Friday, May 5, 2017

Penhale Wood ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"All roads lead back to Penhale Wood."

Penhale Wood

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"Penhale Wood" opens with Iris Flynn, a grieving mother whose daughter was murdered a year before. (The killer has yet to be found). Arriving back at the scene of the crime in England from her new home in Australia for one last effort to find out why this happened to her daughter Sophie, with the help of Rob McIntyre- the original police detective.

McIntyre has his own demons and does not believe that he would do any better now in finding Karen Peterson (Nanny) during the original investigation a year earlier. He agrees, reluctantly, to examine the case again, and discovers a few more leads.

This was an "out of the blue" crime novel. The plot was interesting and kept me wanting to read more, but it was too overdone and not original.

I wanted to like this novel but there were certain aspects that bugged me:

The murderer is somehow presented as an intelligent, sex crazed, sociopath, who has managed to hide from the police for over a year. Yet, the crime she committed is so inexplicable that the two sides of her personality do not match up. The novel seems like it has quickly passed over the murder of a child.

I was also disappointed because the women in the novel could have been very interesting. The questions of motherhood, sexuality, and career aspirations are inspired in the story but the author seemed to completely ignore them. The characters also behave in CRAZY ways.

This novel was an entertaining mystery, with way too many coincidences.

Special thanks to NetGalley & the Publisher for the copy!

I give this book a 2 out of 5 stars.

Missing ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"Here I am, children. Right over here. Step off that safe, moonlit path and come meet me. You aren't afraid, are you? "


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The novel opens with Winter Crane who lives in a small poverty stricken town in Kentucky. Like many teens in town, she has one hope - to graduate high school and escape to the big city. Just like her older sister and her best friend did. Except Winter cannot seem to get ahold of them.

Due to an abusive home life, she tends to take care of herself. One day in the woods, Winter rescues a young man in trouble who happens to be looking for Winter's best friend - the same friend that Winter has been unable to reach. While trying to figure out the whereabouts of her missing friend, Winter begins to think that not everyone in town made it to the big city. Can she solve the mystery before anyone else goes missing?

This novel was SO CREEPY. Small towns, dark forests, and a psychopath playing twisted games was definitely a novel for me.

What I liked the most about "Missing" was its social criticism. Winter, who lives in a small town trailer park and often goes hungry, and Lennon and Jude, who are the adopted sons of billionaires, the author explores class divides and prejudices. Interactions between the characters shows consideration of class, wealth and privilege, and Winter also criticizes the idea of Southern "charm".

The only reason this novel did not receive a 5 start rating from me was because I was so disappointed in how the mystery was resolved.

I do not regret reading this novel, and I love how this main
character was so atmospheric. I am very interested in reading more books by this author.

Special thanks to NetGalley & the Publisher for the copy!

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


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Meeting Date: May 3, 2017

Time and Where: 7:45 am in the Library! 

Please answer the discussion questions when posted! 

Published by: Elizabeth Barnes

From Goodreads: 

"The Handmaid's Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now..."

Link to watch the trailer:

Please answer each question individually in the comment section, numbering the questions.

Discussion Questions

The Handmaid's Tale

1. The novel begins with three epigraphs. What are their functions?
2. In Gilead, women are categorized as wives, handmaids, Marthas, or Aunts, but Moira refuses to fit into a niche. Offred says she was like an elevator with open sides who made them dizzy, she was their fantasy. Trace Moira's role throughout the tale to determine what she symbolizes.
3. Aunt Lydia, Janine, and Offred's mother also represent more than themselves. What do each of their characters connote? What do the style and color of their clothes symbolize?
4. At one level, The Handmaid's Tale is about the writing process. Atwood cleverly weaves this sub-plot into a major focus with remarks by Offred such as "Context is all," and "I've filled it out for her...," "I made that up," and "I wish this story were different." Does Offred's habit of talking about the process of storytelling make it easier or more difficult for you to suspend disbelief?
5. A palimpsest is a medieval parchment that scribes attempted to scrape clean and use again, though they were unable to obliterate all traces of the original. How does the new republic of Gilead's social order often resemble a palimpsest?.
6. The commander in the novel says you can't cheat nature. How do characters find ways to follow their natural instinct?
7. Why is the Bible under lock and key in Gilead?
8. Babies are referred to as "a keeper," "unbabies," "shredders." What other real or fictional worlds do these terms suggest?
9. Atwood's title brings to mind titles from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Why might Atwood have wanted you to make that connection?
10. What do you feel the historical notes at the book's end add to the reading of this novel? What does the book's last line mean to you?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Toward a Secret Sky ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"Laying down your life for another isn't as hard as watching them sacrifice everything for you."

Toward a Secret Sky
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After Maren has lost her mom to a freak accident, she moves in with her grandparents in Scotland. In her mind she believes it to be a new beginning, somewhere to start fresh from all the loss in her life. First her father, then her mother. Then everything she thought she knew gets flipped upside down. Her parents lives were all a lie. Now their secrets have found a way into her life.

Maren comes to find letters, personal belongings that were once her mother's. Hidden messages waiting to be discovered by her, and a secret society who is bend on protecting humankind from the bad in the world. All of this makes her head spin, knowing there was much hidden from her and a gained perspective on what lurks beyond the safety of home.

Gavin is one of those secrets. More than Maren could ever imagine. His presence is felt all around her. Something that connects them both, more than either of them can understand. It's a love that moves along quickly and with an unwavering intensity. It has to ability to destroy the both of them, but Gavin's existence even more. With a firm belief in what he represents, he is jaded by a choice he feels may destroy everything he has worked hard to become.

I really enjoyed the world building in this novel. The story had a good progressive movement, while there is clearly something otherworldly going on, the first few chapters only give you enough to make you want to know more. Even as things are revealed, it's not all at once, but continues to be done at a slow pace. The setting of Scotland was also enjoyable in my opinion. I have always wanted to live there. I found Maren's character enjoyable as she was both flawed and strong. She was dealing with heavy grief, but was always not unwilling to find out more and learn about why her parents were previously estranged from her grandparents.

While I loved his Scottish accent, Gavin's character was a little too hot jumping into this relationship with both feet. It was a bit jarring I think. And then there was the mysterious Graham who I think needed a lot more play time in the book to establish his obsession with Maren. I also felt that there were too many individual story lines happening in this novel. We have the arc that had to do with Maren's mother's journal, and this huge chunk of the novel dedicated to its mysteries, and then there were some chapters dealing with the Maren/Gavin/Graham concept in it's own mini story. It made the novel feel very segmented at times.

Overall, this was a great start to a series, one that I think will intrigue a lot of fans of YA.

Special thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the copy!

3 out of 5 stars 

Caraval ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars come out."

Caraval (Caraval, #1)

Scarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope the he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles. When tickets to Caraval  finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won't be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella's disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this years game. As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever.

Caraval is Garber's debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett's perspective. Although the epilogue promises twists and turns, I think this novel functions as a standalone.

Right away I felt a connection with the sisters, Scarlett and Tella. After their mother abandoned them Scarlett took on the older sister role seriously and raised her younger sister Tella. This was difficult since Tella was often reckless and often breaking their father's strict rules. Breaking his rules often led to physical punishment, which Scarlett often received to protect her sister. It was awful to see the abuse the girls had to endure so I was cheering them on to run for safety.

I also believe the word "Caraval" is magic! The title appears to be a circus or carnival themed book but in fact Caraval is a mysterious island. All the details were unique and enchanting. From Scarlett's gown magically changing to match her mood to the price she had to pay to purchase items. (I WILL NOT SPOIL IT), I was blown away by the author's imagination. This story has so many twists to it that I was guessing all the way to the end. This book is not just about the game but about taking chances.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure.
Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. This is definitely a novel that you will not want to put down!

4 out of 5 stars.
Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure.
Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Whole Thing Together ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"We shared almost everything. From reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, and laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table."

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"The Whole Thing Together" was written by the same author who blessed us with "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" series for many years. Ann Brashares has always been one of my favorite authors and I was looking forward to reading her new book! So when it came on NetGalley, I had to have it.

This book follows Sasha and Ray - two seventeen year olds who have shared a bedroom for years but have yet to meet. Sasha's dad was once married to Ray's mom and in their bitter divorce they decided to share the summer house in the Hampton's on Long Island, New York. Sasha and Ray share three sisters - Emma, Quinn, and Mattie.

"The Whole Thing Together" follows the dysfunctional families throughout one summer that will change all their lives forever. Their were various narrators throughout the book and I adored that because it gives much more insight on each character. We watch as new and unexpected relationships form and how the effect of bitter hatred between the divorced parents ripples down into the children's lives and relationships and eventually leads into a disastrous event.

I have read many reviews about how people are freaked out about the relationships between the siblings. I agree that their relationships are a little too clingy and weird, but you honestly cannot help if you love your siblings. This should be expected in their case because of the things they have been through with one another.

Ann Brashares is finally back and she is fresh with an honest look into the emotional, tricky dynamic of family divorce. She did a great job of portraying just how divorce can affect the children and their relationships in and out of the family.

I highly reccomend this book to anyone who has experienced divorce, anyone who loves Ann Brashares, and especially the readers who love YA!

I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Special thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the copy!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories."

The Handmaid's Tale

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Imagine this: You are a woman, and you have no name. Your name has been taken from you. All identity and individuality vanished. Your name has been replaced by the word Of and the first name of your Master. You are Offred, Ofglen, Ofcharles, you are nobody, you belong to a man who's not your husband, but someone who uses your body as a vessel for procreation. If you do not provide a child, you are banished to the Colonies, to clear away the toxic mud and die.

This is the frightening world of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale". Strongly echoing George Orwell's "1984", we are witnessing the USA that established a totalitarian government. Who are the ones in power now? The Army? The Church? The two combined? Whoever they are, one of  their aims is to turn women into creatures that are no longer considered human beings, but something a little superior to animals. 

The only way for Offred to escape her reality is through her mind. Her thoughts and memories of an era of freedom. She isn't brainwashed, just as Winston wasn't brainwashed. The new States with their doctrines and the Ministry of Truth have failed to contaminate every single soul. There are some who remember and wish for the civilized world of the past, where woman had identity and independence, where love wasn't a crime punished by death.

Offred listens to her heart only at the thought of her daughter for whom she hasn't lost hope that she is alive. It is the only way to keep her sanity, amidst the violence of her society. There is violence towards the women who are humiliated, punished for transgression and executed, there is violence towards the men who are believed to be members of the Opposition. They are killed under false pretenses, in a way that turns the repressed women into beasts.

"The Handmaid's Tale" is a classic of our times. Especially in our society today with our current leaders. Unlike Orwell's bleak universe in "1984", Atwood allows a brief glimpse of hope, makes us think that all is not lost, that there are some who can fight against hell and retain their sanity.

I give this book an outstanding 5 out of 5 stars!   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Letters to the Lost ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"You can't make your own path with your eyes closed."

Letters to the Lost

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Juliet is supposed to be moving on after the death of her mother. That's what everyone around her suspects. But she can't stop visiting her mothers grave or leaving letters for her. Declan is serving his community service sentence mowing lawns at the local cemetery. When he finds a letter at the bottom of a tombstone he doesn't expect the words to hit him deep inside. Writing back was careless but it sparked a written relationship that might just be the thing to hold him together when the rest of his world is about to explode.

I am not a huge fan of books that contain letters, especially when the letters become a love story. But, I found myself loving Juliet and Declans relationship, both face-to-face and written. On the page they can be brutally, and totally honest with each other. But when face-to-face the walls they put up to protect themselves prevent them from seeing beyond the harsh reality and even harsher words they throw at each other.

Romance is not all this novel has to offer. I loved the exploration of family in this book. Supportive family relationships, family who are not as perfect as they seem, family secrets, family tragedy, family heartbreak, family that is founded outside of blood, family found in friendship brotherhood/sisterhood.

Letters to the Lost is a touching romance (a little too cliché at times), about finding hope and safety in starting over.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Special thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the copy!

10 Things I Can See From Here ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"Let's pretend. A beach. The sun. Two girls holding hands. The end."

10 Things I Can See from Here

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 With her mother on a six month work assignment in Haiti, Maeve, who has OCD and severe anxiety, is staying with her no longer sober father, her very pregnant stepmother, and twin six-year-old brothers in Vancouver. She meets a cute street violin player while she struggles to manage her anxieties.

 Maeve was a great character filled with both positive and negative characteristics. I loved that despite her anxieties, she was able to see the impact of her behavior on others. She cared about her friends and family and knew she wasn't the center of the universe. Her stepmother Claire, was one of my favorite characters. I enjoyed seeing the relationship she had with Maeve. It was based in love, care, and concern. It was not the usual combative stepmother/daughter drama often found in novels.

 "10 Things I Can See From Here" also felt uneven to me. Nearly the entire first half of the book was anxiety after anxiety, and statistics of people dying from this and that. The plot was almost lost in Maeve's anxieties. The stressors in her life increased as she and Salix became closer. Instead of her anxieties increasing, they seemed to decrease. I am always leery of the unintentional message that dating/falling in love is a cure for mental illness. No one seemed to cure Maeve's anxiety by the end of the book, and I also thought the resolution with her father's drinking was too easy.

 I enjoyed Carrie Mac's writing style, and thought she really made the characters come to life. I HIGHLY recommend this book for people interested in mental illness, LGBTQ stories, step families, and substance abuse.

 I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

 Special thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the copy!

Girl in the Blue Coat ~ Reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes

"When things come to an end in a way you didn't expect, in a way you never could have imagined, do they really come to an end? Does it mean you should keep searching, for better answers, for one's that don't keep you up at night? Or does it mean its time to make peace?" 

Girl in the Blue Coat

Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days finding and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the German army invaded. Her illegal work keeps her family afloat, and Hanneke also likes to think of it as a small act of rebellion against the Nazis. 

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Jansen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person: a Jewish teenager Mrs. Jansen had been hiding, who has vanished without trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such a dangerous task but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations - where the only way out is through. 

"The Girl in the Blue Coat" is undoubtedly the best fictional account of life during the Nazi occupation during WWII, since "The Book Thief". Its a moving story about bravery, grief, and love in impossible times. 

I would highly reccomend this book for anyone interested in History. 

I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.