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!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hannah Jayne Spotlight Tour

Title: Twisted
Author: Hannah Jayne
Pub. Date: July 5th, 2016
ISBN: 9781492605492

Guilty until proven innocent…
Bex has always been her daddy’s little girl. After her mother left, it was just the two of them. Sure he spoiled her with clothes and jewelry, but what father doesn’t dote on his daughter?
Except Bex’s dad is alleged to be a notorious serial killer. Dubbed “The Wife Collector” by the press, her father disappeared before he could stand trial. And Bex was left to deal with the taunts and rumors. Foster care is her one chance at starting over, starting fresh.
But Bex’s old life isn’t ready to let her go. When bodies start turning up in her new hometown, the police want to use her as bait to bring her father in for questioning. Is this Bex’s one chance to reunite with her father and prove his innocence—or is she setting herself up to be a serial killer’s next victim?
Buy Links

Would you rather live one life that lasts 1,000 years or live 10 lives that last 100 years each (but you can’t remember them)? 

I think 10 100-year lives would be pretty awesome. Even if I couldn’t remember them, the experiences would be amazing as well as the opportunities to continually try to get things rights. As a thousand-year-old, I just feel like I’d be really creaky…

An Excerpt 

Bex Andrews surged forward, eyes pulled open wider than she ever thought they could be, heart hammering like a fire bell. 
“I’m so sorry,” the soothing voice continued. “I didn’t mean to startle you. We’re going to be landing in a few minutes, and I need you to put your tray table up.” 
“Oh.” Bex looked at her hands, her knuckles white as she gripped the tray table in front of her, then back to the flight attendant. She felt the familiar heat of embarrassment singe across her cheeks. “Sure. I’m sorry.” 
The flight attendant straightened. “Thank you.” Her smile was as bright as a Crest commercial and her hair swirled behind her as she continued up the aisle, reminding the other passengers that they were landing soon. 
Bex’s heart didn’t stop its relentless thump. “Excuse me,” she said, leaning forward in her seat. The flight attendant turned. “Mmm-hmm?” 
“Do I have time to use the restroom?” 
Bex made her way down the narrow aisle, wobbling with the rocking of the plane. She glanced away as people looked up at her, letting out her breath only when she escaped into the tiny lavatory and slid the little lever to Occupied. Under the glaring, yellow light, Beth Anne Reimer hardly recognized herself. 
Her once white-blond, shoulder-length hair was blunt cut to her ears, the curls gone so that her new sandy-brown hair and pixie cut framed her face, hugging her cheekbones and falling against her darkened eyebrows. Her long bangs hung into her hazel eyes, and several coats of mascara made her short lashes stand out. She was wearing an outfit that made her look like every other teenager in the free world: tight jeans faded at the knees and fraying at the ankles, flip-flops, and a white zip-up hoodie with a surfer print. Instinctively, she pulled the hood over her head, and the fabric shaded her face and instantly darkened her cheekbones. Her bright eyes were suddenly small and menacing. She pushed the hood back. She was a new person, at the other side of her home state and about to start a new life. No way was she going to fade into her hoodie and let people think she was a serial killer just because her father was. 
Not anymore. 
That was Beth Anne Reimer. And she was Bex Andrews now. 
Bex stared out the car’s passenger-side window as the scenery zoomed by. She had never been to Kill Devil Hills, though she had seen postcards and TV shows set here, but what was whizzing by her—nondescript strip malls, Target shopping centers, and fast-food places—made her feel like the puddle-jumper flight from Raleigh, North Carolina, had landed her right back there. If it hadn’t been for the woman in the driver’s seat who was chatting happily about something Bex couldn’t focus on, she would have wondered if this whole moving-across-the-state thing was just a big hoax. 
“Does that sound good to you?” 
The woman driving the Honda SUV smiled at Bex, her light- blue eyes sparkling even in the dim hint of twilight. 
Bex felt her mouth drop open. “I’m sorry, what?” 
Denise tucked a strand of deep-brown hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, Bex. That’s such a cool name, by the way. I’m probably just talking your ear off. We’re just really happy to have you here. I know it can’t be easy for you…” 
The familiar lump started to form in the back of her throat and Bex shifted in the car seat, working the seat belt strap between her fingers. Her grandmother’s face flashed in her mind, and the familiar smells of the house where Bex had lived since she was seven years old filled her nostrils—her grandmother’s powdery, lavender smell; the sweet, cloying scent of night jasmine when it wafted through her bedroom curtains; the earthy smell of hot grass as she tromped barefoot through it. 
But that was a world away in another life. Her grandmother had passed seven months ago and Bex’s home had been sold. She’d been shifted into a “temporary care situation,” which basically meant she was stuck in a cross between an orphanage and juvenile hall until a foster home willing to take her opened up. 
And when one did, it was across the state in the Outer Banks with Denise and Michael Pierson, a couple in their early forties who only knew that Bex had lived with her grandmother. 
They didn’t know the truth. 
They didn’t know that Bex’s own mother had disappeared when Bex was only five years old and still called Beth Anne Reimer. They didn’t know that Beth Anne was doted on by a father who lavished her with costume jewelry and funky purses. 
They didn’t know that all the gifts Beth Anne’s father gave her had once belonged to women in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Women who Beth Anne’s father—dubbed the Wife Collector in the press—had murdered. 
Allegedly. The word gnawed at Bex’s periphery. 
It was Beth Anne herself, a shy, moon-eyed seven-year-old, who had pointed a chubby finger at her own father when the police came to her house. Yes, she knew the pretty blond woman from the photograph, she had said to the police officer. The girl had been with them for two days before getting into the car with Beth Anne’s daddy. No, she didn’t know where they had gone. All she knew was that the blond lady never came back to the house, never came back for the nubby scarf she had wound around Beth Anne’s neck, so Beth Anne had kept it for herself. 
It was just a few days later that Beth Anne’s daddy was locked in that police cruiser and shuttled down to the courthouse. The newspapers and local news station splashed headlines everywhere and that single word—allegedly—seemed to grow smaller, to fade into the enormous text around it. 
Jackson Reimer, Alleged Wife Collector Murderer, Held in Local Jail 

Rafflecopter Giveaway
This is a link for a tour-wide giveaway. 5 copies of Hannah Jayne's Twisted will be given away.

Rafflcopter Giveaway For Twisted (click link to enter)

Thanks to Sourcebooks for allowing me the eGalley to read and give my honest review. Also, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour. To read my review on Hannah Jayne's Twisted please click here.