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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: YA romance, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 313
1. The Sun Is Also A Star

The Sun Is Also a Star. Nicola Yoon. 2016. 348 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Premise/plot: Can you find your one true love and know it's your one true love in just a single day? Natasha is upset that her family is being deported and sent back to Jamaica. She's fighting for the chance to stay up to the very last minute. On this day--her very last day in New York--she meets Daniel, a guy with his own family issues. (Namely, his brother is horrid. Plus his parents want to make all of the decisions for him for the rest of his life.) Their meeting is by chance--or is it?

My thoughts: Objectively, this is a compelling teen romance with humor, heart, and drama. The chapters are short, making it even more appealing, and the chapters alternate narrators. The characters are all flawed. Not one perfectly perfect person in the bunch. That's what you want. That's what you need.

Subjectively, I think there is a very good reason I read little YA these days. Not because YA in and of itself is "bad." But because as I mature (aka get old) I find profanity and blasphemy more silly, obnoxious, and offensive, than cool. Particularly blasphemy. This book took the Lord's name in vain in various ways--often. Way too often for me to say WOW WHAT A GREAT BOOK. I am not old enough to go that any book with "language issues" is "bad" and should be taken off the shelves. I will never be that old. Just old enough that I say--No thanks, not for me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Savaged Lands

Savaged Lands. Lana Kortchik. 2016. 292 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was a balmy September afternoon and the streets of Kiev were crowded. Just like always, cars screeched past the famous Besarabsky Market. And just like always, a stream of pedestrians engulfed the cobbled Kreshchatyk. Yet something was different. No one smiled, no one called out greetings or paused for a leisurely conversation in the shade of the many chestnut trees that lined the renowned street. On every grim face, in every mute mouth, in the way they moved – a touch faster than usual – there was anxiety, fear and unease. And only three teenagers seemed oblivious to the oddly hushed bustle around them.

Premise/plot: Natasha Smirnova's world is turned upside down by the Nazi's invasion of her hometown of Kiev in September 1941. Savaged Lands chronicles her life during the war.

My thoughts: I almost loved this one. I did. Why the almost? The love scenes were a bit too graphic for my personal taste. (I like things on the clean side). What did I love about it? The drama and intensity of it. The ugliness of war and the messiness of family life come together in this historical novel. I also thought the author did a good job creating complex characters. Not every single character perhaps. But the main characters certainly.

What did I like about it? The romance. The romance is both the novel's biggest strength and greatest weakness. It all depends on YOU the reader. If you love ROMANCE, if you love romance with DRAMA, with OBSTACLES, then you may love, love, love this one. It wouldn't be a stretch to say this one is more about a 19 year old girl falling madly, deeply in love for the first time than it is a novel about the second world war. If you love HISTORY more than romance, you might feel that too much emphasis is placed on her weak-in-the-knees, heart-pounding romance. Her life is practically unrecognizable, she's lost immediate family members, and all her thoughts are consumed in HIM. All the time it's him, him, him, HIM. (His name is Mark, I believe)

This one has plenty of tension and conflict. Is it good drama? or too melodramatic? I think again this is up to each reader. The conflict between Lisa and Natasha--two sisters--is very real and takes up a good portion of this one. Definitely gives readers something to think about as they keep turning pages.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Heart of Betrayal

The Heart of Betrayal (Remnant Chronicles #2) Mary E. Pearson. 2015. Henry Holt. 470 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One swift act. I had thought that was all it would take.

Premise/plot: The Heart of Betrayal is the second book in Mary E. Pearson's The Remnant Chronicles. First, I have to say: READ THE FIRST BOOK before you even think of picking up this one. I think the first book will sufficiently hook you. You can pick it up knowing that the second and third book likely won't disappoint. Second, this review will probably contain a few spoilers for book 1 but a bare minimum of book 2.

So Lia, our heroine and runaway princess, has been captured and taken to an enemy nation, Venda. She knew little, if anything, about Venda before being taken hostage by THE ASSASSIN who was under strict orders to KILL her not BRING HER BACK A PRISONER. But Kaden could not, would not, kill her--though he considers himself to be a very loyal follower of the Komizar. Rafe, aka The PRINCE, has followed her to Venda, followed her straight into danger because though there relationship started out built almost exclusively on lies...him pretending to be a farmer...her pretending to be work in a tavern...he considers himself head over heels in love with her now. Willing to risk everything to save her from certain death. Lia learns a lot about herself, Kaden, the Komizar, and VENDA. The book is ACTION-PACKED and full of drama.

Is there a love triangle? Yes, no, maybe. Kaden certainly finds himself drawn to Lia, and, he does share his quarters with her...and perhaps a kiss or two. But Lia does not see him in that way at all. She regards him as someone to be manipulated and used in order aid her eventual escape. Competition for her heart? Not really. And the Komizar, well, does he fit into a triangle? Well, only if you consider physical threats to be a form of wooing. Which I DON'T. But their lips do meet... Rafe is not jealous so much as OUTRAGED that "his" girl is being essentially assaulted.

My thoughts: Could NOT put this one down. Seriously intense. Loved it. At first I thought I would be absolutely lost since it's been almost two years since I read the first book. But I soon found myself swept up into the drama...the politics...the romance...the action.

This series is easy to recommend.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Beauty of Darkness

The Beauty of Darkness (Remnant Chronicles #3) Mary E. Pearson. 2016. Henry Holt. 679 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Darkness was a beautiful thing.

Premise/plot: The Beauty of Darkness is a CHUNKSTER of a sequel, the third book in the Remnant Chronicles trilogy. Read the books in order, that's really all I have to say about that. Emphasis on READ THE SERIES. Perhaps now is the best time--now that all three are finally released. No torturous waiting, I might add!

Lia and Rafe (with the help of FOUR VERY CAPABLE soldier/friends of Rafe) have escaped Venda...barely. To say that their group escaped healthy and whole and ready for anything would be a lie. But they are not escaping unchanged. Lia is very different from who she was before. She now has a PURPOSE, a clear direction her future must take. And Rafe? Well, his purpose seems equally as clear. Within a chapter or two, he goes from prince to KING. There are now a dozen or so reasons why Lia and Rafe will find it challenging or even impossible to be together. But one thing is unchanging: their love for each other. Now that love will be TESTED big time. (For example, it is never, ever, ever, ever a good idea to tell your girlfriend she's now your prisoner and that you are keeping her locked up and guarded for her own good because you know what is best for her.) Kaden and Griz, two Vendans, are in this as well.

My thoughts: Kaden, I must confess, is someone I found myself LOVING. Not just in this book. But from the start. Don't ask me to defend my choice, I'm not sure I can. But I love, love, LOVE him. And he's a big reason of why this one is so perfectly perfect.

I don't want you to get the wrong impression. This isn't a book that is 90% romance and 10% action. Not by any stretch. There is action, drama, war, politics, lies, secrets, betrayals, twists and turns. It is a very PACKED novel. It may seem ALL action-driven, but, the characterization is GREAT too.

I loved, loved, LOVED this trilogy. It is an emotional, compelling read.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Stars Never Rise

The Stars Never Rise. Rachel Vincent. 2015. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: There's never a good time of day to cross town with a bag full of stolen goods, but of all the possibilities, five a.m. was the hour best suited to that particular sin.

Premise/plot: Nina Kane, the heroine, is contemplating pledging herself to the Church--the Unified Church when the novel opens. But a few things get in her way of making that commitment. First, her fifteen year old sister, Mellie, rebels and flees a school required assembly, second, comes the big reveal that Mellie is PREGNANT. Since pregnancy requires a license and the full permission of the church beforehand, that's a BIG one. Third, the WAY their mom reacts to the news that she's going to be a grandma turns Nina's world upside down and then some.

Things you should know:
It's a dystopian novel (YA, of course) with a very urban setting for the most part.
There is NOT a love triangle, but, there is a romantic twist.
You should forget everything--and I do mean EVERYTHING--you know about "the church." This futuristic UNIFIED CHURCH should not in any way be connected to the actual Christian church of this or any age.
The book is all ACTION, ACTION, DRAMA.
What is predictable, in a way, is that the heroine comes into her own and gains an ability--an advantage--for surviving in the crazy world she lives in.
The world-building is great for the most part. There is some info-dumping squeezed into the novel early on. Nina is quizzing kindergartners on some fairly basic material....material that the author definitely wants readers to know.

My thoughts: If you look at the bare facts of the premise, there would be no reason in the world for me to like it--or love it even. It's PARANORMAL. There are demons and exorcists. And even zombies, though they are not called such. The church instead of standing for good, is a downright evil institution. And yet, I could not put this one down. I read it in one day. I read both books in the series over about a thirty hour period.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Flame Never Dies

The Flame Never Dies. Rachel Vincent. 2016. 343 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I crouched, tense, in the derelict remains of a high school gymnasium, one of the last buildings still standing in the town of Ashland, which had been mostly burned to the ground during the demonic uprising more than a century ago.

Premise/plot: The sequel to The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent. If you've read the first book, it's likely you won't be able to resist picking up the second book. (And this is NOT a trilogy. So this is not a middle book--feels nothing like a middle book.) So Nina Kane, our heroine, is now officially an outlaw of sorts, on the run from THE CHURCH and hiding out in the badlands. She's not alone...she's surrounded by friends and almost friends. Much of the book focuses on their exorcist lifestyle--fighting the bad guys--the demons--whenever, wherever, and taking risks when needed, which is often.

My thoughts: I read both books one right after the other. I found them impossible to put down. I don't know that they are "great literature" as they say. But if you're looking for ACTION and DRAMA with some romance this is a good series to pick up. I like that the romance is not in any way whatsoever a love triangle. Now that doesn't mean it's an problem free romance...but it does mean it's not your typical YA dystopian novel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Saint Anything (2015)

Saint Anything. Sarah Dessen. 2015. Penguin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Saint Anything is the newest YA romance book by Sarah Dessen. I've read almost all of Dessen's novels, and I've enjoyed them all. Some I've LOVED. Some I've merely "really liked." I enjoyed

Sydney is the heroine of Saint Anything. Sydney's year will be one of adjustment. Her brother, Peyton, is newly sentenced to a prison term. (While drunk, he ran over a kid on a bicycle.) Sydney's mom is all about Peyton, for better or worse. It would be one thing if this was a recent development, if her concern, her above-and-beyond concern, was based on his behavior, his great need. But that's the way it's always been, at least according to Sydney. Peyton has always, always been THE ONE her mother has given all her time and attention to. As for Sydney's dad, well, he's not as bad as her mom certainly, but, he's not really giving full emotional support to his wife or his daughter. Then again, he's only human, and he has feelings to process too. I think he's making some effort, but, probably putting his wife's needs first. That being said, did I "like" her parents? Not for the longest time. I thought they were oblivious.

So Sydney decides to change schools and make some new friends. And predictably--for a Dessen novel--these new friends are WONDERFUL and AMAZING and allow Sydney to become comfortable in her own skin for the first time ever. She meets the Chatham family, owners of Seaside Pizza. She becomes best, best friends with Layla Chatham; she falls madly in love with Mac Chatham. (Readers also get to meet the parents, and an older sister, Rose, in addition to Layla's other friends, and Mac's bandmates.)

There are, of course, plenty of dramatic moments. And the romance isn't rushed, which is nice. I love the depth of the characterization. It is what I've come to expect from Sarah Dessen, of course, so no surprises. But it's always wonderful to see a book with human characters, and it's something that should always be mentioned when it's done well.

Saint Anything is predictable in some ways. I can't say that I was surprised by anything in the plot. But that's not a bad thing, or not always a bad thing. It can actually be quite wonderful to come to a book knowing exactly what to expect and knowing that you won't be disappointed.
Saint Anything. I didn't love, love, love it. But it's easy to say that I really liked it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Fat Cat

Fat Cat. Robin Brande. 2009. Random House. 330 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed rereading Robin Brande's Fat Cat. I did. In some ways, it was just as good as I remembered. For example, the romance between Cat and Matt. I remembered this one had romance in it, and, it was giddy-making. And I do still love Matt. So what do I like about Fat Cat?

Well, I liked that Cat is fully developed. She loves science. She loves cooking. She loves swimming. She always makes time for her friends. She's a good daughter, and a great big sister. She is a work in progress, she's constantly learning and growing and becoming. She felt like a real person.

I liked that this novel about weight--about losing weight--isn't a "problem" novel. I like that never once do we get numbers. Readers have no clue what Cat's start weight was. Readers have no idea how many pounds she's lost at any given time. We have no end weight either. Readers watch Cat step on the scales, now and then, but never once do we get her private information. I think, perhaps, this makes it easier for readers to relate to Cat. Yes, I was curious at times. Mainly because it's so tempting to want to compare. But I think it's best we don't know.

I liked that one of the messages of the book is stressing the importance of knowledge and awareness. For example, knowing where your food comes from, and, what it may contain. The book does come across as taking a stand against some foods--meat, for example--but it does this relatively fairly. (For the record, I can't remember the book questioning vegetables, how they're grown, if they've been treated with various chemicals, how they've been modified, etc. And it would have been nice to have some balance, perhaps. Not to mention wheat and grains. Part of me wishes Cat had gone gluten-free.) I do think knowledge/awareness is critical and essential when it comes to changing your life and making big and small decisions. This book obviously can't give readers ALL the information out there about what to eat and how to be healthy. That would be silly to think it could. But it might possibly inspire readers to ask their own questions and start seeking answers.

So overall, I liked it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. All We Have Is Now (2015)

All We Have Is Now. Lisa Schroeder. 2015. Scholastic. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

No one saw it coming. Because this particular cosmic death star came from the direction of the sun, we were blind.

Did I love All We Have Is Now? Yes and no. If you're asking if it is a perfect read, then the answer is no. Yet there was something about it that kept me reading. Here's the premise, Emerson and Vince are two homeless streets getting by--barely--when the news comes in that the world is ending. Now everyone--including our two teens--are having to deal with life issues in a hurry. How will they spend their last two days? What will they learn about themselves? about each other? about humanity? life?

If you only give the book a few chapters--or a few pages--then you'll come to the wrong conclusion about what kind of book this is. For the simple reason that at first, these two decide they do not want to wait to die, that waiting would be torturous, that it would be better to decide when and where and how they'll die. So they make a plan to commit suicide together. This doesn't happen. For the two meet Carl, an older man, who has spent the past few days helping others and making other people's dreams come true. Inspired, Emerson and Vince take on a new mission: how many people can they meet in their last days? how many dreams can they help come true? 

Emerson and Vince are best, best friends. Vince is in love with Emerson, though she does have some issues. And Emerson is beginning to think that she's been wrong to keep Vince as only a friend. He is so much more than her best friend. But now time is against her. She's brave enough to face the end of the world perhaps so long as he is with her. But one of Vince's dreams is to make sure Emerson doesn't have any regrets at all before she dies...

The book is emotional and compelling. It is very sweet at times, very romantic. But I'm just not sure about the ending--the epilogue. I'm not sure it fits with the rest of the book and what it all means. But I thought there were some beautifully written scenes in this one. Most of this one is written in prose, but, some chapters are in verse.

It's like a song that
pulls you in and
fills you up
and gives you what
you didn't even know
you needed until
the sounds, the melody,
and the voices
wash away the pain.
They have each other,
and it's all they need.
A new single,
headed for the top
of the charts. (129)

The best kind of days
are the ones that make
you feel like you are living
inside a kaleidoscope,
twirling and swirling
with dazzling joy.
It doesn't happen often.
But when it does,
you hold on tight and
wish for the delight to
go on
and on
and on.
Forever. (156)

What I really appreciated about this one was the characterization. I loved getting to know Emerson and Vince. And I love following Carl's story as well.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. To All The Boys I've Loved Before

To All The Boys I've Loved Before. Jenny Han. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed rereading Jenny Han's To All The Boys I've Loved Before. I wanted to reread the book because the second book is finally available. I wanted to reconnect with Lara Jean and Peter.

Did I enjoy it as much the second time around? Probably not. Oh, I still liked it a lot. I did. I loved some scenes very much. I like having Peter hang out with Lara Jean and Kitty and her Dad. And the Christmas cookie scene is still very fun. But I noticed myself being more intolerant and less forgiving of some of the other characters. For example, Lara Jean's friend, Chris. For some reason, I was annoyed by every single scene with her in it. And I don't remember feeling that annoyed the first time around! Josh also annoyed me more the second time around.

So I am glad I read it. But I didn't find it as delightful and surprising as the first time around. Some books are like that though. I am still looking forward to reading the second book.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. A Little In Love (2015)

A Little In Love. Susan Fletcher. 2015. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'm dying. There's no use hoping I'll live or telling myself, Keep going, it's only a small wound. There's too much blood on the ground. I'm going to die in this street.

Eponine has always been one of my favorite characters from Les Miserables. I've always felt sympathy for her. And so I was quite excited to see that Susan Fletcher has written Eponine's story in her novel, A Little In Love.

Is an understanding--an appreciation, a love--for the novel Les Miserables a must for picking this one up? I wouldn't say it's a must. I wouldn't want to limit the audience for this one. Certainly this book will mean more to the reader who has at least watched one of the movie adaptations (though I'm not sure all movie adaptations even have Eponine's character? I do not care for the musical, for the most part, but this song gets me every time.*) But the most enthusiastic fan may just be the reader who has read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables--and unabridged at that! But any reader who is drawn to historical fiction set in nineteenth century France will find this of interest.

The framework of this one does make sense. I'm not always a big fan of stories told within a framework. But it is wisely done in this one. The narrator--Eponine herself--is not being melodramatic. She is, in fact, dying. And in a way, the whole book is a flashback showing us moments in her life that have led up to this moment--this heroic, tragic, bittersweet moment. This adaptation does not change the ultimate outcome.

Is it faithful to Victor Hugo's novel? Yes, for the most part. I do think a few details are changed along the way. And I do think plenty has been added, filled out, if you will. The characters we meet in A Little in Love are fleshed out.

So did I like it? love it? I really enjoyed it. It is one I read all at once--like a treat. I admit that I'm probably the ideal reader for this one since Les Miserables is one of my most favorite, favorite books of all time. My 2014 reviewMy 2013 review.

*I think I fell in love with this song a full decade before ever picking up the novel. Why? Well, it's one that skaters really, really, really LOVE to skate to.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. First Love

First Love. 14 Warm and Glowing Stories Selected by Gay Head. 1963. Scholastic Book Services. 188 pages. [Source: Bought]

First Love is a vintage collection of short stories compiled by Gay Head for Scholastic in 1963. All of the stories chosen had been previously published in magazines. Most of the stories first appeared in the 1950s, though a few come from the 1940s and early 1960s. (If Barbie were real, this is the kind of book I could see her reading.)

The theme of this collection, is, of course, first love or young love. Some of the stories are narrated from the girl's perspective; some are, however, narrated from the guy's perspective. There is a pair of stories "Sixteen" and "Eighteen" that go together. "Sixteen" by Maureen Daly tells the girl's side of the story--how she went skating one winter's day, was suddenly grasped around the waist by a cute boy, and how they skated and chatted together for what seems like hours. He walked her home. He said he'd call. But he never did. "Eighteen" by Charlie Brodie tells HIS side of the story. Most of the stories are not interconnected.

One of my favorite stories is "Prelude" by Lucille Vaughan Payne. Essentially, this is a clean version of Valley Girl that predates the movie by quite a few decades. Nancy Hollister, the heroine, falls for Stephen Karoladis to the dismay of her popular friends. He is an absolute genius when it comes to music, playing the piano, to be exact. Nancy feels about music the same way he does--it's like they are meant to be. But. He is poor--really, truly poor, work after school as a janitor poor. He will never dress like her friends. And he'll never be able to afford to take her out to the places that her friends go with their dates. But the connection they feel is true and deep and strong. What will happen when he asks her to the prom? Will she go with him knowing that her friends will laugh and mock and bully?! This short story doesn't conclude with "Melt With You" but it ends well all the same! Since I'll never watch Valley Girl again, most likely, I'm glad to have found a clean alternative that puts a grin on my face.

Another favorite story is "Theme Song" by Dave Grubb. In this one, a young girl falls for a soldier with a broken heart or "broken heart." He's received a letter that "his girl" has taken up with someone new. Though there was a time he loved playing "their song" on the jukebox over and over and over and over again...he discovers that the "B side" of the record had never been played....much to Edith's delight. Hearts mend, and new love stories begin...

One of the more unusual stories in this collection, one that brings to mind the Sesame Street song "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other," is Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. This "romantic" short story is about a machine--a computer--who falls in love. It's more complicated than that. The narrator and the computer both fall in love with the same girl. And it's a science-fiction twist to Cyrano de Bergerac if you will. (The computer writes the poems that make the girl fall for the narrator.)

Essentially readers who discover this vintage, out-of-print, title will discover a LOT of variety. Each story is unique. Some stories are a bit odder than others.

"Blue Valentine" by Mary Gibbons comes to mind! In this story, a guy with great intentions doesn't think through his gift choice. Angelo, the hero of the story, is essentially a good, thoughtful guy. He wants his Valentine's Day gift to his girlfriend to be extraordinarily WONDERFUL, the best of the best, the best that his money can buy. But this gift gets him in BIG TROUBLE with her family. His choice? Well, Gibbons left that a mystery for readers to solve until the last few pages of this short story--probably for some shock value. So I'll do the same.

Another 'odd' story, for me, was The Walnut Trees a story about a girl's BIG, BIG crush on a teacher. (Hint: Don't cut your teacher's yearbook photo out and put it in a heart locket. It is SURE to fall off, open, and HIM be the one to pick it up and hand it back to you!)

Each story has a description of sorts, or tagline. I'll include these for each story:
  • Stardust by Virginia Laughlin: Her heart went into orbit when she looked at him...
  • A Girl Called Charlie by William Kehoe: She thought that her whole future depended on one date...
  • Blue Valentine by Mary Gibbons: Angelo found the wrong gift for the right girl...
  • The Walnut Trees by Virginia Akin: A dream can be fashioned from cobwebs...
  • Once Upon A Pullman by Florence Jane Soman: Instant charm was not his secret of success...
  • Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Can a machine fall in love? This one did...
  • Sixteen by Maureen Daly: As she saw it...
  • Eighteen by Charlie Brodie: His side of the story...
  • Prelude by Lucille Vaughan Payne: Music gave her the answer...
  • Tomboy by Gertrude Schweitzer: She thought parties were stupid until one special night...
  • Bittersweet by Arlene Hale: It takes time to forget...
  • Who is Sylvia? by Laura Nelson Baker: Her name was like a haunting melody...
  • Theme Song by Dave Grubb: The young soldier might be the answer to Edith's dreams...
  • Tough Guy by Peter Brackett: He wore a chip on his shoulder to hide the secret in his heart...
Though the taglines might seem over-the-top ridiculous, the stories in this book were actually quite good and in some ways timeless. Some are better than others, I won't lie. But there were a few I really LOVED. And overall, it was even better than I thought it would be.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Cyrano

Cyrano. Geraldine McCaughrean. 2006. HMH. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The curtain goes up. Silence falls. A painted moon wavers on a painted backdrop. The audience shivers with delight. For what could be better than an evening at a Paris theatre? Who more famous than the evening's glittering star? Enter the magnificent Montfleury, stage right!

Premise/plot: A prose adaptation--for teens--of the French play Cyrano de Bergerac written by British author Geraldine McCaughrean. Now, I do love the play. And I'd probably recommend the play over this adaptation--at least for adults. Especially since I believe it is now out of print. It is sad, right, that by the time I got to this review copy it was already out of print?!

Here's the basic story for those who don't know it: Cyrano is in love with his cousin, Roxane. He finds her to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Roxane is in love with a young soldier (cadet) named Christian. She thinks he is the most handsome man in the world. Christian loves Roxane, but, he lacks the skill to woo her the way she wants to be wooed. She's not interested so much in his kisses as his passionate words of longing. Cyrano who is just as skilled in wordplay as in swordplay steps in to help where he can. He'll give Christian the words to speak to win her heart. When both men go off to war it is Cyrano who risks his life--twice daily--to send letters to her so she won't worry that Christian has been killed. Those letters bring her great joy and drive her mad with wanting him....so much so that she goes into a war zone to find her man. When the two meet she declares, IT IS YOUR SOUL I LOVE, YOU COULD BE THE UGLIEST MAN ALIVE AND I WOULD LOVE YOU STILL, PERHAPS EVEN MORE. Now Christian begs her, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE LOVE ME BECAUSE I'M BEAUTIFUL AND HANDSOME AND SWOON-WORTHY. THAT'S THE WAY I WANT TO BE WANTED. She's confused. But reader's aren't. Christian knows that it is Cyrano whom she truly loves because Cyrano is "his soul." What's to be done?!?!

My thoughts: For readers who are really intimidated by reading plays, then this one is worth seeking out. I do think it serves as a good first introduction to the story. I would hope that readers would grow into the original and seek to experience the story again and again.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The Heir

The Heir. (Selection #4) Kiera Cass. 2015. HarperCollins. 346 pages. [Source: Library]

I have very mixed feelings on The Heir by Kiera Cass. That isn't a huge surprise. I had mixed feelings about the first three books as well. The first three books in the series focused on Princess Eadlyn's parents--America and Maxon. I found the books both silly and irresistible at the same time. If I found the books on the silly, ridiculous, predictable side, why did I care so much about what happened and who ended up together?! That was the question then, and, to some extent that remains the question. The difference being I am less attached to Princess Eadlyn than I was to her father, Prince (now King) Maxon.

So. America and Maxon have four children together: twins Eadlyn and Ahren, and two younger boys that barely enter into the story, or, perhaps are completely forgettable no matter how many times their names are dropped. Eadlyn being born seven minutes before her brother is the heir to the crown. She's about eighteen or so when the story opens. And readers are led to believe that she may become Queen much sooner than anyone thinks. Conveniently perhaps America and Maxon have not aged well it seems. Though young when they married, and though their oldest is just eighteen, they are talked about as if they're closer to sixty or sixty-five than forty! Granted, we don't know for sure how long they waited after marrying to have children, but, even if it was five or six years--they still shouldn't be over forty-five! The fact that they are presented as so decrepit and ancient--their health so fragile--frustrated me. And I did not like the ending at all. Trust me on that.

So is Princess Eadlyn likable? I don't think she's meant to be. I think we're supposed to struggle with liking her perhaps? She struggles with being an actual human being.

So "to save the monarchy" the parents are strongly-strongly encouraging their daughter to hold a Selection and get married. Thirty-five young men will be coming to the palace just for her. One of the selected is not a stranger at all, but, someone she's a little too familiar with on the surface, someone who has grown up in the palace, someone who's always been friendlier with her brother than herself. His name is Kile. And he gets the first kiss, though it is staged. Other men of note, Henri (Swedish cook who needs an interpreter) Eric (the interpreter and not really an option for the selection, at least not officially), and Hale (he doesn't seem as obvious a choice as the others, but, he isn't as forgettable or as obnoxious as the others, so, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it to the top six or seven at least). Since Eadlyn struggles with, you know, actually being human herself, it's hard for her to talk with others and be herself. I don't know that I have a favorite-favorite, but I'm leaning towards Henri.

The world Cass has created still doesn't seem fully fleshed out and lived in, like it makes sense logically. And the political, social, cultural side of it still seems a bit flimsy, but this book like the other is just oddly readable and entertaining.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. A Mystery With Romance

I definitely liked All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, which I'm going to describe as a literary mystery. (Though, wait, it's also a romance.) I liked it enough that I tried to find time during the day to sneak in some reading. I liked it even though there were some odd little quirks that would normally bother me.

  • It took me a few pages to grasp the book's episodic nature, even though the episodes, often quite short, were clearly defined by Roman numerals. The episodes were usually in the main character, Judith's, present, when she is living in a socially rigid village where she has returned after having been kidnapped around the same time that one of her friends was murdered. But sometimes the episodes were in her past when she was kept captive by a dangerous man who released her after maiming her so she couldn't speak.
  • I was a little put off by the lack of definition as far as the setting was concerned. It seemed to be a Puritan world to me, but the text never makes that clear and an attack from the homeland is not consistent with the Puritan era, at least to my knowledge.
  • On a superficial level, Judith seems to be like Belle in the Twilight series. Men are mysteriously attracted to her. However, though the author doesn't clearly state it, I was able to see the logic of what was happening. In one case, Judith was not actually an object of desire, she was merely available. In another she is being pursued by someone hoping to take advantage of her. Only with the third man is there a real relationship. I can believe one.
Among the many things I liked about this book:
  • It doesn't scream "I'm a mystery!" Though the book is supposed to have received a lot of attention last year when it was published, I didn't know anything about it. The fact that this is a mystery was sort of slowly revealed as I was reading it.
  • There's a big battle scene early in the book. It was what would have been THE big climactic scene for many writers, but it came early. I definitely was wondering what was going to follow that.
  • A secondary young woman character could have been a stereotypical twenty-first century teen bitch placed in a Puritan village. But she's not.
  • Judith's slow understanding of what happened to friend Lottie, as well as of things she saw while a captive, and her slow reveal of what she knows, make sense.
I think an argument could be made that some scenes border on melodrama, what with one character throwing herself upon her injured beloved, another throwing himself off a cliff, and still another stripping naked to ford a water in river. Evidently I like a little melodrama.

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16. Mortal Heart (2014)

Mortal Heart. Robin LaFevers. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I liked it. I did. I really did. But I'm not sure I LOVED it. I do think it met my expectations, however. I expected it to focus on Annith. I expected it to uniquely tell her story, reveal more of who she is, and what makes her strong. And readers definitely get that. How did Annith come to the convict? What was it like for her to spend her entire life at the convent, to not know what life outside was like? What was it like for her to train all those years, to see others come and go? Has she had an easier time of it than Ismae and Sybella? Why is Annith never the one chosen to go on assignment, long-term or short-term assignment? Does not being chosen mean she's too weak or not trustworthy enough in the Abbess' mind? How does she cope with waiting? These questions are all answered in the third book of the trilogy. If you've dared to find Annith boring or obedient in previous books, you'll be challenged.

I did come to like Annith, to appreciate her story. (Sybella's story, I believe, remains my favorite.) And I did like the romance. I don't think I can say one word about the romance. If you haven't read it, then that might make no sense since usually, I don't consider naming a potential love interest a spoiler. But if you have read it, you probably can guess why I'm afraid of spoiling things. I will say I thought it was well done. I wasn't disappointed by it. (I think Sybella and Beast remain my favorite couple, however.)

I also really liked that half the book brings us back into company with Ismae and Duval and Sybella and the Beast. The first half of the book covers almost the same time period as Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. The last half is more of a sequel, the plot progresses forward. Readers spend time with Duchess Anne and those close to her. What does Brittany's future look like? Will Anne ever have enough military support to hold onto Brittany's independence? Will the French be successful? How many will lose their lives in war to fight for the country they love?

While all three books have teased readers with mythology, with world-building, this one I think does so even more. I solidly like it. I do. I would definitely recommend people finish the series if they've enjoyed the previous books.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Palace of Spies (2013)

Palace of Spies. Sarah Zettel. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

Peggy Fitzroy lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. She knows she's not wanted, her aunt and uncle have made that clear. But she gets along quite well with her cousin, Olivia. The novel opens with Peggy in a difficult position. Her uncle has arranged a marriage for her. She's not thrilled instead more than a little hesitant. Her hesitation only increases AFTER she meets him at a ball. Her intended isn't the only person she meets there, however. One other mystery man makes her acquaintance. He offers her a way out. He tells her that he knew her mother. He wants to make a deal with her, of sorts. He wants her to spy for him, to impersonate one of the Queen's maids. (Ladies-in-waiting?) He leaves her with his card. She's curious but just as hesitant about that option as well. If only she could have some control over her own future...

With a title like Palace of Spies, it's obvious what her choice was. She will become Lady Francesca Wallingham. Can she learn enough from Mr. Tinderflint and Mr. Peele? Do they know enough about her to tell her everything she needs to know to pass as this lady? Is either man trustworthy? What are their intentions? What will they do with the information she provides? Who can she trust at court? Did Lady Francesca have enemies? How will she be able to discern who her friends were and who her enemies were? Will she fool anyone? Will she fool everyone? Will she ever get a minute to call her own? How long will this deception last?

I enjoyed this one. I think I enjoyed it even more having read Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace earlier this year. I was familiar with several of the characters. It was quite entertaining with a nice balance of danger and romance.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Thursday teen book review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

From the publisher:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor
... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.


My thoughts:

I actually read a YA romance! I didn't think I would read the whole thing, but Eleanor & Park surprised me. The romance feels real and not girly--I could see a boy reading this book, too. It helped that there was a good amount of mystery surrounding Eleanor's lousy home life. It made me hurt for her. The story did run a bit long for my taste toward the middle, making me skim to get to the meat of the story.

What teens might find a bit tough is that the book is set in the 1980s but not advertised as such; I've seen this pop in YA and MG a few times now, and I think it's a little bit of a sneaky cheat, probably to avoid dealing with today's technology.

Ample language and mature situations in this book, so probably not for your middle schooler. But also a nice read for us kids from the eighties.

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19. This Side of Home (2015)

This Side of Home. Renee Watson. 2015. Bloomsbury USA. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This Side of Home is without a doubt an issue book. But the issues within This Side of Home are relevant and almost universal, I'd say. So, it may be an "issue book" but the issues addressed are authentic ones. The book spans Maya's senior year in high school.

Maya and Nikki are twins. They've always been super close. But the older they get, the more that is changing. Nikki is becoming her own person. Maya is becoming her own person. And sometimes the two just don't understand where the other is coming from. They can like each other, even LOVE each other, but still not quite understand each other.

Maya and Nikki have the same best friend, Essence. But again this is changing. Maya and Essence continue to be close--despite the fact that Essence moves near the start of the novel. But Nikki and Essence, well, they are growing apart from one another.

Essence has lived across the street (I believe, or, perhaps next door?) from Nikki and Maya for years and years. The girls can't remember not being friends with each other, of being just steps away from each others' houses. The two families are close--a little too close sometimes probably from Essence's mom's point of view. But when Essence and her mom are evicted (the landlord wants to upgrade the house and sell it) a new family--a white family--moves in. This family has a brother and a sister. Kate becomes close to Nikki. And Maya becomes close to Tony.

Race is very much an issue in This Side of Home. Nikki and Maya see things very differently, but, both are true to themselves. Maya embraces her ethnicity/culture. She is proud and outspoken and passionate. Nikki is often accused of "acting white." Nikki doesn't like to be picked on--Essence's family in particular has opinions--but she's not trying "to be white," she's just being true to herself, dressing the way she wants, the way she prefers, and wearing her hair the way she likes it, the way that suits her best. 

Community is also an issue in This Side of Home. Through Maya's eyes we witness a community in the process of changing--of a primarily black community changing more and more into a more diverse one--a white one, she fears. She doesn't mind the addition of shops and restaurants and general property improvements, but, why are all the new owners white?

School. This is very much a "school" novel where the emphasis is on the whole school year...from the end of summer to the beginning of another summer. Maya is a diligent student, very smart, and very active. In fact, she's president of the student council, I believe. So much of the book is about her experiences as a Senior...and her thoughts about what comes next, where she wants to go to school, thinking about what those big, big changes will mean to her and her family and her friends. (How will going away to college change her relationship with her family? with Essence? with Tony?)

There are two things I really liked about This Side of Home. First, I loved the characterization. I loved the thoroughness of it. Major characters. Minor characters. Every character was brought to life. The characters had substance and felt human. Second, I thought the author did a good job with the setting and atmosphere of this one. (It's set in Portland, Oregon.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Infinite Sea (2014)

The Infinite Sea (Fifth Wave #2) Rick Yancey. 2014. Penguin. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad I took the time to reread Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave! I felt ready for the sequel. Of course, I felt ready for the sequel the moment I first finished The Fifth Wave! But I felt prepared to fully appreciate the sequel.

First, you shouldn't read The Infinite Sea until you've read the first book in this alien-invasion series. It does NOT stand alone.

Second, if you've read the first book, and at the very least enjoyed-it-in-the-moment, you should pick up this next book.

Third, if you're looking for a quick, compelling read--perhaps for a read-a-thon--then consider this one. What makes it quick is the fact that, like the first book, it is hard to put this one down!!!

Some time has passed--perhaps a few days, perhaps a week or two--since the ending of The Fifth Wave.

The prologue, "The Wheat," is something. I think it does a great job as prologue--reminding readers of the intensity of the series, of the world as they know it.

Book one, The Problem of Rats, "The world is a clock winding down." This first section is narrated by Ringer. I believe this was the first chance for readers to get her perspective. I was expecting the book to begin with Cassie, I almost saw The Fifth Wave, as being Cassie's book predominantly, and opening with Ringer's thoughts, well, it was a good reminder that the book, the series, is so much more than that.

Book one, The Ripping, "From the time I could barely walk, my father would ask me, Cassie, do you want to fly?" This second section is narrated by Cassie. You'll probably notice--beginning with this section--that the chronology of the narrators is interesting and overlaps and goes back and forth a bit. I didn't mind this actually.

Book one, The Last Star, "As a child, he dreamed of owls." Evan Walker gets his chance to narrate. Readers learn much in this section!!!

Book one, Millions, "The boy stopped talking the summer of the plague." I found this section--short as it was--to be so emotional. I loved gaining more insight on Poundcake.

Book one, The Price. This fifth section is narrated by Cassie. I wouldn't say it's the most action-packed section, but that's because it would be too tough to choose. Has there really been a slow section?! But much does happen, and we see it through her point of view.

Book one, The Trigger. Again. So very short. But oh-so-intense. Another Poundcake section. And I thought "Millions" was emotional!

Book two, The Sum of All Things. Ringer's section. Plenty of this novel is told through her perspective, and, I came to appreciate that in a way. Much is learned in this section certainly, or, perhaps I should say much is explained through dialogue?

Book two, Dubuque. Essentially the conclusion of the book. Cassie's perspective, I believe.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Dragon Flight (2008)

Dragon Flight. Jessica Day George. Bloomsbury USA. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I've spent the last week rereading Jessica Day George's oh-so-lovely dragon series starring Creel, Prince Luka, and their dragon friends.

One war with the dragons is over and done with, but, a second is about to begin. And this time, it may not be an evil human controlling the dragons through alchemy, but, an evil dragon controlling a human king controlling dragons through alchemy. Not that Creel could guess that before she slips off to her second war as a spy. (She doesn't go into enemy territory alone, she takes some of her dragon friends.)

I liked this one. Did I love, love, love it as much as Dragon Slippers? Probably not. But I still really loved it. I loved meeting Shardas' mate--the queen of dragons. I loved spending time with Creel and her friends, her dragon friends, and her human friends. The book has plenty of action and drama. Quite a showdown! But it isn't done without attention to characters. Overall, I definitely recommend this book and this series.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Revisiting Scarlet (2012)

Scarlet. A.C. Gaughen. 2012. Walker. 292 pages. [Source: Library]

I first read Scarlet last year. I really enjoyed it, but, not as much as I ended up enjoying the second book in the series, Lady Thief.

So. Scarlet is a retelling of Robin Hood. The narrator is "Will Scarlet" a young woman posing as one of Robin's men. All of the gang know her secret, though they didn't all learn at once. But most of the villagers don't. Scarlet is a thief with a past, a past that will catch up with her by the end of the novel. Through Scarlet's perspective, readers get to know Rob (Robin Hood), John Little, Much, and Tuck. Readers also get to know about the dangerous and cruel Guy Gisbourne. He's been hired to find Robin Hood and his gang and kill them...

How did I feel about Scarlet the second time I read it? I enjoyed it so much more! I think one of the reasons I love rereading is because I can relax and enjoy how everything comes together. The first time I was focused on the potential of the premise, on the mystery--who was this Scarlet?--and on the action--will The Hood and his gang be able to save everyone?! The second time I was able to focus on the development of characters and relationships. I already had a connection with the characters, a LOVE for them, so that helped this reading experience tremendously.

I'll be rereading Lady Thief before I read the third in the series, Lion Heart, which releases in May.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Lion Heart (2015)

Lion Heart (Scarlet #3). A.C. Gaughen. 2015. Bloomsbury. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I read Scarlet and Lady Thief last spring. It was LOVE. I've been waiting for Lion Heart since I finished Lady Thief last spring. I've held the characters close for a whole year in anticipation. I just have to say that I was not disappointed with Lion Heart at all.

If you're looking for a good--a great--retelling of Robin Hood, then you must pick up these three books. They're wonderful. Yes, they build upon the legend, and, a few details will feel familiar to readers--as they perhaps should. But the depth and complexity to the characters is remarkable. I loved, loved, loved getting to know all the characters. Especially Robin Hood and Scarlet (Marian). There are plenty of other characters to love as well. Though perhaps a fewer number in Lion Heart. (I'd forgotten just how Lady Thief ended. So rereading it and rushing into Lion Heart, I felt the loss of a certain character very much.) Still, there are plenty of new characters to get to know in Lion Heart.

Lion Heart definitely has a different feel to it in a way. But I still loved it. Much is required of Scarlet in this one, and, she'll continue to fight for what's right and what's good from cover to cover. I love that she never gives up. I love her determination and fierceness.  

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Shadow Scale (2015)

Shadow Scale. Rachel Hartman. 2015. Random House. 608 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I'll be honest. I loved, loved, loved Seraphina, and I didn't really like Shadow Scale. I found the sequel to be disappointing. Every reader who read and loved (or read and liked) Seraphina, I imagine, has expectations for the sequel. Other readers may love it and find it to be a wonderfully satisfying read. I wasn't one of them.

Shadow Scale and Seraphina are very different books. Yes, they're both narrated by Seraphina and focus on the conflict between dragons and humans and half-dragons. But all the things I loved about the first book seemed to be missing completely from the second book. Seraphina herself seems quite different. Yes, she's under pressure and great stress. Yes, her life has been turned upside down since the ending of the first book. So some change, of course, is welcome. But I missed the old Serpahina. I missed the world she used to live in. I missed the people she used to spend time with.

The book also feels longer than it actually is--and it's a long book. The first book was just a joy to read. I read it in two days. I mean it was an absorbing WOW book. Shadow Scale was not a joy to read. I kept reading it for several reasons. I kept hoping it would get better. Since I had loved the first book so much, I felt I should keep giving it chance after chance to improve. I didn't stop caring about the main characters just because the story was dragging. A part of me still cared about what happened in the end.

The book never improved for me. (I think other readers liked the ending better than I did.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Rook (2015)

Rook. Sharon Cameron. 2015. Scholastic. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight. One solid thump, and four more heads had been shaved from their bodies. The mob around the scaffold roared, a sudden deluge of cheers and mockery that broke like a wave against the viewing box, where the officials of the Sunken City watched from velvet chairs. The noise gushed on, over the coffins, around bare and booted feet crowding thick across the flagstones, pouring down the drains and into the deep tunnels beneath the prison yard like filth overflowing the street gutters. The city was bloodthirsty tonight.

If you love The Scarlet Pimpernel, Rook may appeal to you. Though I can't promise you'll love of it, of course. Rook is a loose retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It's not set in France and England, but in the "Sunken City" and the "Commonwealth." Also, it's not historical fiction set during the days of the French Revolution, but, is set at least eight hundred years in the future. Perhaps a love of dystopia would add to the book's appeal. But for those readers who happen to love both, well, this one has a great premise.

Did I LOVE everything about Rook? I'll be honest, I didn't LOVE, LOVE, LOVE every little thing about it. I thought, however, that it worked more often than not. That overall, it was an enjoyable, mostly compelling romantic adventure.

Sophia Bellamy is the heroine of Rook. She keeps herself very busy, mainly by saving as many as she can from the Razor, all undercover, of course. Her father has arranged a marriage for her, not that he's concerned with her happiness or her future. But a good marriage will bring in enough money to pay off his debts and keep the property out of the hands of the Commonwealth. I don't often want to boo, hiss characters, but I must say that I was oh-so-tempted here. For he not only hurts his daughter, but, his son, as well by his words and actions. Rene Hasard has his own reasons for wanting the marriage.... Both Rene and Sophia have a few secrets they'd like to keep secret until they know the other person much, much better.

One thing, however, is obvious. Rene's cousin, Albert LeBlanc, is TROUBLE for Sophia. For it is his main goal in life to find the Red Rook...and bring "him" to justice.

Action, adventure, intrigue, betrayal, drama, and ROMANCE. I wouldn't mind a good adaptation of this one!

Here's how Scarlet Pimpernel begins so that you can compare:
A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation's glory and his own vanity.
During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at its ghastly work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient names, and blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for liberty and for fraternity. The carnage had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of the barricades for the night.
And so the crowd rushed away from the Place de la Greve and made for the various barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight.
It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They were traitors to the people of course, all of them, men, women, and children, who happened to be descendants of the great men who since the Crusades had made the glory of France: her old NOBLESSE. Their ancestors had oppressed the people, had crushed them under the scarlet heels of their dainty buckled shoes, and now the people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former masters—not beneath their heel, for they went shoeless mostly in these days—but a more effectual weight, the knife of the guillotine.
And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument of torture claimed its many victims—old men, young women, tiny children until the day when it would finally demand the head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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