Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review | An Endless Summer by C.J. Duggan

An Endless Summer by C.J. Duggan
Series: Summer #2
Publish Date: July 11, 2013
Source: Purchased

Find It:  Goodreads / Amazon

Sean looked out over the lake, squinting against the sunlight. He turned to me, his expression sobering as his eyes flicked over my face in a silent study.

“Come on Amy, I saved you once, I’ll save you again.”
I met his stare unflinchingly. “I don’t need saving.”
A wicked grin formed slowly. “Don’t you?”


After a rebellious summer night that almost claimed her life, Amy Henderson – the Onslow publican’s only daughter – is sent away to suffer a fate far worse than any other punishment:

Boarding School.

Three years on, a now nineteen-year-old Amy returns to Onslow for the summer. What once was a cauldron of activity with live bands, hot meals and cold beers, the Onslow Hotel now lies dark, deserted and depressing. All fond childhood memories of loitering on the hotel stairs and eavesdropping on customers’ colourful conversations are in the distant past.

How had her dad let it come to this?

With the new threat of putting the Onslow up for sale, Amy reluctantly turns to a local tradesman for help: Sean Murphy, the very same Onslow boy who saved her life all those years ago. With his help and that of some old friends, the task is clear: spend the summer building the hotel back up to its former glory or lose it for good.

In an endless summer, Amy soon realises that sometimes in order to save your future, you have to face your past, even if it’s in the form of a smug, gorgeous Onslow boy.
 
 (Goodreads) 

An Endless Summer by C.J. Duggan

My Thoughts:  After loving The Boys of Summer, I was excited to dive back into CJ Duggan's world of great friends and summers by the lake. An Endless Summer did not disappoint and honestly, I couldn't put it down while I was reading. I really do love this series. 

Once upon a time, Sean Murphy saved Amy Henderson from drowning. Then -- 

Amy Henderson has been away for about four years now, after her parents felt she needed to calm down a bit and sent her to the city for school. She's excited for summer - she's excited to return to the place she loves: her father's hotel, where she feels at home - to her friends, to those handsome Onslow boys...but when she arrives back, she finds that the hotel has fallen into serious disrepair. This bothers Amy because more than any other place, this place feels like home and she knows that the locals feel the same way. Since her father is spending time away in the city [rekindling his marriage] with her mother, Amy takes it upon herself to spruce up the hotel - like, completely re-haul it and get it in tip-top shape. This is far more than she bargained for this summer and it is a shame, really, because she knows her father has no clue how dire the situation has gotten - how far the hotel has fallen out of control. [She hasn't wanted to bother him because rekindling a marriage is serious business.] She is determined to fix things up, though, and she sets to work. To her surprise, the Onslow boys, headed by none other than Sean Murphy, help her out. Pretty soon, the hotel's renovation is a group effort, and Amy is not only having the summer of her life, but she is falling in love. 

-- 

Okay, so here's the deal. When I read the first book, which featured Tess and Toby, I was ALL IN. I loved Tess and I loved Toby and stick a fork in me, I'm done. I loved the rest of the secondary characters, but I had no clue how they would ever live up to those two. Here, though, I've gotten to know Amy and Sean, which is wonderful. Both of these characters stood out less to me in the first book, but now, I LOVE THEM. Granted, 3-4 years have passed since the first book's events have happened, and there has been some maturation and character growth and change. Really, Amy and Sean are so much fun. 

Amy is a almost a little much in the beginning of the story, maybe. But that doesn't last long at all. She's been away for a few years, in the city, and she seems to be the stereotypical wealthy girl, to me. When she comes back, no one is expecting this completely lovely, more mature young woman - all they can remember is young Amy. It takes everyone aback. Then she sets to work to restore her father's hotel, his life's work, and BOOM! everyone has this new respect for her - they just have to pitch in and help. Myself - I have to admit that I had a new respect for her too. She immediately pulled up her sleeves and got to work. Even though it felt pretty clear that her development as a character seemed a sure thing, what I loved was that it was steady throughout the story, even until the end. SO...even though I began to like her MORE early on, by the time I finished the book, I just wanted to hug her because I liked her so much. I also loved that she had weak spots and admitted them AND she had strengths and wasn't afraid to admit them as well. 

Amy has this main goal the entire time: the hotel, the hotel, the hotel. This is because right now, for some reason, her family is such a priority to her. Amy is able to keep her eye on the finish line because she never looses sight of her main goal, but she is able to incorporate other important things and people into her life. This is HUGE, I think, because everyone reaches a certain point in their lives when they step over the line from child to adult - sometimes we straddle it for a while - but Amy really does a service to coming-of-age here by demonstrating her work ethic and the reasons behind her decisions and such. She shows that she is able to manage multiple tasks and things, and I loved this. (I'm not always great at this!) I also loved the way she allowed people to help her - I think this is a great thing we all have to learn, when to delegate and when not to, etc. Amy is fine-tuning her growing up here right before our eyes - it is not only the romance aspect of the story that demonstrates this. 

Of course, the romance is very present in the story, and it is sweet and I loved it. The romance is called: Sean Murphy.

Sean has a little bit of a reputation throughout the community as a ladies man, and this is mostly due to his fame as a footballer and his good looks. The truth is that he has grown up a bit; he is actually a super-hard worker - he has a career outside of athletics, see - and this allows him to help Amy pretty easily...which allows him to nudge himself closer and closer to her, which is his end-goal anyway. HE LIKES HER. But the two of them are a little stubborn and it takes them a little while to admit these things to one another, when they are painfully obvious to us, the readers. 

I think that this is mostly Amy's story, but it belongs to Sean too, only Sean is a little more mature than Amy. 

Ultimately, I loved this story. I loved the slow romance between Amy and Sean, because if the truth is told, I think they both liked one another for a long time before this story began. I love the way Amy takes on hotel renovation and her friends + the community rallies behind her. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the way the cast from the first book shows up in a big way - I had grown to love them quite a bit during the first book. These are people that I could definitely see myself being friends with and wanting to hang around, so it stands to reason that I am happy that they are included in this book. I'm looking forward to continuing with this series - I have the third book and as well as some of the novellas on my Kindle - I'll be reading more about the Onslow boys soon. They're FANTASTIC summer reads. 

I recommend An Endless Summer and the entire Summer Series by CJ Duggan to readers that enjoy new adult contemporary, summer romances, and fans of Australian authors.

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An Endless Summer will appeal to fans of:

New Adult Contemporary 
Romance: Slowly developing. No triangle. 
Great friendships. 
Australian author.
Australian setting. 
Summer books. 

An Endless Summer by C.J. Duggan
is currently available for purchase.

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Summer Series: 

  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review | The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - with Audiobook Notes

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
Published by
Scholastic
Publish Date: January 1, 2012
Source: Book - Library, Audiobook - Bought
Find it here:  Goodreads / Amazon 


Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them--until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn't believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore. (Goodreads) 
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

My Thoughts:  I've read The Raven Boys once before, a couple of years ago. I read it while I was on a weekend trip to a nursing conference. It was an audiobook + print read and I FELL SO HARD for the story, for the boys from Aglionby Academy. I remember that when I was driving home, listening to those final few hours, I was gripping my steering wheel so hard and I had to pull over a few times to find the place in the print book and reread sections (love this, love this, love this). 

But after I reflected on the story and how much I loved it, I got scared to move ahead with the series. Petrified. I was so emotionally attached to the boys from Aglionby, and I was so fearful for what would happen in the future. I knew about the prediction that Blue would soon be falling in love, and I knew how she felt about those boys, and I knew that she would kill her true love if she kissed him. (This is not a spoiler - it is revealed early, early in the book.)

This is a recipe for the type of series that stops me in my tracks. Out of fear. I've thought about these characters often, fondly! But I've never pushed ahead...until now. Recently Daphne read the books and encouraged me to pick them up too. So I finally decided to move ahead. I'm still afraid because I've managed to remain spoiler-free and I don't know what happens. I've just completed a reread of The Raven Boys and I'm read to keep going. 

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Four Things I Loved About The Raven Boys: (because everyone has already officially reviewed)

1. The Boys. MY GOSH, these characters. While I've somehow managed to remain spoiler-free, thankfully, I have still seen a few of my friends mention their favorite. I LOVE THEM ALL, I really do. They're all so fully developed and well-rounded. Even though they're all likeable (or less likable) in their own ways, I can't get enough of them. MY favorite is Adam, because at this point, I think I understand him the most. His background is different than the other boys, but he has been accepted into their fold, and while he appreciates this, he is unsure if he will ever feel like he is one of them. He is a fighter, not with his fists, but in life - everything requires extra work for him, it seems, and it makes him so tired. Money is an issue for him, always, and I understand this because money really is an issue if you've ever been without it. He is a scholarship student, he works long hours while in school - these are things he doesn't like to talk about with his friends but are necessities to continue the life he is scraping to maintain. Adam doesn't always make the best choices, but who the heck does? His motivations are different, and I assume he still has an interesting story to tell. I'm not sure where he is headed in the rest of the series, but at the end of the first book, I still love him fiercely. I LOVE HIM. 

Gansey seems to be the favorite of everyone else, and I think that were I not listening to the audiobook, he could potentially be my favorite as well. He has such a good heart, he is a natural leader, and I love most everything about him. His loyalty to the people he cares about is unwavering and inspiring and is almost a fault at times. He feels to me like an old, quiet soul. Noah is the quiet one, the one that seems to hover in the background much of the time, but the one that, along with Adam, first stole my heart. And then there is Ronan, who is the wild card. I love him for who he is, with his attitude and problem-child persona. 

Each of these boys from Aglionby are an enigma unto themselves, and I love that about their characters. Each of these boys is not the entire story, I get that, but I'm so excited to find out more about these characters as I dive further into this series. Full characters make my heart pitter patter and this author does a phenomenal job at making my heart trip over itself.

2. The Audiobook. Good gracious, this is an incredible audiobook. It's like a really great story that is being read to me -I don't even have to do the work . Imagine the most decadent dessert out there and YES, this is it. Not a cheap, regular dessert, but a complete splurge. That's what every word feels like. On audio. And it is entirely due to the narrator, Will Patton. He always has a great voice for reading, but his characterization is TOPS. He gives the book the speed it needs, and he gives the boys their own voice. Yes, he gives them a literal voice, but what I mean is that he becomes each of them so well. And Blue, too, and the women of her household. I love the way he characterized them all because they became visible in my mind through his reading. I find myself wondering if I feel so strongly about them because of the way they are read - I wonder if my feelings would be a little different if I had read this book in print-only. 

3. The Setting. The book takes place in Henrietta, Virginia, which is nice. But I really love Cabeswater, with the trees and the magic there. The ley lines and the dreaming tree make the place come alive in the story, and even though I've read this book twice now, I'm sure I will read it again because I want to experience the Cabeswater scenes -- especially the scenes in which there are voices in the trees, be still my heart

I like trees, okay?

4. The Friendship. I can't say enough about my love for these boys. Part of it is that I love the way they have become family to one another. They all have things in their own families that have caused them to rely on one another for support and such, and it is so clear how much they love one another. When they meet Blue and become friends with her, she is easily swept into their fold, and I love this too. Maggie Stiefvater writes relationships well - all types of relationships, but in this case, I love the friendships portrayed in this book so much

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With all of the things that I love about this story - the four above and more that I didn't mention - I'm still a bit confused about the situation with Blue's family, meaning the women that blue lives with. I don't think other people find this part of the story difficult, because I haven't really heard other readers mention being confused by this part of the characterization. I think it is just me. There are just so man of them and they feel similar to me! I've had some discussion with Lauren, who is amazing with detail, and I'm excited to move ahead. I'm sure things will fall into place for me as I keep reading. 

I could truly sit and talk about this story here on the blog for a long time, but I would rather discuss it with people on social media or text or Goodreads or whatever BECAUSE there are so many layers to this story arc. I LOVE the way the first book ends because it isn't cliffhanger-y but there are certainly some open spaces. My heart beat wildly at several points throughout this story and I'm fully expecting it to continue throughout this series. I can't remember being so NERVOUS to continue with a subsequent installment! What will happen? Will the characters be safe? Will their friendships and relationships remain intact? I don't really know at all! And it is exhilarating and terrifying! This is the best type of reading, the best

I recommend The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater for fans of young adult fiction with supernatural components, fans of great friendships, and fans of the written word. I have learned that one can NEVER go wrong with Maggie's writing. Never ever. I have the next book ready to go and I'll be starting it as soon as I'm finished with this blog post. I'm nervous for myself and also excited, and I can't wait to discuss it with friends as I read. 

Audiobook Notes: The audiobook format of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is published by Scholastic Audio and is 11 hours and 8 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Will Patton, who is absolutely incredible in everything that he narrates, period. He is SO GOOD at giving personality and a voice to these boys from Aglionby Academy, it almost hurts. In particular, I love the way he gives Adam a voice, because of the way that Adam talks. I love all of the characters, really. I've discussed this above in my list. This is not an audiobook that you want to speed up, this is one that is meant to be savored not only because of Will Patton's charmed award-winning reading, but also because of the author's writing, which is lovely and captivating. I highly, highly recommend this audiobook for first reads and rereads, for purchase or library loan.

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The Raven Boys will appeal to fans of:

Young Adult Supernatural
Romance: Slow, sweet romance developing. 
Great setting. 
Great friendships. 
Great writing. 

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater 
is currently available for purchase.


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The Raven Cycle: 



Monday, May 25, 2015

Review | The Academie by Susanne Dunlap

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publish Date: February 28, 2012
Source: Publisher
Find it here:  Goodreads / Amazon 


When Eliza Monroe - daughter of the future president of the United States - discovers that her mother is sending her to boarding school outside of Paris, she is devestated. But Eliza is quickly reconciled to the idea when she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn't take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies - and that she's about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.

Loosely based on fact (the three girls really did attend finishing school at the same time), Eliza's coming of age provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and histories, loves and hopes of three young women against the backdrop of one of the most volatile and exciting periods in French history. (Goodreads) 

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap

My Thoughts:  In The Academie, Susanne Dunlap has taken real people (and a few imagined characters) and married real events and imagined events - this story is loosely based on actual history. What we have is an American girl that arrives at a French boarding school to find that two of her fellow students are closely connected to Napoleon Bonaparte - one is his sister, one is his stepdaughter - during a time of big political tension in France. As the girls become friends and as the American girl learns the refined ways of French society, there are shenanigans, there are some major politics, there is some romance, and there is plenty of drama. 

The main players are: 

-Eliza - daughter of future US President James Monroe
-Hortense - stepdaughter of Napoleon
-Caroline - sister of Napoleon
-Madeline - mixed-race actress at a local theater, not a student at the school
There are three alternating points-of-view telling the narrative - Eliza, Hortense, and Madeline. Caroline is the only one not telling the story, but she is a key player in it

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Okay, so here's the deal: overall I liked the story, but there are things that I liked and things that were merely okay. 

Setting. I liked the boarding school feel in the beginning of the book, and I wish it would have carried more seamlessly throughout the entire novel. Because the second part of the book feels so differently than the first part and because there plenty of long scenes that took part elsewhere, I feel a little hesitant to call this a "boarding-school book" although I'm sure others would still categorize it this way. 

Characterization. I like all of the characters, I genuinely like them - even the ones that are supposed to be less likable were enjoyable to me. However, there are so many of them that it was tough for me to get to know them as well as I like to. Also, there were instances where the author would call some of the characters by first name, and then sometimes use the last name for the same character - this was confusing to me and it took quite a bit of flipping back and forth (which sadly was not the most fun on an ereader). 

Romance. I get that the young girls during this time were already thinking ahead to marriage, I do. And I get that they often had to consider marrying according to what was best for their family, I do. But there were so many romances in this story because there were so many girls! There was some effort in keeping up with who loved who - and there was also some I guess I like him more than I thought and I misread his intentions, doggone it. I kept having to remind myself that the romance portion of the story was likely in keeping with the maturity level of the girls and with the time period in history. Honestly, though, with this particular set of flat-ish characters, the romances felt a little flat too. 

History. I love historical fiction and I absolutely LOVE history. Even so, I was not up-to-speed enough on the history of this time and place with regard to everything mentioned in this story. I stopped to research some of the phrases used and a couple of the people mentioned in the book, and the reading was a little easier after that. A brief explanation of these phrases (or use of context?) or indication of who these people were would have been so helpful! But the biggest thing that would have helped me regarding the historical part of this book would have been if the Author's Note had been included BEFORE the book rather than at the end. That way, I would have learned which parts were real and not real, etc. and this would have honestly made the book a little more enjoyable for me. 

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap, I think, fits best with a younger-young adult reading crowd. I say this because I think that my young girls would love this one because they would buy into all of it without question, where I was questioning things [and having to suspend my belief that 14-year-old girls would do some of the political things that these girls did]. At any rate, this was a fun read, but honestly not my very favorite YA historical fiction. I would recommend The Academie by Susanne Dunlap to a younger-YA reading crowd, to readers that enjoy French Revolutionary historical fiction, and to readers that enjoy a boarding school setting.

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The Academie will appeal to fans of:

Young Adult Historical Fiction
Romance: Several romances!
Great Setting: Boarding School in France, 1799
Alternating POV's

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
is currently available for purchase.

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Isn't this cover SO PRETTY? 

Do you love YA historical fiction?
Do you have a favorite?

I seem to have better luck with adult historical fiction. 


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review | No Better Man by Sara Richardson

No Better Man by Sara Richardson
Series: Heart of the Rockies #1
Published by 
Forever
Publish Date: May 26, 2015
Source: Publisher
Find it here:  Goodreads / Amazon 


When it comes to business, Avery King always comes out on top. So after a very public breakup, work is the perfect excuse to flee the Windy City for the gentle breezes of Aspen, Colorado. Her mission: acquire the land of a rundown mountain ranch. Avery expects an easy win . . . until she meets the rugged and irresistible rancher who won't give up his property without a fight.
Bryce Walker is stunned by the stubborn beauty determined to get what she wants. But what she wants is his last connection to the life he used to have. Bryce has plans to return the ranch to its former glory and no way will he sell his family home. Yet the more time he spends with Avery, the more her sweet touch makes him forget his painful memories. Now Bryce must decide whether living in the past is worth losing his future . . .  (Goodreads) 
No Better Man by Sara Richardson 

My Thoughts:  With a great setting and an enjoyable cast, the Heart of the Rockies Series seems to be off to a great start. I loved No Better Man, featuring Bryce Walker and Avery King. 

Bryce is about to lose the family land. The ranch is in debt and has fallen into disrepair after he was away for a few years following an accident for which he carries tremendous guilt and shame. Bryce has trouble seeing the bright side of things in the recent past and works nonstop to earn back what was lost while he was away. He doesn't want to lose the land, which is his family's legacy, but the bank and potential investors are watching as the date nears for him to turn over tons of money that he doesn't have. 

Avery has just been humiliated publicly by her ex-boyfriend after she refused his proposal. She has been sent to the ranch to assess the land and make an offer, and she believes that she can make the deal. However, when she arrives, she is surprised to see that Bryce is not entertaining offers. She is also surprised by his temperament, which is gruff and unreasonably grumpy. Determined to figure out the connection to the land, to change his mind (and complete the task her father has assigned her), and to see what is going on with Bryce, Avery begins investigating. The more she finds out, the more she likes both the ranch and Bryce. 

The longer she stays, the less she wants to leave. The longer she is around Bryce, the more she likes him. The more Bryce is around Avery, the more he feels again for the first time in years. 

Bryce and Avery have an instant attraction, which I can get behind. I love good chemistry and these two have it. I love the connection that Bryce has with his ranch, with his community and his friends there, and with his mother. Bryce is sexy because he likes to work with his hands, he has the support of people that have loved him through his tougher times, and he loves his mother without being too attached. When the story begins, he has already made some progress in working through his issues, but he still has some work to do. I'm glad when he allows himself the room to do this and I enjoyed reading how he fell for Avery through this process. It was not easy for him to open himself up to her, so I was happy for him when he finally found happiness. 

Avery has always been successful, I think in part because she wants to make her father proud. After her mother died, this became more difficult because her father retreated into himself a bit. Avery her never fully spread her wings and she has always sort of catered to her father, but I'm not sure that it ever occurred to her that she was not completely happy until she made it out to the ranch. I loved seeing her in this environment, in a slower-paced life. She embraced the community and Bryce's friends, partly because she loved it out there and partly because they're such great people that they befriended her right away. I loved the way she was able to look beyond her career objective to see the heart of the ranch, and the heart of Bryce and his mother - why the land was important to them - and she used this information to help her determine how she wanted to move forward with her own life. Watching other people with a sense of community and love made her want to have the same. It took guts and determination for Avery to step out and make some big life changes, but she did, and good for her.

In the process of all of these changes - Avery changing her life goals and the path she was taking and Bryce opening his heart to love again - these two quickly fell in love. While their falling seemed fast, it took a little while for the two to get it together and come up with a workable relationship. 

I love the setting and I enjoyed the secondary cast as much as I love this romance. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series to read about Bryce's friends (and Avery's too, hopefully). 

Bryce is a quiet hero and I like that. His strength is not diminished and he is not weak. I love his development over the story, and I love that it was tough for him. Avery is not quiet at all, but I love that she learned to live a quieter life. Her development is enjoyable as well. I recommend No Better Man by Sara Richardson for readers that enjoy romance stories with happy endings, small town romances, and books with great friendships. 


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No Better Man will appeal to fans of:

Adult Contemporary Romance
Romance: No triangle. 
Great setting: Aspen, Colorado
Great secondary cast.
Happy ever after! 

No Better Man by Sara Richardson
is currently available for purchase.


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Heart of the Rockies Series: 





 
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