Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Pages: 448
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 3, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Fly Away
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are. FRANCE, 1939 - In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.  Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences."
War is looming in France and the year is 1940.  Viann has to say goodbye to her husband as he is off to fight against the invading German army.  She hopes that he will return soon to their provincial life on a small farm in the Loire Valley. They have one daughter together, Sophie, and Viann leads a rather average life as a schoolteacher.  This all changes when her estranged sister, Isabelle, shows up from Paris, along with many other people fleeing from the Germans. Their father has sent Isabelle to live with Viann as Paris is no longer safe, but Isabelle isn't your usual girl. She has been thrown out of many prestigious schools, is feisty, opinionated, restless and not easily controlled. This becomes a problem as Viann's town has been taken over by the Germans.  In fact, a German officer has to stay in their house, which makes things rather dangerous for the two women. Isabelle realizes that she can't sit by and watch horrible things happen to her country and her people, so she becomes a part of the Resistance. This puts her sister and niece in a precarious situation, so she knows it is time to leave them and head back to Paris in order to play a stronger role in the Resistance. Although Viann doesn't play a very active role in the Resistance as Isabelle, she too has many important decisions and sacrifices to make during wartime. The two women's journeys stayed with me long after I finished the novel. Weeks later, I am still thinking about this book. Kristin Hannah has hit a home run with The Nightingale. It's a powerful and important read about what life was like during World War II and how many women played important roles in the war, but often their stories go untold.

I could see many readers getting frustrated with Viann in the beginning of The Nightingale, but I could totally understand why she acted more passively than her sister, Isablelle. She has a daughter to take care of and a German officer living in her house, so she had much, much more to lose. As time went on, Viann finds other ways to "resist."  I could really feel for Viann and the various situations she was put through had me reeling. Between the food rationing, the German army's unnecessary violence, the constant state of anxiety, her Jewish neighbors being deported to concentration camps, not hearing from her husband, etc. It all broke my heart bit by bit. Her journey was gut wrenching, but I feel like it was an accurate portrayal of wartime and the quiet sacrifices that some women had to make.


Isabelle is a foil of her sister in The Nightingale. She is more outlandish, more outwardly brave, to a fault at times. She gets herself into some dangerous situations and throws caution to the wind quite often. Her part in the resistance was heroic, but very dangerous, so I was constantly on the edge of my seat with worry for Isabelle. 


It is clear The Nightingale is a well researched tale that truly reminded me of the many sacrifices women made during the war that history often forgets. Sure women weren't fighting physically (for the most part), but many women were part of the Resistance and oftentimes we don't get to hear about their heroics. I love how Hannah reminds us of this.


I've always been really interested in World War II (after teaching Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl for so many years), so needless to say, I was completely glued to The Nightingale. I can't tell you how many times I cried when I read it. I was so invested in Viann and Isabelle's lives. Every setback they experienced, I experienced along with them. As a mother and a human being, I can't imagine how the Gestapo and SS did what they did. Certain scenes left me in a pool of tears, especially when dealing with how the Jewish people were mistreated, separated from their families, and babies left behind or worse yet, taken with them to the concentration camps. It was gut wrenching, but an important reminder of the horrible crimes committed that shouldn't be forgotten.


If you like historical reads that will leave you shaken to the core, then I highly recommend The Nightingale. I can't say enough things about this book. And it isn't all doom and gloom. The Nightingale leaves us with immense hope and reminded me of what Anne Frank said, "Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart." 




Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winner (70)

  


Vendetta by Catherine Doyle - Thanks to Scholastic and Edelweiss
Summer Secrets by Jane Green - Thanks to St. Martin's and NetGalley
The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson - Thanks to Penguin


 

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen - Thanks to LibraryThings Early Reviewers
Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally - Thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley
A Fireproof Home For the Bride by Amy Scheibe - Thanks to St. Martin's


  
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - Won from Lea at YA Book Queen - Thank you!!
Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin- Thanks to Putnam and NetGalley
Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver - Thanks to HarperCollins





Brooklyn by Colm Toibin 




The winner of the Steelheart and Firefight giveaway goes to…..

Stephanie H. 

Congrats!  I hope you enjoy both books!


So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books or are they on your TBR list? Let me know! This meme is hosted by Tynga at Tynga's Reviews.

Friday, February 27, 2015

February Confessions

I don't know about you, but this February was brutal. We had seriously cold weather here in PA and the wind chill was horrific, so needless to say, I stayed in hibernation mode with my books and coffee. If I try hard enough, I think I can remember what the sunshine feels like. 

On the bright side, all of this cold weather has forced me to get a lot of my reading done and reviews scheduled.  Are you ready for March? I have never greeted March with a bigger smile.

Books Read in February:
1.  The Look of Love by Sarah Jio - 3.5 out of 5 stars
2.  A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas - 4 out of 5 stars
3.  The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen - 4 out of 5 stars
4.  Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor - 3 out of 5 stars
5.  Vendetta by Catherine Doyle - 4.5 out of 5 stars
6.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - 5 out of 5 stars (Review to come)
7.  Dead to Me by Mary McCoy - 4 out of 5 stars (Review to come)
8.  Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver - 3.5 out of 5 stars (Review to come)
9.  The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - 4.5 out of 5 stars (Review to come)

Picture taken from my house in Pennsylvania - Winter 2014
1. Favorite Book: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - I went into this book with some hesitation, because the last book I read by Hannah left me feeling rather blah, but I was completely blown away by The Nightingale. It's an outstanding book and one of my favorites of the year.

2.  Biggest Surprise:  Vendetta by Catherine Doyle was my biggest surprise. Like I said in my review, if The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet had a love child, it would be this book.  LOVED it!


3.  Biggest Disappointment: Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor was disappointing. I was expecting so much more and I thought the message of the book was important, but I just couldn't connect with the characters.


4.  Favorite Part of February: Valentine's Day weekend with my family was great. Is there anything better than ordering take-out and binge-watching shows on Netflix when there's a snowstorm brewing outside? I think not! 

5.  Favorite Post:  Top Ten Things I Like/Dislike When it Comes to Romance in Books - This post was one of my favorites of the month!


Don't forget to enter my giveaway for some newly released YA books and my giveaway for Better Than Perfect as well as the GRAND giveaway for The Secret of Pembrooke Park (including eight books, a Northanger Abbey DVD and a Jane Austen action figure!) and so much more! Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

Pages: 352
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: February 24, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Blood Will Spill, Hearts Will Break: With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago. For Sophie, it feels like another slow, hot summer in Cedar Hill, waitressing at her family’s diner and hanging out with her best friend Millie. But then someone moves into the long-abandoned mansion up the block--a family of five Italian brothers, each one hotter than the last. Unable to resist caramel-eyed Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling for him -- and willfully ignoring the warning signs. Why are Nic's knuckles cut and bruised? Why does he carry an engraved switchblade? And why does his arrogant and infuriating older brother, Luca, refuse to let her see him? As the boys' dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. Suddenly, she's torn between two warring dynasties: the one she’s related to and the one she's now in love with. She'll have to choose between loyalty and passione. When she does, blood will spill, hearts will break. Because in this twisted underworld, dishonor can be the difference between life and death."
Sophie Gracewell has a reputation, thanks to her father, who is currently serving time in prison. She and her best friend, Millie, are spending the summer working at her father's diner with the hopes that it will remain successful in his absence; after all, Sophie will inherit the diner one day. She has her Uncle Jack also helping out at the diner, but he seems to come and go for no reason at all.  One boring day at the diner turns into a memorable one pretty quickly when Sophie notices a jar of honey has been left at the counter tied with an ominous black ribbon.  She lets her Uncle Jack know and of course, this sets him off. Perhaps this jar of honey isn't just a nice gesture from a friendly neighbor? Also, her summer gets a little more interesting when five brothers move into the old mansion in their neighborhood that has long been abandoned.  However, her father and her uncle both tell her to stay away from the boys that live there; he insists they are up to no good.  This becomes quite a challenge for Sophie, because she starts to have real feelings for Nicoli, or Nic, and can't deny their mutual attraction. Nic's family warns him to stay away from Sophie as well, but Sophie needs answers. Why do their families hate each other? What is her Uncle Jack really up to? Catherine Doyle's debut novel, Vendetta, is an extremely compelling tale. If Romeo and Juliet and The Godfather had a love child, Vendetta would be it.

There are two things you should know about me. Romeo and Juliet is my favorite Shakesperian play and The Godfather is one of my favorite movies ever. So, I was completely sold on Vendetta's plot. I mean how often do you read about the Mafia in young adult literature? Plus, incorporate stars crossed lovers into the mix? Who doesn't love that?

Sophie is the type of character I like in Vendetta. She has guts, she is opinionated, but she is downright frustrating. That's what makes her so entertaining though.  There were situations where I was practically ready to burst through the pages and wring her neck, because some of the decisions she made were just so stupid.  However, I still thoroughly enjoyed her despite my frustrations. I mean that makes for a good story right?  Like when the protagonist gets herself into compromising situations and puts herself into the center of the action? Yes, it does.

Her relationship with Nic was very Romeo and Juliet, which I loved. Both families were telling the two to stay away from each other, but they just couldn't. Things were way more complicated than that in Vendetta. Also, as Sophie learns more and more about Nic's family, I thought for sure she would run the other way, but something always brought her back. For every upsetting thing she'd find out about Nic's family, she would then find out something shocking about her family.  So, things were complex and many secrets were divulged in Vendetta.

Be forewarned that Vendetta is a violent book. I mean this is the Mafia we are dealing with, so be expected for some very Godfather moments. Revenge, familial bonds, loyalty were all key elements in Vendetta.  So, if you like your YA contemporaries to have some major action in them with a complex romance, then check out Vendetta. It's one of my favorite books of the year. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Eternal City

This is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine.  "Waiting on Wednesday" spotlights upcoming releases that I'm eagerly anticipating.

The Eternal City by Paula Morris
Pub. Date: May 26, 2015


Goodreads says, "From master of suspense Paula Morris comes a tale of gods and goddesses, thrilling romance, and mystery set in present-day Rome. Laura Martin is visiting Rome on a class trip, and she's entranced by the majestic Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. . . . Everything in this city seems magical. That is, until the magic seems to turn very dark. Suddenly, statues of Cupid and ancient works of art come to life before her eyes. Earthquakes rumble and a cloud of ash forms in the sky. A dark-eyed boy with wings on his heels appears and gives her a message. Laura soon realizes she is at the center of a brewing battle -- a battle between the gods and goddesses, one that will shake modern-day Rome to its core. Only she and her group of friends can truly unravel the mystery behind what is happening. As tensions mount and secret identities are revealed, Laura must rely on her own inner strength to face up to what may be a fight for her life. Acclaimed author Paula Morris brings the ancient world to vivid life in this unstoppable tale of friendship, love, and the power of the past."
I love the sound of this one and the idea of Rome coming to life. Rome is such a magical city in itself, so the idea that a painting could come to life, earthquakes rumbling in the distance, and gods and goddesses battling sounds like a cool concept. Plus, I really just want gelato and a cappuccino.  What do you guys think?  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

Pages: 336
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: February 17, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Darlings Are Forever
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "Juliet Newman has it all. A picture-perfect family; a handsome, loving boyfriend; and a foolproof life plan: ace her SATs, get accepted into Harvard early decision, and live happily ever after. But when her dad moves out and her mom loses it, Juliet begins questioning the rules she’s always lived by. And to make everything even more complicated there’s Declan, the gorgeous boy who makes her feel alive and spontaneous—and who’s totally off-limits. Torn between the life she always thought she wanted and one she never knew was possible, Juliet begins to wonder: What if perfect isn't all it’s cracked up to be? Melissa Kantor once again delivers a tale that is equal parts surprising, humorous, heartbreaking, and romantic. Powerful and honest, Juliet’s story brilliantly portrays the highs and lows of life in high school and will resonate with any reader who has experienced either."
Juliet Newman, from the outside, appears to have it all. She lives in a gorgeous home, she is very smart, and her boyfriend adores her. In fact, they are both planning on going to Harvard.  But if you look closer, things aren't what they seem.  Her father moved out and set up shop with another woman. Her mother can't recover from this blow. She finds herself wallowing in sadness day in and day out till one day she overdoses on prescription drugs.  Juliet finds her mother unconscious and sprawled out on the bathroom floor. Juliet's life is shaken irrevocably. She starts questioning what she really wants out of life? Her boyfriend? Harvard? Then one night she meets Declan, a musician, and she starts to break out of the comfort zone she has created for herself. Essentially, she starts to live for herself. Melissa Kantor's Better Than Perfect was a well-written book with a strong message; however, I didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping for.

Juliet is a lot like many of the teenagers out there in Better Than Perfect. She pushes herself too hard and thinks good grades are the end-all-be-all. She tries to fit a mold of the perfect daughter, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect student, but she doesn't think about what she really wants. Before she knows it, she is living a life for everyone else, but herself. I think this is the case for many students, especially high-acheivers. They aren't even sure who they are, because they have little chance to explore it without the pressure of being "perfect."  I truly felt for her situation.

Juliet also goes through a sort of rebellious period after her mother's suicide attempt. She cuts her hair, dyes it and even spends a crazy night with Declan, the musician who pushes her out of her shell. He even encourages her to sing with his band. Things get sticky though when she doesn't tell her boyfriend, Jason, what happened with Declan. Let the drama ensue in Better Than Perfect.

For me, the pacing was off at times in Better Than Perfect. Parts of the novel moved very slowly. I found myself drifting away from the story and I also had a hard time connecting with the characters, but I did feel sympathetic towards Juliet's situation regarding her mother.

Like I said, I think Better Than Perfect is a good reminder that stellar grades and a great college don't necessarily mean you'll get an amazing job, live a perfect life and be overwhelmingly happy. I think this book reminds readers that it's important to find out what YOU love and pursue it at all costs. This book would be great in a high school library to remind all of the perfectionists that life isn't perfect and you can't control everything that is thrown your way. 

Thanks to HarperTeen, I am giving away one hardback copy of Better Than Perfect to a lucky reader. The giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is March 4th.  Please refer to my giveaway rules. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Review and GRAND GIVEAWAY: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

Pages: 460
Pub. Date: December 1, 2014
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister. When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .  The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.  Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?"
Abigail Foster has always been in the shadow of her younger sister who captivates many suitors with her charm and good looks. At this point in her life, Abigail should be married, but she has never found the right man; in fact, she has been holding out for her childhood and family friend, Gilbert. On the night before Gilbert is leaving England to study abroad in Italy, she finds him sharing what appears to be a romantic moment with her sister, Louisa.  This breaks Abigail's heart as she always thought they shared something special.  To make matters worse, her father is suffering from financial ruin, thanks to a bad investment; however, the family receives an offer to move to an abandoned manor house, Pembrooke Park, which is owned by a distant relative.  Of course they take this serendipitous offer and move into the grand estate, except that the estate has been left abruptly by the previous owners many, many years ago. The table is eerily still set for dinner, tea still pools in the tea cups, furniture and clothing is still in the house just as it was eighteen years ago.  It's all very strange and Abigail was hoping to find answers from her neighbors, including the town curate, but everyone is evasive and no one seems to explain Pembrooke Park's strange past.  There are rumors of murder, secret rooms and even treasure hidden within the house.  One thing is for sure: this is very different than Abigail's life in London.  Julie Klassen's The Secret of Pembrooke Park is a charming read. Fans of Jane Austen and Regency novels will savor this book.

Abigail Foster, or Abby, is a likable character in The Secret of Pembrooke Park. I wanted her to have more confidence, but it seems that living under Louisa's shadow has taken its toll on her. It doesn't help that their parents dote on Louisa and favor her, so this has chipped away slowly at Abby's self-worth.   To top it off, Abby's father blames her for the family's financial ruin, which is absurd, but this also makes Abby feel guilty and less than in the eyes of her father.

Abby moves to Pembrooke Park with only her father due to the fact that it's Louisa's Season in London.  The house is very eerie and when her father has to return to London for business, Abby finds herself stuck there with only the servants and the creepy sounds in the night.  The more Abby learns about the history of the house, the more she is intrigued, but she realizes that it has a dark past. To top it off, she starts receiving mysterious letters in the mail about Pembrooke Park's former residents. 

Abby's relationship blossoms into something more with William, the town curate, but in the back of her mind, she is always wondering about Gilbert. They exchange letters with Gilbert, but she also finds that he is writing her younger sister too.  The ultimate question is can she let go of Gilbert enough to appreciate William? Will her father approve of her courting a simple town curate or is she destined to remain unmarried?

Klassen's The Secret of Pembrooke Park reads a lot like a Jane Austen novel and other Regency works. It's quiet, slow in all the right areas, and the romance is sweet. The days revolve around the mysterious manor house, Abby's blossoming love life, various dinner parties and new aquaitances that Abby comes across. Of course, things heat up a bit when Gilbert reenters the picture as well as when they receive a new houseguest claiming to be a distant relative. Sometimes Regency novels can be a bit bland for me, but Klassen's incorporation of the mystery surrounding Pembrooke Park kept me glued to the pages.

Sometimes you need a story like this: one that is sweet, very PG, and is perfect a cold winter's night. I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of Pembrooke Park; it reminded me so much of Jane Austen's novels.  I plan on checking out the author's work in the future, especially when I need my Jane Austen fix.


Now onto the GRAND GIVEAWAY. You guys, I am part of the promotional blog tour for this book and the giveaway is so very awesome.  In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, there will be four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered. Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary's Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.


To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Please refer to my giveaway rules. Good luck to all!

I can't wait to read everyone's comments and don't forget to visit the other tour stops!

February 16 My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 16 vvb32 Reads (Excerpt)
February 17 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Review)
February 18 Addicted to Jane Austen (Review)
February 18 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
February 19 Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
February 19 Living Read Girl (Review) 
February 20 My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)
February 20 Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Review)
February 20 Laura's Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 21 Confessions of a Book Addict (Review)
February 21 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
February 21 Romantic Historical Reviews (Excerpt)
February 22 Reflections of a Book Addict (Review)
February 23 Austenesque Reviews (Guest Blog)
February 23 Peace, Love, Books (Review)
February 24 vvb32 Reads (Review)
February 24 Poof Books (Excerpt)
February 25 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
February 25 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
February 25 Luxury Reading (Review)
February 26 So Little Time…So Much to Read (Review) 
February 26 More Agreeably Engaged (Excerpt)
February 27 Psychotic State Book Reviews (Interview)
February 27 Booktalk & More (Review)
February 28 Laughing with Lizzie (Spotlight)
February 28 The Calico Critic (Review)
March 01 Leatherbound Reviews (Excerpt)
March 01 Delighted Reader (Review)
March 02 CozyNookBks (Review)
March 02 Laura's Reviews (Review)



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