The Captive Maiden

Blurb: Happily Ever After…
Or Happily Nevermore?

Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke’s son, Valten–the boy she has daydreamed about for years–and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

I liked The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim #4) by Melanie Dickerson though it was the least imaginative of the retellings so far – or at least the first half was. It was Cinderella, the classic version, barely changed until the midnight escape from the ball which was when the story finally went an entirely different direction. I liked the story (jousting!) but there were several times I thought it stretched believability. The second half was interesting since it was covering new ground – except it got repetitive so the new ground was…not so new very quickly.

Specifically: I thought it was a real stretch to believe the bad guy (or his men) were able to sneak in, get in touch with evil girls, and kidnap Gisela all while soldiers were on guard searching. And then the escape, get caught, escape, get caught, escape… Was it just me or did Valten shorten their hiding every other sentence? They hide in the cave, he said, “We’ll hide 2-3 days.” They wake up, he says, “We’ll hide a couple days.” They eat breakfast, he says, “We’ll leave tonight”. So I can’t say I was surprised when they got caught after essentially *not* hiding. Most especially, the climactic ending made little sense to me. The random blindfold for no reason and then throwing them in a tower was crazy. Why would any sane bad guy leave his captives alone together? And then they escape (again) only to discover two more seconds and they’d have been rescued anyway. Honestly, I felt like the whole tower scenario was written just so there could be a “making out blindfolded” scene. Also, the big reveal at the end was too sudden. Some foreshadowing could easily have been worked in earlier.)

There was a moment during the grand climax that I expected something to happen and was  disappointed when it did not. I felt like there was an opportunity for a more complex resolution to occur and the author opted for the easy way out instead. The romance was sweet and funny but I never quite bought into it.  After 4 books, my feelings about the series have cemented – very cute but simple. I still love the series but they’re categorized as light YA romances in my brain now so I can stop expecting more complexity.

Do you ever have a hard time classifying books? (Does it even matter to you?)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Fairest Beauty

Blurb: A daring rescue.
A difficult choice.

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

I enjoyed The Fairest Beauty (Hagenheim #3) by Melanie Dickerson, though not as much as I liked the first in the Hagenheim series. The cover of the book immediately gives away which fairy tale it is based on, though the Cottage of Seven makes it pretty obvious, too. But I loved the unique spin on the cottage and its inhabitants. 

Sophie and Gabe are both likable character; Sophie a bit too sweet but Gabe was realistic – a bit immature and impulsive but very relatable. He starts the adventure without the best of intentions, mostly wanting to prove himself and get some of the attention he feels his brother monopolizes. But he grows quite a bit throughout the story. I was taken aback at one moment where Sophie lashed back at someone who  bullied her. While it was a perfectly human reaction, and really wasn’t too extreme, it was singular and jarring since she was so sweet the rest of the time.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, it’s fun and heavy on the romantic aspect of the story (even if nothing much happens outside of a few kisses) but it’s very simple YA.

How complex do you like your stories?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Merchant’s Daughter

Blurb: An unthinkable danger.
An unexpected choice.

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf’s bailiff – a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.

Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff’s vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf’s future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

I hate to say it but I really didn’t care for The Merchant’s Daughter (Hagenheim #2) by Melanie Dickerson though I did like the historical setup. I haven’t read many books set in this time period so the feudal system with the village working for their lord was interesting. Sadly, that was about the only thing I liked. It took me a long time to sort out the reason and I think it was mainly because there is a sad dearth of likeable characters in the story. Annabel is miserable; the bailiff is despicable; everyone around her is surly, mean, or depressing (including the hero). She has exactly one friend that I recall and he’s not really someone she can count on. Any likeable characters are so overshadowed I have completely forgotten their existence. The other Hagenheim books feel like sunshine, flowers, forests and meadows – they are airy, breathable, lighter books even during darker moments. This book felt like torch-lit, dank, stone manors – it was dismal.

I also didn’t feel the romance at all and even worse was when (slight spoiler!!) she confessed her love to him first. It may be old-fashioned but I tend to have issues with the woman approaching the man (though in well-done situations it may not bother me). I rolled my eyes through the entire climactic ending, too. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales and this retelling just didn’t come close to cutting it for me. Honestly, if this had been my first Dickerson book, I may never have picked up another. But since I loved The Healer’s Apprentice so much, I ended up jumping from this one straight to the 3rd of the series hoping it would restore my faith in the series.

Do you have any old-fashioned preferences when reading romance?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Replication: The Jason Experiment

Blurb:  What if everything you knew was a lie? Martyr—otherwise known as Jason 3:3—is one of hundreds of clones kept in a remote facility called Jason Farms. Told that he has been created to save humanity, Martyr has just one wish before he is scheduled to ‘expire’ in less than a month. To see the sky.

Abby Goyer may have just moved to Alaska, but she has a feeling something strange is going on at the farm where her father works. But even this smart, confident girl could never have imagined what lies beneath a simple barn. Or what would happen when a mysterious boy shows up at her door, asking about the stars.

As the reality of the Jason Experiment comes to light, Martyr is caught between two futures—the one for which he was produced and the one Abby believes God created him to have. Time is running out, and Martyr must decide if a life with Abby is worth leaving everything he’s ever known.

Replication: The Jason Experiment is the second book I have read by Jill Williamson and it confirmed for me that she is one of those authors I will read automatically.

For a book with such heavy topics, it handled everything with a light touch, keeping matters in the upper MG/lower YA range. I was on the edge of my seat the entire book – I may have read it in entirely one sitting – though there was also plenty of humor to keep it from getting too overwhelming. It was one of those books where I had to cheat (Yes, I did! I’m horrible!) and read the last page, because I was so anxious for the characters.

Abby’s faith was very central – the preaching to Martyr made sense but it also felt very heavy-handed a couple of times. There’s also a chaste romance (light kissing), some of it downright swoony, though I did have some qualms about Martyr and Abby considering she was the first girl he’d ever even met.

If I had any complaint about the book, it was that the ending was a little too fast and neat and the entire story was a tad simplistic. But that’s what makes it an MG/YA book, not one aimed at adults. If there is a sequel, I hope it explores Martyr’s faith as he matures since it was innocent as a small child’s (he needs to make his faith his own) and also the nuance of his relationship with Abby as he gets to know other girls and realizes he has choices, not just one option.

Do you ever cheat when reading?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Night Circus

Blurb: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

This book. Personally, it’s going on the shelf where I keep iconic, classic must-reads. I didn’t like the book but I loved the book. Does that makes sense? The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is pure artistry – I knew within pages that it was something different and special and a bit other.

As for my review… Firstly, the format of the book is unique as there are 3 different time-lines. One is present day and based on the reader’s perception. This timeline is basically poetic interludes throughout the story. The other two timelines are told alternating between chapters, though the older timeline has much more focus until they converge at the end. It’s a unique format but a good choice as it allows for the addition of a character at the end would have been jarring if the stories hadn’t been told concurrently.

The mythos is fascinating and eerie. Many of the characters are not the most loveable but they are (mostly) all sympathetic and likeable. Most interestingly, I thought the ending came full-circle in many ways, with characters having grown and yet taking certain similar steps anyway. (I know that’s vague but I really can’t be clearer without spoiling.)

What makes a book artistry to you?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Seeking Unseen

Blurb: It may be Angel’s wish… 

…but it’s Melinda’s journey.

It’s been two years since Angel learned the magic chip of wood inside her locket would grant any wish. What is taking her so long to choose?

An alarming discovery about her beloved foster brother Zack makes the decision easy…but everything else gets complicated after she runs into her old friend Melinda, who demands to go along for the return to Toch Island.

Melinda doesn’t fit in with the magical freaks any more than she did with the losers back in Florida, but she never wanted to belong before. A secret world surrounds her where even the bugs have magic…

She’s more of an outsider than ever.

So when ex-con Doran Ashe slinks out of the shadows and offers her an easy road to powers of her own, Melinda follows him despite – or maybe because of -everyone’s warnings.

I liked Seeking Unseen (Toch Island Chronicles #2) by Kat Heckenbach better than the first volume but I also had a few more issues with it. Perhaps I should have known from the blurb but it seemed like Angel was the main character for the first part of the book and then Melinda became the main character for the latter which is an unusual format. Angel’s wish had all this build-up and then just happened so smoothly and quickly I never realized she’d actually made the wish – I spent most of the book wondering why everyone had forgotten about the wish only to realize at the end it had already been done.  The book is definitely YA instead of MG, with older characters and boy/girl relationships a large part of the plot, but I spent half of the book feeling cheated in the romance department. There’d been hints of a particular pairing in Finding Angel and not only were those squashed but a new insta-love was introduced instead. A large aspect of my enjoyment of YA is the romance and there really wasn’t any in Seeking Unseen despite all the dating. Angel and her beau were pretty much instant-perfect (and a little too lovey-dovey with the parents around) from my perspective.

But I loved Melinda and I sympathized with her feelings, her actions and so on. I was rooting for her nonstop, even while she made bad choices, because I wanted her to find happiness. Unlike Finding Angel, I figured out the ending very early on but could understand why it took the characters the time it did to figure things out.  And Seeking Unseen ended with similar hints at romantic possibilities for her future that I am hoping will be followed up on in the newly released finale.

How do you feel about hints of future romance?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Finding Angel

Blurb:  Angel doesn’t remember her magical heritage…but it remembers her.

Magic and science collide when she embarks on a journey to her true home, and to herself. 

Angel lives with a loving foster family, but dreams of a land that exists only in the pages of a fantasy novel. Until she meets Gregor, whose magic Talent saves her life and revives lost memories.

She follows Gregor to her homeland…a world unlike any she has imagined, where she travels a path of self-discovery that leads directly to her role in an ancient Prophecy…and to the madman who set her fate in motion.

Finding Angel (Toch Island Chronicles #1) by Kat Heckenbach imagines a world where magic not only exists alongside us (though hidden) but is based on realistic scientific principles.

It’s hard to say a lot about the book without spoilers but I’ll give it my best shot. The blurb says a lot of it – Angel lives with a foster family and is very close to her youngest “brother.” She has no memory from before she was found wandering alone and placed in foster care. And then one day she meets a mysterious guy named Gregor and shortly after, she’s whisked off to the homeland she had forgotten. There she is busy trying to remember the events that led to her initial disappearance, waiting for her parents to return (from searching for her) and learning all about this world she was born into. Add rocker Elves, dragons (dog-sized pets!), and an evil man bent on acquiring magic through whatever means necessary and you get a unique adventure.

I will say the story slows in the middle while Angel is “finding” herself. But the slowness fit with the events and I was enjoying exploring the world and didn’t really notice it. There is reference to some animal cruelty which might disturb some – I’m fairly sensitive and it danced just on the safe side for me so most readers probably won’t find it an issue. Romance is very low key – there’s a bit with some side characters but only hints at future possibilities with Angel. The climactic ending was well done and kept me guessing up to the last minute. And faith is implied but never spelled out – it’s more in the world-view of the characters than any overt mentions. I’d qualify the book as more MG than YA. Best of all, the sequel picks up pretty quickly after the events in the first volume.

How would you feel if magical talents really existed?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.