Tuesday, September 16, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: MOTH AND SPARK by Anne Leonard




Title: Moth and Spark
Author: Anne Leonard
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: February 20, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 3/5

SUMMARY

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. 

Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. 

Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.




REVIEW

Being a lover of fantasy, I looked forward to reading Moth and Spark. Prince Corin of Caithen, very obviously under some compulsion in the beginning of the story, has war coming at his country from two directions. Tam, very beautiful but not of high birth, can assist Corin in his quest with her seer's gift. Although the prince is not supposed to court a commoner, in times of war exceptions are made.

Despite the captivating beginning and lively, action-packed final third of this book, it is top heavy with the romance between Corin and Tam. Add to this the court intrigue and numerous girls fawning over their love interests, and the middle of this book reads a bit like a Jane Austen novel.

Although the characters are generally realistic and lifelike, I found Tam a bit too good to be true. At least Corin, though also a bit too much the perfect prince, fortunately comes across as more prone to human failure. He makes mistakes, has doubts and doesn't always play open cards with either Tam or his father, king Aram. 

I absolutely loved the dragons in this book. The way the dragon riders can communicate with the dragons and with one another is unique and imaginative. The world building in Moth and Spark is creative and extensive enough for the purposes of this story.
Moth and Spark is a comfortably paced, light fantasy especially suitable for those who prefer a heavy dose of romance. I would, however, warn readers not to approach this book with the same expectations as for series like A Song of Ice and Fire or even The Lord of the Rings.  
  




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ABOUT the AUTHOR


I've written since I was a kid. Fantasy and SF always drew me because of the fun of world-building. I've had lots of jobs and took many detours to publication, but writing is and always will be my real job.

Education (perhaps too much): BA from St. John's College Annapolis, MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh, Ph.D. in English literature from Kent State University, and a J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. 

Personal: Husband, son, 2 black cats. Major hobby is photography. Foolishly, I support the Chicago Cubs.

   
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Monday, September 15, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: A FALL OF MARIGOLDS by Susan Meissner




Title: A Fall of Marigolds
Author: Susan Meissner
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made. Will what she learns devastate her or free her? 

September 2011. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers, the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection and a century-old scarf open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?




REVIEW

A tale of two women who need to move past the tragedies in their lives, A Fall of Marigolds is a gripping, heartwarming story. Both Clara Wood in 1911 and Taryn Michaels in 2011, are in an in-between place to try and escape the devastating reality of the death of loved ones. Both women experience challenges that pull them out of their in-between comfort zone and force them to move on. One unique marigold patterned scarf plays a significant role in both cases.

Not really the kind of book that would top my to-be-read list; now after reading it, it is going on my list of favorite reads of 2014. There are many similarities in the stories of Clara and Taryn. Both were to meet their loved ones close to where the eventual tragedies occurred and neither could move on afterwards, choosing to hide in an in-between world for a time. For Clara it was six months working in the Ellis Island hospital, and for Taryn, a job and home in the quiet depth of the Heirloom Yard.

The well developed, lifelike main characters, Clara and Taryn, grow throughout the story. As the author dedicates more pages to Clara's narrative, her personality stands out. Tenderhearted, yet often quite stubborn, Clara has a tendency to tie herself to people for the wrong reasons while rejecting others who truly have honest intentions. Despite her often prickly personality, however, her best friend as well as her aspiring suitor won't give up on her.

This book is not without its share of action. Clara's story takes a suspenseful twist that certainly had me on the edge of my chair for a while. The touches of mature romance are tastefully presented and do not dominate the story at all.

Even the dialogue alternates from the slightly formal style of the early twentieth century to the more relaxed, casual style of the twenty first century.

Truly a five-star read, A Fall of Marigolds is a story that deals with the what-ifs in life. It is an uplifting tale of hope, acceptance of the past, and moving on to the future.



  




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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses. Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.

She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with her family, music, reading great books, and traveling.


  
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Friday, September 12, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE RING AND THE CROWN by Melissa de la Cruz




Title: The Ring and the Crown
Series: The Ring and the Crown, #1
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Genres: YA, Paranormal Romance
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve? 

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. 

But even with the aid of Emrys' magic, Eleanor's extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen's Guard. 

Together, Marie and Aelwyn, a powerful magician in her own right, come up with a plan. Aelwyn will take on Marie's face, allowing the princess to escape with Gill and live the quiet life she's always wanted. And Aelwyn will get what she's always dreamed of--the chance to rule. But the court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor's court: trust no one.





REVIEW

Set in a world with a vastly altered history, where magic is used in warfare as well as in place of technology, The Ring and The Crown is a light, relaxing read. Princess Marie-Victoria, soon to marry Leopold, crown prince of Prussia, and Elwyn, daughter of the great mage, Emrys Myrddyn, the Merlin, had been friends since early childhood. Now Elwyn must help Marie achieve the impossible while securing a place of power for herself. Only, with the hustle and bustle of the London season as well as the interference of several malicious individuals, things don't quite work out the way Marie and Elwyn had imagined it would.

Although this book reads a bit like a regency novel meets celebrity gossip tabloid, the effortlessly flowing prose and forward moving plot made it a pleasure to read.

This book boasts several colorful key characters. I, however, couldn't really identify with the two main characters, Marie and Elwyn. Rather, I found myself drawn to Ronan who came from New York with her mother's express command/threat: bring home a rich husband to save the family fortunes, or else. Determined to do just that, Ronan did not take into account that she might just fall in love for real.

Of the male characters in the story, Wolfgang, brother of crown prince Leopold, was my favorite character; closely followed by the hilariously funny gay couple, Perry and Archie. To say much more about the gentlemen in the story, poses the danger of giving spoilers.

The romance, or should that be the imaginings and actions of multiple hormonal and thoroughly horny teenagers, was too exaggerated for my taste. Although the plot develops throughout the book, the story really only becomes truly suspenseful and thrilling towards the end. Said end is, of course, not at all what one would have predicted.

Taking the reader from tea parties, dinners and balls, to the secret activities of bedrooms and dungeons, this is a tale of political intrigue, illicit meetings, and ultimate sacrifice to fulfill responsibilities. If paranormal romance with a healthy dose of intrigue is your reading preference, this is the perfect book to kick back and relax with.








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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Her books for adults include the novel Cat’s Meow, the anthology Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys and the tongue-in-chic handbooks How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less and The Fashionista Files: Adventures in Four-inch heels and Faux-Pas.

She has worked as a fashion and beauty editor and has written for many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, The San Francisco Chronicle, McSweeney’s, Teen Vogue, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. She has also appeared as an expert on fashion, trends and fame for CNN, E! and FoxNews.

Melissa grew up in Manila and moved to San Francisco with her family, where she graduated high school salutatorian from The Convent of the Sacred Heart. She majored in art history and English at Columbia University (and minored in nightclubs and shopping!).

She now divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, where she lives in the Hollywood Hills with her husband and daughter.



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Thursday, September 11, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: BURN FOR BURN by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian




Title: Burn for Burn
Series: Burn for Burn, #1
Authors: Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Postcard-perfect Jar Island is the kind of place where nobody locks their doors at night, where parents can sleep easy, knowing their daughters are tucked away safe and sound in their beds. 

But bad things can happen, even to good girls . . . and sometimes, the only way to make things right is to do something wrong. 

Lillia used to trust boys, but not anymore. Not after what happened this summer. And she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her little sister from the same fate. 

Kat is over the rumors, the insults, the cruel jokes made at her expense. It all goes back to one person--her ex-best friend. Someone needs to teach her a lesson, and, with Lillia and Mary behind her, Kat feels up to the task.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she’s not the same girl anymore. Now that she’s got friends who have her back, he's going to be in big trouble.

Three very different girls who come together to make things right. Will they go too far?




REVIEW

Not having read the book summary beforehand, I thought that Burn for Burn would turn out to be yet another angsty account of teen romance and high school politics. Was I pleasantly surprised! Coming from vastly different backgrounds, Kat, Mary and Lillia combine efforts to get revenge on the three people who had wronged them, Alex, Reeve and Rennie. Turns out, revenge is not all that sweet in the end.

This story, with its brilliantly imaginative plot, is comfortably paced and develops very realistically. From Lillia, who finds it difficult to persevere with the revenge plan, to wild, tough Kat and quiet Mary, all the protagonists are well fleshed out and lifelike. The antagonists, nastily bitchy cheerleader captain, Rennie, mean football captain Reeve, and Alex of the dubious loyalties, are equally skillfully crafted.

What I really appreciated about these characters was that none of them was all good or all bad. This, of course, put me in two minds as to whether the three girls truly had a right to execute their revenge plans.

If I did not know about the sequel to this book, I would have said that the end was extremely blunt. Now, however, the end is just a monumental, cleverly designed cliff-hanger. An underlying touch of the paranormal gives the story a slightly mysterious twist.

This emotionally charged book, with its lively dialogue, light touch of romance, profound bit of wisdom, and nail-biting last few chapters, is an absolute must-read and will be going on my Favorite Reads list!





  
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ABOUT the AUTHORS


Jenny Han is the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You, and We’ll Always Have Summer.








Siobhan Vivian is the author of The List, Not That Kind of Girl, Same Difference, and A Little Friendly Advice.

  




  
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

REVIEW: THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman




Title: The Princess Bride
Author: William Goldman
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 15, 2003
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Humor
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be...well...a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad's recitation, and only the "good parts" reached his ears.

Now Goldman does Dad one better. He's reconstructed the "Good Parts Version" to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.

What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

In short, it's about everything.




REVIEW

I’m going to do this review differently from the way I usually do my reviews for one reason only. I don’t think I can say anything more about this magnificent book that hasn’t already been said by countless others. So, here are a few highlights from my experience with The Princess Bride.

Oh, and uhm…I haven’t seen the movie yet, but some say it’s better than the book.

Anyway, here goes.

Favorite scene: Too many too choose from!

Most suspenseful moment: When Buttercup fell into the snow sand in the Fire Swamp and Westley dove after her to save her and before he could reach her he discovered, to his horror, that the vine rope he made is too short...

Actually, there’s another scene that also had me clinging to the edge of my seat, and that’s the part in which Inigo and Fezzik made their way through the four levels of the Zoo of Death to get to the fifth level. Epic!

Favorite word: “Inconceivable!”  

Favorite characters: Undoubtedly Inigo and Fezzik

Characters that scared the hell out of me: Count Rugen and Prince Humperdinck (obviously!)

How many times did the story make me laugh? Countless times!

Describe the book in four words: Adventure, hilarious, memorable, brilliant!

And lastly...

Hello. My name is Angie Edwards. I’ve finally read The Princess Bride. I was not at all prepared for what it had in store for me.





  
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ABOUT the AUTHOR


William Goldman is a screenwriter, novelist, playwright, and non-fiction author. Born in Highland Park, Illinois, USA, began his career as a novelist in 1957. Started writing screenplays in 1965 with "Masquerade". A two-time Academy Award Winner, he is one of the most successful screenwriters and script doctors in Hollywood.





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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE ACCIDENTAL BOOK CLUB by Jennifer Scott




Title: The Accidental Book Club
Author: Jennifer Scott
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Jean Vison never expected to run a book club, until her life took an unexpected turn. Now, with Jean’s husband gone, what began as an off-the-cuff idea has grown into a group of six women who meet the second Tuesday of every month for a potluck supper, for wine and laughter—and for books.

There’s Loretta, who deals with the lack of intimacy in her marriage by diving into erotic novels. Dorothy, whose ruffian sons are a never-ending source of stress. May entertains the group with her outrageous dating stories, while Mitzi finds something political to rant about in every book—including Loretta’s trashy romances. Even Janet, with her mousy shyness and constant blush, has helped Jean rediscover the joy in life.

So when Jean’s family starts unraveling again—her daughter forced into rehab and her troubled teen granddaughter, Bailey, coming to live with her in the interim—she turns to the book club for comfort and support. And, together, they all, even Bailey, discover that family is what you make of it, especially the family you choose…




REVIEW

Delightfully relaxing, The Accidental Book Club tells the story of recently widowed Jean Vison and the group of women who form a book club to help her deal with her grief. This accidentally formed group of friends not only eats, drinks, and discuss books, they also support one another and specifically Jean when family troubles come knocking.

Although this is a lovely story of friendship and healing, the true magic of this book is in the brilliantly crafted characters. From argumentative Midsy, troubled Dorothy and quiet Janet, to Loretta with her sharp wit and trashy romance novels, as well as May with her wildly imaginative romantic encounters, all these women contribute to a thoroughly mismatched and very endearing character cast.

Enter sixteen-year-old, troubled and nastily spiteful Bailey Butler to stir things up for the complacent group of friends. Of course, with Bailey being her granddaughter, poor quiet Jean bears the brunt of this invasion. Fortunately, the book club members are ready to support her.

Although this book deals with serious questions like alcoholism, divorce, out of control children and the loss of a loved one, the constant underlying thread of humor just kept a smile on my face. The lively, witty dialogue is balanced by moments of sadness and several anxiety-provoking incidents.

Comfortably paced, yet always moving forward, The Accidental Book Club is a heartwarming story that I can recommend as pleasant, light reading.







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Monday, September 8, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS by J.J. Howard




Title: That Time I Joined the Circus
Author: J.J. Howard
Publisher: Point
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Genres: YA, Contemporary Romance
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.




REVIEW

As I absolutely adore books about life in the circus, That Time I Joined the Circus came as a much anticipated treat. After several devastating incidents, including the death of her father, Xandra Ryan leaves New York City to look for her mother. Not immediately finding said mother, she ends up joining a circus in order to have a job and a place to live.

Despite the fact that this is not at all an action and suspense driven book, I simply couldn't put it down. The constant switch between Xandra's story in the present and her back story completely captivated me.

The characters are well crafted and lifelike. Regency novel-loving Xandra with her feelings of inferiority, slight insecurity and sadness over her recent losses, is prepared to work hard and do whatever it takes to find her mother, as well as herself, in a world where nobody seems to care about her any more.

When circus life presents her with distractions like the stunningly handsome Jamie and the equally handsome, enigmatic Nick, her attention strays from mother-finding to boy pursuing. At one point I thought the story was going to descend into that clich├ęd pit called a love triangle. Fortunately, with two of the three guys in Xandra's life having other fish to fry, this doesn't happen.

Without giving spoilers here I can say that the end of this lovely, light tale is not quite what one would expect but, nevertheless, very satisfying. I would happily recommend this heartwarming, clean, tender and thoroughly relaxing story to readers of all ages. 







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


J.J. Howard is wearing headphones right now, most likely. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies, television, and pop culture. You can call her if you ever need to phone a friend for trivia on any of the above topics, but don’t ask about sports, because she is hopeless at those (along with math). 

J.J. graduated from Dickinson College with a BA in English and Tiffin University with an MH in Humanities. She has been some of her students’ favorite English teacher for quite a few years (she even has a mug somewhere to prove it). THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS is her first young adult novel. 


  
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