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Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

[ 1 ] May 22, 2015

The Nightingale book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

As the Nazi regime moved across Europe, it claimed territory like a plague of locusts. Vibrant cities and towns became desolate wastelands as the people were stripped of their freedom, their productivity, their communities and often their lives. When this ruinous destruction came upon the country of France, the people were initially paralyzed by shock. But out of the rubble rose a resistance, a group of hidden fighters, willing to sacrifice everything to save the land they loved.

In her novel, The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah tells the story of one family’s fight for freedom in France during World War II. The onset of the story introduces an elderly woman whose health is deteriorating. As she moves into an assisted living and leaves her home behind, she insists that her son bring her old trunk along. Inside are memories and secrets long held close. As she remembers, the story unfolds.

Still ravaged by loss from World War I and the death of their mother, Viann, her sister Isabelle and their father are a shattered family full of hurt and dysfunction. When theGermans take over France, their family is divided.  Should they take action or assume a passive approach and hopefully avoid conflict? But as time passes and the suffering increases, they find themselves united as they individually step up to do their part to fight the evil among them. Their efforts range from creating false IDs to hiding Jewish children and undermining German propaganda. But the youngest daughter, Isabelle, became known as the Nightingale. As an attractive young woman, she was able to cross enemy lines easier than men. She smuggled downed airmen back to the English and Americans. For every choice, there was a consequence and each one paid dearly and not all survived.

While the story is fiction, it embodies the spirit and strength possessed by those who fought and died for freedom and for their fellow man. Amidst the harsh realities, it is full of beauty and hope that is sure to inspire. This is definitely the best fiction I have read in quite some time. Hannah uncovers a unique facet of the war and brings it to life with vivid detail. I found myself challenged to look at my own life a little differently. We are not at war. We are not forced to house the enemy under our roofs, but all around us, there are those who need us to rise up and be different. Making a difference for just one person, changes their world. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or feels compelled by works of justice.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Fore Play by Linda Sheehan

[ 1 ] May 21, 2015

fore play book coverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

The prestigious Bellstone golf course and country club in Los Angeles, California has a storied and successful past and appears to have a thriving future. In Linda Sheehan’s novel Fore Play, the reader quickly learns that there is more to Bellstone than just the lush greens and rich clientele. When the lovely and talented Jody Benson returns to the club that her beloved grandfather founded, many secrets about the members begin to be revealed.

Fore Play begins with the story of member Mandy Manville, an aspiring golf pro with a love of plastic surgery, expensive golf clothes, men other than her husband and fast cars. Mandy is a polarizing figure from the start and when it is revealed that Jody, a former college pro and current Federal Wildlife Agent, wants to compete in the club championship, Mandy’s claws come out and she stops and nothing to prevent her from entering. The shady inner working of the club, under the management of the conniving president Newt Sizemore, range from gambling, money laundering, and illegal partnerships, even theft of wildlife and wine.

Jody watches as her grandfather’s club seems destined for disaster when all of the events and secrets of the club’s prominent members begin to see the light.  From Jody’s unfaithful husband Derrick, to Jackson, a successful screenwriter moonlighting as a caddy to a priest with an honorary membership and a checkered past, Fore Play is full of a colorful cast of characters who all possess secrets and lies of their own. These secrets all begin to unravel – almost in unison- and the events that transpire are action packed and in some cases very deserving. The book is also full of a few happy endings and the next steps for every character are laid out and revealed.

Fore Play is fun, well-written and well-developed and each character possesses qualities that will make the reader love or hate them passionately. The novel is full of great villains, some of whom gain redemption and strong main characters, like Jody, that you can’t help but root for and love. The twists and turns that Linda Sheehan includes in her novel are engaging, exciting, sometimes dirty and completely delightful. This would be a fun summer beach read and is a good book to lose yourself in the problems of a country club cast for a few hours.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.

Review copy was provided by Linda Sheehan. 

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Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann

[ 2 ] May 19, 2015

seraphina book coverReviewed by Rachel Mann

As soon as I saw that Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, was YA fiction about dragons, I thought I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Seraphina is awesome—it’s engaging, well plotted, and a delightful read.

The book’s heroine Seraphina, a musician, lives in Goredd, a country inhabited by both people and dragons. The dragons, which hang out in human form and are known as saarantrai, or saars, have their own country and government, and they coexist with humans thanks to a treaty. (Goredd is also home to other non-humans, quigutls, which have some dragon-like characteristics.) Each saar always has his or her real dragon form lurking beneath the surface; changing back and forth is limited by bureaucracy but is always a possibility.

While the saars look human, they are identifiable as their real selves through their smell, which is apparent only to other saars, and their silver blood. Another, more subtle giveaway can be their non-human behavior; dragons struggle to understand human emotion, and they’re forbidden from developing feelings toward or about humans. Yet the rules keeping saars and humans from bonding do get broken. For instance, Seraphina’s long-dead mother was a dragon who, as a saar, fell in love with a human, Claude; a situation made worse by the incredible result, in the book’s universe, of a saar becoming pregnant by a human.

After a prologue centered on Seraphina’s birth, the book picks up several years later. By then Seraphina, who has become an exceptional musician, has a place at her country’s court. When the murder of a human royal, Prince Rufus, kickstarts worry about whether dragon-human agreements will hold, Seraphina soon delves into the intrigue surrounding his death. She’s not an official spy, but she’s good at spying, and while she thinks critically of herself for continuously lying to most other characters, her lies—such as those obscuring her dragon-born half—are necessary for her survival.

As the plot races through the suspense of maintaining dragon-human relationships between both individuals and species, other wonderful characters appear: Orma, Seraphina’s maternal uncle and teacher, who also breaks the dragons’ rules about emotion; and members of the royal family, including the third generation’s engaged cousins and future rulers Princess Glisselda, whom Seraphina tutors in music, and Prince Lucian Kiggs, a philosophy reader and Captain of the Guard. Of course, the connection between Lucian and Seraphina gets increasingly more powerful as they try to maintain their individual loyalties to Glisselda – and as Seraphina tries to protect herself – while figuring out what happened to Prince Rufus and why.

Ultimately, I think it’s impossible to recommend Seraphina enough. Even before I was done reading it, I had started wondering about its sequel. I can’t wait to read that, too—and in the meantime, I might have to reread Seraphina right away.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber

[ 2 ] May 18, 2015

rebellion of miss lucy ann lobdell book coverReviewed by A.D. Cole

Lucy Lobdell longs for self-sufficiency. But in mid-nineteenth-century America, women’s options are limited as far as financial independence. So, in hopes of providing for herself and her daughter, Helen, Lucy sets out on a journey dressed as a man. Taking on the persona of Joseph Lobdell, she begins building a new life and a new reputation for herself. In the course of her adventures, she falls in love with two women and is loved in return.

Author William Klaber lived in the home of Lucy Lobdell and got her story from a neighbor. Beyond that, he claims to have been compelled by her spirit to write this memoir in her voice. The main events of the story are factual, but the voice of Lucy Ann Lobdell comes from Mr. Klaber’s personal inspiration.

What most intrigued me about the jacket synopsis was the mention of Lucy’s struggle with feelings and choices that didn’t yet have a vocabulary. I wish that sense of linguistic frustration had been explored more deeply as I think it would have been deeply connected to Lucy’s ability to find contentment in who she was. Instead, she wrestled with her conflicts and embraced moments of, “I don’t care what the world thinks.” Still, in its portrayal of the very real challenges of a woman passing herself off as a man and falling in love with another woman, Mr. Klaber’s depiction is meticulous and successful.

I chose The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell quite by accident and likely wouldn’t have picked it if I’d read the synopsis properly. But in the end I’m glad I read it. For me, this story was about hearing from a unique voice and exposing myself to a perspective I wouldn’t normally be given. I suppose that’s what all novels are about, ultimately, but this one is a little more blatant about it. Mr. Klaber’s purpose, after all, was to give voice to a person who might otherwise have been lost in the shuffle of history. Lucy’s journey is quite remarkable and the setting is well-researched and portrayed. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction or LGBT history and fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

[ 3 ] May 17, 2015

where they found her book coverReviewed by Sarah Lelonek

Every once in a while, it’s nice to read a standalone novel that can hold its ground among all the series out there. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight not only held its ground, but it managed to hold my attention, despite the subject matter not being what I am used to. However, I think that the book, while a decent read, could have done more in the suspense and thriller department and cut out some of the endless exposition.

Where They Found Her takes place in the small college town of Ridgedale, New Jersey, where freelance journalist Molly Anderson tries to move past a miscarriage that rocked not only her marriage, but her inner core. When Molly is assigned a homicide with the body being that of a female infant, she is forced to dig up her own past and the dirty secrets of the small town surrounding her.

The story jumps between a lot of different viewpoints. I centered on Molly, because for me, she seemed the most interesting. Also, Molly’s portion of the story always moved the plot along, unlike some of the other women’s viewpoints. While the multiple viewpoints method can work, I felt that in this situation, it left the reader a little overwhelmed. All the stories tied together and it was a little hard to keep them straight.

I did enjoy how McCreight wove a solid plot between her characters; I just wish the story itself didn’t take so long to get going. It took  a good third of the book for me to get really interested in the novel. While the baby was found early on in the story, I didn’t feel a real connection to the characters and plot until much later in the book. While I liked the occasional twists the novel had to offer, I thought it was lacking in the suspense and thriller aspect that could really grab a reader.

All-in-all, Where They Found Her was a solid read. While the story took a while to rev up, I thought the ends justified the means. I would have liked to see less characters and exposition and more action. I think this would have sold the novel from the beginning for me. That being said, I can recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a decent stand alone. Just be prepared for a longer read than usual.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is currently enrolled at Tiffin University in their Master’s of Education program. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

[ 2 ] May 16, 2015

geek girl book coverReviewed by Benish Khan

Geek Girl is a read one can easily get lost in; the word “geek” in the title alone was enough to make me want to dive into the story. I liked how entertaining the book was. Harriet Manners is a geek and she calls herself one as well. I think that all bookworms usually do have some geek in them, so I can definitely relate to her character! I loved reading Harriet’s inner dialogue–she’s quirky and witty but can sound quite self-obsessed sometimes. I alternated between really liking her character and feeling irritated with it. Harriet is not vain but she has a bad case of self-pitying that can get pretty bothersome to read about.

Harriet is teased at her high school, however, she’s soon given a life changing opportunity to turn herself from geek to model. I did like that modeling came naturally to her–it’s like her inner goddess came out once she was given the right platform to perform. Geek Girl is a cute novel with some minor romantic undertones. It’s essentially a novel of self-discovery and readers will see Harriet’s character grow as the plot progresses. I do think the book could have been better if there was more depth to the romance.

The concept of Geek Girl was wonderful but overall it was a typical coming of age novel and nothing anything particularly unique. There was nothing extraordinary and it did lack the magic I was looking for. That said, I did like the message that the author was trying to get across to the readers and think the book would appeal to the younger audience.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Benish Khan has her B.A in Psychology and Religion from the University of New York. She’s a psychologist and artist by day, and a bookworm by night. She currently blogs at feministreflections.com.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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