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100 Pages A Day...Stephanie's Book Reviews

I absolutely love historical fiction and read a lot of it; I love to learn history this way.  I also enjoy reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and non-fiction science.

Tribal Affairs

Tribal Affairs - Matt Dallmann

Dahila is a genie who has been trapped for years inside of a stone, a consequence for the sin of loving a human. In the present-day, 16 year old Liana decides to wear her mother's charm bracelet for the first time since her death. Liana's mother had schizophrenia and ever since putting on her mother's charm, Liana has begun to see things, hear things and has been having strange dreams. In Liana's dreams, Dahlia is telling her a story, the story will help set Dahlia free, but it will also help keep Liana safe from Stefan. Stefan is another genie, an enemy to Dahila and now Liana. Liana soon meets Taffi, Stefan's son and together they enter the world of the genies and a tribal feud that has been raging for centuries.

Tribal Affairs is a unique young adult book featuring genies. The writing switches between Liana and Dahlia, Dahila's story being mostly in dream form as she is trying to impart information to Liana in a non-threatening way. I was first intrigued by Dahila's demeanor and story of being trapped inside the stone. The story begins right as Liana puts on Dahlia's stone, so I didn't get to learn much about Liana before she believes she is schizophrenic and is involved in the genie world. I was taken away with the rules, knowledge and powers that the genies in the story had. I was very interested in the different types of genies and what they could do. I would have loved to learn more about their world, feuds and powers. Liana is a relatable character and I enjoyed her interactions with Taffi as well as what Taffi sacrificed. Overall, a fast-past, young adult read with genies leaving me wanting to go deeper into their world. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

A Tangled Ruse

A Tangled Ruse - Laura Beers

Lady Rachel has recently escaped an attempted kidnapping with the help of Agent of the Crown, Shadow.  She was taken hostage by those who would like to see the French influence the English Parliament.  Now, it has been determined that Rachel should be kept safe at her uncle's estate in Scotland until the French threat passes.  Rachel is left with an Agent and bodyguard David as well as a threat to neighbor and older brother of Shadow,  Luke Beckett, the Marquess of Downshire to protect Rachel.  However, when the lonely and brooding Marquess first meets Lady Rachel, he believes that she is just like every other English Lady and she only wants him for his money.  Upon meeting Lady Rachel, he believes she is a horse thief responsible for the slew of missing animals around town.  Rachel believes that Luke is a horse trainer. Luke keeps up the charade by calling himself John. As Rachel and John spend time together, Luke realizes that Lady Rachel is kindhearted and adventurous.  Before Luke can let Rachel know of the ruse, a French threat is exposed on the shores of Scotland and Rachel is endangered once again.

The fourth book in The Beckett Files, A Tangled Ruse continues to excite and entertain.  I highly recommend reading the rest of the books in the series- and in order to catch up on the Beckett family.  I was eager to continue the story with Lady Rachel who, despite her upbringing, desires more.  I enjoyed her attitude of being willing to continue on with life and waking up her sense of adventure even after  being kidnapped.  Along with getting to know more about Lady Rachel, the story dives into Larson's past and we get to meet Jonathan and Eliza's reclusive older brother, Luke.     Unlike the other Beckett's, Luke is not an Agent of the Crown but the Marquess of Downshire  and his father's heir.  At the start, Luke's attitude is distrusting of women and he is a loner and rough around the edges, hiding himself away at his stud farm.  When Rachel comes on the scene, the writing creates the feel of a life-like Beauty and the Beast, complete with large library. The writing also offers plenty of masterfully crafted witty back-and-forth banter between Luke and Rachel as well as mounting tension as the French threaten to invade Scotland's shores creating a way for the rest of the Beckett family to come into the scene.   Woven in with historical elements of the Napoleonic Wars and the madness of King George III, A Tangled Ruse is more than a regency love story. With an exciting conclusion, a sweet romance and plenty of spy action, A Tangled Ruse is a great addition to The Beckett Files.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Locksmith's Daughter

The Locksmith's Daughter - Sharmila Cohen, Karen Brooks, Karen Brooks

Mallory Bright is returning to her family home in disgraced.  At nineteen, she ran away with a man she believed to be the love of her life only to be taken advantage of.  Her father has rescued her and her mother has created a less shameful ruse for her to live by. However, Mallory is still seen as a blight by her mother and neighbors.  Her father, a locksmith has taught Mallory skills over the years.  Mallory is his lock pick, testing his wares.  He calls on an old friend, Sir Francis Walsingham to find employment for Mallory.  Walsingham sees potential in her skills and brings Mallory on as a watcher in his spy network.  Mallory is the key in exposing several Catholic threats to the Crown. Although, as Mallory begins to see the destruction she is causing, her loyalties to Walsingham begin to waver.

From the moment Mallory is introduced, I was latched on to this historical thriller. Mallory is intelligent, thoughtful and eager to learn.  She is desperately trying not to let peoples thoughts of her and her past effect her.  I immediately wondered what her shameful secret could be and why she blamed herself. Then, I was brought into Mallory's world of locks and lockpicking.  I learned about the intricacies of the locksmith world in Tudor England and how valuable a well made lock could be in this time-period.  Through Mallory's eyes I was taken into the dangerous world of Sir Francis Walsingham's spy ring and was able to see the talent and the tasks that were deemed necessary in order to keep Queen Elizabeth safe.  As Mallory trains and becomes and agent, she finds purpose and begins to forget her nightmarish past.  However, as her actions as a spy begin to bring harsh consequences to the people around her, Mallory wonders if the people Walsingham has deemed dangerous really are as threatening as he perceives, or if they are just people trying to practice a religion of their own.  Historical accurate detail of the political climate and descriptions fill out the writing, from stage production, food, dress and housing, I could picture Elizabethan England.   I also don't believe I had ever read about a hanging, drawing and quartering in enough detail to turn my stomach.   A dash of sweet romance from a brusque Lord Nathanial helps to round out this fast paced historical thriller.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Memory Tree

The Memory Tree - John A. Heldt

The five Carson siblings plus their new sister-in-law, Bridget have just stepped through a time portal from 1889 into 1918.  They are still playing a game of Marco-Polo through time trying to find their parents, Tim and Caroline who have taken a detour on their time-travel adventure. This time they are hoping to catch their parents as they visit their ancestors.  Adam and his new and pregnant wife Bridget settle in a cabin in the backwoods of Minnesota, neighbors to two women set to marry into their family.  Greg agrees to travel into the potential dangers of Mexico, hoping to find his parents near where his great-grandparents live.  Instead, Greg finds a woman that may finally be his match.  Natalie takes a reporting job on the front lines of the War in France meeting the son and husband of a friend from 1889 as well as some ancestors. Meanwhile, Cody and Caitlin track down a friend from 1889 that is very surprised by the fact they the twins are still 18 years old.  With all of their trekking through time, the Carson family seems even more scattered, but they are closer to finding their parents than they think.

An exciting, risk filled, time travel adventure filled with romance, intrigue and history, The Memory Tree picks up right where River Rising, the first book of the Carson Chronicles leaves off. I would definitely recommend reading these books in order since so much happens in River Rising. I was so happy to begin reading about the Carson clan once again in a new time period.  I have enjoyed the device used for time travel in the books, a portal that opens only at solstices and equinoxes that will transport you to different times depending on when you walk through. I was able to learn more about the portals in this book along with more information about who uses them.  In The Memory Tree, we also delve into the Carson family history by meeting many of the Carson ancestors.  I am very anxious to see the results of the future Carson's family presence in the time of the ancestors.  This time, it seems to have altered some important events in their family tree.  With having the Carson family spread out, I was also able to witness many events that happened in 1918. As World War I came to an end, Natalie witnessed firsthand accounts of injured soldiers returning from the front in France and senseless killings even after the War ended.  Adam and Bridget survived a forest fire that ravaged Cloquet, Minnesota.  Greg witnessed Tijuana before it was a tourist town and when money was above the law.  Most interestingly, Cody and Caitlin were able to reconnect with a friend from 1889 and see the effects of the War on a family that has been left behind.  With moments that range from heartbreaking to heartwarming and exciting to mysterious, The Memory Tree is another expertly crafted tale within the Carson Chronicles.  I can't wait to continue their adventures into the 1940's.

Letting Go Of Gravity

Letting Go Of Gravity - Meg Leder

"That's what friends do- they remind you of who you are underneath all the stuff people believe about you, all the stuff you believe about yourself."

Charlie and Parker are twins. During childhood, they always had each other's back. However, they were always two different people; Charlie is extroverted, loud, popular and easily makes friends, Parker is introverted, guarded and needs approval.  One other difference arose when Charlie and Parker were in fourth grade, Charlie got leukemia.  As medical bills rose and their parents lived in fear, Parker vowed to become a doctor and help kids with leukemia.  Now it is coming true, as Parker graduates valedictorian of her class with an internship at a hospital and an acceptance to Harvard, and Charlie is in remission for a second time.  When it's time to begin the internship, Parker feels overwhelmed and panicked at even being in the hospital.  She quits, reconnects with an old friend and finds a job at a pottery shop and the weight lifts.  Now, if she could only tell her parents.

Letting go of gravity is an epic coming of age tale that so many teens will be able to connect with.  It is not only Parker's story either, it is also Charlie's.  For so much of Parker's life she has strived to be what her parents expect that she has lost herself.  For Charlie's life, he has been the boy with cancer that people have given up their lives to help.  They both just want to stop being people's expectations for them and learn to be themselves, but they will need each other to do it.  I could easily relate to Parker and was swept up in her story, eagerly turning the pages to see how she would manage the twists and turns in her life.  Even though I have never had to deal with cancer, Charlie was also intriguing.  His journey in and out of remission while being a teen is very sincere and heart wrenching, even when he is ok.  Charlie and Parker's journey took me through emotional highs and lows that reminded me of the transitional time after high school.  In addition to this, the romances were very sweet and realistic.  Overall, a roller-coaster of a story about self-realization and being able to become who you truly are.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink - D.K. Marley

Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were both young men who grew up under the reign of Elizabeth I.  Christopher or Kit was guided by the muse Calliope to have an ingenious wit and create wonderful works of written word.  When still very young, Kit's talent was noticed by Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster.  Kit was whisked away from his family in return for schooling.  However, Kit was really being groomed as a spy for Elizabeth herself.  Kit's dream is to be a famous playwright and have his name immortalized.  For this, Kit is willing to do Walsingham's bidding as he works his way into the Queen's favor.  Meanwhile, Will Shakespeare dreams of being an actor on stage.  Will's family still practices the old religion, placing them in danger time and time again. This also unknowingly places Will within Kit's path as a spy for Walsingham.  As the men age, their paths cross again.  When Kit needs to escape for a time, Elizabeth hatches a plan so Kit may continue living, and his words may continue to grace the stage, but at what price?

Everyone knows the writings of William Shakespeare, but how many know the name and works of Christopher Marlowe?  I myself was not very familiar with Marlowe other than recognizing his name as a contemporary of Shakespeare.  Many believe that Marlowe did not truly die at such a young age and the William Shakespeare was simply passing along his works.  DK Marley presents the mystery of the two men from their youth through their deaths in an intriguing alternate narration between the two.  Writing in the voices of two acclaimed writers is no easy task, however the dialogue and narration seemed effortless and accurate for William and Kit at the time.  I loved the device of Calliope as a muse for Kit and a guiding voice; it seems that she might have even more to say.  I also enjoyed learning about Walsingham's spy ring and Elizabeth's relationships with Marlowe and Shakespeare.  Overall, a wonderful and atmospheric historical intrigue for anyone who enjoys Shakespeare, Marlowe or Tudor history.

‚ÄčThis book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The Romanov Empress

The Romanov Empress - C.W. Gortner

Princess Dagmar of Denmark or Minnie is a daughter to Denmark's King Christian IX and sister to Alexandra, who would marry Edward VII and become Queen of the United Kingdom.  Minnie knows she too must marry and would rather marry for love.  When she meets Nicholas Alexandrovich,  or Nixa, the Tsarevich of Russia, Minnie is taken.  However, as fate would have it, Minnie marries Nixa's brother,  Sasha, Tsesarevich Alexander of Russia, and eventually becomes Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia.  Minnie must adjust to Russia, a new religion and rules of royalty.  Minnie exceeds in her role and is a driving force within the Russian government.  Although, times are changing in Russia and things become dangerous for Minnie and her family.  Minnie sees that the government also needs to change.  When her beloved Sasha passes, Minnie's son, Nicholas becomes Tsar.  Nicholas' wife, Alexandra is not as diplomatic as Minnie and finds herself in a war of wills with Minnie.  As actual war finds its way to Russia's door, Nicholas heeds his wife's opinion and that of her mystic Rasputin over Minnie's and brings the downfall of the Russian empire with him.

With historically accurate detail,  The Romanov Empress gives an  in-depth and entertaining look at the amazing woman behind the storied last Tsar of Russia.  Told from Minnie's point of view from the time she was a teenager through her son's death, we get a full view of her life.  I went into this book not knowing much at all about this time in Russia's history and I was very pleased that I was able to learn about Russia through her eyes.  As Minnie came to love Russia, she saw the faults as well as its amazing features.  Minnie wanted Russia to grow, change and survive, but as a woman she could only offer so much guidance to the men in her life.  I enjoyed seeing how Minnie was able to affect change in the government, even if the men did not always listen.  I also took to heart her and her sister, Alix's motto of living to the next day: "You will live,...You can do nothing else." It was  very insightful to see Minnie's relationship with her son Nicholas and his wife Alexandra especially when Rasputin came into the picture.  I did not know the breadth of Rasputin's influence on Russia at the time and his relationship with Alexandra and her children.  Maria's story brings us through the fabled deaths of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.  While I knew of this story, I was unaware of the reasons behind it and the political climate of Russia at the time.  Overall, an astounding and epic tale of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

What Blooms From Dust

What Blooms From Dust - James Markert

Jeremiah Goodbye is known as the Coin-Flip Killer in Oklahoma's Panhandle in 1935.  Just as he was about to be executed by electric chair, a twister developed from a dust storm that knocked down the prison walls.  Escaping with only a slight shock, Jeremiah makes his way back home to Nowhere, Oklahoma by the flip of a coin.  The shock did something to Jeremiah, something for the better.  Jeremiah no longer has such bad nightmares, nor can he see the darkness in men's souls so clearly as he did before.  On his way to Nowhere, Jeremiah inadvertently picks up a boy, Peter, who has limited speech but understands everything happening around him.  In Nowhere, barely anyone wants Jeremiah back, especially his twin brother, Josiah who turned him into the police to begin with.  Nowhere has been ravaged by the dust bowl, turning the once prosperous town to dust.  The people of Nowhere have been beaten down by the constant dust storms when a particularly bad duster rolls through, the town finds that Jeremiah and Peter may be just what they need in order to survive.

An amazing story of the Dust Bowl infused with magic and mystery.  The town of Nowhere, Oklahoma grabbed me and was a character itself. Sold to people as Majestic, Oklahoma the town transformed, fought back and reemerged throughout the story. Jeremiah's characters is an enigma, but one that I really liked.  Without learning his full story until near the end, I was continuously pulled into the many mysteries that surrounded his strange life.  Jeremiah feels guilt for the death of the four men he was accused of killing, but swears he didn't actually kill them, he is able to see the bad and good in people and know their fate in life as well as being able to shield people from some of the bad that comes along.  Peter was another favorite of mine, insightful and caring, bringing kindness even though he has not been shown much during his life.  Even though the characters and the touches of magic engaged me the most, I did learn a lot about the dust bowl era.  I had never heard of the Black Sunday dust storm and the devastation that it brought to an already ravaged area.  I imagine that it would have had similar effects on the people attempting to live in the area as it did to the people of Nowhere as the residents became upset, mean and slowly lost their willpower.  In Nowhere, several miracles occur after the Black Sunday dust storm that help breathe life back into a dying town.  Overall, a unique historical fiction book incorporating magical realism and distinctive characters.  

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Camp Crush

Camp Crush - Tammy Andresen

Chloe is fun, effervescent and energetic. She is super excited that she is finally old enough to be a counselor at Camp Winnipeg with her best friend, Millie. She is also enthusiastic that she might catch the eye of equally fun and sociable second year counselor, Alex. The only down-side is Alex's best friend, Drew, who made fun of Chloe's perky attitude all of last year giving her the nick-name of Alka-Seltzer. However, when Chloe arrives at camp it is Drew who greets her warmly and helps her with her bags. Chloe learns that she and Drew will be going to college next to each other this coming fall. Chloe and Drew spend more and more time together, but Chloe may still be hung up on Alex. Chloe sorts out her true feelings for Alex and Drew when she is kissed in the dark, but by the wrong guy! Now Chloe has to start all over again after making things weird with both Alex and Drew.

A cute, sweet and easy young adult romance that is perfect for the summer. The point of view switched between Chloe and Drew giving a great sense of both sides of a budding romance that I often miss. Chloe's character was infectious and I'm sure we all know someone just like her. I enjoyed watching Chloe realize that her initial summer crush may not be the best choice for a relationship and watching her go through the confusion of a first love. Drew's point of view was great to read, since he was equally as confused in romance as Chloe. Through their awkwardness and uncertainty, both Chloe and Drew grow and are able to begin a super sweet romance. I can't wait to read book two, which will be centered around Millie. Overall, an adorable and entertaining young adult romance.

The Woman Behind the Waterfall

The Woman Behind the Waterfall - Leonora Meriel

For the seven years of Angela's life, her mother has seemed sad. When mother Lyuda's sadness reaches its peak, Angela uses her intense imagination and her Nightguide to transform and seek out help from her deceased grandmother who now resides in the willow across the stream. Angela doesn't know if it her absent father, the deaths of her grandparents or some other lost dream in her mother's life that causes the sadness. It seems like too much for a seven year old to handle. With the help of the spiritual world, Angela will go on a quest to help her mother find happiness, even if she is not a part of it.

A story of heartbreak and depression told through the eyes of a child who shouldn't have to experience that pain. This story took me a while to get into; the writing is lyrical and poetic with a lot of language and metaphor. It was difficult for me to find the story through the words in the beginning. The writing is beautiful, but I didn't have any context for what it meant. For example, a passage that stuck out to me:

"I am an intricate construction of fibres held together by the pull of beauty, a strange gravity suspending colours and filaments and cambia through long, sunshine moments."

This didn't make any sense till much later in the book. There were also lush description of the Ukrainian countryside, a setting that I found very interesting to explore within Angela and Lyuda's spirituality, cooking, environment and lifestyle. Once I was able to get into the story, I found Angela's character enchanting with her transformation into birds in order to escape and her conversations with her deceased grandmother in the willow tree in order to understand what is happening around her. Then I was able to realize that this is a story of sadness, grief and regret. For at least two generations, the women in Angela's family have passed down the sadness for their role in settling into lives they believed were unfulfilling. Angela takes on a unique role through magical realism in bringing her mother through depression and helping her realize that her childhood dreams can grow and change as life moves on. Overall, this is a distinctive book that deals with many difficult issues while blending contemporary fiction and magical realism. The writing style may not be best for every reader, but if you stick with it, the writing take you on a journey.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Secrets of the Island

Secrets of the Island - Linda Hughes

Twins Harriet and Harry Sullivan both served during WWII.  Harriet as a Red Cross nurse, Harry as a soldier.  Fate brought the siblings to the same place at the right time.  Harry had been missing in action and Harriet received information about where he was.  Harriet rescues Harry in a dangerous mission that took a mental toll on both siblings.  When the twins return home to their parents and eight siblings, nothing feels the same.  The twins are shell-shocked.  They decide to instead head to their grandfather Herbert's summer home on Mackinac Island.  While staying in the old estate on the quiet island, Herbert shows them an old letter addressed to their great-grandfather from a woman, Fiona.  With the letter in hand, the twins go on an 'ancestry quest' that uncovers secret after secret for three generations.  

Secrets of the Island began very slowly for me and took a while to get into as multiple characters were introduced and set up in order to understand three generations of family members.  I was pulled into the story as Harriet goes on her mission to rescue Harry and they returned home.  The signs of shell shock were all very true to life and this is when I could finally hone in on characters and get to know the twins.  Once they traveled to Mackinac Island, I was not only enchanted by the people, the lifestyle and the beauty of the island, but taken in by the many mysteries that one family managed to keep under wraps.  The many mysteries could have easily become tedious to manage, however they were carefully written and layered so everything seemed possible.  In addition to the mysteries, the transformation and healing process that the search allowed for Harry and Harriet was heartwarming.  Overall, a wonderful historical mystery that will make you wonder what could be hiding in your family tree.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

The Lost Vintage

The Lost Vintage - Ann Mah

"And suddenly I knew- as sure as the laws of chemistry- that remaining passive is no longer prudence.  It has become cowardice."

Kate is attempting to pass the demanding Master of Wine examination in order to move up in her career in California.  When the restaurant she works for closes suddenly, she takes her mentor's advice to return to the land of her roots- and her family's vineyard in Burgundy to brush up on her French wines. While staying with her brother and sister-in-law, Kate once again comes in contact with neighbor and once fiancee, Jean-Luc.  To clear her mind, Kate agrees to help clean out the family cave or basement.  While sifting through a hefty amount of junk Kate finds many items from an unknown family member, Helene Marie Charpin. Kate is rebuffed by her Uncle when she asks about Helene.  However, a trip to the library gives a clue about the family secret, Helene was prosecuted as a collaborator during WWII.  This sends Kate and sister-in-law Heather on a hunt to uncover the truth.  While digging, they also uncover a secret cave, untouched since the war and filled with priceless vintage wines.

A family secret, a historical mystery and a romance round out The Lost Vintage. This story has many notes that were brought together like a fine wine.  I was drawn in by the beauty of France, the descriptions of the vineyards, grapes, wines and traditions.  Then I was intrigued by Kate's broken romance with Jean-Luc.  Then the historical mystery found me and I was captivated by Helene and her long lost journal.  Lastly, the suspense of tracking down the missing wine pulled me in even further.  The point of view switched between Kate and Helene's journal, I am a sucker for dual-time stories, so this suited me perfectly.  The plot did pick up for me when Helene's mystery was introduced.  I enjoyed learning more about the French resistance as well as the 'horizontal collaborators' and their fate.  Helene's story made me think about our choices for survival, making this a relevant story for many people during the present. I was pleased to find out that Helene's story was inspired by Resistor, Agnes Humbert, who I will be looking farther into.  Overall, an intricate story that mixes past with present, romance and mystery for a delectable read.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

The Underground River

The Underground River: A Novel - Martha Conway
May Bedloe is the seamstress for her famous actress cousin, Comfort Vertue.  May has been with Comfort since her parents passed away and feels secure in her routine and Comfort's knowledge of May's irregularities.  May has always been very direct in her speech and has a hard time with anything that isn't exactly the truth.  May's life changes when the steamboat she and Comfort are travelling on explodes on the Ohio River in 1838.  May and Comfort lose everything.  Comfort is soon snapped up by benefactress and abolitionist Flora Howard who will have Comfort speak for her cause. May is not included in this plan; so she decides that she will find employment on her own.  May is hired on Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre; but she needed to use the money Flora gave her to go home in order to get established.  May soon finds herself an integral part of the Floating Theatre and comes into her own.  When The Floating Theatre and Comfort's speaking tour cross paths, Flora uses May's place on a boat traveling from south to north for her own deed of transporting people to freedom, jeopardizing May's place in the Theatre.
The Underground River is a different look at how the Underground Railroad functioned and some of it's players.  Interesting characters and the unique setting pulled me in.  May's character has several quirks and might be on the autism spectrum if she lived in the present.  Her directfulness and untouched insight gave a very honest look at the people around her;  abolitionist Flora Howard is a bully using others to further her own cause, even Comfort kept May hidden and kept putting her down in order to raise herself up.  The true heroes, Leo, Donaldson and Hugo shine through May's eyes.  Though the book is about the Underground Railroad, the process and danger of the transport is really only half the story.  Most of the story revolves around life on the river and the theatre.  Through May's perspective, we get a good look at how the towns along the river in the North and South are all pretty similar except for the presence or absence of slavery and peoples attitudes about it.  There is also an intimate look into theatre life and the distinctiveness of a riverboat theatre.  The teamwork, diligence and creativeness of the entire crew is apparent.  I do wish May had been a willing player in the transport instead of being blackmailed, she had the compassion for the job and believed in the cause, but the fact that she is being forced marred my view a bit.  Overall, an exciting and insightful historical fiction read about the Underground Railroad and Theatre life.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

Ghosts & Exiles

Ghosts & Exiles - Sandra Unerman

Hugo is being tormented by ghosts. They are the ghosts he summoned himself in hopes they would befriend him and keep him company at his boarding school. However, the ghosts have done anything but, causing Hugo to become even more of an outcast and act out. Hugo's uncle, Stephen has become concerned about him and has turned to the mother of the two boys who have seemed to befriend Hugo at school. Tilda Gray and her boys, Nicholas and James seem to understand Hugo's problem more than Stephen can comprehend. Tilda Gray's husband came from the land of Spellhaven where magic was used regularly, a gift from the spirits and unseen inhabitants of the land. However, Spellhaven is no more. The spirits are now free and there are those who would like to use their powers again. When Hugo's ghosts attract the attention of a Spellhaven native who is using the spirits for evil. the boys, the Gray's and Stephen get pulled into the world of the Spellhaven natives, the Exiles club and the Unseen spirits that still roam then land.

I did not realize that this was a second book in a series and I think it would have helped me a lot to read the first book, however I was still able to understand everything. I was pulled in by Hugo's ghost problem, although it is Tilda who pulls everything together for me. Her nature was sweet and surprising considering the danger her children were in. I enjoyed the fantasy elements with the ghosts and the spirits, especially Tilda's interactions with Thistlebeard. I did get confused for a few parts in the middle especially with Lyulf, but was able to pick things back up. Part of the suspense was not knowing who to trust throughout the story, although I'm still not sure about a few characters. Overall, Ghosts and Exiles is a good combination of suspense and fantasy for young adult to adult readers. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

All The Ever Afters

 All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother - Danielle Teller

Agnes is the third daughter born to a serf in an English village. When she is still a child she is sent to work at Aviceford Manor in town as a laundry apprentice. The laundress she works for simply gives Agnes all the work there is to do. While things seem hopeless Agnes cuts out a place for herself and chooses to work wisely instead of hard. Through her intelligence and cunning, Agnes finds her way up in the world to serve the abbesses mother, Lady Wenslock at Ellis Abbey. While at the abbey, Agnes is wooed by the messenger, Fernan and becomes pregnant. Together, they are sent away and Fernan is ordered to care for her. Agnes once again creates a better life for herself by learning how to brew. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Agnes is once again forced back to Aviceford Manor as a servent, this time she is an adult with children of her own and she is able to be a nurse to the master's daughter, Elfida or Ella as everyone calls her. Still endeared to Sir Emont, Agnes soon finds herself as Ella's stepmother. Ella proves a wistful child, lost in her own mind and intentions and is given anything she wants by her father. Agnes tries her best to temper Ella with hard work and life lessons like her own daughters, but Ella's beauty and station in life eventually get her everything she wished for. 

Set within history and the confies of women's roles, duties and expectations at the time, the story of Cinderella's step-mother unfolds. I have always enjoyed fairy tale retellings especially when they are rooted in reality. Agnes' story reveals how traditional beauty is favored, how your station and gender affect opportunity and choice and most of all how stories evolve. With lavish writing and elegant prose, I was pulled me in to Agnes' world. I was constantly impressed with Agnes' ability to pull herself up and carve out a place for herself in a world where she could have easily been forgotten. In this harsh time in history, we are pulled out of the fairy tale element by the realities of Agnes' life. Most of all, by her want of freedom and never seeming to quite achieve it. Cinderella's 'ugly' step- sisters were also given context. Charlotte and Matilda were enchanting in their own right and I would love to see where their life went as well. By seeing Agnes' background, it provides a stark contrast to Cinderella in every way as well as a basis for the injustices that Cinderella had endured. Through seeing the other side of the story, we go deeper than good vs. evil and the tale of happily ever after; perhaps, Cinderella isn't the only one to receive her ever after. A meaningful story that combines history, fairy tale and strong female leads, All the Ever Afters is one of my favorite reads so far this year. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.

A Handbook For Beautiful People

A Handbook for Beautiful People - Jennifer Spruit

Marla is a 22 year-old waitress/ medical assistant who has had a difficult life. Born to a addicted mother, Marla has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her younger brother, Gavin is deaf. Marla bounced around in foster homes and worked as a prostitute until she found a friend in fellow outcast, Dani. Now, Marla and Dani look after each other. Marla is finally beginning to feel like an adult while holding down her two jobs and entering into a relationship with Liam. However, Marla soon finds herself pregnant and looking through the options of abortion, adoption and motherhood. Marla invites Gavin to visit when she is pregnant and getting ready for the arrival of the baby. With Gavin's arrival, she learns that his life has not been easy for him either. Gavin and Dani also enter into a relationship further complicating the balance. Despite everything Marla is doing to keep her head above water, the world has other plans and everything takes a turn for the worse all at once.

A Handbook for Beautiful People provides a raw look into the lives of very real and heartfelt characters. I was very interested in reading a book from the perspective of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome. Marla is an astonishing and well written character. At every turn, Marla's surprised me with her faults, accomplishments, missteps and decisions she was able to make. Though it seemed as if her life were a series of mistakes and drama, Marla was able to shine through. More than once, it seemed as if Gavin might steal the show. Gavin is strong and supportive, but is still working on who he is while being hearing impaired. Gavin's journey was amazing in itself, I think there could be a whole separate story there. My only complaint was that the writing style quickly changed points of view, and it would sometime take me a few sentences to make sense of everything again. The supporting characters around Marla and the events in her life create one big beautiful mess. With twists, turns, breaks, floods, a baby and a decision, Marla's journey is unique and satisfying.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.