July 31, 2017

Book Review: Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society in this stunning series starter that fans of Downton Abbey will love.

Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever...

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey

There are elements in Summerset Abbey that did remind me very much of Downton Abbey - besides the titles, the time period, and having three "sisters" at the center of the narratives.  There is also an upstairs-downstairs contrast, as Prudence is forced to be a lady's maid once her beloved benefactor dies while Rowena and Victoria continue living as the gentry.  Victoria reminds me very much of Lady Sybil, in that she is vivacious, independent and the most loving of the girls. 

Despite the similarities, however, Summerset Abbey has enough of its own unique merits to stand apart from the comparison. Once I got a few chapters in, I was fully invested in what happens to these three (Rowena not so much because she seemed a bit cold).  Some of it is predictable, even the twist that I saw coming from the outset. However, there is a development at the end which left me very puzzled as it came out of nowhere. The author seemed to have sacrificed one of her characters for an illogical turn of events - something that character didn't even need to do, but I suppose complicated the next book's plot. And, in case you didn't know, as I didn't (grrr), this is the first of a series and ends in a bit of a cliffhanger. 

July 24, 2017

Book Review: The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

Source: Vine

Publication Date: July 25, 2017

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.

Really all I needed was the comparison to, and the blurb by, Kate Morton: “An enthralling story of secrets, sisters, and an unsolved mystery.”  Like Black Rabbit Hall, The Wildling Sisters immediately captivated me – I read it one sitting.  I skipped breakfast, ignored the beautiful spring morning beckoning me for a long walk, and immersed myself in Applecote Manor for four hours.  

The UK version of this novel is titled The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, which turns out to be the tragic mystery shadowing the Wilde sisters’ fateful summer of 1959 and the present, where Jessie and her family have bought Applecote Manor.  In both narratives, the ghosts of the past loom larger than the living, haunting them.

“’You know those brilliant memories, memories of being young, that get stronger as the years pass? ... They’re the things that settle in the very soul of a girl.  The idea of a memory being something that is over, in the past only, is quite wrong, just another grown-up delusion, isn’t it? … A memory is a living thing; it breathes beside you, Jessie, it sits on your shoulder, replays itself over and over…”

The prose is sharp and delicious – I devoured it eagerly.  I fell in love with the Wildling sisters – beautiful Flora, sharp-tongued Pam, invisible Margot and baby Dot. And too, I fell in love with Applecot Manor – the very picture of an English country manor, perfect for an idyllic summer full of longing and dark secrets. 

July 10, 2017

Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Confession: When this first came out, I actually shunned it just because of all the buzz and hype because I am such a contrarian. The masses couldn't possibly be right, can they?  Yes, I was acting a little bit of a Gold. Plus the description just sounded like every other would be Hunger Games dystopian novel out there - derivative and ... a society stratified by colors, really? 

And yet one day, four days ago to be exact, a copy happened to fall into my lap and upon reading the first page I was instantly, irrevocably HOOKED. I write this now having ripped through the entire trilogy in THREE DAYS. 

Did I surreptitiously read it on my phone at work? YES. Did I battle exhaustion trying to read one more chapter into the late, late night despite loving sleep almost as much as chocolate? YES. Did I pounce on every vaguely bookish person I know and blather with the crazed look and incoherence of a fanatic about this novel, despite not even being a sci-fi reader? YES.  

Don't be put off by the proliferation of all caps in my review. I haven't been this excited about a book in such a long time, plus I was in a bit of a reading slump, having been adrift in a sea of discarded books. So you must forgive me.

Okay, I will concede that the comparisons to Hunger Games and the Lord of the Flies have merit. Not only that, there are heavy Greek and Roman allusions. There are recognizable, familiar elements. This is after all a classic Hero's Journey. The lowly Darrow, motivated  by grief and revenge, manages to rise to the highest strata - to even the realm of the gods.  

It is not original and yet it is. Like Sevro and the Howlers and the rest of the House of Mars, I want to follow Darrow and see what next audacious step he takes. I was constantly surprised, on the edge of my seat trying to see how he would win or recover from a failure. 

I'll admit there are problems. The female characters do not seem fully realized. There's a helluva lot of rape going on. But even with its flaws, Red Rising slayed me. I was all in from the first line to the last. I got the next book after a hundred pages in. 

One thing I am thankful for, having come into this series rather late is that I had the entire trilogy at my disposal, reading one right after the other, without that agonizing long wait in between.  

So far, Red Rising is probably #6 (out of 35) in my top reads of 2017. 

July 3, 2017

Book Review: Cinder & Ella by Kelly Oram

What would you do if your anonymous Internet best friend turned out to be Hollywood’s hottest celebrity?

Cinder458: Your blogaversary is coming up, right?
EllaTheRealHero: Do all those Hollywood friends of yours know you use words like blogaversary?
Cinder458: Of course not. I need your address. Got you a blogaversary present.

Cinder got me a gift?
My heart flipped.
Not that I was in love with my Internet best friend or anything. That would be utterly ridiculous. The boy was cocky and stubborn and argued with everything I said just to be infuriating. He also had lots of money, dated models—which meant he had to be hot—and was a closet book nerd.
Funny, rich, hot, confident, book lover. Definitely not my type. Nope. Not at all.

It’s been almost a year since eighteen-year-old Ella Rodriguez was in a car accident that left her crippled, scarred, and without a mother. After a very difficult recovery, she’s been uprooted across the country and forced into the custody of a father that abandoned her when she was a young child. If Ella wants to escape her father’s home and her awful new stepfamily, she must convince her doctors that she’s capable, both physically and emotionally, of living on her own. The problem is, she’s not ready yet. The only way she can think of to start healing is by reconnecting with the one person left in the world who’s ever meant anything to her—her anonymous Internet best friend, Cinder.


Hollywood sensation Brian Oliver has a reputation for being trouble. There’s major buzz around his performance in his upcoming film The Druid Prince, but his management team says he won’t make the transition from teen heartthrob to serious A-list actor unless he can prove he’s left his wild days behind and become a mature adult. In order to douse the flames on Brian’s bad-boy reputation, his management stages a fake engagement for him to his co-star Kaylee. Brian isn’t thrilled with the arrangement—or his fake fiancĂ©e—but decides he’ll suffer through it if it means he’ll get an Oscar nomination. Then a surprise email from an old Internet friend changes everything.   

Cinder & Ella is a sweet, wholesome young adult/new adult contemporary romance. It is a predictable but enjoyable quick read. I like this take on the Cinderella fairy tale, where the prince is a secret nerd and he and Cinderella bond over their mutual love of fantasy novels and movies. Ella is half-Hispanic, independent and strong young woman. Their spirited online interactions were believable .

I liked that the characters where not one-dimensional or black and white, but more complex. The author presented two sides to every character, even the seemingly villainous ones.