November 25, 2013

The Secret No One Knows

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 358 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she's been working towards - but now she's not sure it's enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie's ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything...

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feels to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

Thoughts on The Ashford Affair
I'd never read anything by Lauren Willig before, but this cover caught my eye as soon as I spotted in online. As a lover of historical fiction, I'm always drawn to generational sagas. Plus, I was sold the minute I realized that part of this was set in Africa. During college, I spent six weeks in South Africa and my love for that continent has just grown ever since. I believe this is a departure for Willig as far as setting/time period, but I hope it's representative of her writing style. I just loved so much about this book!

The Ashford Affair follows two women: Clementine Evans and her grandmother Addie. The chapters alternate between the past (with the focus on a younger Addie) and the present (with the focus on Clementine), and the way these two women are linked. The family secrets, long buried, are finally coming to light as Addie approaches the end of her life.

A young Addie arrives at Ashford Park as an orphan. She's come to live with her extended family, but she's not prepared to enter this new world of wealth and privilege. She befriends her cousin, Bea, and the two become fast friends. Even when Addie is made to feel as though she's an outcast, Bea always draws her back into the fold.

In the modern day, Clementine is an attorney in New York whose focus on work has hurt her personal relationships. At a birthday celebration for Addie, Clementine realizes that her grandmother's health is truly failing… and that there are so many things about her grandmother that she doesn't know. And this sets up the action to come: Clementine begins to dig deep into the family's history and her grandmother's story.

The book moves really quickly - each chapter revealing another piece of the puzzle and a new layer to the story. Addie's relationship with her cousin Bea is at the heart of the story. I loved these characters, and I thought their friendship was so believable. I could see their love for one another, but I could also sense the tension underlying their relationship.

I really enjoyed the way this story was written! I don't always like having multiple main characters and time periods, but it really worked in this case. I did prefer the historical chapters since that's where the meat and mystery of the story is, but Clemmie's story was still interesting to me. The setting was so rich and detailed. I would loved to see more of Addie's time in Kenya, but I also understand why the book ended at the point that it did. You don't see all of Addie's life - just a pivotal sliver that changed the course of her family's story.

The Ashford Affair felt both personal and grand, in many ways. The family history is complex, emotional and somber at times, but the scale of the multiple time periods and settings made it feel like a wide look at Addie's world. The women in this story are messy and complicated, but they also seemed real. I was fascinated by their lives and their choices - to the point that I was desperate to just keep reading instead of going to bed. I can't compare this to Willig's other books, but I know that I'll be picking them up in the future. The Ashford Affair was engaging and left me wanting to spend even more time with these characters! I think fans of historical fiction will find much to love in this one.

So Quotable
"Distilled essence of Bea, thought Addie. Not just the sprawling letters, but the words themselves. Nothing was ever simply what it was; it was always utterly, terribly, desperately. Love or hate, Bea did neither by halves. Excellent when one was loved, not so entertaining when one was hated. Addie had seen both sides."

November 22, 2013

Run Like Hell Or Dive In

Friday Never Leaving by Vikki Wakefield

Release Date: September 10, 2013 (US)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Friday Brown has never had a home. She and her mother live on the road, running away from the past instead of putting down roots. So when her mom succumbs to cancer, the only thing Friday can do is keep moving. Her journey takes her to an abandoned house where a bunch of street kids are squatting, and an intimidating girl named Arden holds court.

Friday gets initiated into the group, but her relationship with Arden is precarious, which puts Friday - and anyone who befriends her - at risk. With the threat of a dangerous confrontation looming, Friday has to decide between returning to her isolated, transient life, or trying to help the people she's come to care about - if she can still make it out alive.

Thoughts on Friday Never Leaving
I'm convinced that Australia has something special in the water that makes their authors that much more talented. I mean, honestly, I can't think of anything written by an Australian author that I've read and haven't at least liked. When I spotted Friday Never Leaving (published as Friday Brown in Australia) at the bookstore, I was immediately intrigued. I didn't know it was by an Australian author at first, but I knew that the cover caught my eye. Was it creepy? Sure. But it did make me take a second look.

Since I hadn't heard anything about the book, I decided to sit down with it in the café area of the bookstore and read a few pages. After a few minutes in the prologue, I was sold. A quick look-up on Goodreads revealed a five-star rating from Mandee at VeganYANerds. She's a legit Aussie, and I totally trust her Aussie book recommendations. I considered just snagging a copy for my Kindle, but I had a feeling this book might be something special. And in that case, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

Friday Brown has never settled down. She's grown up on the road with her mother, always running away. The only thing she knows about her history are the small tidbits that her mother chooses to share. It's a shadowy history - a past with so many holes that the only thing Friday consistently carries with her are questions.

And then the central figure in her life, the woman who has had an incredible influence on who she is today, succumbs to cancer. Friday doesn't know what to do with herself. She can live with her grandfather, but the man is a stranger to her. So, she goes back to what she knows: constant motion. Packing a bag and heading for the city, she doesn't know what the future holds but she's ready to find out.

Friday ends up joining an unlikely group - street kids squatting in an abandoned house. The group is led by a fierce and intimidating girl named Arden. Arden is unsettling and intense. She's like storm that you keep watching and waiting for it to turn into a tornado. Her moods are all over the place, and she expects total devotion from the makeshift family that she's formed. Friday doesn't quite fit in, and her presence disrupts their way-of-life and exposes the dysfunction among them.

Of all the street kids, my favorite was Silence. He is the boy that first finds Friday at the train station and brings her into their fold. He doesn't speak, which adds an air of mystery to him. As you slowly discover his story, your heart will just break when you learn all that he's suffered. The dynamic between Friday and Silence was my favorite, but I also found it interesting how Friday related to Arden. There is a very strange tone hanging over all of their interactions.

Characters absolutely define this book, but I can't neglect to mention something about the setting and the writing. Although I've never been to Australia before, this still felt so authentic and Australian to me. There are things about the book that make it seem universal, and then there are things that helped me create a picture of where this was taking place. I loved the elements that felt very Australian!

And oh, the writing. Wakefield has crafted a really beautiful book. The language felt so lyrical, and I found myself wanting to re-read certain paragraphs multiple times just to savor the words. Again, I don't want what they've got in the water over there but I hope the authors keep drinking it. There's a beauty in the harshness and rawness that's depicted in this book.

This book lingered in my mind long after I'd finished - partly because of what happens and partly because of the things Friday learns in her journey. This isn't a light or fluffy story of a girl trying to find herself. It's raw, painful and dangerous. But it's also so unique and compelling - a book unlike anything I've read in contemporary YA. I can see myself recommending this people who want to read a contemporary book that feels more adult or something that has a darker tone.

So Quotable
"Watching someone you love die is like driving through a fog. You know you're headed somewhere but you can't see your hand in front of your face; you're so focused on steering without crashing that you never say the things you want to say."

November 21, 2013

Officer In Pursuit

Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore

Release Date: September 15, 2013
Publisher: Tyndale House
Pages: 374 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Series: Brinna Caruso #1
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Officer Brinna Caruso has built a reputation at the precinct as the cop to call when a child goes missing. For Brinna, it's personal because she was once one of them. Brinna and her K-9 search and rescue dog, Hero, will stop at nothing to find a missing child, no matter the stakes.

Detective Jack O'Reilly isn't ready to return to his homicide duties after losing his wife to a drunk driver. He's on the downside of his career, and bent on revenge, when he's assigned as Brinna's partner. While on patrol, Jack struggles between his quest for personal justice and his responsibility to those around him, especially his partner.

Skeptical of Jack's motives, Brinna isn't sure she can rely on her new partner, whose reckless abandon endangers the safety of those around him. But when a man surfaces with an MO similar to the criminal who abducted Brinna twenty years earlier, Brinna and Jack must cast aside previous judgments and combine efforts to catch the kidnapper, and finally allow Brinna the peace stolen from her as a child.

Thoughts on Critical Pursuit
I spotted Critical Pursuit on NetGalley and was intrigued by the premise. Some quick perusing on Goodreads revealed that a number of people compared this author to Dee Henderson (who writes some of my favorite Christian fiction). Henderson's books are typically thrillers that leave you on the edge of your seat - anticipating the outcome but still enjoying the time it takes to get there.

Officer Brinna Caruso was abducted as a child, and now she's dedicated her life to finding missing children. It's her passion and her mission -  and her only focus is on bringing those kids home. Then, something happens that forces her to step aside from her normal duties.

During this time, she's also having to deal with a new partner, Detective Jack O'Reilly, since he's not ready to return to his homicide duties after the death of his wife in a drunk driving accident. He's reckless, angry and bent on revenge. His only focus is on making someone pay. Then, his time with Brinna starts making him question everything.

Overall, I liked this story. The plot moved quickly and kept my interest, and I liked the setup of a cop whose history has had such an impact on her present. It was not, however, an edge of your seat read. I think it was close, but it missed the mark a little bit in terms of intensity and pacing. I never felt like things wouldn't work out or was afraid or nervous about the ending. For me, that's a requirement for something to be a really strong thriller. I also thought a few aspects were wrapped up a little too quickly or lacked the needed punch, which ties into my larger issues with the pacing.

Certain aspects of the story felt more realistic than others. My brother-in-law is a police officer, and the environment of the police department in this book didn't really match what my brother-in-law has said about his workplace. I know the author was a police officer for 22 years, so I'm certainly not questioning her credibility. However, for me, the fact that this was Christian fiction made the conversations between some of the officers feel a little less authentic. There was a somewhat rosier or less gritty tone to their workplace than I'd expect. Also, spiritual issues and questions do dominate a good portion of the book.

While I liked the book, I think it was missing a few things that would have made it a stronger read. It is the first in a series, so there are a number of things that are left open and will likely be resolved in future books. I didn't love this book like I'd hoped, but I'm still curious enough to read the next book in the series. I wonder what Officer Caruso will be up to next!

So Quotable
"Sometimes the people we love the most are the hardest to talk to."
*I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

November 19, 2013

Drive to Distraction

Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Release Date: November 26, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin | Harlequin Teen 
Pages: 474 pages
Source & Format: Borrowed; ARC
Series: Pushing the Limits #3

Summary (from Goodreads)
The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life - that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers... and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker - a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he loves, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks - no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.

Thoughts on Crash Into You
So, I read Pushing the Limits and wasn't totally sold. Then, I fell for Katie McGarry hook, line and sinker when I read Dare You To. The minute I closed the last page of that book, I was just dying to get started on the next one. Thankfully, sweet Cassie loaned me her advanced copy of Crash Into You, and I started it almost immediately.

I could not stop texting her while I was reading. I had all these plans to savor the book, read it slowly and just enjoy the story McGarry was telling. Yeah, those plans basically fell to the wayside the minute I finished reading the first page. This is a book that will get your blood pumping in all the best ways!

Isaiah was really a standout character for me in Pushing the Limits, and I had been surprised when he wasn't one of the main characters in Dare You To. Like most readers, I had certain expectations about the way Isaiah's story was going to turn out and was shocked to realize McGarry had something else up her sleeve. But I'm so glad she did!

4 Reasons I Loved Crash Into You:

1. Characters.
I can't say enough good things about the characters in this book. Rachel really appealed to me, and I was so intrigued by her story. Her brothers made for such fun reading, even if I would be a little nervous to have all of those overprotective boys watching my every move. The pressure from Rachel's family and her own expectations for herself made her someone I was rooting for throughout the book.

Isaiah was, of course, just as swoony as you'd expect him to be. He's definitely book boy crush material, and I don't usually fall for the tattooed ones. But something about this flawed and damaged guy just gets into your heart and won't let go. I also loved many of the secondary characters in Crash Into You, which makes me happy since I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of them in the future...

2. Cars.
I never expected to like the car element of this book, but I thought it worked so well. It added this edge and bit of adrenaline that I ended up really enjoying. The whole world was so foreign to me, but I felt like it just came alive. There were a few elements that I felt could have either been fleshed out more or cut out completely, but I also understand how they contributed to the overall movement of the story. I know I'm being vague here, but it's really because I don't want to talk much about what actually happens in this book.

3. Crush-worthy.
Oh man, the romance. I am so impressed about the way McGarry writes romantic tension. You know how costume drama movies can make eye contact or the slightest touch seem so intimate and so intense? Yeah, Katie McGarry basically gives you all that in a book. WOAH. While there's more than just eye contact in this one, I'm still swooning over the way McGarry makes you sit up, take notice and reach for nearest fan with even the smallest moments.

4. Companion Books.
This is a tiny thing, but I love that these are companion books. There is something so special about seeing your favorite characters return and pop up on these pages! I feel like it must be so fun to write a book like this - one where you never really have to say goodbye to the world or the people you've created. And I can't wait to see how their lives all continue to intertwine in the future book(s) in this series!

I think there may have been a few things that I didn't love in Crash Into You (like the terms of endearment making a reappearance), but I can honestly hardly remember because my brain is basically just buzzing about Isaiah. And I have absolutely no complaints there. Crash Into You was such a great addition to the series - probably my favorite so far. While perhaps a bit unrealistic at times, I'm not reading it for the reality. I want people I care about and a romance I can root for, and Crash Into You absolutely delivered there.

So Quotable
"I've sat on this hill a hundred times, and all I used to see were the lights that represented places where I wasn't wanted, where I never belonged. Now, when you aren't with me, I look east and know one of those lights represents you, and I don't feel alone anymore.
*I read a copy of this book provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

November 8, 2013

When Memory Fails

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

Release Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Hatchette | Little Brown
Pages: 272 pages
Source & Format: Goodreads First Reads Giveaway; ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

Thoughts on Stella Bain
Stella Bain had been on my radar ever since I spotted the cover on Amazon a few months ago. As a huge fan of historical fiction, I was immediately drawn to this lovely cover. It had the "look" that I love, and I was excited to read something by this new-to-me author. I know Shreve has written more than 15 books, but this was actually my first by her!

I requested this book the second I saw it had been added to NetGalley, and then I had a double freak out when I saw it listed on Goodreads as a First Reads Giveaway. I decided to enter there, too, just in case I didn't get approved. So, you can imagine my shock and surprise when I got a NetGalley approval email... and then a Goodreads winner email a few days later!

Stella Bain is the story of an American woman who is serving the war effort in France as a nurse's aide. She awakens one day with injured feet and no memory of her name, her past, where she is or what she's doing. When her memory doesn't return, she heads to London during her leave to try and piece together her identity. She's discovered, lost and confused, by a woman who invites Stella into her home. Stella ends up staying to work with the husband, a surgeon, on therapy to help her recover her memory.

For me, Stella Bain started off really strongly. I was a little thrown by the writing style at first, but I was able to find my groove with the book soon enough. The mystery surrounding Stella was really compelling, and I liked the focus on shell shock and therapy techniques to try and talk through the trauma she'd faced. Most of what I've read about shell shock has focused on a soldier's point of view, so I loved that this was highlighting a woman's experience with this debilitating reaction to the horror of war.

However, the book takes a turn about a third of the way through. I don't want to be specific about the shift, but it does takes Stella from London back to America. She learns she has unfinished business back home, so she decides to return to deal with those unresolved issues from her former life. And from that point off, I think the book really lost my interest.

Shreve loses focus on the shell shock element and begins to introduce additional storylines. For such a short book, it seemed as though there was too much being tackled. There wasn't enough depth to any of the major plot points, so it left me disappointed. I thought the summary really sold the book as one about the war and Stella's role in it and reaction to it, but the actual story focuses more heavily on her family and relationship issues.

Because of that, the story didn't flow very well. There are numerous shifts in location and event that felt like abrupt shifts rather smooth transitions. It would have been find if there had been real emotional depth to the family element, but for some reason I never really believed in Stella's motivations and decisions. I think that was due, in part, to the writing style.

The writing style issue that bothered me from the very beginning, and then more so as the book continued, is the fact that this book is written in present tense. I don't know if I've ever noticed something like that as strongly as I did in this book. I think what made it stand out so much is the fact that present tense is a really unusual choice for historical fiction. There isn't anything wrong with present tense, but I found myself really distanced from the story by this element of the writing.

Stella Bain was a good read, but it wasn't great. I thought the story was promising, but it didn't really deliver. It got caught in that reading no man's land where I was left feeling ambivalent about it overall. Unfortunately, Stella Bain started strong but was ultimately an uneven read for me.

So Quotable
"All of life, it seems, resembles static from a radio, full of people and words and smells, if only she could sort out the frequencies. Sometimes the confusion taxes her intellect, as if it were a problem she had to solve. At other times, it is a soft cocoon that comforts her."
*I received a copy of this book from Little Brown in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

November 7, 2013

Nothing But The Truth

All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

Release Date: September 26, 2013
Publisher: Penguin | Viking Juvenile
Pages: 274 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.

Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who's owned her heart as long as she can remember - even if he doesn't know it - her childhood friend, Lucas.

But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.

Thoughts on All The Truth That's In Me
To be entirely honest, I had no interest in reading this book (or at least didn't know anything about it) prior to reading Lauren's review. Her post, highlighting five things that struck her about All the Truth That's In Me, convinced me that I needed this book in my reading life... or, at the very least, that I needed to investigate it further.

I immediately hopped onto my library's website to put in a hold request for it. It hadn't be released yet, but my library had it on order and I wanted to be one of the first to read it. Thankfully, I got it just a few days after it had been published and decided to start reading immediately. Lauren's review just made me so curious about this story and this character.

All the Truth That's In Me is the story of Judith, a teenager who disappeared from her town four years ago. Her best friend went missing around the same time but was found murdered soon after. Judith, however, was gone without a trace. When she's returned, she's a changed person. Part of her tongue has been cut out - she cannot speak or tell her story. Instead of celebrating her return, the town rejects and ostracizes her. The town fears what it does not know. I promise you this - Judith will absolutely break your heart. You'll love her, but you'll also hurt for her.

One really huge thing that sets All the Truth That's In Me apart from so many other books I've read is that it's written in second person. I don't know if I've ever read a book written in this point-of-view, and if I have, it's been years since I did. Unable to speak, Judith is silently pouring out her heart and thoughts to the boy she's loved since she was a little girl - her childhood friend, Lucas. I actually loved that Judith was speaking directly to Lucas. Instead of distancing me from the book, it felt so personal and intimate. I connected to this girl and this boy in a way I never expected.

There was something so unique and original about the way this book was written. You could feel Judith's pain, heartbreak and longing. It takes a series of events to force Judith into an impossible choice: continue to keep quiet or finally tell her story, despite the lives (including hers) that will be forever changed because it. I found myself so invested in the story, wondering what decision Judith would make and if she'd ever be able to find a way to speak for herself.

This is historical fiction, but the time period is never totally clear. Based on some of the details, it seems as though it's set in a Puritan town. Judith references the boat they traveled in to reach America, and some of the customs felt like they would occur during that time period. There is, however, no real context for the story. I noticed some reviewers on Goodreads who were frustrated by this ambiguity, but it didn't bother me. Since Judith is talking directly to Lucas, it made sense to me that she wouldn't provide a lot of detail about the community around them. She doesn't need to spell it out for him because he lives there, too.

In my comment on Lauren's review, I noted: "I'm not typically drawn to stories like this - untold secrets and all that hidden pain." I know why I had that impression about this book, but it's really not that kind of story. The reason I don't usually like that kind of book is because I usually feel like the "secret" is used like a carrot that's supposed to propel you through the book. In this story, however, you get small revelations about what happened throughout. Because of the way Judith narrates, it makes complete and total sense why the story is told this way.

The way this story develops and the way Judith grows as a character just absolutely won me over. I started this book - curious but skeptical - but closed the page feeling so satisfied and so in love. This, for me, is the definition of a book that completely catches you off guard. I loved it, which was something I certainly didn't anticipate. Don't let the blurb or cover dissuade you from reading this book. It's emotional, lovely, haunting and such a wonderful book. The writing is so lyrical that I found myself re-reading passages over and over again just to savor their beauty.

Even when I love a book, I'm not typically the kind to push it on everyone. Listen, I'm pushing this one. You really NEED to read this book! You may be nervous or unsure of it, but I'm begging you to give it a chance. This was definitely one of the best surprises of 2013! And you better believe I'm buying a hard copy for my shelves.

So Quotable
"Then you appear, through the trees, guiding your mule as he pulls a tree limb. Like a soldier back from battle, you fill my vision. You're a flood, a baptism I'd forgotten, and the force of you leaves me breathless."

November 6, 2013

Invent Our Own Endings

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Release Date: February 1, 2012
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Pages: 391 pages
Source & Format: Gift; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart - he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone - but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

Thoughts on The Snow Child
I was always attracted to the cover of The Snow Child, but it was Beth's review that left me really curious about this wintery tale. I ended up buying a copy with a gift card I received for my birthday earlier this year, but I decided to save it for cooler weather. I don't always have to match my read to the season, but I knew this had a more somber, melancholy tone. I thought that it would be much more fitting to read it in the fall/winter than in the spring/summer.

The Snow Child is the story of Jack and Mabel, an aging and childless couple that moves to Alaska in hopes of building a homestead. The couple feels alone in their childlessness, and going somewhere far removed from society, friends and family offers a welcome respite. But instead of drawing them closer, the harsh landscape and isolating environment just highlights the tension in their relationship. They do still manage to have moments of joy. In one, a snowball fight leads them to build a little snowgirl. It's a decision that changes their lives forever.

They wake up the next morning to find that the snowgirl is gone, but there's a real little girl who appears out of the woods. Faina, the snow child, quickly becomes a huge part of their lives. She's a little girl alone in the wild, fending for herself, and her origin and family are a source of mystery. Where does she come from? And where does she go each spring?

Ivey was inspired to write this story after she read the classic Russian fairy tale of the snow maiden. Her website notes: "The story haunted Eowyn with its loneliness and magic in a landscape so similar to the one she grew up in. She spent the next few months researching the original tale, and depictions of it in Russian art work, before she began writing."

I wanted to include that information because this book has a very magical, fairy tale quality to it. I spent much of the book wondering what was real and what was imagined. One thing that's very real, however, is Ivey's depiction of the Alaskan wilderness. Ivey lives in Alaska, and you can see her familiarity with the landscape and her love for it on every page. Even when it you see that this place is so brutal and unforgiving, it still seems like a beautiful place. From the sly fox to the cold winter wind, the setting is a HUGE part of this story. I could totally picture this place, and it made me really glad that I decided to read it during this season.

The Snow Child is a very quiet, slow-moving story. It's not driven by any major action. Faina appears and disappears. She seems both real and make believe. I was so intrigued by this story, and I was left with so many questions and thoughts at the end. This is the kind of book I'd love to discuss with someone else! There may not be a lot of action, but the book could still spark a number of conversations. Ivey melds reality and fantasy in a way that felt so unique and so creative. Stories like this don't always appeal to me, but the setting and prose ended up winning me over.

For all its magic, The Snow Child is still a very sad read. As I noted in the beginning of my review, there is a melancholy tone that hangs over this whole story. Mabel's sadness and Jack's loneliness is heartbreaking. There are so many unspoken thoughts and emotions - you can feel the wedge that's been driven between the two. It's definitely not a happy read, but I still enjoyed it.

I can see why The Snow Child has garnered so much praise. It's a really haunting read - I've thought about the characters and the ending several times since I closed that last page. The Snow Child was so different from what I typically read, but I think it was a great addition to my personal library. This was such a strong debut, and it's a story that will lead to a different reaction with every reader.

So Quotable
"We are allowed to do that, are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow?"

November 5, 2013

Send Me These Sequels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait to Get My Hands On


1. Cress (& Winter) by Marissa Meyer - Okay, so I technically already have a copy of this book in my possession because a blogger was kind enough to let me borrow theirs! I haven't read it (as of the writing of this post), but I know I'll still be dying for hard copy of this lovely book once I do. It's going to look so good on my shelves!

2. Crash Into You by Katie McGarry - I've already read this book (thanks Cass!), but that doesn't mean I can't be dying for its release. The reasons are two-fold: 1) I want y'all to get to know and love Isaiah and 2) I can already feel a re-read of this one coming on!


3. Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi - I should not have to give you a reason for including this book on my list. I thought Through the Ever Night was even better than Under the Never Sky, so I have only the highest hopes for this conclusion. I can't wait to see what happens to Rossi's characters!

4. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater - I know this one has already been published, but I still haven't purchased my copy yet. I want to re-read The Raven Boys before I dive back into this totally complex story, so I haven't exactly rushed out to buy a copy. But I struggled to think of ten so I'm counting it!


5. Isla And The Happily Every After by Stephanie Perkins - I think the whole blogosphere is dying for this book. I was so touched by Perkins' blog post explaining the reasons for this book's delay, and I prefer to believe that the waiting will only make the reading sweeter.

6. Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi - I think Mafi will probably be the death of me. From her Twitter teasers to my unbelievable angst over this love triangle, I just cannot wait to read this final book and see how everything ends. I trust Mafi... kind of.


7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth - I'm writing this post before this book has released, so I'm letting it count. I read Divergent and Insurgent earlier this year, but I still feel like I need to do a quick re-read before this finale. But, at the same time, I'm also worried that if I wait too long the ending will be spoiled for me. Oh the dilemma!

8. The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead - I'm alternatively dying for this book and scared of its release. If I know anything about Mead, then I can guess this book will end with a bang that leaves my heart in pieces. I'm just so scared! But, also, I want to read this book like right this minute.


9. Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor - I almost didn't include this book because I still haven't read the second book in this series. However, I'm letting it count because I'd prefer to binge read the two back-to-back rather than have to wait months for the third book's release. So, I think that makes it deserving of a spot on this list!

10. Split Second by Kasie West - I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed Pivot Point when I read it earlier this year, and I've been really looking forward to Split Second ever since. I don't love this cover as much as I loved the first book's cover, but I'm hoping the same isn't true for the story inside. I'm so excited to see what happens next in Addie's journey!

November 4, 2013

The Tip of My Crazy Iceberg

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 433 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life - and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to.

Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to  move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Thoughts on Fangirl
This has definitely been the year of Rainbow Rowell for me. Fangirl marked my third Rowell book this year, and it certainly solidified her place in my list of favorite new-to-me authors I discovered in 2013. And I have a feeling she'll have a place on my auto-buy list for the foreseeable future.

I first read Attachments based on a recommendation from a few bloggers I trust, and I absolutely fell in love with it. There was something about the characters that I found so charming and delightful. Almost immediately, I began telling my co-workers who liked to read that they just HAD to check out that book.

Then, I started seeing all the buzz building for Eleanor and Park. Rowell's young adult debut was garnering really high praise - and seemed like such a hit in the blogging community. I pre-ordered a copy, but it took me a few months to read it. When I finally did, I felt like I was somewhat in the minority. While I could clearly see Rowell's talent, I wasn't quite as enamored by the book as so many other seemed to be. I didn't dislike it, but I definitely didn't love it either. I ended up deciding not to review because I felt so conflicted about the book and wasn't sure I could adequately express my opinion on it.

So, it was with a little trepidation that I pre-ordered Fangirl. Here was what I knew going into it:

1. I absolutely adored the cover.
2. I knew that Rowell could write like nobody's business.
3. I was so intrigued by the summary, but also a little nervous.

Why the fear? Well, I could tell that Simon Snow had hints of Harry Potter about him, and I jumped into Harry Potter long after it had achieved its fame. The books had all been published, and the movies had all been released. In fact, I did the thing that makes most readers gasp in horror: I saw the films before I ever read the books. I know, I know! So, that experience made me wonder if I'd be able to connect to the idea of this fandom.

Interestingly enough, I thought this element of Fangirl was incorporated in a way I hadn't expected. I expected Cath to be this raving fan who was so invested in the fandom that I couldn't relate to her. I knew from the summary that she wrote fan fiction, so I imagined she'd be so wrapped up in this fictional world that she was disconnected from reality at times. Yes, that was occasionally the case in Fangirl, and Cath is definitely an awkward and reclusive character. But Fangirl was really about how this fictional world became an escape for her... and also how it became a burden, too. It was more about the way the fandom affected Cath's life and relationships than it was about the fandom itself.

Cath's fan fiction was incorporated throughout the book, but it was never in enough depth to really make me interested in Simon Snow. I appreciated that she had something to pour her heart into, but I did keep wanting her to focus on what was happening in the world around her. Cath is a difficult character - painfully shy and socially awkward. Wren, her twin, is the exact opposite. She's social and fun and wants to have the stereotypical college experience. And that means living apart from her sister. Personally, I loved that Cath was pushed out of her comfort zone and forced to live with someone else.

I felt like the book really highlighted how Cath had distanced herself from real world relationships in favor of online friendships. She'd become so invested in the fandom that she was hard to relate in a real life setting. I loved that the book really focused on Cath's developing relationships with the people around her and the richness they brought to her life. It didn't discredit her online friendships, but I did love that Cath was slowly, painfully learning to live more fully and become more invested in the world.

There have been so many bloggers who have expressed their feelings for this book more eloquently and in better detail. I just feel like I have so many thoughts that I can't even focus them down enough to properly explain what I loved about this book. I adored that family relationships were a major factor. I got a kick out of Cath's roommate - and out of imagining what it would be like to live with both of these ladies. I found myself incredibly frustrated by Cath's sister, and yet connected to that storyline in a way I didn't expect. As the oldest of four siblings, I found myself identifying with the way those relationships alter and change as you grow up. And being set in college just made this book even more perfect. It's a time of such change and upheaval - and I appreciated that Cath's coming-of-age felt more familiar than most of what's being touted as "New Adult" these days.

And then there's Levi. I honestly had no idea that eyebrows and reading aloud could be so.damn.sexy. I kid you not, this boy deserves a spot on my all-time book boyfriends list. He seriously stole my heart, and he's probably my favorite character in this entire book. I enjoyed Cather, but I loved Levi. I can't even really talk about the romance in this book because I won't be able to contain my complete and total gushing.

Honestly y'all, I feel like I haven't said anything new or original about Fangirl. In case you can't tell, I absolutely loved it. I tore through my copy at lightning speed, and I'm already thinking about a much-needed re-read because I didn't take enough time appreciate Rowell's clever and smart writing. There were SO MANY quotable lines, but I feel like I barely absorbed them because I was so smitten with the story and the characters. I still can't decide if I love Fangirl or Attachments more, but I do know that I love Rowell THE MOST. She's an incredibly talented author, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next! I know her next book is titled Landline, and it could honestly be her version of the phone book and I'd be sold. She's just that good.

So Quotable
"Look at you. You've got your shit together, you're not scared of anything. I'm scared of everything. And I'm crazy. Like maybe you think I'm a little crazy, but I only ever let people see the tip of my crazy iceberg. Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and socially inept, I'm a complete disaster."

November 1, 2013

October 2013: On My Shelves Vlog + Recap

Sarah Hearts
Welcome to November, y'all! I can't believe how quickly this month passed... and how many books I bought in the process. Based on the reaction to my last monthly recap, I decided to do another vlog. Thankfully, I managed to keep it under 10 minutes. Whew - I'm so shocked that some of you were willing to listen to me ramble for so long last time!

I'm really excited about some of the books I read this past month. I read 16 books total, and several of them were new favorites! After selling my old phone, I had a little extra cash and was also able to buy hard copies of some of my favorite Kindle or library reads that I was dying to add to my shelves. The blog was also pretty busy, and I've been able to get some reviews scheduled into the future. That's probably a first for me!

On My Shelves



Bloggers Mentioned
Magan from Rather Be Reading
Cassie from Books With Cass
Lauren from Love Is Not A Triangle

Books Shown: Won & Borrowed
Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (Yay!)
Cress by Marissa Meyer (Thanks Magan!)

Books Shown: Bought
A Field Guide To Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer
Ten Girls To Watch by Charity Shumway
The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander
To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander
Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Unspoken by Dee Henderson
Just One Year by Gayle Forman
Across A Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas


Books Mentioned: For Review
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Wake by Anna Hope 
Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker (Not Pictured)
Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantore
Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears

Books for Kindle (Not Pictured)
Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins
A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman
Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Books Read

118. Crown Of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas
119. Where The Stars Still Shine - Trish Doller
120. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
121. Rebellious Heart - Jody Hedlund
122. All The Truth That's In Me - Julie Berry
123. In The Shadow Of Blackbirds - Cat Winters
124. Unspoken - Dee Henderson
125. The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
126. Friday Never Leaving - Vikki Wakefield
127. The Ashford Affair - Lauren Willig
128. Stella Bain - Anita Shreve
129. Ten Tiny Breaths - K.A. Tucker
130. Among The Janeites - Deborah Yaffe
131. Critical Pursuit - Janice Cantore
132. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black
133. Cress - Marissa Meyer

On My Blog

I reviewed:
Just One Year by Gayle Forman
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Dare You To by Katie McGarry
Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund
The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
Unspoken by Dee Henderson

I listed the top ten:
I discussed:

I featured:
History With Hannah - Lesson 2
Consider This Classic: Ellie Recommends
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