End of July Roundup

I know. I’ve been distant lately.

But truly, it’s not you, it’s me.

Writing a book is hard. I sort of suspected it might be, since I had never just written one before, but the reality is harder than I could have guessed. The good news is, things are still moving along well with the book, despite several stalls over the course of the month. I’ve just begun chapter 10, which is more or less the halfway point in my story. This journey has been excited and made me really proud of what I can accomplish, but it’s also been incredibly stressful. I second guess myself all the time. I’ve thought about giving up, because there is no way anyone would want to read this garbage.

But, I’ve kept going. I don’t write everyday, but I do most days, even if it’s only a paragraph or two. I’m not yet one of the super disciplined writers who can sit down and churn out several thousand words a day. Aside from discipline, I don’t really have the time. The book will get done, but it may take some time.

I’ve also been reading lots. Since reading is helpful in dealing with my stress and I’ve been VERY stressed out lately, it has helped make the month tolerable. I’ll have full reviews coming up on some of what I’ve read, which I’ll note, but otherwise, I wanted to summarize my reading list and maybe give you some ideas for your summer reading.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I’m late to the Grishaverse. I ordered Six of Crows several months ago looking for books with amoral protagonists and it languished on my TBR piled for quite awhile before I finally picked it up last month. I order Crooked Kingdom well before I ever finished the first book. The world Leigh Bardugo has built is rich and engrossing and the characters were fascinating. I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I’ve always had a soft spot for fairy tale retellings, so this seemed like it would be right up my alley. It was definitely well written and creative, but overall the story didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t expect a happy ending, and certainly didn’t get one, but I sort of hoped for something less bleak.

What the Raven Brings by John Owen Theobald and Spectacle by Rachel Vincent

Each of these books is, respectively, the second books in their series. You might recall I reviewed the first books (These Dark Wings and Menagerie) last year. I finally kicked myself into gear to read these. Look for full reviews of each in the next month.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

I was surprised as anyone to find out the legendary basketball player was not only writing books, but fiction books. With a soft spot for Sherlock and a great deal on Kindle, I decided it was worth trying. It was actually pretty good, occasionally bordering on a little stuffy, but hey, this is Mycroft we’re talking about. Definitely a worthwhile read if your into all things Holmes.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy– Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman

This has seriously been collecting dust on my TBR since November. Which is weird for me, particularly since I usually gulp down anything Shadowhunter related pretty fast. Once I started, this one was no exception. Despite 600+ pages, I read it in an entire day. It was enjoyable and certainly helped fill in a few gaps between the Mortal Instruments and The Dark Artifices.

Dragon Unbound by Katie MacAlister

The usual Katie MacAlister Dragon craziness, distilled down to novella size. Here, we finally get a little more with the First Dragon. Of course I loved it. I always do.

Dream World by Erin A Jensen

I had many of the same issues with Dream World as I did with the first book, Dream Waters, which I reviewed awhile back. It wasn’t a bad book, I’m intrigued enough to keep going, but it wasn’t great.  The switching between perspectives got a little confusing and I’ve seriously never seen so many variations on ‘pissing oneself’ in my life. This made it hard for me to read for long periods of time without having to step away. But, I’ll stick around and see what the next book holds.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Ok, so technically I read this one last month, but I’m including it anyway. This was one I picked up at the same time as Six of Crows and it waited in the TBR pile for awhile. I really loved this one, guys. It had moments where things got a little confusing, but I chalked that up to the atmosphere of Caraval. It was dark and magical. Cannot wait to read more.

Sweet Lake (Christine Nolfi)

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

Linnie Wayfair has single handedly helped save her family’s inn from the brink of disaster. She knows people are counting on her, but will she be able to hold it together when her scoundrel of a brother returns to Sweet Lake, Ohio, with mysterious intentions? Between family drama, the Sweet Lake Sirens pushing her to open herself to possibilites and her best friends pushing her into the arms of sexy attorney Daniel Kettering, Linnie has her hands full. Will she help return the Wayfair Inn to its former glory and have the life she always wanted? Or will she be forced to turn her life in a whole new direction?

Let me start by saying that overall, Sweet Lake was charming with great characters and a setting I want to get to know better. I did have a few issues with the story, but on the whole, I really enjoyed reading this. Be wary… there are some slight spoilers ahead.

The biggest thing for me, was that the romance between Linnie and Daniel already seemed like a foregone conclusion. I know that they have a history together, in that they’ve known each other for years and Daniel has pined for her all this time. While they had some slight disagreements, I didn’t really feel like they really had to work at it. I know… in reality, not everyone has to earn their happy ever after like one does in a romance novel, but there isn’t as much story if they don’t. I have to remind myself this isn’t just a straight-forward romance. Also, Freddie’s reason for being there seemed a little flimsy. I did, however, love the Sirens. They are kooky, well meaning and definitely added some extra humor to the story.

But, ultimately, this was a warm story with a feel good ending, and I enjoyed it. It would be perfect to stretch out by the lake with a fruity beverage on a warm day. And be sure to check out more from Christine Nolfi here.

Star Struck (Meredith Michelle)

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

If you’re close to my age, you might remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I absolutely loved those books. For those not in the know, you would start with the same basic beginning and throughout the story you would be given different options that would lead to different outcomes. They were fun.

Turns out, as an adult, they are still just as fun.

In Star Struck you become Anna Chambliss, irresistible A-list actress engaged to a gorgeous Hollywood star. One day there are rumors splashed across the tabloids that your fiancee is cheating on you. What do you do? Confront him? Find a new man? Have a fling? Each of your choices leads to different consequences, different endings.

Although at times it was a little cheesy or predictable, it proved to be a wonderfully entertaining escapist read. Some of the endings are dark, some are happy with plenty of naughty fun in between. Don’t overthink it. This isn’t Shakespeare. So settle in with a nice glass of wine and enjoy.

The biggest problem for me, was that the format didn’t work especially well in an electronic form. The pages on my reader didn’t always match up with where it was telling me to turn. It took a little searching occasionally, but I could typically find what I was looking for.

All in all, this is a great book for when you want to grab a little “me” time. It would go great with a few little luxuries: some chocolate and wine, maybe a nice bubble bath?

My Lady Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

I’ve been nuts about the Tudors for years. My collection of both fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudor clan (especially Henry VIII) has grown pretty substantial over the years. I had come across this book on social media a few times, but really had no idea what it was about. Based solely on the cover image and title, I made the guess that we were dealing with a YA historical fiction about the doomed Lady Jane Grey. And I definitely wanted to read it. However, it had a few surprises waiting for me.

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Well all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Courtesy HarperCollins.

I was partially right. The book IS about Lady Jane Grey. Turns out, it’s an alternate history. And has three authors. I was immediately skeptical (Three authors? Alternate history? Would this be a total carriage wreck? ), but decided to go ahead and press onward. This may be been partially due to the fact that I forgot I had the book on my library app. With only until 38 hours before it was due back. Challenge accepted.

Worth every minute. This book was so much fun. I also finished it with probably 10 hours to spare. Winner.

“How,” you say, “can a book about a teenager who gets her head chopped off possibly be fun?” Alternate history, people. It’s not exactly a true story. Take what you already know about Lady Jane Grey, add some magic, some modernized dialogue and TONS of pop culture references, and viola! You have My Lady Jane. This one is definitely going to take another reading for me to catch all of the pop culture references that were going on here. The Princess Bride, Monty Python, heck, I even caught a Jaws reference. I’m certain that there are others I missed.

So, the basics: It’s 1553 and sixteen year old King Edward VI is dying. Lord Dudley convinces him to replace his sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession with his bookish cousin and childhood friend Lady Jane Grey. One hasty marriage later to Gifford Dudley, the younger son of Edward’s chief minister, and Jane becomes the Queen of England after Edward’s death. She was queen for nine days until the Privy Council switched sides and Mary took back the throne.

The first part of the story more or less follows history here. Beyond that… well… you’ll just have to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The extra good news is that the Lady Janies (as the authors call themselves, I love it!) have at least two more books planned rewriting the history of two more Janes from the past! How great is that?!?

For fans of history, the Tudors, fantasy or fun, this is just a no brainer.

The Line Between Us (Kate Dunn) + Giveaway!

I received a copy of The Line Between Us for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Endeavour Press

Ifor Griffith lost both his father and older brother to the Great War. In time, his mother soon convinces him to give up his grammar school education to take a job as a gardener’s boy on the large estate near his Welsh village, where his father used to work as gardener. It is there that he meets and falls in love with Ella, the daughter of the house. This is at a time when status carries great meaning and Ifor knows that nothing can come of their mutual affection. While Ella is away on the continent, he eventually marries Jenny, a librarian.

It’s far from smooth sailing after that, with his longing for Ella a constant in his mind. In time, Ifor enlists to fight in World War II. When the ship requisitioned to rescue him and others from France is bombed by the Germans, it’s his determination to see Ella again that keeps him alive. Will he make it home and tell Ella how he really feels after all these years? Will they life happily ever after?

For starters, this is not a happy book. It’s pretty spectacularly depressing.  I know it sounds strange, but that’s a good thing, in this case. Sometimes a girl just needs a good tear jerker.

It took me a little bit to get used to the writing style. It’s almost as if Ifor is writing a letter to Ella, detailing his life. Once I got used to it, the writing is very evocative. The opening scene, in particular, is amazingly described.  The entire book is just lovely. Sad, but beautifully told.

Ifor himself is a wonderful character. It was impossible for me not to feel for him with everything he goes through in his life. Ella was harder for me to get attached to. She came over as spoiled. It was only through Ifor’s longing for her that I developed any real warmth for her. I liked him, so therefore, I liked her a little more. The supporting characters are great and really helped to fully flesh out the story for me. Mr Brown was a particular favorite, one sure to hit you right in the feels, too.

This story is inspired by the sinking of the Lancastria. This was a story I was unfamiliar with until I read this. It’s only been fairly recently that the story has really been told and I really suggest reading about it. It’s sad and fascinating.

I wasn’t sure going in that I would enjoy this book. Unrequited romances aren’t really my usual thing. But, I am very pleased to say that despite it’s melancholy subject matter, it was very enjoyable. If you need a beautifully written tale with a healthy dose of mournful, you should definitely check out The Line Between Us.

Almost as awesome? A free ebook from Endeavour Press for five lucky winners! They are the very cool publishers of not only The Line Between Us, but also of Busted Flush (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) and many others.

Free ebook from Endeavor press!

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest (Melanie Dickerson)

I really wish I had done some more research before picking up this book.  I found it on my library’s app as one of the books recommended for me.   I saw a pretty cover.  I saw what looked like a YA fairy tale.  I snatched it right up.

Random forest picture: more interesting than the book.
Random forest picture: more interesting than the book.

As it turns out, this is apparently for adults.  I did not get that reading the book, I picked it up from reading reviews on Goodreads.  It’s also Christian fiction, which is not a deal breaker, but not my top choice nor what I expected going in.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is a sort of mash up between The Swan Princess and a gender swapped Robin Hood.  The beautiful Odette poaches deer from the Margrave of Thornbeck’s forest in order to feed poor children living along the city walls.  She meets and falls for the handsome Jorgen, who just so happens to be the Margrave’s forester, and is charged with keeping poachers out of the forest.

So, where to start here?

Both of these characters are just so wholesome and sweet they make my teeth hurt.  Even the villains of the piece (whose identities I won’t spoil, just in case you have a real hankering to read this one) aren’t really that bad, for the most part.  Odette and Jorgen don’t really seem to have any flaws.  Even Odette’s  law breaking ways are entirely altruistic.  Ugh.  They are just beautiful and perfect and painfully boring.  I kind of hated them both.

Even though this is supposed to be a medieval setting, you only sort of vaguely got a sense of that.  All of the focus seemed to be on the characters and how great they were that the rest of the setting was sort of superfluous.  Aside from the occasional German word thrown in, this could have been set almost anywhere European-ish pre-1900 or so.  She does describe the clothes, if Odette or Jorgen are wearing them.

As far as the Christian aspect goes, it was only occasionally a little heavy handed.  I could live with it.  However, by the end of the book, while the wrong doers were punished (relatively mildly), there was one conversation that would have ruined the whole book for me, had I not already disliked it.  As Odette is getting ready to head to church for her wedding, she is talking to her married friend Anna.  The gist of this conversation seems to be that, as a woman, it’s ok to have your opinions, but you should always do as your husband tells you.

Can I just go ahead and say it?  BULLSHIT.  I won’t get too feminist here, but just leave it at that, except to add: good luck to any man who thinks I’m going to constantly defer to him.  I’ve had relationships end for that garbage.  I understand that this is supposed to be the Middle Ages, and that was sort of their thing, but it was completely unnecessary to the plot. I don’t like that the author, who is a woman, is pushing this crap on her readers.

I read many other reviews that said you would be super surprised by the twist in this book and would never see it coming.  Those people must not read many things with any sort of complexity, because the foreshadowing was practically a brick to the face and it wasn’t too hard to figure out where things were going.  That is part of why I never realized this book was really for adults until after I had looked into more.  It was pretty simplistic.  In fact, most YA books are way, way more complex.

Obviously, this is not a book I recommend.  In fact, it’s fairly safe to say I hated it.  Don’t read this book.  Find something interesting.

Bay of Sighs (Nora Roberts)

Allow me a moment to go all fangirl here for a moment: I. Love. Nora. Roberts.

I picked up my first Nora Robert’s books in college, and I was somewhat skeptical at the time. I ordered her Circle Trilogy with a gift card right after Christmas for next to nothing. I loved cheesy romance novels, but Nora Roberts? It was quantity, not quality, right? I was not convinced, but was willing to give her a try.

I fell in love pretty quickly. In particular I’m weak for her paranormal books. Is there a bit of a formula to them? Yeah, probably. However, there is something completely relaxing about her books for me. They are light, fun books where I can count on a happy ending.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

To that end, Bay of Sighs did not disappoint. This is the second entry in The Guardians series. Sorry to start this with the second book, but I didn’t have a blog when I read the first book.  It was good.

To summarize, six people are charged with finding three stars created by three goddesses to celebrate the rise of their queen. The first book follows the romance of Sasha and Bran, a seer and sorcerer, respectively, and the hunt for the fire star, along with Riley, Doyle, Annika and Sawyer. Long story short, they fall in love and find the star and kick the ass of the villain, Nerezza, an evil goddess trying to capture the stars, setting her back in her quest to obtain the stars for herself.  All of this is set against the back drop of Corfu, Greece.

That brings us to Bay of Sighs. This book follows the mermaid Annika and Sawyer, a traveler, who can move through time and space with the help of a magical compass, as they seek the water star.  Here, they have moved the party to Capri, providing another gorgeous location for my imagination to play with.

Sort of like what I pictured...
Sort of like what I pictured…

Annika is not my favorite character in the series. Prior to this, she just came off as naïve and simple, but there is something likeable about her unfailing optimism. She is naïve, but as a character who spent her life living in the ocean, I suppose I can forgive that.  And Sawyer is like most other male Nora characters: handsome and a good man. He also cooks, what’s not to like?

This one surprised me a little. There are often scenes in Nora’s books that could be considered dark. I’m not squeamish, really, but there was a torture scene that was a little darker than normal, but it more or less fit.

I’ve read other criticisms of this series that say it’s boring, or just follows a predictable formula. I didn’t think it was boring. There was a decent amount of action to balance the romantic elements, as well as the “planning” scenes.  As far as the formula goes, I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me. I go into any Nora Roberts’ book with certain expectations, and this fulfilled them for me. They are brain candy, comfort books for me. It’s a chance for me to shut down the parts of me that are stressing and escape.

The only negative for me, is that I can breeze through one of these books in no time. Less than two days, and I had killed this book. This now leaves months of waiting until the final book in the series, Island of Glass comes out in December. I just have to keep in mind that slightly over five months is really not that long to wait for a new book in a series.  Until then, I’ll be patient… and possibly reread the In the Garden series again (spoiler: It’s wonderful).