling. It had a good premise, mostly good execution, so what was missing? My vote? The passion in the characters. They were all right, but with a bit of a push, they could have been excellent.

Posted April 26, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 27, 2017

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak

Review | Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda NovakHer Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, August 2016
Pages: 407
Format: Paperback
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THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.

BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…

Despite her career working in the insane asylum, Evelyn Talbot thinks her darkest nightmare is behind her. She survived brutal torture and imprisonment at the hands of her high school boyfriend (after he killed her best friends in cold blood) and rebuilt her life to study those who can’t resist the call of the kill. But when asylum staff and townspeople from the small Alaskan town start to go missing, Evelyn fears the worst: her past is back to haunt her.

Here’s the thing about Her Darkest Nightmare: it has all the elements to be an insanely (no pun intended) creepy, heartstoppingly thrilling, breathtakingly romantic story. But it isn’t. Why? Evelyn.

Evelyn had so many issues. Granted, yes, she had a terrible event in her teenage years that would haunt anyone for the rest of their God-given days. Yes, she pulled herself together pretty well. But it’s the massive amounts of neurosis coupled with an unsympathetic, flat character that takes all the wind out of the story’s sails.

She can’t date Amarok, the cute Alaska State Trooper, because he’s younger than she is. I don’t know quite where that one came from – it’s never really explained except she’s afraid of being judged. She can’t be alone. Okay, this one makes sense, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. But then why on earth do you build a cottage on the edge of town with an unreliable snow car (a BMW, for heaven’s sake) and then whine when you can’t get home? She can’t connect well with others in the town/the asylum. Again, okay – she’s had some traumatic experiences. But she whimpers (there’s really no other word for it) whenever someone looks at her funny. When she does grow a backbone and stand up for herself, it’s so out of character that the whole story seemed off.

The reason the character development was so sorely lacking lay at the door of one key element: the dialogue. It was forced, awkward, and kept pulling me out of the story. I was keenly aware I was reading words on a page, not enveloped in a world of snow, sexy troopers, and murderous psychopaths.

Amaork had the most promise but he too suffered from Her Darkest Nightmare‘s stilted dialogue. I wanted MORE, more PASSION, more FIRE, more THRILL. And ended up turning this book back into the library early.

Novak’s latest just didn’t measure up for me. Maybe I’ll stick to her contemporary romances.

2 Stars

Posted March 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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January 5, 2017

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Review | Under a Painted Sky by Stacey LeeUnder a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, March 2015
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.   This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

Under a Painted Sky is the tale of two girls, wronged and misjudged by society, hitting the open trail to leave their past behind. It’s a story full of friendship, brimming with buoyancy, and made of morals. I should have loved it.

I didn’t.

Initially, I was hooked. The drama of the hard last words Samantha said to her father, the danger she suddenly finds herself in, and the unlikely ally in Annamae was exactly what I wanted to read. It was engaging, fascinating, and so chockful of potential that I settled in for the long haul.

And then, rather abruptly, the bottom fell out from the story.

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All of that lovely potential disappeared. Samantha and Annamae, so ALIVE in the first pages of Under a Painted Sky deflated like someone let out their air. The narrative felt flat, rehearsed. I had the abject feeling of reading the dialogue instead of seeing the characters play out the scene in my mind.

Yet all this isn’t to say Under a Painted Sky is a bad book. It’s not. The descriptions of the Oregon Trail brought back memories of playing the game on bulky PCs in elementary school. The morals of the power of friendship, perseverance, and destiny are great, especially for the YA reader (this book’s target audience).

But after it failed to live up to the first few heart-pounding, emotionally wrenching pages, I was disappointed when it didn’t continue. I couldn’t get excited about the law, hot on Samantha and Annamae’s heels, or feel their concern when they worried their boyish disguises were slipping. I lost that connection with them and, without it, Under a Painted Sky couldn’t pull me back in.

2 Stars

Posted January 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 30, 2016

Review | Not Quite Mine by Catherine Bybee

Review | Not Quite Mine by Catherine BybeeNot Quite Mine by Catherine Bybee
Series: Not Quite, #2
Publisher: Montlake Romance, May 2013
Pages: 302
Format: Paperback
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Gorgeous hotel heiress Katelyn “Katie” Morrison seems to have it all. But when she crosses paths with Dean Prescott—the only man she’s ever loved—at her brother’s wedding, Katie realizes there’s a gaping hole in her life. After the ceremony she gets an even bigger surprise: a baby girl left on her doorstep. Determined to keep the newborn until she learns who her mother is, Katie has her hands full and doesn’t need Dean snooping around…especially when his presence stirs feelings she thought were long gone.

Dean Prescott knows Katie is lying to him about the baby. He shouldn’t care what the woman who broke his heart is up to…and he most certainly shouldn’t still be aching for her. Yet Dean can’t ignore the need to protect Katie—or the desire to be near her every chance he gets. But when he and Katie solve the mystery surrounding the baby, their second chance for happiness could be shattered forever.

Hotel heiress Katie dreamed of a child, but when one finally arrives, it’s not the way she expects. Finding an abandoned infant on her doorstep, complete with a note giving her custody and a birth certificate naming her as the mother leaves her feeling elated and confused all at once. With her ex, Dean, hot on her trail, Katie heads to the west coast, baby in tow, to start her new life as an interior designer for the family’s hotel chain.

I wanted so badly to love this book. It has all the potential to be a cute romantic comedy, but it fails miserably.

I couldn’t get a handle on Katie. She was so many different characters – the reformed wild child, the annoying little sister, the wannabe mother, the ex that never grew up, the responsible woman – all at once that it was hard to understand what was going on. Her motives were all over the place, making me roll my eyes more than once at her antics. When she starts running around in a construction zone in high heels and a miniskirt, I was done.

Dean was just as irritating. Another reformed rich boy, he’s cranky, irritable, incredibly nosy, and still in love with Katie. While their relationship had potential, the magic wasn’t there. Instead of dreamy, Dean felt infatuated instead of love-struck.

Both characters were completely unrelatable. From Katie’s gobs of money (she never considers the cost of anything) to the View Spoiler », the Not Quite Mine thrives on the lives of the rich and famous, portraying them as far too materialistic. While I love the odd billionaire or two, Bybee didn’t give either character faults or flaws that made them relatable.

I didn’t give a hoot about Katie or Dean at the end of the book – I was thoroughly irritated with the both of them. The unnecessary drama from both of them was just too much. I was glad to turn Not Quite Mine back in.

2 Stars

Posted September 30, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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September 12, 2016

Review | Delphine by Richard Sala

Review | Delphine by Richard SalaDelphine by Richard Sala
Publisher: Fantagraphics, January 2013
Pages: 128
Format: Hardcover
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A mysterious traveler gets off the train in a small village surrounded by a thick, sinister forest. He is searching for Delphine, who vanished with only a scrawled-out address on a scrap of paper as a trace. In his newest chiller, Richard Sala takes the tale of Snow White and stands it on its head, retelling it from Prince Charming's perspective (the unnamed traveler) in a contemporary setting. This twisted tale includes all the elements of terror from the original fairy tale, with none of the insipid saccharine coating of the Disney animated adaptation. Yes, there will be blood.
Originally serialized as part of the acclaimed international series, Delphine is executed in a rich and ominous duotone that shows off Sala's virtuosity just as much as last year's full-color post-apocalyptic horror fantasy The Hidden did; punctuated with stunning full-color chapter breaks.

Delphine, a twisted take on the famous Snow White tale, tells the story from Prince Charming’s perspective as he searches to save his lost love. In the guise of a young university student, the hero traverses roads, woods, dangers and disguises to find out what happened to Delphine, his girlfriend that returns home at the end of the semester to help her struggling father. However, his journey changes him in ways that he can’t imagine.

I’m split on this book. To start, the good:

Sala does an amazing job of evoking emotions: fear, danger, sadness, and hope all pour through his pages, his images. I was surprised at his basic color palette, but as I read, it suited Delphine well. The neutral colors allowed the hero and his task to jump through the pages.

I didn’t realize Delphine was a graphic novel and, unfortunately, I’m not much of a graphic novel fan. Yet I was surprised how hooked I got in the story despite myself.

Now, let me explain the “despite myself” comment. Delphine follows in the history of the Grimm fairy tales, not Disney. In short, it’s dark, gruesome, a little violent, and a little more disturbing. It was entirely too violent for my taste, and the depiction in the images pushed me a little too far at times.

This isn’t a story to read to your kids at bedtime, or even for young teens – there’s a lot of cursing and graphic content. I expected this to be a little more like Coraline – creepy, but not violent. Delphine dives into the dirty, graphic, scary side of forests, spells, witches and fairy tales.

In the end, I’m not sold on the graphic novel or the dark side of fairy tales, and especially not together. Yet, there’s a majesty to Sala’s work that I can’t help but admire. While Delphine isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it’s a great piece of work.

2 Stars

Posted September 12, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 29, 2016

Review | Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner

Review | Daughters of Ruin by K.D. CastnerDaughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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Meet rumor with quiet, treason with cunning, and vicious with vicious.
Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren have lived together since they were children. They are called sisters. They are not. They are called equals. They are not. They are princesses. And they are enemies.
A brutal war ravaged their kingdoms, and Rhea’s father was the victor. As a gesture of peace, King Declan brought the daughters of his rivals to live under his protection—and his ever-watchful eye.
For ten years they have trained together as diplomats and warriors, raised to accept their thrones and unite their kingdoms in peace. But there is no peace among sisters, and all plans shatter when the palace is attacked. As their intended future lies in ashes, Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren must decide where their loyalties lie: to their nations, or to each other.
Alliances shift and the consequences are deadly in this stunning fantasy debut from K. D. Castner.

It was the era of the Sister Queens. A promise of peace and prosperity across all nations. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works out. Trained as warriors, fighting like enemies, the Daughters of Ruin are holding onto a fragile peace. But when war breaks out among the nations, the sister queens are caught in the middle of the drama – their own, and their nations.

I hate to say it, but I was really disappointed in Daughters of Ruin.

I loved the premise – four women, destroyed by war, brought together to repair the relationships between their nations and create a lasting peace. While I knew it wouldn’t quite work out that way, the vast amount of drama among the girls was so irritating.

Everyone hated Rhea, the daughter of the captor king and creator of the Sister Queens, seemingly just because she was Rhea. Everyone had the hots for the servant guy who helped them train (who was honestly just an arrogant ass). The forced arena battles only served to set the girls farther apart, but provided no other benefit to the story.

Castner rotates point-of-views between the four girls, which is okay – could potentially be fascinating.

  • Rhea’s was a typical narration.
  • Iren’s strangely simple. And brief. All her sentences were like this. Fragmented thoughts. Okay.
  • Cadis’s was strangely violent and rage-filled. But that fit her.
  • Suki’s drove me insane. You see, there were parenthensis (over parenthesis (and even (more (parenthesis (if you can believe it!!!))))). It was irritating. The disruptive narration portrayed the youngest girl as a selfish brat without redeeming qualities, only reinforced by her parenthesis. Please. No more.

The story was far-fetched and a bit ludicrous, especially as the drama ratcheted up near the end. I felt my patience dissipating as plot twist after plot twist was thrown out there. Daughters of Ruin had so much potential, but unfortunately couldn’t live up to it.

 

2 Stars

Posted July 29, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 15, 2016

Review | The Match of the Century by Cathy Maxwell

Review | The Match of the Century by Cathy MaxwellThe Match of the Century by Cathy Maxwell
Series: Marrying the Duke, #1
Publisher: Avon, November 2015
Pages: 356
Format: Paperback
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In New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell's glittering new series, wedding bells are ringing… until the return of a rake throws a bride's plans—and heart—into a tailspin...
Every debutante aspires to snag a duke. Elin Morris just happens to have had one reserved since birth. But postponements of her marriage to London's most powerful peer give Elin time to wonder how she will marry Gavin Baynton when she cannot forget his brother, Benedict.
Already exasperated at being yanked from the military to meet "family obligations," now Ben must suffer watching his arrogant sibling squire the only woman he has ever loved. Joining the army saved Ben from sinking into bitterness, but seeing Elin again takes him back to the day they surrendered to their intoxicating desire.
As the wedding draws near, Elin tries to push Ben far from her thoughts. When danger brings them together, there is no denying their feelings. But can Elin choose love over duty?

Long-lost lovers Elin and Ben are finally reunited…as Elin celebrates her long-planned engagement to Gavin, Ben’s brother. But after one look at Elin, Ben knows he can’t let his brother, the duke, marry her. Elin, torn between what she should do and what her heart is telling her, faces the choice of a lifetime: follow her heart or make the match of the century?

There’s a lovely sort of magic that thrives in historical romances. It can transport you to a different time and place, one maintained by manners and, therefore, all the more fun when the rules are broken. It creates a world where the term “rake” is used as an endearment of sorts, and women spent half the time flustered or whispering behind their fans. The historical romances with this magic are stunning.

Unfortunately, The Match of the Century isn’t one of them.

There’s nothing wrong with the story – in fact, the dueling brother/romantic hero story line reminded me of this story (which I loved) quite a bit. The fault in this historical romance fell to two things: the characters, and how they were portrayed by the narration.

Elin spent half her time telling me how she felt instead of showing me (major pet peeve). When something (finally) happens to her, the character doesn’t follow her nature (as portrayed so far, anyway). She’s weirdly calm, despite how often she claims she’s upset.

Ben, well, I don’t know what goes on in Ben’s brain. It was so caveman – “Woman. Mine. Must take from brother.” – and lacked the sort of finesse that brings me to these novels in the first place.

What stunned me the most was how Gavin, Elin’s fiancee and Ben’s brother, reacts to the whole thing. At first, she’s a possession (more caveman) thenView Spoiler ». It’s not plausible and entirely too contrived to make for fun reading.

I’m not head over heels about The Match of the Century. After a promising start, the novel fell flat because the characters, so intrinsic to the historical romance, weren’t strong enough to hold it up.

2 Stars

Posted July 15, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 20, 2016

Review | This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Review | This Lullaby by Sarah DessenThis Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak, March 8th 2004
Pages: 345
Format: Hardcover
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When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn't mess around. After all, she's learned all there is to know from her mother, who's currently working on husband number five. But there's something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy's rules. He certainly doesn't seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can't seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy's starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

Remy Starr just isn’t a romantic sort of person. After planning her mother’s fifth wedding and watching her best friend fall apart after her boyfriend dumps her, Remy’s certain that love isn’t for her. But Dexter, a boy she met at her (fifth) stepfather’s car dealership, is determined to change that.

After reading Saint Anything, I was certain I’d fall for This Lullaby. Same author, same YA contemporary romance feel. Yet Remy’s story fell flat for me.

Her level of disillusionment/bitterness/logical thinking when it came to love was a major turnoff for me. She was so matter-of-fact, it was hard to find emotion in her. When I did, it felt contrived and wrong for her character. The only time it was believable? During a emotionally difficult dinner with her brother and his girlfriend.

For a majority of This Lullaby, it felt like Remy was holding herself above everyone else, looking down on them with disdain for getting caught up in the emotion of love. There wasn’t a redeeming quality to pull me in, to get me hooked into her character, until too late.

Don’t hate me, but I found Dexter’s character to be kind of weird. He lacked the charm of Dessen’s other romantic heroes. Instead, he was a bit creepy, showing up at random places and talking about her to his buddies without knowing much about her. It moved away from cute into the danger zones.

I get the idea of it: a deeply romantic guy to shake up a stubborn girl like Remy, but the execution was off. Instead of being charmed, I felt…icked. (I know that’s not a word, but you get the idea). Without that flare of hope, that redeeming quality, Remy felt like a lost cause, one even Dexter couldn’t save. I needed to believe that everything would turn out all right in the end. Instead, This Lullaby felt forced, and honestly just made me sad.

2 Stars

Posted June 20, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 18, 2016

Review | A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann

Review | A Drop of Night by Stefan BachmannA Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, March 2016
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
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Seventeen-year-old Anouk has finally caught the break she’s been looking for—she's been selected out of hundreds of other candidates to fly to France and help with the excavation of a vast, underground palace buried a hundred feet below the suburbs of Paris. Built in the 1780's to hide an aristocratic family and a mad duke during the French Revolution, the palace has lain hidden and forgotten ever since. Anouk, along with several other gifted teenagers, will be the first to set foot in it in over two centuries.
Or so she thought.
But nothing is as it seems, and the teens soon find themselves embroiled in a game far more sinister, and dangerous, than they could possibly have imagined. An evil spanning centuries is waiting for them in the depths. . .
A genre-bending thriller from Stefan Bachmann for fans of The Maze Runner and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.
You cannot escape the palace.
You cannot guess its secrets.

Anouk is on the adventure of a lifetime. After receiving a mysterious letter in the mail and completing the vast amounts of training, she’s finally on her way to help with one of history’s most astounding discoveries yet: a forgotten palace from the French Revolution. But there’s more hidden in this historical site than meets the eye, a horror laying in wait for centuries.

I had one major problem with A Drop of Night that I just couldn’t get over, as much as I tried.

I hated Anouk.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you might notice that I rarely say I hate a character. Usually, I can find something in them, some redeeming quality. With her…no.

From the opening pages of A Drop of Night, she was bratty (scribbling her goodbye note on her parents’ fridge), childish (inner monologue is all about how jealous she is of her sister), plain bitchy (who doesn’t tell their parents they’re running off to France?), arrogant (inner monologue also details how almighty smart she is. Right.), and just rude (to the driver, the other students on the plane). How on earth am I supposed to identify with this girl?

To be honest, I didn’t. I couldn’t get over the opening introduction to her character, which seemed to deteriorate as A Drop of Night continued. Consequently, the entire premise of the story fell flat and I found myself yearning for it to be over.

The one redeeming quality that raised this from a one star to two? I loved Bachmann’s flashbacks to the French Revolution. His writing came to life in these scenes. I saw the light from the torches, heard the madness of the mob, and felt my heart race with the family as they struggled for safety.

More French Revolution, less (or no) Anouk? A winner for me. A Drop of Night? Not my cup of tea.

2 Stars

Posted June 18, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 1 Comment
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June 10, 2016

Review | Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston

Review | Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth AstonWriting Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston
Publisher: Touchstone, April 2010
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
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Critically acclaimed and award-winning—but hardly bestselling—author Georgina Jackson can’t get past the first chapter of her second book. When she receives an urgent email from her agent, Georgina is certain it’s bad news. Shockingly, she’s offered a commission to complete a newly discovered manuscript by a major nineteenth-century author. Skeptical at first about her ability to complete the manuscript, Georgina is horrified to know that the author in question is Jane Austen.
Torn between pushing through or fleeing home to America, Georgina relies on the support of her banker-turned-science student roommate, Henry, and his quirky teenage sister, Maud—a serious Janeite. With a sudden financial crisis looming, the only way Georgina can get by is to sign the hugely lucrative contract and finish the book.

Georgina Jackson has a case of writer’s block. No, wait.

Georgina Jackson has a really, really bad case of writer’s block.

After her first book’s literary success, she can’t get past the first chapter of her new book. Determined to finish the novel, no matter how many first chapters it took her, she doggedly keeps putting pen to paper. As her finances dwindle and her time in England ticks away, Georgina begins to panic. When her agent offers – well, more like tells – her the chance to complete an unfinished manuscript by a famous author for a good chunk of money, Georgina jumps at the chance. That is, until she finds out who it is…Jane Austen.

Always a fan of the American-living-in-England stories, I was intrigued by the premise of Writing Jane Austen. An unfinished manuscript by one of my favorite authors? A lonely American trying eke out a living in the hallowed streets of London? Perfect, right?

There was just one problem.

Georgina was awful.

She was whiny, childish, utterly selfish, and incapable of trying new things. Instead of jumping outside of her box to earn money and take a crack at the manuscript, she whines, drags her feet, and spends a good chunk of the beginning of the novel complaining at her tough luck. Um. Okay.

I hoped the story would take off once she got that out of her system, but the narrative started to take on the theme of following Georgina around while she complained, “tried” to learn about Jane Austen, and was just generally irritating. When she went to go visit her friend in Bath for – seemingly – no other reason than to complain, I was through. I finished Writing Jane Austen on autopilot, just to get it over with.

There were highlights and chances that, had the narrative been brave enough, would have pulled the story up from the dredges of Georgina’s despair. The clash of her agent and publishers and the attempt at romance would have made this book enjoyable. But Aston didn’t take the chances, didn’t push her character, and left me wishing I never picked up the book in the first place.

2 Stars

Posted June 10, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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