Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"The Orphan's Tale" by Pam Jenoff

The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff.

Seventeen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier during the occupation of her native Holland. Heartbroken over the loss of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption, she lives above a small German rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep.

When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants, unknown children ripped from their parents and headed for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the baby that was taken from her. In a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night, where she is rescued by a German circus.

The circus owner offers to teach Noa the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their unlikely friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.
 ~taken from Goodreads

I'll just start by saying I loved this book. From the moment I started reading it I couldn't put it down. Historical Fiction set during WWII is my favorite genre and this story was from a unique perspective that I hadn't seen printed before. 

We start with a prologue and know that someone from this story is alive in the present. Then we are taken back to the beginning of the story. Both Noa and Astrid's characters are engrossing and believable. Author, Pam Jenoff, did a wonderful job making all the characters multi dimensional. 

This story is told through dual points of view which allowed the reader to get into the story from all sides, which I loved. What starts out as a rivalry between the two main characters turns to a deep friendship that at times will make you cry, make you angry, and make you smile. It was so interesting to see the relationship change and grow.

I will admit that I was surprised to hear that circuses during WWII-torn Europe were still allowed to perform. It brought out a point of view during the war that I had never thought of. All those performers and citizens of the towns just trying to have a few hours of joy and normalcy during such a treacherous time. 

The ending was surprising, yet satisfying. It is a complete story that will not leave you guessing or wondering what happened afterwards. Don't forget to read the author's notes at the end of the book.

The Orphan's Tale is due to be released on February 21, 2017 and I see it as one of the year's best sellers. Pre-order it now! A 5-star read!

Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin (US & Canada) for allowing me the eARC to read and post my honest review!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"IQ" by Jo Ide

A resident of one of LA's toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores. 
East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood's high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can't or won't touch. 
They call him IQ. He's a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he's forced to take on clients that can pay. 
This time, it's a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes. ~taken from Netgalley

Well, that was quite a read, and I'm not quite sure what my exact rating is. I guess I will type out this review while I ponder on how many stars to give it. 

 I did really like the main character, Isaiah Quitabe (aka IQ), who lives in a rough L.A. neighborhood and acts like a community detective, of sorts. He is a modern day Sherlock mixed with Shawn Spencer of the tv show Psych, and a little bit of Robin Hood mixed in as well. 

This book is told in third person perspective and jumps back and forth between two times- 2005 and 2013. Really, it's like reading two separate stories. There are times I wished the story from 2005- the "how IQ came to be" was a separate book than the rest of the story from 2013. It was all over the place and confusing. Just as I was getting a good flow reading the main story, I was taken back to a previous time in the character's life. It was so distracting and annoying. There were just too many flashbacks and the back story was too slow to unfold, making it somewhat boring. 

The character dialog is clever and authentic. There is quite a bit of cussing, so if that is something that bothers you, then I would recommend avoiding this book because it is a constant. The scenes and characters are believable and the crime itself was interesting and unique. The urban setting was very interesting and felt authentic to me. It was a change for me to read about gang-ridden war zones and drug dens. I can honestly say the book kept me interested.

Overall, it was a decent read. I think the timelines jumping back and forth were just too much for me. I understand the need to know the back story, but I feel it could have been done without causing so much chaos and without taking away from the main story. I did enjoy the characters, but I think this book just isn't for me. I give it 3 stars.

"IQ" by Joe Ide is set to be released October 18, 2016. If you are looking for a unique, modern-detective, urban- fiction, suspense novel than I recommend pre-ordering it now.  

Thanks to Netgalley and Mulholland Books for allowing me the egalley in exchange for my honest review.

Happy Reading! 

Monday, September 26, 2016

"The German Girl: A Novel" by Armando Lucas Correa

I just adore historical fiction novels. Especially the era of WWII. I have read plenty of WWII fiction novels and this book was different. 

In 1939, before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.

As Hannah and Leo’s families desperately begin to search for a means of escape, a glimmer of hope appears when they discover the Saint Louis, a transatlantic liner that can give Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night.

As the passengers gain renewed hope for a bright future ahead, love between Hannah and Leo blossoms. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence.

After four days anchored at bay, only a handful of passengers are allowed to disembark onto Cuban soil, and Hannah and Leo must face the grim reality that they could be torn apart. Their future is unknown, and their only choice will have an impact in generations to come.

Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost. ~excerpt from Netgalley

This was a novel from a WWII point of view I hadn't read before. Based loosely on the true story of the voyage of the St Louis, a German transatlantic liner that sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba in 1939. Carrying almost 1000 passengers, mostly Jews who were fleeing The Third Reich, the majority were approved for US visas and planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. The two week voyage forever changed their fates, as Cuban officials decided not to allow all passengers entrance onto the island once it arrived, forcing many to return to Europe. 

Told through alternating characters both past and present, this story tugs at heart strings and brings unexpected smiles while sharing a little known story about German Jews who left Nazi occupied Germany for the chance of a life in Cuba.

This was a phenomenal debut novel by author Armando Lucas Correa and I absolutely enjoyed every word he wrote. He has a vivid, raw, and effortless style of writing. The words he chose made me feel like I was in the story. I had no issues imagining the scenery and no trouble knowing exactly what the characters were feeling. This was a believable, fictional account, and I was happy to get swept away in the story.

Thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for allowing me the egalley for free in exchange for my honest review. It was a 5 star read for me! The German Girl is due to be released on October 18, 2016 so pre-order it now! You won't be disappointed!

Happy Reading!

"Truly Madly, Guilty" by Liane Moriarty

I know it's been awhile since my last blog post. The older 2 kids have started school and my youngest had surgery recently and has another surgery next month, so I have been a busy mother. I am not apologizing because they are more important than book reviews, but I have not forgotten about my book review readers! Thanks for sticking around!

This was not my first novel from Liane Moriarty. I really enjoy reading this author! I have committed to a few ARC reviews, but I just had to sneak this book in! Truly, Madly, Guilty was a fun read and I'm glad I made time for it.

It all starts at a barbecue...

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm. ~taken from Goodreads

So, right away we know something happened. By the way all the characters are acting it had to be something bad. The reader of this book MUST BE PATIENT!!! Because I am not a patient person and just had to know what happened, I plowed through this book. 

At first, it was a bit hard to keep all the characters straight. The chapters in this novel flip flop from past to present, as well as switch between the points of views of several characters. I think the flip flopping gives this story a complete point of view. I enjoyed reading about the same situations the way different characters experienced them. 

The characters were also well developed. I truly enjoyed every single one. They were all different. I think Moriarty has a knack for taking everyday life and making it interesting. I caught myself reading about a certain character and thinking "I do that too"! Moriarty really had a knack for writing relatable characters. 

I, of course, will not give much more away about this book. It is a mystery that requires patience. It is a complex story of family, relationships, and getting through life during hard times. I have read quite a few reviews that suggest this is not a very good book. I disagree, I really enjoyed it. It is not my favorite Liane Moriarty book, but it was a good read. I give it 4 stars! 

Happy Reading!  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sara Shepard's "The Amateurs"

As soon as Seneca Frazier sees the post on the Case Not Closed website about Helena Kelly, she's hooked. Helena's high-profile disappearance five years earlier is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It's the reason she's a member of the site in the first place. 
So when Maddy Wright, her best friend from the CNC site, invites Seneca to spend spring break in Connecticut looking into the cold case, she immediately packs her bag. But the moment she steps off the train in trendy, glamorous Dexby, things begin to go wrong. Maddy is nothing like she expected, and Helena's sister, Aerin Kelly, seems completely hostile and totally uninterested in helping with their murder investigation.

But when Brett, another super user from the site, joins Seneca and Maddy in Dexby, Aerin starts to come around. The police must have missed something, and someone in Dexby definitely has information they've been keeping quiet. 
As Seneca, Brett, Maddy, and Aerin begin to unravel dark secrets and shocking betrayals about the people closest to them, they seem to be on the murderer's trail at last. But somewhere nearby the killer is watching . . . ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the truth stays buried.
First in a new series by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Pretty Little Liars series, Sara Shepard, The Amateurs 
is packed with the twists and turns, steamy romance, and stunning revelations that her fans have been waiting for. ~taken from Netgalley

This is not my first Sara Shepard book. I have read the entire Pretty Little Liars series, twice. I've also read and enjoyed The Heiresses and The Perfectionists series. I was super excited about her latest book The Amateurs due to be released here in the U.S. on November 1, 2016. I am so grateful to Netgalley and Disney Book Group for allowing me the egalley in exchange for my honest review. 

I really enjoyed this book! Just like other books by Shepard, this book starts out with secrets, murders, gossip and lies! While other books had female lead characters, this book has 2 male main characters in addition to the females. It was a change that I really enjoyed. The Amateurs also took on a slightly older feel with main a main character being at the end of high school and in their early 20's.

Though I was very excited to read this, it was a bit of a slow start. Once I eased into the book and learned about the characters and story I was hooked! There were so many twists and turns that it kept me engaged and excited to open the book and read every chance I got. I was kept guessing throughout the story and in typical Sara Shepard fashion I was left guessing right up until the end!

This book, of course, has some romance to it. There were a few times I rolled my eyes during some romance scenes, but nothing that made me hate the book. I did feel during all the romance scenes that I just wanted to get back to the mystery at hand! With party scenes that involved alcohol, drugs and sex this is definitely not a book for the younger reader. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this and look forward to the next one! I need to know what happens next! This may turn into Shepard's best series yet! A 4-star read for me.

The Amateurs is due to be released Nov 1, 2016. At the time of this blog post publishing it is currently on sale at 39% off for the Kindle Edition  and 41% off for the Hardcover on Amazon!!! Pre-order it now!

Once again, thanks again to Netgalley and Disney Book Group for allowing me to read and review!

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Carolyn Parkhurst's "Harmony"

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel, a taut, emotionally wrenching story of how a seemingly "normal" family could become desperate enough to leave everything behind and move to a "family camp" in New Hampshire--a life-changing experience that alters them forever.

How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally--a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly--whose condition is deemed undiagnosable--is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. 

The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book's Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable. ~taken from Goodreads

I have to say, as a parent of a special needs child, I was very excited to read this book. Parents, Alexandra and Josh, are willing to do whatever they can to help oldest daughter, Tilly, who has been diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum. She has been kicked out of all the schools she has attended for "being disruptive", and her parents feel that uprooting the entire family, including younger sister,  Iris, and moving to Camp Harmony is the only option they have left.

Harmony (the camp) is a place where families with special needs children can come and stay for a week and Alexandra and her family are one of the families that live there permanently to help run the camp. Camp Harmony director, Scott Bean, believes that families need to "detox" which means no cellphones, computers, televisions, etc.. 

As the book progresses we see that Scott's cool and calm manner diminishes and his rules become stricter and are more based on his personal preferences rather than reason. This book reaches its climax when parents Josh and Alexandra are forced to confront Scott about his actions and whether this is actually helping their daughter.

This was an interesting, funny, and dark read. The characters are presented in what I felt was "real life" characters. No sugar coating- the good and bad thoughts and feelings of how it is to live with an autistic child. This story is told in alternating perspectives (some flashbacks also) between mother, and younger sister with a few little chapters told from Tilly's perspective. 

At this book's core it is the story of a desperate family willing to try anything they can to help their daughter and sibling. Like I mentioned before, this was real life. There are parts that made me angry, parts that made me laugh, parts that made me cringe and parts that made my heart hurt with sadness. Though I didn't always agree with the parents choices and actions, I could understand that they did what they thought they had to. Who was I to judge a parent when I have never been in the situation they were presented with? I think Parkhurst did an excellent job portraying the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum.  

The ending seemed abrupt and unfinished. Perhaps a bit unrealistic. The ending left me wanting more- I felt I needed to know the long term impact that communal living left on the family. 

Overall, this was a 4 star read for me. This plot was well-paced with characters that were interesting and well developed. Though I had a somewhat personal connection to the story, being a special needs parent myself, I think anyone will finish this book and wonder how they can better help family or friends who are raising a child who is "not typical". 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"The Telling" by Alexandra Sirowy

 Lana used to know what was real. That was before, when her life was small and quiet. Her golden stepbrother, Ben was alive. She could only dream about bonfiring with the populars. Their wooded island home was idyllic, she could tell truth from lies, and Ben’s childhood stories were firmly in her imagination.

Then came after.

After has Lana boldly kissing her crush, jumping into the water from too high up, living with nerve and mischief. But after also has horrors, deaths that only make sense in fairy tales, and terrors from a past Lana thought long forgotten. Love, blood, and murder. ~taken from Amazon

I am so all over the board with this book and what I want to rate it. I liked parts of it, but there were definite parts that I really, really disliked. This will be a short, quick review because it's really hard to go in depth without spoilers.

The overall plot to this story is very intriguing. There's just such a scary aspect about a murderer running loose on a small island community. Is it a stranger or someone they know? Though it took a little bit to get into this book, once I understood what happened before I was hooked. Then things started to go downhill...

So here is what just didn't "do" it for me: the characters. There were a couple that I really liked but most of them were shallow, annoying, and very predictable. The characters are all in high school and I feel that the author took a group of generic high school stereotypes and added them to the book. Their words and actions were so predictable. It got boring fast.

Lana, the main character was interesting at first. Her inner thoughts and dialog about the loss of her step brother and the relationship between her and her best friend were deep and interesting. It added to the story. But once the group of friends started getting murdered and dropping like flies our first person narrator quickly became repetitive. It's like her personality plateaued and she had nothing left to give to the story. The constant inner dialog of how much she loved and missed her stepbrother simply interrupted and took away what was happening with the story. 

That leads me to the length of this book. Half this book is Lana's inner dialog. We get it, she loves and missed her stepbrother. "I miss Ben... I loved Ben. Ben once told me ____. I wish Ben were still here with me." I understood that from the beginning. No need to reiterate it over and over again. I could have done without reading half the book and still understood the depth of love she has for Ben. 

The predictability of the plot is laughable. The murders are very specific to the weird stories her step brother Ben used to tell her. Lana seems so smart. Why did it take her so long to realize this? Why then does she decide not to go to the police with this info and her and her friends attempt to find the murderer themselves? Too much, just too much. It was like reading a bad 90's teen slasher film. 

I give this book 3 stars. It did suck me in at first and seemed to really be going somewhere. Then it turned predictable and boring. Just because I didn't exactly love it, doesn't mean other readers won't. It's a fast, easy read so if you like YA thrillers with major teen drama then give it a try!

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for allowing me to read and review this egalley. 

Happy Reading! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Under Then Banner of Heaven..." by Jon Krakauer

I honestly don't know where to start. I guess I should preface this review by saying this was a 5 star read for me. I listened to the audio book version, and I listened every chance I had. I will also start by telling you a little about my religious background. I grew up DEEPLY involved in a branch-off of the Assemblies Of God Church, a non-denominational Christian sect. You know, the crazy TBN network of pastors that beg for money on tv and claim to know what ailments watchers are suffering from? I no longer go to church, mostly due to realizing what a bunch of hypocrite, self-indulgent, backstabbers the leaders of my church were.

 I also was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. Arizona is home to 6 LDS temples. 90% of my classmates in school were of the LDS faith. Once I began listening to this book I realized I barely knew anything about the religion that I grew up around. I had so many questions. Luckily I had a few current LDS friends I trusted and knew I wouldn't offend if I asked questions about their faith. 

This book starts out with the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica. A gruesome murder committed "in the name of God" by her husband's brothers. In this nonfiction best seller I listened to the details of the murders and the reasons behind them. The killers were FLDS followers. They planned the murders months prior, claiming it was a revelation from God. That they had to do what God told them. Even to this day they are sticking to their beliefs. It then goes into all of the similarities and differences between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). 

I honestly loved hearing about the creation and history of Mormonism. Prior to this book I knew just the basics. Though when listening I had quite a few questions, this book does a great job detailing the past. Jon Krakauer, the author, doesn't white-wash the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At times, the stories were unbelievable and even for me, a non-Mormon, were hard to listen to because of the cruelty and hatred described.

Talking to some of my Mormon and ex-Mormon friends I learned that the LDS church has not always been so forthcoming in embracing and teaching the true history of their religion. I get that the LDS church's past is freckled, but so are other mainstream religions. The reason there are so many FLDS branch-offs is because modern LDS teachings and practices bear little resemblance to its beginning beliefs and practices. FLDS beliefs are radical, theocratic, and full of hatred towards non-believers. This drastic difference between the two needs to be embraced and celebrated instead of vilified and swept under the rug. They should be proud that they have found a way to balance religious beliefs with modern day society.  

I have read a lot of reviews stating that this book is an anti-Mormon book. I just don't see their point of view. Denying history doesn't make it go away. It may be a sad, hate-filled, embarrassing past, but the modern LDS church has overcome and adapted. The fact that Krakauer has caused such a stir with LDS leaders makes me believe he speaks the truth. I think he did an excellent job describing the differences between FLDS and Modern LDS beliefs. He cannot change the fact that both sects stemmed from the same belief system and even share ancestors. Denying polygamy was practiced and even preached, denying and omitting facts about The Mountain Meadows Massacre, denying the blatant racism that once existed within the church, and flip flopping between who and who cannot receive revelations from God simply makes the church look bad. 

I admit it was a struggle to write this review due to the fact I have so many Mormon friends. In no way do I want to offend them. Who am I to judge or criticize someone's beliefs? I mean, I grew up with teachings of God speaking through burning bushes, a man's superpower strength stemming from his long hair,  and even the fact that God gave a mere mortal the ability to part the Red Sea. It is, however, hard for me to look at LDS and FLDS as anything other than a cult. I do, however, see most organized religions with a cult aspect since leaving the church I grew up in. I admire my Mormon friends' faith in their beliefs and love to see all the family and togetherness practiced. I love that they (the LDS church) teach to serve and help others.

Krakauer ends the book with a blurb about his writing process. Krakauer states his intent was to write about the anarchy surrounding the LDS church and it's past. To try and understand why transparency about the religion's past is not taught in the LDS church. Upon researching he stumbled upon all the acts of violence the church's members committed in the name of God. Which then lead him to researching the differences between LDS and FLDS. I think he did an excellent job.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Anna Hope's "The Ballroom"

England, 1911. At Sharston Asylum, men and women are separated by thick walls and barred windows. But on Friday nights, they are allowed to mingle in the asylum’s magnificent ballroom. From its balconies and vaulted ceilings to its stained glass, the ballroom is a sanctuary. Onstage, the orchestra plays Strauss and Debussy while the patients twirl across the gleaming dance floor.
Amid this heady ambience, John Mulligan and Ella Fay first meet. John is a sure-footed dancer with a clouded, secretive face; Ella is as skittish as a colt, with her knobby knees and flushed cheeks. Despite their grim circumstances, the unlikely pair strikes up a tenuous courtship. During the week, he writes letters smuggled to her in secret, unaware that Ella cannot read. She enlists a friend to read them aloud and gains resolve from the force of John’s words, each sentence a stirring incantation. And, of course, there’s always the promise of the ballroom.
Then one of them receives an unexpected opportunity to leave Sharston for good. As Anna Hope’s powerful, bittersweet novel unfolds, John and Ella face an agonizing dilemma: whether to cling to familiar comforts or to confront a new world—living apart, yet forever changed. ~taken from Amazon

I was very excited when I received the email from Netgalley that I was approved by Random House Publishing Group to read and review the U.S. ARC of Anna Hope's The Ballroom: A Novel which is set to be released in the United States on September 6, 2016. 

 The story is told in 3 alternating third-person perspectives about main characters Ella, a female patient, John, a male patient, and Dr. Charles Fuller who works at the asylum.   

In the beginning I really liked this book. The author did great describing the setting- a 1920s asylum. I had the disheartening, sad, and eerie feeling normally associated with asylums. I looked forward to the romantic, mysterious, and historical elements set forth by the premise I read. I was drawn to the fact it took place in an asylum, an out-of-the-norm setting. 

The problem was getting attached to the characters. At first, I liked John and Ella, but daily life and interactions between the two seemed repetitive, which made the first half really boring. Ultimately I felt as if I was being told about their relationship instead of being guided through their actual feelings and emotions. It felt cold and distant and I just couldn't connect with the two characters any longer. 

Of the three perspectives, Dr. Charles Fuller was the most interesting to me. I could feel the compassion and love for his job in the beginning of the story. As the novel progressed he got lost in his work and studies and I found it intriguing to see him going almost as mad as the patients in his care. His character had the greatest character development of them all.

Overall, the story as a whole was a bit mismatched as far as quality of writing and character progression. Perhaps if all characters were told with first person perspective instead of third person I would have had a deeper understanding of all the characters better.

I do commend author Anna Hope for being historically accurate with how mental healthcare worked in those days. It was interesting to read the medical procedures and about how patients were treated. Though no surprise to me, it was so disheartening to see that being poor, grieving the loss of a loved one, or simply having a normal outburst of emotion could label you as "crazy". 

I give this book 3.5 stars. Mainly because the ending was amazing. I am glad Hope included an epilogue because I truly would have felt the story was unfinished and that I needed to know more had it not been included.  The writing about the doctor and the asylum itself was brilliant. The other two main characters simply fell flat and made the majority of the novel boring.

Once again, thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for allowing me to read and review this eARC.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 22, 2016

"The Tea Planter's Wife: A Novel" by Dinah Jefferies

Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever . . . ~taken from Goodreads

"The Tea Planter's Wife" was such an enjoyable read! Dinah Jefferies filled the entire book with quality, descriptive writing to create a stunning historical drama. This story is based around a British family living on their tea plantation in the 1920s British colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Jefferies' writing is full of detail and description while describing both the characters and the exotic settings. 

If you follow my blog you know I love historical fiction novels. This novel, in particular, wasn't my normal era of historical fiction reads. I tend to stick to U.S. and U.K. settings pre, during, and after WWII. I wasn't at all familiar with 1920s Ceylon or the history that surrounded this area in regards to British rule during that time. Reading this story, I found myself swept up in history and scenery that Jefferies lays out for us. I had no problem imagining the character's dress, the plantation's architecture, the country's cultures, and the land's animals, vegetation, lakes and waterfalls. 

The problems and mysteries enveloped throughout the story are timeless. The issues dealt with could very well be relevant in our modern world. The way certain character's inner thoughts and dialog went along with the problems they were facing felt true and real. The book flowed nicely, not too fast and not too slow. It is broken down into 4 parts, each part ending in a new plot twist. I did feel that the end was a bit sudden and abrupt and would have loved an epilogue for 10-20 years later in life.  

I liked reading the author's acknowledgements and appreciated all she did to learn about the Sri Lanka tea trade during that time in history. Actually visiting the land written about in the story made the writing even more vivacious and detailed. I think without the author's knowledge and the extensive homework she did prior and during writing, this book wouldn't have felt so authentic. This was my first novel by Dinah Jefferies, but her talent for writing is impeccable and enjoyable. I look forward to reading her other books. 

All in all, The Tea Planter's Wife is an elegant, mysterious, deeply-moving novel. A 5-star read for me! It is due to be released in the U.S. September 13, 2016 so pre-order now!

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for allowing me the egalley to read and give my honest opinion!

Happy Reading! 

Monday, July 11, 2016

"The Alienation Of Courtney Hoffman" by Brady Stefani

Fifteen year old Courtney wants to be normal like her friends. But there’s something frighteningly different about her—and it’s not just the mysterious tattoo her conspiracy-obsessed grandfather marked her with when she was a child. “Mental illness is a slippery slope,” her mother warns her. And the last thing Courtney wants to do is end up crazy and dead like her grandfather did.

But what about the tattoo? And the alien scouts who visit Courtney in her bedroom at night claiming to have shared an alliance with her grandfather? And her new friend Agatha’s apocalyptic visions? They have to be connected. Courtney has a mission: untangle her past, discover the truth, and stop the apocalypse before anyone from school finds out she’s missing. ~summary taken from Amazon

It's been awhile since I have ventured into a YA Sci-fi book. I forgot all the goodness I was missing! I pulled this book up on my iPhone and iPad every chance I got. I liked that this was truly YA- a handful of cuss words but no sex, which means I would have no problem allowing my 11 year old to read this. 

Author, Brady Stefani, does an excellent job in writing. Though it was a slow start, the story kept me engaged and wondering where the author was taking the story next. Stefani did an excellent job with adding unique characters at all the right places. I felt the pain and confusion Courtney was going though, felt the frustration her mom was dealing with, and even kind of understood the crazy, outlandish thoughts of Courtney's friend, Agatha.

To me, this was like reading a Sci-fi story mixed with The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure. Ancient secret societies, hidden treasures, apocalypse predictions, and aliens! The overall plot was very well thought out. I really enjoyed reading this. 
It was suspenseful, mysterious, intriguing, and a bit crazy (good crazy) at times.

The ending was a bit surprising, but clues throughout the book didn't leave me flabbergasted. The very last paragraph makes me wonder if there will be another book about Courtney Hoffman to make this a series. I hope so because I truly enjoyed this plot and would love to read another book by this author.  

Thanks to Netgalley and SparkPress for allowing me the ecopy in exchange for my honest opinion. The Alienation Of Courtney Hoffman is available now. Its a fun summer read so scoop it up!

A fun 4 star read!

Happy Reading!

"The Vegas Diaries" by Holly Madison

After reading (technically listening to) and loving Holly Madison's first book, Down The Rabbit Hole (you can read my posted review here), I was very excited to read/listen to her latest book The Vegas Diaries. Like her previous audio-book, this one is also narrated by the author, which I love. 

I knew going into it that this was not a sequel to the first. Rather, this book dives into her life while living in Vegas. She starts out by telling the reader that names have been changed and stories "may have been fabricated". This to me was a bit disappointing. Her first book seemed to be a "tell-all". Why change it up for the second? If you are going to dish, use real names.

While the stories were entertaining, they did indeed seemed a bit fabricated. There is no way she could have remembered every situation with such exquisite details such as what designer labels people were wearing, intricate detail of all the settings, and detailed dialog between characters.  It all felt too scripted, made up and unreal. 

The "plot" seemed to jump around a bit. It left me feeling fragmented. She seemed to veer off into another story while in the midst of the main story. It was choppy and bounced around which left me confused at times. There also didn't seem to be a point to this collection of dating stories or a true ending to this book. I was expecting it to lead up to her meeting her husband and having a child. It didn't, which makes me suspect she has a third book in the works. 

My biggest complaint about this book was how hypocritical the over all message seemed. Throughout the story Madison is constantly telling her friends and the reader that she doesn't want to be defined by who she has dated in the past. She also states how she wants to give possible future boyfriends a chance and not judge them on their past relationships. Yet the entire book was about exactly that. Her dating choices and how past relationships have made her who she is today.

 I look forward to her possible next book on life as a wife and mother. This book just seemed to portray Madison as materialistic and narcissistic. I couldn't pity her or feel for her through most of it. Overall, this was an entertaining summer read (listen) and I do recommend the audio-book since it is read by the author herself. A 3-star read for me!

Happy Reading!