Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dear Mr Knightley - Katherine Reay

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Author: Katherine Reay
Paperback: 317 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published date: 2013
FTC: Checked out ebook from library

Towards the end of last year I was sent an ARC copy of a book that had been on my to-read list. It was Katherine Reay's second novel Lizzy & Jane.  I loved the premise and for some reason the covers just captured me. I had remembered reading about Dear Mr. Knightley and that it had received great reviews and I liked the Jane Austen homage in both books.  I decided I had to check out her first book first before I could read Lizzy & Jane.

I am so glad I did because I am now a Katherine Reay fan.  -- Which is awesome because I was offered the chance to interview her AND have a giveaway.  Through miscommunication I was hoping to have it around Christmas but I think these books would be perfect gifts to give a bookish person for Valentine's Day.

Stick around for my review of Lizzy & Jane, the interview with Katherine Reay, and a giveaway!

Back of the Book:

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

My Thoughts:

I absolutely loved how Katherine Reay wrote this novel as a series of letters.  For the most part they are diary type reflections sent from Sam to her unknown patron who asks for anonymity and goes by Mr Knightley.  I thought it was insightful of Reay to make Sam unleash her thoughts in diary/letter form. Her character is so introverted due to her background but since she would lose herself in books and wanted to be a writer, it was the perfect venue for her. Some might think that it wouldn't be plausible for someone to divulge diary type feelings to someone they don't know but I think that was the point. She was writing to someone who wouldn't respond, would never meet, or hear back from.  

I really connected with Sam as the heroine of her story. She had such a rough background that she sheltered herself by living through books. Almost literally.  When nervous she'd quote from books and compare real life people to characters in her book. This was definitely a wall she put up around herself to protect herself from reality.  I read some reviews on Goodreads who didn't like Sam or thought her introverted and sort of sheltered viewpoint wasn't realistic. I totally disagree. I thought her defense totally plausible and loved that she was flawed. She was irritating a lot, made mistakes, and was completely self-focused a lot.  But she grew. And isn't that what we want when we read? I also liked that she was a runner, which totally fit her character. Running can be a solitary sport where a lot of people (myself included) can spend time thinking and unraveling thoughts. It made sense that this aspiring writer who was so trapped in her head would enjoy running.  While there is a love story involved, I enjoyed that the novel was really a coming-of-age tale where Sam has to get over letting her past define herself and come to know who she really is. 

While the novel has a Jane Austen's Emma reference (which totally makes sense when you read the book) it's actually a modern re-telling of a book written in 1912 by Jean Webster called Daddy-Long-Legs. I've heard this is a really amazing book and I'm going to have to check it out. I've only ever seen the old Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron movie. 

When I finished Dear Mr. Knightley I immediately picked up Lizzy & Jane which is a modern story of two sisters.  Yep. I'm a Katherine Reay fan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Legend Series - Marie Lu

Move over Hunger Games and Divergent and make way for Legend.  If you haven't checked out Marie Lu's Legend series you must pick it up. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games (my review) and Divergent (my review) ...BUT...I had tiny problems with both. I was a little let down by the last book in The Hunger Games series - although I am loving the movies so maybe it'll make up for that. And Divergent - if there's a series that makes you want to chuck a book it's the last book in that series. Seriously.  So I was a tad skeptical to get sucked into another series that would let me down. Marie Lu definitely doesn't. I adored and loved all three of the books in this series.  And the fan art! Check out Marie Lu's Facebook page or Pinterest page for the series and you can find some pretty coolstuff.  I would love to see this series as a movie. I can not wait to read her new series The Young Elites.

Legend (Book One)

Back of the book:

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

My Thoughts:

I would totally love to do a re-read of this series. I just fell for June and Day. What an awesome hero and heroine Marie Lu conjured up.  June - the soldier and Day - the rebel. I liked the back story - realistic enough to understand and believe but not really necessary to divulge a whole lot to the back story. (More info is filled in later in the series.) 

Prodigy (Book Two)

Back of the Book:

Injured and on the run, it has been seven days since June and Day barely escaped Los Angeles and the Republic with their lives. Day is believed dead having lost his own brother to an execution squad who thought they were assassinating him. June is now the Republic's most wanted traitor. Desperate for help, they turn to the Patriots - a vigilante rebel group sworn to bring down the Republic. But can they trust them or have they unwittingly become pawns in the most terrifying of political games?

My thoughts:

You know how sometimes book two just kind of...disappoints? Well not in this series. It wasn't a rehash of book one and it definitely progressed the story in a necessary way.  No worries. I won't give away any spoilers but it's one you will definitely be reading after Legend, gobbling up, and then grabbing the third book.

Champion (Book Three)

Back of the Book:

June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps-Elect, while Day has been assigned a high-level military position. 

But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them: just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything. 

With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

My Thoughts:

The ending? Perfect. Well done Ms Lu.  It wasn't realistic and disappointing (ahem Hunger Games series) because let's be honest, I'm reading a dystopian YA and I don't want reality.  It wasn't tragic (ahem Divergent series) because I want, well, not a happy ending but something happy right?  Without spoilers, the perfect way to have a happy ending without having one. You'll just have to read it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Sudden Light - Garth Stein

Title: A Sudden Light
Author: Garth Stein
Ebook: 400 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published date: September 2014
FTC: I requested to review from NetGalley

Wow. This is one of those books I've been meaning to review and what I gave a solid five stars on GoodReads. I thoroughly enjoyed Garth Stein's novel The Art of Racing in the Rain (my review) and one of my husband's all-time favorites.  I even liked Raven Stole the Moon (my review).  But you have to check out the novel A Sudden Light. Such a beautiful coming to age novel with such atmosphere I'd except to see in Neil Gaiman book.  While the story is part ghost-story, I love that it's paranormal aspects are subdued. Anything more blatant I would call out as ridiculous while Stein makes this story believable. It's definitely my cup of tea.

Back of the book:

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

My thoughts:

I absolutely gobbled up this story of Trevor Riddell of whom from the very beginning I felt such an empathy towards. His mother and father are taking a separation in their marriage, they just lost their home his father is tasked with taking Trevor back to Riddell House - the mansion where they are to figure out how to talk his senile grandfather into selling the family estate.

I just adored the atmosphere the Garth Stein created. The author is from and familiar with the Pacific Northwest and what a setting. I also loved that he set the story in 1990, not in modern times. I think it works for the story's time-line but also because Trevor Riddell isn't able to plug into an ipod or smart phone and ignore the world and his problems. (Yeah yeah he could have a walkman or whatever but you know what I mean.)

The story is told with ghostly attributes but also with definite flashbacks to the stories of his ancestors who first built the house and digs into their secrets. While it might not be everyone's cup of tea, I love this because I am such a history geek but I also think that relationships and people are interesting and sympathetic whatever the time period. I also love how he made the house almost like the center character. It really reminded me of Sarah Waters very atmospheric story The Little Stranger (my review) where the English estate really a pivotal character.

While I really enjoyed Garth Stein's previous novels, especially The Art of Racing in the Rain, I think A Sudden Light is my new favorite novel of his.  Definitely worth checking out.

Here's Garth Stein talking about A Sudden Light:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2015 Sci-Fi Experience

I absolutely love Carl V's annual Sci-Fi Experience. I've been really needing something to jump start me back into blogging.  This last year has been crazy raising two active boys and moving a couple of times. We are now settled in the beautiful state of Arkansas and it's amazing how much I already feel it is home.

When Carl's challenge popped up I was excited because I've just started reading Ender's Game and I was wanting an excuse to read Maria Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow.  I also read Abaddon's Gate a long while back and never reviewed it and need to get my hands on Cibola Burns. If you've never read James S.A. Corey's amazing Expanse series - you need to now. Especially since it's going to be a TV series soon so hop to it!

What I love about the Sci-Fi genre is that it really is such a wide genre and there really is something for everyone. For instance, Connie Willis is one of my favorites but it's no wonder since it's also really historical fiction too. If you like detective or mystery stories then you should really check out the first Expanse novel Leviathan Wakes.  I am excited to see what everyone else reads and recommends. Head over to Carl's review site to it all out!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unexpected Earl - Philippa Jane Keyworth

Title: The Unexpected Earl
Author: Philippa Jane Keyworth
Paperback: 324 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Madison Street Publishing
Published date: 2014
FTC: Reviewed for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

When I saw that HF Virtual Book Tours was doing a tour for Ms Keyworth's Regency novel The Unexpected Earl, I couldn't resist. I am such a sucker for this genre. She loves Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer novels. Sign me up.

This novel was such a light fun read. I can tell that Ms Keyworth did her research and there were some great insights into the Regency life.  While it honestly didn't bring anything super new to the genre, it was an entertaining read (I seriously read it in just a couple of days) and I am looking forward to reading more of her novels.


Six years after being jilted without a word of explanation, Julia Rotherham finds Lucius Wolversley standing before her once again–unexpected, unannounced, unwelcome. With her heart still hurting and, more importantly, her pride, Julia must chaperone her younger sister, fend off fortune hunters, orchestrate a fake engagement, and halt an elopement–all whilst keeping the man who jilted her at arm’s length. But what Julia doesn't know is that this time, the Earl has no intention of disappearing, and this time, he has more than an explanation to offer…
My thoughts:

Honestly, when I first starting reading the novel I couldn't stand the character of Julia Rotherham. She seemed pretty abrasive and rude. But Ms Keyworth did a wonderful job of slowly eroding her walls and developing her character. I love books like this where we privy to more than just the heroine's point of view and it was entertaining to read Lucius Wolversley's side of the story.  Unlike many Regency's I've read, Ms Keyworth told a lot of the story from the men's perspectives. Ms Austen kind of gently inferred things but it was entertaining to follow these gentlemen out of the parlor and into the world they inhabited.

The story obviously revolves around Julia Rotherham and Lucius Wolversley.  I liked that instead of there being a lot of mooning and moping, the love story isn't sappy. Julia and Lucius are both having to learn about trust and being truthful and honest. It's also a story of family, especially Julia's relationship with her sister. I am such a sucker for books with good sister stories.

What makes The Unexpected Earl stand out from other modern Regency's that I've read is that Ms Keyworth is a wonderful writer and throws a lot of wit into the writing reminiscent of Ms Austen's novels.  Ms Keyworth lives in England so she's got the language done perfectly. If you've never read a Regency novel, I think this would be a great introduction to the genre. I am warning you that the book starts of a bit slow so get past that and you've got an amazingly well written, entertaining story, a surprising amount of action, and a novel that is much more than just a Regency love story.

Cover thoughts:

I read my book as an eBook but I adore the cover. It's one that I wish I had the actual book. I want to check out her other book The Widow's Redeemer which sounds interesting and also has a beautiful cover:

The Unexpected Earl Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, September 20
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, September 22
Review at Austenprose
Review at To Read or Not to Read
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Tuesday, September 23
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Spotlight & Excerpt at Romantic Historical Reviews
Wednesday, September 24
Review & Interview at Bookish
Friday, September 26
Review & Interview at Back Porchervations
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli
Sunday, September 28
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, September 29
Review at Mel’s Shelves
Review at Based on a True Story
Review at Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, September 30
Review at A Library of My Own

For more information please visit Philippa Jane Keyworth’s website and blog. You can also connect with her onFacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Monday, August 11, 2014

East India - Colin Falconer

Title: East India
Author: Colin Falconer
Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Cool Gus
Published date: July 2014
FTC: Reviewed for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

When I heard that HF Virtual Book Tours was doing Colin Falconer's latest novel, I knew I had to jump on board. I read his novel on Cleopatra called When We Were Gods back in 2008 and became a Colin Falconer fan. Oddly enough I haven't read more of his books but I am going to have to. I didn't know he had so many books under his belt. I loved how he wrote Cleopatra as an amazing political figure. He has other famous women books such as Anastasia and Isabella of France. He even has a Jerusalem series I'm going to have to check out.

Back of the book:

In any other circumstance but shipwreck, rape and murder, a man like Michiel van Texel would never have met a fine lady such as Cornelia Noorstrandt.

He was just a soldier, a sergeant in the Dutch East India company's army, on his way from Amsterdam to the Indies to fight the Mataram. Such a woman was far above the likes of him.

But both their destinies intertwine far away from Holland, on some god-forsaken islands near the Great Southland. When their great ship, the Utrecht, founders far from home, surviving the Houtman Rocks is the least of their worries.

As they battle to survive and the bravest and the best reveal themselves for what they are, Cornelia's only hope is a mercenary in a torn coat who shows her that a man is more than just manners and money.

He makes her one promise: 'Even if God forsakes you, I will find you.'

But can he keep it?

My thoughts:

I have to be honest, I am only half way done with the novel. I received the book in the mail and then immediately went to visit family toting my one year old along. I thought I'd have had more time to read but alas.  That said...this book is addicting! The more I read the more I am getting sucked into the story.

The story starts off as the boat is boarding and leaving Holland. It's a tad slow build up but necessary as we see all the cast of characters come together for, I'm not joking, an expected eight (EIGHT!) month long voyage. Can you imagine?! What would happen if you threw over 300 men, women and children - sailors, soldiers, a pastor and his family, and a wealthy woman into a not too large boat for eight months. Grudges, jealousy, rape, murder, and shipwreck - and it is all historically based.

I was Googling the time period, the Dutch East India company and the Houtman Rocks of Australia when I came upon the story of the ship Batavia. This shockingly horrific event is what Colin Falconer based the book on. The story of the Batavia, as well as Colin Falconer's fictional Utrecht is literally like watching a shipwreck - fascinating, horrible, and hard to look away.

I really enjoy the historical aspect of historical fiction but I am looking forward to seeing how Cornelia and Michiel's story progresses.  Literally at 150 pages into the novel they are just shipwrecked and starting to interact on the island.  So far I am loving the various character's voices.  Colin Falconer tells the story not only in Cornelia and Michiel's points of views, but also alternates between the villainous skipper, the mutinous Undermerchant, and the mutable commandeur of the Utrecht. So far I only have two critiques: I'd love a character list and description at the beginning of the book. I sometimes get a bit confused when sailors are mentioned and what jobs they do. The other is that while I think the cover is gorgeous, Cornelia is supposed to be darker olive skinned with dark hair. Hmm.

The back of the book mentions a critic liking Cornelia and Michiel to Jack and Rose of the Titanic movie.  It is illuminating to know that from the start the reader knows that all will not end well - think of Romeo and Juliet's story or even Cleopatra. While I am prepared for non-happily ever after, I can't wait to see how this story ends. (I will update this review when I am done. Check back!)

Check out the rest of the HF Virtual Tour stops for more reviews.  

Trailer for the East India:

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Testing & Independent Study - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing (The Testing #1)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 336 pages (my version ARC paperback)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books
Published date: 2013
FTC: Requested to review from publisher

When I heard about the premise for the YA trilogy The Testing I knew I'd want to check it out. I love YA dystopian novels - The Hunger Games, Divergent, Article 5, etc. I was pretty darn impressed with The Testing. So far, it has the most realistic premises for it's dystopian future.  I also really liked the protagonist Cia Vale. I don't normally write multiple reviews in one post, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Back of the book:

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation's chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing - their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father's advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies - trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this first book of The Testing series. I was very impressed with synopsis of the Seven Stages War that left earth pretty messed up.  Survivors have rallied and made a capitol city in Kansas while colonies are made in other regions of the U.S. The goal of the survivors is to fix and rejuvenate the earth while making sure their future government doesn't make the same mistakes. Gradually throughout the testing (and more in the second book) the background unfolds. I thought this was pretty brilliant on the author's part to gradually fill in the gaps of the apocalyptic background.

I also thought the idea of the future University whose goal is to recruit only the best and brightest who will be the future leaders of the United Commonwealth.  Think of The Testing as the ACT or SAT test only insanely more intense and life threatening.  What appealed to me the most about this book is how scarily logical the whole thing is. While some dystopian novels have kind of a silly or far fetched big brother government, this one is very realistic. The Testing challenges are also crazily brutal. I think it's more scarily done than The Hunger Games because it's done on such an awful stage.

I also really liked Cia Vale. Growing up with five older brothers, you can see how she became the person she is. She really looks up and adores her oldest brother Zeen and her father - both are very intelligent.  She's got a drive to impress and live up to her family's brilliance.  While this book has a tad bit of love story between Cia and Tomas, it really isn't mushy or overly done. I think even guys would enjoy reading the story. I was definitely looking forward to reading book two of the series.

Title: Independent Study (The Testing #2)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 310 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: HMH Books
Published date: January 2014
FTC: Check out eBook from the library

Back of the book:

Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas - and thought the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government's murderous programs put her - and her loved ones - in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

My thoughts:

Hmm. This one is much harder to review. It doesn't lack in action, it starts out on a good foot that way.  Think of college freshman initiations only more deadly. That and Cia and her classmates don't get to pick which area of study they want. They are placed. So while Cia Vale was wanting to do mechanical engineering, she is placed into government studies. The synopsis is also a little misleading. Cia really doesn't remember her time during the Testing...but I'd spoil the end of book one if I told you what happens.

I think the problem with book two is that I just didn't connect as much with Cia. She is basically on survival mode and a lot of the relationships and character building of book one just isn't there. The book doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue so that's always hard for me as a reader. I'll admit that halfway into the book I was debating on giving up on the series.  I am glad I stuck with it though because I really liked how it ended on a cliffhanger and I'm going to check out book three. I won't be waiting on pins and needles but I do want to see how it ends. I just hope the last book gets back some of the personal tones and relationship building that book one had.