Scavenger Girl: Season of Atchem (Jennifer Arntson)

I received a free copy of Scavenger Girl in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

In Ashlund, Una and her family are Scavengers: forced to live on the fringes of society and scrounge out a life where they can. While their family bond runs deep, it becomes more clear that there are also secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Soon, Una will be forced to choose between the life she knows and a life of privilege that rejects much of what she holds dear.

Where should I begin? Overall, I’m intrigued by this book. It is the first book in a series and the world that Jennifer Arntson has built is a very interesting one. It’s dark and the issues Una is taking on are difficult ones. It’s does have a few things I didn’t like, but overall, it was nothing so egregious I couldn’t overlook it.

Initially, I was a little irritated with Una. When things got rough, she fell apart. More than once. However, I thought about it. Would I have really handled the situations any differently? Merely because she didn’t deal with some admittedly pretty nasty situations with the typical dystopian heroine’s hard-ass attitude was no reason to discount her. Deep down, Una is tough, and she does make some decisions that, in all honesty,  are very mature and probably not the ones I would have made myself. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

This book does get pretty intense. I certainly didn’t finish it as quickly as I normally would. I had to step away every once in awhile just to give my emotions a break. One scene in particular was difficult to get through. When things go wrong in Ashlund, they go very, very wrong.

Scavenger Girl is definitely a different take on young adult dystopian fiction. If that’s something you are interested in, it’s worth your time. I, for one, am very interested to see where things go in the rest of the series.

One Dark Throne (Kendare Blake)

I know. Some of you are completely floored that I am finally getting around to actually posting something substantial. I really am sorry. You know that I always have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way sometimes. And boy, let me tell you, life has certainly made its presence known these last few months. Breakup, family death, sick pets, car troubles… to say it’s been nuts would be an understatement. But, I’m trying to get back into the swing. Bear with me.

Back to my book this week: Kendare Blake‘s sequel to Three Dark Crowns: One Dark Throne. When I initially read Three Dark Crowns a few months ago, I enjoyed it, but wasn’t totally in love with it.  The twist at the end was enough to bring me to the second book and I am glad I decided to stick with it. This might not make much sense to you if you haven’t read the first book, and… well, you should. Just go read it. I’ll wait.

ANYWAY. We catch up to our three sister queens of Fennbirn with the Ascension year well underway. Queen Katherine, once considered the weakest is now stronger than ever; Queen Arsinoe is grappling with how to make her newly discovered secret gift work to her advantage; Queen Mirabella, once the certain choice to be Queen Crowned faces fights that put those she loves in danger.

Katherine was a particular favorite in this book. It was fascinating to watch her slip further and further into darkness, becoming more and more unstable. While Arsinoe and Mirabella each grew, as well, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just more fun to watch a villain develop than it is to watch a hero.

There was plenty of time spent with the supporting characters as well, but there were times when I felt they were in my way. I know supporting characters are necessary. However, the three queen’s are so satisfying to read, that sometimes it was hard to let them share the stage.

There also seemed to be a heftier dose of teen angst going on here than in the previous book. Or maybe I’m just getting old and just noticing it more than I did before. Who knows?

Overall, One Dark Throne was enjoyable and full of enough twists I’m going to keep going with the series. (Apparently, this was originally going to be a duology, but it was popular enough she decided to expand to four books.) For all my fellow YA fantasy lovers out there, it is certainly not one to miss.

I Know a Secret (Tess Gerritsen)

I recieved a free copy of I Know a Secret in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles return after a horror movie director is found in a startlingly staged murder with an unknown cause of death. Together, they struggle to find the truth filled with symbols of martyred saints and a decades old scandal that is still far from over.

Tess Gerritsen is one of the few mystery writers that hasn’t managed to completely disappoint me over the last several years. Not only is I Know a Secret at least as good as previous stories in the series, it might be better. Part of it is a great mystery, maybe not as interesting as others (I really loved The Mephisto Club), but part of it definitely has to do with the fact that I am invested in these characters now. They are flawed, but understandably so. There is another series that I won’t name where I keep reading even though I want to punch the characters in the face. Not so here. Do Jane and Maura make choices in their life that I don’t agree with? Sure. But they are choices that seem to fit them and I can understand it.

Strangely enough, I also enjoyed the fact that, although the mystery is solved, it is not wrapped up perfectly neatly. I actually loved that ambiguity. She could return to this story again (as she has with others in the past) or not. Either way, it works. Tess Gerritsen also has a magical way of adding something truly chilling in each of her books. Most mysteries have something unsettling in them, it’s just their nature, but hers often have something particular that makes you look over your shoulder. I love it.

If you have not previously read any of the Rizzoli and Isles books, you would probably be alright starting here, but I really think you would be better off starting at the beginning of the series. It’s well worth the time and for me, they go quickly because I usually have to know what happens.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)

As Henry “Monty” Montague prepares to set out on his Grand Tour with his best friend (and secret crush) Percy, he fears his days of pleasure are fast approaching an end. He is expected to return from the trip more mature and ready to learn how to take over the family estate. On his trip Monty’s father expects him to be on his best behavior or disinheritance looms. Monty has different ideas and plans to drink, party and flirt with Percy the whole way across Europe. When their trip takes a sudden dangerous turn, Monty will find himself calling everything about his life into question.

I first discovered The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue a few months ago. One of the many bookish sites I follow on Facebook was advertising the first four chapters of a new YA novel. Why not? I thought to myself. I was in love before I finished the first chapter and the next several months of waiting were absolute torture.

Completely worth it. Mackenzi Lee certainly did not disappoint. This book was fresh, fun, fabulous and full of heart. It’s not often that I can say a book genuinely had me laughing out loud at points, tense with anticipation at others and in tears at the end. When it first arrived I was surprised at it’s length and was a little worried about finishing it within the deadline I set for myself. Turns out, there was no need to be concerned. I finished it in just slightly over 24 hours. It would have been faster, but I still have to go to work.

If there is anything I like in a historical fiction book, it’s a rakehell, and I was not left wanting. Monty is the lovable kind of rake that warms my heart. Percy is dreamy and sweet while Monty’s sister Felicity is sharp and sarcastic. All in all, a group that suits each other and the story well.

The 18th century has long held my interest (I have a BA in art history with a focus in 18th century painting, super useful, but that’s another story…). Art related to the Grand Tour was definitely something I studied, but it was honestly a little dry. This brought it to full, dramatic life. While Monty, Percy and Felicity’s Tour was certainly out of the ordinary and full of danger, it was still a fun romp through 18th century Europe.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I finished it less than an hour before writing this and I already am looking forward to reading it again. Read it. Read it now. It’s witty and fast-paced, certainly a book to devour.

 

A Singular Baptism (Carlos J. Server)

I received a free copy of A Singular Baptism in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Calling Lucía’s family unusual would be an understatement.  With all of them gathered on the beautiful island of El Hierro for the baptism of her son, Agrimiro, she has her hands full. Between juggling not only her own family, but her husband’s, Lucía also must try to figure out if her suspicions about her son’s paternity are real or just a misunderstanding. It all adds up to a weekend that is destined to be unforgettable.

As with his previous novel, A Lucky Day (see my review here), Carlos J. Server once again delivers a cast of fun, quirky characters in somewhat unusual situations. While they were definitely fun to read about, I was certainly left thinking that at least my family isn’t that nuts. Well… most of the time.

While there were a few times where it veered close to just flat crazy, overall it was a lighthearted take on a stressful situation. Think of your favorite rom-com, but less sappy. One particularly notable scene introduced me to a barraquito. This is something I’m going to have to try very soon. Googling “barraquito” also led me down the rabbit hole where I discovered the Spanish really seem to have this coffee thing down. I need to research more in person. Someday. But I digress…

A Singular Baptism, is, as it’s title suggests, unusual and definitely great fun. If you have wacky relatives of your own, you are sure to find yourself right at home among Lucía’s family. As we are entering the sweltering days of summer, it is the perfect book to kick back in the AC, pour a drink and imagine yourself on the gorgeous El Hierro… with or without your family.

Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards (Jane McGarry)

I received free copies of Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinions of the books.

In the small kingdom of Stewartsland, Olivia trains with the squires and longs to become a knight. She knows that as a woman, this hope is in vain, but she clings to it regardless. When she disguises herself as a boy to go along on a mission, things do not go exactly to plan. Instead, Olivia finds herself in the middle of a plot against the king with the haughty Price Liam as her unexpected partner. It will take every bit of her courage and fortitude to guide her through the challenges ahead of them.

Unexpected Rewards find Olivia in a most unusual situation for her. She has been appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Helen. Living in the palace proves to be awkward and confusing, but Olivia is determined to prove that she belongs in this world.

First, let me say, I’m sorry my summary for Unexpected Rewards is so vague. I don’t want to give too much away for you if you haven’t read Not Every Girl. And you should read it, but I’ll get back to that.

Secondly, these books made me eat my words. Both are published by Clean Reads. Many of you know me, I tend to like my books… well… less than virtuous, I suppose. When I first heard of this particular publisher I said I wanted nothing to do with their books. I’m very glad I made an exception. Most likely I will keep reading their books.

I will admit, starting out I was a little unsure about Not Every Girl. Strangely, it was the characters’ names that gave me pause. They all seemed so ordinary, not all that unusual or epic. I hadn’t realized how much I had come to expect out of the ordinary names in my young adult fiction. It did not take long for none of that to matter any more to me. In the end, my biggest complaint is that it isn’t long enough. While I don’t feel like anything was really left out, I would have liked to have seen some scene extended just a bit more. I particularly would have liked to have seen more of Athos.

With Unexpected Rewards I didn’t have that same feeling. While the books are roughly the same length, this one seemed more evenly paced to me. While they are very different books as far a story, they still mesh well. I think out of the two, I definitely enjoyed this one more. By the end I had a ridiculous grin on my face.

I’m definitely ready to read more of Olivia’s adventures. She’s headstrong and more than a little stubborn, but brave and even her tendency to blurt out her feelings is strangely charming. While at times I found myself frustrated at her for being such a teenager, she still ends up totally likeable.

For those of you who are fans of YA books, Jane McGarry has two winners here that you should definitely check out.

Hannah’s Moon (John A Heldt)

I received a free copy of Hannah’s Moon in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Claire and Rob Rasmussen have decided that they want to adopt a child, but between red tape and money, they face a discouraging road. After hearing from Claire’s distant aunt and uncle, Geoffrey and Jeanette Bell, they decide to travel to a place with plenty of adoptable children and little red tape: 1945. Along with Claire’s brother David, they travel to 1940’s Chattanooga where they meet little Hannah and fall in love. But, it’s not a straightforward trip back to 2017 for them; after something unexpected occurs, the family finds themselves much more entangled the  1940’s than they ever expected to be.

This book definitely starts with an emotional punch to the gut. It was heartbreaking, but so powerful. It was definitely one of the most compelling first chapters I have ever read. I had to set my Kindle down for a minute and process. It could not have been written better.

Many of the issues I had with the previous book in the series that I read (Indiana Belle) were not issues here. There was more than one twist that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was surprised at the direction things were going more than once and by the last 100 pages or so I was practically chewing my nails in anticipation. While the characters were sometimes just too perfect, it wasn’t so much that I stopped liking them. They often seemed to nice to be real and a few more flaws would have made them seem more real to me.

The ending is somewhat bittersweet, but certainly sparks interest in the other books in the series if you haven’t read them already. I haven’t, but I didn’t feel like I was missing too much information to make it all make sense. Like Indiana Belle, Hannah’s Moon has plenty to offer for fans of history and is just very enjoyable all around.

My Top 5 Spring Reads (And Cocktail Recommendations)

It’s that time again. While it’s pretty much felt like spring here since February, all the trees now have leaves coming in and the weather is tolerable more often than not.

With the temperatures warming up, what better time to venture outside with a book and maybe a refreshing adult beverage? I have some suggestions:

1.The Queen of Babble series by Meg Cabot

I’m sure I have mentioned more than once how much I love Meg Cabot’s books. I doubt this will be the last time I recommend them.. Lizzie Nichols is a sweet girl with an unfortunately tendency to let her mouth get her into trouble. When she finds herself at loose ends after walking out on her visit to her boyfriend in England, Lizzie finds herself on a gorgeous French estate with the equally gorgeous Jean-Luc.

Cocktail: A Kir Royale. You’ll see why when Lizzie gets to France.

2.  The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The legends of King Arthur are classic for a reason. This is another take on the King Arthur stories, told primarily from the point of view of the women in his life. True, it’s a pretty long book, but it’s a different angle on the story and has managed to hold my interest through more than one reading.

Cocktail: A Lady of the Lake, for Viviane and Morgaine. And it sounds like an absolutely perfect drink for spring.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery

While Anne herself is famously fond of the fall, this book has always had a very spring feel for me. And now is a perfect time to pick it up and reread as the new Netflix series based on the book comes out next month. If you haven’t read it before… what are you waiting for? It’s a classic.

Cocktail: You could go for currant wine, or, even better, have a Raspberry Cordial Martini. As Anne says, “I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.”

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Not only is this another classic that everyone should read, it’s chock full of themes with rebirth and renewal- perfect for spring.

Cocktail: How about a fruity and flowery Secret Garden Romance cocktail?

5. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Admittedly, there are some issues with this book that are less than desirable, but ultimately, I think it still earns a place on the list. Just remember, this is totally fiction people. After being “adopted” from her ill and aging parents, Chiyo and her sister find themselves sold into slavery. Separated from her sister, Chiyo enters the glittering (and often very dark) world of the geisha, but not without some rather big bumps in the road.

Cocktail: Sit back and imagine the cherry blossoms with a cherry green tea cocktail.

The Dragonfly (Kate Dunn)

I received a free copy of The Dragonfly in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

After learning that his estranged son has been brought up on murder charges in France, Colin takes his boat, The Dragonfly across the channel to see if he can help. Once there he meets his granddaughter, Delphine for the first time. Together, Colin and Delphine travel down the French canals learning about each other and uncovering secrets along the way. Will Colin be able to save his son?

If there is one thing I have learned from reading Kate Dunn’s books, is that even if the story doesn’t sound like it will be of interest to me, it is well worth my time to read anyway. She has a very beautiful, almost poetical use of words and it makes it a true pleasure to read her books. This makes it incredibly easy to fall into The Dragonfly and difficult to put down.

Despite her occasional brattiness, it was impossible not to fall in love with Delphine. There was a lovely charm about her. She was at once childish and extremely mature, really just a fabulously well written character. While I did not totally connect with Colin, it was easy to understand his growing affection for her.

The Dragonfly also really, really made me want to go back to France. I get horrifically seasick, but even with the hardships that Colin and Delphine faced, there was something undeniably appealing about the idea of exploring France via boat.

Overall, The Dragonfly is extremely interesting with a little mystery. It is absolutely brimming with emotion. Even if, like me, you are a little unsure about the story, give it a try. I really don’t think you will be disappointed. There is so much there to enjoy.

The Witchfinder’s Sister (Beth Underdown)

I received a free copy of The Witchfinder’s Sister in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Penguin Random House

It’s 1645 when Alice Hopkins is forced to return to her brother’s house, widowed and pregnant. It’s been years since she has spoken to Matthew, after having an argument about her marriage. It doesn’t take long after her arrival to see that something is very wrong. Soon, Alice is drawn into helping helping her brother interrogate supposed witches throughout the area. Alice puts her own life in jeopardy to try to put a stop to the madness threatening innocent lives.

First of all, let me say this is a solidly, well written historical novel. I know, this makes it sound dry. It isn’t dry, but honestly, it is very, very bleak. There is a really fantastic ending, but I certainly wouldn’t consider it a happy one. As a reader of historical novels, I enjoyed it, just don’t go in expecting sunshine and roses. You will be sorely disappointed.

It is very clear from the beginning that this is not going to be a happy tale. I think if it was possible I would have read most of the book while peeking beneath my fingers. You just KNEW nothing warm and fuzzy was coming. More than once I found myself talking to Alice, telling her to just get out, get out now!! Alas, it did not work for me.

I did love that the book contained just the barest whiff of the paranormal. I mean, I absolutely love books just crawling with the paranormal, but in an otherwise straightforward historical, it added a delightful tingle. Although there were a few times that I wasn’t sure I liked the book at all, I quickly came back around every time. I definitely recommend this for fans of historical fiction or paranormal books, I can’t see either coming away disappointed with The Witchfinder’s Sister.

And make sure you go visit Beth Underdown here.