Review: On the Fence by Kasie West

Title: On the Fence
Author: Kasie West
Rating: ★★★★

On the Fence

I’m not usually a fan of romance novels. They just aren’t my thing. Most of the time. However, there are a few authors that I will read time after time, book after book, because they can actually write romance that doesn’t make me roll my eyes. Kasie West is one of those authors. She is able to create a sweet story that could fall into the cliché and ridiculous. Falling in love with your neighbor? Faking a life to make others happy? I’ve read those. Kasie West, though, makes those plots feel fresh and sweet in her novel On the Fence.

Charlie is the only girl in a house of males. She has three older, protective brothers, a father who doesn’t have the slightest clue how to raise a girl, and her mother died when she was young. When she gets a speeding ticket, she gets a job at a boutique to pay it off and inadvertently falls into the world of dresses, makeup, and other assorted female things. She doesn’t hate this world; she just doesn’t feel like she’s entirely herself in it. She begins dating a boy who doesn’t know her true self, the sports playing, anti-skirt Charlie who’d rather play sports than watch them. Charlie’s late night chats with her neighbor and friend Braden start to mean more to her than she thought they would and she becomes torn between what she thinks she should want and what she actually wants.

I liked Charlie. I’m not as quite into sports are she is, I’d rather watch than play, but I used to be her. I still don’t care too much about what I wear, how I do my hair, or if I’m wearing makeup or not. I enjoyed reading Charlie’s journey as she moves from being comfortable in her own skin, to questioning if who she is makes her worthy, to finally accepting herself again. I could tell that she didn’t feel like herself when she was in the boutique world. She wonders if she might have been like that had her mother lived, but in the end she is who she is and she’s happy with that.

Braden was sweet. He’s not my favorite book boy, but he’s not bad. I did enjoy his relationship with Charlie’s family. He’s already part of it, being a friend of Charlie and her brothers, but there’s possibility for a new dynamic as the story progresses. I only wish we could have seen just a little bit more of the story after the actual end of the story. Not much, but a little bit more. Maybe one more short chapter?

My only real problem with the book has to do with the cover, and that isn’t really West’s doing. The girl in the dress doesn’t represent who Charlie really is. It’s a beautiful cover, but it’s not quite right for the book.

On the Fence is a simply sweet teen romance. It’s not overloaded on the drama, it has amazing character growth, and it’s just a good read. This is definitely a book for anyone who wants a book that leaves them with a smile at the end.

If you’d like to read On the Fence, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Title: The Butterfly and the Violin
Author: Kristy Cambron
Series: Hidden Masterpiece
Rating: ★★★★★

The Butterfly and the Violin

By now, it should be no surprise that I’ll read anything that is related to history. Second only to the turmoil of the European royal families, World War II era works fascinate me. The extreme honor and horror that came out of one war has always pulled at my heart. When I read the description for The Butterfly and the Violin and read there would be a connection, I knew I had to read it. My only hope was that Cambron would be able to weave the past with the present in a beautiful way. She succeeded.

The Butterfly and the Violin tells the story of two women, separated by decades and only connected through a painting. Sera saw a painting when she was younger that connected to her in a powerful way. She grew up thinking about that painting, and as an adult, she devotes much of her time to searching for that painting. Adele is the star of Austrian high society. She plays violin for the Vienna Philharmonic until it is discovered she helped smuggle Jews out of the country with a fellow musician. She is sent to Auschwitz, where her only chance of survival is her ability to play violin. As long as she can play, she has a chance.

Adele is the woman in the painting. Her story, from beginning to end left me feeling raw. She begins the novel with such hope and love, and being in the concentration camp clearly begins to strip her of that. She realizes that she didn’t know as much about the world as she thought she did. She knew how horrible the world had become, but it hadn’t really clicked in her mind yet. It’s one thing to know, but it’s another thing to actually understand. Decades later, as Sera searches for the painting with the aid of William Hanover III, the painting causes Sera to search herself for how she wants to fit into the world. It was wonderful how these two women were connected.

The story itself was beautiful. Adele’s fall from glory may have caused others to give up on finding anything good in life, but it didn’t for her. She found reasons to continue trying to live. Even in the direst of situations, she tries to find a glimmer of hope. Sera has focused for so long on her career and this painting that every other aspects of her life have fallen to the background.

The only part of this book that had me really worried was the fact that it is a Christian book. Both women address God and question His role and purpose in their lives. Without becoming too preachy or heavy, Cambron placed little pieces of Christianity throughout the book. Especially in Adele’s case, her faith made me think. She is a Christian woman in a camp built to destroy Jews. There could have easily been added tension there, but from the beginning it is clear that Adele does not care what religion a person is, as long as they are kind and moral. The religion was perfectly woven into the story, in my opinion.

The only thing that bothered me was I wanted more of Adele’s story. Not because I felt like it was needed, but because I wanted it. Every time something happened to Adele, the time would switch and I’d be left wondering what would come next for Adele. Sera’s story was great and well written, but just because I’m a history nerd, I wanted more of the historical story. This complaint really has no reflection on the quality of the story. It’s just my personal preference bleeding in.

The Butterfly and the Violin is a beautifully written story about two vastly different women tied together by one of the worst times in human history. This is a wonderful book for anyone who loves history, and even if you don’t, Adele’s story of love and bravery will bring you nearly to tears by the end of the novel. It’s lovely and gorgeous, even in the face of the ultimate ugliness.

If The Butterfly and the Violin sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
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Indiebound

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Thomas Nelson Fiction, for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

Title: The Fever
Author: Megan Abbott
Rating: ★★★

The Fever

I thought The Fever sounded like a thriller of a book. Something is making girls sick and no one really knows what it is. Panic ensues. I thought it would show how society could fall apart when fear takes hold. And that was there, but I still ended up feeling a little let down at the end.

Deenie lives with her brother, Eli, and father, Tom. She’s a good student, Eli is a star hockey player, and Tom is a popular teacher. Their lives aren’t perfect, but they’re happy for the most part. And then Deenie’s friend has a seizure in class, igniting frenzy. After that, more girls at the school are falling sick with an unexplainable illness. It’s only affecting the girls, and the first connection is made to the HPV shots they have all been getting. And then one girl falls sick that didn’t get the shot. Panic erupts.

The story is told from Deenie, Eli, and Tom’s points of view. Each has a different perspective of the story, from the girl just wondering when it will be her, to the brother wanting everything to be okay, and the father just wanting to keep his daughter safe. I never really felt connected to any of the characters, though, and that made it a little difficult to connect with the book. I felt bad for each of them, sure, but I never felt like I was in the novel.

The plot of the novel wasn’t what I thought it would be. First I was worried it was going to be a commentary on vaccines (and given my health issues, anti-vaccine agendas bother me), and then I thought it’d be a commentary on how poisoning nature ends up poisoning ourselves. So I was a little thrown when the actual cause was revealed. I didn’t feel like it fit the rest of the story. It seemed quick and easy to wrap things up the way they were. From the panic and build-up of the novel, I was expecting something more.

In the end, The Fever was a fine book. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped, but it certainly wasn’t a bad book. It is well written, and if I was looking for a book dealing with relationships, I think I would have enjoyed it more. I was just looking for a thriller that would leave me blown away, and this wasn’t it.

If you think you’d like to read The Fever, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
Audible
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IndieBound

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

Title: Sisters of Treason
Author: Elizabeth Fremantle
Rating: ★★★★

Sisters of Treason

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd. The History Channel (before it turned into vaguely history related reality show channel), and more recently H2, are the channels I spend the most time watching. I will read almost any historical fiction novel I come across. I like to read history books for fun. When I was supposed to select history classes to fill a requirement for my college degree, I asked if I could take more history classes and have them count as electives. They do.

But despite knowing of the Grey sisters, I admit to only reading extensively on Jane Grey. Her life was one that saddened me immensely. I hadn’t thought to read of the two other Grey sisters. So when Sisters of Treason appeared, I knew I had to read it. Sisters of Treason looks at the lives of the two younger Grey sister and how Jane’s short rein as queen impact them for the rest of their lives, despite not playing a part in the plot.

Katherine is the middle sister and ruled by her emotions. She wants to love and to be loved. She flirts whenever she can, but loves with all she has. She loves court life, but doesn’t want to follow in Jane’s footsteps. Despite having the reputation of being the superficial and not as bright sister, she is smart and can see the world in a way her family can’t. She wants to trust, but knows she can’t.

Being the youngest, and being physically deformed burden Mary. Instead of looking at life as being completely unfair and giving up on everything, she learns to make up for her physical looks with her intelligence and wit. She sees the world in a more pessimistic view than Katherine does; yet she rarely wallows in it. She wants to be seen for more than her looks, and despite knowing that her future does not hold everything she wishes it would, she finds a way to make each day important.

The story of these sisters breaks my heart. Because they represent a threat to the throne, they are never safe from the wrath of the queens, or from people who would rather see them on the throne. Katherine has no aspirations to be anything more than a courtier. Mary wants nothing more than a quiet life away from court. They just want to be safe and have a life that makes them happy. Their stories, both fictionalized in Sisters of Treason and true to history, show that to be close to the crown is to always be at risk. The closer they are to power, the more jeopardized their lives are.

Sisters of Treason is a fantastic look and examination of the lives of the younger Grey sisters. They are never able to escape their family’s treason, and their lives are forever changed. The pressure they are under made me feel for them, and wish they were anyone but themselves. Yet, they are content with the people they are, despite having treason hang over their heads. This is a wonderful historical fiction novel and definitely worth a read, if you enjoy the genre or the time period.

If Sisters of Treason sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
Audible
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IndieBound

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

Title: The Boleyn Reckoning
Author: Laura Andersen
Series: The Boleyn Trilogy
Rating: ★★★★★

The Boleyn Reckoning

Okay.

Deep Breath.

Okay.

I’ve had a little while to compose myself, and I thought sleeping on it would make the jumble of thoughts in my head make sense. But I woke up just as jumbled and happy and sad and emotional as I fell asleep. I knew going into The Boleyn Reckoning that my heart was going to get crushed. There were too many possible ways for things to go wrong and only a few ways for things to go right. I thought I was prepared. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong.

Dominic and Minuette are married. William doesn’t know; he still believes he’s betrothed to Minuette, despite her commoner birth. William has just survived the smallpox, but it’s left him physically and emotionally scarred. Elizabeth is feeling the tensions rise along the Catholic and Protestant division in England and she knows there’s only so much time before something snaps.

I continue to love Minuette, although her character undergoes a major transformation in this novel. She is used to be the lighthearted one of the group, the one that provides happiness to everyone else. Her happiness comes second to her friends. She’d do whatever necessary to make the lives of her friends easier. In the past, this only meant being there and providing light. In this novel, it means burying pieces of herself, making her nearly unrecognizable to her friends. She becomes hardened by life, and even though pieces of the old Minuette are there, she’s forever changed by the events of the novel.

Dominic is still one of my favorite characters. He’s loyal, even to the end. His one act of disloyalty is marrying Minuette, but I can hardly fault him for doing what his heart wanted him to do. Loyalty to Minuette won out over loyalty to William in that moment. Yet, through the rest of the novel, he remains focused on supporting William and being the friend William needs.

William. Oh, William. Being King has changed him, and not for the better. The power and paranoia has gone to his head. He gets rid of every threat, whether it is necessary or not. He is more vengeful than in the past. But he’s also hurting. The three friends he thought he could count on forever-Minuette, Dominic, and Elizabeth-have betrayed his trust in different ways. He feels isolated and alone, without the support he depended on to rule fairly.

Elizabeth really finds her power in this novel. She’s always been a strong woman, but she has to take even more control in this novel. She has to decide which she loves more, her brother or her country. She’s forced to take actions that go against William, but will serve the country better. But through it all, she wants to remain friends with Minuette, As Minuette rises higher and higher within the court, it’s clear Elizabeth is mourning the loss of a friend. They are still around each other, but Minuette has become protective of herself, and that ends up blocking Elizabeth from being close.

The plot of the novel had me tense. I actually snapped at people when they tried to talk to me. I had to know what was going to happen. Tensions were so high and William had become so mad with power that I was almost afraid to but the novel down. I was anxious and I cried. I had to set the book down and take some deep breaths. I even screamed into a pillow at one point. I was on edge up until the last pages. And I loved it.

I am going to miss Minuette, Dominic, Elizabeth, and William more than I can put into words. This is the first alternate history series that I wish had been more true than not. I was so invested in these characters that it’s hurting a little to say goodbye right now. This is a series that is a definite must read for anyone who loves history, but also likes to ask What if? I loved this series and can’t wait to read more from Andersen.

If you’d like to read The Boleyn Reckoning, you can purchase it here:
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Audible
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IndieBound

Thank you to NetGalley, Ballantine Books, and Laura Andersen for advanced copies of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

Title: The Things You Kiss Godbye
Author: Leslie Connor
Rating: ★★★★

The Things

The Things you Kiss Goodbye really threw me for a loop. I was not expecting to feel such strong emotions as I read. Bettina’s story filled me with happiness, dread, and hope. Don’t read the synopsis for this book and expect a surface level love triangle. That’s not what you’re going to get.

Bettina is the only daughter in a pretty traditional Greek household. Her father is the head of the house, making everyone’s decisions. He keeps Bettina on a short leash, but when Brady Cullen asks her on a date, Bettina’s father surprisingly agrees. The first part of their relationship is sweet. Brady is a doting boyfriend, wanting only to make Bettina happy. Then summer starts and their time together is interrupted. When school begins again, Brady is different. He’s no longer sweet. He’s emotionally abusive, venturing into physical abuse sometimes. Bettina runs away from him during one such incident and meets Cowboy. He’s much older, but his car shop provides a safe place for Bettina and soon, something develops between them.

I know there will be people who read this and consider Bettina to be weak. And maybe she is. But I can understand why she is the way she is. She has been taught to respect her elders, especially her father. Her father is tough and has taught her to, basically, suck it up when things happen to her. Plus, dating Brady gives Bettina a little bit of freedom she’s never had. Her father thinks Brady is a good guy, and tells Bettina it is up to her to keep him happy. So even though Bettina knows what Brady does isn’t okay, she has a hard time convincing herself it’s reason to leave.

Cowboy represents more than just a love interest in this story. He is safe. He is respect. He is the person who shows Bettina she has more value than others place in her. She gives herself value. It’s because Cowboy treats her with respect, and shows her that she can be important, that she starts to fall in love with him. I loved the slow build between them. I didn’t want a relationship to happen right away. The sweet little moments as they becomes friends were better than anything else that could have happened between them. It was perfect.

My only complaint with the novel is that the ending felt a little rushed, almost. I wish there had been a little more dealing with Brady’s abuse. There’s a moment of set-up when Connor could have made a big statement about abuse, and coming forward to protect people Brady might date in the future, but it passed without being dealt with. That’s the only thing that bothered me about the novel.

The Things You Kiss Goodbye is not a book for everyone. It deals with abuse and if you have trouble getting behind Bettina, then this will be a tough read. You’ll spend a majority of the novel frustrated because she won’t do what you say. But for the right kind of people, who can stand behind Bettina and want to support her, but also understand where her head is at, this is a book that will gut you in the best way. It’s raw and real, but so, so good.

If The Things You Kiss Goodbye sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
Audible
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

Thank you to Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

Title: 17 First Kisses
Author: Rachael Allen
Rating: ★★★★

17 First Kisses

This was a little gem of a book. The synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. It’s about a lot more than Luke. It’s about a family finding a way to move on, friendships being tested, and trying to find out who you are in the midst of being a teen.

Claire is part of the popular group of kids at school. Her best friend Megan basically runs the social scene. Claire has had 13 first kisses by the time she’s a sophomore in high school and that’s branded her with the title of slut. She’s worked hard for two years to fight beyond that reputation. So when Luke arrives to town, and both she and Megan start to like him, things get tricky. She has to decide who means more to her: her best friend or a chance at teen love.

I liked Claire. She was a little naive, but it worked. She had to grow up fast at home, taking care of her family after tragedy strikes, and she didn’t have the chance to completely be a teen. Her first kisses are shown through little stories between chapters and it was interesting to see her progression through them. She’s by no means a slut, but teen years are difficult and that’s the name she’s given. When Luke arrives, she feels an instant connection. His home life isn’t great either and she feels like they can really understand each other. But for the sake of her friendship with Megan, she agrees to not do anything. But events happen and their friendship is really put to the test.

Luke is pretty to look at, but when he opens his mouth, you can smell the rotten insides. He starts out sweet, but I could tell right from the beginning something was going to go wrong. He was a little too perfect, but it appeared like that was done on purpose. As for how the book turns out, I had a feeling through the entire novel that it was going to turn out a little like it did.

I am glad the friendship between Claire and Megan was really the main part of the story. Both girls are good friends with a few negative qualities. They’re both insecure, despite being at the top of the social food chain. It’s clear they each cherish their friendship, but sometimes things get in the way. I couldn’t help but want their friendship to work. They both make mistakes and reading how they overcame those challenges was fun.

17 First Kisses is a sweet, touching story about a girl growing up and deciding what is important in her life. You can’t help but to feel for every single character as they try to weave through high school. The portrayal of friendships is not perfect, but you’ll still root for them. It’s definitely worth a read.

If 17 First Kisses sounds like a book you’d like to read, you can purchase it here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.