Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had incredibly happy holidays and had a great New Year’s Day. I spent the majority of my holidays traveling, so I’m looking forward to some time at home the next few months!

In reflecting over the past blogging year, I took some time today to update my 2012 Challenge Index. Here’s a quick recap of how I did on my reading challenges:

2012 Goodreads Challenge: 50/100 books read

Compared to the 120 books I read in 2011, this is a pitiful number. I’m not sure why I read so many fewer books this year, but I think I simply wasn’t as motivated to power through so many review copies. I focused much more on library books and didn’t pressure myself to read quickly. I’ve adjusted my 2013 challenge to 75 as a “split the difference” strategy between my 2011 and 2012 reading goals.

Debut Author Challenge: 6/12 books read

I read far fewer review books this year. I even had my NetGalley account deactivated and changed my review policy so that I no longer accept advance copies at all. As a result, I read fewer debuts as their availability at the library is more limited than older titles, and I only purchased a couple of them. I probably won’t participate in this challenge anymore.

YA Historical Fiction Challenge: 6/10 books read

This is a favorite genre, so I’m not surprised I got closer to completing this one. I was derailed by finding lots more adult historical fiction this year, which doesn’t count for this particular challenge. I think I’ll try a less narrow genre challenge this year.

Get Steampunked Challenge: 3/15 books read

Yikes! I’m surprised I didn’t get through more of these. I have amassed a large selection of steampunk books this year, so now I need to get to actually reading them. I’ll be signing up for this one again.

Off the Shelves Challenge: 1/30 books read

At least it’s not zero! This was a challenge to read books sitting on my shelves, which did not happen (obviously). Because my book horde is approaching unmanageable proportions, this is a MAJOR goal of mine in 2013 – read the books I already own before I buy (or borrow) old ones. The library is proving to be the toughest competition, because I justify borrowing books because they are free, but doing so does nothing to increase the books read on my shelves. I am definitely doing at least a couple of TBR-oriented challenges this year to get my butt in gear!

Books Started But Not Finished Challenge: 2/6 books read

The idea here was to finish books from my short list of abandoned titles. It did not go well. There’s usually a reason I didn’t finish them, so most of these titles just didn’t appeal to me over shiny new books that might be the best book ever. I’ll give this challenge a miss in the future.

Graphic Novels Challenge: 0/12 books read

Another embarrassing failure. Because my graphic novel collection is precious to me, I don’t really want to take them out of my house. This means I don’t take them on the train, which is where I do most of my reading. Still, I plan to keep the same list and try again with this challenge. I can usually finish a graphic novel in a relatively short amount of time, so I need to pick a gloomy weekend this winter and get through a few at a time. Maybe that should be the primary focus of a read-a-thon?

Why Buy the Cow? Challenge: 0/12 books read

No freebies read this year. I also think I acquired very few (if any) of them. I have plenty of paid-for books to read, and I’m not really interested in glutting my Kindle with more freebies. Unless it’s a title I’ve been itching to read anyway, no thanks. After two years in a row of failing, I won’t be doing this challenge again.

Speculative Romance Challenge: 3/12 books read

This was another one that surprised me. I really thought I would read more than that in this genre. Instead of doing a strict romance genre challenge, I’ll be substituting the Seriously Series challenge, since I have so many UF/PNR series books in my TBR pile.

Dusty Volumes Challenge: 3/6 books read

Finishing half of my list is a definite step up from 2011, so I’m happy with that number. It’s entirely thanks to the Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader that I even got this far! I don’t think Midnyte Reader is hosting this again (so I’ll probably do her Authors After Dark challenge instead), but I’ll attempt a different classics challenge, since I have a good list in mind that I want to finish this year. 

Outlander Reading Challenge: 1/6 books read

This didn’t turn out to be a big priority for me, so it fell to the back of the pack. I know I’ll get to the rest of these eventually, but I don’t need a challenge to do so.

1st in a Series Challenge: 9/12 books read

I did the best in this challenge, partly because I like starting series, and partly because it’s hard to find books these days that aren’t part of a series.

Finishing the Series Challenge: 1/3 series finished

I guess I got too distracted by new series to finish the ones I’ve already started!


Now, on to 2013!

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting challenge sign-ups and getting my 2013 index ready. It felt really good to update links and do, well, anything, blog-related. Maybe this year I can get around to posting my challenge progress bar widgets to help keep me on track. 🙂

 

 

 

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Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Book: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: April 3, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: His Fair Assassin #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous giftsâ??and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittanyâ??where she finds herself woefully under preparedâ??not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Deathâ??s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

First impressions: YOU GUYS. LADY NUN ASSASSINS. Enough said.

Lasting impressions: Ismae may be one of my favorite heroines of all time. She’s up there with Claire Randall, vying for the top spot. She’s smart, humble, kind, merciful, and oh yeah – a stealthy handmaiden of death.

Conflicting impressions: While the convent was a large focus of the first part of this book, the ending didn’t tie up many loose ends in that regard. I have a feeling much of this information will become the focus in later books, but I felt a little jilted in this book when it came to Sybella and some of the other sisters.

Overall impressions: It’s a historical novel with courtly intrigue and a protagonist who is a kick-ass murderer. But a nice kick-ass murderer. I would have bet anyone a million dollars that I would love this book.

Guess what? I win!

The premise of this book could never hold the weight of its own ambition without a heroine that makes the reader care about her. From the very first page, Ismae stole my heart. Trapped under an abusive father, marked by Death himself to be an outcast, and thrust into a marriage with a disgusting pig of a man, I couldn’t help but want something more for her. When she is offered a home and a purpose for her miserable life at St. Mortain’s convent, Ismae can finally start to believe in herself. 

The bulk of the novel focuses on one of Ismae’s first major assignments. She is assigned to play mistress to Lord Duval and accompany him to the Breton court to ferret out traitors that need assassinating. There is a delectable romance that builds between the two unlikely lovebirds, and I appreciated that LaFevers devoted more time to personality based obstacles than class driven ones. Yes he’s a Lord and one of the most influential men at court, and she’s just the lowly peasant girl, but that never seems to be the focus for why these two shouldn’t fall in love.

Perhaps why I loved Ismae so much was precisely because LaFevers made her more complicated than the usual historical trope. Despite her training and occupation, Ismae is an Everywoman. She’s unsure of herself and makes mistakes. She follows at times she should be leading. She trusts when she shouldn’t. Yet we don’t fault her for any of it. We understand why she makes the decisions she does, and it makes her all the more believable and compelling. 

Do I think this story needed to meander through nearly 600 pages? No. There were moments where the pacing lagged and Ismae got a bit repetitive with her musings. At its core, however, this novel has a pure soul that guides us carefully through morally complicated situations that at times benefited from a lengthier examination. As Ismae determines her true calling as Death’s handmaiden, the book culminates in one of the most spiritually enlightened moments I’ve ever experienced in fiction. 

The vast depth to this book offers pure pleasure to the reader. If you’re willing to invest the time, it will heap its rewards upon you. There’s a reason for the hype, and this one definitely lives up to it.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

Book: Cross My Heart
Author: Sasha Gould
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: March 13, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads: Venice, 1585.

When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currencyâ??secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murderâ??one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

First impressions: Man, I am such a sucker for historical settings. The rich details and ominous beginning had me hooked.

Lasting impressions: A fun historical mystery that’s recommended for fans of both genres.

Conflicting impressions: The romance didn’t feel real for me, and I felt the story could have done without it.

Overall impressions: If there’s one thing I love more than historical fiction, it’s secret societies. This book offered me both, and for the most part I was not disappointed.

Laura is a pleasant protagonist, who is stuck in the most unfortunate situations for much of the book. I really rooted for her, because nobody likes to see nice people in sucky circumstances. Forced to live in a convent while her father uses all the available dowry money to try and marry off her older sister, Laura’s life is bleak. When her sister dies suddenly in a mysterious drowning, her father pulls her from the convent to use as a back-up bride.

Say it with me: ICK.

Laura goes along with this plan while out enjoying society for the first time, but soon learns that her new husband-to-be is a decrepit, dirty old man who promises nothing but a lifetime of misery. He’s skeezy in every sense of the world and I shuddered at the thought of poor Laura forced to spend the rest of her life with him.

Say it with me: DOUBLE ICK.

This is where the Segreta comes in. They are a secret society of powerful women that help make things happen in Venice. They pull strings, using the power and influence of secrets to bribe and undermine the men that rule over their lives. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that I wish had been developed a little more. We are given only the face value of this group, with no explanation into their surely rich history and inner workings. As written, it felt a little like a device used to propel Laura’s story forward instead of a vital, integrated thread of the plot.

Similarly, Laura develops a romance that was very ho-hum for me. I didn’t sense much chemistry or connection between them, and it jumped from friendly to ohmigodpleasemarryme in 4 seconds flat. Though the character provides an interesting subplot to the book, I personally would have found the book more satisfying with more emphasis on the Segreta and less on the romance.

The mystery of Laura’s sister’s death at times gets shuffled to the backburner as the story progresses, but the reveal at the end was interesting and I enjoyed the mystery component. I think fans of Renaissance Italy and mystery books will like this one as much as I did, despite its few small flaws.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

Book: Scarlet
Author: A. C. Gaughen
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads: Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hoodâ??s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

Itâ??s only her fierce loyalty to Robinâ??whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle herâ??that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

First impressions: I have to confess up front that I almost put this book down after the first few pages. I found Scarlet’s speech patterns to be jarringly irritating (she uses “were” instead of “was,” as in “I were truly bothered by the way she kept saying ‘were.'”).

Lasting impressions: Dialect choices aside, this is a thrilling adventure about life in Robin Hood’s gang from the perspective of a girl who can’t see past her own perceived failings to recognize the strength she carries within herself.

Conflicting impressions: See first impressions, above. Eventually I got over it, and I’m so glad I stuck with it, but it’s never a good thing when a character’s voice is initially so off-putting.

Overall impressions: It’s probably not my best idea to write this review immediately after finishing this (amazing, stupendous, terrific) book, because all I want to do is heap (amazing, stupendous, terrific) accolades upon it and call it a night.

Despite all of my grumblings about Scarlet’s dialect, she wormed her way into my heart. While approaching a particularly poignant revelation about three-quarters of the way through the book, I reached my train stop on my way to work and got disturbingly grumpy about having to stop reading for THREE WHOLE HOURS until lunch. Yet when I got home with merely fifteen percent of the book left to read, I savored it because I couldn’t bear for this to be the end of my journey with Scar and Rob.

I’m generally hit-or-miss with retellings, but this one knocked it out of the park. Perhaps my fond memories of Kevin Costner heaving that glorious mullet through a Bryan-Adams-soundtracked Sherwood Forest had something to do with my excitement for a new Robin Hood tale. (Don’t act like you didn’t see – and love – that movie.) Maybe I’m just a sucker for do-gooder redemption stories with tough, knife-wielding heroines. Whatever the case may be, it’s safe to say that this one is going on the Special Shelf.

Scarlet, a girl on the run from a secretive and damaged past, has taken up with Robin Hood and operates among the townfolk as Will Scarlet to keep her identity as a girl under wraps. Robin, John Little, and Much are all aware that she’s a girl, and although this fact keeps her as somewhat of an outsider among their band, Scarlet can hold her own in a fight. She has a hard time fully trusting her brothers for reasons not fully understood until they are painfully and slowly (in a good way) extricated throughout the narrative.

Things start to get overly complicated for Scar when the thief taker Gisbourne shows up in Nottingham. She’s been on the run from him, but won’t tell Robin why. Between the visible fear the usually unflappable Scarlet exhibits around Gisbourne, and the hints of a growing attraction between Scarlet and John, Robin starts to worry that Scarlet is endangering their band. Scarlet is all too aware that things are spiraling out of control, but as the Sheriff ratchets up the violence against innocent townspeople, she can’t help but try to save them to put right what she feels has been a lifetime of wrongs she has committed. Fighting her past as well as her suppressed feelings for Robin, she is losing her grip on her destiny she has tried so hard to control, and it may be too late for her to give everyone their happy ending.

The romance and internal conflicts are expertly handled, and though this is a familiar tale, there are plenty of twists and surprises to keep you guessing. Scarlet is a lovable, heart-breaking girl who absolutely enthralled me, and the men vying for her attention are equally engrossing. You River of Time series Luca fans will swoon over John Little, whose charming personality forgives his skirt-chasing ways. And what can I say about Robin Hood? He’s dashing, brilliant, and has a heart of gold. He wants to take all of the pain in the world upon himself to protect those around him. What’s not to love?

You must read this (amazing, stupendous, terrific) book. Right now. If you read one book this year, let it be this one. And in case I’m not being clear, I’m telling you that this is a really good read. Do you see what happens when I review (amazing, stupendous, terrific) books right after finishing them and just before bed? I’m reduced to spewing gobs of praise in every imaginable form and hoping that some part of it seeps through your eyeballs and into your synapses that then march you into your bookstore to pick up a copy.

If it worked, be sure to let me know.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

2012 YA Historical Fiction Challenge Sign-Up

**I’ve swiped Small Review‘s format for these sign-up posts, because she is awesome and organized and I am lazy and harried**

Challenge Basics:

Name: 2012 YA Historical Fiction Challenge
Hosts: YA Bliss

Starts: January 1, 2012
Ends: December 31, 2012
Eligible Books: YA or MG historical fiction; do not have to be 2012 releases.
Levels: Three: 5, 10, or 15 books. I’m choosing Level 2: 10 books.
Prizes? Giveaways for participants during the year.
Sign up here!

Why I’m Interested:

I love historical fiction, and I find lots of good reads through the link-ups.

Some books I’m considering:

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
Tributary by Lisa T. Bergren
Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan
War Horse by Michael Marpurgo

Books completed:

Check my progress all year on the sidebar or on my 2012 Challenge Index.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: Borrowed from local library, then bought

Summary: (from Goodreads) The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underwayâ??a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into loveâ??a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

First impressions: Opening a debut novel in 2nd person narrative is ballsy. But, oh man, did it work in this case. By introducing the reader to the wonder that is this night circus through gorgeous prose and the immediacy of the perspective, we are hooked from the first sentence. The circus arrives without warning.

Lasting impressions: I relished this book in a way that rarely happens for me – slowly. For the week I spent reading it, I rarely thought of anything else, yet I prolonged the reading experience in order to get the most out of it. This is a book that inspires reflection in all of the best ways, and rewards you for taking the time to read every word carefully. The story builds slowly, but purposefully, until the exciting climax threatens to turn the entire world of these characters upside down. It’s a beautiful journey to witness.

Conflicting impressions: I confess that I read all of the negative reviews of this book first. Surely no book could live up to the kind of magical hype this book has had heaped upon it, right? So I read the most blistering, scathing reviews, preparing myself for a slow, boring, overly dense novel with wooden characters and little action. And you know what I got? Subtle characters deftly written by a master puppeteer. Erin Morgenstern fills the pages with lush details, yes, but they all serve to inform us about the characters and the setting. I understood this world so well that I wanted to live in it for as long as possible, which is why I took so damn long to finish it. And why I bought a copy for my shelf the day before I returned my library book. I didn’t want a single day to go by without having this book in my possession.

Overall impressions: This book is magical, but not because it contains magic. This is not Harry Potter. Our young protagonists learn magic through natural ability and frustrating lessons by their parental figures – no straightforward schoolteachers to be found. They learn through trial and error, cruelty, and their own perseverance and curiosity.

Celia and Marco do not spend a lot of time in each other’s company, and as readers we are often much more knowledgeable than our characters. For me, this made the plot that much more enjoyable, as I had an inkling of where the story was going, but no idea how it was going to get there. As the story unfolded, I was more than willing to go along for the ride. This is a novel you either succumb to completely, or resign yourself to frustration. I think by the end of the first few chapters any reader will be able to tell if this is the book for him/her.

The Night Circus has rich period details, lots of colorful characters, and more than a handful of intrigue. This was not only one of my favorite books of the year, but one of my favorite books, period. If you’re looking to be entertained by something truly fresh and surprising, you must get your hands on this one.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Fateful by Claudia Gray

Book: Fateful
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) In Fateful, eighteen-year-old maid Tess Davies is determined to escape the wealthy, overbearing family she works for. Once the ship theyâ??re sailing on reaches the United States, sheâ??ll strike out on her own. Then she meets Alec, a handsome first-class passenger who captivates her instantly. But Alec has secrets….

Soon Tess will learn just how dark Alecâ??s past truly is. The danger they face is no ordinary enemy: werewolves are real and theyâ??re stalking himâ??and now Tess, too. Her growing love for Alec will put Tess in mortal peril, and fate will do the same before their journey on the Titanic is over.

Featuring the opulent backdrop of the Titanic, Fatefulâ??s publication is poised to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the shipâ??s doomed maiden voyage. It is sure to be a hit among Titanic buffs and fans of paranormal romance alike.

First impressions: Claudia Gray wastes no time setting the tone here. Tess is off on a last minute task before they sail on the Titanic, and she fumbles around in dark alleyways with trepidation. Fear is definitely a prominent emotion for Tess throughout the novel. An early run-in with a wolf lets us know that this is not going to be a typical Titanic tale. (Alliteration bonus points!)

Lasting impressions: SPECIAL SHELF! One of my favorite reads of the year.

Conflicting impressions: The dialogue felt a little cheesy at times. The interactions between Tess and Alec had the tendency to sound like something you’d hear on a soap opera – very melodramatic.

Overall impressions: If you like the story of the RMS Titanic, and you like young adult paranormals, you will L-O-V-E this book, just as I did. It was a near-perfect mashup of historical events with a werewolf twist.

I know. It sounds ridiculous. I promise you, it’s not.

Tess Davies gives us an honest account of life as a 20th century English maid. Working for the horrid Lady Regina, and her much more pleasant daughter, Irene, life is never easy for Tess. She hopes that when she arrives in New York at the conclusion of this voyage she can slip away from the Lisle family and set out on her own. All she wants is independence and the chance to get out from under the employers who have made her life, and the life of her sister, miserable.

While boarding the Titanic, Tess has the distinct feeling of being watched, and after several run-ins with the ominous Russian Mikhail, she discovers she is in danger. Luckily, a handsome young son of a Chicago steel magnate, Alec, comes to her rescue. He harbors secrets of his own, however, and despite his efforts to keep Tess away from his problems, she winds up sucked right into the middle of them.

The werewolf lore is just sparse enough to serve the story without bogging us down with too many details. We know at least one wolf is on board, wants something from Tess, and will stop at nothing to get it – even if she doesn’t know what it is. As she struggles to avoid trouble with the wolves, she winds up getting into trouble with her employer, the Lisle family. The balance of work duties with real fear of a very supernatural situation is hard on Tess, made even more difficult by the fact that as a servant she has almost no power or trustworthiness in the eyes of the ship’s staff. She is alone, and it is terrifying.

When she does manage to make a tentative friend out of one of her bunkmates, things ease a bit for her. Tess doesn’t really know what it’s like to have a friend, and this experience sets up an important relationship that will impact the rest of her life. Likewise, her blooming romance with Alec also has lasting consequences, and she learns that sometimes you can have joy in your life no matter your station.

My only disappointment with this novel is the fact that the sinking of the Titanic doesn’t occur until the very last pages. I would have liked to see this moved up a bit, since we all know it’s coming, and I kept wanting to get there quicker. The description of the ship going down is as vivid as in the James Cameron film, and just as tragic. Because of the third-class/first-class love story here, as well as the setting, it’s hard to not think of Jack and Rose, which is why I appreciated the werewolf angle. It sets this story apart a bit more, giving it a unique twist and some exciting action to carry the plot forward.

This was an absolute treat to read, and I so very highly recommend it. This is definitely going on my top five books of the year.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system



Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review

Review: Torrent by Lisa T. Bergren

Book: Torrent
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Publisher: David C. Cook
Release date: September 1, 2011
Source: Received from publicist for review
Series: River of Time #3

NOTE: THE SUMMARY AND REVIEW BELOW CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS FOR THE TRILOGY! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Summary: (from Goodreads) When Gabi and Lia finally learn to surf the river of time, they realize they must make hard choices about life and love in the third and final book in the River of Time series.

Gabi and Lia Betarrini have learned to control their time travel, and they return from medieval Italy to save their father from his tragic death in modern times. But love calls across the centuries, and the girls are determined to return forever â?? even though they know the Black Plague is advancing across Europe, claiming the lives of one-third of the population. In the suspenseful conclusion of the River of Time series, every decision is about life . . . and death.

First impressions: We’re back! After jumping through some serious hoops with major consequences, the Bettarini girls are back in Marcello’s time, and the action picks up immediately. At this point, reading this series feels like meeting old friends for coffee. No need for pleasantries, we can jump right into the heart of things.

Lasting impressions: But…but…I want moooooooore!

Conflicting impressions: There wasn’t nearly enough resolution for me. I wanted to know the fate of Paratore. And what happened to Giacinta? I felt like the book rushed through all of the events without taking the time to fully explore them in a way I’d have more enjoyed.

Overall impressions: It’s impossible to sum up my feelings on this book without a few spoilers, so if you’ve made it this far by ignoring my above disclaimer, then I wash my hands of responsibility for spoiling the party.

I want to start first with what annoyed me. Ben had it far too easy working his way into this new century. He’s thrust into battle right off the bat, and then they have to run for their lives without any time to stop and consider what just happened. When they do, I found it to be desiring. Much like others’ complaints that Marcello and Luca don’t seem curious enough about the future, Dad seemed a little too accepting. For all the trouble they went to to bring him back, Dad gets the short stick in this tale, which was a bit disappointing.

The ending was also a bit cliffhanger-y. There’s a huge battle (which Lisa Bergren continues to write with exquisite pacing and detail), but the story ends just after it. I wanted some more clues on where their lives were headed and just how much the events of the three books have impacted them. I felt I was denied a complete resolution for these characters.

Okay, but there was way more good stuff than bad stuff. All of my whiny complaints aside, Bergren has given us a solid third book in the River of Time trilogy. As in Cascade, the action drives the story at a brisk pace. The war between Firenze and Siena is threatening to boil over, and Firenze wants nothing more than to get their greedy paws on the She-Wolves of Siena. Gabi faces the pressure of marriage in order to save the dying and tortured Fortino. Can she thrust aside her feelings for Marcello and save Siena by marrying the alluring and attractive Lord Greco?

Marcello seemed miles away from Greco in this one. Rash, stubborn, and a bit immature, the luster of Marcello was wearing thin for me. Along comes dashing Rodolfo Greco and I’m all “Marry him Gabi!” I love books that can make you divide your allegiance between hot, strapping men. It gave Gabi some needed perspective and made her choice to get married at all more informed and adult instead of just a bit of teen love cementing her fate.

Obviously, this is a must-read for River of Time readers. It is full of excitement, love, doubt, sacrifice, and faith. Not just faith in God or destiny, but faith in ourselves and our choices. Gabi’s story is all about the decisions she makes and how she knows they are the right ones. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she has to take a leap of faith and do what she thinks is right. It’s a fantastic journey for her and for the readers, and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system
Curious about my reviews for the first two books in the trilogy? Read my take on Waterfall and Cascade.

Review: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Book: Haunting Violet
Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: June 21, 2011
Source: ARC received from I Read Banned Books Tour
Summary: (from Goodreads) Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother’s elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother’s scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she’s known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

First impressions: We first meet Violet as a 9 year old child in the opening chapter, and she quickly drew me in to her hard London life of poverty and cons. Her mother swindles the rich society ladies with fake Spiritualist readings and seances, while Violet follows the script and occasionally picks pockets. It was a fascinating setting for a ghost story.

Lasting impressions: One of my favorite reads so far in 2011. A historical gothic YA book that was equal parts frightening, delightful, and heartfelt.

Conflicting impressions: It seemed like there were a couple of inconsistencies, though I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I read an advance copy. A few times while reading I was scratching my head and flipping back through the pages, trying to figure out if we’d ever received that information before. At two different points, the color of Violet’s eyes becomes important, but I couldn’t find a mention of them at any time prior to these points. Odd.

Overall impressions: Quite simply, I wanted to hug this book when I was done with it. I wanted to climb under the covers and put it under my pillow, whispering “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” And of course, when it comes to explaining why exactly I loved it so much, I find myself coming up short.

Violet Willoughby has spent her entire life at the whim of her con artist mother’s moods and lies. Forced to help her mother with the various tricks and preparations for the then-uber-popular psychic readings and seances, Violet has never believed in spirits. Her mother, Celeste, has filled her head with lies about her father, and Celeste’s ego and beauty drive her to pursue a life of deceit (rather than honest work) in order to raise her young daughter.

Celeste is an awful person, and a worse mother. Unsatisfied with her poor station in life, and desperate to win her way into the society life of the peerage, she conducts herself as a medium – though she is a complete fraud. In order to pull off the various parlor tricks required for the seances and readings, she takes on a young boy named Colin, who also helps Violet pick pockets when they’re short on food money. It’s a hard life with few certainties save for the fact that Celeste will always be critical of Violet.

After a short chapter where we get a snapshot of this life when Violet is 9 and Colin is 11, we fast forward seven years to 1872. Violet, her mother, Colin, and a young maid are traveling to a country estate for a weeklong party held by an avid Spiritualist. It’s a big week for the family, and if they pull it off, it could mean the end of destitution and a real chance at a better life. Violet is being courted by a wealthy, handsome boy named Xavier, who can persuade his family to allow him to marry her (without a dowry!) based on her beauty and the fame of her mother. Violet seems ambivalent at best toward Xavier, but recognizes that without him she likely will face a life as a seamstress or cook.

I loved how well Alyxandra Harvey manages Violet’s feelings in this difficult historical time. She is play-acting the part of a lady while at this function, but she knows deep down that she doesn’t belong. The beautiful part is that she’s not sure she wants to. There is a certain freedom to being poor, without the expectations and rules and stifling conversations. Yet no one wants to stare a life of hard labor in the face and embrace it full on. Would she rather sew all day long until her fingers bleed or sit in a parlor drinking tea and reading books to her heart’s content? Not much of a question really, but she also struggles with whether being married to a dreadful bore is a price worth paying.

Shortly after arriving, and during the first of several readings by Celeste, Violet has a startling encounter with a ghost. Having never believed in them, it takes her a while to accept that she truly has developed the ability to speak to the dead. This is when the spooky kicks in. There are ouija boards, brushes with death, and various attempts to communicate before Violet, with the help of her friend Elizabeth, decides she must find out what happened to the ghost Rowena. Most of the book revolves around this murder mystery, and Violet was like our very own 19th century Nancy Drew. She bumbles around, trying to nose her way into everyone’s business to determine who killed Rowena, because if she doesn’t she’s afraid that either Rowena (and the other pesky spirits who are on to her new medium status) will never leave her alone, or the killer will strike again.

The mystery contains lots of red herrings and lots of action. I thought it was well paced and had appropriate amounts of clues thrown at us from time to time. Interspersed throughout the story are further complications to Violet’s well being and her relationship with her mother. There is a dramatic turn of events around the two-thirds point, and it serves as an important catalyst for Violet to decide what she wants out of life. She also starts to develop feelings for Colin, which only makes it more difficult to decide whether to marry Xavier.

Ultimately, this is a story about a girl who grew up never believing in the Spiritualist movement, only to wind up being a true medium herself. Violet must decide what to do with her gift – ignore it and whatever is bothering Rowena, or accept that she can choose to help people instead of exploit their grief like her mother did. Violet is such a likable character, with a quick wit and a heart of gold despite the hardships she endured under her controlling and wicked mother. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially if you at all enjoy historical or gothic tales.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system 

 


Thank you to I Read Banned Books Tour for lending me this copy!


Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review

Review: Cascade by Lisa T. Bergren

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Book: Cascade
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Publisher: David C. Cook
Release date: June 1, 2011
Source: ARC received from publicist
Series: River of Time #2

**NOTE – contains mild spoilers for the first book**

Summary: (from Goodreads) Gabi knows sheâ??s left her heart in the fourteenth century and she persuades Lia to help her to return, even though they know doing so will risk their very lives. When they arrive, weeks have passed and all of Siena longs to celebrate the heroines who turned the tide in the battle against Florenceâ??while the Florentines will go to great lengths to see them dead. But Marcello patiently awaits, and Gabi must decide if sheâ??s willing to leave her family behind for good in order to give her heart to him forever.

First impressions: I knew I was going to like this book from the first line: “Mom freaked out when she saw us, of course.” (p. 11) Best. First. Line. Ever. Slipping back into this world was like throwing on your favorite comfy jeans. I was a goner.

Lasting impressions: I’m so anxious to read Torrent, the final book in the trilogy, that I may develop an ulcer by September 1st. At least I only have to wait the summer, though. This quick release series thing is my new favorite.

Conflicting impressions: I don’t know if I’m just not remembering Waterfall that well, but Gabi felt a bit off to me in this book. Her voice came through a little differently than I was expecting – more typical teenager-isms, I guess. As a result, the internal monologue was 21st century, but the dialogue was 14th century, which was more jarring for me this time around.

Overall impressions: That said, the book was written the way I think. And the way I like to write. So, OF COURSE, I loved it!

At this point, I feel almost like, “What else can I say?” I love this series. Unless Lisa Bergren had written this sequel with Gabi murdering her own sister with noxious farts, I couldn’t have been disappointed. No. You know what? Even with the death-by-farting, I still probably would have rolled with it, nodding along as I read, assuming this was a weird ritual Italian thing that only Lisa is smart enough to know, and that eventually Lia would spring back to life and pull a rabbit out of a hat or something.

Ta da!

Lucky for us, Lisa didn’t write anything quite so silly. Instead, she completely rose to the occasion and crafted a sequel with even more of the heart-pounding action and non-stop danger that hooked me in the first book. Let’s face it. Medieval Italy was HARD LIVING, especially if you were a woman. Gabi, still a teenager, has a hard time accepting just how tough life in Marcello’s Italy can be. This book didn’t cut her any slack. Gabi and Lia are constantly under attack, but in a believable way and without anything seeming over the top or overdone.

Perhaps the best part of this installment is getting to spend nearly the entire book with Gabi and Lia together. I love seeing the She-Wolves of Siena fighting along side each other, and witnessing their bond grow through the time they spend in the past. Lia kind of steals Gabi’s thunder in this book, actually, showing off those mad archery skills and proving herself every bit as tough as our main heroine.

No review of this book could be complete without mention of Marcello and Luca. Cue the handheld fans! Our Italian hotties are back and better than ever, joined by the somewhat sinister Rodolfo Greco. Lord Greco added a nice element this time around – not purely evil like Lord Paratore, but not fully good like our main men. I appreciated his duplicity and scheming, and I think this is not the last we will hear from him.

Marcello and Gabi are totally sweet together, of course, but Luca and Lia stole the show for me. I think I may be falling more in love with Luca! I’m a sucker for his wit and smile, and I can’t wait to see how things develop with Lia. I love the pace at which these relationships are moving (not that they have much choice given all of the danger and violence constantly chasing them!), and I particularly enjoy watching Gabi struggle with her growing feelings for Marcello. Would you be willing to give up modern life for your possible true love? Oh! It’s so heart-wrenching!

The end of this book is so sweet and joyous despite its uncertainty. I absolutely cannot wait to read Torrent and find out what happens next! I could personally relate to the final events of Cascade‘s story (minus the time travel, natch), which led to many bittersweet but also happy tears while reading the last chapter. The entire book will have your heart leaping into your throat, dashing down to your stomach, and hammering so hard you might fear for your own life.

So what are you waiting for?

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system
Want to read my take on the first book? Click to read my review of Waterfall. I’m also giving away a copy of Cascade this month, so click here to enter. You should also check out Small Review’s incredible review of Cascade. She’s got some sweet giveaways happening as well!

PS – Lisa just sent me the link to the book trailer, and it’s too pretty not to include. Enjoy!