The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .

Ireland, 1912 . . .

Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.

Chicago, 1982 . . .

Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago. – Goodreads

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic and the Oregon Trail. No clue why. This was on sale, so I snagged it.

Did you read those Dear America books as a kid? I did. I loved them and it was my first venture into historical fiction. Of course, I only liked the historical events I was interested in, but still. This book kind of made me nostalgic for those.

Let me get my least favorite parts out of the way – way too many damn points of view. I could not care less about Grace Butler, who seemed to only serve as a glimpse into Maggie’s future. And the random other characters on the ship (I honestly can’t remember their names) who fell flat for me. It felt like random fluff with no actual substance.

Other than the fluffy additional points-of-view, I enjoyed the book. It was a dramatic view into what the events aboard the Titanic may have looked and felt like for a young woman. There was a little bit of a love story woven in (though nothing crazy) and the story moved at a good pace.

Other than that, I don’t have too much to say about this book — I didn’t *not* like it, but I wasn’t in love with it, either. 3/5 on Goodreads.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

22840421The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England. – Goodreads

I just finished this and had to log-on ASAP to write a review — this is by far one of my top five favorite books of the year (so naturally I had to write it before 2016 timed out).

I’m not sure what initially drew me to this book — I think it came through as a Kindle deal or something. When I saw that Cynthia Hand lives in my town, I figured, eh, I like historical fiction, I suppose I’ll drop a couple of bucks for a fellow Idahoan.

Could not put down, to a point of the boyfriend complaining about how I look at my Kindle more than him (ironic, because he got it for me for Christmas). It IS a 500+ page book, though, so it took a small chunk of time to read (not complaining — I loved the book, and thus loved the length).

First things first (and our dear narrators let us know from the get-go) – this is not an entirely accurate depiction of history. In fact, it’s a bit more of a historical/fantasy mashup, with the Tudors, shapeshifters, and the like thrown in.

The story is told from three points-of-view — Jane, Edward and Gifford. Jane is a firey redheaded bookworm. Edward is the king, who is quite immature and has no idea how to run a kingdom (he’s also dying). Gifford is a lord’s son, who happens to turn into a horse.

Edward, who is dying, names Jane the next in line for the throne and mandates her marriage to Gifford (at the suggestion of his royal advisor, who is Gifford’s dad). Now, Jane and Gifford know of each other, but know nothing about each other — needless to say, they’re not pleased with their marriage.

The humor in this book — that’s what hooked me and what made it so enjoyable. I loved how occasionally the narrators would butt in with a quip or comment — it always fit, and was used sparingly.

I really enjoyed the character development — the three POVs worked well and I enjoyed all three characters. They had dimension and their chemistry was fantastic.

I also enjoyed the worldbuilding. Though set in old England, the fantasy elements with the Verities and Edians worked well.

The writing was also fabulous — in fact, I completely forgot the book was written by three different people.

5/5 for sure!

L

Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1) by Rae Carson

17564519Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift. – Goodreads

This. THIS.

It’s no secret, I’ve been a terrible reader lately — and by that I mean I haven’t been reading a whole lot. Partly due to life, partly due to having a hard time finding a book that really drew me in. This one did it. I downloaded the free Kindle sample and was hooked before the sample was over.

I wasn’t entirely sure about it when I started reading it — the old time-y dialogue and phrases kept making me shudder — it felt forced at first. After I settled in and became comfortable with the time period and main character, I began reading it in her accent and it became comfortable.

Before I delve into this review, let me warn you: I am obsessed with three historical time periods and/or events. Ancient Egypt, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Oregon Trail. Now, I grew up on the Oregon Trail — Bonneville Point (an Oregon Trail Historical Preserve) is literally down the street from my house. I used to be terrified of digging in the dirt because I thought I’d happen upon a skeleton or something. I never found anything, but I studied the Oregon Trail extensively during my homeschooled years. I also loved the hell out of the PC game.

Once Lee was on her way (after her parents are brutally murdered and she’s forced to flee — after all, if you have the ability to sense gold and people find out, they want to use you) and posing as a boy, I was sucked in and couldn’t put the book down. I loved that the whole posing-as-a-boy was done differently than other stories I’ve read. She was still proud to be a woman, but extremely upset at the fact that in that time period women were bartered back and forth and essentially owned by men. After her secret is out, she freely wears a skirt, shoots a rifle, and rides a horse.

On that note, Lee is a strong female MC — though she has her trials, she works through them realistically and believably. I really enjoyed her character, as well as the supporting characters. Even the ones who began as folks I disliked grew on me after a while.

The worldbuilding was decent, but I did find myself getting lost at where they were at in the journey. I would have liked some more orientation as to where they were in points — some familiar names would pop up — Fort Laramie, Fort Hall, etc. and I would know where they were, but that’s only because I know them.

Anyway, I’m obsessed. It’s fine. I’m definitely starting the second book ASAP. Added to my favorites and rated a 5/5.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

25324111NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. – Goodreads

A teenage Game of Thrones set in the Ottoman Empire? A female Vlad the Impaler? Whaaat?! Sign me up.

On one hand, this read was very unique, dark and brutal for a YA novel. I liked that. It was complex and graphic, two features that aren’t always typical for YA.

On the other hand, I kept getting distracted because it was so slow in so many parts. The epic battles were awesome, but in between I found myself straying away to do household chores instead.

I enjoyed the characters, who were all multidimensional and unique in their own ways. There are three primary main characters, whom I felt were all constructed and detailed well.

Lada is the main heroine and is pretty much what I would imagine a daughter of Cersei Lannister and Vlad the Impaler would be like: fierce as hell. Though the men make fun of her for being ugly, she kicks their asses in swordfighting and combat.

Radu is Lada’s younger brother—he’s the sensitive, gentle one. He’s the cuddly Samwell Tarly of this book. Sometimes I liked him, and sometimes I wanted to smack him and tell him to get a grip. Unfortunately, many other characters did that for me. His kindness definitely made the surrounding brutal events seem more…brutal.

Mahmed is the sultan’s son — Lada and Radu’s father is kind a jerk, and he sent them to live with the enemy (aka the sultan). Mahmed becomes their friend and peer, as they have to study with him and hang out with him.

White is a great writer — the book was certainly written well. The descriptions were fantastic, I could clearly see the world (cue Aladdin music). That being said, this book was SO not my cup of tea. It was so over-the-top brutal and graphic, and though the characters were complex, the story seemed to only prey on their weaknesses and hardships. I guess I’m a softie.

I rated this a 3/5 because the writing was great and the characters were constructed well. I think that many other people will enjoy this read, but it simply wasn’t for me.

L

I received a copy of And I Darken from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ella, The Slayer by A.W. Exley

25840278The flu pandemic of 1918 took millions of souls within a few short weeks.
Except it wasn’t flu and death gave them back.

Seventeen-year-old Ella copes the best she can; caring for her war-injured father, scrubbing the floors, and slaying the undead that attack the locals. ‘Vermin’ they’re called, like rats they spread pestilence with their bite. Ella’s world collides with another when she nearly decapitates a handsome stranger, who is very much alive.

Seth deMage, the new Duke of Leithfield, has returned to his ancestral home with a mission from the War Office — to control the plague of vermin in rural Somerset. He needs help; he just didn’t expect to find it in a katana-wielding scullery maid.

Working alongside Seth blurs the line between their positions, and Ella glimpses a future she never dreamed was possible. But in overstepping society’s boundaries, Ella could lose everything – home, head and her heart… – Goodreads

I’m gonna be honest—I hate the shit out of zombies. World War Z? Hell no. The Walking Dead? No effing thank you. Zombieland? Go away.

Cinderella retelling? Well, okay!

I loved this retelling, despite the icky ‘vermin’, or zombies. I though Ella was a great MC and I really enjoyed the story. Hell, it pulled me out of my reading slump and I finished it in less than 24 hours and I couldn’t put it down, so that’s always a good.

There’s a handsome love interest (a duke, not a prince), evil stepsisters, an asshole stepmother, and plenty of chores to go around—killing zombies just happens to be one of them.

I really enjoyed the slow build of the romance in this book. I was concerned that it was instalove at the beginning, but it was more instaattraction than anything.

I also loved the worldbuilding. There’s a definite twist of historical fiction, making this cross-genre novel different and interesting.

My biggest gripe? The number of typos and errors. I found myself getting distracted by them, which wasn’t cool.

In all, I really enjoyed this story! I’ll be trying more of AW Exley’s work. I really hope there are more installments in the Ella series, though, as the ending was left open-ended! 4/5 on Goodreads.

L

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

20983362passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever. – Goodreads

I read Alexandra Bracken’s Darkest Minds and enjoyed it well enough — but this has definitely become my favorite Bracken read. I’ll admit — the initial buzz around it had me nervous because I was worried that it raised my expectations, but in lived up to the buzz.

The POV alternates between Etta and Nicholas (third person). It gives us a well-rounded view of the emotions and what’s going on. It also got me completely attached to both characters.

Etta is from our era. She’s a violinist, and has no idea she’s a traveler until a series of events unfold to hurtle her back through time. Nicholas is an eighteenth-century sailor, who is also a traveler. Fate (and a common cause) brings them together.

The worldbuilding was great, and bits of it were fed instead of being completely dumped. I loved how the entire book was filled with different times and places. It also made me think about how the timeline would work, and what would happen if a wrinkle were to occur. Bracken did a great job at explaining how passages work and how time traveling works.

The characters were fantastic. Etta was sweet, tough and likeable—definitely a strong female lead who cares about the world and what the astrolabe means to it. Nicholas was a complete gentleman and so sweet, despite how people treat him based on the color of his skin. I felt for him immediately and hated the Ironwoods more and more as he shared his story.

The romance was also great. It wasn’t exactly instalove, but it did bloom quickly. If you’re not a fan of romance, this book probably isn’t for you. The romance was just as prevalent as the primary plot.

My only gripe with the book is Bracken’s writing. Her writing is beautiful, but I do feel that her writing is very fluffy—the book is 500-ish pages, but I feel that it could have been pared down to 350-ish. There were many long, flowery paragraphs that didn’t add much to the story but prose. Because of this, it felt very slow in parts of the story.

The ending was also terrible — only because it’s a major cliffhanger and you have no choice but to impatiently wait until the second book is released.

In all, I rated this book a 4/5 and highly recommend it!

L

Thank you NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review!

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Avery Roe wants only to claim her birthright as the witch of Prince Island and to make the charms that have kept the island’s sailors safe at sea for generations, but instead she is held prisoner by her mother in a magic-free life of proper manners and respectability.

Avery thinks escape is just a matter of time, but when she has a harrowing nightmare, she can see what it means: She will be killed. She will be murdered. And she’s never been wrong before.

Desperate to change her future, Avery finds a surprising ally in Tane —a tattooed harpoon boy with magic of his own, who moves her in ways she never expected. But as time runs out to unlock her magic and save herself, Avery discovers that becoming a witch requires unimaginable sacrifice.

Avery walks the knife’s edge between choice and destiny in Kendall Kulper’s sweeping debut: the story of one girl’s fight to survive the rising storm of first love and family secrets. – Goodreads

I finished Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper last weekend, and I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on it ever since. It’s very hard to explain exactly how I feel about it, but I will say that it was GOOD. I got really into it, and felt exactly how Avery was feeling (and I LOVED her name), especially about her mother. Her mother DROVE ME CRAZY. I wished many times that I could reach through the book and smack her. At the same time though, since I’m not a teenager anymore, I feel like I could see where her mom was coming from in taking Avery from her grandmother’s, and why she did everything that she did. She still annoyed me though. I feel bad for Avery that her mother wasn’t honest with her about getting her magic until… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll just leave it at that.

The story itself is suspenseful, and sometimes it moves quickly and sometimes slowly which I actually really loved because it kept me interested and intrigued. Once I picked it up, I HAD to know what was going to happen with Avery, and after Tane came along I HAD to know how his story would play out as well. I really loved Tane’s character and how he came to Prince Island, and the way that he helped Avery is exactly what she needed all along. It’s incredible how much one person can totally change your life, and that’s what they were for each other.

The only thing I really didn’t like was the ending. A certain plot twist occurs that, looking back on, I probably could have seen coming but it broke my heart nonetheless. I can’t say much more without giving it away, but I do wish that it had ended differently except the way everything ended up with Avery and her mom – that was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. Overall, I rated this book 4/5 on Goodreads and I definitely recommend it!

kiesha