Friday, July 31, 2015

The Siege Winter

The Siege Winter
Ariana Franklin
and Samantha Norman

The Siege Winter: A Novel

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): England, 1141. The countryside is devastated by a long civil war that has left thousands dead. With no clear winner in the conflict, castles and villages change hands from month to month as the English king, Stephen, and his cousin, the empress Matilda, battle for the crown.

Emma is the eleven-year-old redheaded daughter of a peasant family. When mercenaries pass through their town, they bring with them a monk with a deadly interest in young redheaded girls. Left for dead in a burned-out church, Emma is one more victim in a winter of atrocities until another mercenary, Gwil, an archer, finds her by chance. Barely alive, she cannot remember her name or her life before the attack. Unable to simply abandon her, Gwil takes her with him, dressing her as a boy to avoid attention. Emma becomes Penda—and Penda turns out to have a killer instinct with a bow and arrow. But Gwil becomes uneasily aware that the monk who hurt his protégée is still out there, and that a scrap of a letter Emma was found clutching could be very valuable to the right person . . . or the wrong one.

Maud is the fifteen-year-old chatelaine of Kenniford, a small but strategically important castle she's determined to protect as the war rages around them. But when Maud provides refuge for the empress, Stephen's armies lay siege to Kenniford Castle and Maud must prove that she's every bit the leader her father was. Aided by a garrison of mercenaries— including Gwil and his odd, redheaded apprentice—they must survive a long winter under siege. It's a brutal season that brings everyone to Kenniford, from kings to soldiers to the sinister monk who has never stopped hunting the redheaded girl . . .

Review:  It was very interesting to read a historical fiction novel set in the 12th century, it's not an era that I know much about.  I enjoyed the descriptions of places, people, and all the little details that made the 12th century come to life.  Descriptions of battle were a little gory for me, and it was perhaps a tad dark for the mood I was in.  But overall, I quite enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 stars


Patrick Lee

Signal (Sam Dryden, #2)

Genre: Thriller

Summary (from Goodreads): With RUNNER, "Patrick Lee entered the ranks of the best action-thriller writers" (Kirkus Reviews)—now with SIGNAL, Patrick Lee and Sam Dryden are back and at the very top of their game.

From the bestselling author of RUNNER comes the next thriller featuring Sam Dryden, in the series that has captured the imagination of readers worldwide.

In the middle of the night, ex-Special Forces operative Sam Dryden gets a urgent call from an old colleague, desperate for his help in a last-minute secret mission. Without a moment's hesitation, Dryden agrees. The two race to a remote shack in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, where they break in, rescue four girls before the kidnapper can harm them, then flee into the hills just seconds ahead of the arriving police and FBI team.

It's then that Sam Dryden learns the real secret behind this mission. His former teammate has been working security of a very special, very secret government project. A project that led to the development of a device which revealed what would have happened to the kidnapped girls if they hadn't intervened as they did. But as Newton's laws predict, for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. There are some very bad people determined to get their hands on this device, and every time Sam uses it, now matter how well intentioned, there are hidden and unintended consequences. Consequences that threaten to rip apart his very world and everything that he holds dear.

Review:  The science fiction aspect of this book was a tad more confusing than that of his previous books, but I still enjoyed this fast paced action story.  What I typically like about Lee's books is that he integrates the science fiction so seemlessly that the story seems like it could really happen, and this one didn't feel quite as real.  Regardless, Dryden is a great hero who is fun to read about,
the story was interesting, and I read this very quickly.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Beekeeper's Ball

The Beekeeper's Ball
Susan Wiggs

The Beekeeper's Ball (Bella Vista Chronicles, #2)

Genre: Romance

Summary (from Goodreads): #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs returns to sun-drenched Bella Vista, where the land's bounty yields a rich harvest…and family secrets that have long been buried.

Isabel Johansen, a celebrated chef who grew up in the sleepy Sonoma town of Archangel, is transforming her childhood home into a destination cooking school—a unique place for other dreamers to come and learn the culinary arts. Bella Vista's rambling mission-style hacienda, with its working apple orchards, bountiful gardens and beehives, is the idyllic venue for Isabel's project…and the perfect place for her to forget the past.

But Isabel's carefully ordered plans begin to go awry when swaggering, war-torn journalist Cormac O'Neill arrives to dig up old history. He's always been better at exposing the lives of others than showing his own closely guarded heart, but the pleasures of small-town life and the searing sensuality of Isabel's kitchen coax him into revealing a few truths of his own.

The dreamy sweetness of summer is the perfect time of year for a grand family wedding and the enchanting Beekeeper's Ball, bringing emotions to a head in a story where the past and present collide to create an unexpected new future.

From "one of the best observers of stories of the heart" (Salem Statesman-Journal), The Beekeeper's Ball is an exquisite and richly imagined novel of the secrets that keep us from finding our way, the ties binding us to family and home, and the indelible imprint love can make on the human heart.

Review:  This book was fine, but it didn't keep my attention.  I have enjoyed other series by Susan Wiggs, so I thought I'd give her new series a try.  Unfortunately, I started with the second book in the series, not realizing that there was a book that came before it.  While this is a stand-alone book, it makes a lot of references to the adventures that the characters had in the previous book, and I felt like I was missing out by not having read it.  That aside....

 The descriptions of setting and food are simply lovely, and more than anything, this book makes me want to travel to Napa or even Italy.  But I'm not buying the characters - Isabel seems too good to be true, and the romance that is very slowly developing between her and Mac (I'm 2/3 of the way through the book, and Isabel is just now admitting that she may be interested in Mac) feels unsubstantiated.  Plus, about 75% of the book is written in the present, and the other 25% is written as a memory that Isabel's grandfather has about his involvement in the Danish resistance during World War II.  Those parts are fascinating, but could use more detail - perhaps that could have been a separate book?  The jumping between times was too distracting for me.

I just realized what my problem is with this book - there are too many interesting story lines, and the author couldn't go in depth enough about any of them.  I think the book would have been better if it had focused only on the romance, the cooking school, the wedding, the beekeeper and Isabel's past.  Or, I suppose, it could have focused on Isabel's grandfather's past, Isabel's cooking school and her romance.  There was just way too much going on.

Again, maybe I'm growing out of romances...

Rating: 2.5 stars

Silver Thaw

Silver Thaw
Catherine Anderson

Silver Thaw (Mystic Creek, #1)

Genre: Romance

Summary (from Goodreads): From the New York Times bestselling author of the Coulter and Harrigan Family novels comes a brand-new contemporary romance series about first love, second chances, and hope reborn…

After years of living in fear of her husband, Amanda Banning has left him and moved to Mystic Creek, Oregon, for a fresh start. But she’s having a tough time providing for herself and her six-year-old daughter. Writing her secret yearnings on slips of paper and sending them into the wind helps her cling to the hope that things will get better…and that she can find happiness again.

Jeb Sterling has no idea that the handwritten messages he finds scattered across his land are the first hints that his life is about to change. Nor does he understand why he feels so compelled to help Amanda Banning and her daughter when a cold snap leaves them temporarily homeless. Maybe he’s inspired by Amanda’s courage or perhaps by her beautiful brown eyes. Either way, the man who once renounced love suddenly finds himself willing to do anything for the pair. Amanda seems to have given up on her dreams, but Jeb refuses to quit until he makes her every wish come true…

Review:  Catherine Anderson used to be my go-to author when I was in the mood for a romance, but I think I'm done reading her new books.  She's already written a book about an abused wife running away from a psychopathic husband (Star Bright) and being rescued by a handsome cowboy, and this one felt like very much the same book, only with a different family.  The characters were flat, the romance was too quick, and the story was too convenient.  Am I growing out of romance novels, or has Anderson reached her limits as an author?

Rating: 2 stars

A Bean, a Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack

A Bean, a Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack
by William Joyce
Illustrated by Kenny Callicutt

Genre: Picture book, Fractured Fairy Tale

Synopsis: Here's Jack, a smallish boy.

Here's a smallish bean, last one outta the pod.

Here's a smallish giant kit with a great big problem.

But with a smallish wave of a wand and a lotta courage, maybe this pair can make a GIANT difference...Let's give it a go!
from the book jacket

Review:  It's hard to call this book based on Jack and the Beanstalk because nothing in the story is the same except for the fact that there is a boy named Jack and he plants a bean that makes a giant beanstalk.  That's about it in similarity.  They do introduce Jack to Jill at the end of the book and it turned into the nursery rhyme.  This was just a fun, quirky book full of humorous language.  I love that the author made up some words like math-ing, used the word soooo, used phrases such as "no great shakes" and that the illustrator added some fun language to his pictures too.  It's really hard to describe but it's fun and cute!  This book was written to be read aloud.  Now the one thing I didn't particularly like was the use of non standard words like atcha, lotta, outta, etc.  Since those aren't real words, I have a hard time with them being used in print.  Overall, this was a really fun read that my kids enjoyed.

Rating: 4 stars

Interstellar Cinderella

Interstellar Cinderella
by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Meg Hunt

Genre: Picture Book, Fractured Fairy Tale

Synopsis: Once upon a planetoid, amid her tools and sprockets, a girl named Cinderella dreamed of fixing fancy rockets.

With a little help from her fairy godrobot, Cinderella is going to the ball-but when the price's ship has mechanical trouble, someone will have to zoom to the rescue!  Readers will thank their lucky stars for this irrepressible fairy tale retelling, its independent heroine, and its stellar happy ending.

Review:  With having a kid in the house who is obsessed with space and both kids loving fractured fairy tales, I knew I needed to check out this book the minute I saw it.  I love the Cinderella is portrayed as doing something not typically done by her gender-being a mechanic.  I also love the fact that she has a great time at the ball talking with the prince but does not fall head over heels for him.  I won't give away the ending but it is definitely not the traditional happily ever after story that we get from most fairy tales.  The rhyme scheme keeps the story flowing.  The space setting is a fun twist to the story.  My kids definitely enjoyed this book!

Rating: 4 stars

The Silent Sister

The Silent Sister
by Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Mystery

Synopsis:  In The Silent Sister, Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.
from GoodReads

Review:  I picked up this book a while ago, read the first 10 or so pages and put it down and read several other books.  Then I returned to this book in the hopes that I would be more excited about the book.  I have to admit that it was hard to really lose myself in this book but I forced myself to keep reading because I generally enjoy Chamberlain's books.  Finally I became more invested in the story but it didn't take me a while.  I think my problem was that I didn't like any of the characters.  Riley was OK but I did not like her brother, Danny, has he seemed odd and very angry, not at all a loving brother.  The other side characters who come in contact with Riley were not portrayed well either.  Riley had uneasy feelings about them which made me not like them.  You ask then what kept me going.  Well, the mystery of finding out about Lisa's suicide, murder, disappearance, etc was compelling.  I wanted to know what really happened.  As you keep reading you get to know more and more of the truth about what happened and where Lisa has been for the last twenty-some years.  There was a lot lacking in the story to have me rate this book higher and I think it is entirely due to the likeableness of the characters.

Rating: 3 stars