February 27, 2015

The Crown is the Destination

Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

Release Date: November 2007
Publisher: Random House | Knopf
Pages: 448 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperbacl
Series: Wildwood #2
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Summary from Goodreads
For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her.

Thoughts on Cybele's Secret
After finishing Wildwood Dancing, I decided to dive right in to Cybele's Secret. Although the previous book ended in resolved way, I was excited to spend more time with these sisters! Cybele's Secret focuses on Paula, the second youngest of the five children first introduced in Wildwood Dancing

Years have passed since the events in that book, but Paula's love for learning is unchanged. She's older now and is about to embark on an adventure. Instead of venturing into the Other Kingdom, Paula is headed to Istanbul with her merchant father. He's learned that a rare artifact may be available for purchase, and he cannot resist chasing it down. Paula accompanies him, but they realize this will be no ordinary journey from the moment they arrive. Danger lurks around every corner, and they no longer know who can be trusted. To save her loved ones and the artifact, Paula must unlock a puzzle that will have unimagined consequences.

As with Wildwood Dancing, it took some time before I was hooked. When Paula and her father first arrive in Istanbul, I really wasn't that interested in their search for the artifact. Although its significance is explained, I honestly never cared very much for that part of the story. But what I did find fascinating is the way the book progresses once Paula figures out she needs to solve a puzzle. The mysterious woman in black, the mission to return something to the place it belongs... I actually liked the plot in this book more than one in the first book. 

I never completely understood the reason for some of the conflict, but it was still an exciting read! It blends the hunt for artifact with a mythical quest, so you know there are dangerous challenges and lots of deception. But it's not all adventure... Oh no, there's still time for falling in love! There are a number of important secondary characters, but it's the two (yes, two) love interests who most stand out. While I definitely had my favorite, I loved watching Paula interact with them both. While it's not the most prominent part of the book, it was actually my favorite aspect. I definitely swooned a little while I was reading!

So, what didn't work for me? As I've mentioned, it starts off a bit slow. In addition, I thought Paula was a somewhat frustrating heroine. For someone who's supposed to be the scholar of the family, she frequently seems clueless. Many of the puzzles are actually solved by her bodyguard! The book makes her sound so smart, but then she rarely proves it. The only other thing that didn't work for me at times was the setting. There are some info dumps about the city's religious division, its history, and other details I found boring (or unnecessary). 

But would I recommend reading it? If you've already started this series, yes! There some unresolved threads setting up a third book, but it doesn't seem to be forthcoming at this point. Thankfully, the main storylines in Cybele's Secret are resolved enough that I won't be sad if the third isn't published. And if you haven't started this series but love a blend of history, fantasy and adventure, these books might be perfect for you!

So Quotable
"If a man truly loves, Paula, such a word as this does not enter his mind. He does not consider the obstacles, the restrictions, the reasons why his choice may be flawed or impractical. He gives no heed to what others may think. His heart has no room for that, for it is filled to the brim with the unutterable truth of his feelings."

February 26, 2015

#SoRatherBeYoung: Spies & Tiger Eyes

In December, Estelle and I previewed our new joint feature: "You Make Feel So Young." We decided to team up and celebrate the books that turned us into readers. Each quarter, we'll be highlighting three books: one joint read that we both loved growing up and then we'll each pick a book for one another (something we loved that the other one hasn't read yet). Today, it's finally time to share the results of our first challenge!

Talking about the books with Estelle reminded me of being in elementary school and having bookish conversations with my friends. From class trips to the library to the much-anticipated book fair, it was a time in my life where I was surrounded by people reading (even if they only read in school). It's like I went from passing notes about books to texting and tweeting about them! I always forget how much fun it is to read a book with someone else. And honestly, I'm so glad Estelle suggested this project. Now, let me tell you why...
Joint Pick: HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh | First Published: 1964

More Than You Know: Prior​ to writing Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh was the illustrator for a 1961 children's book that was a parody of Eloise. In a letter to another editor at Harper, Fitzhugh's editor Ursula Nordstrom wrote, “Anyhow, if you hadn’t called my attention to that Fitzhugh unpublishable picture book we would never have drawn Harriet the Spy out of Louise.” ​Apparently that editor showed Nordstrom​​ some sample pages from Fitzhugh, and the two editors persuaded Fitzhugh to expand it into what became the full-length book!*
  
Memories are Made of This: You know those books you're almost positive that you read as a kid but can't remember anything about them? That's Harriet the Spy for me. My strongest memory of it was just the knowledge that Harriet wrote about people in her notebook. I don't think I even owned a copy of this book! When I finished reading, I actually started questioning if I did actually read this growing up. Or was it just a book that it seemed like I would have read? It remains a mystery.

Second Time Around: While I can see why it's popularity has endured, it was an odd reading experience for me. This is one of those situations where I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the book more as a kid than I did as an adult. Harriet made me laugh several times, but ultimately I just felt sorry for her and disturbed by her behavior. I felt bad about the fact that almost all the adults in her life basically ignore her, but I was also horrified at her cruelty. She's selfish, nosy and mean! I kept waiting for there to be a redeeming moment where she learns a valuable lesson about compassion or apologizing when you've hurt someone, but nope. And while it made sense considering her family life, that didn't make it any less unpleasant to read.

You Can Take My Word for It, Baby: I feel bad saying this, but I don't see myself reading this to my future children. While I wouldn't necessarily prohibit them from reading it, it is a book that I'd want to discuss with them. Harriet's actions are the exact opposite of how I want my children to behave, and there's just really no character growth to counteract it. Honestly, it was a pretty depressing read!
Estelle's Pick for Me: TIGER EYES by Judy Blume | First Published: 1981

Do You Know Why? To say I was floored that Hannah hadn't read a Judy Blume book is an extreme understatement. I had to fix this and fast. Tiger Eyes is one of the most recent books I've read from Judy's backlist and there is a really beautiful movie to supplement the writing. In general, Judy has a way of expressing so much in a compact way. Hannah had to join the club! – from Estelle

Can't You Just See Yourself: There were a number of Judy Blume books that I wasn't allowed to read as a kid, but I somehow ended up never reading anything by her! While I wouldn't have picked this one up as a child because it's a little more mature, I think I would have enjoyed this one in high school. It's a simple story, but a great introduction to Blume's writing style.

I Give You My Word: Tiger Eyes definitely made me curious about reading more from Judy Blume! I loved how many things Blume packed into these few pages. While it deals with some pretty heavy topics (grief and alcoholism, for example), it never felt too heavy. It was a serious book, yes, but one that made me think and feel. Davey's grief and growth were enjoyable to read, and I even liked that the book has a bit of an open ending. I don't think I'd hand it to young children, but I could see my future kids reading it as teenagers.

Before the Music Ends: Although it's not Blume's most popular book, I'm glad I read Tiger Eyes first. If you haven't read anything by Blume yet, this isn't a bad introduction! And if you're a long-time Blume lover who has yet to pick this one up, give it a shot. Now, it's time for me to watch the movie...

Have you read either of these books? What do you remember?
Comment or join the conversation with #SoRatherBeYoung.

February 25, 2015

May I Have This Dance?

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Release Date: January 2007
Publisher: Random House | Knopf
Pages: 407 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Series: Wildwood #1
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Summary from Goodreads
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It's an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle's hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm. But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he's there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena's sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom--an impossible union it's up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar's grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can't imagine--tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Thoughts on Wildwood Dancing
After binging The Sevenwaters Series last year, Juliet Marillier became one of my favorite new-to-me authors. Thankfully, she has a huge backlist of books that I can now read! I started scoping out what I wanted to try next, and I ended up buying Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret. These companion books focus on a group of five sisters and their father.

Wildwood Dancing is a loose retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but with some Transylvanian folklore thrown in. The five sisters live at the castle Piscul Draculi - a foreboding and enchanted place. But the best part of their home? The secret portal that opens to them and allows them to access the Other Kingdom. It's a world where they can dance with fey creatures, experience an otherworldly magic and loose themselves in its secrets. But when their father leaves the castle to recover from a dreadful illness, the arrival of their cousin Cezar throws everything into question. Jena, the second eldest, must navigate his dreadful whims, protect the Other Kingdom and watch out for her sisters. In the process, she'll be pushed to her limits.

It took me a little bit to get hooked on Wildwood Dancing, though there is a lot to enjoy about this story. I always love stories focusing on sibling relationships, especially sisters, and that's a huge aspect in this book. You see them both fight with each other and fight for each other. While Tatiana and Jena get the most page time, I loved that each sister had her own personality and each was memorable in their own ways. In addition to their interactions with each other, there are a number of other important characters that play a role in the book. Some I loved (Gogu!) and some I loathed (Cezar!), but all were evidence of one of the biggest reasons I love Marillier - she writes character-driven stories.

But the characters aren't the only enjoyable part of Wildwood Dancing! The setting was so intriguing, and Marillier just made it come to life. From the crumbling warmth of Piscul Draculi to the magical beauty of the Other Kingdom, there's so much detail in this world! I loved the way magic and reality came together in this story, especially the village's fear and suspicion. For all its beauty, there's a darkness in Transylvania and the Other Kingdom that threatens all the girls hold dear.

The only thing I occasionally struggled with while reading Wildwood Dancing was the plot. It felt like it took a while for the story to capture my attention. I wanted a bit more action or momentum! I also wanted Jena to be more of a driving force in the book. It often felt like things were happening to her and she was simply reacting (rather than being more proactive). Not a huge complaint, but it did keep this one from becoming a favorite. While they aren't a main storyline, there are also two love stories in this book. I never understood one, which is a shame because it's the catalyst for much of the action. But the other love story? It was unexpected and so lovely. It was a great moment when this friendship became something more!

Wildwood Dancing wasn't my favorite Marillier so far, but it was an enjoyable read overall. I didn't feel as emotionally connected to the characters or as invested in their journey as I'd hoped I would, but I'd absolutely still recommend this read. Whether you're new to Marillier or have been a fan for years but haven't gotten to this one yet, give it a shot. This blend of history and mythology just might win you over!

So Quotable
“If a man has to say trust me, Gogu conveyed, it's a sure sign you cannot. Trust him, that is. Trust is a thing you know without words.”

February 24, 2015

Leading Ladies I Love

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 Favorite Heroines 
from Dystopian & Fantasy


2. Katniss from The Hunger Games Series
4. Celaena from The Throne of Glass Series
5. Quintana from The Lumatere Chronicles
6. Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest
7. Hermione from The Harry Potter Series
8. Kestrel from The Winner's Trilogy
10. Iolanthe from The Elemental Trilogy

February 23, 2015

The Weight of Tales Untold

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Release Date: January 2006
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Atria
Pages: 406 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels. 

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

Brief Thoughts on The Thirteenth Tale
Several years ago, I put The Thirteenth Tale on my Christmas wish list. I received it, and then I promptly put it on my bookcase. I'm not sure what happened, but somehow in the time between asking for it and owning it I just totally forgot why the book interested me in the first place. If you'd asked me what the book was about before I finally picked it up recently, I'm not sure I wouldn't have gotten any of the details correct.

I knew that The Thirteenth Tale was a Gothic mystery, and I think that's what initially attracted me to the book. Add in some rave reviews from friends and great rating on Goodreads, and I was intrigued. What finally convinced me to read it, however, was the reaction when the book was mentioned during the #IShall Twitter chat. I felt like I was so out of the loop!

I think my favorite thing about this book is the writing. Setterfield has a way with words, and she's written something that will certainly strike a chord with book lovers. I liked the Gothic elements of the story. There's something about a mystery with hints of the supernatural to keep you hooked! The writing communicates that dark, foreboding tone. I liked, too, that it feels as though you're being told a story. I could imagine this aging novelist retelling her life story!

But as much as I loved the writing, I found the story dragged at times. I wanted it to get to the point already! The story veered into melodrama, and I found Margaret to be quite annoying (as was her obsession with the person she lost - I won't say more for fear of spoilers). I think my biggest frustration, however, was the ending. It just seemed anticlimactic to me! While I enjoyed it overall, I never quite compared to how I felt about books like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. It's similar, but never totally delivered for me.

However, I'm glad I finally took this one off my shelf and spent some time with this tale! I absolutely think it's worth reading, and I can see why it's a favorite for so many. This was certainly a memorable read - though it was nothing like what I'd expected. I'm glad the hype led me to finally read it, even if it perhaps made my expectations a bit too high. But if you love Gothic reads, you've got to check this one out!

So Quotable
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

February 20, 2015

Bits and Pieces Made Beautiful

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Release Date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Macmillan | Henry Holt BFYR
Pages: 400 pages
Source & Format: Asheley; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Thoughts on I'll Meet You There
I'll Meet You There wasn't on my radar initially. It sounded pretty good, but I wasn't rushing to read it. Then, the reviews started rolling in... Bloggers I trusted started raving about this read! When Asheley offered to send me a copy, I immediately took her up on the offer. I devoured this back in November and realized I wanted to re-read it before writing my review. And the best part? It was even better the second time around!

Skylar Evans wants more than a double-wide trailer and a dead-end job. To find it, she knows she has to leave Creek View behind. With graduation now behind her, she's supposed to spend the next three months working and preparing for college. But when her mom loses her jobs, everything begins to unravel. Josh Mitchell got out of Creek View, but he's returned home a changed man. Working at the Paradise (a quirky motel) brings Skylar and Josh together, but their unexpected friendship may become something so much more.

Skylar's going to college to pursue her love of art, and I wanted to honor this incredible part of her character with my review. My favorite quote from I'll Meet You There explains why Skylar loves collaging, and it's something that just stuck with me. If I were creating a collage of I'll Meet You There, here are the different bits and pieces I'd use to craft the whole:

College Acceptance Letter / SKYLAR
Skylar has so many dreams for her future, and she's always known she was meant for more than life in Creek View. Her college acceptance letter represents the future that's finally within her reach. All of her life, she's been defined by the ways she doesn't fit in and the things she can't have. I loved Skylar so much, and I ached for all the heartbreak she's experienced. Her inner strength, her unselfishness, her talent... She's incredible! Demetrios has written a memorable and admirable young woman right on the cusp of finally getting what she's worked so hard for and has always wanted.

Fabric from Marine Uniform / JOSH
Oh, Josh Mitchell. He's returned home from the Afghanistan to a life he never would have imagined. He hasn't just lost his leg, but also his sense of purpose. He was the cocky, confident, life of the party before he left. And now he's broken, lost, and grieving. Josh is a tricky character - the Josh from before is incredibly unlikeable, and the Josh after is still struggling to find his way. He says terrible things, makes even worse choices... but you can also see a goodness in him. At one point, Skylar talks about how it's like there are three versions of Josh, and it's a fitting observation. It's what makes you feel conflicted about him - because one side of him is so amazing, but there's also a part of him that's so off-putting. 

Postcard from Motel / SETTING
Oh, how I loved the setting in I'll Meet You There! Creek View felt like a real place to me. I could imagine the people who populated it and the poverty that defined it. From the diner to the bodega, I could picture it all in my mind! And it was easy to see why someone like Skylar would want to escape and how someone like Josh would feel a bit directionless there without the Marines. And as for the motel? I loved every second Skylar and Josh spent there! I loved that it's what initially brought them together, and I adored the way the pool, the rooms, and the motel owner played a huge role in their relationship as the book progressed.

Bills and Receipts / MONEY
Money, particularly the lack of it, plays an important part in the book. Skylar and her mom are barely making ends meet. They live in a trailer park, and it's not a given that Skylar will go to college. One wrong move, and everything comes crashing down around them. I found it refreshing to read about a character who has to work hard for everything she gets. Nothing is handed to her - she fights for it all.

Beer Bottle Label / ACTIONS
Alcohol is prevalent in this book. Characters drink to forget, to dull their pain, to loosen up... basically, for all the wrong reasons. But I didn't just include this item in my list because certain characters drink a lot and/or struggle with alcoholism. I actually felt like it needed a spot on the list because of the decisions characters make while drinking. There were a few times when this book was hard for me to read because I was so frustrated and upset by what characters were doing. But, at the same time, it shows how emotionally invested I was in the book. I just wanted them to put the bottle down and start thinking clearly!

Part of a Soap Box / LANGUAGE
I know you're probably wondering why I'm including a soap box in my collage. Well, have you ever had someone threaten to wash your mouth out with soap because of something you've said? Yep, that's the inspiration for this item! There is a lot of foul language and problematic statements in I'll Meet You There. It seemed realistic to me, so I didn't necessarily see it as a flaw in the book. But I think it's important to note because I think it will bother some readers.

Corner of a Map / IDENTITY
Finally, I think a map represents something at the heart of I'll Meet You There: identity. Skylar and Josh are still figuring out who they are and trying to find their way in the world. They feel isolated from the people around them. They dream of more than what they see in front of them. They want to belong and have a purpose. They want to be understood, to be known, and to be loved. And it's a desire that feels so honest and realistic. The world in this book is harsh, but it's hopeful, too. With longing palpable on every page, Demetrios has managed to pour her heart out in this story - and it absolutely shows.

So Quotable
"Nothing ever goes to waste with collaging... In my essay for San Fran, I'd written about how I'd always felt like there was something magical about taking bits and pieces of the world around me and creating something whole. It gave me hope: if you could make a beautiful piece of art from discarded newspapers and old matchbooks, then it meant everything had potential. And maybe people were like collages - no matter how broken or useless we felt, we were an essential part of the whole. We mattered."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

February 19, 2015

Favorite Factor 2.0

Back in December, Cassie and I mentioned that some changes were coming to Favorite Factor. It's finally time to tell you what we meant! We started the feature a year ago as a way to highlight adult fiction, and we've had a lot of fun doing it. But we realized we wanted to make a few adjustments...

We're still talking about our love for adult fiction, but in a new way! Every other month, we will be sharing four books with you: two recent favorites (and the factors that made us love them) and two upcoming reads (and the factors that have us interested). We hope you'll find the perfect adult fiction for you!
Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Release Date: February 10, 2015
Genre: Contemporary
Factor I Loved: Writing

Reason You Should Read:
Walking on Trampolines was originally published in Australia and only recently debuted in the US. Knowing its origins, I shouldn't be surprised at all that I fell in love with Whiting's writing style. There's just something about Australian authors and the way they write! They seem to all have this certain quality that completely wins me over. I've seen this book shelved as Young Adult by a lot of readers, but I definitely consider it Adult. It opens when the heroine is a young girl and spends some time during her teenage years, but it's really a story of the insecurity she carries into adulthood and the choices she makes because of it. Even when I found myself frustrated by her actions, I was still rooting for her. Walking on Trampolines focuses on the complicated nature of friendship and family - and the fight to find your way. Whiting has written a quirky read with memorable (though often unlikeable) characters that I quite enjoyed!

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Release Date: January 6, 2015
Genre: Contemporary
Factor I Loved: Relationships / Emotions

Reason You Should Read:
I absolutely fell in love with Before I Go the first time I read it, and it just got better the second time around. This is the story of a young woman with breast cancer who is determined to find her husband a new wife before she passes away. Though it sounds like a tearjerker, it was truly so much more! It could have easily become maudlin, but I thought Oakley nailed the tone. She delivered so many emotions in these pages, and I was absolutely invested in the relationships (between husband and wife, between mother and daughter, and between two best friends). Before I Go is heartbreaking and hopeful - a story I won't soon forget. And it absolutely earned its spot on my forever favorites shelf!
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Release Date: May 6, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Factor of Interest: Setting

Reasons I Want to Read:
I hadn't heard anything about All the Light We Cannot See when I spotted in the bookstore one day. But the cover was striking, so I was intrigued. When I sat down to read a few pages, I knew I had to buy it. I'm a sucker for anything during WWII, so I couldn't resist this book based on the setting alone. I've seen a number of rave reviews since then, which makes me even more excited to read it. Although it's the setting that interested me, I have a feeling that it will be the writing that hooks me!
A Fireproof Home for the Bride by Amy Scheibe

Release Date: March 10, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Factor of Interest: Plot

Reasons I Want to Read:
As with All the Light We Cannot See, it's really the cover that first drew me to A Fireproof Home for the Bride. While the cover caught my eye, it was the summary that earned this book a spot on my to be read pile. Set during the 1950s in southern Minnesota, this book follows a young woman as she tries to escape from her strict parents and troubling upbringing. It sounds like there's a love story, a possible mystery, a journey to self-discovery and an exploration of racism in the pages of this book. I can't wait to read A Fireproof Home for the Bride, and I hope it delivers on the promising premise.

Want more? Check out Cassie's post!

February 18, 2015

The One Standing on the Shore

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Release Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Simons & Schuster | Gallery Books
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
"Tallulah de Longland," she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgement. "That," she announced, "is a seriously glamorgeous name." 

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah "Lulu" de Longland is bewitched by Annabelle, by her family, and their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small, coastal town of Juniper Bay. Their lives become as entwined as Annabelle's initials engraved beneath the de Longland kitchen table.

But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood. Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary. And possibly unforgivable.

Thoughts on Walking on Trampolines
Walking on Trampolines was on my radar long before it had a publication date in the US. It was originally published in Australia, and I first heard about it from one of the Australian bloggers that I follow. There was something about the title that captured my attention right away. I kept trying to find a way to buy a copy, but it was to no avail. Then, I noticed it on NetGalley and freaked out. I couldn't wait for it to be available here!

I read Walking on Trampolines back in December - the perfect way to close out 2014. When it came time to write my review, I found myself dying to read it again. So, I decided I'd scrap my reading plans and dive back in. Thankfully, I loved re-reading the story of Tallulah "Lulu" de Longland just as much as I loved reading it the first time! I've seen a number of reviews call this Young Adult, but I definitely consider it Adult. It opens when Lulu is a young girl and spends some time during her teenage years, but it's really a story of the insecurity and baggage she carries into adulthood and the choices she makes because of it.

The day Lulu meets Annabelle Andrews, her life is forever changed. The two quickly become best friends. Lulu loves Annabelle's artsy parents and their home by the river, and Annabelle loves the seeming normalcy of Lulu's family. They create their own secret language - sharing stories and joining their lives together. But then something happens, and nothing will ever be the same again. So, here are five reasons I loved this book:

1. The Unusual Structure: Walking on Trampolines is told in a non-linear structure. It opens with a scene that seems like one thing at first and slowly reveals itself as something quite different. And while I was shocked by the revelation, I knew I wanted to keep reading to find out what had led up to that moment and what would have after. The book moves back and forth in time pretty frequently, and often without warning. While I loved this aspect of the book, it takes a bit of getting used to and you've got to be paying attention.

2. The Aussie Setting: While the setting isn't a huge aspect, I did love the two places that have the biggest impact on Lulu. She's searching for a place to belong and that's what makes the setting important. I love coming-of-age stories where a character is trying to figure out where they fit, which is probably a big reason why I loved this one! It wasn't overly Australian, but I did love the little references to Aussie things.

3. The Flawed Characters: The characters in this book aren't always likable, and I loved that fact. I like messy, complicated characters. I like characters who are flawed because they feel real. Does that mean they sometimes make choices I hate? Absolutely. But it's often those choices that can make them compelling or memorable.  Lulu is at the heart of the book, and I both loved and loathed her at times. She can be a bit passive and insecure, but she's got an inner strength that she doesn't yet recognize.

4. The Complicated Relationships: The relationships in Walking on Trampolines are probably the most memorable part of the book. There's Lulu's respect for her father, mothering of her brothers and fragile love for her mother. There's best friends and betrayal. There's first love - and forever love. There's an insufferable boss who also has a heart of gold. There's fractured and unconventional families. There's the love you don't think you deserve and the support of the people who've seen you at your worst and love you anyway.

5. The Emotional Writing: My absolute favorite thing about the book? Whiting's writing. The plot and pacing are not without flaws, but I absolutely loved the writing style. From the humorous moments to the sadder ones, I was caught up in the emotion in these pages. I giggled when Lulu and Annabelle made up words. I was horrified when both did something that I don't know if I could ever forgive. I was moved by the depiction of depression. I swooned when a certain love interest declared his feelings. I was totally swept up in the story!

Walking on Trampolines deals with the complicated nature of friendship, family and love. It explores the mistakes you make, the moments that define you and the memories that haunt you. There was a warmth and depth to it that won me over and made this a favorite. It's not a perfect read, but it's one that I'll revisit it again and again. It falters a bit at times, but it really didn't bother me. Everything just clicked for me, and I would absolutely recommend it. Hopefully, like me, you'll find a lot to love about this lovely read!

So Quotable
"It's the words we don't say, Lulu, not the ones we do, that linger longest."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

February 17, 2015

#BookWorldProblems

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 Book-Related Problems

1. "I'll just read one more chapter..."
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2. "I know I don't need it, but it's on sale!"
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3. "Can I borrow this book from you?"
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4. "I have to wait how long for the next book in this series?"
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5. "Crap. I'm running out of shelf space."
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6. "The covers don't match!"
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7. "Did you just say you hated my favorite book?"
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8. "I don't know how you have so much time to read."
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9. "Was that a SPOILER?"
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10. "What am I supposed to do now that it's over?"
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February 16, 2015

Pride & Puppy Love

Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson

Release Date: December 31, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman teetering on the verge of thirty must be in want of a husband.

Not true for Manhattanite Elizabeth Scott. Instead of planning a walk down the aisle, she's crossing the pond with the only companion she needs; her darling dog, Bliss. Caring for a pack of show dogs in England seems the perfect distraction from the scandal that ruined her teaching career, and her reputation, in New York. What she doesn't count on is an unstoppable attraction to billionaire dog breeder Donovan Darcy. The London tycoon's a little bit arrogant, a whole lot sexy, and the chemistry between them is disarming. When passion is finally unleashed, might Elizabeth hope to take home more than a blue ribbon?

Thoughts on Unleashing Mr. Darcy
I'll admit it: I'm a Jane Austen fangirl. Because of this fact, I inevitably want to read almost anything and everything inspired by her novels. So, you can imagine my delight when I was gifted a copy of Unleashing Mr. Darcy! It sounded like such a fun read, and the fact that it's a modern retelling of my favorite book EVER only added to my excitement. I decided to pick this book up when I wanted something light and happy. This ended up being the perfect choice for that mood!

Elizabeth Scott is nearing thirty and, much to her mother's dismay, she's nowhere near getting married. Instead of walking down the aisle, she's walking around at dog shows. When the opportunity arises to travel to England and care for a pack of show dogs, she can't resist. It's the perfect escape - getting her far away from the scandal at home that's left her job in question. Now, if only she could stop running into that arrogant, billionaire dog breeder Donovan Darcy...

Unleashing Mr. Darcy focuses more on the romance in Pride and Prejudice - with less emphasis on the familial relationships. While I appreciated that Wilson didn't try to replicate everything from the original in her book, I did find myself missing the larger social circle. You'll still meet some familiar characters, but I didn't feel like they had as much life as Austen's originals. I feel like Austen excels at secondary characters, including managing to make them memorable in just a few short sentences. Unfortunately, I never grew to love the secondary characters in Unleashing Mr. Darcy. Instead, I became more preoccupied with identifying what role they were playing ("Oh, he's Mr. Collins!") and examining how Wilson had updated their storyline.

And what about the romance? I'll admit that I didn't feel it ever really came close to the original. The danger with retellings is that the standard is raised even higher, and not many books will be able to live up to the original upon which they are based. One of the things I love most about Pride and Prejudice is the conflict between Darcy and Elizabeth and the way their relationship develops. With Unleashing Mr. Darcy, I was missing that dynamic. Donovan and Elizabeth butt heads and have misunderstandings, but there are never any real obstacles in their path to being together.

I think that's one of the most difficult things about modernizing this beloved story: capturing the conflict and challenges of the book in a world without the same cultural customs. For me, I just never really believed there were that many reasons why they couldn't be together or even that they were really in love. Attracted to each other? Absolutely. But I never felt like their relationship had much depth. It takes more than physical attraction and a few witty conversations to make me believe in a couple.

Honestly, I might not recommend this book as a Pride and Prejudice retelling. It's a fun interpretation of the original, but there was something missing for me. If I wasn't comparing the two in my mind, I probably wouldn't have minded a number of things that ended up not really working for me. I love Austen retellings, but I can definitely be more critical of them than I would be with a regular read.

However, as a contemporary romance, I really liked this book! It was a funny, warm and enjoyable little escape. It would be perfect tossed in a beach bag or read by the pool! I found myself grinning while I read it - just waiting to see how everything would develop and excited about how it would all play out. That's what I wanted when I started it, so I'd say it was a win on that front.

February 13, 2015

A Reenactment Village & Two Retellings

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando

Release Date: March 2006
Publisher: MTV Books
Pages: 288 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl is not how Betsy Odell imagined spending the summer before her senior year of high school, but her history professor father insists she take a job at Morrisville Historic Village. To make matters worse, Liza Henske, only the biggest freak from school - piercings, tattoos, bleached hair - works as a farm girl too. As far as Betsy can tell, her summer will be miserable and any chance of ever being popular is doomed.

When tragedy strikes Betsy close to home, her boyfriend and 'friends' are nowhere to be found, and her job becomes a welcome escape from the real world. James, a Morrisville employee from the next town over, is probably the greatest - not to mention cutest - guy Betsy has ever met, and Liza is surprisingly normal and fun. Caught between two worlds - old and new - Betsy is soon struggling with two versions of herself. Combining backdrops of historic Morrisville with the normal teenage world of beach parties, learning to drive, and broken hearts, Tara Altebrando writes a hilarious and fun novel of one girl's search for love and happiness - and the unlikely places she finds them.

Brief Thoughts of The Pursuit of Happiness
A year or so ago, I fell in love with Past Perfect by Leila Sales. As a historical fiction nerd, I immediately loved the setting: a historical reenactment village. After mentioning that I'd love more books with that quirky setting, Estelle gifted me a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness. As soon as I started reading it, I knew it was a winner!

The last thing Betsy wants to do is spend her summer dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl for the Morrisville Historic Village. But Betsy's father insists, and there's not much else she can do. She'll spend her summer miserable - and in the company of the school's biggest freak, Liza. When Betsy's mother passes away, her boyfriend and friends can't be found. They've distanced themselves from her, and suddenly her job feels like the only place where she has any fun. Liza's not so bad, and there's a cute boy, James, who has got her attention... Betsy's not sure where she belongs anymore or even what to do once she finds her place.

I'm so glad Estelle sent this book my way - talk about an underrated gem! The Pursuit of Happiness is a slower read, but it's one with so much heart. I loved how real it all felt. There are messy emotions and complicated situations, but I loved the tone of this book because it's sad without being depressing. Betsy is a little directionless, but in a way that feels almost familiar. The way she struggles with her family and friends - and the way those situations are resolved - made this a relatable read. I haven't necessarily dealt with the same issues, but Altebrando still makes them seem so authentic.

It's a simple story, yes, but Altebrando does a great job telling it! At its core, The Pursuit of Happiness about dealing with grief and loss while coming of age. It's a story of finding where you fit, learning to forgive and figuring out everything in the meantime. If you're looking for something under-the-radar but totally worth reading, this book would be a great option! I'd love to see more people discover it.
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Release Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins | Balzer + Bray
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #2
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.

On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.

Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

Thoughts on Across a Star-Swept Sea
I absolutely fell in love with For Darkness Shows the Stars, the first book in this series, and couldn't wait to continue with Across the Star-Swept Sea. So, I pre-ordered it and anxiously waited for my copy to arrive. When it did, I somehow ended up letting it sit on my shelves for months. What a total fail! Once all that time passed, I knew I wanted to re-read the first book before diving back into this world again.

Despite re-reading For Darkness Shows the Stars first, I still found myself a little confused when I started this book. The world Peterfreund has created is so unique and interesting! I've never read anything quite like it, and it's so much fun see this kind of creativity. But it made for a really slow start for me. The complexity was confusing, and I kept re-reading paragraphs or flipping back a few pages to try to make sense of it all. Once I felt comfortable with it, I started to pick up my reading pace.

I haven't read The Scarlet Pimpernel - but I want to now! Either way, I loved so many of the themes in this book. I was fascinated by the way this book prompts so many discussions - about perception, subverting gender roles and defying expectations. There's so much meat to this story, and it's the kind of book that makes you think. I loved the romance, especially the banter and the butting heads. But I wanted more! You spend so long with these characters and know so much about them (that they don't yet know about each other), so the ending was a bit of a letdown. There's not enough! I needed another chapter or something.

And I still wish there was another book in this series. There are some things introduced in this book that still feel so unfinished or unresolved. They aren't major things, but they were prominent enough that I almost wondered why they'd been introduced. I liked Across a Star-Swept Sea, but I didn't love it the way I did For Darkness Shows the Stars. It was just a bit too complicated, and I found myself losing my momentum while reading. For such an exciting premise, it felt oddly boring at times. I liked it, but I don't see myself re-reading it.
Love, Lucy by April Lindner

Release Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Hachette | Poppy
Pages: 304 pages
Source & Format: Edelweiss; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
While backpacking through Florence, Italy, during the summer before she heads off to college, Lucy Sommersworth finds herself falling in love with the culture, the architecture, the food...and Jesse Palladino, a handsome street musician. After a whirlwind romance, Lucy returns home, determined to move on from her "vacation flirtation." But just because summer is over doesn't mean Lucy and Jesse are over, too.

In this coming-of-age romance, April Lindner perfectly captures the highs and lows of a summer love that might just be meant to last beyond the season.

Thoughts on Love, Lucy
I haven't read anything by April Lindner before, but I knew I wanted to read Love, Lucy as soon as I heard it was a YA retelling of A Room with a View. That's one of my favorite classics, and I could totally envision a modern twist on this timeless tale. There's so much potential!

Before starting college, Lucy Sommersworth has the opportunity to backpack through Europe with a friend. One of the last stops on her trip is Florence, Italy, and Lucy falls in love with the food, the culture, and the handsome boy she meets there, Jesse Palladino. They have a heady few days together before Lucy must return home and start her "real life." After all, it was just a summer fling... right?

Retellings often present a challenge. If you follow the source too closely, the story doesn't feel original or like it offers new insight or a new perspective on something familiar. But if you stray too far from the source, you run the risk of alienating people who love the original. I think Love, Lucy is actually a situation where you'll enjoy the book much more if you've never read A Room with a View. But if you've read and loved it? Skip this book!

I'm torn on my rating for this book. Without the retelling element, I think it was closer to an "okay" or  "liked it" rating. But having read the source? I'm so disappointed. If you read this book, I don't think you'd have any desire to pick up A Room with a View... and I think you'd have no idea what you were missing. There's so much depth to A Room with a View, and the themes are particularly compelling. Unfortunately, Love, Lucy just re-creates an modern version of the plot but captures none of the emotion or depth of the original.

The traveling aspect is fun, but the story and characters are really frustrating. I just kept thinking, "BUT THE ORIGINAL LUCY WAS SO MUCH BETTER!" And don't even get me started on all the ways Jesse Palladino doesn't even hold a candle to George Emerson... I was so hoping this book would retain the feelings evoked in A Room with a View, but it just didn't. Pass on this one and discover the amazing-ness of A Room with a View instead.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

February 12, 2015

Consider This Classic: Melliott Recommends

Consider This Classic is a monthly feature where bloggers highlight and recommend their favorite classic. They'll tell you when they first read it, why they love it and where to go from there. If you'd like to participate in Consider This Classic, click here to sign up.

Today I've got Melliott from the Burbank Public Library (she's got a cool art blog, too!) here sharing her favorite classic. I was thrilled when I read this recommendation because I've never heard of the book - or author - before, but it sounds like something right up my alley! I have an incredible local library, and seeing Melissa's submission reminded me that I need to take more advantage of all the resources available for me there. And I had a lot of fun browsing the Burbank Library's blog and love that they created one specifically for YA!


China Court by Rumer Godden

Publication Year: 1958
Originally Published In: United Kingdom
Book Depository | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
In this intricately plotted novel of a Cornish country house and the five generations who have peopled it, the story of American-reared Tracy Quin's homecoming is intertwined with the stories of her ancestors. Tracy comes home to visit her grandmother on the day after old Mrs. Quin dies, and becomes involved in the question of what will happen to China Court, the house she loves, which is hopelessly outdated and requires a great deal of repair--repair for which there is no money. The old stories rise one by one as Tracy's unfolds--the story of lonely, brilliant Eliza; of Jared and Lady Patrick's fragile, bitter marriage; of Borowis and John Henry and old Mrs. Quin herself, when she was beautiful young Ripsie and an outsider to the family. As the lives of those who loved China Court are unfolded, the question of what will happen to the house becomes even more pressing, and soon only Tracy and Mrs. Quin's young tenant Peter St. Omer stand in the way of its destruction.


I fell in love with Rumer Godden's books in my 20s, when I discovered them at the library while browsing the shelves. I then started collecting any of her books I could find--difficult, since many were out of print even then, so I searched diligently at library book sales. I own two copies of China Court, one pristine and one a beat-up library discard, just to make sure I never go without!


There is so much to love about Godden's books. This one includes historical fiction, an unabashed romance, and a reclusive spinster book collector who ultimately saves the day for her family several generations later. The narrative wanders from past to present, and gives insight into class consciousness, women's "place," and family dynamics, all set amidst the beautifully evoked English countryside that Godden brings to life along with her characters.


The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge and Thornyhold by Mary Stewart 
Both of these books have the same feel for me, because they have intergenerational themes and are similarly paeans to a rural England I would love to inhabit.

February 11, 2015

Series Speed Date: Round #7

This section will cover any key details about the series.

The Boleyn Trilogy by Laura Andersen
Released: May 2013 | November 2013 | July 2014
Publisher: Random House | Ballantine
Pages: 358 pages | 416 pages | 416 pages

What do these covers say about this series?

Personally, I really like these covers! I love that the look is consistent across all three covers with the dress, hands and object. I think the dresses are eye-catching, but that's partly because I adore costume dramas and historical clothing. The objects displayed on the covers are significant to the story inside, which was a nice surprise. Even before Kelly pushed these books, I was curious about them from the covers alone!

Based on the summary, what can you expect going into this series?


I love historical fiction, but I don't know if I've ever read anything that presents an alternate version of history. So, I loved the idea of a series meant to answer this question: "What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?" I'm not a Tudor aficionado, but who hasn't been a bit curious about this infamous king and his many wives? Based on the summary, I knew I'd meet some familiar characters (Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, for example). But I could tell there'd also be lots of new faces: Henry IX, known as William, his best friend Dominic and the young orphan girl, Minuette, who has been raised as a royal ward of Queen Anne Boleyn. So, I couldn't wait to see how everything would play out in this new version of history! The summary for The Boleyn King promises secrets, betrayal, murder and romantic obsession - things you'll find in all three of these books. 

What are some highlights of the series?

Four best friends - two of royal birth and two promised to serve them.
An alternate version of history where Anne Boleyn lives... and produces a son.
A young King, new to the throne and ruling a country in crisis.
A wise princess showing a gift for leadership and a desire to rule.
A loyal friend who provides wise counsel but keeps a dangerous secret.
A kind and enchanting young woman who wins the hearts of all who know her.
A fight for the future of a country threatened on all sides.
A deadly betrayal with far-reaching consequences.
A tale of power, political intrigue and romantic obsession.
An intriguing look at destiny and fate.

How will you feel closing the last page?

Of the three books in this series, I think the third is my least favorite. I'd grown a little tired of the secrets being kept, and at that point I was beyond ready to see what would happen when they all came to light. There's a lot of drama in this final installment - and I was worried what would happen to my two favorite characters. I disliked the way one character's personality experienced a significant shift in this book. I wanted a more nuanced portrayal of this character rather than (basically) making him into the villain. And since I was never a huge fan of Minuette in this series, so I was mostly reading to see what happened to everyone else. It didn't play out quite like I hoped it would, but I'm glad I saw it through. The most intriguing part to me was seeing how everything came full circle! I love the idea that certain things in history would play out the same either way.

Summing up this series in just three words?

Power. Politics. Passion.

Is this series worth your time?

If you love the Tudors, absolutely! I have a feeling that this series will work best for readers who are very familiar with what actually happened in history so that they can compare it to this alternate version. But what about for a reader like me? Well, I enjoyed these books. I binge read the series and though it was intriguing and imaginative. The characters were never my favorite, and I found a few things either annoying or somewhat implausible, but I enjoyed these books overall. I don't see myself re-reading them because they weren't favorites for me, but they were a great escape and an exciting look at a past that might have been.
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