Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: Child of the River by Irma Joubert

Child of the River by Irma Joubert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genres: Historical Fiction; Coming of Age; Christian

Pages: 400

Persomi’s dreams are much bigger than the world of poverty and deprivation that surround her in the Bushveld of the 1940s and 1950s in South Africa.

Persomi is young, white and poor, born the middle child of illiterate sharecroppers on the prosperous Fourie farm. Persomi’s world is extraordinarily small. She has never been to the local village and spends her days absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world around her. Her older brother, Gerbrand, is her lifeline and her connection to the outside world. When he leaves the farm to seek work in Johannesburg, Persomi’s isolated world is blown wide open. But as her very small world falls apart, bigger dreams become open to her—dreams of an education, a profession, and of love. As Persomi navigates the changing world around her—the tragedies of WWII and the devastating racial strife of her homeland—she finally discovers who she truly is and where she belongs.

A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Persomi’s English language publication solidifies Irma Joubert’s important place in the canon of inspirational historical fiction.




You know you've finished a good book when you come the end and your first thought is "but I don't want it to end!" That was me reading Child of the River. This was a really compelling read, rich in history and character development.

For those of you who aren't really readers of Christian Fiction, don't let those reservations keep you from reading this book, because this is the best kind of Christian Fiction. No sermons here. Rather than hitting us over the head with her message, the author lets her faith naturally seep into her writing, but you will notice themes of justice and doing what is right throughout this novel.

The writing was a little choppy in the beginning, but it started to flow better and become easier to read a few chapters in. Just like the protagonist, Persomi, this story really came into itself as Persomi grew older. The many characters were confusing in the beginning, and I felt a little detached from Persomi and the rest, but by the end it was the characters I most appreciated.

Persomi's growth as a character was amazing, and her story was never uninteresting. Her growth from a poor bywoner's daughter to a successful lawyer was something to see. I love a story that makes me really feel things, and this book had me smiling and worried and excited and confused. There were some slow parts, however, and those who are interested in a fast paced novel with lots of action should probably look elsewhere.

I loved the setting of South Africa during World War II, but I did feel like some elements of the setting and story could have been better explained. As I'm not familiar with this part of history in South Africa, it took me awhile to understand everything that was going on.

This book was translated from the author's native Afrikaans, which may have been why the writing felt just little "off" sometimes. That, and I read an ARC. But overall, it was very well written.

I love coming of age stories, especially ones that continue into the character's adulthood. This book shouldn't have surprised me so much, but it did. I highly recommend it.

Content: This book deals with prejudice and racism. It is absolutely clean.

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Standalone Novels


Today's "Top Ten" topic is to choose a past topic you missed out on. I chose Top Ten Standalone Novels!

Confession: I don't even know if this was a past topic, but if not, it totally should have been and I'm going to do it anyway. So here we go.

I hear a lot of complaints around the blogosphere about how many series and trilogies and duologies, etc. there are, and how little standalones we see getting published. When books that stand alone are such wonderful things! Series are too, of course, but it's nice to sit down with a book and know that you're going to get the full story, with a proper ending and everything--without having to wait for the next book. And the next, and possibly the next one, and so on.

SO. If you're looking for your next great read, but don't want to commit to a series, I highly recommend these titles. :D

My Top Ten Standalone Books


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (fantasy) 

This one was so compelling and beautiful. The writing and the characters will stick with you for a long time.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (fantasy)

Complex. Magical. Mysterious. Enchanting. This book's strongest points are its lyrical writing and beautiful imagery.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson (fantasy)

 If this book doesn't touch your heart, you're probably not even human. This is a spin on Peter Pan, but don't expect a typical fairy tale retelling (and ending). This one's unique.

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West (contemporary)

So, I recently binge read all of Kasie's books that I could my hands on.... and this one is by far my favorite. So. Much. Sarcasm. And a cute romance. :)

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip (fantasy)

It's been a looong time since I've read this one, but I just know I would still love it if I read it again. Which I will. Someday!

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (contemporary)

Another recent read that just blew me away. The pages flew by for me in this book about a girl with schizophrenia, and I was so caught up in Alex's story. I loved how everything came together.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (fantasy-ish, coming of age)

This story was definitely character-driven. It was mostly about Coriel's journey as a person, and I
loved it. A light-hearted comfort read!

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (historical)

This was fun, yet deeply moving. And 9-year-old Starla was a hilarious and likeable narrator.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (historical)

Again, it's been awhile since I've read this. But this is a story that stays with you.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (historical)

During World War II, a girl is forced, under Stalin's orders, to work in a camp in Siberia and suffers from cruel conditions. Beautiful and heartbreaking.




Have you read any of these? What is your favorite standalone novel? Do you prefer standalones or series? Also, leave me a link to your TTT!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genres: Historical Fiction; YA; Fantasy

Pages: 384



It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose "afflicted" blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn



Well, I loved this book.

It took me a little while for me to get into it and care about the characters, but once I did there was no turning back. And once I was halfway through I couldn't stop reading.

There were a lot of things to enjoy in this novel.

I mean, the friendship! Corinne and Ada had an awesome friendship. They were there for each other. They sassed each other. They had their ups and downs. They were definitely some strong female characters and I loved their sisterly bond.

And the budding of romance. I admit, Corinne and Gabriel seemed weird to me at first, but they had something cute and I was rooting for them in the end. And Ada and Charlie were adorable. The romance was well written, but it didn't overtake the story (or the friendship. Cuz that is what's important). Seriously, props to the author for this.

The Characterization. These were some well-written and complex characters. I wanted to share quotes with y'all so I could showcase just how awesome Ada and Corinne are, but the Kindle app deleted my highlights.... :( So, you'll just have to take my word for it.

ALSO. I love what the author said about her characters.


When I started Iron Cast, I decided to write about the women I knew to be real, not the one-dimensional caricatures to which we are frequently reduced. It was also important to me that Ada and Corinne have a friendship that wasn't riddled with the jealousy and competitiveness seen so often in popular media. I wanted to write something that reflected the friendships I have in my own life.

I just appreciate that. Thank you Destiny Soria!

So overall, great characters, great friendships, great romance.

As for the plot, it could have been faster moving, but it was enjoyable and there twists I didn't see coming. The magic system ("Hemopathy," it's called) was really interesting and, I thought, unique.

One thing did bother me, however. Now, maybe I was just completely blind, but I don't think the author threw in enough details leading up to the big reveal in the end. There was one fact she just kind of threw in there at the end, and I just wish I could have traced all the elements that made the plot come together throughout the ENTIRE story, but it mostly all came at the end. Not a huge complaint; I just thought it would have made for a tighter, more interesting plot.

To summarize, though, I thought Iron Cast was excellent. Definitely keep your eye out for this one in October!

Content: There might be some mild language. I would label it a clean read.

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Zombie Apocalypse Book Tag



I saw this tag on A World Between Folded Pages and decided to do it myself!

Here are the rules:
  • Pick 5 books (favorites or random but know the characters).
  • Write the name of the books on strips of paper.
  • Draw one piece randomly for it to be your book/choice
  • Open to a random page and use the first name you see to answer question 1.
  • Use the same book for question 2, but turn to a different page.
  • Repeat the steps 2-5 till you answered all the questions.


I just picked 5 well-known books off my shelf.  Now to meet my team. Here we go!


Cinder

1. The first person to die: Levana (HAHAHA. Well, that's convenient. Probably the team banded together to kill her before the zombies even could. We just killed off Levana for you, Cinder! You're welcome.)
2. The person you trip to get away from the zombies: Cinder (Uh, she's cyborg. She'll live.)


Inkheart


3. The first person to turn into a zombie: Capricorn (Oh my goodness, look all the baddies on my team! What unfortunate fates they are meeting.... I promise I did not rig this.)
4. The person that trips YOU to get away from the zombies: Meggie (I. am. appalled. And wondering why Meggie doesn't just read us into a book and out of this situation.)


Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

5. The idiot of the team: Harry Potter. Well, if Harry's the most idiotic of the team then I guess we're doing pretty well overall.
6. The "brains" of the team:  Albus Dumbledore. Big shocker.


source


The Selection


7. The team's medic: Maxon. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
8. The weapons expert: America. Right. Moving on, then.

                     Pride and Prejudice

9. The brawler: Elizabeth Bennet. I haven't read or seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but yeah, this is pretty great.
source
10. The Team Captain:  Mr. Darcy. YEAH, HE IS.


source

I tag Alexa @ Summer Snowflakes!

Question time! If you could choose a zombie apocalypse team of book characters, who would be your top five picks?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: The Lilly Stars by Erin Waters

The Lilly Stars by Erin Waters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genres: Historical Fiction; Coming of Age

Pages: 352

In a dimly lit room in an 1890’s tenement house on Delancey Street, Lilly brushes the hair out of her mother’s face as she lies languishing in the last stages of tuberculosis. Reluctantly, Lilly succumbs to her own exhaustion, falling asleep by her mother’s side as she whispers her last words.

Lilly wakes up in Connecticut’s vast countryside on a farm under the temporary care of Doctor Ashby, the doctor who tried to save her mother’s life. Feeling alone, she struggles to accept her mother’s death while adjusting to the new world she has found herself in, a world of uncertainty.

Forging relationships with Doctor Ashby and his family, Lilly discovers they are as much in need of her as she is of them, while her loyal and untamed friend, Laurie, never fails to bring life into her soul and adventure into her heart even in her darkest times. 


As Lilly is going through her mother’s things, she happens upon letters revealing a past her mother hid from her compelling Lilly to remember her mother’s last whispered words, exposing lies that Lilly built her life upon, forever altering her future.



Captivating and heartfelt, The Lilly Stars has wormed its way onto my list of favorite books. For me this was the ultimate comfort read, and it's one I will definitely revisit.

This is Lilly's story, written from her first person point of view. Following her journey after her mother's death, this story is ultimately about Lilly building relationships and finding a place of belonging. After going to live with the widower Doctor Ashby and his two sons, Lilly's wounded heart begins to heal, though she's not without blunders and mishaps along the way.

Erin Waters has a very fluent and effective writing style, making Lilly's story very personal and easy to follow along with. The Lilly Stars was slow-paced, yet I had trouble putting the book down and almost finished it in one day. It is a very character-driven novel, and the characters were so memorable and their relationships so tangible that I couldn't help but keep reading.

Lilly, loving and with something of a temper, was a flawed and sympathetic protagonist. Doctor Ashby was the perfect father for her, and I think there is more behind his character that has not yet been revealed. Ethan, sweet and silly, made me laugh, and I thought his friendship with Lilly was adorable. Laurie, Lilly's best friend, was the spunkiest thing and got her friend into quite a few scrapes. My absolute favorite things about this novel were the friendships and relationships between the characters. Especially Lilly and Ethan (I do hope they grow up and get married). I think the theme of friendship is at the core of this novel, and Waters executed it so well through these characters, who had their ups and downs but ultimately prevailed.

The mystery surrounding Lilly's parents, and the secrets Lilly's mother kept from her were never fully revealed (though I have my suspicions). The ending was left open, and I think the story is unfinished, so I will be anxiously awaiting a sequel.

One thing is certain, and that's that this book has not received the recognition it deserves. I highly, highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction and coming of age tales. This one will touch your heart.

**I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Top Ten Books I Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings on Goodreads






The Lilly Stars by Erin Waters | The Forgotten Princess of Elmetia by Rachel A. James | The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows



Ruined by Amy Tintera | Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin | The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill



Awakening Foster Kelly by Cara Olsen | Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl | Water Walker by Ted Dekker


Captives by Jill Williamson

Have read any of these? Any underrated gems you would add to the list?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes


Queen of Hearts
by Colleen Oakes


My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genres: YA; Retellings; Fantasy

Pages: 320

As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinah's furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath. 

Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


This is the story of the young Princess of Wonderland, soon to become Queen of Hearts, Dinah. You would think life would be a dream for the princess. The people should dote on her, adore her as their future leader. But that is not so.

Even Dinah's father, the king, has no respect for her. Since her mother died, she has been groomed to become queen, but she wonders if she will ever be treated like one. There are only a handful of people whom she feels comfortable with--a few servants in the palace; her very timely tutor, Harris; her somewhat mad brother, Charles; and her best friend and love, the future Knave of Hearts, Wardley.

Mmk. Let's get to it. I really liked this book. Here's why. *throws list at you*

  • DINAH. I just want to squeeze her. She'd probably bite me, but still. Dinah was an imperfect, quick-tempered character and I rooted for her for the entire book. She wasn't always likeable, but I think I understood her to some degree.* Her circumstances weren't ideal and, even though she made some bad choices and quick judgments, it was easy to sympathize with her. Dinah had a lot of compassion inside of her, even if buried deep. She loves her advisor, Harris--and her feelings for Wardley leave her raw. She's so human. She could be selfish. She was unfairly harsh to her sister, Vittoire. And it was just sad to know where she was heading--glimpsing good and evil inside of her and wanting the good to win, but knowing how everything turns out in the original story.
((* I dressed up as the queen of hearts for Halloween one year, and let me tell you, screaming "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS" at random small offenses is the best. Ok, so I'm not a fan of the actual heads rolling part, but in some small way I think I understand the queen of hearts. *nods*))

  • It's kind of dark. *shrugs* This is a positive for me. There are beheadings and torture and a lot of cruelty. Evil was real and prevalent in Wonderland.
  • The mystery. I have no idea how everything is going to turn out. I thought the mystery surrounding Vittoire and the king's plans was very interesting. At the same time, though, I feel this book left me with too many questions unanswered.
  • The setting. Oakes creates a really cool and creative version of Wonderland. 


But there were also things I wasn't a fan of.

The plot was definitely lacking something. The story felt very short too. I was invested in the story, but everything happened so fast that I felt like it ended before Dinah's story truly began.

I feel like many of the characters were lacking development as well. I loved Charles and wish his character had been explored further. We know next to nothing about Vittoire. And all we know about the King is that he's a despicable and evil man who only cares about his own power. Why is he the way he is? Who knows.

I liked Wardley, most of the time. He was sweet and protective, but also confusing. I didn't really understand his motivations, and I'm not sure I want him and Dinah to get together...

As for the "enchanting stranger," he barely made an appearance. I was a little disappointed with his part in the story.

So yeah, I wish there had been more development of the plot and more complex characters, but overall I really liked Queen of Hearts. Looking forward to the next book.

If you're interested in this book, I would say give it a try.


Content warning: Heads roll.