Friday, August 29, 2014

Blogging Break!

Taken at Deauville Inn's Beach Bar at Strathmere, NJ - "So long sweet summer"
Can you believe we have to say goodbye to summer soon? This summer just flew by! I am taking a small blogging break for a few days to really enjoy and soak up the last few days of summer sunshine. 

For all of my US friends, Happy Labor Day!  Don't forget to enter my giveaway for four fantastic beach reads.  For all my other readers, I hope you guys have a great weekend. I'll be back sometime next week with more reviews and some exciting giveaways coming up this September.

Happy Friday,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Pages: 768
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Romance
Pub. Date: July 1, 1992
Series: Outlander (#1)
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ... and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his…. Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves."
It's 1968 and Dr. Claire Randall has returned to Scotland with her daughter, Brianna, after the passing of her husband, Frank.  Claire has returned to find out what happened to the men, including Jamie, who fought at the battle of Culloden and to also tell her grown daughter who her father really is.  The book also flashes back to when Jamie and Claire lived at the court of Louis XV in Paris and readers get to witness their planning to sabotage the Jacobite rebellion, because thanks to Claire, they know about the disaster that is the battle of Culloden.  The book also bounces back to 1968 and readers find out what happened to Claire and Jamie and especially what happened to the Lallybroch men at Culloden. Diana Gabaldon's epic sequel to Outlander is one huge tome, but nonetheless, it had me flipping the pages throughout the night desperate to find out the fate of Jamie and Claire.

Dragonfly in Amber was much different than Outlander in that it focused a bit more on history, battles, and the Jacobite rebellion. Gabaldon spends a lot of time going into detail regarding the Jacobite rebellion and life in the court of Louis XV.  Readers can tell that Gabaldon put a lot of research into Dragonfly in Amber and while I prefer the setting of Scotland to Paris, I still found court life to be entertaining.

Jamie and Clarie's relationship was one of the best parts of Dragonfly in Amber and the reason I picked up this hefty sequel. There are so many heartbreaking, beautiful and swoon-worthy moments in the novel.  I didn't always agree with Jamie and Claire's decisions in the novel, but I still loved their relationship tremendously.  

My only issue with this books as the length and some of the focus on the subplots. I felt like there were a lot of moments in Dragonfly in Amber that could have been condensed or tangents that Gabaldon went on that could have been cut; however, that didn't take away from my overall enjoyment.  In fact, I must say that Gabaldon is such a fantastic author and even though I enjoyed Outlander a little bit more than Dragonfly in Amber, I still am a huge fan of the series.  Somehow Gabaldon makes these lengthy tomes compulsively readable and even includes many beautiful lines. My favorite from the book: 
“I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower's stem.” 

And of course, after finishing Dragonfly in Amber, I bought Voyager, the next book in the series. I give Gabaldon credit…despite the length of these novels, I keep coming back for more. It's just that good.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: I Am Her Revenge

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

I Am Her Revenge by Meredith Moore
Pub. Date: April 7, 2015

Goodreads says, "She can be anyone you want her to be.  Vivian was raised with one purpose in life: to exact revenge on behalf of her mother. Manipulative and cruel, Mother has deprived Vivian not only of a childhood, but of an original identity. With an endless arsenal of enticing personalities at her disposal, Vivian is a veritable weapon of deception. And she can destroy anyone.  When it’s time to strike, she enrolls in a boarding school on the English moors, where she will zero in on her target: sweet and innocent Ben, the son of the man who broke Mother’s heart twenty years ago Anyone…except for the woman who created her. With every secret she uncovers, Vivian comes one step closer to learning who she really is. But the more she learns about herself, the more dangerous this cat and mouse game becomes. Because Mother will stop at nothing to make sure the truth dies with her."

Ok, so I know this one is far off, but how awesome does it sound?!  I was sold at the setting of an English boarding school on the moors, a crazy mother and a revenge plot.  Yes, please! What do you guys think?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Pages: 383
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: April 6, 2006
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store. This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends."
Annabel and her two sisters are models and are known in their suburban town for their good looks, along with living in a glass house designed by their architect father.  Annabel is the youngest in the family and spends her free time modeling even though her heart isn't in it; after all, she doesn't want to disappoint her mother.  Her older sister, Kirsten, has moved to New York City and the middle sister, Whitney, has also followed Kirsten in order to pursue her modeling career further.  While Kirsten and Whitney are living in the big city, Whitney suffers from anorexia and Kirsten tries to warn her parents how serious of an issue this is for Whitney, but their mother sort of brushes it off and makes excuses.  Meanwhile, Annabel is your average high school student except she starts off her junior year without Sophie, her best friend, who won't speak to her due to a fight they had over summer break.  In fact, Sophie has become a bit of a bully at school and Annabel is feeling even more isolated. That is until she meets Owen at lunch who also is a bit of a loner and they bond over his love for eccentric music.  One thing is for sure: Annabel's junior year is going to be an interesting one.  Sarah Dessen's Just Listen is an enjoyable novel that made me think, laugh, and cry.  Although it wasn't my favorite of her books, I still found it entertaining and Dessen balanced serious issues with some lighthearted moments very well.

Annabel is the type of all-American girl that could live next door to you. She is pretty nice, good looking, from a nice family, does well in school, etc, but behind the walls of her glass house is a family that is struggling.  Her mother doesn't want to address the real issues in the family (her sister's anorexia) and instead wants to sweep everything under the rug, which makes things complicated for the sisters.  Annabel, being the type of girl who wants to please her mom, can't even tell her mother she doesn't want to model anymore for fear of upsetting her. So, needless to say, the family dynamic isn't perfect, but instead was flawed and very realistic as only Dessen can expertly portray.

Dessen does a really good job in all of her novels demonstrating the ups and downs of friendship, especially between females, and that is also the case in Just Listen. Her complex friendship with Sophie was very realistic and also troubling. I think many teenagers can relate to Annabel's struggle to fit in and become friends with "popular" Sophie.  Readers will wonder why Sophie and Annabel don't get along anymore and slowly Dessen plants clues and uses foreshadowing for readers to figure out what exactly sparked this huge fight.  

Once Annabel meets Owen in Just Listen, she starts to learn more about herself and about true friendship, because Owen is the type of guy who speaks his mind and keeps it real.  Through him Annabel gains self-confidence as well as the ability to stand up for herself and speak her truth. I loved this about their relationship and was a fan of Owen from the beginning. Also, through music, he teaches her to be more open-minded and not judge and instead just listen.  I love that.

As I mentioned before, Just Listen wasn't my favorite of Dessen's novels, but I still really enjoyed Annabel's journey. Just Listen was a bit darker than I was expecting, but I think Dessen handled the subject matter very well and the tone of the overall novel wasn't overly morose; there were definitely moments that made me smile and laugh.  So, if you are a fan of Dessen and have overlooked this novel, I urge you to check it out, especially if you like realistic books, because Dessen has created characters here that are truly authentic and you feel like you know them.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Five and Beach Reads Giveaway (8)

So I thought it might be fun this summer to try writing a more personal post every Friday highlighting some things going on in my life that aren't necessarily book related.  Let me know what you think!

1.  Ben Affleck and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - Did you guys see Ben Affeck's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video? Could Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner be any cuter? Probably not. How adorable is this video? And the laughing of their kids in the background is priceless.

2.  Paying it Forward - With so much depressing news in the world right now, this article about people paying it forward at a Starbucks in Florida put a smile on my face.

3.  Outlander series - Are you guys hooked on the TV show yet? What is even more mind-blowing to me is the fact that the book, over twenty years old, is now back on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Incredible! Diana Gabaldon must be in a state of disbelief.

4.  YA Books on the Big Screen - There are so many awesome books being made into movies: The Giver, If I Stay, The Fault in Our StarsMaze Runner, etc.  I also have had my eye on Lauren Kate's Fallen, which will be in theaters in 2015. Have you guys read the book? What do you think of the casting? I hope it doesn't disappoint much like Vampire Academy did.

5.  Beach Reads Giveaway- I am in complete denial that my favorite season is coming to a close soon. So, I am hosting a beach reads giveaway! I have a few gently used novels that need a good home. The books include a hardback copy of Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer, a paperback of Island Girls by Nancy Thayer, a hardback of Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook, and a paperback copy of Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky.  There will be two winners - each winner gets to pick two books and the giveaway is open to US only.  The deadline is September 1 and please refer to my giveaway rules.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy Friday,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 5, 2015
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Inspired by Actual Events.  Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement, she meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor—a fascinating young man who is truly worthy of her affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race—and he seems to return her interest. Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention. Unsure of her budding relationship, Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions. The human heart cannot be easily deciphered, nor can it be directed or managed. And if others must be left to their own devices in matters of love and matrimony, can Jane even hope to satisfy her own heart?"
Jane Austen is a precocious fifteen year old and a very talented writer, but just like any fifteen year old, she wants to meet someone special.  The one problem is that her mother won't let her "come out" for a few more years, which really limits the possibility of meeting a young gentleman.  That is until her older brother, Edward, becomes engaged to marry a wealthy young woman from Kent named Elizabeth Bridges.  You see, Edward, although an Austen, isn't part of a their class; in fact, he is well-off and has been "adopted" by a wealthy relative and set to inherit a fortune.  When the Austen family goes to Edward's engagement celebration, which spans many weeks, Jane meets Edward Taylor whom she is not only impressed by, but she can't stop thinking about him.  While visiting the Bridges, Jane tries her hand at matchmaking as well and all the while trying to catch Edward Taylor's eye.  But can someone as wealthy and worldly as Edward fall for someone as common as Jane?  Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James is a quiet, but delightful read about young Jane Austen and her first love.  Fans of Jane Austen will be charmed by this adorable read.

I immediately liked young Jane in Jane Austen's First Love. She reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice in that she was smart, outspoken, daring, and was looking for real love.  She didn't have a problem speaking her mind and had lofty goals to become a writer, although she doubted her talents.  Jane, while at Kent, tried her hand at matchmaking, which reminded me so much of Emma Woodhouse from Emma. This whole matchmaking debacle brought a smile to my face, because Austen fans know how that will turn out. Jane's relationship with her sister, Cassandra, was also heartwarming and made me think of Elizabeth and Jane from Pride and Prejudice.   Needless to say, fans of Austen will be able to make many connections to various characters and situations from the classic novels and I very much enjoyed being able to do that.

Her love interest, Edward Taylor, is a captivating character in Jane Austen's First Love.  I liked how well spoken, well traveled, and all-around talented young man he was. I could see why she was enamored with him and wouldn't expect anything less for Jane Austen.  All the while, she was wondering if he would ever "settle" for someone like her; after all, he is well-off and she doesn't have much money to offer for a dowry.  Plus, there's another young girl  (who is wealthy!) and has her eye on Edward.  Nonetheless, I was rooting for Jane and Edward from the get-go.

One aspect of Jane Austen's First Love that I struggled with was its pace. At times it was slow moving, which, I suppose, happens when it comes to the time period. James focused on various frivolous things that modern people might struggle with. What can I say? The lifestyle of Austen's time was slow and overly formal at times.  I mean it must be nice to dedicate two/three weeks to an engagement celebration!

However, being the Jane Austen fan that I am, I was glad to get over some of the slower parts and enjoy this story of young Jane. After all, Jane Austen's First Love is based on real events and I wanted SO badly for Jane to get her happy ending.  But we all know she died at a young age and as a single woman. Oh, how I wish it were different, but at least we will always have Mr. Darcy. So, if you are a fan of all things Austen, definitely check out this book to get a glimpse into young Jane's life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: This Shattered World

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

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Pub. Date: December 23, 2014

Goodreads says, " Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents. Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion. Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war. The stunning second novel in the Starbound trilogy is an unforgettable story of love and forgiveness in a world torn apart by war."

I absolutely loved These Broken Stars when I read it last year. It was one of my favorite books of 2013, so I am excited to check out this companion novel.   What do you guys think?

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