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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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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

ARC Review: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36959639-small-spaces?ac=1&from_search=true

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

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver's warning. As the trio head out into the woods--bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them--the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: "Avoid large places. Keep to small."

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.


Review:
I have read several of Katherine Arden's books.  They are full of beautiful imagery, strong characters, and creative stories.  Small Spaces, her newest middle-grade novel, continues with these high standards.  This was a fun, creepy story that younger readers will love.

What I Liked:

Setting:
An eerie little town in Autumn, a school trip to a farm (with a haunted past), a strange encounter with a woman muttering about a book.  All of these work to create a sense of foreboding that is compelling and scary.  Not to mention, the scarecrows...

                 
via GIPHY


Characters:
Ollie, the main character, will be a kid others will identify with.  Ollie is a girl who's mother has died.  She tries to remain under the radar, as she can't stand the sympathetic tone of teachers, and her fellow students.    She even lashes out against her father when he tries to tell her to move on.  No one seems to truly acknowledge her right to her own feelings.

I also liked Brian and Coco, who's characters went beyond stereotypes and showed Ollie not to judge others.  I liked that the novel took the time to really develop these characters and make them an important part of the story.

The Book:
Although it is not a person, the book that Ollie steals is practically a living character.  We get to read portions of it as the story progresses, which gives the backstory of the farm and the "smiling man".  As Ollie and her friends try to find their way, they meet various people who might be connected to the book's story.  It all make for a chilling tale.

Story:
This is a creepy story, but one that is not too scary for middle-grade readers (ten and up).  I will never look at scarecrows or school trips the same way again! The sense of dread permeates the story, which makes for a page-turning, exciting story.  I hope you don't mind if I am being vague, but I really don't want to give away spoilers.

I will say that this is a perfect book to read as Halloween approaches.  It is fun, exciting, and scary.

Rating: 




Release Date:  July 9th, 2019 (in paperback).  Original release was September 25th, 2018

Author:  Katherine Arden

Publisher:  Puffin Books

Genre:  Middle-grade fantasy

Page Length:  216 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: 
This is a perfect book to read as Halloween approaches.  It is fun, exciting, and scary.  Middle-grade readers, and adults will love it.

 
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Thursday, September 12, 2019

ARC Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43521657-the-ten-thousand-doors-of-january?ac=1&from_search=true

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

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.


Review:
What if there were doors to other worlds just waiting to be discovered?  How would people use this opportunity?  The settings, characters, and story created an experience that blew me away!  I really enjoyed this book.

What I Liked:
Setting:
I enjoyed the early 20th century time period.  This moment before the first world war is a heart-breaking mix of optimism and innocence.  You can tell how different the world will soon be when the massive war machine of Europe awakens.

January is growing up in a world of privilege as the ward of Mr. Locke.  But being a girl of color, she is never really accepted.  People don't know how to treat her.  Is she a servant, an exotic pet?  She gets many different reactions from people.  This realism was smart and refreshing.

Characters:
I loved January.  She struggled to fit in anywhere, and was torn about her feelings about Mr. Locke.  Mr. Locke treated her as though she should be eternally grateful for his support, that she should follow him without question.  Did he love her like a father?  Or was he manipulating her (and her father) to profit from her potential?

She tried so hard to fit in and behave like a proper Edwardian girl.  But she  also longed to escape and see the world like her father.  I loved her determination to live life on her own terms.

Mr. Locke was a complicated character.  You don't know for most of the book if he was trying to protect January or exploit her.  Perhaps it was a little of both.  What I can say about Mr. Locke is that he was a complicated man who was really full of his own importance.

There are several other characters who were complex and intriguing.  I loved how surprised I was by all these people.

Story:
The story was a roller coaster ride of adventure as we learn of all the ways the doors can be used and of all the things that pass between the many worlds.  I loved how January, despite her efforts to maintain a low profile, found adventure and held on to her dreams of finding her father.  This was a story of overcoming other people's low expectations and persevering through adversity.

Rating: 




Release Date:  September 10th, 2019

Author:  Alix E. Harrow

Publisher:  Redhook

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  384 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A thoroughly unique story and setting sets this YA fantasy book apart.  This was a very enjoyable read.

 
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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

ARC Review: Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34109621-don-t-you-forget-about-me?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.

Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered – barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up with a business and a dog along the way.

Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years…
  


Review:
I first learned about author Mhairi McFarlane from a Boostagrammer in England named The Bookish Gurl. Since I really enjoy British romcom books, I was interested and found Don't You Forget About Me on Edelweiss.  Yes, this book was funny and romantic.  But it was also quite timely in this era of the #metoo movement, bringing up sexual harrassment (and worse).  With such a positive introduction to this author's work, I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

What I Liked:
Characters:
At first, we see Georgina as a stereotypical underachieving thirty year-old, working a series of low-paying waitress jobs and dating losers.  But there is a more complex woman under her pink furry jacket and short skirts.  I loved getting to know this character.  This author does a wonderful job of giving the reader information about Georgina in small doses, thus making me interested in finding out the whole truth about her.

Lucas is a man from Georgina's past who is likewise quite mysterious.  There are a few unnecessary about his past that are a bit clichéd, but mostly Lucas is a solid character with hidden depths.

Georgina's family is an interesting mix of infuriating and funny.  I especially enjoyed all the antics over Sunday lunches.  These could easily have been two-dimensional, annoying characters.  At first, they definitely are.  But I loved how we learn more about them and see how they all change over the course of the book. 

Themes:
Although this is not an exact retelling, I felt there were very strong similarities between this book and my favorite book of all time: Persuasion.  Many of Georgina's family resembles the family of Anne, the main character in the Jane Austin classic.  There is the vain, controlling step-father, and siblings who clearly don't see Georgina as capable or important.  And the main theme of a second chance at love after an intense, but youthful infatuation is the same. 

Story:
The story centers around the mystery of why Georgina and Luke (who were so in love as teens) broke up in the first place.  There are definitely differences between what we think happened and what really took place that will be addressed as the story moves along.  This was very satisfying.

But along with that, there is a side story about the aftermath of Georgina's relationship with a manipulative womanizer.  In fact, there are several men in the story who are used to exploiting women.  They seem genuinely baffled by the new self-awareness of women who are fed up with sexual harassment, mansplaining, and being devalued.  How she progresses from accepting this behavior to putting herself first made me adore Georgina.  It elevates this story from a charming romcom to a timely novel where we tell these types of men that their Time's Up!


Trigger Warning for sexual assault

Rating: 




Release Date: September 10th, 2019

Author:  Mhairi McFarlane

Publisher:  William Morrow Books

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Page Length:  432 Pages

Source:  Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A highly-entertaining book that was alternately funny and serious.  Go get this book!

 

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

ARC Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43263552-the-long-call
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
For the first time in 20 years, Ann Cleeves—international bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—embarks on a gripping new series.
In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. Once loved and cherished, the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back into the community he thought he had left behind, as deadly secrets hidden at its heart are revealed, and his past and present collide.

An astonishing new novel told with compassion and searing insight, The Long Call will captivate fans of Vera and Shetland, as well as new readers.


Review:
My mom was an avid reader of mystery novels.  She enjoyed the puzzles and the suspense.  I guess that because my mom loved these books, I automatically resisted them (ah, daughterly rebellion).  But in recent years, I have finally come to understand their appeal.

This is the first Ann Cleeves novel I have read, but it certainly won't be the last.  The Long Call has lots of what I love about any book: a small-town setting, an array of quirky characters, and a compelling story.  But this is also a top-notch crime story that was very exciting.

What I Liked:
Setting:
I love books set in small towns.  There is something about a place where everyone is known that makes me want to delve in more deeply.  After all, everyone has their secrets.  The setting is North Devon, England.  I found the faded resort town to be  charming.

Even though the place was charming, it was not a sugary sweet small town.  The effects of a downward trending economy were evident, from the seedy streets (away from the tourist areas) and various social issues that accompanied them.

Characters:
I really liked Matthew, the lead detective.  His smart appearance belies a very complicated backstory that is relevant to the action in the book.  His husband, Jonathan, is the polar-opposite of Matthew with his laid-back attitude and casual attire.  They couldn't be more different, or a more perfect fit for each other.

I also liked Jen, the other police officer (detective?) in the story.  Her struggles are very different from her colleague, Ross.  Jen is constantly juggling being a single parent with putting in the hours and dedication to her career.  I like her running commentary, as she often wonders if the assignments she gets are because she is good at certain skills, or because she is being pidgin-holed into less important work because she is a woman.  Since she is one of the only women in her department, these are not unreasonable concerns.

Also, I quite liked the various characters in the book who had Down's Syndrome.  I liked that the author showed different presentations of the same condition.  I also really appreciated the families who took care of these characters.  This book didn't sugar-coat the challenges families face, especially when the parents face old age.

Story:
The story begins with a body found on the beach.  A seemingly random series of events that follow gives Matthew the idea that they are all connected.  But he can't quite figure out how.  That's the puzzle portion of the book, and it's fun to figure out how everything is, indeed, connected.

The ending was exciting, with lots of plot twists I didn't see coming.  This seems to be the first book in a new series, and I will really look forward to the next book.

Rating: 




Release Date:  September 3rd, 2019

Author:  Ann Cleeves

Publisher:  Monitaur Books

Genre:  Crime/Mystery

Page Length:  384 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation: 
This seems to be the first book in a new series, and I will really look forward to the next book.  If you enjoy mysteries, you will love this book.
 





 
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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

ARC Review: Sword and Pen by Rachel Caine

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34408305-sword-and-pen?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 in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The corrupt leadership of the Great Library has fallen. But with the Archivist plotting his return to power, and the Library under siege from outside empires and kingdoms, its future is uncertain. Jess Brightwell and his friends must come together as never before, to forge a new future for the Great Library . . . or see everything it stood for crumble.

Review:
I have a slight confession to make:  when I requested Sword and Pen, by Rachel Caine, on NetGalley, I hadn't realized there were FOUR previous books in the series!  Of course, I read the first book, Ink and Bone, and I thought I may need to read one more book before moving on to the book I requested.  So I spent the summer reading the entire series.  And I am so glad I did.

This series has been so fun, filled with a diverse group of characters, and enough action and romance to keep me on the edge of my seat for all five books.   The fifth and final book is a fitting send off.


What I Liked:
Setting:
The Great Library is set in a kind of alternate reality, steampunk version of the world.  All knowledge is controlled by the Library (a clear allusion to the Roman Catholic Church), so owning any original copies of books is forbidden.  There are many layers to this societ.  Most of the main characters are soldiers in the High Garda, but others are scholars, magicians (called Obscurists) or criminals.  The book is set in the middle of a revolution, so there are lots of rebels, as well. 

Each book gives us more of the mythology of this world.  In Sword and Pen, we learn about how the very foundations of the society were formed.  Themes of personal and intellectual freedom are highlighted, as well.

Characters:
The group of friends (Jess, Morgan, Glain, Khalila, Thomas, and Dario) are back.  While some characters, such as Jess and Dario are your standard YA heroes (reckless, with a heart), others are really unique.  Glain, although it's not specifically stated, is asexual. Thomas, the genius inventor, has to work hard not to give in to violence.  And Khalila is a devout, hijab-wearing Muslim.

While I love every single young person in this book, I also appreciate that the author took the time to have characters with a variety of ages.  And they aren't simple background characters.  Wolf and Santi are very complex men in a deeply committed relationship.  The students look up to both of them.  Each is smart and has different strengths and challenges.

Story:
The story is action-packed as the team tries to finally put a stop to the Archivist's hold on power.  All the planning in the world doesn't prevent various roadblocks to victory.  It would be a pretty boring book if it was easy.

I appreciate that the author took the time to wrap up everyone's story.  And, fair warning, not everyone gets a happy ending.

What I Was Mixed About:
Although I did really love the story, the action was a little too non-stop!  How many close calls can Jess get in in a day?  He has the most amazing luck to get out of sticky situations time and time again.

Rating: 




Release Date:  September 3rd, 2019

Author:  Rachel Caine

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  368 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation: A fitting finale to the series.  Do read all the other books first (and preferably just before reading this book).
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Monday, September 2, 2019

ARC Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43316755-the-harp-of-kings?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . .


Review:
I was really interested in this novel from the description I read on NetGalley: a brother and sister who are musicians AND warriors!  I am so grateful for the approval because this is one of the most unique fantasy novels I have read in quite some time.  It has wonderful characters, the intrigue of a spy novel, and Faeries! What more could you want???

What I liked:
Characters:
Liobhan and her brother Dau are training to become elite warriors, but they are also accomplished musicians who entertain their fellow cadets with strangely compelling music.  I loved the many layers to their relationship.  They supported each other but were very different.  Liobhan lives for combat drills and punishing physical workouts.  Dau is also an impressive fighter, but, secretely, he would rather play his harp and compose music.

They are also keeping an intriguing secret from every one.  I was really surprised by this plot twist, but in the best possible way.

Brocc is another cadet training to be a warrior.  At first he seems like a misogynistic jerk, and seems to take joy in antagonizing Liobhan.  But as the story progresses, we see the deep scars that form his personality.  He has a story arc that will make you care deeply about him by the end of the novel.

Tropes Smashed:
As I was introduced to these characters, I instantly thought I knew what would happen based on so many popular tropes in YA (enemies who fall in love, royalty who plot for dominance).  But I was happily proven wrong!  I love that this author didn't feel the need to stick with predictable plot lines.  This made the story really refreshing.

Story:
The story has all the fun elements of a crime novel.  There is a mystery (where is the Harp of Kings, who took it, and why?), suspects with hidden agendas, and danger.  You don't really know everything that's going on until the very end where all the different parts fall into place to show us what is happening. 

And then there are the Faeries.  They play an important role in the mystery.  I really enjoyed this other world with unique characters, settings, and problems.  I especially liked the emphasis on the natural world.  

Trigger Warning:
This was a deep, and, at times, difficult book to read.  There are graphic depictions of physical abuse, animal torture and sexual assault.  These were necessary to the story, but please be warned. 


Rating: 




Release Date:  September 3rd, 2019

Author:  Juliet Marillier

Publisher:  Ace Books

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  464 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This is a unique YA Fantasy.  Very compelling with surprisingly deep themes.

 


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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

ARC Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45885120-the-warehouse?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 in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here.

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place.

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business--and who will pay the ultimate price.


Review:
With Amazon "Prime Day" last month, the company, and its growing influence in America, has been something to think about.  The Warehouse, by Rob Hart, illustrates everyone's fears about a mega-corporation wielding unchecked power over the workforce, consumers, and society.  This book is thrilling, not just due to an addictive tale of corporate espionage, but because many of the elements are already happening in real life.  This book grabbed my attention and didn't let go until the exciting finish.

What I Liked:
Setting:
The story is set in America in the not so distant future.  The company known as "The Cloud" (a fictionalized Amazon) rises in influence after a terrible Black Friday incident makes most people afraid to shop in brick & mortar stores.  

What I enjoyed most about the set up for this book is that much of how The Cloud does business is eerily similar to how a certain company operates.  But it's taken to a whole other level of control.  From The Cloud's hiring practices, to how it gobbles up small companies, this book understands all the small ways that The Cloud influences society to the point where they dominate everything.

Characters:
The story follows Paxton, a down-trodden inventor who lost his company when The Cloud stole his product idea.  He gets it in his head that he will work for The Cloud and then confront the company's founder, Gibson Wells.  But once he starts working for The Cloud, he starts to forget why he was so angry.  Working at The Cloud is easy.  It's simple.  He doesn't need to think for himself.  He just needs to follow the rules without question.

Zennia is a new employee at The Cloud, too.  But her motivation for working there is more nefarious.  In a world of high-stakes business, corporate espionage can be, literally, cut-throat.

The story also shows the point of view of the company's founder, Gibson Wells.  One can understand how his vision for the world could be easy to follow.  He is both brilliant in his leadership and clueless about how his company operates.  Or is he...? 

Story:
The novel is a classic fish out of water story with Paxton and Zennia learning how this world operates.  Paxton slowly makes compromises that accumulate to a point where he actually enjoys working at The Cloud.  Zennia also starts to accept all the small things that make working for The Cloud so dehumanizing.  It's fascinating how all these small alterations in what we are willing to accept for safety and convenience add up to a situation that is so familiar and so scary.


Rating: 




Release Date:  August 20th, 2019

Author:  Rob Hart

Publisher:  Crown Books

Genre:  Thriller/Speculative Fiction

Page Length: 368 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  An exciting and frightening book!  Read it before they release the movie (seriously, I think production has already started). 
 
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

ARC Review: All The Flowers in Paris by Sarah Jio

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46226328-all-the-flowers-in-paris?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 in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Caroline Williams wakes up in Paris with no memory of her past, she finds that returning to the life she has forgotten is harder than she thought. Even her cavernous apartment on rue Cler seems to hold no clues...
As she searches, Caroline discovers a hidden stack of letters written by a young mother, Céline, during the Second World War. Captivated by Céline's desperate love for both her daughter and her missing lover, and the haunting glimpses of Paris under Nazi occupation, Caroline begins to realise she may have more in common with Céline that she could ever imagine.
What dark secrets are harboured within the walls of her picture-perfect Parisian home?
And could uncovering the truth about Céline unlock Caroline's own...?  

Review:
I have long been a fan of historical fiction.  I love learning the details about a time and place I can never actually visit.  Plus, reading stories where where the characters are swept up in larger historical events are always fascinating.  I have mixed feelings about All The Flowers in Paris, by Sarah Jio.  Alternating between the 1940's and present day, the novel successfully presents the personal drama of a young mother in Paris trying to survive the Nazi occupation of WWII.  However, what did not work, in my opinion, was the part of the story that took place in present day.  I still found this story quite enjoyable and gave it a three out of five stars.

What I Liked:
Historical Details:
The author did a wonderful job of showing the reader what life was like in Paris during WWII.  From what people wore to the standards of living various classes of people had, one could really get a feel for how Parisians lived.  I particularly liked reading about the small pleasures Céline's daughter, Cosi, took in finding little treats to share with her stuffed teddy bear, and the joy she had in writing in a journal. 

Story:
The story, set in 1940's Paris, is really riveting.  As the story begins we see Céline, a young widowed mother, doing her best to ignore the signs that hard times are on their way.  She and her father run a flower shop.  If people are still ordering flowers for dinner parties, things can't be that bad, right?  But when Céline's beauty is noticed by a brutal Nazi officer, she learns just how much the world has changed.

The novel shows the changes that occur slowly among her neighbors.  It starts with people looking the other way as Germans harass minorities, and continues when people keep silent as their Jewish neighbors are arrested.  What was once unthinkable is now accepted.


What I Didn't Like:
Modern-day Story:
I felt the story set in modern times was unnecessarily melodramatic.  We learn early on that Caroline, the main character, has a bike accident leaving her mostly unscathed... except for a very large, and convenient, case of amnesia!  Really?  

             
via GIPHY

This was just ridiculous.  The author seemed to think that Caroline needed a huge reason to want to know more about the box of old letters she finds in her apartment.  But if I found such a stash, I wouldn't need a blow to the head to want to learn more.

This was also an absurd premise for the romance in the story and again, totally unnecessary.  There would have been plenty of emotional tension without this crutch.

Trigger Warning for Sexual Violence

Rating: 



Release Date:  August 13th, 2019

Author:  Sarah Jio

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  320 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Although the modern day story was silly, the tale of a young mother in Nazi-occupied Paris was very compelling.  I recommend getting this at the library.




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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

ARC Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39679076-house-of-salt-and-sorrows
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls' lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn't sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh's involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it's a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.


Review:
With a description so Gothic and a cover that is achingly beautiful, I was excited to read House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig.  I was really impressed by the world-building, characters, and story.  There was plenty of Gothic horror that was very creepy, making this a fun book to read.


What I Liked:
World-Building:
The author did a wonderful job introducing the reader to the culture and society of the fictional Salann Islands. There is a complicated religion with gods and demons that, at times, appear and mix with humans.   There are nobility kind of like in Europe, with the oldest offspring (not just men) inheriting and titles and property.  Most pertinent to the story, there are many rituals that happen when a family member dies.  

I also love the detailed descriptions of the clothes the characters wore (which did become important in the story).  All of these details create a complex, satisfying world for the reader to immerse themselves in.

Characters:
Annaleigh and her many sisters have a life of sorrow.  One by one, her siblings are dying.  I found myself rooting for Annaleigh.  She is so full of love for her sisters, and has compassion for everyone, even her very young step-mother.  But she is also no pushover.  She could go toe-to-toe with anyone trying to push their will on her.    I also like that she was a Gothic Nancy Drew, questioning the string of deaths.
 

             
via GIPHY

Story:
The story had some truly creepy moments with twists and turns I didn't see coming.  I loved that certain moods in the story were tied to the weather (storms are NEVER a good sign in this novel).  There was plenty of suspense that made this book a page-turner.


What I Was Mixed About:
Ending:
The ending was a bit too tidy for my taste.  Given how suspenseful the story was I was surprised... Sorry I can't get too specific, but I hate:

             
via GIPHY





Rating: 




Release Date:  August 6th, 2019

Author:  Erin A. Craig

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

Genre:  YA Gothic Horror Fantasy

Page Length: 416 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: If you like Gothic Horror, this is the book for you.  A super moody YA to be read on a rainy day with a warm cup of tea.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

ARC Review: The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42647003-the-chelsea-girls
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):
From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City's creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics. A Red scare is sweeping across America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy has started a witch hunt for Communists, with those in the entertainment industry in the crosshairs. As the pressure builds to name names, it is more than Hazel and Maxine's Broadway dreams that may suffer as they grapple with the terrible consequences, but also their livelihood, their friendship, and even their freedom.

Spanning from the 1940s to the 1960s, The Chelsea Girls deftly pulls back the curtain on the desperate political pressures of McCarthyism, the complicated bonds of female friendship, and the siren call of the uninhibited Chelsea Hotel.
  


Review:
Fiona Davis is fast becoming one of my favorite historical fiction authors.  As with her other works, The Chelsea Girls is set in New York City.  The bulk of the novel happens in 1950.  It was a time where Americans were told Communists were infiltrating every aspect of our institutions.  With colorful, heart-breaking characters, and well researched historical details, this novel captures the fear and paranoia of the time, and the lost potential of a generation of artists. 

What I Liked:
Setting:
The book actually begins in Naples, Italy at the end of WWII, where Hazel (a new USO performer) is thrust onto the stage to entertain the troops. When one thinks of the USO, carefree images of Bob Hope yukking it up for the soldiers come to mind.  This story shows the less glamorous side, where the show went on, rain or shine.  

Later, the Hazel meets up with one of the other characters, Maxine, in New York City.  It's 1950, and the entertainment industry is moving into high-gear.  America is ready to be distracted.  But there is also a lurking fear of Communists brought on by the Cold War.  I am a total theatre geek, so reading about how Broadway shows were created was really fascinating to me.

Much of the scenes take place at the iconic Chelsea Hotel, where Hazel lives after a fight with her mother.  This was one of the first co-op apartment buildings in New York, one that catered specifically to artists.  The atmosphere and colorful residents made the hotel seem idyllic, where outsiders could create their own family. 

Characters:
Hazel, who works as an understudy on Broadway, goes from being the butt of jokes to being taken seriously as a playwright.  Even though the novel celebrates her artistic talents, Hazel is not an idealized character.  She is jealous of how her bombshell friend Maxine gets all the attention.  And her relationship with her mother is strained.  She is also very self-riotous about not caving in to name communists when the government tries to blacklist her.  I'm thankful she wasn't perfect.  Her imperfections made her character more realistic.

Maxine is Hazel's friend who works as a film actress in Hollywood.  She has a complicated life due to her relationship with her lover, Arthur.  He is a classic abuser, vacillating between adoring her and hitting her.  Later, we understand why she puts up with this.  Maxine is also a complex character.  At times, she is selfless, and then she rationalizes terrible choices in order to live with herself.  It was what many people did in those days in order to survive. 

Story:
The story is centered around the communist paranoia of the early 1950's.  If one even attended a rally to fight fascism years earlier, one could be called a communist.  This was a time where if someone didn't like you, all they needed to do to get you fired from your job was insinuate that you were a communist.  If you tried to fight the charges, you would have to hire lawyers, or pay a $200 fee to a private company in order to clear your name.

There is a twist that occurs about two-thirds into the novel that completely turns the story on its head.  I will not give it away, but this makes the book go from a morality piece to a suspense thriller.  It really makes the book compelling, and I loved it.  

Rating: 




Release Date:  July 30th, 2019

Author:  Fiona Davis

Publisher:  Dutton Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source:  Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This work of historical fiction packs an emotional punch.  Full of wonderful details.  Highly recommended.

 

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

ARC Review: Shatter The Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38465005-shatter-the-sky
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review,  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?
  


Review:
I admit it.  I requested this book based more on the cover art than the description.  But, with very creative world-building, fun characters, and an action-packed story, this book exceeded my expectations.  This was a really fun read.

What I Liked:
World-Building:
This book had some complex and exciting world-building!  There were several kingdoms, each with its own complicated customs, clothing, food, and histories.  And then there were the DRAGONS!!!
            
via GIPHY

Oh, I love stories with dragons!  There is so much to love about how the author presents these mythical creatures.  How they hatch, are trained, and then are treated, make for compelling reading.  I also loved that Maren connects and dreams with a dragon!  She starts to have so much compassion for these creatures, she starts to question their treatment.  I loved this self-reflection.

Characters:
Maren has a compelling journey.  She begins the story as a person with extremely low self-esteem.  She is always in the shadow of her girlfriend, Kaia.  While everyone raves about how wonderful Kaia is, Maren is overlooked.  After Kaia is taken away, it is up to Maren to rescue Kaia.  I loved how Maren often had to talk herself into doing brave things by saying to herself, "What would Kaia do?".  Being brave is about doing something you are afraid of despite your fear, and she showed that resilience. 

Kaia has a journey that seems opposite of Maren's.  While we only get glimpses of this, it Kaia appears to lose her confidence the longer she is held by the Aurati.  This is understandable.  Even the bravest person will have trouble with fighting back if they are being tortured and humiliated by their captors.  

This shift in their relationship is something I wish the author did more with.  I hope this will be explored much more in the sequel.

Story:
This is a coming of age road trip story.  It just happens to be set in a fantasy world filled with dragons.  I loved how the more Maren sees of the world, the more confidence she gets.  She also has the opportunity to reassess her beliefs as she sees more parts of the kingdom.

I also loved that dragons were so central to the story.  As the book progresses, we get to see how the dragons are raised, and how they bond with humans. 
 


What I Was Mixed About:
Romance:
The very start of the book has us investing in Maren and Kaia's great love story.  But, as the novel progresses, Maren starts to have feelings for a guy.  The book gave no indication that Maren was interested in boys until that point.  So I found this confusing.  Also, I would have just loved it if the guy was interested, and Maren just blew him off and said, "Nope"!

                 
via GIPHY



There didn't need to be a love triangle in this story.  It would have been refreshing to have a story where the guy doesn't automatically assume the girl will be into him.

What I Didn't Like:
Ending:
Yes, I know there will be a sequel.  But I hate it when a story ends literally in the middle of a scene!  Only a portion of the story was resolved.  There could have been much more done to show where Maren's relationships with others stood.  This left me feeling very unsatisfied.

Rating: 




Release Date:  July 30th, 2019

Author: Rebecca Kim Wells

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length: 304 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:
If you have ever daydreamed of having your own dragon, then this book is for you!  This was a really fun book.  I just hope the sequel comes out quickly, as there were lots of unresolved plot points.


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