Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shelf Candy Saturday No. 209: The Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!

*Late Edition*
This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information, 
if available, on their 
very talented creators!

Here's my choice for this week!

The Language of Thorns: Midnight
Tales and Dangerous Magic
Leigh Bardugo
Hardcover, 224  pages
Imprint Reads
(part of Macmillan Children's 
Publishing Group)
September 26, 2017
   Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

My Thoughts About This Cover

I would not normally go for such a perfectly symmetrical cover, especially one with 'an ominous vibe', but this one is SO very stunning, I just had to pick it for this week's "Shelf Candy Saturday"! (Which is increasingly turning into "Shelf Candy Sunday", lol.)

When I first came across this cover, it was on the blog Brittany's Book Rambles, run, of course, by Brittany. She featured this book on her latest "Waiting On Wednesday" post. You can check out the post HERE. This is a BEAUTIFUL blog, by the way, and Brittany features a LOT of Young Adult Fiction on it, so be sure to take a look at it!

This cover's design is not only symmetrical, but intricate, and yet, simple at the same time. The thorns are part of little vignettes that are neatly placed in each of the book's four corners, meeting in the middle of the cover, top and bottom, through 'extensions' that just barely touch. The thorny stems are ornate motifs that look 'innocent' enough -- until the spiky, very sinister-looking thorns emerge. Then they actually become threatening....

In spite of the ominous feeling I get from this cover, I also see a touch of whimsy in it. That comes from the four small animals framed by the thorny vignettes. They're actually cute. I don't know what they symbolize, but, of course, they must have something to do with the story. The small crescent moon at the top refers to the night, naturally. I wonder if it's supposed to complement the two small dots -- they look like eyes -- framed at the bottom of the cover.

I LOVE the color scheme! It's a very unusual one, too, but works beautifully with the dark background. In fact, the three colors used so skillfully here contribute to the fairy tale feeling of the cover, as well as to the somewhat threatening mood.

The font is basically a classic one, but it's been altered and embellished very nicely. It forms a very nice contrast with rest of the cover, but doesn't clash with it in any way.

As I took one last look at the cover, I realized that the thorny branches surrounding the title actually form a diamond shape around it, thus emphasizing it Very clever!

Who created this cover AWESOMENESS? Well, none other than the cover artist for Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon!! Her name is Natalie Sousa, and she's the Creative Director at Imprint Reads, which is a part of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. (She's also known as N.C. Sousa.) In the past, she's worked for Penguin, Scholastic, and Warner Brothers. If you check out her cover designs at her website, you'll see that she has a very eclectic style. She's also a print designer.

Online Links

What do you think of this 
week's cover?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 92: Reading Books that Clash with your Beliefs

Welcome to the Book Blogger Hop,
hosted by Billy @

For more information, and 
to find out the topic of next week's question, click HERE.

This Week's Question

Would you stop reading a book if an element of the plot strongly clashed with your personal beliefs,
or would you continue reading until
you finished the book?

(Submitted  byMaria  @ 

My Answer

WARNING: There will be some spoilers included in my answer. These are necessary in order for me to fully discuss why I did not like a particular book. 

I do have one extremely important belief, which is part and parcel of my Christian upbringing. (Of course, this belief is also shared by those of other religions, and even, sometimes, of none.) It is the belief in the value of ethical, moral behavior. If I'm reading a novel that fails to present such behavior in a positive light, then the book will make me feel so uncomfortable that, most likely, I won't be able to finish reading it.

One of the things that really bothers me is when I come across a main character -- whether male or female -- who is a villain. I don't enjoy reading about such people. I cannot ever sympathize or empathize with a character who is blatantly engaged in evil acts. However -- and this is the unfortunate part -- on at least two occasions I did find myself reading such a book until the very end. 

The first book that comes to mind is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. I hated Heathcliff! This man was totally evil, and all he cared about was revenge. The worst part of it all was that he took revenge on the wrong people. I don't know why I had to read this novel until the very end..... I guess I just wanted to understand why it's considered a classic. To me, it was a nightmarish reading experience! Still, I did love the prose, and the characterizations were perfect. If only Heathcliff had not been so evil....

I do have another objection to this novel, which is that, in my honest opinion, the plot just seems too contrived. The author kills off characters when they're no longer useful to the story. This is also just too unrealistic. Furthermore, Catherine Earnshaw's passing is totally melodramatic, and not believable at all.

The second book is another classic -- Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. While I also loved the prose style of this author, as well as her masterful buildup of suspense and skillful characterizations, I was totally disappointed and disgusted when I found out that one of the main characters had actually been guilty of murder. Worse still, there's another character in the novel who even helps the murderer to cover up the crime! Thanks to this help, the character in question totally gets away with it, too.

In this case, du Maurier disclosed the murder so late in the novel that I felt I just had to finish the book. Besides, I kept hoping that it would turn out not to be true that this person had, in fact, committed a murder. But no, that never happened.....

I read this novel for the first time many years ago, and didn't remember all of the events at the time of my second reading. What I did remember was how the movie version presented the character. In the movie, the person was definitely not a murderer. So, when I re-read the novel, it was even more disappointing to me to find out how things had really gone down.....

Another thing I didn't care for was the way the female main character was depicted. She was much too spineless and insecure. On second thought, du Maurier might have wanted to detail the negative effects of such conventionally conditioned behavior in women. 

Another novel that I found sheer torture to read was Isle of Night, by Veronica Wolff. Although I'm a big fan of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as Young Adult Fiction, I just couldn't take this book.... I never finished it. What bothered me about this novel? Well, as I mentioned in my review, a brutal murder takes place pretty early on in the plot, and nothing is done about it. Also, by the end of the novel, the main female character has become a trained, professional assassin. (Yes, I did peek at the ending....) UGH. This novel also contains other highly unethical elements. The vampires depicted are totally ruthless and have no qualms about killing. Various kidnappings take place, as well, and again, the perpetrators are never punished. On top of everything else, I didn't like the relationship between the various female 'students' and the vampires they were supposed to assist in their projects.

As you can see, I can't stand it when criminal behavior goes unpunished. If there's no justice in the world, then I want to see it in fiction. Of course, fiction frequently mirrors reality, even if it's in the fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, or magic realism genres. Still, it really bothers me when villainous characters don't get what they deserve in the end. 

Infidelity is another type of unethical behavior that really bothers me, especially if a character gets away with it. I know what it's like to be cheated on, and hey, it ain't pleasant. I have never inflicted -- nor would I ever inflict -- such grossly selfish, cruel behavior on anyone. 

Because of my strong feelings regarding this issue, I was unable to get through Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. I did try, because I was reading it as part of a read-along, but I just could not finish it. I was never able to relate to Anna or to her lover, Vronsky. I wanted them to be punished. I wanted them to suffer because of their actions. The novel did have a tragic ending for Anna (I peeked again, lol), but somehow, I still felt unsatisfied.

Another disappointing book for me, also because of the issue of cheating, was Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, by Lisa Kleypas. I was really surprised by this one, as this author has a reputation for penning great romances. (This was my first Kleypas novel, too.) However, I just could not get into this story, and the reason was a very simple one: the two romantic leads met while the man was in a romantic relationship with another woman. The fact that he didn't tell this other woman about his involvement with the new one, until he was absolutely sure his new relationship would work out, made it impossible for me to continue reading this book. Talk about unethical behavior!

Yet another highly disappointing novel, and again because of the issue of infidelity, was The Christmas Bridge, by Elyse Douglas. (This is the pen name of a husband-and-wife team.) This novel concerns the story of a woman who cheated on her hometown boyfriend with a guy she met in college. During a holiday visit home, she goes out with this hometown boyfriend and gets pregnant. So, she dumps her college boyfriend -- whom she had very deep feelings for -- to marry the hometown boyfriend. Did she love this boyfriend? No. She just married him because he had gotten her pregnant. 

Years later, as a widow, she decides to reconnect with the college guy. But, on the eve of her planned dinner date with him, she meets yet another guy, and starts up a relationship with him. I peeked at the ending in this instance, too (blush, blush), and saw that it was a happy one -- for the woman and the third guy. This made me see red, because the poor college guy went through a romantic rejection twice, and from the same woman! Needless to say, I hated her guts!! Thank God this was a Kindle book. I easily got rid of it, and received a refund from Amazon. Lol.

I was very surprised by the plot of this book, as I had previously read a highly satisfying one by the same authors. Titled The Christmas Town, it was the totally wonderful story of two young women who unwittingly step through a time portal, and are transported to a small town in the year 1943. While there, they meet and fall in love with two soldiers on leave from the war front. What a contrast between the two novels! This one was thoroughly enchanting! I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading holiday romances, as well as time travel romances.

Another novel on my list of unpalatable books is The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. This one was a rather curious experience for me. While I could admire the main male character's defiance of "what people like", and his firm decision to stick to his creative guns, I couldn't stand his unashamedly arrogant attitude. (In fact, he strongly reminds me of Donald Trump.) I also disliked the author's obvious disdain and contempt for the disadvantaged, as she makes it a point to disparage them for needing government assistance. (I was not totally surprised to find out that Paul Ryan* is a huge Rand fan.) Thank God I didn't get very far, because I also found out, through a review of this novel, that Howard Roark, the main male character, actually rapes a woman he is in a romantic relationship with, and insists that she enjoyed it. In other words, Rand was an unfeeling, uncaring, misogynist and bigot. End of story. 

Yet another pet peeve of mine is encountering vulgar language in fiction. I realize that authors want their books to reflect real life, even if they are writing fantasy. Still, I don't think it's at all necessary to use such language. I cringe every single time I come across "the F bomb", for instance. It's bad enough that I do hear this word when I go to work every afternoon. I teach adults English at a local high school, so, when I'm entering the school building, I will sometimes hear passing high school students saying this word. I just steel myself, and walk on, as it's really not my place to correct these students. But I hate hearing the word! So I will simply not tolerate it in fiction.

Just the other day, I started reading a book I featured here on the blog. It's titled If You Were My Vampire, by L.J.K. Oliva. I initially loved this book! The characters and plot were totally engaging, and I began to devour the book. But, I soon found out that the text was liberally sprinkled with "effing this" and "effing that". There were also other vulgar words that I didn't care for. Additionally, I didn't like the way the vamps in the novel went about getting their "nourishment". This was definitely not like The Twilight Saga! I did try to continue reading, but finally had to give up. Another Kindle refund from Amazon! Lol.

Yet another problem I have with novels is when the plots include very graphic sex and violence, as well as the depiction of sheer terror. These objections are also part of my general view on ethical behavior in fiction.

I don't mind sex scenes if they're presented in a romantic manner. If they're too explicit, though, I really don't care for them at all. This is why I refuse to read erotica. 

As for violence, again, I realize that some action is necessary in certain types of novels, but I certainly do not need to read all the gory details about severed body parts and blood all over the place, for example.

In addition to erotica, I totally refuse to read the horror genre. I do not enjoy being so terrified that I will not be able to sleep at night! This is what happened to me when I made the huge mistake of reading The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, years ago. I never saw the movie, but, just from reading the book, I could not sleep well for an entire week! This is another novel that I couldn't finish reading. 

An additional problem with the horror genre is the moral ambiguity of these novels. The bad guys frequently win out in the end, or the fact of whether or not they do win is left up in the air. This is totally unsatisfactory to me, as I have already pointed out.

These are some of the books I've come across that really bothered me so much I simply had to stop reading them (with the two exceptions mentioned above). I've also come across others that I've never even started, because, just from skimming a few pages, I could tell I wouldn't like them, for the reasons stated above. Heck, sometimes the synopsis itself will tell me that a book is just not for me! Needless to say, I would never even start reading a novel that presented racism in a positive way, nor one that did the same thing for the mistreatment of women.

In short, reading is supposed to be an enjoyable activity that takes you away from the unpleasantness of reality, although admittedly, characters in fiction do encounter formidable challenges of their own. However, escaping into books should not involve anything that causes a reader too much discomfort. If that happens, then the only sensible thing to do is to just stop reading!  

* For my international readers, Paul Ryan is the current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Like Trump, he's a Republican.

What are your thoughts on
this topic?
Please leave a comment!
If you're participating in this meme,
I'll go comment on your 
own BBH post.
If not, I will then comment on one 
of your blog posts!
Thanks for visiting!!! 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tour Review/Giveaway!! Hard-Hearted Highlander, by Julia London

Hard-Hearted Highlander
(Highland Grooms, Book 3)
Julia London
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Harlequin Books
April 25, 2017
Historical Fiction, Romance

An indomitable governess...a brooding Highlander...a forbidden affair...

An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Holly her reputation, her unsuitable lover,  and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear—not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline Kent is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette's solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.

A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It's even worse when the 
fiancée in question is a delicate, foolish young miss unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie's life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan's future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?

I received a complimentary paperback copy of this novel in return for my honest review. And I was honestly blown away by this novel!

 As an eclectic reader, there are times when I want to be immersed in the past, especially when romance is involved. I particularly love Scottish Highlanders, too! These romance novels are usually full of passion and great drama, as well as a touch of humor. Hard-Hearted Highlander was certainly no exception to this, and was beautifully-written, as well!

Julia London is not an unfamiliar name to me, but I had never read any of her novels. So, when I encountered this one, I was immediately drawn to it. Of course, the gorgeous cover had a lot to do with that!

Rabbie Mckenzie, this book's romantic hero, is my new book boyfriend! He's such a WONDERFUL guy.... As the story starts, as well as throughout the novel, the reader is made to feel his pain at the loss of his Scottish  fiancée during the rebellion against the English. I was really touched by Rabbie's deep feelings for Seona, the woman he loved so deeply that he was actually contemplating suicide because of his relentless memories of her, of their love....

Rabbie is less than enthusiastic when he meets Bernadette Holly, a Sassenach, which is what the Scottish call an English-speaking person, since they themselves speak Gaelic. He thinks she's arrogant, in total contrast to Seona. Little does he know what the future holds for him where Bernadette is concerned

Circumstances surrounding the rebellion have forced the Mckenzie clan to do something to protect their interests, and Rabbie is the unfortunate 'chosen one'. He must marry the very young, naive, and totally clueless Avaline Kent, another Sassenach, albeit one who does not hold any interest for him.... Rabbie much prefers the passionate Bernadette, Avaline's combination governess/maid, instead.  

This novel drew me in immediately, holding my interest throughout. Not only did I love the characters -- especially Rabbie and Bernadette -- but I also loved the world they lived in! The Mckenzie clan was so wonderfully united in their fierce love of the land, as well as each member of the clan. I also got a feel for the rivalry between them and the Buchanans, another clan mentioned in the book. The Highlanders are all about honor, family, and land, and this was very evident throughout the novel.

The romance between Rabbie and Bernadette was not only depicted in a very realistic manner, but was also poignant and moving, as well as passionately romantic. Both of these characters had past emotional baggage; Rabbie was mourning the loss of his planned life with the woman he loved, and Bernadette was mourning not only the loss of a husband, but also of the child conceived of that union. How these two move beyond their heavy losses to find a second chance at love is a beautifully-told story that is truly compelling and unforgettable. Their romance progressed at a very believable pace, as well. There was definitely no "insta-love" here! Instead, there was mutual dislike, which then gradually moved into a mutual romantic obsession.

The secondary characters were also memorable. I ADORED Aulay Mckenzie, the ship's captain. This novel got me wondering as to whether London has already written his story. If so, I DEFINITELY want to read it! He's such a sweet, honorable man! 

I found Avaline, Rabbie's 'intended', to be rather exasperating at times, but then, being saddled with such an obnoxious tyrant for a father would surely be NO fun for any young girl! Although she was rather vapid and vacuous, I did feel sorry for her on many occasions, and I certainly understood her fear of Rabbie, since he was quite a bit older than her. Besides, they were just too incompatible

Lord Kent, Avaline's father, was horribly unpleasant, and London depicted him in a very detailed manner, so as to fully bring out all of his despicable personality traits. He had no love or compassion for his daughter, but only saw her as a means to expand his riches, and secure land in Scotland through her arranged marriage to Rabbie Mckenzie.  

This character was the perfect exemplar of the calculating, totally ruthless misogynist who sees women as nothing more than property, to be bartered, traded, or sold, whether through marriage, or forced servitude. He was TOTALLY oblivious to his daughter's needs. I totally ENJOYED hating him!! 

Lady Mckenzie was another great secondary character. She was always supportive and loving toward Rabbie. Not that his father wasn't, but Lady Mckenzie had a special relationship with her son, and really understood his pain, more than anyone else.

The children, Ualan and Fiona, were also very memorable. Their relationship with Rabbie, as well as Bernadette, toward the last third of the book, was yet another factor that really endeared this novel to me.  

Although she was present in the novel only through Rabbie's memories of her, Seona was also a memorable secondary character. She and Rabbie had a beautiful relationship, and I was sorry they didn't get to stay together, even though I loved Rabbie and Bernadette's relationship just as much. The flashbacks that included this character gave added poignancy to the developing story, as well as fascinating background on the Scottish rebellion that forms the backdrop for the novel. 

The whole setting of the story made this into such a grand drama! The sea, the land itself, played an important part in making the events so very real and vivid. I loved the descriptions of these elements, and fervently wish I could visit Scotland at some point in the future. 

I loved the way London tied everything up in the end. There were neither loose ends, nor any cliffhangers. Instead, I felt a very satisfactory sense of completion. In fact, the way some of the problems finally worked out was even a bit funny.

Julia London has certainly penned a wonderful, touching, beautiful story of love lost and found again, of poignant family relationships, and of the strength and brave heart of a people irrevocably tied to their culture, their land.

This is a novel to be enjoyed on many levels. It's not just a 'regular' romance novel, but a story to feel and live through -- a story that will stay in the mind and the heart. 


Praise for 
Hard-Hearted Highlander

“An absorbing read from a novelist at the top of her game.” –Kirkus STARRED review on Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1)

“Expert storytelling and believable characters make the romance between Arran and Margot come alive in this compelling novel packed with characters whom readers will be sad to leave behind.” –Publishers Weekly STARRED review on Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1)

“With well-developed characters who experience genuine growth, London is at the top of her game in this thrilling tale of political intrigue and second chances. This absorbing and passionate romance bodes well for future Highland Grooms titles.” –Booklist STARRED review on Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1)

Purchase Links

Julia London is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including the popular Secrets of Hadley Green historical romance series, the Cabot Sisters historical romance series, and the Homecoming Ranch contemporary romance series. She is a six time finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction, and RT Bookclub award recipient for Best Historical Romance for Dangerous Gentleman. She lives in Austin, Texas.


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