Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (06.30.12) - More flowers!

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

I almost wasn't going to post a Saturday Snapshot today because I didn't really have anything new and exciting. But then I decided I'd share some more pictures of flowers -- including another late-blooming clematis that decided to make its appearance this week (the color of this one is much more vibrant).

First up, however, is one of the dianthus that I have had a lot of luck with this year -- probably because I have been pretty good about dead-heading them.  They are thriving even in the unbelievable heat we've had in Georgia recently:

And here are a couple of pictures of the clematis. The first was taken not long after it opened, as you'll notice the petals still curling some.

And you might also notice there happen to be another 2-3 buds nearby, so it looks like I could be enjoying a few more late bloomers this summer, assuming the heat doesn't do them in! This rich violet color is what most of the flowers looked like this year, much more vibrant than the last couple of years' blooms had been.  This is the third season we've had the clematis and it seems to really be settled in and flourishing now!

As always, you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Happy Saturday everyone!!

Review: The Goose Girl

Title: The Goose Girl
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pub Date: 2003 Bloomsbury USA
Format: Paperback
Source: Received as a gift

Synopsis (from the back cover)

Some people are born with the first word of a language resting on their tongue, though it may take some time before they can taste it.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue. She spent the early years of her life listening to her aunt's stories and learning the language of the swans. Then a colt was born with a word on his tongue -- his name, Falada -- and when Ani spoke it, she found the key to his language, too. But as Ani's gift grew, so did others' mistrust of it, and soon her mother felt she had no choice but to send her away to be queen of a foreign land...

My Thoughts (slightly spoiler-y, sorry!)

I really should thank the person who told me I ought to give the Books of Bayern a go -- if only I could remember who that was! Somehow, from one of my reviews, they figured out my reading preferences to the letter. Yes, The Goose Girl was most definitely right up my reading alley. I have always enjoyed Young Adult Fantasy books -- ever since I was actually a "young adult" myself, in fact. My YA self would most definitely have enjoyed Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern. I can't say that the synopsis on the cover would have intrigued me enough to read The Goose Girl, so I really should say there is so much more to the story than it implies... Adventure, intrigue, disguises, a touch of magic -- you will find all that and more when you enter Hale's world of Bayern.

Hale has created a very likeable heroine in Ani, Crown Princess of Kildenree. She is far from a perfect beauty who can do no wrong -- she is, in fact, very self-conscious and perhaps over-aware of her flaws, but has a strong desire to overcome them. I mentioned intrigue -- well, it doesn't take long for it to begin once Ani's mother sends her away to marry the Crown Prince of Bayern. I knew what would happen long before Ani figured it out and oh, it makes for a delicious read! You cannot help but pull for the truth to be heard, for right to overcome, and for the intrigue to be revealed for what it is and oh yes, the conclusion is quite satisfying!

In my opinion, a good book requires a strong cast of characters of various shapes and sizes, so to speak. Hale has certainly given us that in The Goose Girl. Ani, herself, begins the story as an unsure--almost weak--Crown Princess, but discovers her true capability when forced to become a Goose Girl in Bayern and fight to regain her rightful place in life. Her lady-in-waiting, Selia, is another type of creature all together, as you will see. I wish we saw a little more of the Crown Prince of Bayern, but then the story wouldn't have gone the way it did, as you will see upon reading it. Of course, there are others without whom the story wouldn't be complete: the band of Forest-born workers in Bayern, Ani's loyal (and not-so-loyal) guard, to name a few.

Bottom line, if you enjoy YA fantasy and adventure, I think you would enjoy The Goose Girl. It is an easy, yet captivating read -- Hale's lyrical writing is sure to enthrall you from the first few pages.

My rating:

5 stars

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

Title: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall
Author: Julie Klassen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: January 2012, Bethany House Publishers
Format: eBook (Nook)
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt--and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall? 

Observing both brothers as an "invisible" servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding? 

On her journey from wellborn lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of "serve one another in love."

My Thoughts

Oh, I think I have found a new favorite author for Christian Historical Fiction! I went on the hunt for The Maid of Fairbourne Hall after Marie at Burton Book Review sang praises for this book in her review. I must say that I wasn't disappointed -- in fact, it was one of those times where I stayed up late to finish the book because I really wanted to see how everything worked itself out. The best part is, after just lamenting over not being able to find other authors outside of Georgette Heyer who write Regency Romances that I enjoy, I found Klassen.

Oh don't get me wrong, she isn't really another Georgette Heyer. The witty banter isn't quite so prevalent, nor the incredibly vivid detail of the life of the ton in Regency London. However, perhaps in part because this is Christian Fiction, there is much more substance to the story. To call it Christian Fiction almost seems too strong, though, because that was certainly not the focus of the book, which, as all of you probably know, suits me just fine. I don't care to be preached to and this book is not the slightest bit preachy.

I think I most enjoyed seeing the transformation of Margaret Macy from her snooty, spoiled beginning, through her journey of self-discovery that ultimately leads to a change of heart and character. Klassen brilliantly brings Margaret to life from a high-born lady to her escape as a housemaid and in doing so, we see the not-so-pretty side of Regency London -- what life was probably like more often than not for the servants of the privileged. I cringed to see the way Margaret treated her own maid and she certainly made some gaffes while disguised as a maid at Fairbourne Hall, but it is heartwarming to see her change her ways once her eyes are opened to her tendency towards snobbishness and thoughtlessness.

And naturally, you can't have a good Historical Fiction book without a bit of romance. While not sizzling hot (it's still Christian Fiction, y'all!), the unfolding story is sweet and has a happy ending. This was also a key part of Margaret's changing character as she realized what truly mattered in a husband and marriage. From haughty housemaids to conniving stepfathers, we also see a wide range of characters that bring the story to life -- truly a great cast of characters. My lone complaint is that I think Klassen had a tendency to be long-winded at times when trying to provide detail to paint a scene or explain background information. But overall, I really enjoyed The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and definitely look forward to reading the rest of Klassen's books!

My rating:

4 stars

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Princess of the Midnight Ball

Title: Princess of the Midnight Ball
Author: Jessica Day George
Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction
Pub Date: January 2009, Bloomsbury USA
Format: Hardcover
Source: Received as a gift

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above. 

My Thoughts

I've never been a huge fan of Grimm's fairytales, so I was not familiar with the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses before reading Jessica Day George's retelling. Of course, I'm a huge fan of George's Dragon series and her writing style in general for the middle grade reader, so I was pretty confident I would enjoy her take on this particular fairytale. Happily, this confidence was not misplaced, as George brought this tale to life with great detail in her typically vivid and captivating style.

I will say that I think I enjoyed the Dragon books more -- perhaps because they were from George's imagination, rather than trying to retell a story that originated from somewhere else. I also favor fantasy adventures, so that might have something to do with my preference, as well.  Nevertheless, George writes about the twelve princesses, each with the name of a flower, their would-be rescuers (the various princes from all the lands around Westfalia), as well as a few other key characters in such a way to bring them to life right before your eyes. The romance is sweet, yet not overpowering. We know from the beginning which way the wind is blowing, so there's not really much mystery or anything to deter Galen and Rose's relationship -- well, other than the fact that Galen has to solve the mystery of what is going on with Rose and her sisters, of course!

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a nice, quick read -- perfect for summer and a book I know I would have enjoyed when I was in the target age group. Oh, and I agree with many of you who commented on my Teaser Tuesday post -- it is a gorgeous cover!  I look forward to picking up Princess of Glass sometime down the road, as well!

My Rating:

4 stars

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Princess of the Midnight Ball

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

It's been awhile since I've participated -- here is my teaser this week!

"With all respect, Your Excellency," Galen said in a mild voice, "the only thing you can prove the princesses are guilty of is wearing our their shoes too often. None of the princes who have died in recent months met their fate on Westfalian soil. They perished in tragic yet normal accidents. That is, those who didn't die at the hand of another prince."

~ page 145 of Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Lady Alexandra's Excellent Adventure

Title: Lady Alexandra's Excellent Adventure
Author: Sophie Barnes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pub Date: June 2012, HarperCollins Publishers
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from

It's going to be a wild ride…

Lady Alexandra Summersby is not your average society miss. Not only is she more likely to climb a tree than she is to wear a dress, but she has also sworn off marriage. Alex loves taking chances, which is how she finds herself embroiled in a secret mission as she races across the country with the Earl of Trenton. But Alexandra is about to discover that the real danger lies not in duels, but in her completely unexpected reaction to Lord Trenton's company.

Michael Ashford, Earl of Trenton, is a man of duty. Honorable, charming, and a hit with the ladies, he's never had trouble staying focused—until now. Lady Alexandra is like no other woman he's ever met, and suddenly the prospect of marriage seems far more appealing. Now, to convince Alexandra that a life together could be an adventure like no other….

My Thoughts

I really ought to give up trying to find other Regency Romances that will measure up to Georgette Heyer's, which I tend to hold as the standard for the genre. These days, I know not to expect that they will be the clean reads that Heyer's books were, but I always hold out hope that they will have the detail, plot, and wit that make Heyer's stories stand out. Sadly for me, Lady Alexandra's Excellent Adventure falls short both as a work of Historical Fiction and a Romance.

The storyline and the events around it (and frequently, the people's reactions to said events) are so absolutely ridiculous and implausible that I found myself rolling my eyes almost constantly. Barnes tries to capture some of the language of the time but includes little else that makes you feel as if this is supposed to be set in the Regency period. Honestly, it's a modern story that is trying to masquerade as a Regency Romance. On occasion, there is some witty banter between the characters, but I didn't find that it made up for the rest of the book. Once I hit the halfway point, I skimmed most of the rest of the story to see how it played out.

Personally, I think anyone who regularly reads romance (or even someone who doesn't) would not be particularly impressed with that part of the story, either. I didn't find Alexandra's and Michael's relationship to be particularly touching or romantic. Not only that, but after just one day of knowing each other, it is implied that all of these "deep" feelings and emotions are supposed to have surfaced within each of them, causing them to question their own personal opinions of marriage, blah, blah, blah. Seriously? More like deep feelings of lust. At least try to drag out the tension and the budding relationship for a little longer and try to make me feel like Alexandra and Michael are developing true, honest feelings of love for each other.

Perhaps if either the storyline or the romance itself had been executed better, I could have bumped up my rating of this book. But as it stands now, I wouldn't recommend Lady Alexandra's Excellent Adventure to anyone looking for Historical Romance/Fiction or any kind of Romance. Edited to add: I probably should have realized from the title alone that this was going to be a less-than-spectacular read.

My rating:
2 stars

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Sunday Salon: A Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

Title: Cleopatra's Daughter
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: September 2009, Crown Publishing Group
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two– the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander–survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts. 

The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters: Octavia, the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra; Livia, Octavian's bitter and jealous wife; Marcellus, Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir apparent; Tiberius, Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power; and Juba, Octavian’s watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals. 

Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place–the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the times. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority. 

My Thoughts

My biggest regret with Cleopatra's Daughter is that I waited so long to read it! I purchased this book back when it was popular among the book blogs and I even won a signed bookplate for it, so I can't begin to tell you why I didn't read it then. It simply got lost on my TBR bookshelf for a couple of years (yes, once again I am blaming the Great Blog Hiatus) until I picked it up a couple of days ago. And once I picked it up, I did not want to put it down! I have long been fascinated by ancient Egypt and ancient Rome, but for some reason I have never really ventured into historical fiction written about the people from those times and places. Perhaps I thought it would be difficult to connect to their stories, I'm not sure.

All I really know is that now that I have read one book by Michelle Moran, I must read ALL THE BOOKS! While turning the pages I felt like I was transported back to Selene's world. I haven't read a work of historical fiction that has truly made me feel that way in quite some time. Moran's writing is unbelievably vivid and detailed, but without becoming overly wordy and difficult to follow as can sometimes be the case when trying to provide a picture of a life long ago that the reader must imagine for themselves. She truly brought to life Selene, her brother Alexander, Octavian, and so many other historical figures. While it is, after all, a work of fiction, the story just felt so real -- it was as if I was there watching everything unfold over two thousand years ago.

The amount of research that had to have gone into this story is staggering -- I very much enjoyed reading Moran's afterword and acknowledgments, which gave further insight into Selene's story, as well as some of the other major figures, not to mention the research Moran did. While much of ancient Egypt and Rome is associated with an almost fairytale-like magnificence, Moran reminds us of what life really was like at the time. Not surprisingly, it was often not too pretty -- Moran shows us the darker side of life at the time: corruption, death (whether by illness or not-so-natural causes), and the widespread use of slavery. These hardships, while not necessarily pleasant to read about, are so key to the story. They simply couldn't be glossed over and in my opinion, Moran really does a brilliant job of incorporating them into the book without overwhelming the reader.

Of course, my most favorite part of the book was the ending. I had to go back and re-read the last few pages a few hours after finishing the book, just to savor the sweet moments that would finally bring Selene the happiness she deserved. I admit I suspected what would happen much earlier on in the story (bear in mind I had no historical knowledge of Selene or who she married), but reading it all unfold is so deliciously breathtaking and you can't help but sigh in satisfaction after reading those last few pages of Selene's story. 

I now understand firsthand why Michelle Moran's books have received such high praise and raving reviews. If you enjoy historical fiction or ancient Egypt and Rome, you really must read Cleopatra's Daughter. I can't say enough good things about this book and I can't wait to read another of Moran's works soon!

My rating:
5 stars

More Goodies:

Michelle Moran's website
Cleopatra's Daughter Q&A from Moran's website
Cleopatra's Daughter Book Trailer

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (06.23.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

I'm sure you will all be shocked... No pictures of our baby doll today! ;-)

Instead, I thought I'd post a picture of our last clematis blossom of the Spring blooming season. It popped out of nowhere a week or two ago after all of the other blooms were long gone. The color isn't quite as rich in the picture as it was in person, but it's still pretty.

(You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

This week I'll need to get to work with the camera some and try to get some new pictures... Not sure I've got much recent fodder available for next week's Snapshot post! :-)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Insurgent

Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Pub Date: May 2012, HarperCollins Publishers
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

My Thoughts

I'll open by saying I CANNOT WAIT FOR BOOK THREE!!! I enjoyed Insurgent every bit as much as I did Divergent, maybe even more, so I hope I'm not getting my hopes set up to high for the last book in the trilogy. In my opinion, the characters and the premise make these books what they are -- Roth is just brilliant in bringing Tris and Four to life, not to mention some other key players like Jeanine Matthews, Marcus Eaton, Caleb (Tris's brother), and several others. Before you continue reading, please be warned, there are some spoilers if you have not yet read Divergent.

I went back and forth feeling very frustrated with Tris in this book and then happy with her, in terms of her relationship with Four and the decisions she was making that affected it. Now, perhaps it's because the ultimate outcome was a happy one, but looking back I think that Roth was spot on with the way she portrayed Tris's actions in this book. The faction drama also comes to a head in this book and the action is pretty much non-stop. Trust me, you won't want to put this book down, either, once you pick it up, so plan to set aside some time when you start reading.

Something I really appreciated about Insurgent: bits of humor interjected to lighten the mood.  There were a good handful of times that I laughed out loud at the lines some of the characters said and I thought Ross timed the lines perfectly so that you don't get too bogged down in some of the darker scenes. Truthfully, I am having a difficult time remembering anything that I didn't like about Insurgent. It's definitely a cliffhanger -- and since I've heard the third book is not due out until Fall of 2013, I've got quite a wait (sigh).

If you enjoy YA dystopian fiction, I can't recommend these Roth's Divergent series highly enough.

My rating:
5 stars

If you've reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Pub Date: May 2011, HarperCollins Children's Books
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. 

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

My Thoughts

As usual, I am late to the game with some of the hottest books out there, though that was in part due to the Great Blogging/Reading Hiatus and being totally out of the loop on some of the best new debut books. I'm so glad I decided not to put off reading Divergent for too long once I started hearing about it, though! I opted to get the eBook after I recently bought my new Nook Simple Touch with Glow Light and I'm glad I did because naturally I had to download Insurgent immediately upon finishing Divergent!

I know the Hunger Games comparions are all over the place out there, and given that both series are YA dystopians that is totally understandable. For me, that is where the similarities ended, though. I like them both for their own unique stories and approaches to a dystopian future in America. And oh, how I l-o-v-e-d Divergent. LOVED it. I seriously thought this book had one of the best collections of characters that I have read about lately. Not to mention I was totally captivated by the idea of the five factions based on the different virtues. Once Beatrice/Tris made her choice, I was sucked into the story even further and blown away by the initiation process that follows.

But my favorite part? The romance... oh, the romance! I won't go spoilery and name names for the one person left that hasn't read this book and might be reading this blog, but I will say that I could see where this relationship was headed pretty early on, as I suspect most of you who've read these books probably did, as well. In my opinion, though, Roth is brilliant in bringing it about at the pace she does and through the events that cause Tris and The Boy to grow together.  The romance, along with the nail-biting initiation into Tris's chosen faction and the growing discontent among some of the factions combined make this book one you won't want to put down.  Indeed, the first night I read a pretty good chunk and managed to put the book down, but on the second night I decided it was totally worth staying up WAY past my bedtime to finish the book.

I am so excited about this trilogy, but once again I am wishing that I could just wait until all the books are out before starting a series so I don't end up getting stuck waiting (impatiently) for a book to be published. I am thinking that Divergent and Insurgent will definitely be worth a re-read before the third book comes out. So yeah, I'll go ahead and say it... If you liked the Hunger Games, I would say that chances are pretty good you'll enjoy these books, as well. I'm looking forward to sharing my review of Insurgent with you soon (probably tomorrow)!

My rating:
5 stars

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Series Review: The Fallen Novels by Lauren Kate

Titles: Fallen, Torment, Passion, Rapture
Author: Lauren Kate
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fiction
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (compiled from each of the books)

FALLEN: There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

TORMENT: Lucinda is sure that she and Daniel are meant to be together forever. Now they are forced apart in a desperate bid to save Luce from the Outcasts–immortals who want her dead. As she discovers more about her past lives, Luce starts to suspect that Daniel is hiding something. What if he has lied to her about their shared past? What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

PASSION: Luce would die for Daniel.

And she has. Over and over again. Throughout time, Luce and Daniel have found each other, only to be painfully torn apart: Luce dead, Daniel left broken and alone. But perhaps it doesn’t need to be that way…

Luce is certain that something—or someone—in a past life can help her in her present one. So she begins the most important journey of this lifetime… going back eternities to witness firsthand her romances with Daniel . . . and finally unlock the key to making their love last.

Cam and the legions of angels and Outcasts are desperate to catch Luce, but none are as frantic as Daniel. He chases Luce through their shared pasts, terrified of what might happen if she rewrites history.

Because their romance for the ages could go up in flames… forever.

RAPTURE: The sky is dark with wings...

Like sand in an hourglass, time is running out for Luce and Daniel. To stop Lucifer from erasing the past they must find the place where the angels fell to earth. Dark forces are after them, and Daniel doesn’t know if he can do this—live only to lose Luce again and again.

Yet together they will face an epic battle that will end with lifeless bodies . . . and angel dust. Great sacrifices are made. Hearts are destroyed. And suddenly Luce knows what must happen.

For she was meant to be with someone other than Daniel. The curse they’ve borne has always and only been about her—and the love she cast aside. The choice she makes now will be the only one that truly matters.

In the fight for Luce, who will win?

My Thoughts (a little spoiler-y, sorry!)

Lauren Kate's Fallen novels are a refreshing change from most of the paranormal books that are filling bookshelves across the world these days, given that the stories focus on angels, fallen angels, Nephilim, etc., as opposed to vampires, werewolves, faeries, and the like.  That said, I ultimately thought this series would have been better suited as a trilogy. The third book was probably my least favorite of the group -- I would rather have seen the stories of Luce's past lives incorporated across the other three books.  This one book that focused on her trip through time to view her past lives with Daniel just got tedious for me.

Overall, I enjoyed the characters.  Luce's self-discovery over the course of the four books is really laid out quite well and we see her grow quite a bit.  I really enjoyed her as a heroine throughout every book.  Daniel, on the other hand, seems sort of pathetic and one-dimensional to me at this point.  But in all fairness, I suppose if I had to go through thousands of years of losing the person I loved over and over again, I might be pretty pathetic towards the end, myself.  Of course, there are several other angels, Archangels, and Nephilim who are presented as everyday people and it is amusing to read about them in that light and consider the possibility of angels among us.  And who can forget Lucifer's alter-ego, Bill the Gargoyle?

Ultimately, I enjoyed the ending, but uh, that synopsis for the fourth book?  Not really accurate, in my opinion.  I was prepping myself for a major plot twist and was a little disappointed that I got caught up in anticipation over what proved to be nothing.  In fact, the ending was basically exactly what I thought would happen from the beginning of the books.  Not that that's a bad thing, but I have grown so accustomed to plot twists that I wouldn't have minded one or two more throughout these stories.  But I'm a sucker for "happily ever after"and that is essentially what we got -- I really enjoyed reading Luce's and Daniel's relationship fall into place after everything they had been through.  It was a bit poignant, really.

Bottom line, if you are into YA paranormal these days, I think you'll enjoy these books. There's nothing particularly ground-breaking about them, but they are an easy read and a bit of a departure from "the norm" out there.

My rating:

4 stars

Broken out individually, I would probably rate them as follows:
Fallen - 4, Torment - 4, Passion - 3.5, Rapture - 4

And you know the drill -- if you have reviewed any of these books, feel free to leave links in the comments section!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (06.16.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

Last week I told you about taking Laura to the pool for the first time.  After some initial trepidation and uncertainty (that water was a lot cooler than bathwater!), she decided she liked floating around in the pool -- especially with her daddy pulling her around making boat noises.

Here are some of the pictures we took to capture this "milestone event" (you can click on images to make them bigger).

Poor Laura was not sure about this pool thing at all... We let her get used to the water a bit.

But before we knew it, she was splashing around in her pool float, having a blast!  (See the splash?)

I love this picture of her prune-y baby feet :-)

Our happy girl in her bathing suit on our patio.

We can't wait for our next trip to the pool!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: The Amaranth Enchantment

Title: The Amaranth Enchantment
Author: Julie Berry
Genre: Young Adult
Pub Date: March 2009, Bloomsbury USA
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

When Lucinda Chapdelaine was a small child, her parents left for the royal ball and never returned. Ever since, Lucinda has been stuck in perpetual servitude at her evil aunt’s jewelry store. Then, on the very same day, a mysterious visitor and an even more bizarre piece of jewelry both enter the shop, setting in motion a string of twists and turns that will forever alter Lucinda’s path. In this magical story filled with delightful surprises, Lucinda will dance at the royal ball, fall under the Amaranth Witch’s spell, avenge her parents’ death, and maybe—just maybe—capture the heart of a prince.

My Thoughts

Yes, this is another review that has been a long time coming, but this book got lost on my TBR bookshelf for the last couple of years and I only just got around to reading it!  When I turned the last page, my first thought was that The Amaranth Enchantment was a Cinderella tale with a hint of the story of Anastasia Romanov (and of course, a paranormal element, as well).  This was an easy read that wasn't overly involved, which is exactly what I needed this week with my limited time to read.

That said, I do think this book would have benefited from a little bit more detail to the plot and attention to the characters.  I enjoyed the general story, but I felt like it had so much more potential than what we ultimately got.  I would have loved to have seen more of Beryl and her involvement, not to mention some real development with Lucinda -- she fell rather flat to me.  And I admit I had a bit of an eye roll moment when the story wrapped itself up at the end... It was a little too pretty and borderline ridiculous, though I admit I did have some suspicions about what kind of person Peter actually was.

Anyway, I still think The Amaranth Enchantment is a fun adaptation of the Cinderella story we all know and love.  It will provide you with a great escape and you won't get too bogged down -- it's really a great read as we head into summer and vacation season.

My rating:

3 stars

 As always, if you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: Bitterblue

Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Genre: YA, Fiction, Fantasy
Pub Date: May 2012, Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Hardcover
Book Source: Purchased from

Synopsis (from

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

My Thoughts

Kristin Cashore's companion books, Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue are some of the most incredible YA fantasy books I have read in the last few years.  Cashore's world-building is first-rate and she has given us a cast of characters that is truly unforgettable.  I loved how Bitterblue masterfully ties together the stories from Graceling and Fire, particularly towards the end of the book.  All of that said, I actually had a difficult time getting into this story -- it started off very slow and it took muddling my way through several chapters before I was finally hooked and didn't want to put it down.  (The slow start is what ultimately caused me to deduct a star in the rating.)

But once the story gets going, it moves along at full speed and doesn't let up or hold back.  Bitterblue is much, much darker than the first two books as we take a closer look at the consequences of Leck's disastrous 35-year reign and what it is going to take to heal the kingdom of Monsea.  I was left breathless by some of the dark deeds and events that are revealed.  No, this was by no means an easy read, but that level of twisted detail with which Cashore wrote this tale was absolutely necessary to do the story justice.

There are an abundance of new and familiar faces in Bitterblue.  We are introduced to Bitterblue's four advisors, Thield, Rood, Runnemood, and Darby,  their involvement in Leck's experiments during his rule, and the effect they have on Bitterblue and her own reign.  She also crosses paths with small band of "truthseekers," leading to a few side plots that complicate matters for her.  Perhaps my favorite new character is her cantankerous, crotchety librarian, Death (pronounced Deeth).  And of course, we have the return of Katsa, Po, Raffin, and Giddon as they they travel to and from Monsea.  With Bitterblue, Cashore again writes about a strong heroine -- this story is key to her growth and ultimately the truths she uncovers coupled with how she handles the discoveries is what causes her to truly come into her own as Queen of Monsea and the woman she has become.

As for the rest, one of my favorite aspects of this novel was the use of mathematics and ciphers -- that provided yet another fascinating bit of intrigue to the tale.  And once again we have a brewing romance, but as with Cashore's other books, the romance is not really a central theme.  Interestingly, I think this practice is an important part of what makes her stories so successful and leave you wanting just a bit more. (And I mean that in a good way.)

If you have not read these books, please be sure to read Graceling and Fire (in whatever order you please) before reading Bitterblue.  If you've already read the first two, you will absolutely want to get your hands on Bitterblue.

My rating:

4 stars

 As always, if you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (06.09.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

Well, as I promised in last week's snapshot post, this week would be all about my daughter's big first birthday bash.  I couldn't pick just one photo, obviously, but I will do my best to limit it to just five (thank you to my cousin for getting so many awesome pics of the event)! :-)  We had an amazing time with family and friends, managing to cram about 17 of us in our rather small town home.  Luckily the weather was gorgeous, so people could hang out on our patio, as well.

We only had one mishap -- we gave my daughter a small cake to smash.  Well, she wasn't so much about smashing it as just trying to pick off the dots of icing around the edge.  It was pretty funny.  We soon came to realize that my husband hadn't managed to attach the highchair tray correctly, though, and the entire cake toppled off onto the floor, upside down.  We salvaged what was left and gave it back to Laura, and once all of that icing was out of the way, she wasn't quite so dainty as she ate it :-)

A great time was had by all, as you will see (click on the pictures to enlarge them):

My mother and I made cupcakes and a little cake, as well as homemade buttercream, which I colored to match the colors of the theme and used to decorate everything.

Most of the decorations -- the theme was Winnie The Pooh's First Birthday.

Laura actually wore her party hat longer than I thought she would.  This is one of my favorite pics of her in it.

Mmmm.... (not sure what the nose scrunching was about, haha). By the way, her hands and face were the extent of her mess.  We were fortunately to just be able to wipe her off and not have to take her away for a bath and wardrobe change!

Our neighbor was holding her up, love how the wind caught her skirt :-)

And I know I've promised not to always feature our daughter, but we did just take her to the pool for the first time, so you can probably expect to see pictures of that event next week ;-)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catching up on Reviews: Along For The Ride

Title: Along for the Ride
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA, Fiction
Pub Date: June 2009, Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Hardcover
Source: I honestly don't remember -- I think I bought it back in 2009, likely from Amazon, but I couldn't swear to it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

My Thoughts

My, my -- this review is a LONG time coming, though I never actually got around to reading Along for the Ride until a few weeks ago.  Yes, this one is classic Dessen, though I'll start off by saying it doesn't quite rank among my Dessen Favorites.  I believe that honor still goes to The Truth About Forever with Just Listen, the first book I ever read by Dessen, a close second.  I've said it once (probably more than that), but I'll say it again, I wish that Dessen or someone like her had been writing contemporary YA fiction like these books when I was a tween/teen.  I know I would have enjoyed them at that age -- possibly even more than I enjoy her writing now.

This was the book I saw all over the place when I finally decided to give Sarah Dessen a try.  I didn't want to start with this one -- I wanted to read every other book she had written first.  I finally did that, and then my reading slowed down and the Great Blog Hiatus soon followed.  So, it was fun for me to pick up Along for the Ride and discover that I still enjoyed Dessen's writing, the incredibly realistic (and full-of-life) characters she creates, and the world they live in -- this time, it's the town of Colby.

I finished this book pretty quickly, but by the end I didn't have quite the same completely satisfied feeling that I normally get from what I feel is Dessen's best work.  I think that maybe I wanted a little more from the relationship between Auden and Eli than we ultimately got.  It is absolutely great fun to read about the quest that Eli takes Auden on, to experience all the "normal" things she missed out on when she was a kid, growing up and trying to meet the expectations of her rather neurotic mother.  I looked forward to every nighttime meeting between the two, anxiously awaiting their every conversation, but ultimately I just wanted a little more from them (for them?).

Naturally, if you love Dessen, you'll love this book.  I still rate it highly, even though it's not my favorite.  I can't wait to pick up What Happened to Goodbye and give it a go.

My Rating: 

4 stars

In addition to those mentioned above, you can also read my other reviews of Dessen's Books:
*I know I've read This Lullaby, but it must have been during The Great Blog Hiatus, so no review!

And as always, if you have reviewed Along for the Ride on your blog, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saturday Snapshot (06.02.12)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog, At Home With Books.

Today's a big day at our house. It's my daughter's first birthday party (her official birthday is in two days on Monday).  We'll have a ton of family over in our somewhat tiny townhouse, so it is going to be a bit of an adventure. You can guess what next week's snapshot will be about, but today I thought I'd share a couple of pictures from when my daughter made her debut last year...

I can't believe our little Sweet Pea is almost a year old!  How the time does fly!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Release Day Review: The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen

Title: The Fairytale Keeper: Avenging the Queen
Author: Andrea Cefalo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: June 1, 2012 (Happy Release Day!), Scarlet Primrose Press
Format: Paperback
Source: I received my copy from the author for review -- thank you so much, Ms. Cefalo!!

Synopsis (from the back cover)

Many called her Snow White, but few knew her as the Fairytale Keeper...

Snow White was a pet name her mother had given her, but her mother's dead now. Adelaide hates that name anyway.  A rampant fever claimed Adelaide's mother just like a thousand others in Cologne where people die without Last Rites and the dead are dumped in a large pit outside of the city walls. Adelaide's father is determined to obtain a funeral for his wife, but that requires bribing the parish priest, Father Soren. When Soren commits an unforgivable atrocity, he pushes Adelaide to her breaking point, but if she seeks justice against the cruel priest, she risks sacrificing everything: her father, her friends, her first love, and maybe even her life.

My Thoughts

This is really the first book that I've read where an author takes a fairytale and paints a story of historical fiction. Cefalo has written an intriguing, vivid story about a young girl in 13th century Cologne who would be immortalized to us as Snow White. Adelaide is a strong heroine whom you can't help but like and cheer for as she stands up for her family and what she believes is right. Her supporting cast of characters is colorful and varied, from her grieving father who spends much of his time drinking to that priest you love to hate, Father Soren. And of course, you can't ignore the sweet romance developing between Adelaide and her childhood friend, Ivo.

One of my favorite aspects about this book is how Cefalo is able to weave other well-known fairytales into the storyline. You will meet Cinderella, as one of the people in Adelaide's life, and hear Adelaide tell the story of Hansel and Gretel, just to name a couple of examples. By adding these other stories, Cefalo adds a touch more magic to Adelaide's world. The story might start off just a touch slow, though the opening scenes are certainly explosive.  But the pace picks up with those fairytale "asides" and the unfolding story of the corruption of the Church will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next. And while there is a satisfying conclusion to a major plot line, we are also left wanting more as the bigger picture takes shape.

If you love retellings of your favorite fairytales, be sure to pick up a copy of this first book in the Fairytale Keeper series. It's a quick, easy read -- perfect for this summer! I can't wait to see what Cefalo has in store for us next. And doesn't that gorgeous cover make you want to read this book all on its own?!

My rating:

4 stars

If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section!