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My name is Chelsey and I am the creator of Charming Chelsey's! I read and review anything and everything that I find to be "charming." I accept ARCs or already released books for review, and I'm also available to participate in any blog tours or book reveals too. If anything, please don't hesitate to email me any time for any reason at: charmingchelseys(at)gmail(dot)com

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Versailles

34227567Author: Catherine Pegard
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Vendome Press

Versailles is one of the most photographed places in the world. Yet masses of tourists make it virtually impossible to imagine the splendor of the palace as it existed from the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the 17th century, until the fall of Napoleon III in 1870. Now, four talented photographers were granted unlimited access to Versailles when the château was closed to visitors, and their work allows privileged access not only to the private suites of Louis XV, the boudoirs of Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour, the celebrated Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the charming Orangerie, and Marie Antoinette’s bucolic Hamlet, but also to mysterious chambers and hushed apartments never normally seen. Captions describe daily life at Versailles and the momentous events that have taken place there, all published in a sumptuous oversize format befitting its majestic subject.


The queen, who was distinctly bored by these dinners, had a podium for musicians installed.

At dawn on 6 October 1789, the famished crowd – furious with ‘the Austrian woman,’ and having waited all night in the rain – broke open the gate of the Princes’ Courtyard. When the queen found she could not open the door to the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert, which had quickly been bolted, she had to turn back to the king’s apartments, which gave her time to escape.

Only the king was allowed to sit in this carved and gilded walnut chair that recently became part of the Versailles collections. It was never used in his absence, and the other members of the council sat on the folding stools commissioned from the Foliot family.

The king was a man who concealed his thoughts: the Duc de Luynes described him as ‘impenetrable not only in his secrecy, but also very often in the movements of his soul.’ 


This beautiful, absolutely mesmerizing book was something very new and very different for me, but I feel like I have been missing out on a part of the book world and I will forever regret that it took me this long to find books like this one. This book is filled with incredibly detailed photographs that display the ambiance and luxuriousness that make up Versailles, the Sun King’s palace. I have always had a profound interest in Marie Antoinette, which I know is what led me to request this book in the first place. However, I was not expecting to be swept away in the pages of this marvelous find. I have never been to France, let alone the palace of Versailles, but by spending the few hours that I did reading and enjoying this book, I felt as if I were walking the mirrored halls and corridors myself.

At the bottom of each page, there is a detailed, historical description of each photograph. I learned so much history just from the few sentences that I read per page. I found myself pausing periodically to read and re-read each little snippet, hoping that I missed nothing. I was most of all mesmerized by the close up pictures of the embroideries and little trinkets that belonged to the royals. The photographs were so crystal clear that I was left in awe and astonishment when I realized they were not actually sitting before me. As I flipped through the pages, it was so hard for me to believe that this palace has been around for as long as it has. It all seemed so real and so modern, which I attributed to the quality and crispness of the images I saw before me. Anyone would appreciate the marvelousness that is this book – I cannot wait to read and view many more books just like this one. I will forever cherish its beauty and magnificence.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Vendome Press in exchange for my honest review*** 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: The Dazzling Heights

The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)Author: Katharine McGee
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: The Thousandth Floor #2


All that glitters is not gold.

New York City, 2118. Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a breathtaking marvel that touches the sky. But amid high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, five teenagers are keeping dangerous secrets…

Leda is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’ll do anything to make sure the truth stays hidden—even if it means trusting her enemy.

Watt just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Will he do what it takes to be free of her for good?

When Rylin wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being there also means seeing the boy whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.

Avery is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. She’s desperate to be with him…no matter the cost.

And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin.

But unbeknownst to them all, someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, just one wrong step can mean a devastating fall.


“Even if nothing happens between you and Atlas, you aren’t really going to let that girl get away with trying to seduce him and steal from him, are you?”

I can’t take anyone for granted every again, she promised herself, except that she was already losing the people she cared about.

It made her feel surprisingly vindicated, proving that the only boy who’d ever rejected her wanted her after all. Finally. It was about damn time.

He needed a drink if he was going to keep getting further tangled in the Gordian knot of these highliers’ screwed-up lives. 

Like most second books in a series, this one let me down in more ways than one. We start with the usual cast of characters: Watt, Leda, Rylin, Avery, and Mariel. However, we have a new face on the scene, Miss Calliope Brown, who brings with her mystery, a little bit of drama, and intrigue. The drama in this book is at an all-time high, but this book lacked the intensity that the first one carried all the way through. I liked that a new character was brought onto the scene and let me say that she is worth the hype. I loved the fleshing out of Calliope’s character and the drama that she added in the lives of our friends. On the other hand, I disliked the relationship progression between Avery and Atlas. In fact, Atlas annoyed and frustrated me. He seemed a bit whiny and I grew to dislike him very quickly.

My biggest issues with this book was that it was predictable; I saw the end coming a mile away. McGee did not seem to add any more depth to any of these main characters. The angst that I felt in the first book between many of the characters was just not there this time around. The first book had a crazy, ridiculous ending that was totally unexpected, for me at least, and left me DYING to read the next book. The ending of this book was a bit of a letdown. Please don’t think that I hated the entire book because that is not so. Like I said, I loved Calliope’s character and I LOVED that McGee decided to incorporate another big city like New York City with a thousand floor tower. A short period of the book is spent in Dubai and I thought it was nice to see a short snippet of life in another city.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Book Review: A Study In Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)Author: Sherry Thomas
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Series: Lady Sherlock #1


With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.
 

“Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.” 

“Worrying about outcomes over which I have no control is punishing myself before the universe has decided whether I ought to be punished.”

“That the loss of a man, even if he had been the love of her life, was not the end of a woman's existence.” 


A gender bender Sherlock Holmes retelling? Sign me up! Everything that I love about literature is in this book: Victorian London, ladies in beautiful dresses, mystery and intrigue, and a heroine that defies the rules society has laid out for her. While this story is primarily a historical fiction novel, Sherry Thomas also weaves in some appealing romantic undertones as well. The writing is eloquent and the descriptions are so vivid that you might find yourself stopping to reflect over the beauty of the lines you have just read. Charlotte is just like the famed Sherlock Holmes with highly impressive deduction skills and odd social habits that makes her all the more endearing. In the opening pages, Charlotte Holmes does something quite scandalous that hooked me and kept me waiting around to see just how fleshed out her character would be.

The writing/narration was difficult to follow in the very beginning, but I quickly attributed that to plot/background building. This is the first book in the series, so a little bit of background is necessary in setting the stage for the brave Miss Charlotte “Sherlock” Homes. Charlotte is a bit of a snarky character and I absolutely adored seeing and reading her interactions with other characters. The dialogue and witty banter was the best part of this book, aside from seeing Charlotte defy the odds for women during this time period. The chapters moved quickly and the mystery was solid all the way through. I am surprised it has taken me a year to read this book, but the second in the series was just released and I am so anxious to read it next.

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Berkley in exchange for an honest review***

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Wardrobe Mistress

The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie AntoinetteAuthor: Meghan Masterson
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin


It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, not to be missed.

“I turn away from the smell of death, pressing my lavender scented handkerchief as tight as I can against my nose.” 

“There must be no repercussions to this,” says Marie Antoinette. Her quiet voice slides through the room like the whisper of a steel blade.” 

“I falter in the doorway, swept with memories of my reckless behavior last time I saw him. I sipped wine from a bottle. I kissed him. And as my pulse flutters with excitement, I know I would do it again, given the chance.” 


Ever since middle school, and discovering my love for history and all its wonder, I have been in love with anything referring to Marie Antoinette. This story paints an entirely different picture than the one that history has left us of the “let them eat cake” Queen of France. This story gives us a caring, loving woman who just wanted peace and unity amongst her people. The book follows Giselle, the newest wardrobe lady, for the Queen. Giselle is fascinated by learning more about the infamous Marie Antoinette and while others pour all their energy into hating her, Giselle is enamored by what seems to be a sad, lonely woman who just wants love and admiration. Giselle is surrounded by many people, some of her closest friends included, that are supporters of the revolution so she is often torn regarding the new King and Queen of France.

As much as I would have loved to have read the story from Marie Antoinette’s point of view, Giselle was a happy second. Her character was naïve at times, but quickly grew into a rather loveable dynamic character. She is surrounded by people who would have her think ill about the Queen, especially her uncle who has charged her with spying on the Queen. I loved the detail that Masterson gives readers about the revolution and how she covers important events like the storming of the Bastille. The action leapt off the page and I was glad that the fact was mixed with fiction. The best part of this book by far was the romantic relationship between Giselle and Leon – two young lovers with opposing political viewpoints. Such a beautifully written tale that took me no time at all to read!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at St. Martin’s Griffin in exchange for my honest review***


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: Emma In The Night

Emma in the NightAuthor: Wendy Walker
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back...

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime.
 


“Sorry happens after something bad has happened, after people have let it happen. It had become contemptuous to me, all these I’m-so-sorries.”

"The truth can evade us, hiding behind out blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see." 

 "Some people needed to believe I was dead because it was too hard to wonder." 

"Not knowing, not seeing, being deceived—it makes you question everything you have come to trust. It makes you doubt your own judgment, and the truths you have come to believe in, which sometimes are so deeply embedded, you don't even know they're there, shaping your thoughts."
This story was far more than I bargained for – but it an absolutely good way! The story starts with the return of Cass, one of the two Tanner sisters that disappeared three years prior to the opening of the book. The story is told from the perspectives of Cass and her psychologist, Dr. Abigail Winter. I found Dr. Winter’s perspective the most fascinating because at times I thought Cass seemed to be unreliable. Dr. Winter was very intriguing because she suffered an upbringing very similar to Cass and her relationship with her mother and her sister, Emma. The entire book focuses around Dr. Winter and the police investigator assigned the case trying to locate Emma and find out what exactly happened these two sisters disappeared. Right from the beginning, I knew that Cass was hiding something and only a little was being unveiled at a time. The pace of the book seemed to go a little slow at times, but the whole book on encompasses about 6 days after Cass returns. A lot happens in those 6 days.

What I loved about this book was that there were a lot of characters involved in the Tanner sister’s lives that could have possibly played a part in their disappearance and it was up to readers to help decipher who wanted the girls out of the way or out of their lives. Their mother was a completely despicable character and I wanted to repeatedly slap her – she did not act bothered, concerned, or even emotionally torn over the disappearance of her daughters. Many characters in the story were questionable and came with shady motives, which is a huge reason why I enjoyed reading. I had my suspicions all the way through but kept being pleasantly surprised with every twist and turn.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review***


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review: Pieces of Happiness

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and ChocolateAuthor: Anne Ostby
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Doubleday


A novel of five lifelong friends who, in their sixties, decide to live together on a cocoa farm in Fiji, where they not only start a chocolate business but strengthen their friendships and rediscover themselves. 

"I've planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don't you join me? Leave behind everything that didn't work out!" 

When Sina, Maya, Ingrid, and Lisbeth each receive a letter in the mail posing the same question, the answer is obvious. Their old high school friend Kat--Kat the adventurer, Kat who ran away to the South Pacific as soon as they graduated--has extended the invitation of a lifetime: Come live with me on my cocoa farm in Fiji. Come spend the days eating chocolate and gabbing like teenagers once again, free from men, worries, and cold. Come grow old in paradise, together, as sisters. Who could say no?

Now in their sixties, the friends have all but resigned themselves to the cards they've been dealt. There's Sina, a single mom with financial woes; gentle Maya who feels the world slipping away from her; Ingrid, the perennial loner; Lisbeth, a woman with a seemingly picture-perfect life; and then Kat, who is recently widowed. As they adjust to their new lives together, the friends are watched over by Ateca, Kat's longtime housekeeper, who oftentimes knows the women better than they know themselves and recognizes them for what they are: like "a necklace made of shells: from the same beach but all of them different." Surrounded by an azure-blue ocean, cocoa trees, and a local culture that is fascinatingly, joyfully alien, the friends find a new purpose in starting a business making chocolate: bittersweet, succulent pieces of happiness. 

A story of love, hope, and chocolate, Pieces Of Happiness will reaffirm your faith in friendship, second chances, and the importance of indulging one's sweet tooth.

“I’ve planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don’t you join me? Leave behind everything that didn’t work out!” 

“So I’m going to send this now, stroking my fingers across the stamps once more for luck, and hoping the wind will send you to me.”

The enthusiasm in his words, but most of all, this is what I saw: This is for me. He loves me. The sweet, heavy pleasure it takes months to cultivate, a long and laborious process: the love in the glistening fat brown cocoa bean. It’s all for me.

“Can you taste the flavor of papaya and coconut? Can you hear the wind whistling through the palm trees on the beach? Can you see the arc of the horizon, where the Pacific Ocean meets the sky?”


A lovely story about five elderly women who have taken up residence on a cocoa farm in beautiful Fiji. I love books about friendship and the binding powers of the relationships we hold most near and dear – these five women are stages in their lives where they are experiencing heartbreak, loss, the effects of old age, and regret. The leader of the pack, Kat, decides to invite them all to her farm in Fiji where she hopes they will forget the worries of their past lives and maybe live out their last days together building a chocolate empire. The book starts out a little fluffy and readers might think they will get tales of happiness, charm, and sparkle, but I was surprised by how many secrets these women have buried and are still trying to hide from each other all of these years. I think the book sends a great message about finding what is important to you and tuning out all the rest. The story focuses around living your days with no regrets, secrets, or people that weigh you down.

The novel is written between alternating viewpoints of each of these women and a maid/hired help that lives close by and helps take care of Kat and her property. After reading each of the backstories of these women, I can genuinely say that I felt sorry for some and felt anguish for others because they lived for others or let others dictate their lives. Each women has something that I would say she regrets or some way that she wishes her life were different, but the greatest part was watching them evolve as they learned to adapt to living on the cocoa farm and working together as a unit. Each of them finds some piece of solace in their new lives and it was all so magical to read about – such an amazing and riveting read!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Doubleday in exchange for my honest review***



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New YorkAuthor: Ami McKay
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial


In the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a new novel from historical fiction maven Ami McKay that transports readers to the heart of Victorian New York, where three witches practice their craft—to the delight of some—but at their own peril.

Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply. 

New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women—some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance—find work as mediums.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them.

Her cards: Deceit. Ruin. Death.

Stepping off the stool, she gave herself over to God to do the rest.

“What if I’m too scared?” “All the more reason to speak your mind.”


I love anything “witchy” so I knew this book would be right up my alley. Honestly, I got serious Practical Magic vibes when I was reading. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite books of all-time. This book is filled with three strong, independent, and confident women who are living in a time when witchcraft is shunned and your actions involving witchcraft will make you a pariah. They are brave, resourceful, and not afraid to be stand outs in a time when women were expected to blend in. The story opens with a little background about Eleanor and Adelaide as they bring on Beatrice for extra help in their apothecary shop. Beatrice is just a young girl trying to find her way and is surprised to learn that finding her way might include unraveling her “spiritual” gifts.

This is a whopper of a book coming in at over 5oo pages, and the only reason that this book did not receive a five star rating from me was because there were quite a few storylines going on simultaneously and it was at times hard to follow for me, even though I never have trouble with this. I was much more intrigued with Beatrice’s story, but I completely understood the need for everything that went on in this book. The writing was outstanding and completely historically relevant which I greatly appreciated. Everything felt so real and intense, especially when ghosts were introduced and talked about. I loved this author’s writing and even though this was my first book by Ami McKay – it will not be my last.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Harper Perennial in exchange for my honest review***


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, VitaminAuthor: Rachel Khong
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Henry Holt


A young woman returns home to care for her failing father in this fine, funny, and inescapably touching debut, from an affecting and wonderfully original new literary voice.

A few days after Christmas in a small suburb outside of L.A., pairs of a man's pants hang from the trees. The pants belong to Howard Young, a prominent history professor, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Howard's wife, Annie, summons their daughter, Ruth. Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and still broken up about it, feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job and arrives home to find her parents' situation worse than she'd realized. Her father is erratically lucid and her mother, a devoted and creative cook, sees the sources of memory loss in every pot and pan. But as Howard's condition intensifies, the comedy in Ruth's situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief. She throws herself into caretaking: cooking dementia-fighting meals (a feast of jellyfish!), researching supplements, anything to reignite her father's once-notable memory. And when the university finally lets Howard go, Ruth and one of her father's handsome former students take their efforts to help Howard one step too far.

Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one's footing in this life.

"What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person."

“…all of a sudden it didn’t matter what you remembered or didn’t, and the remembering - it occurred to me – was irrelevant. All that mattered was that the day was nice – was what it was.”

Today you were so readily impressed by me.


How can a book that is so short and so simple be packed with so much beauty, realism, and powerful themes surrounding life, family, friendship, and understanding. Ruth, the main character, has journeyed home at the request of her mother in order to help care for her father who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ruth is recently untethered from her fiancé and is struggling to “restart” herself without the man she thought would never betray her. She agrees to stay for the year and in that year learns more about herself than she ever intended to. There are moments of humor, reflection, frustration, and beautiful emotion; there are moments where I found myself having to pause to reflect on my own life and my own thoughts on the findings and revelations of Ruth and her family and friends.

The best thing about this book is that it is essentially about a family’s journey through good times as well as difficult ones. Anyone who has suffered from the loss of a family member with an illness similar to Alzheimer’s may have a hard time reading this novel, but it is so worth it in the end. I am very close with my parents, so this book pulled on all my heartstrings. Ruth has a hard time watching her father’s memories slip away and it is powerful and completely mesmerizing to watch Ruth learn to cope with all that is crumbling around her. This book is short and sweet and full of some pretty powerful themes and just downright real life feelings.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Henry Holt in exchange for my honest review***


Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: The Wildling Sisters

The Wildling SistersAuthor: Eve Chase
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons


An evocative novel in the vein of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier, in which the thrill of first love clashes with the bonds of sisterhood, and all will be tested by the dark secret at the heart of Applecote Manor.

Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.

When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.

Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband's previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.

Rich with the heat and angst of love both young and old, The Wildling Sisters is a gorgeous and breathtaking journey into the bonds that unite a family and the darkest secrets of the human heart.

“Houses are never just houses; I’m quite sure of this now. We leave particles behind, dust and dreams, fingerprints on buried wallpapers, our tread in the wear of the stairs. And we take bits of the houses with us. In my case, a love of the smell of wax polish on sun-warmed oak, late summer sunlight filtering through stained glass. We grow up. We stay the same. We move away, but we live forever where we were most alive.”

…our aunt and uncle step around each other like awkwardly placed furniture or guests at a party with a long-running feud… All our lives we’ve been brought up to want what Sybil has: a marriage to a firstborn son, a big house, a loyal maid, the clawed silver sugar tongs, a gold carriage clock ticking down to the next wedding anniversary. And yet Sybil grinds pepper over her boiled egg in the morning as if she’d like to wring the neck of the chicken who laid it.

There’s a thrill that comes with being awake when everyone else is lost in sleep. I don’t feel rushed. Or watched. Time even passes differently, molding itself around me like a kid glove on warm skin.


A page turner of a story set around a slightly dilapidated manor that holds secrets, sinister acts, and second chances. The story goes back and forth between the 1950’s and present day. Readers follow the stories of the past family and all of the tragedy sustained while they lived in the house as well as the present day family who has recently moved to the country to escape the their past lives. The house is full of intrigue right from the beginning. Each chapter feels more and more eerie and the house seems to take on the persona of an actual character in the story. The story that follows the original family who lived in Applecote Manor surrounds the disappearance of their young daughter, Audrey. While the story of the present day family revolves around Jessie, the new wife of Will and stepmom of Bella, a girl who refuses to forget her deceased mother or allow Jessie to take her place. Bella quickly tells her stepmother that she feels uneasy in the home like it holds trapped spirits. I was hooked from there!

The writing was descriptive and completely mesmerizing. I must say that I loved the story that took place in the 1950’s way more than I liked the present day one. I was so intrigued by the lives of the Wilde sisters and their missing cousin Audrey. I loved the comparisons of the manor – I got to experience the manor when it was in its prime with manicured lawns and beautiful entryways and then again in a more antique form when repairs and tender love and care was needed. I loved the descriptions of the manor. As I said before, the manor feels like another character in the novel – absolutely enchanting. I also loved the detail paid to the sisterhood and relationships between many of the characters. This book would be a perfect read for Halloween/Fall time!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange in for my honest review***



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: The Leaf Reader

The Leaf ReaderAuthor: Emily Arsenault
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Soho Teen

Maybe, occasionally, some of the pictures I saw in teacups were not for the tea drinkers. Maybe some of them were for me.

Marnie Wells knows that she creeps people out. It’s not really her fault; her brother is always in trouble, and her grandmother, who’s been their guardian since Mom took off is…eccentric. So no one even bats an eye when Marnie finds an old book about reading tea leaves and starts telling fortunes. The ceremony and symbols are weirdly soothing, but she knows—and hopes everyone else does too—that none of it’s real.

Then basketball star Matt Cotrell asks for a reading. He’s been getting emails from someone claiming to be his best friend, Andrea Quinley, who disappeared and is presumed dead. And while they’d always denied they were romantically involved, a cloud of suspicion now hangs over Matt. But Marnie sees a kindred spirit: someone who, like her, is damaged by association.

Suddenly the readings seem real. And, despite the fact that they’re telling Marnie things about Matt that make him seem increasingly dangerous, she can’t shake her initial attraction to him. In fact, it’s getting stronger. And that could turn out to be deadly.



“The art of tea-leaf reading—or tasseomancy—is an ancient one. The practice spread from the Orient to Europe with the trade and consumption of tea. Of course, it borrows much from other ancient forms of divination.”


“The image was really fuzzy and could’ve been anything, but I was desperate to steer the reading away from anything that could be interpreted as relating to Andrea.”


“I remembered the wording of the tea-leaf guide on this symbol because it was so stark and offered only a single interpretation. Dragon: Self-delusion. A dragon appears powerful, but breathes smoke and fire into its path, clouding its own vision and judgment.”


 
I have been crazy twisty, mind boggling mystery/thrillers this summer and while this one was all that I hoped it would be, it still kept me intrigued and gave me a taste of suspense. Marnie, our main character, takes up a new hobby of reading tea leaves and soon everyone in town wants her to tell them what’s in their near future. Marnie thinks it’s all fun and games until one of the best friends to the girl who went missing not too many months prior. Marnie is freaked out when Matt’s tea leaves start to reveal suspicious things, and therefore agrees to accompany him in learning the truth about what really happened to Andrea Quinley. This book is super short at only 240 pages and kept me occupied on a four hour plane ride to California. Halfway through the book, I felt sure I was going to rate the book with 5 stars. However, once I got to the final parts where the mystery was actually solved, it all felt very anti-climactic. I hated how the mystery ended and what essentially turns out happening to the missing character, but that is solely my opinion.
 
With that being said, I absolutely loved the main character, Marnie. She was eccentric and not your typical teenage girl by any means, but I think this is what helped her shine as the lead of this novel. The book had a cozy feeling to it what with Marnie’s “gift” to read and interpret tea leaves. I love anything that gives me what I call the “Harry Potter” vibe. This book was whimsical and suspenseful and definitely a great way to spend an afternoon. As I mentioned before, I did not like the ending of the book, but I loved the ending of the book for Marnie and her family. Family is a strong theme in this book with a lot of emphasis placed on Marnie and her deranged brother, but I loved how their relationship dynamic changed and how he became a strong secondary character and help to Marnie.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Soho Teen in exchange for my honest review***
 
 
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreAuthor: Matthew Sullivan
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Scribner

When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.



The clerk was right about one thing, she thought: it really does help to know what you want.

 
“Joey wasn’t stealing books,” she said. “He was cutting them up.”


Lydia’s skills as a bookseller came mainly, she believed, from her ability to listen.


When I first picked this book up I expected a cutesy, cozy story that takes place in an adorable bookshop filled with loveable people – I only got the loveable people part! In the opening pages our protagonist stumbles upon a suicide (this is not a spoiler!) and the story/mystery ensues from there. The story follows Lydia as she unravels the clues and mystery behind Joey’s suicide. The book alternates between past and present narratives because a HUGE part of the story focuses on Lydia’s childhood/backstory, which she tries so desperately to keep hidden. This book carries so many feelings and themes within its pages. It has moments of great sadness and other moments filled with joy and hopefulness. Some of the characters bring wit and humor to the story and others lead readers down a darker path. Suicides usually give me an uneasy feeling simply because of the darkness that I associate with that type of death, but I feel like the author did an excellent making the story about something other than a morbid, sinister death.

 
I was fully invested in Lydia’s story and loved how it was slowly unraveled as I read. I am such a fan of books that present a secret or some mystery that needs solving at the very beginning and only leaves me hanging on every word, unable to put it down until I have all of the answers. I felt that this was one of those books. The story is full of many colorful characters and I greatly enjoyed the multi-level storyline. I really did not know much about the story going in and I suggest that for everyone. This story is so much more than just a mystery, but focuses a lot of identity as well. I loved Sullivan’s writing and I felt that he really developed his character beyond my expectations. The entire novel was extremely well-paced and he is definitely an author I would pick up again.

 
***A free copy of this book was sent to me by the publishers at Scribner in exchange for my honest review***

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: We Crossed A Bridge And It Trembled

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from SyriaAuthor: Wendy Pearlman
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Custom House

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times.

Yet despite all the reporting, the video, and the wrenching photography, the stories of ordinary Syrians remain unheard, while the stories told about them have been distorted by broad brush dread and political expediency. This fierce and poignant collection changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.


 
It reached the point that corruption was in everything – everything. There was corruption before, but not to that extent. Everything was getting worse. Things just added up. The glass of water overflowed. There were so many problems that it was ridiculous. Someone had to go out and just say, “No!”


For them, it was better that we do nothing than do something that would make us think or dream. Their goal was to make sure that people’s only interest was eating, drinking, and making sure their kids were safe.


The young man said to himself, “If this old man is braver than me, I’m going to kill myself.” So he went out. He started shouting. And then everyone else went out, too. Imagine you have a deck of cards and all the cards go flying everywhere. That’s what it was like.


 
As a high school English teacher, I get the pleasure of seeing and educating hundreds of new students every school year. Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and educating my first Syrian student. He was an extremely smart, gifted young man who taught me the ways of life in Syria and gave me an appreciation for my own freedom and homeland – America. He and I spent hours over the course of a semester talking about life in Syria and the challenges and obstacles that these people faced – I was enamored by his conversation and felt privileged to know him. Because of this, I knew that I wanted to read this book. This book is such an easy read and one could fly through it in about a day; however, I chose to take my time while reading and mark up the pages with sticky notes and my comments and reactions towards what I was reading. Every couple of pages or so a new Syrian citizen is introduced by name, occupation, and location. They share their account of the demonstrations that took place in Syria in 2011. They are real, raw, emotional, and some are just downright heart wrenching.
 
Some of the entries are so short that you might wonder how any type of message could be conveyed in such a short period, but trust me when I tell you that some of the shortest entries were some of the most poignant in my mind and were the ones that I was finding myself going back and reading over four and five different times. It was so interesting to me to see people from all different walks of life, who live in different areas, and work in extremely different careers all experiencing the same terrible happenings and feeling much the same way about it. I was inspired to do more research on the demonstrations after reading this book. I plan to place this book atop my “favorites” shelf. I was so moved upon reading and will likely share snippets with my student this coming fall semester.
 
***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Custom House in exchange for my honest review***
 
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: The Underground River

The Underground RiverAuthor: Martha Conway
Publication: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Touchstone


Set aboard a nineteenth century riverboat theater, this is the moving, page-turning story of a charmingly frank and naive seamstress who is blackmailed into saving runaways on the Underground Railroad, jeopardizing her freedom, her livelihood, and a new love.

It’s 1838, and May Bedloe works as a seamstress for her cousin, the famous actress Comfort Vertue—until their steamboat sinks on the Ohio River. Though they both survive, both must find new employment. Comfort is hired to give lectures by noted abolitionist, Flora Howard, and May finds work on a small flatboat, Hugo and Helena’s Floating Theatre, as it cruises the border between the northern states and the southern slave-holding states.

May becomes indispensable to Hugo and his troupe, and all goes well until she sees her cousin again. Comfort and Mrs. Howard are also traveling down the Ohio River, speaking out against slavery at the many riverside towns. May owes Mrs. Howard a debt she cannot repay, and Mrs. Howard uses the opportunity to enlist May in her network of shadowy characters who ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom. Lying has never come easy to May, but now she is compelled to break the law, deceive all her new-found friends, and deflect the rising suspicions of Dr. Early who captures runaways and sells them back to their southern masters.

As May’s secrets become more tangled and harder to keep, the Floating Theatre readies for its biggest performance yet. May’s predicament could mean doom for all her friends on board, including her beloved Hugo, unless she can figure out a way to trap those who know her best.
Sometimes now I wonder whether, like swimming, when you first submerge yourself in a new environment you lose some of the power of your senses – your ears clog, you shut your eyes – as you try to get used to it.

When a man gives me money and I give him a ticket, we’ve made ourselves a deal: I will try to make him believe something that is not true, and he will try to believe it.

I loved to swim. I liked feeling the slight pressure of the water like an eggshell around me, and I liked being at a distance from everyone else.
The Ohio River was the literal, physical separation line that divided free and slave states in the United States. The author, Martha Conway, takes readers back to the 1830’s when slavery was prominent in the Southern states and many slaves were trying to escape to the free North. Through the main character May, readers are taken on a traveling steamboat theater called The Floating Theatre where May serves as a seamstress among other things and eventually gets swept into an intriguing and dangerous life of transporting slaves to freedom. May is a timid girl who finds herself, so to speak, during her time on the traveling theater. She develops as the story progresses, which I absolutely love. I adored seeing her go from a girl who could not or would not speak up for herself, to a girl who was bold and brave and did daring, courageous things that no one would even consider doing.

My issue with this novel is that the meat, or the actual adventure of May traveling down the Ohio River transporting slaves, does not happen until more than halfway through the book. I kept looking at the page numbers and wondering when we were going to get to the angst and danger. I really wanted the story to be more action-packed because the topic is so interesting and needs to be written about, but I was often bored at certain points during the book. The author spent a lot of time building the world and May’s time meeting all of the people who would be important in her upcoming “adventures”, but I don’t think all of it was absolutely necessary. I also wanted the journeys she took transporting slaves to be more exciting, but they fell flat for me as well. However, as I stated earlier, May’s character was phenomenal and I loved seeing her become so invested in something so important.

***A free copy of this novel was provided to me by the publishers at Touchstone in exchange for my honest review***



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