The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

india-orchid

Synopsis from GoodreadsAnthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Feelings:  One thing I really appreciated about this book were the cultural spotlights. She gave us a base – the British expectations and values – something most of us have a loose understanding of. Then as the story developed, she layered in the traditions and cultural norms of India. She compared the two worlds and showed how they impacted each other.

The author somehow managed to teach me about a culture I didn’t know much about, draw me in with a murder mystery, and keep me hoping for our two protagonists. There was a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t think it was too much. I believe it was well balanced.

With murder mysteries, my main concern is usually that I’ll have it all figured out long before the final pages. With this story, I had some guesses, but I never could have predicted exactly how it would play out.

Issues: The ending felt a little too rushed for me. We spent so much time building up to who the murderer was and their motivations, then the truth comes out pretty quickly and it’s over. The epilogue helped the story to feel like it had a satisfying ending. Without it, I really wouldn’t have been thrilled.

While there’s a lot going on in this story, there were a few times where I felt like…nothing…was going on. About a third of the way through, I started to lose interest. Then I just resolved to finish reading it and finished the other two thirds in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down! I think it was because we’d met our protagonists, a change in scenery had occurred, and then someone was murdered. I hadn’t really dug my heels into it yet; it didn’t feel like there was anything solid to hold onto. But then the story picks up and it sucked me in! So stay with it.

Characters: I thought the two main characters, Anthony and Sophia, were really sweet. I was worried that the tension would drag on too long, but it ended up being just right. They complimented each other well and I loved the way they understood one another. Because of the way the author paced the story, we got to know our main characters in doses. There wasn’t a major introductory information dump. In fact, for a while I had some questions, but the author had answered them all by the end. I like that because it forces me to pay better attention and look for specific things.

The minor characters added some value to the plot and gave us some more cultural insights. They included a wide range of individuals from different backgrounds and levels of society, which added some depth to the overall story.

Final thoughts: The setting was beautiful and totally jumped off the pages, the romance was clean and sweet, and the mystery wasn’t too predictable. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and felt like I was reading some classic Austen, from time to time. This book was a great change of pace from what I’ve been reading lately and I’d recommend it to my historical fiction and mystery loving friends!

Pick this up if you liked:

My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

Goodreads rating: 4.67/5

My rating: 4/5

*This book will be out August 1 of this year. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I Read Because of Hype

I’m one of those readers who runs on recommendations. I’m always looking for the latest craze or hype-inducing storyline. I want to know what I’m talking about when I join the conversation, so I always fall prey to hype. These are 5 books that I read because of all the conversations they started amongst the blogosphere and Goodreads threads.

anna and the french kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

SO MANY people told me to read this book. I was skeptical because I hadn’t really gotten into the contemporary scene at that point. But I finally decided to dive in on a sick day and I’m so glad that I did. Since I finished reading about Anna and Etienne, I’ve read the next two books in this companion story trio and I loved them. This book is the reason I reach for a contemporary romance. Plus that cover art. *Swoon*

throne

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I love high fantasy. I’m always interested in new worlds and innovative magic systems. I’d heard a lot of people talk about this series after the sequel came out, but the cover threw me off. It seemed weird, I’ll be honest. But I watched a spoiler-free review of the first book and the vlogger was SO into it. I love fangirling, so I wanted what she was having. And now? I freaking love this series. I always pre-order the new books long in advance and anxiously await their arrival, even clearing my schedule for them. These stories consume me. There are so many characters and so much world building that I’m too invested to stop now.

outlander

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Everyone and their cat’s mom has talked about this series. I’m all about historical fiction and time travel, plus romance and Scotland…hubba hubba. But then, the romance also made me hesitated. I’m not one of those people who just LOVES blush inducing love scenes, call me crazy. Once the TV show started airing, I wanted to be part of the conversation, so I picked up the first book. I actually read it as I watched the episodes, which was pretty interesting. Then I watched the second season of the show and haven’t read the book. I AM glad that I read it. I thought the writing was powerful and the world was engaging. I would like to continue the series, but I haven’t settled on whether it’ll be print or TV, or both.

wrath

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I read a few blog posts and watched some booktube videos of readers raving about this story, so I picked it up. I sat down and read it cover to cover in one sitting. Not necessarily because it was a work of genius, but because it hooked me in and I had the time. Since then, the sequel has been released and I have yet to read it. I don’t really remember what happened in the first book, probably because I read it TOO quickly. I don’t know that I’ll pick up the second book any time soon. I already have it on my Kindle, staring at me, longing to be given a chance. Maybe the hype sucked me in TOO much the first time around.

all the light

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Again I say, I love me some historical fiction. Last year, I was on a major WWII kick and read book after book about that time period. I was also teaching The Diary of Anne Frank along with a WWII unit, so I was thirsty for more information. Everyone kept telling me that I should read this book, but the page count was daunting. Once I finally decided to give it a chance, I flew through it. The characters lept off the page and I was so emotionally invested in their fictional little lives. I love this book. It’ll forever be one of my favorites.

What books has hype made you read? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

November 2016 Wrap Up

My goal on Goodreads was to read 75 books this year and I reached it this month! When the month started, I still had a ways to go. Then I heard about the app comiXology and read a bunch of graphic novels and comics. Now I’m all set! I got into quite a kick! They upped my wrap up numbers for the month because they’re just so easy and quick to read.

This is what I was able to read in November…I read 4 books, finished 1 audiobook, and read 10 graphic novels and comic books, for a grand total of: 15!

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

  • Hamilton fans. American Revolution. Daughter of a president.
  • My rating: 5 stars

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

  • Great picture of history. Strong writing. Eye opening.
  • My rating: 3.5 stars

Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala

  • Had potential. Interesting art. Quick read.
  • My rating: 2 stars

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

  • New to me. Chinese history. Mystical.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

  • Companion to Boxers. Captivating. Tragic.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

  • Alice in Wonderland prequel. Anti-hero. Made me hungry.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Lumberjanes, Vol.1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen

  • So sassy. Fun cast. Second read.
  • My rating: 4 stars

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (audiobook) by JK Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

  • Better than the movie. Remember Cedric.
  • My rating: 5 stars

Red Sonja, Vol. 1: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone

  • Warrior in a bikini. Comic book. Pretty ok.
  • My rating: 3.5 stars

Saga, Volumes 2-6 by Brian K. Vaughan

  • Kindle book sale. For adults. Wild storyline.
  • My rating(s): Vol. 1-4 & 6: 4 stars, Vol. 5: 3 stars

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

  • For fans of the show. Eye opening. Really interesting.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

What books did you read this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I’m Thankful For

I love Thanksgiving. I love November and December in general, really. I just love holidays and pumpkin spice lattes and Christmas joy. There are so many things that I’m thankful for: my family and friends, my job and education, breath every morning and a safe place to sleep every night…the list could go on and on. I’m thankful for a family that encourages learning and reading. I’m thankful for the chance to travel to new worlds or dive into history, just by reading pages from the comfort of my own home. Books have given me so much over the course of my life. Some books have given me a new level of understanding, some have given me courage and confidence, while others have given me moments of peace. These are 5 books that I’m particularly thankful for.

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stone

I’m trying really hard to think outside the box and reach beyond the first thing to pop in my head, but listen…there’s no denying the impact that Hogwarts and Co have had on my life. The first book came out when I was 6 years old and it was just a couple of years later that I finally convinced my mom to let me read it. I can honestly say that this series is one of the reason I love books so much today. I felt a plethora of emotions over the years of being engaged in this world: anxiety, joy, fear, hope, friendship, safety, and more. I’m thankful for Harry Potter and for having stories that feel like home.

crazy-love

Non-fiction and I are not usually friends. However, there was a season in my life where a friend literally put this book into my hands and I started reading. I didn’t want to, but I caved. I’m a sucker. This is the one non-fiction book that I keep coming back to. Sometimes it’s just to reread a chapter or a paragraph, while other times it’s to start at page 1 and see what happens. Francis Chan has a way of helping me understand who God is and how He loves. This is a love that I couldn’t wrap my head around…until I read this book. I’m thankful for Francis Chan and the new eyes that I see the world through.

anne of green

I was late to the Anne of Green Gables game, I’ll admit. My mom told me over the years that I should read it and that the main character reminded her of herself. I think that’s the reason I resisted reading it. Typical teen. Ha! I randomly decided to give it a chance just a couple of years ago and now I’m obsessed. It’s like Anne and I have always been friends. (Maybe that has something to do with my mom, too…) This series is so full of hope and joy, laughter and love. I know that I can open any one of these books or turn on the audiobook and I’ll crack at least one smile. I’m thankful for Anne Shirley and for reminders that beauty is all around us.

lineage-of-grace

Francine Rivers is one of those rare individuals that I would do untold things to meet. You know those basketball game half-time half-court contests? I’d do that for a chance to meet her. And I once had the chance to do that for a cool prize and vehemently refused. So…trust me when I tell you that means something. When I think about how much I love her books and honestly, I’m thankful for all of them, this one sticks out. This book includes 5 stories about Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary from the Bible. Rivers has a way of taking what we know about them from God’s word, and turns them into full fledged stories. She gives them voices, ambitions, and humanizes them in a way that I hadn’t pictured before. I’m thankful for this book and the way it helped me to read the Bible.

fangirl

Man, I love this book. When I read the last page, I felt this overwhelming sense of understanding. I felt seen and known by these characters and the author. Rainbow Rowell always writes books that are poignant and funny, while also being complex and surprising. This Rowell book in particular really spoke to me. I’ve read it twice now and I’m sure I’ll read it again when I need a reminder that it’s ok to be myself and that in fact, that’s what makes me awesome – no one else is 100% like me. I’m thankful for Fangirl and I’m thankful to be me.

What books are you thankful for this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

“We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly.”

one-crazy-summer

Synopsis from GoodreadsEleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Feelings: This is a book that we read for our book club at school. The focus this year is on diverse books, allowing some of us to see through different windows of life, courtesy of YA literature. This book definitely shows a welcome side of history. We see the Black Panthers as a group that cared for the children in their community, including feeding them and providing a safe space for them to learn about their culture. We see a hint of the violence that history paints, but it’s just there enough to show that the author wasn’t trying to glaze over the past. Instead, she narrows her focus.

I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and the voice that she gave to Delphine. She had so much heart and personality in what felt like a short story. I kept forgetting how young she was! I especially enjoyed the author’s word choice and the way she painted history.

I think one of this story’s strengths was the way the author delicately balances a lot of topical issues. We see family and abandonment, racism and sexism, poverty and more. But this book isn’t really about ONE of these, it’s about all of them…it’s about life. It’s about how our environments shape us AND it’s about how our environments don’t have to define us. There’s a lot going on.

Issues: While I enjoyed the writing, and I think there was a lot going on…I still got to the end and felt like nothing really had happened. Weird, right? They spend a month with their mother and go on a couple of adventures, learning about themselves along the way, but what was the heart of the story? What was the climax? It’s more like a portrait than a novel. We have feelings and emotions when we see it, it opens a door of understanding that we may not have been prone to otherwise, but there isn’t action. There’s no central driving force.

Final thoughts: I liked this story and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not one that I’ll rave about and press into people’s hands. It gave me a lot of new views about history, which I’m grateful for, and it was special that it was through the eyes of a child.

 

Goodreads rating: 3.93/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 3.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

I have had so LITTLE reading time lately, that for the first time since I started writing this blog more than a year ago, I didn’t have a review to post on Tuesday! WHAT? So this week, instead of posting a Top 5 on Thursday, I’m posting my review for the week.

“Sons of a revolution fight for liberty. They give blood, flesh, limbs, their very lives. But daughters . . . we sacrifice our eternal souls.”

first-daughter

Synopsis from GoodreadsBestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

Feelings: I’ve been reading so much young adult over the last few years that this book forced me into a total switch in mindset. The writing was so much more elevated than what I’ve been used to lately that at first, it was hard for me to get in to it. The beginning was stellar, then we went back in time and it slowed down a little. Once I got used to the rhetoric and the way the storyline flowed, I was hooked. But I had zero reading time. It took me about 3 weeks to finish this book, but I probably read the last 350 pages over 2 days. I got SO in to it!

One thing that I really appreciated was the author’s note at the back of the book. They explain where they took creative liberties and what parts of the story are rooted in truth. There were some things that shocked me and others that just made sense. I liked that they took the time to do this because I’m not a historian. I wasn’t fact checking as I read, but I WAS aware that I was ultimately reading fiction.

Issues: This wasn’t the kind of book where I put it down for the last time and could think of 3 things right off the bat that I didn’t like. So as of right now…24 hours after finishing this book…I have zero issues.

Characters: Patsy is a very complicated character. We see her grow from a young girl eager to please her father all the way to an older woman with a dozen children running around. She had quite a life for us to span in one book! She was hard to connect with at times, but I was finding it hard to put myself in her shoes. She lived a life that I can’t even imagine, even after reading about her. The pressures, the responsibilities, the constant flux of history…I found it al fascinating. I kept wanting different things to work out or play out differently, but it’s history. While the author’s did take some liberties, the heart of the story is there – the heart of who Patsy Jefferson, the First Daughter was. I learned about her and her family on every page, learned why they did what they did and what their world forced them to do.

Thomas Jefferson, you old goat. Of course, I learned about him in my middle and high school American history classes. Then I learned more about him in my college history courses, but still…what a guy. There was something about seeing him through his daughter’s eyes that was captivating. You see both the adoring daughter side, as well as the critical yet fiercely loyal side. They had a relationship that reminds me of my own with my father, built on a steady companionship. One thing that I really appreciated about this book was that they didn’t seek to make the founding fathers perfect, because they were very flawed human beings. We saw their failures and their virtues alike.

Genre: I love historical fiction. This book, though, is like a whole new level of the genre. You can see on each page how painstakingly researched the storyline was. Every piece of the tale is rich and bursts off of the page. It’s highly engaging prose, for those of you that maybe tend to hesitate when it comes to historical fiction, expecting it to be droll and bleh. This is SO not that!

Final thoughts: This book is especially great for those of us Hamilton fans. A chunk of this book takes place while that musical is going on (in regards to the timeline), so we see Jefferson’s perspective from across the pond. We also get Jefferson’s side of his conflict with Alexander Hamilton. Lafayette is a reoccurring character, as well as a handful of other guys.

 

Goodreads rating: 4.23/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5

My rating: 5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Books I’ve Recommended to Students Lately

I love pairing people with books. I think about who they are, what they might enjoy, what they would put down in 5 minutes, and how fast they read. If someone is a slower reader, a book that takes a while to get in to probably isn’t the best bet. Not all of my students are big time readers – shocking, I know – so I can’t just assume they’ll dive into the same stories that have captivated me. Then there’s also the age and maturity difference. That definitely plays a factor.

These are books that I’ve personally recommended to my students lately.

 just listen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Student requested: An easy-to-follow storyline with some romance thrown in.

After a week, my non-reader student told me she’d finished this book! She’d stayed up late and even read while some of her teachers were talking. She was so invested in these characters and desperate to see how their storylines played out. That’s exactly how I’d felt when I read it earlier this year! Annabel was a model with a bright future, until that future was suddenly over. Then she meets Owen, a guy full of mystery who makes Annabel finally feel seen.

nimona

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Student requested: A graphic novel that was a little bit different.

That’s a perfect way to describe this story! The illustrations are unique, compared to what I’ve read, and the story is definitely different. Nimona is a shapeshifter with a whole lot of spunk.She teams up with Lord Blackheart, a well known villain, to bring down the “heroes” and prove that they aren’t who they appear to be. A twist on the usual hero vs. villain storyline, this book will keep you on your toes!

illuminae

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Student requested: An adventure book of epic proportions.

When a non-reader approaches me and says they want to read about an adventure, this is the first book I think of. This boy in particular is hard to please, gets bored easily, and doesn’t think reading can be even remotely fun. Then I put this book in his hands. He flipped through it, eyes wide at the page count, and said, “Wait…is this really a book?” YES! It has illustrations and transcripts, diagrams and even classic paragraphs. This book takes place during 2575 and a war is raging over a planet. No one is safe and no one can be trusted. You have to read it to believe it, folks.

 sword-of-summer

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Student requested: A book that was kind of like Percy Jackson.

Not only is this book LIKE Percy Jackson, but it was written by the same author and has some crossover to that beloved series. This is the story of Magnus Chase, the cousin of Percy’s girlfriend Annabeth Chase. Magnus’s storyline doesn’t stick to the Greek or Roman family line as Riordan’s previous books, but rather detours through Norse mythology. It’s got personality and grit, it’s just different enough to feel like a new story, while still feeling comfortable like you’re reading an old friend (AKA Percy).

goose girl

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Student requested: A fairy tale, “but like a different fairy tale.”

That’s literally what the student said. She didn’t want Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, she wanted something new and fresh. I pointed her towards The Lunar Chronicles but she wasn’t interested. (Don’t worry, I’ll work her up to it!) So then I gently forced her towards Shannon Hale. The Books of Bayern series reads like a classic fairy tale, but it also feels new and different. It has magical elements that are really interesting to read about and characters that jump off the pages.

Do you have books that you’d recommend to middle schoolers? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn