Review: A Heart so Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Title: A Heart so Fierce and Broken

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Genre: fantasy, fairy-tale retelling

Source: Barnes and Noble

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

The curse has been broken and Prince Rhen is finally free. But trouble looms for Emberfall. People have heard of the rumored true heir and Karis Luran is threatening the kingdom again. Worse, Grey, Rhen’s loyal guardsman, has gone missing.

After killing the enchantress, Lilith, and discovering that he is the heir, Grey has gone into hiding. With no desire to challenge Rhen, all he wants is to live his life in peace. But when he’s discovered, he’s forced to make a choice that he doesn’t want to make. With new friends by his side, he must ally himself with Karis Luran’s daughter, Lia Mara, who is desperate to convince him to make his rightful claim to the throne not just for justice, but for the good of Emberfall itself.

I loved this book. When I read A Curse so Dark and Lonely, my two favorite characters were Harper and Grey, and I was thrilled to have a book all about Grey. I continued to love him through the whole of this book. Grey has been a royal guardsman for hundreds of years at this point. He’s loyal through and through, strong and steadfast. He has a hard time letting go of that identity once he’s free. He’s also been trapped by magic for time untold and is, understandably leery of magic. Through the book, he goes through a journey from being afraid of it to embracing his identity as a magic user. I loved every moment of his journey.

Lia Mara was also an instant love for me. She’s the eldest daughter of Kari Luran, but has been passed over to be queen in favor of her younger sister. She’s accepted it, but feels that she still has a lot of offer. Lia Mara is smart, practical, and a bit impulsive. She’s a little desperate to prove herself and make her ruthless mother proud. I really related to her and loved her POV chapters.

My only slight stumbling block was the romance. Now, I liked the romance and was glad when it advanced, but while I felt all the tension and excitement with Lia Mara, I was less sure of what Grey was going through. Now, part of it was the nature of the beast: Grey is more reserved and careful. But, honestly, I felt his battle with getting himself to drink was more explored than his feelings for Lia Mara. The little hints we got at the beginning, like him noticing her eyes or her figure, were amazing. But it felt like it went from 10 to 100 without a lot of struggle. One of the things guardsmen were denied were family and love, so I’d have like to see him struggling more.

Overall, I loved this book. I liked the journey they all took to get from the beginning to end. I liked the romance, even if I wish there was more or deeper exploration on Grey’s side, and I loved the characters. Kemmerer wasn’t afraid to go to some dark places to show the trauma that Grey, Lia Mara, and Rhen have suffered and have to deal with. It was great and I can’t wait for more.

I highly recommend this book. If you liked A Curse So Dark and Lonely, I think you should read this book ESPECIALLY if you liked Grey more than Rhen. This is not a kind book for Rhen, and while I hope he gets his redemption in the next book, if you like him best, you might not like this book. But read it anyway. 🙂

Review: A History of Madness by Rebecca Crunden

Title: A History of Madness

Author: Rebecca Crunden

Genre: dystopian, sci-fi

Source: author

Series: The Outlands Pentalogy (#2)

After coming back to the city for a cure to the sickness he and Catherine Taenia had contracted, Nate is now imprisoned, facing execution, and ignorant as to the fate of the rest of his friends. But, after a strange and unexpected meeting with the king, Nate’s sentence is commuted and he’s sent to a work camp for five years. After learning the fate of his beloved Kitty, Nate breaks out of prison and rescues her, deciding that five years is too long to late. Together, with Zoe and Tove, they escape to the Outlands, where their adventures only just begin.

I highly enjoyed the second book in this series. Questions that I had about the world started to be answered, although I suspect there are more answers in the rest of the series. I loved getting to know the people in the Outlands who call themselves the Radiants and see themselves as being chosen by God. And I loved to death reading about how they viewed the people who lived inside the kingdom. Engus is probably my new favorite character and I loved his interactions with everyone.

I wish there had been more Kitty in this book, although she was the star of the last one, so I understand why there wasn’t. It liked getting into Nate’s head and seeing how he viewed things. I did feel like I never quite broke through the exterior of him, though. I know he things and feels very deeply, but the writing didn’t quite make me feel what he was. I wish there had been a more visceral connection between me and him, if that makes sense. But I still really like him and love the way he talks and interacts with the other characters.

My only disappointment was what happened to Kitty. What happened to her was realistic and totally believable, but I was just sad about it. My last memory of her from A Touch of Death was one of strength and defiance, and it was disappointing to see that she wasn’t able to keep up that defiance. However, despite all that happened to her, she’s still so incredibly strong and fierce. I love that she goes after what’s right for her, even when it’s a difficult decision. I can’t wait to read more of her.

I would recommend this, especially if you like dysoptian worlds. The characters are likable, the writing is engaging, and the ending of this is fantastic. It’s a great cliffhanger that will make you want to keep reading. So, I recommend that you give it a try!

Review: Crashing Upwards by S.C. Wynne

Title: Crashing Upwards

Author: S.C. Wynne

Publisher: Wynne Wynne Publishing

Genre: m/m contemporary romance

Source: Amazon

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Harper Jones is a bike messenger, a profession he enjoys except for his jerk of a boss. His apartment is in shambles and inhabited by mice, he’s barely scraping by, but he’s proud that he doesn’t have to rely on anyone. He’s independent and likes it that way.

Sam Foster is the affluent son of a conservative senator. He’ll be allowed to come out… some day when it won’t affect his father’s campaign, but that day isn’t today. He has a little crush on Harper, who has delievered packages to Sam’s father’s office before, but he can’t get up the guts to talk to him.

And then, he accidentally hits Harper with his car. Now, Harper is banged up and not able to take care of himself. Sam takes it upon himself to make sure Harper gets the care he needs… and, in the process, falls in love.

Now, the two need to navigate the rocky road ahead of them and Sam needs to find the courage to stand up to his father and live life on his own terms.

So, this is a perfectly serviceable contemporary romance, which, granted, is not my go-to genre. But it was sweet and cute. But not much more. I liked Sam lot and really enjoyed the way he moved into Harper’s life and took care of him. Harper was okay, but he was kind of a stereotype of a touch, independent man. I never felt like I knew him very well. But, honestly, the book was largely forgettable to me. It was cotton candy: sweet while reading it, but dissolves immediately when finished.

It’s not by any stretch of the imagination a bad book. It just didn’t wow me or stick with me very long after I read it.

Yes, I would recommend it. If you like sweet, light, fluffy romances that pass the time in an enjoyable way, this is a good book for that.

Review: Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan

Title: Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes

Author: Jessica Pan

Publisher: Doubleday

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir

Source: library (Hoopla Digital)

Publication Date: May 28, 2019

Jessica Pan is a shy introvert- a shistrovert, as she calls herself. But, after having a breakdown in a gym sauna, fully dressed and crying over an issue of Men’s Health, she decides it’s time for a change. She’s jobless and all her friends have moved away, so she makes a list of things to do that will break her out of her shell: solo travel, improv, a public speech, and talking to strangers on a train. Before long, she’s afraid that’s she’s taken on too much, but, determined to see it through, continues on with her plan. She really wants to find out, is life easier for an extrovert? And how will she survive this year?

This was an enjoyable read. I liked Jess’s journey from being incredibly shy and withdrawn to learning to expand her boundaries. Her various experiments were fun to listen to, although I do wish she’d slowed down her speech a couple times. She’s a very fast talker, a fact she acknowledges in her book, and a couple times it was hard to understand her. Still, that didn’t detract from the book overall, and even added some character.

I had hoped the book would give me some advice on how to meet more people and make deeper connections with them. I’m fairly withdrawn even when I’m with people, more of a listener than a talker, which is odd, because I love to talk. In the book, there’s advice on some questions to ask and how to make deeper connections, but I can’t really remember them and am a loss on how to do it in my life. Still, the sense I got was that this was less self-improvement and more memoir, so there really didn’t need to be actionable steps. I just wish there had been.

Overall, I enjoyed listening and looked forward to my drives so I could listen to the next part every day. Looking forward to it definitely means the book did something right.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about people as they tackle one year challenges, this is a good book to add to that collection. If you’re an introvert looking for reassurance that extroverting isn’t that bad, give it a try. And if you’re an extrovert looking to understand what’s going on in a introvert’s head, this is an excellent book to read.

How do you identify: introvert or extrovert? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

Title: The Beautiful

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Genre: YA, horror, paranormal fantasy

Source: Purchase (Barnes and Noble)

Publication Date: October 8, 2919

Celine Rousseau has fled from her life as a dressmaker in Paris to a convent in New Orleans after a traumatic event. Hoping to start a new life, she struggles to find her place in the convent, as her skills as a dressmaker aren’t in high demand. Then, a woman named Odette, commissions her to sew a costume for a masquerade ball. Celine agrees and finds herself swept into a world she’s never dreamed of. Odette is a member of a mysterious underworld called La Cour des Lion, and Celine quickly becomes entangled with them, especially after catching the eye of the leader Sebastian Saint Germane. The two clash and attract each other, an attraction that quickly becomes suspicion when the body of a convent girl turns up on the doorway of Sebastian’s club.

Now, Celine finds herself both a suspect of the murder and the object of the murderer’s obsession. People connected to her start dying, and she’s determined to uncover the truth. The truth, however, comes with a devastating price.

I really liked this book a lot because I loved Celine so much. She’s strong and dark and a little twisted. She’s a misfit that’s not quite trying to fit in as much as find the place where she belongs. When she discovers La Cour des Lion and Bastien, she’s intrigued and enamored and feels very comfortable. She feels her own desire for power is met in Bastien’s, and she fits easily into the world.

I also really liked her friendship with Pippa, another girl from the convent. Celine is hiding a dreadful secret and it’s a heavy burden for her. She’s afraid to open up, but also desperately wants to. I like her tentative overtures of friendship towards Pippa, and how they are met with welcome and understanding.

The setting was amazing, too. The supernatural and New Orleans has been done, but that doesn’t meant it can’t be done again. And Ahdieh does it so well. New Orleans on the cusp of Lent, with the parties and parades and decadence that surrounds the upcoming week. It made me desperately want to be there and experience it in a way I didn’t even get in my reread of Interview with the Vampire. It was just so vivid and rich; I felt like I was there.

My only slight knock to the book is that I was completely confused at the ending. Now, this may not be the book’s fault. I was completely convinced the bad guy was one character, and then it wasn’t… but maybe it was? I didn’t quite get who the antagonist was and what their motives were. I don’t know if I didn’t read closely enough, I wasn’t willing to give up what I thought, or it just really didn’t make sense. I don’t know. But, I ended the book baffled, but pleased I’d read it and looking forward to the next in the series.

If you like atmospheric books with strong female characters, sexual tension, and vampire-like creatures, you’ll enjoy this book. And if you get the ending, let me know, because… I think I need to read it again. Not that it’d be a chore. 🙂

Review: The Self-Care Solution

Title: The Self-Care Solution

Author: Jennifer Ashton, M.D., M.S.

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: self-improvement

Source: library

Publication Date: December 30, 2019

Dr. Jennifer Ashton is an ob-gyn and top medical correspondent for Good Morning America. In January one year, she announced on air that she was having a dry month – thirty days of no drinking. By the end of the month, she felt so good and inspired, she decided to set up monthly challenges for herself including push-ups and planks, drink more water, eat more plants, and walk more. By the end of the year, she felt fitter, healthier, and happier than she could remember being in the past.

Part memoir, part self-improvement, The Self-Care Solution is a light, informative, and entertaining read.

I loved this book. Between the topic and Ashton’s narration on the audio book, I loved listening to it and implementing her advice. At first I wasn’t sure if it’d be for me; I don’t drink, and therefore couldn’t really relate to her “dry month” challenge. However, once we got past January and her challenges branched out, I was hooked. Even though she does things month by month, I’ve rushed ahead and have been trying to incorporate some of her challenges in my daily routine. I’m up to 16 push-ups and 1 minutes of planks. I’m drinking 96 oz of water a day and I’ve started walking during my lunch time.

This book is similar in content to The Wellness Project by Phoebe Lapine, but I enjoyed this much better. It was written in a more engaging manner and a lot easier to follow for me.

I also liked the mixture of memoir and advice. Each chapter starts with Ashton’s story, then delves into the science before turning to how the reader can accomplish the same challenge.

If you like books on self-improvement or books about people tackling challenges during their year, this is one for you. I highly enjoyed this book and hope others give it a chance.

If you were to try and improve one habit for thirty days, what would it be? Let me know below!

Review: Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown

Title: Modern Girls

Author: Jennifer S. Brown

Publisher: Berkeley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Source: borrowed from Mom

Publication Date: May 1, 2016

Dottie Krasinsky is a modern girl. She’s a bookkeeper in Midtown Manhattan who’s just gotten a promotion, has a steady boyfriend, Abe, with whom she’s madly in love, reads all the latest fashion and home magazines, and has a group of girlfriends with whom she regularly socializes. At the same time, she’s a good Jewish daughter to her immigrant parents on the Lower East Side. However, her life is turned upside down when she finds herself pregnant after a drunken night with a charming and totally unsuitable man.

Rose Krasinsky, Dottie’s mother, has had five children and assumes that she’s done. She’s anxious to get back to her own life of social activism. As a young woman, she’d been on the front lines protesting and rabble rousing and, now, with tensions rising in Europe, she’s ready to get back to it. And then, disaster strikes: at forty-two years old, she finds herself pregnant once again.

Both mother and daughter are in impossible situations and have to navigate a changing world, making choices they never thought themselves capable of.

I am so glad I finally read this book. I kept putting it off as my TBR list grew, but I finally made time for it, and it’s really a gem. As a Jewish person removed from my heritage, I like reading about Jewish families and how they navigate the world. This book was rich with descriptions of Sabbath, food, Yiddish terms, and the Jewish immigrant experience. It also explores the differences between the families on the Lower East side and the more wealthy families in Manhattan and how they navigate being Jewish in the modern world.

Beyond the Jewish aspects, it’s just a great story. I really felt for both Dottie and Rose and loved reading their unique perspectives on life in their voices. To Dottie, at the beginning, her mother is quaint and old fashion, very traditional, and living in the past. When you read from Rose’s perspective, though, you see a woman with strong beliefs and passions who is determined to put her stamp on the world and make it a better place. Like Dottie, she views herself as a “modern woman” who is settled in the new world and navigates through with confidence.

Truth be told, I liked reading Rose more than Dottie, although I did enjoy both POVs. Dottie is so headstrong and determined to fix all her mistakes herself. While admirable, she’s also very young and doesn’t always think things through. Rose was more steady and thoughtful in her decision, although she runs into trouble as well. Maybe it’s just my age showing, but I related more to Rose even though I haven’t had five children while living in a two bedroom apartment.

This book has a vivid setting, wonderful characters, and a gripping story. It was hard to put down and kept me engaged the whole way through.

I recommend this one two levels. One, if you’re Jewish or interested in Jewish life, this is a great book to read and a picture of that life. And, two, if you like reading realistic historical books about the 1930s and see a slice of life, as fraught as it is, then you’d like this book a lot.