Book Review: The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant (V #1) by Joanna Wiebe

So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.

One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in… and why.

As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.

Release Date: January 14, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli
Oh my word.  I don't think I've ever read anything quite like The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant before.  This book was so unique, eerie, and intense.  I loved it!
Anne is the newest member of the super-exclusive boarding school, Cania Christy.  She arrives on the island where the school is located with no memory of how she got there.  And Anne's questions snowball from there.  Something's not adding up about this school, from the menacing Guardians (who are like personal school counselors on steroids) to the selection of your personal PT: prosperitus thema (which is your unique talent that guides each student's behavior), everything about Cania Christy is unexpected and very intense.  And the students themselves---they are perfect.  Right away, Anne notices how no one has any physical flaws, instead, everyone looks as though they could be a model.  She knows she'll never fit in with this group, until she looks in a mirror and sees that she is changed as well.   
None of the students are friends; instead everyone is completely absorbed in the competition for the Big V. The Big V is the valedictorian race, and it has far greater implications than the usual full-ride scholarship to the college of the valedictorian's choice.  Instead, the Big V seems to be a life-or-death race for Cania Christy's students.  And Anne means to figure out why that is.  Her PT is to look deeper, to question why things are the way they are.  Anne really embodies this as a way of life while at Cania Christy, often to her detriment.  It made this book so mysterious and intriguing. 
I loved so many things about The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant.  I loved that I was in the dark as to Cania Christy's secrets right along with Anne.  The first person narrative meant that I learned each clue as Anne did.  I kept trying to figure out what was going on, and I had some close guesses, but Wiebe managed to surprise me in her execution of the premise.  The imagery was outstanding.  Wiebe describes the island, the townspeople, and the school's setting so perfectly.  I felt like I was there, in the mist, hearing the ominous sounds of the island right next to Anne.  Wiebe's characterization was expertly done.  The way she describes each character, from their clothes and physical attributes to their personalities, allowed me to keep the vast cast of characters straight in my mind, when I'd usually have to go back in the book to remember who was who.  This book was full of surprises, which was great, and it even had an element of mythology to it.  The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant had a lot of things going on, but Wiebe wove them all together flawlessly into a compulsively readable novel.
The ending was so unexpected, and quite emotional for me.  I could not believe how Anne's story ended...and I'm so happy that there will be a sequel.  After how awesome this book was, I can't wait to read book two!


Book Review: All The Finer Things by Stephanie Connelley Worlton

Sometimes money costs too much.

Married to one of the most lucrative and sought after plastic surgeons in SoCal, Megan Hamilton has it all. Her posh life, designer clothes, and stunning penthouse leave her wanting for nothing… or do they? Controlled by his obsessive pursuit of perfection, Doctor Matthew Hamilton will stop nothing short of breaking his young, spirited bride into a subservient trophy wife. But when parenthood enters their picture, the entire game changes. How far will Megan have to go to escape Matt's obsessive control and abuse? And how much will she have to lose before she gets there?

Doctor Matthew Hamilton has everything he loves - money, power, reputation. Or at least he thinks he does, until his spoiled wife decides to leave and unknowingly blows a hole right in the heart of his carefully laid plans. With Megan gone, he faces to lose everything and he won't stop until he finds her.

When a fancy car and its equally fancy owner take up residence next door, Ammon Carter's life of solidarity gets turned on its head. His quiet orchard community is no place for a pampered princess, but as a Scoutmaster, his deep moral code doesn't allow him to be anything but courteous to the young mother. Content as a bachelor, he does his best to keep his distance from the misplaced beauty and her son... unfortunately, his dog has different plans.
Release Date: March 3, 2014
Age Group: Adult
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli
Stephanie Connelley Worlton writes clean fiction, which is a rare thing these days.  Her previous novel, Hope's Journey, was about a young Mormon couple who navigate an unexpected pregnancy (read my review here).  I like that Worlton's books are clean reads with a Christian message.

All the Finer Things is an adult book and very different from Hope's Journey.  Megan is a prominent surgeon's wife, with a picture-perfect life---from the outside.  In reality, her husband is controlling and abusive, and she fears for her and her son's safety.  Finally, she takes a stand against Matthew and leaves him.  She ends up in a quiet, small town and finds unexpected solace there. 

I was hooked on Megan's story from the very first page.  There is just something about the premise of an abused woman turning her life around that draws me in.  I simply had to know if Matthew would be brought to justice, and if Megan would find some much-deserved happiness.  I was very pleased with how Worlton resolved the story, and while it wasn't necessarily the ending I expected, it was a perfect one for Megan and Matthew.

Carter, the neighbor/love interest, was practically the perfect man.  I loved how he treated Megan---like she was precious and special.  He was great with Megan's baby son, and a Boy Scout leader to boot.  He was charming without being suave or too polished.  Matthew, in contrast, Megan's abusive husband, was so easy to hate.  He is driven by all the wrong things: greed, lust, and power.  Matthew was a terrible person and confess to hoping for his demise!

Worlton did a great job developing the secondary characters and their storylines.  Their stories were just as interesting as the main story, and they added a lot of depth to the novel.  I loved the character growth exhibited by many of the major and minor characters.  

The one thing I didn't love about this book was the fact that it's a third-person narrative.  With a contemporary story, I prefer a first-person perspective.  It allows the reader to get to know the characters so much more intimately.  I found myself wishing several times for a dual narrative, with Megan and Carter as the main voices.

Overall, I really enjoyed All the Finer Things.  I'd recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction, Christian fiction, or anyone looking for a nice, clean read. 


Children's Series Review: Pete the Cat by James Dean and Eric Litwin

Summary for Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes:

Pete the Cat goes walking down the street wearing his brand new white shoes. Along the way, his shoes change from white to red to blue to brown to WET as he steps in piles of strawberries, blueberries, and other big messes! But no matter what color his shoes are, Pete keeps movin' and groovin' and singing his song...because it's all good. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes asks the reader questions about the colors of different foods and objects.

Don't miss Pete's other adventures, including Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, and Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses.
Age Group: 4-8 years
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kelli
Kaitlyn loves cats, so I bought the first Pete the Cat book thinking she might enjoy it, based on the fact that the main character is a cat.  The illustrations are different from the books we usually read: these illustrations are funky and more grown-up than the books we've been reading.  They are what I'd call edgy in children's literature. 
Anyway, the first time we read Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, we both fell in love with this series.  I went on to buy book two, Rocking in My School Shoes, and Pete's version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm.  But, I see myself buying many more Pete books in the future (there are 16 books in the series, after all!).  These books are so much fun---fun to read and fun for Kaitlyn.  They all have a great cadence to them, and while the text doesn't rhyme, it flows well and almost has a beat to it.  This makes it easy for me to memorize the text, and I've caught Kaitlyn repeating entire paragraphs of the story shortly after we've read one of these books. 
What I like the most about the Pete books, though, is Pete's unflappable nature.  A common theme in this series is that something unexpected will happen to Pete.  The text will read: "Does Pete worry?  Goodness, no!  He keeps walking along and singing his song."  Pete is a good reminder to me to take things in stride, and a great example for children as well.  I love that even though he gets his white shoes dirty, he never misses a beat, and simply changes his song from "I love my white shoes" to "I love my red/blue/brown/wet shoes" (depending on what he's stepped in). 
Pete's version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm is no different from the original, save the very cool illustrations.  The illustrations alone make this book worth a buy. Kaitlyn loves that the animals look different from her other books and especially loves the expressions on their faces.
I love the Pete the Cat series and highly recommend it for children ages 2 and up!


Book Spotlight: Winter Angel by Mia Hoddell (FREE 7/19-7/20)

Winter Angel
by Mia Hoddell

Genre: YA Romance
Release date: 25th June 2014
Length: Novella

She was on holiday. He was tricked into returning.
Neither of them wanted to be there, but neither could avoid it.

Amy wants to be back under the sun in Portugal. However, when her suggestion is overruled in favour of a skiing holiday, even she can't turn it down. What she couldn't have predicted is that the holiday could make her break the one, and only, rule she has: not to get into a serious relationship again.

When Amy first sees Luke, she knows something is wrong. He's struggling to cope with everything and her need to help people makes him the perfect distraction from the cold. He hasn't been to the Alps in five years and he swore to never ski again. But as his defences are broken by Amy's persistence, the winter paradise begins to reawaken his desires.

However, with constant flashbacks triggering his anxiety, he's torn, battling conflicting emotions as he becomes increasingly captivated by Amy. She has a rule though. She didn't go on holiday to fall for someone and the last thing she needs is to ignore her own advice. Whether or not she can move past her insecurities will depend on whether Luke can face his biggest fear.

Winter Angel is a standalone, young adult romance novella, but is the second book in the Seasons of Change series.

Download it now for FREE!
Only free 19th & 20th of July

Add to Goodreads

You can also download Summer Demons: the first, bestselling, standalone novella in the Seasons of Change series for 99c / 77p.


White. Gazing out of the small, circular window, it was the only colour he could see surrounding him. The bursts of light—which had broken through the heavy, grey clouds—were reflected back as the ground grew closer with each passing second. Not too long ago he had been blissfully unaware of the location his sister was dragging him to for a holiday. A bubble of excitement had surrounded him throughout the early morning as he got up, and stayed with him through travelling to the airport and catching the flight. However, it had burst as soon as the icy tips of the mountains appeared and the plane began its descent. Until that moment, he had hoped his guesses had been wrong.
His sister had carefully planned the trip, making sure to hide all clues as to where they were heading, and as she glanced across at him, it seemed as if she had been successful. Luke’s knuckles were white on the arm rests. He had claimed both of them, gripping them so hard they looked like they would snap under the force, or at least be moulded to the shape of his hands when he removed them.
Ellie watched as he took in a shaky breath, but she heard no exhale.
The silence that filled the space around them was icier than the Alps they had just flown over. Her brother’s gaze remained fixed on the window, watching as the ground, and his fate, drew ever closer. Deep, ragged breaths steamed up the window, which was almost touching his nose. Desperately, he tried to control the tremors shaking his body, and his pounding heart, from the fear that washed over him in waves.
“Luke, please, say something.” Worry had crept into Ellie’s tone. She had thought her idea would do him good, that forcing him to face everything would turn him back into his old self. Ellie missed the brother she had grown up with and wanted him back. However, seeing his eyes wide with fear, his jaw clenched in anger, and his arms tense with both, suddenly she wasn’t so sure about her plan.
“You promised, Ellie. You swore you wouldn’t pressure me, and I trusted you with that. You know how I feel about this.” His voice was sharp and curt as he spoke through clenched teeth, trying to keep a hold on his emotions.
The urge to flee surged within him. He wanted to go home, to get off the plane and board the next flight straight back to England, but he couldn’t. Not only was the plane still minutes from landing—trapping him in the confines of economy class, which felt even smaller as realisation forced him to understand Ellie’s plans—but he also refused to waste more money on the pointless trip Ellie had conned him into taking. If he was going to use the money he had earned from before everything changed, it would be on his own terms.
“You’ll enjoy it when you’re there,” Ellie stated, brushing off his comments like they meant nothing to her.
“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to live with, or through, what I have.” Luke was trying hard to control his voice. Had they been in private, he would have already been shouting. The cramped environment meant that Ellie was getting off lightly, but he swore that when they reached their chalet, he would not hold back. She had no right to interfere with his life.
“Never tell me I didn’t live through it, Luke. I was there when it happened, in the hospital, and when you got home. I was there through it all. It may not have been me, but it wasn’t like it had no effect on my life,” Ellie hissed. It was the only way she could convey her anger without disturbing other passengers.
“Why though, Ellie? Why is this such a big deal to you?” Luke’s eyes were full of sorrow as he turned to face his sister for the first time, begging to understand her reasoning for putting him through something she knew would hurt him.

About the Author

Mia Hoddell lives in the UK with her family and two cats. She spends most of her time writing or reading, loves anything paranormal and has an overactive imagination that keeps her up until the early hours of the morning.

With three poems published before the age of sixteen, Mia moved on to short stories but finding she had too much to tell with too little space, Mia progressed to novels. She started her first series (The Wanderer Trilogy) at the age of fourteen and since then hasn’t stopped writing. Elemental Killers is her second series and with an ever growing list of ideas, Mia is trying to keep up with the speed at which her imagination generates them.

Connect with Mia:

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Book Review: Deeper We Fall (Fall and Rise #1) by Chelsea M. Cameron

Two years after her best friend was involved in a car accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, Lottie Anders is ready to start her freshman year of college. Ready to move on. Ready to start forgetting the night that ripped her life apart.

Her plans come to a screeching halt when not one, but both brothers responsible for the accident end up back in her life again.

Zack is cruel, selfish and constantly rubbing what happened to her friend in Lottie's face.

Zan is different. He listens to her awkward ramblings. He loves
To Kill a Mockingbird as much as she does, and his dark eyes are irresistible. His words are few and far between, but when he does speak, she can't help but listen.

The trouble is, Zan was the driver in the accident, and now Lottie's discovered he lied to her about what happened that night. Now she must decide if trusting him again will lead to real forgiveness, or deeper heartache.
Release Date: January 24, 2013
Age Group: New Adult
Source: NetGalley
Reviewed By: Kelli
New Adult contemporary fiction is an increasingly popular genre, and I definitely have the fever for these books.  During times of stress, illness, or just being overwhelmed, I  find that I don't want to work at reading a book, as with paranormal or fantasy books where the reader has to remember the rules of the world.  Sometimes I just want to read something fun and easy to read.  Contemporary fiction has always been a favorite of mine for this reason, and I love the New Adult contemporary fiction genre because the stories are more adult than YA fiction. 

The only caveat to this genre is that the stories can start to feel pretty similar over time.  After all, the setting is usually a college campus, where the main characters live in the dorms and are away from home for the first time.  The characters usually experience all of their "firsts" in NA fiction, from my experience. 

So, like with any genre, I love it when authors distinguish their stories from the rest of the pack.  Chelsea Cameron does a great job setting Deeper We Fall apart from the rest of NA contemporary fiction with her writing style.  Everything about this book felt authentic.  The dialogue---even the cursing and sarcasm---was used to perfection, to advance both the storyline and the reader's knowledge of the characters.  Cameron's tone was perfect for the story, matching exactly what I'd expect a college freshman to sound like.  Her writing is intelligent, quirky, and fun to read.  It was my favorite aspect of this book.

Strong heroines are the best, and Charlotte's get-up-and-go spirit endeared me to her right away.  She's spunky, sassy and unafraid to speak her mind.  Her trait of always saying too much was a defining characteristic and it made me like her more.  Charlotte is a twin and a very devoted friend: once someone is in her inner circle, there's nothing she won't do for them.  I admired how she never gave up on Lexie, even though it was unbearably hard to see her friend go through so much.

As for the love story, while it had the opportunity to fit into the "bad boy/good girl" cliché, it didn't.  Zan was a mystery and I liked that he didn't fit the usual bad boy profile.  I liked that the love story develops slowly, over months, because it felt deeper and again, more realistic.  

Cameron surprised me with the conclusion---a good surprise---and I was so happy to learn that Deeper We Fall is the first in a series.  It looks like book two focuses on Stryker and Katie (yay!).  I love it when series books focus on one character (or pair of characters) at a time, providing plenty of closure from book to book, instead of drawing the love story out for books on end.   

In a genre where the stories can be so similar, Deeper We Fall stands out from the rest.  I highly recommend this book, and can't wait to read book two!


Mini Reviews: The Forest of Hands & Teeth Trilogy

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

This was my first zombie series and it didn’t disappoint! It was so freaking creepy and the plot was full of twists and turns. Ryan has no problem giving hope, a little love and a whole lot of tragedy. My husband thought I was being sweet when I snuggled close to him in bed just after completing the first book (this was after I did a full sweep of the house to make sure all the doors and windows were locked). When I revealed that I was in fact snuggled up to his back because I was scared out of my mind that the zombie apocalypse might begin that night, he asked what I was reading. I told him a little about it and he replied “finally some perks to all this late night reading” and then rolled over and went to sleep.
I went to sleep… and then began having vivid zombie dreams and really came up with some clever escape plans. Did I stop reading because I was frightened… HECK.NO. I had to know what was going to happen to Mary. But Ryan does not simply carry on from where the story ends. Each book follows another characters story- It was the same set up as Lois Lowry’s the Giver dystology, each book has its own journey but are all connected and continue to build on this post-apocalyptic world and change from one characters POV to another. 

The next installment, The Dead Tossed Waves, tells the story of Gabry (who you quickly find out, is Mary’s daughter and begins about 15 years after Mary’s story ended). Of this series I have to say that this book was my favorite. I really liked Gabry and her strong innocence. For me, there was more growth for the characters in this book and I was happy, sad, continued to be freaked out and felt my heart racing as if I was running right beside Gabry. 

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

The Dark & Hallow Places tells the struggles of Annah and I won’t spoil it and tell you how she ties in but I will say it was unexpected. Annah was a real fighter and kind of acts like a caged cat. I can’t say I would act much different if I were thrust into this nightmare of a world. When I reached the end of this book I was like “noooooo that can’t be all, I need to know!” I was a little disappointed because it was the end of the series and there were still so many looming questions. But guess what Ryan doesn’t tie things up in a bow and blow kisses your way, she says BITE ME and try to survive.

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.
Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.
But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

I would recommend this series to all dystopian lovers and zombie fanatics. I can still hear the chattering of teeth and the moans that never cease. 

If you find that you are needing more (like me), there is a prequel and a few short stories (not novellas) that tell the tales of others trying to survive this post-apocalyptic world. Click on the images below.
Prequal to The Forest of Hands & Teeth
Jonah's story

image sources: 

Children's Book Review: Rayne Shines by Bonnie Ferrante

Rayne is bored with life, until a new family moves in next door. Why do they look so happy? Rayne wants to know their secret. Rayne Shines is a humorous and thought-provoking picture book for ages 5-7.
Release Date: March 6, 2014
Age Group: Ages 5-7
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli & Kaitlyn
Rayne Shines is such a cute book.  I loved the cadence of the text, the colorful yet simple illustrations, and the book's message. 
Ferrante uses just the right amount of words on each page to keep the pace perfect.  The text doesn't rhyme, but because of the cadence to it, it doesn't need to rhyme to be engaging.  I love it when children's book authors draw their own illustrations, and Ferrante's illustrations are perfect for the story.
Rayne is, of course, a frog.  I liked that she and her family did "froggy" things, such as eat bugs for dinner.  I appreciate it when animals in children's stories are not anthropomorphized.
The message was one of how your view on things, whether positive or negative affects everything in your life.  I loved that there is character growth in this short book---something that's rare in children's literature.
Kaitlyn (age 3) enjoyed Rayne Shines too.  She was very engaged in the story and when we finished reading the book, she told me how much she liked it.  
Rayne Shines is a cute, fun book perfect for ages 3 and up.  Kaitlyn and I both enjoyed this book and would definitely read Bonnie Ferrante again.

Book Review: Rise (Eve #3) by Anna Carey

How far will you go when you have nothing left to lose?

When she lost her soul mate, Caleb, Eve felt like her world had ended. Trapped in the palace, forced to play the part of the happy, patriotic princess of The New America—and the blushing bride of her father's top adviser—Eve's whole life is a lie. The only thing that keeps her going is Caleb's memory, and the revolution he started.

Now, Eve is taking over where Caleb left off. With the help of Moss, an undercover subversive in the King's court, she plots to take down The New America, beginning with the capital, the City of Sand. Will Eve be able to bring about a new, free world when she's called upon to perform the ultimate act of rebellion—killing her father?

In Rise, Eve must choose who to leave behind, who to save, and who to fight as Anna Carey's epic tale of romance and sacrifice in the chilling dystopia of The New America comes to a stunning conclusion.

Release Date:  April 2, 2013
Age Group:  YA
Source: Purchased

I've liked the Eve series but it hasn't been a stand-out in the genre for me.  Read my reviews of Eve and Once to see what I thought of the first two books in the series.  I do like Carey's writing, especially her pacing, but the intensity was never really there for me like it is in other dystopian series. 

I liked seeing Eve grow and change in Rise.  Character growth is one of my favorite things to read about.  Eve is a strong character and often puts others' needs above her own.  This was a big change from the Eve of book one, who made selfish decisions and never felt contrite to me.  Events in Rise lead Eve to become a little softer and more caring as well.  I liked seeing that side of her.  

The main thing that I didn't like about Rise was that something felt missing, or rather a certain someone.  I had a feeling how the book was going to end, and I'm glad it ended the way it did, but I think Carey should have included an epilogue to provide more closure.  The ending was just too open for my tastes and it made me not like Rise as much as I could have.

Overall, I would recommend this series, with the caveat that there are better YA dystopian series out there.  I do like Carey's writing and I would read her work again.