Playing Catch Up…

As you know from Sunday’s post my blogging has not been up to par recently. In an attempt to catch up on all the reviews I need to write I’ve penned several “catch up” reviews below. Hopefully some of the books spark your interest and make you want to read further!

ucmUnbound by Cara McKenna

Plot from Goodreads:

She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.

Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…

Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.

Reading BFF Kelly recently told me she had a new author I needed to start reading: Cara McKenna. When we discussed what book I should read first she immediately recommended Unbound. I’m really glad she did because it’s about two really odd but really fascinating characters.

Merry is a woman undergoing huge physical, emotional, and mental changes.  Her physical changes have led to her being a bit more adventurous and aggressive sexually, while also giving her new confidence in herself as a woman and as a person. This new-found confidence (and the unfortunate loss of her mother) forces her to reevaluate the track her life seems to be on – her job, the friends she’s surrounded herself with, and the man she’s been giving her attention to.

Rob, on the other hand, has been struggling to keep the person he is all tucked away inside. Due to his checkered past, he decides to leave society, his friends, and his job to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. No indoor plumbing, no electricity, no modern conveniences, and most importantly – no people. There in that cabin he hides what he believes is his most shameful secret – his masochist fetish.

Final Thoughts: If you’re ok with reading about sexual relationships that are Dominant/submissive and include bondage, then definitely check this one out. McKenna’s story about two people rediscovering themselves sexually and personally is really well done. I truly enjoyed Merry and Rob’s quirks and watching them get their shit together.

4 out of 5 Stars

Unbound by Cara McKenna
Penguin Group (2013)
eBook: 268 pages
ISBN: 9781101621998

tahdgThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Plot from Goodreads:

Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

This book frustrated the hell out of me. Nothing about any of the main characters endeared me to them at all. Cora is totally naive and aloof, Ivo has a bi-polar personality, Bertha has no mind of her own, and the whole story takes WAY too long to come to a resolution. When I finished the book I scratched my head and wondered what the point of it all was. The last chapter gave me a small amount of insight into Ivo’s head, but at that point it was too little too late. Every time he affected Cora in a negative manner there was never a resolution. For example, he leaves her for most of her pregnancy to go to India, returns to England many months later but doesn’t tell Cora, which angers her. Nothing is ever said between Cora and Ivo about this or about him not showing up until the birth of their child. Their relationship is so dysfunctional because of the lack of communication, and by the end of the novel that problem still isn’t really resolved.

Final Thoughts: The character development is so poor that you can’t appreciate any of the “world” that’s built (when I say “world” I mean the setting: the estates, the art, the fashions, etc.) It’s a shame because Goodwin’s writing had promise. The story she created had a great premise, it was just poorly executed.

2 out of 5 Stars

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
eBook: 480 pages
ISBN: 9781429987080

bemBelieve (True Believers #3) by Erin McCarthy

Plot from Goodreads:

Robin used to be a party girl… until she got black out drunk and woke up in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she’s faced with being THAT girl, and couldn’t be more disgusted with herself. She can’t even tell her friends the reason for her sudden sobriety and she avoids everyone until she meets Phoenix—quiet, tattooed, and different in every way that’s good and oh, so bad…

Phoenix is two days out of jail when he meets Robin at his cousin’s house, and he knows that he has no business talking to her, but he’s drawn to her quiet demeanor, sweet smile, and artistic talent. She doesn’t care that he’s done time, or that he only has five bucks to his name, and she supports his goal to be a tattoo artist.

But Phoenix knows Robin has a secret, and that it’s a naïve dream to believe that his record won’t catch up with them at some point. Though neither is prepared for the explosive result when the past collides with the present…

Having previously read the first two books in McCarthy’s True Believers series (True and SweetI jumped at the chance to continue by reading book three, Believe.

To be honest I wasn’t a fan of how fast things moved between Robin and Phoenix. Robin has basically become a new person after her major screw up – and as such I wanted her to find herself and become independent before jumping into a super serious relationship with Phoenix. Phoenix is also changing. He’s adapting to a new life and new surroundings. The two of them are going through so many personal changes that their relationship with each other makes sense, I just wish they had more time to get comfortable in their own skin. It makes me wonder what they would be like if their relationship suddenly failed. Would they be able to continue making the healthy decisions they had started making in their new lives? Or would they both fall back to their old habits?

What I did think was great was the evolution of Robin, and the focus on drinking till you black out/binge drinking. It’s a serious issue for many college aged kids, and one I think McCarthy is smart for bringing attention to.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I’ve stuck with the series this long. I’m excited to see how it’ll all come together in book four, Shatter, due out this fall!

3 out of 5 Stars

Believe by Erin McCarthy
Penguin (2014)
eBook: 232 pages
ISBN: 9780698148710

Special thanks to Penguin Group for my review copy via Netgalley!

mtrMisbehaving by Tiffany Reisz

Plot from Goodreads:

Wanted: Adventurous, open-minded man willing to try anything…

As a popular sex blogger, Beatriz gets paid to have orgasms. So being on deadline the week of her sister’s wedding isn’t as rough as it sounds. There’s just one hitch: Bea’s assignment is to write a review of a sex position manual, but she doesn’t have a plus one to play with.

The good news: Ben, the one who got away back in college, is also attending stag–and he’s as temptingly gorgeous as ever.

The bad news: Ben turned down Bea’s offer of graduation night sex five years ago.

The best news: He’s not planning on making the same mistake twice. 

I really enjoyed Reisz’s Original Sinners series and was excited to read something else that strayed from that world. Not that anything is wrong with the Original Sinners world, I was just eager for some new characters from her. I was definitely not disappointed. (Note: Misbehaving is a contemporary erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.)

Bea is this badass sex education blogger who is completely confident in herself, except when it comes to Ben. He’s been the one guy to turn her down. The one guy she really wanted to give her heart to. And Ben knows that turning her down all those years ago was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. When the two are thrown together again at a wedding they realize they have the perfect opportunity to try again.

Misbehaving is a smart erotic novella about two individuals who are interesting, smart, kinky, and unafraid to explore their sexual appetites with each other. It is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Reisz – a story that explores human emotion with witty banter, hot (at times awkward) boundary-pushing sex, and extremely likable characters.

Final Thoughts: READ IT.

4 out of 5 Stars

Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2014)
eBook: 108 pages
ISBN: 9781460326404

Special thanks to Harlequin for my review copy via Netgalley!!

rnacRusty Nailed (Cocktail #2) by Alice Clayton

Plot from Goodreads:

In this sequel to Wallbanger, the second book in the Cocktail series, fan favorites Caroline and Simon negotiate the rollercoaster of their new relationship while house-sitting in San Francisco.

Playing house was never so much fun—or so confusing. With her boss on her honeymoon, Caroline’s working crazy long hours to keep the interior design company running—especially since she’s also the lead designer for the renovation of a gorgeous old hotel on Sausalito. So with her hotshot photographer boyfriend gallivanting all over the world for his job, she and Simon are heavy-duty into “absence makes the heart grow fonder” mode. Neither has any complaints about the great reunion sex, though! Then Simon decides he’s tired of so much travelling, and he’s suddenly home more. A lot more. And wanting Caroline home more, too. Though their friends’ romantic lives provide plenty of welcome distraction, eventually Caroline and Simon have to sort their relationship out. Neither wants “out of sight, out of mind,” but can they create their own happy mid-ground cliché?

Rusty Nailed is the second in Alice Clayton’s Cocktail series, and is a direct follow-up to Wallbanger. When I read Wallbanger a year or so ago I remember laughing out loud SO hard. Clayton has this writing voice that you can’t help but get sucked in by. Rusty Nailed tackles the challenges involved with a relationship becoming more serious and more permanent. As such, the writing grows a bit more serious and reflective, but still includes the signature humor. Rusty Nailed chronicles this relationship growth excellently. I love all the characters and the situations into which Clayton throws them. I think she excellently illustrated the stress that comes with moving in and settling down with your partner.

Final Thoughts: Clayton introduces us to who will be the heroine of book three in the Cocktail series, Screwdrivered. It’s safe to say that I’ll be reading it, and that you should be reading Wallbanger and Rusty Nailed in preparation.

4 out of 5 Stars

Rusty Nailed by Alice Clayton
Gallery Books (2014)
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476766669

Series Spotlight: The Summerset Abbey Trilogy by T.J. Brown

Up until now, every single Series Spotlight post I’ve written has been about a series I’m raving about. Sadly, this particular spotlight is on a trilogy that bothered me for a multitude of reasons. The Summerset Abbey trilogy by T.J. Brown started out with an enormous amount of potential.  However, as the series continued I found myself aggravated not only with certain characters, but with larger statements the trilogy was making.

sattjbAll three books revolve around three “sisters.” I say “sisters” because two of the three women, Rowena and Victoria, are actually sisters. The third young woman, Prudence, was their governess’s daughter and was raised like their sister after her mother’s death. When Rowena and Victoria’s father Sir Phillip dies, their uncle steps in to bring them to his estate for his wife to raise. Their uncle is not forward-thinking at all. He believes Prudence has no place in their lives and society, as she’s the daughter of a servant. Thus begins the tale of how one man’s death changes the ideals, lives, and futures of three young women. Rather than talk about each book individually, I’m going to discuss each of the three main female characters.

Prudence: Of the three women, she started out as my favorite. Her plight from a girl raised with wealth, freedom, and status to being thrust into a world of servitude and poverty was captivating. Her odd upbringing did her no favors in terms of helping her find her place in the world. In Rowena and Victoria’s home she was just as they were. Outfitted in nice clothes. Educated and not worked as a servant, though her mother was the governess. Sir Phillip was a man of forward thinking who didn’t believe in the rigidity of the social classes. He encouraged the girls to be freethinkers themselves, and all of this led to Prudence believing she could accomplish great things someday. The girls’ uncle, however, doesn’t believe in this way of thinking and tells Rowena that Prudence is not welcome at his estate. Rowena, needing Pru, tells her uncle that Prudence is really their lady’s maid. This is how Prudence finds herself in the servants quarters. She is not welcome above stairs nor below, as the servants recognize she’s not truly of their class.

I found Prudence to be the character that had the MOST potential and the one that flopped the hardest. She makes a decision at the end of book one that just doesn’t match up to her character’s intelligence at all. Over the course of the next two books we’re left to watch the repercussions of her decision. At the end of three books I still didn’t understand the motives behind her decision nor did I really feel like she was happy. She just seemed resigned to what her life was. And what kind of statement does that tell readers? Here is this young woman, brought up with education, music lessons, and access to the suffragette movement among other things. And where do we see her wind up? Struggling to bake bread and wash clothes. Her potential was completely revoked, the minute that decision at the end of book one was made.

Rowena: From start to finish, I disliked her. From our first introduction to her she’s selfish, impulsive, rude, and stuck-up. I cut her a bit of slack knowing her father had just died, but even in book three – she’s just…ugh, aggravating. All she cares about is herself and finding ways to make her feel “alive.” She allows her uncle to run roughshod over all of her and Victoria’s feelings on moving, their obligations to society, and most importantly, what they can “do” as women. Her inability to help herself or to help others truly bothered me.

Victoria: While she started out a bit boring for my taste, she quickly rose up the ladder in my mind and is the reason why I stuck with the entire series. I wanted to know HER story and her’s alone.  Of the three women she is the only one that fights for what she wants, and the only one that tries to better herself and the world around her. She fights with her Aunt and Uncle about Prudence constantly, even standing up to them pretty amazingly at one point. She becomes a nurse during the war to help those around her. She becomes friends with one of the scullery maids in the estate’s kitchen and brings her to London, giving her a more decent future. She’s definitely the most nurturing of the three women, as she is always worried about the causes of others (a bit naively at some points.)

So what are the larger points of this story that bothered me? For one thing, why were the majority of the women in the books bitches? Also, did the insanely crazy side of the Women’s Suffragette Movement have to be the only one shown? Sure there were women who did crazy things all in the name of women’s rights, but there were also amazing women like Alice Paul and Millicent Fawcett, who could have been used to show another less vindictive/less self-serving side of the movement.

Even with all of the nonsense above that bothered me I do have to give Brown props for her work on the historical front. Her incorporation of the clashing of social classes and overarching effects of the war were done brilliantly.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Summerset Abbey – 3 out of 5 Stars
  2. A Bloom In Winter – 2 out of 5 Stars
  3. Spring Awakening – 2 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

bjdIf you were to ask me what my absolute favorite genre to read is I’d tell you historical fiction in a heartbeat.  I love being given the opportunity to read about a period of time I’ll never experience.  I also enjoy being given the opportunity to learn what the culture of the period was.  When I learned that Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson offered me these chances and more, I instantly sent in a request to review it.

From Goodreads:

Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.

I am completely and utterly in love with this book.  There is no simpler way to put it.  The characters, the setting, THE WRITING – it’s all exquisite.  Donaldson’s writing drew me in from page one.  I became completely mesmerized by Kate’s struggle as a woman in the early 1800′s.  Her struggle for freedom, independence, and love was written in an entirely realistic manner.  The anxiety and anger she feels over her lack of independence was clearly laid out before me.  As a reader, I felt the cage she was trapped in just as much as she did.  Kate’s struggle of trying to hide her true feelings for Henry nearly killed me.

Kate and Henry are just fascinating characters.  Henry is this beautiful old-fashioned gentleman with a (in my opinion) modern way of thinking.  He wants Kate to have her freedom and go to India, even at great cost to himself.  Their story is equal parts tragic and romantic.  Heart-warming and heart-breaking.  The journey Donaldson takes us on in Blackmoore is filled with twists and turns, humor, romance, intrigue, and above all, personality.

I highly recommend checking out Blackmoore, especially if you’re a fan of Austen, Bronte, or Gaskell.  I’m so impressed (and in love) with this book that I’m heading out this weekend to get myself a copy of Donaldson’s debut novel Edenbrooke.  

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my twentieth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my sixth completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain Publishing (2013)
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781609074609

Special thanks to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the review copy I received via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand

mdgtcfdMy latest review went live over on the Austenprose blog! This time I reviewed a HILARIOUS book entitled Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship.  Guess who wrote it? None other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself!

Complete with guest sections from Caroline Bingley, Mr. Collins, and George Wickham – this was one book that had me laughing from cover to cover.

For a link to my complete review, click here.

This is my tenth completed review for the Pride and  Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Todd’s Review of When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth

14624366Back in November I had the opportunity to review Paige Dearth’s first novel, Believe Like a Child.  Later, she gracefully agreed to an interview with me, which you can read here.  Now, after some great anticipation, I’ve gotten to read her latest book, When Smiles Fade.  Taking place during roughly the same time as her first book, When Smiles Fade follows a young girl named Emma as she attempts to make her way through a tough childhood in Pennsylvania.

Emma and her sister, Gracie, have grown up in an extremely oppressive household.  Their father, Piper, is a drunk that takes out his anger on the two of them, with Emma bearing the brunt of the assault in order to protect Gracie, who is younger and far more delicate than Emma.  Despite Emma’s attempts to limit the abuse to herself only, one day Piper beats Gracie and leaves her to die in the basement of their home.  That’s when Emma decides to do something to stop these abuses, but sadly it is not enough to stem the flow of abuse that she suffers from others during her life.  She and Gracie eventually are able to run away and begin a new life on the streets of Philadelphia, meeting others along the way that aid them and help them to survive.  Emma begins dancing at the same club that Alessa did in Believe Like a Child, and their stories overlap briefly.  Just like Alessa, Emma is struggling to survive with the cards dealt to her, and is able to find a strength that she didn’t know existed deep within her.  Will she and Gracie be able to find a new life outside of the abuses they both share?

When I began to read When Smiles Fade, I immediately noticed a lot of parallels to Believe Like a Child, in that a child/teen is abused in a shocking manner and must fight for survival in a very difficult environment.  While Believe Like a Child outlined Alessa’s story and touched on Alessa’s life as a dancer and prostitute, When Smiles Fade painted a broader picture of what life on the streets was like for Gracie and Emma.  Emma is a strong character, and uses her strength to protect herself and her sister, even if it means committing grave crimes in order to do so.  This brought up the question as to the legality of the choices that Emma makes in order to save herself and her sister.  On one hand they are subjected to brutal attacks that leave them incredibly battered, but there is also an element of premeditation to Emma’s crimes in order to remove the sources of abuse in her life altogether.  Although they may have not been legal, they were most certainly morally right in my opinion, as the suffering both girls had endured because of these people was too great to ignore.

Besides these darker parts, this book has brighter spots, such as when Gracie and Emma meet another homeless teen named Sydney who helps them find shelter and a sense of belonging with her group of friends.  Sydney is a great representation of all the good that people can do to help others when they truly have nothing left.  It should be everyone’s goal to be more like Sydney and realize that even though someone is without a place to stay, they are still entitled to just as many rights and basic human needs just like all of us.  In short, Dearth’s book is a great continuation of her look into the life of those who are abused and neglected.  It is a great wake up call for all of us to help those in need, so go volunteer your time and help those who are less fortunate than you.

4 out of 5 stars

When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2013)
Paperback: 470 pages
ISBN: 9781475096927

Special thanks to Paige Dearth for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of Easy by Tammara Webber

etwI mentioned in my review of Cora Carmack’s Losing It that I’ve become obsessed recently with the new adult genre.  After being blown away with how awesome that book was, I dove into Easy by Tammara Webber.  This book makes strong and amazing stances on the issues of rape culture and sexual assault and was a perfect choice to continue my tour of the new adult genre.

From Goodreads:

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl’s struggle to regain the trust she’s lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy.

NO MEANS NO.  It’s a statement that should need no explanation when put in a sexual context.  Unfortunately, all too often people are taken advantage of, left helpless, and not taken seriously when attempting to report a rape. Webber’s Easy blew me away with the stances it took on this hot button topic.  “Rape culture” is a phrase that we’re hearing all too often these days, mostly in reference to the serious lack of knowledge about the topic of rape in younger generations.  The Steubenville rape case is a prime example of this.  Misconceived notions about virginity, consent, and a “slutty persona” fuel the dismissal of legitimate sexual assault cases.  So much of Easy pushes the notion of self-empowerment and the belief in helping others to stop the cycle.  Learning how to defend yourself (both physically and mentally), holding others accountable for their actions and words, and maybe most importantly, how to listen to others and knowing how to set boundaries are all important lessons learned in this book.  I think it should be a required read for those younger generations who are beginning to experiment with one another, going to parties and attempting to fit in.  In the midst of all the signals they receive, from the media, social networks, gossip in school, and their parents, they need to realize that there are boundaries that they cannot cross.  Easy teaches this lesson, and it is presented in a way that is easy to understand and relate to.  I am so glad that Webber is making a strong and unyielding stance on this issue, and sets the record straight on a lot of the various false ideas that are common in “rape culture.”  I applaud her a hundred times over for getting this message out.  Once this information spreads, we can hopefully eliminate rape culture once and for all.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book.  Lucas is seriously the most amazing male character I’ve ever read.  He is a freaking superhero of awesomeness and is the epitome of what men should strive to be.  He takes the shit life threw at him and somehow learns from it, turning his life into a constant state of pay-it-forward.  Jacqueline is also a woman to learn from.  She learns from her mistakes and with Lucas’ help transforms herself into a strong, independent woman who is no longer afraid of what the future can hold.  So, hopefully with the help of a book like Easy and positive role models that deliver the right message to younger girls, they too can become strong women that know that saying no really means no.

5 out of 5 Stars

Easy by Tammara Webber
Penguin Group (2012)
eBook: 336 pages
ISBN: 9781101618011

Adam’s Review of Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland

ttkr“Family always comes first, no matter the situation. Your loyalty lies here, in our traditions.” Many people growing up often hear those words and often times take them to the grave. The discussions and themes behind family ties are one of the many pillars discussed in Tragedy and Triumph, a historical fiction novel written by Kathrin Rudland.

Truman Haden is only a boy the night his world his turned upside down and changes forever. He is sent away from his home because his parents are suffering from yellow fever and are close to their deaths. In a letter he receives from his father posthumously, his father preaches to him that he must do everything in his power to fight for the values that the South was founded on, and fight to protect the way of life in the South. The novel takes place before and during the Civil War in America, so these values would be slavery.  His world is changed when as a young lawyer he takes a trip to upstate New York to the small town of Elmira, a town known for its anti-slavery stance. There he meets an abolitionist woman named Elizabeth, who proves to be the polar opposite of his own views politically, but is a worthy match nonetheless. He loves debating her, and they often argue. As time goes by, the issue of slavery further divides the nation. Incidents happen that make Truman wonder whether or not he can stay loyal to the pledge he took as a boy, or whether he should consider changing. What unfolds while making his decision is an epic novel of loyalty and historical facts.

I will say that as a history major and history buff, I LOVED this novel. From the first chapter, beginning with how Truman’s life was turned upside down, to the promise he made, and finally to reading about his journey overall, I was completely enthralled. I enjoyed reading it so much that often times I kept finding myself saying “five more pages,” which turned into five more, and ended in me finally forcing myself to go to bed. Ms. Rudland paints just a vivid picture that allows the reader to see the story unfold right before his/her eyes and feel the true emotions of the characters. In the section describing the different abolitionists and detailing Elizabeth’s first time helping out with the underground railroad, I felt my heart beat out of my chest because I was nervous that she would be caught. The details of how people would get their next assignment on the underground railroad and how they had to be careful to avoid being watched was something I was not aware of. I was glad that these facts were included because it made the story that more realistic and really drew the reader in. I felt like I was in the story with Elizabeth waiting to get my assignment, wondering if someone was watching me as a spy.

The way the novel was written is very similar to a film such as Crash or 21 Grams, where there are many plots that all collide into one central plot. Many times a new character would be introduced, whether it be a slave, abolitionist, or soldier. I loved seeing the connection of this new character back to the main plot line or to Truman. Every time a new character was introduced, I had an “ahhh” moment when I was finally able to relate the character back to Truman, which helped the story evolve and took the story telling to another level. I loved seeing the different characters connect at different times throughout the plot. It really made me think of six degrees of separation. The author did an excellent job of introducing characters and making you care about each character, whether he/she had good qualities or bad. I often think that we don’t care about supporting characters (or characters who only have a couple of chapters dedicated to them) because we’re so focused on the main characters around whom the story revolves. However, because this story was so character driven, without those supporting characters the novel would’ve fallen asleep.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is just getting interested in the Civil War or someone who has a serious interest in American History. Although the main story is fiction, the facts are very real. The author’s writing style and the characters will make you invested in this book, so be prepared for some late nights.

6 out of 5 Stars

Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland
iUniverse (2012)
Paperback 244 pages
ISBN: 9781475921700

Special thanks to Courtney at Author Solutions for my review copy!

#112 A Guest Review of Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey

My latest guest review is up on the Austenprose blog today!  My newest review is on the controversial Pride and Prejudice deviation Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey.

The events of the beginning of the book take place several years prior to Pride and Prejudice and are extremely dark.  Elizabeth is raped at the tender age of 15 and winds up becoming pregnant.  The dark events that follow lead our beloved characters down roads we could have never imagined.

A direct link to my review is here.

Sam’s Review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When I fall for a book, I fall hard.  I can barely think about anything else.  I become consumed.  When I’m not reading the book, I’m researching things that the book makes me think about, or I’m texting my sister to tell her to pick up a copy, or I’m talking my husband’s ear off about one part or another.  It’s a sickness, really.  As of yet, I’ve found no cure for a good book, though admittedly I haven’t really been trying.

This happened to me most recently with a book called When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan.  It’s a tale of forbidden and doomed love set in a future where the right-wing religious folk have finally gotten their ducks in a row long enough to elect the right (but oh so wrong) people into power. Together, these people have criminalized abortions, deeming it murder, and have invented a nifty little drug that can actually pigment the skin. What this pigment allows them to do is change the color of a convicted criminal’s skin to match their infraction. For example for a misdemeanor, you become yellow, child molesters are blue, and the murderers are a dark scarlet red.

Enter Hannah Payne. A good girl who has fallen hopelessly and passionately in love with her Reverend, one Aiden Dale. Aiden is a sort of religious rock star, known and beloved by both his own Texas congregation and the entire God-loving world. But alas, Reverend Dale is already taken by the lovely and sweet Mrs. Alyssa Dale. Despite the obvious reasons why not, Ms. Payne and the good Reverend embark on an affair that leaves Hannah in quite a predicament. Pregnant, scared, and in love she does the only thing she can think of to save Aiden from the shame of exposing him for what he truly is. She gets an illegal abortion rather than bear his child and face the scrutiny of an angry public. When her crime is discovered, Hannah is arrested and forced to stand trial. Through it all she refuses to name both Aiden as the father and the man who preformed the abortion. Her sentence is sixteen years as a Red. Every four months for sixteen years Hannah will be injected with a virus that gives her skin the outward appearance of what society believes her to be, a murderer.

Hannah loses everything.  Her child, her love, her family, her dignity, and even her  faith in God.  And this is only the beginning.

It only takes a sentence or two to make the not so subtle connection between When She Woke to the beautiful and classic novel The Scarlet Letter, but Ms. Jordan’s story stands well on its own. The reason you still find The Scarlet Letter in classrooms today is that the story is still very real. Our society thrives on creating and ridiculing outcasts. Ms. Jordan shows the reader how a story conceived and distributed so long ago is still a part of our present and future.

As a reader I found myself fascinated by Aiden Dale. He has countless opportunities to expose himself to his wife and followers for who he truly is, but time and time again he begs Hannah to do it for him. He wants her to be the one to name him when she is questioned by police, when she is on trial, when she is running for her life. He cannot bring himself to tell the truth despite the fact that he knows it will bring him peace. He bears the weight of the world. When everyone looks to him to help them find salvation in God, he looks to Hannah to show him the way. She had to sacrifice their child and herself in order to save him. She gave everything. She knew he wouldn’t expose the truth. Knew that she had to protect his wife, his congregation. Hannah knew that their faith in Aiden was more important that their love. And so she bore the weight of their judgment. She let everyone hate her. She laid down the life of her baby so that the rest of the world could have Aiden Dale and believe.

As I said, I fell for this book. Hard. There is so much to think, wonder, question. I think I will go back to this story again and again. My next job will be to reread the original version of this story and bring to it this new perspective. I love that about reading.

Thank you Hillary Jordan for giving me a new look at an old favorite.

I’m giving this 4 out 5 stars. Partially because I can’t help but feel there’s something missing, and partially because I’m heartbroken that our relationship ended so soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2012)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9781616201937

Todd’s Review of Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth

When I agreed to review Believe Like a Chile by Paige Dearth, I knew I was in for a bit of a tough story.  Just the synopsis of the book, which is in some ways like Ms. Dearth’s own background, as she explained in her email, was bracing and eye-opening.  The subject of child abuse and pedophilia are very tough subjects, but it was Dearth’s candor in talking about these subjects in her email that definitely caught my attention.  I decided then and there that this story needed a wider audience, as its message is very important.  So, albeit in a small way, I decided to review this book and promote it as best I could here on the blog.  So, here it is.

Dearth begins her book with a young girl named Alessa.  Alessa’s home life leaves a lot to be desired, with a mother that constantly berates her over her appearance (she is paler and lankier than her siblings) and her demeanor.  Although she does nothing to deserve it, Alessa is beaten by her mother with a wooden spoon.  This changes, however, when her Uncle Danny moves in with the family.  Although her earlier memories of the man are pleasant and fun, Uncle Danny becomes a very different person when he begins to live with Alessa.  At night he begins to psychologically manipulate and rape her, which continues for years unchecked.  Once, Alessa gathered the courage to tell her mother, but she was met with a barrage of insults and comments that she was a liar.  Eventually, Alessa befriends a schoolmate and is able to escape Uncle Danny more often, only to end up in a situation where she must leave her home due to something that occurs with this schoolmate (I won’t give too much away).  She flees to North Philadelphia with a train ticket and $2,000 in cash, and is able to secure a dingy apartment and a job at a discount store.  She soon befriends a woman named Tasha, who eventually introduces her to her brother, Harlin.  Harlin is a drug dealer and is known for his violence and protection he provides to those he deems worthy in North Philadelphia.  Although she is initially scared of Harlin, Alessa eventually begins to befriend him, and even thinks she may like him.  This all changes, however, when things again spiral out of control for Alessa and she is forced to flee again to save her own life.  What will become of her?  Will she ever be able to escape her demons?

So, with that short synopsis, you can see why this book is definitely an intense read.  What struck me most about Dearth’s writing style is that she pulled no punches, nor elaborated on any detail too profusely.  It read like a detached third person narrative, explaining the facts and nothing more in the worst sections of Alessa’s life, then providing a short section on how Alessa felt and how hopeless she felt after the repeated abuses.  It was definitely interesting, as it was in no way influencing the reader to feel a particular way, or encouraging him/her to feel bad for Alessa.  Obviously, I felt extremely bad for her, and in a way I think the bracing format that described everything exactly as it happened is a good way to go about telling these kinds of stories.  We’re often confronted with tales of sexual assault (e.g. Sandusky trial), yet often we talk about it in abstract ways, never actually describing the horrors the abused must endure.  By specifically stating what happens, Dearth is plainly laying out the facts and forcing us to deal with the gravity of the situation.  I applaud her for doing this, as it will start a dialogue that hopefully will end with better protection of young people from pedophiles and ensure that these crimes never happen again.  Until we really face this problem head on, instead of pretending it isn’t happening (e.g. Catholic Church scandals, Boy Scouts), we can’t adequately treat it.  I’m glad that Dearth was able to write this, as I believe it probably helped her heal as much as it helped me realize that these crimes aren’t something we can ignore.  So, if you aren’t moved enough to already do so, pick up a copy of this book and read it.  The help that Alessa eventually receives is enough to restore your faith in humanity.

5 out of 5 Stars

Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 424 pages
ISBN: 9781461105671

Special thanks to Ms. Dearth for my review copy!