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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Audio Book Review: My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36301023-my-plain-jane?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.


Review:
After reading several serious fiction books lately, I was please as punch to finally get a hold of the audio book of My Plain Jane, by the Lady Janies (Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton).  This was a wonderfully fun parody of British Gothic novels such as Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.  

What I Liked:
Narration:
Once again, Fiona Hardingham delivers a stellar performance in this audio book.  She flits between plucky Jane, to teenage ghosts, to gruff Mr. Rochester in an instant.  I think Ms. Hardingham is one of the best narrators currently working right now!

Book References:
British novels are some of my favorite books, so it was a blast reading all the sly references to many other classic books such as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Story:
What I love about this book series is that it takes a classic story with a teen heroine, and turns it on it's head!  The misogyny present in the original story is clearly trashed with witty asides, and change ups.  The authors also feel free to add new elements to the story.  In the case of My Plain Jane, ghosts are now added to the Jane Eyre story, creating a kind of Victorian Ghost Busters!  They also "fix" some of what is so wrong in the original Jane Eyre.  Isn't it really awful that Mr. Rochester tries to commit bigamy in the original book?  Well, in this version there is a better explanation for that strange story twist.

Characters:
I love Jane.  I love that she is not a pushover as in the original novel.  She is kind, and smart, loyal to her friends.  Ghosts see her as stunningly beautiful, while living people find her rather plain.  I love how this shows her inner beauty.

Charlotte Bronte, the author of the original book, is also a formidable character in this novel.  Here she is pushing to be taken seriously as a person, rather than as "just a woman".  I also liked her struggle to not be jealous of Jane when good things happen to her.  I think in Victorian times, opportunities were so few that it would have been hard to not be envious of the what she was offered.

What I Didn't Like:
                      
via GIPHY

Overall, this was a seriously funny book.  If you are looking for some escapist fun, check out My Plain Jane.

Rating: 




Release Date:  June 26th, 2018

Authors: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton

Publisher:  Harper Collins Audio

Narrator:  Fiona Hardingham

Audio Book Length:  10 Hours, 7 Minutes

Page Length:  464 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  A fun, light book that parodies classic British novels.  Very enjoyable!

 
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Audio Book Review: Smoke In The Sun by Renee Ahdieh

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36010223-smoke-in-the-sun
Synopsis (From Goodreads):
For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn't expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn't expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign's brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami's rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.
  


Review:
With its setting in Japan, and story of a stolen bride falling for a disgraced nobleman, Flame In The Mist, by Renee Ahdieh was a very entertaining book.  The sequel, Smoke In The Sun, is equally enjoyable.

What I Liked:
Setting:
I love books set in royal courts, and this novel is mostly set in the imperial court of feudal Japan.  The aesthetic beauty of that period comes alive through vivid descriptions.  

Characters:
I love how strong the women are in this book.  Even without Mariko and Yumi (the tea house entertainer) not sneaking out to stretch their fighting muscles, the women in this book have a quiet strength.  I lived in Japan, and I can attest to women there having this inner fortitude.  I loved the subtle ways the women in the book flexed their power.

We also learn a lot more about Ōkami (the rebel leader) in this book.  What happened to his family?  How did he come to make a deal with a demon?  And what does that mean for his possible future with Mariko?

Romance:
There was a very heart-wrenching romance, where the lovers were both willing to sacrifice for the other.  What will Mariko be willing to do for love?  Can she marry another in order to save Ōkami.  How much torture can Ōkami actually take?

Audio Book Performance:
Narrator Nancy Wu did a superb job of playing the many characters.  Her cadence showed a wide range of abilities, enabling her to convey both the formal manner of the gentry, and the gruff style of the rebels.


What I Didn't Like:
Torture:
This book has extensive descriptions of torture, which I found disturbing.  While I understand this was done to show how cruel and psychotic the emperor was, it was really hard to listen to (this was an audio book).

Rating: 




Release Date:  June 5th, 2018

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio

Narrator:  Nancy Wu

Audio Length:  11 Hours, 58 Minutes

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  A worthy sequel to the book Flame In The Mist.  This book is full of action and romance.  

Trigger Warning for scenes of torture.




  
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #131 and Sunday Post #95




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 


On The Blog:

Monday:  ARC Review:  Smothered by Autumn Chiklis

Tuesday:  ARC Review:  The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwall

In "Real Life":
This was the last day of summer school and it was a wonderful experience.  Great co-workers, nice students, and pleasant weather.  Now I get a week off, and then the school year starts in earnest.

New Books:

Public Library:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36682619-daughter-of-the-siren-queen?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28006120-the-ship-of-the-dead?ac=1&from_search=true
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36301023-my-plain-jane?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34733250-night-of-cake-puppets?ac=1&from_search=true
 

 I got several audio books from the library this week (when it rains, it pours).  So I have had to power through them.  I have already listened to Daughter of the Siren Queen, by Tricia Levenseller, but I found it very disappointing.  I am currently listening to My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton. It is so fun, and hilarious!!!

That's it for this week.  Have a wonderful week of reading.

 


 

 
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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

ARC Review: The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwall

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40850388-the-forest-queen?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.

Review:
When I first picked up The Forest Queen, by Betsy Cornwall, I didn't know what to expect.  Would this be a story of female empowerment?  An adventure story?  Would there be intrigue and romance?  The answer is YES to all of it.  I found this book to be fun, and moving.  Once I started it, I could not put it down.

                            
via GIPHY

What I Liked:
Setting:
As with most stories with "Queen" in the title, this book takes place in an unnamed medieval country with plenty of lords and ladies, castles, and forests.  What made this setting unique was that there were also people of color mixed in.  There has been a controversy in the book world about diversity in books such as these.  Some people say, "Well, there weren't people of color in Europe in the Middle Ages".  Others correctly point out that in a fictional novel you can make your characters any color you want!  I am happy to report that the author chose the latter view.  In this story, it's the people with darker skin who are the "noble" families.  But there has been so much inter-mingling between groups that most people have traits of many cultures.  I loved that.

Characters:
I really enjoyed how all the characters changed over the course of this book.  Sylvie starts the story as a somewhat naive, privileged young woman.  She does know that others have a much harder time in life, but she hasn't seen it firsthand.  The nobles take almost everything through taxes, leaving peasants to nearly starve.  When she is confronted with this reality, Sylvie begins to see everything differently.

There are many other memorable characters such as Little Jane, Bird, Mae Tuck, and the troubadour Alana Dean.  All have experience with the unjust treatment of the nobles towards peasants.  Little Jane, in particular, haunts me.  She is pregnant (from rape), and goes from a frightened, hopeless girl, to a warm, confident mother.  Her healing was heartening to see.

Story:
It doesn't mention it in the synopsis, but this story is loosely based on Robin Hood.  This may seem silly, at first.  But the author uses this story to show a world where people who are oppressed finally fight back to gain freedom.

There was plenty of suspense as Sylvie runs away from her comfortable life as a noble and into the forest.  Will she be caught by her lecherous brother, Sheriff John?  As more and more people join them, I was worried for everyone's safety!

Later, as Sylvie starts to "take from the rich and give to the poor', there's also the constant threat of discovery and imprisonment.   I like that while Sylvie is doing this for honorable reasons, she also acknowledges the lines she is crossing (and that she gets a thrill from stealing).

Romance:
I enjoyed the tension and possible romance between Sylvie and Bird.  Childhood friends, these two must set aside questions of attraction in order to survive out in the woods.  They are too busy finding enough to eat to worry about romance.  I like that later, as they settle in, they are reluctant to be a couple as they don't want to ruin their friendship.

There is also some fun, same-sex romance for other characters!  I love that in this universe women and men find their own way to happiness without judgement.

Trigger Warning for Rape:
Rape is a theme in this book.  While there are no actual descriptions of the act itself, this may be upsetting to some readers.

Rating: 




Release Date:   August 7th, 2018

Author:  Betsy Cornwall

Publisher:  Clarion Books

Genre:  YA Historical fiction

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  An adventurous, retelling of Robin Hood with very strong females characters.  Highly entertaining.





  
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Monday, August 6, 2018

ARC Review: Smothered by Autumn Chiklis

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A humorous debut crossover young adult novel about what happens when entering the "real world" means moving back in with your mother, inspired by actress and celebrity Autumn Chiklis' real life.

Eloise “Lou” Hansen is graduating from Columbia University summa cum laude, and she's ready to conquer the world. Just a few minor problems: she has no job, no prospects, and she’s moving back into her childhood bedroom. Lou is grimly determined to stick to a rigorous schedule to get a job and get out of her parents’ house. Shelly “Mama Shell” Hansen, on the other hand, is ecstatic, and just as determined to keep her at home. Who else will help her hide her latest binge-shopping purchases from her husband, go to SoulCycle with her, and hold her hand during Botox shots?

Smothered is a hilarious roman à clef told via journal entries, text messages, emails, bills, receipts, tweets, doctor’s prescriptions, job applications and rejections, parking tickets, and pug pictures, chronicling the year that Lou moves back home after college. Told from Lou’s point-of-view, Smothered tells the story of two young(ish) women, just trying to get it right, and learning that just because we all grow up doesn’t mean we necessarily have to grow old. (After all, what is Juvaderm for?)


Review:
I am not familiar with Autumn Chiklis, but when I read the synopsis for Smothered, I was immediately interested.  I have adult offspring living at home right now, so I really wanted to read a humorous take on that situation.  This book certainly delivers on that front.  This is a fun, sometimes over the top, story of one college grad's return home (until she finds a job...).

What I Liked:
Setting:
I grew up in Southern California so I could totally relate to all the L.A. jokes.  What may seem ridiculous (doggie day spas, algae shots) is actually quite plausible in that city.

I especially loved the small part that happens in Santa Barbara (my hometown!).  Every weekend, people descend on SB from Los Angeles.  The author must have done the same because all the details are spot on (ah, McConnell's Ice Cream).

Characters:
As a person in the exact situation as this book (adult offspring coming back to live with us after college), I found it very engrossing to see the young adult's perspective.  Lou has all the right intentions to find a job, but is easily derailed by all the little details of life.  I also like that she acknowledges how she is falling back into childhood patterns ehen she is around her parents.

Mama Shell is an outrageous, fifty-something mom who can't stop being a helicopter parent, even if her daughter is twenty-two!  She has the best interests of her children at heart, but she also adores being the center of attention.  At times, Shell becomes a bit of an L.A. stereotype, with her spending, fashions, and constant diet and exercise schemes.  But I did rather identify with her desire to stay relevant with her kids.

Story:
This story was very funny, and was presented in imaginative ways.  There are lots of to do lists, text messages, Instagram pictures, and police reports!  While some of the scenes get beyond reality in order for outrageous things to happen, I found most of this book to be laugh out loud fun. 

What I Was Mixed About:
Characters:
While Lou and Shell were well developed characters, others were not very fleshed out or were stereotypes.  Lou's dad is simply a workaholic real estate broker who complains about his wife's spending.  Lou's sister seems to be a vapid teenager who has found minor fame on Instagram.  And Lou's "friend" Megan is a Mean Girl straight out of central casting.

Story:
While the story was very fun and amusing, at times it was so over the top that it didn't seem credible.  I have a hard time believing that Lou would have that much trouble telling her parents that she has a boyfriend.  She is twenty-two after all!  And several scenes with Shell are like episodes of I Love Lucy, with lots of slapstick and loud lamenting. 

Overall:
This really was a fun, quick read.  Deep, it was not.  But in the summer this would be a great beach read, especially if you visit SoCal!

Rating: 




Release Date:  August 7th, 2018

Author:  Autumn Chiklis

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

Genre:  Crossover YA

Page Length:  288 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fun beach read.   
 
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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #130 & Sunday Post #94




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 


On The Blog:

Thursday:  ARC Review:  The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

In Real Life:

The second session of summer school began, and I am getting up earlier as a result.  So far, all is going great.  I am getting a lot done at home, and reading a ton of books!!!

I got approved for several books this week, and a few of the books I reserved from the library arrived, too.  But I did NOT buy any new books!

New Books:
Public Library:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36010223-smoke-in-the-sun?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9221521-the-hangman?ac=1&from_search=true


For Review:
NetGalley:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37969770-the-kennedy-debutante?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36645003-under-my-skin?ac=1&from_search=true
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863502-the-wartime-sisters?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40201364-the-alchemist-s-illusion?ac=1&from_search=true

 That's it for this week.  Make the most of any days off you have.  Summer will be over before you know it.

 
           
via GIPHY

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

ARC Review: The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37504654-the-masterpiece?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
For the nearly nine million people who live in New York City, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.

For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future, which she is certain will shine as the brightly as the constellations on the main concourse ceiling. It is 1928, and twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public's disdain for a "woman artist." Brash, fiery, confident, and single-minded--even while juggling the affections of two men, a wealthy would-be poet and a brilliant experimental painter--Clara is determined to achieve every creative success. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they'll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression, an insatiable monster with the power to destroy the entire art scene. And even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay's life. Full of grime and danger, from the smoke-blackened ceiling to the pickpockets and drug dealers who roam the floor, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece--an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.


Review:
A good historical fiction book is a jewelry box of little gems.  Fine details such as what people wear, how they speak, and what they do for fun bring the era written about to life.  There are a treasure trove of these in Fiona Davis's new book, The Masterpiece.

What I Liked:
Settings:
The story takes place in New York City, but in two different times:  the 1920's and the 1970's.  This allowed for lots of fun situations to be explored such as the Roaring Twenties and the Swinging Seventies.  Both eras were times of enormous change in America, and for the main characters.
 
Historical Details:
Since the main character in the 1920's story (Clara) is a commercial illustrator, the author effectively uses this to show the fashions, and products, of the day.  Great attention is  also given to the architectural details of Grand Central Terminal in New York, both in how it was in it's hay days of the 1920's, and when it was deemed an eyesore in the 1970's.

Characters:
Clara, a female artist, is the focus of the story taking place in the 1920's.  I loved how driven she was to make a living as an artist.  She was bold, (and needed to be) as obstacles were put in her way because she was a woman.

Newly divorced Virginia was not as likable, at first.  With her lack of confidence and naivety, it was hard to relate to her.  But in order for her character to develop, she needed to start at the bottom.  She later did change into a person I would want to know better, which was a treat to read. 

Story:
Both stories are about women who begin in the shadows of men.  They must learn that in order to thrive, they must rely upon themselves.  I liked this message.  It was empowering without man-hating.

In the 1920's story, Clara pursues her career as an artist while navigating the expectations for women of that time.  I loved the details of the art school and the art scene in New York.

In the 1970's story, Virginia is divorced and trying to make it on her own.  She starts out in the mindset that someone should take care of her.  I liked how she persevered, gaining new appreciation for working-class people, and New York.

What I didn't Like:
There were some things that I felt were not successful in this book.  There were several coincidences that were hard to accept, but were crucial to the story.  Virginia just happens to date the lawyer who is leading a lawsuit to remove Grand Central's protected Landmark status.  She also finds a lost piece of art and conveniently has an art history degree.  I found that these made the story not ring as true as it could have.  And I wish the ending didn't quite so neatly wrap everything up.  A few loose ends, and some regrets about lost opportunities, would have made this story more touching.

Overall:
I found this to be a mostly engaging, fun book with strong female characters.  I liked all the historical details, and the themes of empowerment.  If you enjoy historical fiction, you will be entertained by this book.

Rating: 




Release Date:  August 7th, 2018

Author:  Fiona Davis

Publisher:  Dutton

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source:  Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This captivating historical novel would be a good choice for book clubs.
 
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