Saturday, March 28, 2015

Deception on Sable Hill


Deception on Sable Hill
Shelley Gray
Zondervan

     The World's Fair is nearing its end, but the danger in Chicago lingers.
     It's mid-September of 1893 and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning beauty of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago's wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball.
     Sean is on the outskirts of the wealthy Chicago lifestyle. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best opportunity to ensure his future security. Despite society's restrictions, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean seethes inside at what he knows happened to her, and he will do anything to keep her safe-even if he can never earn her affections. .
     Eloisa longs to feel normal again in the midst of the danger surrounding the Chicago World's Fair, but a killer is on the loose. In the last month, three debutants have been accosted in the city by an assailant wielding a stiletto. As the danger in the city increases, and as Eloisa's and Sean's romance blossoms, they both realize they want to be seen as more than how the world views them. But will they catch the killer before all their hopes come tumbling down?
    I admit this is a book I probably wouldn't normally have picked up simply because the author writes mostly Amish fiction (which I'm not a fan of) so she really wasn't on my radar. However, I saw a copy of the first book in this series, Secrets of Sloane House, and was intrigued by the mysterious-looking cover, so I checked it out from the library a while back.

   Anyway, Secrets of Sloane House didn't amaze me, but it was much better than I had originally anticipated, so Deception on Sable Hill made my reading list.

   This book felt like it had so much going for it but couldn't quite get there. I never felt the romance between Eloisa and Sean, even though the bare bones of it could have made it really good. ("Lowly" Irish police officer in love with a sweet society lady with hidden pain? Could have been lovely. Sadly, it wasn't) Also, some things plot-wise didn't make sense to me.(For instance, if Eloisa is the sheltered society girl with strict parents the way the book says she is, how is it that she keeps going off with Sean or on her own without her parents noticing? For parents who we were told were so concerned with their daughter's standing in society, they didn't seem to pay much attention to her comings and goings without being chaperoned.) At first I was thinking I was really going to like the secondary plot with Sean's sister Katie and Officer Howard, but even that petered off for me and didn't really work, either.

   My last complaint is that this wasn't really a mystery like I was thinking it was going to be; we were never really given enough information to figure out who the killer was (and neither were our protagonists either, for that matter). We just sort of...found out...there at the end. I guess that makes this more of a "Thriller" than a "Mystery" but it really wasn't that suspenseful, at least for me.

   Anyway, this book was kind of a bust for me; I just didn't care for it. it moved really slowly and while there were some nice historical aspects, I just couldn't get into it.

Rating: 5

I received this book for free from booklook.com in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Storm Siren

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Storm Siren
Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson

I have heard so many glowing reviews of this book, and was extremely vexed at how long it took me to get a copy. Finally, at long last, I had the book in my hands and I could only hope that it would live up to my expectations.

My heart immediately dropped when I opened it and found the dreaded first person-present tense. Nooooo! My least favorite POV in the entire universe. However, one thing I have noticed about reading books written this way is that they either fade away so I don't notice the narration and get lost in the story, or else they just grow more distracting. Thankfully, Storm Siren's narration did the former. While the author's writing style felt clunky at times and still isn't my favorite, I was able to get past it and enjoy the story.

But now we get to my real problem with the book.

I remember years ago reading reviews of books that criticized the books' lack of worldbuilding. I scoffed. World-building? Who cares? I was the type who skipped over descriptions because I wanted to get to the story. That stuff didn't matter. And I felt that way for a long, long time.

I'm telling you this because if I read this book even just a year or two ago, worldbuilding probably wouldn't have bothered me. But this book really suffered from the lack of it. Normally people can have crazy abilities and/or special rules in stories and I don't care if it's not explained. Besides, since this is the first book in a series, I assume that more will be explained in later books.

But what did bother me was the lack of atmosphere. Something about the book felt superficial, like we were only seeing the bare minimum that was required to understand the plot. I never got the "feel" of the culture or the landscape. Even the characters, aside from perhaps Nym, didn't have as much character development as I felt was needed. The worst part was, it came so close. I'd see hints in Breck, in Colin, in Eoghan, but was left wanting more. I've got a huge weakness for secondary characters, and I really wished  that those in Storm Siren had been developed more, even especially the bad guys. SO many things weren't explained about character's positions, the land's government, and political motivation and responsibilities.

However, I don't want you to come to the conclusion that I hated this book. I didn't! I actually thought the plot was really interesting, although it didn't always do what I wanted (more of Nym's crazy weather-bending abilities, please!) Plus, the cliff-hanger ending is making me really glad that I don't have to wait too long for the next book.

Storm Siren, while published through Thomas Nelson, is really a Christian crossover into the secular market- in fact, there are both Christian and secular authors' endorsements on the back (including one from The Lunar Chronicles' Marissa Meyer!). Indeed, on the surface this book appears to be totally secular, but looking deeper it's easy to see the Christian influence and elements (including a few paraphrased Bible verses that made me smile). Still, I would recommend it to older teens and up. There is some romance, and also a lot of war/violent themes. Also, there's some "fake" swearing, where the characters use nonsense words (that I assume are swear words in their culture?) as expletives.

Anyway, I hate rating this book a seven because that's the rating that usually gets dumped on the "meh" books that are neither good nor bad. Storm Siren wasn't "meh" but it did have some significant story issues that I hope get cleared up in the next books.

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from booklook.com in exchange for my honest review.

Lighten up, Ya'll

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Lighten up, Ya'll
Virginia Willis
Ten Speed Press

I love food, to the point that I have a bit of a reputation about it. However, while I do like my sweets, carbs, and dairy, I don't think of myself as a really "unhealthy" person, simply because I'm not the hugest fan of fast food or overly processed stuff. But when it comes to homemade dishes....pile on the cheese. or butter. and steak. Steak is good.

So when I saw this book- which boasted "healthy" southern recipes, I knew it couldn't hurt to try it.

I'd never heard of this chef before, but I enjoyed her writing. I haven't read through the whole book but I read the introduction and several of the recipes.

Some of the recipes in this book immediately caught my eye- mostly the sweets, such as "Old-fashioned Buttermilk Pie" and "Claire's Cream Cheese Swirled Brownies." Some I skipped over (I mean, what's the point of pepper poppers without the cheese? I'm not eating them for the actual peppers, people) and some sounded really good, like the apple, cheddar, and chicken burgers. A lot of the recipes seemed to be traditional, just with substitutions- yogurt instead of mayonnaise, low-fat cheese, etc. There are also a lot of "oven-fried" dishes as opposed to deep fried.

Well, I decided it wouldn't be fair to review this book without making some of the recipes. So, collaborating with my mom, we made Baked Zucchini Crisps and Oven-fried Chicken-on-a-Stick. Both were decent. Not amazing, but certainly more than edible. I'm just not sure the effort to make them really felt worth it: no one seemed overly crazy about the dishes. Let's just say that we had quite a bit of leftovers, and in a household with seven people, that doesn't happen a whole lot.

However, while those two recipes didn't take the cake, there are plenty more in here that I'm willing to try. (Like that broccoli mac & cheese on the cover!) The cookbook seems decent; it just didn't impress me.

Rating: 7

I received this book for free from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

An Uncertain Choice


An Uncertain Choice
Jody Hedlund
Zondervan

The first book in a new YA historical fiction series from bestselling author Jody Hedlund.
Due to her parents' promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, a month before her birthday, a friend of her father's enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents' will left a second choice-if Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow.
Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the competition for her heart seemingly results in a knight playing foul, she begins to wonder if the cloister is the best place after all. If only one of the knights-the one who appears the most guilty-had not already captured her heart.
   Ah, knights, castles, princesses, and dungeons. Who doesn't love them? With this in mind, I couldn't help but be interested when I saw this book first advertised. 

   However, now that I've read it, I have a lot of mixed feelings. First off, it took me a REALLY long time to get into it. The first 100 or so pages seemed to go on forever and nothing really seemed to be happening. If the story had been better then the somewhat cliché dialogue wouldn't have been so bad; if the dialogue had been better the story would have worked. Alas, with both of these lacking, I had a hard time being interested.

   I will fully admit that the latter half of the book was much better and more exciting, but even so, I felt like this was a book that was aimed at more of a middle-grade age group. Or would have been, had the romance been less heavy/central to the plot and the the medieval torture a bit more restrained. (That surprised me, as the book's writing style seemed written to an age group younger than YA, yet the torture was much more prominent than I really think is appropriate for that age.)

   One thing I will say that I liked was the friendship between the three suitors, and I wish I could have seen more of it. Quite frankly, I probably would have liked the book better had it been about the three of them off having adventures! :)

   Overall, while I think An Uncertain Choice ultimately shows a positive romantic relationship for teen girls as opposed to the other stuff out in the world today, I'm still a bit muddled on the intended age group target. While the content levels make it seem like it's supposed to be for teens, the writing style itself seemed younger and that made it harder for me to get into. Still, I didn't hate it, and depending on the synopsis for the next book, I might try reading that one to see if the series gets better.

Rating: 6

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Wood's Edge

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The Wood's Edge
Lori Benton
Waterbrook

At the wood's edge cultures collide. Can two families survive the impact?

The 1757 New York frontier is home to the Oneida tribe and to British colonists, yet their feet rarely walk the same paths.

On the day Fort William Henry falls, Major Reginald Aubrey is beside himself with grief. His son, born that day, has died in the arms of his sleeping wife. When Reginald comes across an Oneida mother with newborn twins, one white, one brown, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of all involved. He steals the white baby and leaves his own child behind. Reginald's wife and foundling daughter, Anna, never suspect the truth about the boy they call William, but Reginald is wracked by regret that only intensifies with time, as his secret spreads its devastating ripples.

When the long buried truth comes to light, can an unlikely friendship forged at the wood's edge provide a way forward? For a father tormented by fear of judgment, another by lust for vengeance. For a mother still grieving her lost child. For a brother who feels his twin's absence, another unaware of his twin's existence. And for Anna, who loves them both--Two Hawks, the mysterious Oneida boy she meets in secret, and William, her brother. As paths long divided collide, how will God direct the feet of those who follow Him?

   I fully admit that while the synopsis of this book intrigued me, another part of my mind was thinking, doesn't the plot sound a little...unlikely? However, as soon as I started reading, my worries flew away and I became absolutely engrossed in this book.

   It's not often that a story reminds me that I'm a reader as well as a book reviewer, but that's exactly what happened with The Wood's Edge. The book wasn't perfect- for example, the swift timeline may bother some- but I didn't notice its flaws, for I was too interested in the story. I love books with large casts of characters, so I loved how so many of the characters' stories intertwined with each other. This historical setting isn't one that I'm overly familiar with, and that's one of the reasons I find Lori Benton's books so fascinating. I'm definitely looking forward to the other books in this series!

Rating: 9 (Best for ages 16 & up)

I received an ARC of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Season of Fire

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Season of Fire
Lisa Bergren
Zondervan

After tackling her first mission and coming to terms with her power of empathy, Andriana discovers her first battles were only a taste of what is to come. She and her knight, Ronan, have admitted their feelings for each other, but their bonds are tested when Dri is captured by their mortal and spiritual enemy—Sethos—and his master, Keallach, emperor of Pacifica.

Andriana is certain Keallach can be convinced to follow the Maker’s plan and join the other Remnants . . . but in time, she must decide whether she really can pull him back to the Way, or if Sethos’s web of darkness has slowly and thoroughly trapped them both . . . forever.

   Since the dystopian genre has taken the YA market by storm, it's not surprising that Christian publishing would follow suit. Season of Fire is the second book in the Remnants series.

   This book is a little hard for me to review because, while there wasn't really anything wrong with it, I just couldn't connect with the story. There was lots of action, but overall I just felt....indifferent. I think this might be that, while I do enjoy dystopian novels, the plot of this one didn't interest me as much as some of the others that I've read.

   However, I still would recommend this book to others. It's a great alternative to the secular young adult books out there, and it is technically speaking, a good book. Don't be scared by my review! Just due to my personal preferences, I didn't care for it. But if the blurb for this series intrigues you, I recommend checking it out.

Rating: 6

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

After a Fashion

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After a Fashion
Jen Turano
Bethany House Publishers

Miss Harriet Peabody dreams of the day she can open up a shop selling refashioned gowns to independent working women like herself. Unfortunately, when an errand for her millinery shop job goes sadly awry due to a difficult customer, she finds herself out of an income.

Mr. Oliver Addleshaw is on the verge of his biggest business deal yet when he learns his potential partner prefers to deal with men who are settled down and wed. When Oliver witnesses his ex not-quite-fiance cause the hapless Harriet to lose her job, he tries to make it up to her by enlisting her help in making a good impression on his business partner.

Harriet quickly finds her love of fashion can't make her fashionable. She'll never truly fit into Oliver's world, but just as she's ready to call off the fake relationship, fancy dinners, and elegant balls, a threat from her past forces both Oliver and Harriet to discover that love can come in the most surprising packages.

     The first words that come to my mind about this book? Adorable. Delightful.

     If you've seen any of my short reviews on goodreads for Jen Turano's other books, you'll notice I wasn't exactly impressed. Don't get me wrong: I didn't hate them, and to this day A Talent For Trouble has one of the funniest scenes I've ever read in Christian fiction. That being said, the heroines in her other series tended to exasperate me, and their personalities seemed to muddle together after a while.

     But when I saw this book, I decided to give Jen Turano another try. And I'm glad I did! After a Fashion held my attention from beginning to end. The humor at times tended towards the slapstick, but I wouldn't say that's always a bad thing. This book was not a prim, proper Victorian drama. It was ridiculous, over-the-top comedy.And that ending? I was NOT expecting it.

     So while After a Fashion won't necessarily be to everyone's taste, it was light read that had me smiling from start to finish, and I know I'll be reading the next book in this series, In Good Company.

Rating: 8 1/2

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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