New Year; New Challenges, Episode V

So here we are near the end of January and I’m only just now getting around to posting my annual “New Year; New Challenges” post. I received a promotion at work right around Thanksgiving and have been trying to deal with the change to my schedule. Having a job with irregular hours can sometimes throw off my schedule outside of work. I’m trying to find my balance between work, life, and blogging, and I appreciate you all sticking with the blog as I figure it out.

With all of that being said, here is my goal for 2015: 140 books. Since I successfully completed reading 100 books in 2014, 10 more books gets added to my goal. (2011 = 100 books, 2012 = 110 books, 2013 = 120 books, 2014 = 130 books, etc) As per years past, you can keep track of my reading progress and what books I’ve read here.

In no particular order, here are some of the books releasing in 2015 that I’m looking forward to reading!

  1. Fairest by Marissa Meyer
  2. Bound by Flames by Jeaniene Frost
  3. Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
  4. And I Love Her by Marie Force
  5. The Heir by Kiera Cass
  6. Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan
  7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (This is an exclusive collector’s edition!)
  8. The Seven  Sisters by Lucinda Riley
  9. When A Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
  10. Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell
  11. Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt
  12. Tiny Little Things by Beatriz Williams
  13. One Night with a Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  14. Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen
  15. A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

Well readers, what are your reading goals for 2015? What titles are you excited to read?

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Kim’s Review of The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

tlglrA few weeks ago Todd wrote a post about what it’s like living with me when a book makes me emotional. As much as I feel bad about making him bear witness to me being a simpering mess, I can’t give up books that elicit strong emotional responses from me.  In my opinion, books that can generate these strong responses are well written, engaging, and in some way relatable. Every book that I’ve read by Lucinda Riley can be categorized as one of these books. Her latest, The Lavender Garden, topped my list of reads for 2013 and is every bit as moving as her last two books The Girl on the Cliff & The Orchid House.

From Goodreads:

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions . . .

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

As I stated earlier, Riley’s novels make me into a simpering mess. I should add that I LOVE that about her novels. Her novels don’t make me cry due to sadness, they make me cry because of their beauty. The way they explore difficult facets of life. The types of characters she chooses to explore. The Lavender Garden hooked me for one particular reason….the characters. Talk about a smorgasbord of different people!  The mark of good writing is when you get completely immersed into the characters’ lives. You feel joy and pain with them. They aggravate you. They make decisions you cringe or cheer at. Emilie, Constance, Edouard, Alex, etc are all so well-drawn and configured.

Riley is a master at weaving the past and present together in a way where it all makes sense. The elements of mystery, love, romance, and suspense that she is able to incorporate into her stories are what make them such page-turners. The twists and turns present in The Lavender Garden make it difficult to discuss any plot points in-depth without giving things away, so just trust me when I tell you – the emotional journey Riley takes you on is so, so rewarding. If you’ve ever read anything by Kate Morton, you’re sure to enjoy Riley’s novels. And if you’ve never read something by either author you’re sincerely missing out.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2013)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781476703558

Special thanks to Ms. Riley for my review copy!

New Year; New Challenges, Episode IV

January 1, 2014. The official start of yet another year’s 100 book reading challenge. This year my goal will be 130 books. Every year that I’ve been successful in reading 100 books I tack on another 10 for the following year. (2011 = 100 books, 2012 = 110 books, 2013 = 120 books, etc.) I’m always giddy with anticipation for the new year’s challenge to start. Seeing my book counter reset to 0 again motivates me like nothing else. You can keep track of what I’m reading throughout the year by viewing my book list page here!

In no particular order, here are some of the titles I’m looking forward to reading in 2014:

  1. The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
  2. The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
  3. Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
  4. Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer
  5. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  6. The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

I’m sure that as the year unfolds I’ll be continually adding to this list. After all, I am a book addict and I can never have enough books to read.

So readers, what are you looking forward to reading this year? Share some titles with me below!

2013 – A Year In Review

fireworksIt’s totally cliché, but where the hell has this year gone? With today being the very last day of 2013 I figured I’d do a quick “Year in Review” post to talk about my progress with reading challenges and also to discuss my favorite books of the year!

Quick rundown on how I did with my reading challenges: I successfully read 120 books this year. In fact, as of the time of writing this post I am at 199 books for the year! (WOOT!) You can see all the books I’ve read with links to their reviews here. Now, a bit of bad news. I utterly failed (for the second year in a row) the audio book challenge. I didn’t listen to 1 audio book this year (read: pathetic.) I also didn’t do so great with the Book to Movie challenge either, with only 2 out of 12 read. Now, to the good news: I completed 78% of the Color Coded Challenge, or 7 out of 9 reads. I actually had a blast doing this challenge. You don’t realize how many books use colors in their titles until you do a challenge like this! Additionally, I unsurprisingly completed the Historical Fiction Challenge as well as the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary challenge with no trouble at all.

And now for the difficult part: Picking my favorite reads of 2013.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (look for my review next week!!!)
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers/Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
  5. Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  6. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander/Easy by Tammara Webber
  8. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  9. Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
  10. The Secret of Ella and Micha/The Forever of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Having read almost 200 books this year, choosing 10 (really 12) of my favorites almost killed me. So, in the effort of easing my conscience I’m giving you some of my runners-up (in no particular order)!

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
  2. The Edelstein Trilogie by Kersin Gier (Book one, two, & three)
  3. The Westfield Wolves/Regency Vampyre Series by Lydia Dare
  4. Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow
  5. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Losing It by Cora Carmack
  7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Bittersweet by Noelle Adams

This was hands down the hardest year yet to pick my favorite books. When you read almost 200 books in a year I guess that should be expected, no?

Ok, the burden is being passed to you. What did you love reading this year?!? Please let us know below. And finally, enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Day, hopefully with a great book. See you in 2014!

What Are You Reading This June?

What are you reading this month?!  I’ve been on a decidedly contemporary romance kick recently (although I’ve sprinkled a little bit of dystopic and paranormal books in the mix also.)  I’m planning on finishing the month out with historical fiction novels.  Specifically, The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley, The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway, and When They Fall in Love by Mary Lydon Simonsen!

Ok, folks! Spill the beans on your current reads below!

wayrj

2012 – A Year in Review

fireworksAnd with it being  January 1st, 2013 we can officially end 2012 and all its reading goals.  I’m very happy to say that I have succeeded in reading my 110 books for the year and exceeded that goal by a whopping 74 books!  With the success of this year I’ll up my reading goal again for 2013.  Keep an eye out for my annual New Year, New Challenges post for a breakdown of what I’m looking to accomplish.

2012 has definitely been a year of eclectic reading for me.  It’s difficult to pick my favorite books of the year since I read so many, but here is my best go:

  1. The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
  2. The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
  3. Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
  4. A Million Suns by Beth Revis
  5. The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
  7. The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
  8. Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer
  9. In A Treacherous Court by Michelle Diener/The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
  10. Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Damn. That was difficult.

My reading challenges wrap up is as follows: I once again blew through the Historical Fiction challenge (woot woot!).  I also succeeded in my first year participating in the Around the Stack challenge!  Now for the bad parts. The TBR challenge and the Audio challenge both got only one completed review each out of me.  I know I failed the audio challenge because of 1Q84 (AH SO LONG), plus my addiction of reading newer books killed any hope I had of finishing the TBR challenge.  A 50% completion rate for the challenges isn’t terrible, but I’d still liked to have completed 100%.

Even though it’s 2013 I still have some books to review that I finished in 2012, so keep an eye out for them.  You can also see a listing of EVERYTHING I read this year, including review links, here.

Well, there you go folks.  My 2012 year in review.  Enjoy the rest of your New Year’s and join me again tomorrow as we kick off a new year and new challenges!

The October Round Up!

I can’t believe it’s time to write yet another round up post.  October wasn’t super packed with stuff, so I got a lot of good reading time in.  The highlight of the month though was definitely heading to my favorite bookstore, R.J. Julia, and seeing Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis discuss their newest book Invisible Murder.  The book is the second in their Nina Borg chronicles, the first being The Boy in the Suitcase (which I reviewed here).  Hearing them discuss the research that went into the book, their travels through Hungary, and the tragic stories of what life is like in Hungary for gypsies was harrowing.  I’m excited that I have some background on the real life instances that parts of the book are based on.  It’ll only add that much more to my reading of it.

Me and two of my best friends Kate & Ashley!

We also participated in our second read-a-thon of the year!  Todd and I made it through an hour longer than our first read-a-thon and completed more books as well. We considered it a success and are already looking forward to the next one in the spring.

Besides the read-a-thon our month was spent celebrating our birthdays and Halloween!  Our birthday celebration consisted of Todd, me, and 12 of our friends hitting up downtown New Haven for pizza and beers.  Following dinner we took the group saki bombing!  Those unfamiliar with the term – you take a glass and fill it about halfway with beer (preferably Japanese beer) and then balance a shot of hot saki on top.  You bang the table, let the shot drop in the beer, and then chug down the rest. (Sounds gross but is actually really delicious!)  It was a fabulous celebration and I can’t wait till next year!

Our Halloween party was as always a ton of fun.  Todd’s home-brewed pumpkin beer was a huge smash. (Such a smash all 5 gallons was drunk in one night!)  Everyone went all out on their costumes this year! (Todd and I were newsies) I’m already anticipating how we’re all going to top ourselves next year.

October was a fantastic reading month!  I met my second reading goal of the year of 160 books and have decided to up the goal to 200 books by year-end.  As of today I’m at 176, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can make it through 24 more before year-end.  I completed 19 books in October with my favorite being The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley (my review is here).  Great great great book.  I really hope y’all will add it to your to-read piles.

The staff has been diligently working on getting through a whole slew of books this month. Adam’s been reading the historical fiction novel Deal With The Devil Part II and recently posted his review for it.  His next review is for a young adult mythology book, Pantheons.  Todd’s been reading a new thriller novel Targets of Deception and the fiction novel Believe Like A Child.  Christine’s been reading a short story/poetry anthology called Everblossom.  Jess is reading the memoir Taking Flak, while Charlie’s been working on a review of the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I do also want to inform all of you about the addition of another staff blogger for the Reflections team, Sam!  Sam’s been working on a young adult dystopian thriller, The Tube Riders.  You can find out more about Sam and her reading tastes on The Staff page!

Let us know what you read last month and what books we should be adding to our to-read piles! As always, happy reading!

#107 A Review of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

Back in May I had the absolute pleasure of reading Lucinda Riley’s debut novel, The Orchid House (my review is here).  I still find it hard to explain the complete spectrum of emotions I experienced while reading that book.  Not only was it exquisitely written, but it took the reader on a journey of unimaginable proportions.  When I was offered the opportunity to read Riley’s newest novel, The Girl on the Cliff, I JUMPED at the chance.  The story is pretty complex to explain, so I’m going to let Goodreads do it for me:

The mesmerizing story of two Irish families entangled by a tragic past that seems destined to repeat itself. To escape a recent heartbreak in New York, Grania Ryan returns to her family home on the rugged, wind-swept coast of Ireland. Here, on the cliff edge in the middle of a storm, she meets a young girl, Aurora Lisle, who will profoundly change her life.

Despite the warnings Grania receives from her mother to be wary of the Lisle family, Aurora and Grania forge a close friendship. Through a trove of old family letters dating from 1914, Grania begins to learn just how deeply their families’ histories are entwined. The horrors of World War I, the fate of a beautiful foundling child, and the irresistible lure of the ballet give rise to a legacy of heartache that leaves its imprint on each new generation. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and spirit may be able to unlock the chains of the past.

Sweeping from Edwardian England to present-day New York, from the majestic Irish coast to the crumbling splendor of a legendary London town house, The Girl on the Cliff introduces two remarkable women whose quest to understand their past sends them toward a future where love can triumph over loss.

Where do I begin?  Let’s start with the story.  The Girl on the Cliff is a fairy tale, and we all know how much I love them right now.  Now it’s not the stereotypical type of fairy tale where a prince rescues a princess, but one that shares the lessons of living in the now, living with forgiveness, and living wholeheartedly with love.  Choosing Aurora as the narrator was a perfect choice.  She’s an ethereal creature that is above the world of mortals, and she is fortunate enough to understand events and life’s lessons way ahead of her time.  When the story begins, Aurora is still a child dealing with the blow of losing her mother.  By the end of the novel we see a woman with knowledge and grace way beyond her years.  The lessons we’re taught are rough and aren’t dealt with in a “pretty” way.  Real life can be ugly so why shouldn’t these lessons reflect that?  All of the characters are extremely well-developed and are mesmerizing to follow.  Grania and her strengths and weaknesses make her so relatable.  Her hopes and dreams, wishes and fears are so similar to the ones we ordinary people feel everyday, that it’s impossible to not relate to her and become entranced by her story.

Also, the pace of the novel was tastefully done, and it progressed in a manner that was not too fast and not too slow.  It flowed gracefully, much like the changing positions in ballet (which is a major theme in the novel).  I’m still at a loss for adequate words to describe this work, as it was just as enchanting and amazing as Riley’s first work.  Her ability to draw the reader in to a world that is totally unique and such a great story is unparalleled.  I wholeheartedly encourage you to read her works, I guarantee that readers of all types will enjoy what she has to offer.

To learn about Riley’s inspiration behind this novel, click here.

6 out of 5 Stars

This is my forty-third completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2012)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781451655827

Special thanks to Atria Books for my review copy.

Lucinda Riley and The Inspiration Behind Her New Novel, The Girl on the Cliff

Joining us today is Lucinda Riley, author of one of my favorite books of 2012, The Orchid House.  Riley’s newest novel, The Girl on the Cliff is finally being released in the US on October 30th.  She’s been gracious enough to stop by the blog today to talk about the inspiration behind The Girl on the Cliff. Please join me in welcoming her!

It’s always a location, or a house and the atmosphere surrounding it, that inspires inside me those first seeds which eventually germinate into a book. This was very much the case with The Girl on the Cliff. I was born and lived in Ireland on the West Cork coast and I loved its wildness and isolation. ‘Extreme’ locations are always exciting to me because they are dramatic and of course, romantic. The thought of a vulnerable child, barefoot and alone during the Atlantic storms that used to break with such fury when I lived there with my own small children, gave me the character of ‘Aurora’, the narrator of the book.  I wanted to make her ‘other-wordly’ and ephemeral, almost part of the intense, dramatic scenery which surrounded her when she was born.

I will confess that Aurora is the first character I’ve ever written who is basically ‘me’. I poured my soul into her – something I’ve never done before in one of my books. All my beliefs, hopes and fears;  a lot of my life – I’m an ex-ballerina who got so sick I was bedridden and had to ‘use my mind, not my body, to express myself’ – is in there . Yes, like her, I’ve seen ghosts and angels and believe in the ‘afterlife’. I’ve suffered terrible loss , as most of us have at some point in our lives, but still believe, as Aurora says, that ‘love and faith and goodness and hope’ will win the day. And that human nature, for the most part, is intrinsically ‘good’. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be here on the planet – we’d all have murdered each other thousands of years ago! This book is so personal, it’s painful. Basically, if readers reject Aurora, they are rejecting me!

Some readers may find Aurora’s spiritualism and endless positivity in the face of adversity irritating. But, the US dollar bill itself has ‘In God We Trust’ written on it … yet, to my knowledge, no-one has ever managed to take a photograph or interview him! As Aurora says, ‘just remember, there’s no proof either way. So I choose to believe. It’s much the best option.’

I’m not into any particular organised religion, by the way, I just believe in a power higher than us humans, and am humble enough to realise there is so much we can never understand. Who/what energy created the Big Bang in the first place …? No-one knows.  So, it’s pretty obvious this book is not for ‘cynics’ who don’t believe in a ‘higher level’, or that the world is fundamentally a bad place. Redemption and some level of forgiveness is always a possibility, if not an actuality in some cases. And that is the rock-bed from which all my stories and characters come.

And besides Aurora, there is a huge, intricate family story, spanning over 100 years. There are characters, good and bad, that pepper the plot. Also, in The Girl on the Cliff, I’ve explored the fact that, as one grows older, the seesaw of pain and joy of the human condition become more stark. During the writing of the novel, I became fascinated by ‘the fairy tale , which all modern romantic novels are a derivative of. In particular, the ‘happy ending’, which every fairy tale contains and is in fact, an integral part of their beauty.

Yet, what happens after the ‘Happy Ever After’? And how to write an ending, given the depth of the characters involved in The Girl on the Cliff, in which the conclusion is both satisfying and moving? In conclusion, The Girl on the Cliff has all the ingredients of The Orchid House: the ‘big story’, a dual narrative and locations which fire my imagination, yet I hope I have added a new dimension, a depth and realism in the storyline which isn’t trite or contrived. In this book, more than any other story I’ve written, the characters demanded to be heard and I gave them their voice.

Armchair BEA: Day 2 – The Favorites!

For the second day of Armchair BEA posts, we’ve been tasked with describing our favorite reads of this year.  Instead of just picking one book and talking about it myself, both Todd and I have picked two of our favorite reads of the year and will share them with you!  Hopefully this will inspire you to seek out new and exciting reads for the remainder of the year.  So, without further ado, here they are:

Todd:  I’d have to say that my favorite book this year is H10N1 by M. R. Cornelius.  Yes, you could say that it was a shoo in because it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller, but I think it’s more than just that.  One of the best parts of novels in this genre is that they are as much a reflection of the people around us as they are a description of the actual apocalyptic event.  Yes, I know the whole genre is pretty popular right now with the likes of The Walking Dead and Resident Evil on TV and the big screen, but I’ve always liked these kinds of books, as they showcase the good and the bad that comes out of a dire situation.  Cornelius definitely achieved that in her work, and it was a thrill ride from start to finish.  I’m definitely glad I gave this one a shot, it was a blast to read.  You can read my full review here!

In second place by a very, very slight margin is the second book in the Across the Universe trilogy, A Million Suns by Beth Revis.  Although I’ve just finished it recently, it’s definitely an amazing follow-up to Across the Universe.  In it, we follow Elder as he attempts to lead the ship through a new host of trials and tribulations following the death of its previous leader, Eldest.  Not only does Revis’ writing show amazing technical detail that is a staple of any good sci-fi novel, but the interpersonal connections she weaves between Elder and his main interest, Amy, are great.  It’s a great coming-of-age novel that explores the difficulties of leadership, and the obstacles one must overcome in being different than everyone else.  Hopefully I can finish my review quickly and post it up for everyone to read!

Kim:  Although it was quite a task to pick just two books that would take the top spot so far this year, I’ve finally managed to do so.  First up is the fifth book in the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander, Dangerous to Know.  Lady Emily’s character is fleshed out much more in this book, as she and Colin must deal with her miscarriage.  Although she was already a strong female character, this tragedy gave her some depth that made her all the more believable and relatable.  We all must get through difficult patches in our lives, so to see Lady Emily boldly carry on and eventually overcome this situation was inspiring.  Alexander did a great job in creating such a wonderful character, and along with the other characters in the novel presented an exciting story that I couldn’t put down!  You can read my full review here.

Seeing as Todd has ranked his two books after choosing them, I’d have to say that I’m saving the best of my two for last.  Orchid House by Lucinda Riley is a stunning tale of love and loss.  As I stated in my review, I was amazed that this is Riley’s debut novel, as her writing is as seamless and fluid as the most veteran writers out there.  The way in which she crosses time and geography in this work is astounding.  Covering three generations and three countries, Riley treats us to a rich world that drew me in from the very beginning.  I’m always a sucker for great character development, but this went above and beyond, teaching us that life is a precious gift that can be taken from us at any time.  Couple this with the amazing backdrop of Riley’s fantastic plot and you have a sure winner.  I don’t give out more than 5 stars often, but this definitely deserved it!  Read my full review here.

Well, that’s it for our favorite reviews of the year so far!  Check back tomorrow for the third day of Armchair BEA posting.

Until then, happy reading!