Review: Down With The Shine

Down With The Shine, Kate Karyus Quinn

Hardcover, 355 pages

Publication: April 26th 2016 by HarperTeen

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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There’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Magic moonshine?  Who could pass that drink up?  Ok, I might now after reading this strange little book.  But given the chance at a magical drink as a teen?  What a premise this book gives!  I read Down With the Shine in a day – I had to fly through it to see how this mixture of YA, grit lit, and magical realism could turn out.  I have to say that I was surprised and entertained all throughout.  Lennie knows that her uncles brew moonshine.  She knows there is a family ritual that offers a wish to go with drinking the first sip, but she doesn’t know that her uncles are really granting wishes.  So when she takes jars of shine and crashes the party of year and makes a wish for everyone who asks – let’s just say she wakes up to all kinds of messes the next day.  

I liked Lennie.  She started out pretty sad and morose, but she grew quite a spine in the end.  She has a pretty rough awakening to the wish granting business and I liked how she owned up to her mistakes.  I really was amused by her uncles and I wish there had been more time with them.  I would have liked to have learned the secrets to a successful moonshine/wish granting lifestyle!  

The description of the book should make it clear that Down With The Shine isn’t a book to take too seriously – with literal balls of steel and all – but it seemed to take things a little too lightly at times.  This started like it was going to be a very dark  – Lennie is a social pariah after the murder of her best friend.  But then after the party the feeling changed pretty rapidly which took me a minute to get used to.  I think the elements of darkness in Lennie’s life just didn’t balance with the silliness for me.  It was hard to go from feeling sorry for Lennie due to her murderous father, spaced out mother, and overall loneliness  to laughing at those balls of steel or teenage boys with working wings.  I like dark humor – I just needed the darkness and humor to meld more overall.   Had there been more depth all around I think this could have gone from a fun and fast book to a really great book. 

However, I thought the ending was clever and tied things up just right.  Not at all what I expected!  Definitely one to try when you want to laugh and are ok with some gross along with it.  

Thank you HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Reluctantly Charmed

Reluctantly Charmed, Ellie O’Neill

Amanda

Expected publication: March 17th 2015 by Touchstone

Paperback, 416 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Ireland is one of those places that I’ve yet to visit but love to read about. I know it’s not all green hills and Guinness but those are so fun to daydream of over a good book!  So between Ireland, the pretty cover and the description for Reluctantly Charmed I was sold.  I’m so glad I was because this was just the light and refreshing book I wanted.  Kate McDaid finds out that she’s inherited something mysterious from a long-ago aunt, also named Kate McDaid, if she publishes 7 messages left along with the will.  The messages turn out to be 7 steps given by the fairies to Kate about reconnecting the fairies and mortals.  Kate has a laugh over the other Kate’s determination to have her message heard and goes along just to see what happens.  A lot happens.  Some magic, some romance and a bit of a reality check about celebrity.  Kate learns that some people take the fairies very seriously.

Kate isn’t your typical damsel in distress chick-lit heroine.  She’s not lighting the world on fire at work perhaps, but she has a job that she likes, she has good friends and is close to her parents, she has a crush on an inappropriate man.  Then come the Seven Steps. I loved that Reluctantly Charmed was able to get more serious with Kate – but still didn’t take itself too seriously.  Kate gets in over her head-but gets her own way out.  She didn’t need a hero to save her in the end -just her own wits.  While I saw the romance coming, the end of the Steps was not at all what I would have predicted and I really liked how it all played out.

I would definitely recommend this for a cute spring read and after this delightful debut I will look forward to O’Neill’s next book.

4 stars!

Thank you Touchstone and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: First Frost

First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen (Waverley Sisters #2)

Amanda

Hardcover, 304 pages

Expected publication: January 20th 2015 by St. Martin’s Press

Source: ARC from St. Martin’s Press

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From Goodreads…

It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

The Waverleys are back!  Having just finished rereading Garden Spells I jumped right into Sarah Addison Allen’s newest book First Frost.  Though First Frost is intended as a standalone novel it continues the story of the Waverley sisters met in Garden Spells.  I think you can certainly enjoy these books independently, but I found the story richer having just reread Garden Spells.  Sarah Addison Allen’s books are happy reads for me and I felt like I was catching up on old friends as I began reading about Claire, Sydney and Bay.

The apple tree at the Waverley home is part of their mystique in the town.  The rumor is that if  you eat an apple from the tree that you’ll see whatever the biggest event of your  life will be.  The Waverley’s don’t eat the apples as a rule and they try to keep anyone else from getting to them.  The tree doesn’t really appreciate the interfering and is still throwing its own apples to people.  The tree is also unusual as it blossoms at the First Frost every year and not in the fall.  As the Waverley’s wait for the frost they feel uncertain and edgy and are all more likely to make poor choices.

A mysterious stranger has come to town, but he always seems to disappear before Claire can see him. Claire has stopped her catering business and is spending nearly all of her waking hours on a new venture-Waverley’s Candies.  The Candies have taken off with an unprecedented popularity and Claire finds herself overwhelmed and once again questioning herself and her abilities.  Sydney is as in love with her husband as she has ever been, but longing to have another child.  Sydney’s daughter Bay is in high school now and still has the gift to be able to tell where things -or people belong.  Poor Bay knows she belongs in Bascom, but the one young man she knows belongs with her barely acknowledges her existence.  I was really glad that none of the romantic angst in this story came from Claire and Sydney – the sisters found their happy marriages and that didn’t need to change.  The sisters have matured beyond who they were in Garden Spells and are much closer.  Claire and Sydney are each other’s touchstones in times of distress which I loved after the distance between them originally in Garden Spells.

The effects of the magical stranger on the town and on Claire were kind of jarring in comparison to the rest of the story.  I liked the storyline in the end, but his whole presence was too harsh at first for me.  I enjoyed the book in spite of that plotline- not because of it.  He was the vehicle to get the story where it needed to go for Claire.  I did like that the questions the stranger forced on Claire made her look back at the Waverley women so that we learn more about their mother and grandmother.   I loved seeing Bay as a young woman determining her relationship with her mother and her own path in Bascom.

At the end I was just happy to be back with characters I loved, getting more of their story.  While this might not be my favorite of her books this is definitely a book I’ll recommend for Sarah Addison Allen fans and those who enjoy magical realism.

4 stars!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams, Menna van Praag

Amanda

Expected publication: December 30th 2014 by Ballantine Books

Paperback, 336 pgs

Source: E-ARC from Edelweiss

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From Goodreads…

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Cora and Etta are all the family each other has.  Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was a small child. She knows she was deeply loved, but has basically shut down her heart and emotions since that time. Cora is determined to be a part of scientific research that will save lives, just as her parents planned to do. Etta just wants to see her granddaughter’s happiness and so she makes just one nudge to help.  One nudge is more than enough!  With that one nudge, Cora is knocked out of her academic bubble, which leads to both her and her childhood friend Walter meeting new people.

I wish I could go to Etta’s magical shop and find the perfect dress for myself!  Parts about this book definitely exemplified what I love about magical realism.  There’s no magic wands or magic spells, but just a “feeling” of what’s possible or what’s true-and it’s fun to sometimes believe in magic like that.  Etta’s magic gowns give the wearers confidence and lead them to believe in their own beauty -that’s the kind of magic I think we all need sometimes!  The voice that makes us feel love, the priest who hears confession without words, a cop that can see truths – all kinds of magic that are almost believable.

I really liked Cora; and Etta too despite the meddling. Etta’s push sets Cora on a path to feel everything she’s been missing-both good and bad. I thought van Praag did this so well, because you can’t appreciate joy in the same way if you don’t also know sorrow.  I liked Walt as Cora’s friend and then as her love interest. I thought his deep love over the years was maybe a bit too far fetched, but it was still sweet.  I also loved that there was more than just one romance happening- but those didn’t always feel as real to me either. Still, I really enjoyed the variety even if I didn’t love all the couples.

I don’t know how to quite sum up what I didn’t like about the Dress Shop of Dreams without spoilers, but so I’ll just say that the Cora under great stress was not who I felt I had been reading and I didn’t like that so much. I didn’t think she’d face her problems like that.  Once we got past that confrontation I felt we had the same Cora back and I was overall happy with all the resolutions.

I do not like that every book with magical realism has to hold itself out as “just like Sarah Addison Allen!”  I get it, SAA is wonderful and I love her books.  But don’t hold yourself out to be just like her because its just kind of a bummer when your book isn’t The Sugar Queen.  That being said, if you like magical realism I would definitely give this a chance.  If you haven’t tried magical realism I do recommend this as a sweet introduction.

3 stars

Thank you to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Night Garden: A Novel

The Night Garden, Lisa Van Allen

Amanda

Published October 7th 2014 by Ballantine Books

Paperback, 352 pages

Source: Edelweiss

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From Goodreads…

Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

When I started The Night Garden I almost could have believed I was reading a Sarah Addison Allen book, but it quickly became a story all its own.  I loved the idea of the Pennywort Farm, where you can just be given the answers to your hard questions if you wait long enough in the maze.  I just couldn’t love Olivia Pennywort herself.  As she was described as kind of unapproachable to the townspeople she felt that way to me as a reader as well.  I liked her more as her walls came down and she began to act like more of a real person and act for herself.  I liked Sam much more and I was definitely rooting for him throughout-even when I wasn’t sure Olivia deserved him.

I don’t want to give away Olivia’s secret-but that was cool!  I thought this twist by Van Allen was going to have an easier answer and I was gratified that Olivia and Sam had to work harder for their romance.  Also wow!  This got way steamier than I was anticipating!  I loved how the Garden became a character itself that Olivia and Sam had to work with to find a way to be together.

When the book was building up the question of whether Olivia and Sam could be together for so long I wanted more out of the answer in the end.  It felt like the ending was rushed which did not go along with the whimsical style.  Still Van Allen has promise and I will definitely try her first book and keep my eye out for future publications. The writing was lovely and flowery to fit the scene and if you enjoy magical realism I definitely think you should try the Night Garden.

3 stars

Thank you Ballantine Books and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!