Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday No. 42: The Traitor's Game, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Welcome to "Can't Wait Wednesday"!
This is a weekly event hosted by
Tressa @ Wishful Endings, and inspired by "Waiting On Wednesday", which used to be hosted by
 Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

For more information, please click HERE.

As in the previous meme, this one showcases future releases  we book  bloggers 
are eagerly anticipating!!
There's also a Linky widget, so participating blogs can link up!

Here's my choice for this week!

 The Traitor's Game
(The Traitor's Game, Book 1)
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Hardcover,  400 pages
Scholastic Press
February 27, 2018       
Fantasy, Romance, 
Young Adult Fiction

Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won't stop her from being drawn back into her father's palace politics. He's the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well -- and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.

The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what -- and who -- it is they're fighting for.

Jennifer A. Nielsen introduces us to an unforgettable new heroine in this epic tale of treachery and intrigue, love and deceit.

Why I can't wait for this one!

I NEVER get tired of kick-butt heroines, and it sure looks like the one in this book will be an incredible one, who won't sit down for a minute! Plus, there's a hint of romance, and to top things off, a grand tale of fantasy! And last but definitely NOT least, that cover just ROCKS!! I really need to get this one!!

New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Nielsen, was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with The False Prince; the Mark Of The Thief series, and the forthcoming A Night Divided. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains. 

What do you think of my choice?
Leave your link below, so I can
come check out your pick(s)! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: The Heart of Christmas, by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

The Heart of Christmas 
Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan
Mass Market Paperback, 
378 pages
HQN Books, Sept. 22, 2009
Anthologies, Christmas Romance, Historical Romance, Holiday Romance, Women's Fiction
Source: Amazon

"A Handful of Gold", by Mary Balogh  Not only is Julian Dare dashing and wealthy, but he's the heir to an earldom. So what do you get a man who has everything? Innocent and comely Verity Ewing plans on giving Julian her heart—the most precious gift of all. (Previously published in The Gifts of Christmas Anthology)

"The Season for Suitors" (Tallants, #3.5) by Nicola Cornick  After some close encounters with rakes in which she was nearly compromised, heiress Clara Davenport realizes that she needs some expert advice. And who better for the job than Sebastian Fleet, the most notorious rake in town? But the tutelage doesn't go quite as planned, as both Sebastian and Clara find it difficult to remain objective when it comes to lessons of the heart! (
Previously published in Christmas Keepsakes Anthology)

"This Wicked Gift" (Carhart, #0.5) by Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been saving her hard-earned pennies to provide her family with Christmas dinner. Days before the holiday, her brother is swindled, leaving them owing more than they can ever repay. Until a mysterious benefactor offers to settle the debt. Innocent Lavinia is stunned by what the dashing William White wants in return. Will she exchange a wicked gift for her family's fortune?

I have discovered, in the course of my reading 'career', that anthologies can contain very uneven offerings for the reader. Such is the case here, unfortunately. Thankfully, the first story is by Mary Balogh, who is, in my humble opinion, the incomparable Queen of Regency Romance. Her stories always make me feel ecstatic that I know the English language, as she uses it in beautiful, well-written prose. Her characterizations are no less masterful; her characters are vivid and real, their challenges interesting, as well as heart-rending at times.

The rest of this volume did not quite live up to the standards set by Balogh. The second story, while cute and humorous, did not contain enough of the Christmas spirit to make me happy, while the third was, to be honest, a total disappointment...... 

Balogh has sometimes been criticized for using well-worn tropes and melodramatic plots. Why, then, do I find her fiction so delightful, so utterly compelling? It could be that I don't mind at all having my emotions stirred to the point of tears. And Balogh is very competent at making this reader cry -- at times with heartfelt sorrow, at others with total joy. So what's wrong with that, I ask? But there's more to it than that. Balogh is very skillful at using predictable plots and breathing new life into them, so that they actually become fresh and new. A book penned by her is an automatic buy for me!

This first story is poignant and touching, and yes, it elicited happy tears from me. Verity Ewing is a wonderful protagonist! She does what she needs to do in order to ensure that her little sister has the medicines she so desperately needs. With great hesitation, Verity decides to step over the line, accepting the handsome Julian Dare's invitation to spend Christmas with him in the country -- for a price. 

Disguising her identity, Verity joins Julian and his friend, who has his own woman with him, at the friend's country home. But events do not flow smoothly, as planned, and Verity becomes a sort of "Christmas muse", as she pulls everyone into the Christmas spirit. 

Julian is a wonderful character in his own right. A confirmed rake, he is gradually transformed by Verity's innocent Christmas joy. His habitual cynical outlook on life gives way to the possibility of real love, instead of simply lust.

In the end, these two find true love together, as well as the real meaning of Christmas. Of course, cynics might scoff. And yet, I found this story to be so magical, so utterly wonderful, so full of the true essence of the Christmas spirit, that I don't hesitate to give it FIVE sparkling stars!!

The second story was of a different sort altogether. It was more of a comedy of errors, in a way. Clara and Sebastian -- especially Sebastian -- stumble their way into love in a series of rather comical, yet endearing events that culminate in wedding preparations. 

The funny thing here is that Sebastian staunchly insists that he is not at all ready for marriage, as he has a scandalous reputation as London's biggest rake. Yet, Clara cunningly and lovingly leads him to the realization that he really does love her, that he really can't live without her. 

What I didn't like about this story was that it could have taken place at any time of year. Aside from several references to snow, not much else in the story was related to Christmas. True, one of the characters gave a Christmas ball at one point, but again, there was very little holiday spirit present. I did like the characterizations and humor in the story, but I will give it FOUR stars because of the lack of Christmas spirit in the plot.

The third story was, in my honest opinion, appalling. There was very little mention of Christmas in this one, too.

This story started out in a deceptively cute way. Lavinia Spencer, who is a librarian at her father's small library, has a crush on one of the patrons -- William White, who frequently comes in to borrow books. I thought I was in for a sweet little Christmas romance......NOT. 

When William finds out that Lavinia's brother has foolishly squandered the money Lavinia was saving for Christmas expenses, and thereby incurred a debt for the family, he does something SO disgusting and repulsive, I could not like the character afterward. What he does is to blackmail Lavinia into having sex with him, telling her that, since he has purchased the debt, he will forgive it if she consents.

Now, the thing is, William does have feelings for Lavinia, as she does for him. But what kind of thing is this to do to a woman a man claims to have feelings for? What he does is to humiliate her, to reduce her to a body he uses for his own pleasure. The fact that he is filled with remorse afterward really doesn't matter to me at all. Also irrelevant to me is the further fact that Lavinia KNEW the debt was invalid, and gave herself to him willingly. This made me even angrier. How could she knowingly have allowed herself to be used by this guy she had such a crush on? And after calling him a "blackguard", too!

The rest of this story was a rather pathetic attempt on the author's part to "redeem" William in the eyes of the reader. There are a couple of events that present him acting in an honorable manner. But the damage was done, in my opinion; I simply could NOT like William after that scene with Lavinia. In fact, I HATED him. And adding to my anger was the fact that Lavinia had a very matter-of-fact attitude toward that sordid scene of COERCED sex. She was not outraged. Nor did she feel depressed afterward. She willingly cooperated with William's scheme, even as she knew that she really didn't have to. Apparently, she did it for love, with the intention of making him see that he DID love her. This is totally ABSURD. 

There was nothing related to Christmas in this story, either, beyond the fact that Lavinia was saving up her pennies for the holiday. The sordid beginning of this story was certainly not fitting for a collection of Christmas stories. I never finished this one, as I was much too disgusted to do so. I know, though, the obligatory "happily ever after" was present at the end, because I did peek. UGH.

I would give this story only ONE star, as it was extremely disappointing. Also, it left a VERY bad taste in my mouth, so to speak.

In short, had it not been for the Balogh story, which was the shining exception, I would have given this collection a much lower rating -- probably one or two stars. Furthermore, I really do wish I could pull the Balogh story out and put the second one in a separate volume. As for the last story, I would really LOVE to throw it right in the trash. It certainly doesn't belong in a collection of Christmas stories!

Since the Balogh story has previously been published in two other anthologies, mentioned in the synopsis, I'm going to check them both out and see if either of those collections is better. If one of them is, then I will be donating The Heart of Christmas (which really does NOT represent what the title states) to my local Goodwill store. And then I will buy one of those two other collections!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Interview/Giveaway!! A Gift for Santa, by Beth Carpenter

Welcome to the blog tour for
A Gift for Santa
sponsored by
Prism Book Tours!!

For my stop, I'm featuring an 
author interview!
There's also a tour-sponsored giveaway!!

A Gift for Santa
(Northern Lights, Book 2)
Beth Carpenter
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Harlequin Heartwarming
December 5, 2017
Christmas Romance,
Contemporary Romance,
Women's Fiction

It's the season for giving…and starting over?

A reindeer farm without Santa wouldn't be Christmas in Marissa Gray's Alaskan hometown. Luckily Chris Allen's there to pinch-hit, although for Marissa, seeing her ex-fiancé again brings back memories of what might have been.

Ten years after their breakup, the feelings between the wildlife biologist and blue-eyed fisherman are stronger than ever. Only now there's a foster kid in the mix, as well as the shocking crime that cost Marissa her job and her family's security. She and Chris need to find their way to a meeting of minds and hearts to make this truly a season for second chances…

An Interview with Beth Carpenter

Hi, Beth! Welcome to my blog!!  :) 

Maria: Who were your role models when you were starting to write?

Beth: I've loved many writers, but my favorites were probably Agatha Christie for her amazing puzzles, and Rosamunde Pilcher for her endearing characters.

Maria: What qualities do you think make a romantic hero memorable?

Beth: I think it's a balance between strength and kindness. A strong man with a soft heart is hard to resist.

Maria: Why do you prefer to write for the romance genre?

Beth: I'm a sucker for happily-ever-afters, and I love the way romance allows for characters to grow and change and earn that happy ending.

Maria: What special Christmas memories do you cherish?

Beth: I love Christmas! I remember as a child setting out milk and cookies for Santa, and watching the sky. I'd see a red light of an airplane winking, and wonder if it might be Rudolf. I got to live through that magic with my own children.

Maria: I've heard that your descriptions of Alaska are very vivid. Have you lived there yourself, or did you research the place?

Beth: We've lived in Anchorage for twenty-seven years now, although for the last three we've spent part of the year in Arizona. We're in Alaska now to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most of those descriptions are of places I've been and seen many times. I love Alaska, and it makes me happy to share the beauty of my state, especially at Christmas.

Maria: What type of plot techniques do you think make a book really stick in a reader's mind?

Beth: If a story line has a different take on a familiar theme, or it surprises me in some way, it sticks in my mind. Plot twists aren't easy to do, but when a book or movie -- like "The Sixth Sense" -- pulls it off, it's hard to forget. I hope I've planted a few surprises in my stories.  

Purchase Links

Other Books in the Series

Where life's currents take you.... Dana Raynott just traveled 3,600 miles to reunite with the brother who changed his name and fled to Alaska nineteen years ago. 
It's impossible not to be moved by this wild, breathtaking state, even if Dana's no closer to finding the answers she came here for. Her brother's best friend, Anchorage engineer Sam MacKettrick, might be able to help her. He's a strong and kinda six-foot, irresistible blend of diverse cultures. He's also haunted by a tragic family history with a startling connection to Dana's past.

Purchase Links
Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
Harlequin/Google Play/iTunes

The Reindeer Prize Pack (US only) includes:
 * One large, handcrafted, 
reindeer tote bag
* One signed copy of The Alaskan Catch
* Reindeer cookie cutters
* One inflatable Reindeer Antler 
Ring-toss Game

For International Winners
$25 Amazon Gift Card

The giveaway ends on December 6th!!

 When Beth Carpenter was a little girl, she read everything she could get her hands on, and entertained herself on the school bus by making up stories in her head. Not a lot has changed. She's still consuming books like M&Ms, and spends her days creating happily-ever-afters for her imaginary friends.

She lives in Alaska and Arizona with her husband and an aggressively affectionate fifty-pound lap dog. She loves to hear from readers. 

The Alaskan Catch Pinterest Board/Pinterest

To access the complete tour schedule, just click on the button below!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Shelf Candy Saturday No. 232: The Same Deep Water, by Lisa Swallow

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 Same Deep Water
Lisa Swallow
Trade Paperback, 246 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
August 21 , 2015
   Contemporary Romance,
New Adult Fiction

My Thoughts About This Cover

Enigmatic. Mysterious. Unsettling. Haunting. Amazing. Gorgeous. These are the first words that came to mind when I first saw this cover. The image presented here is an unusually vivid one, and it has a very immediate visual impact on the viewer. This is one of those covers that is inherently unforgettable.

Those eyes.....they are so full of a nearly fathomless inner pain.... I can't stare at them for very long, for fear that the sheer depth of this young woman's deeply felt sorrow will somehow flow into me. This is, however, a brilliant way to convey what this novel is all about, for the female protagonist is contemplating suicide. You can see her determination to end it all, too, because she just can't take the pain and sorrow anymore. 

Her hair flows as if in water, nearly covering her face. I do think that perhaps she's already in the water, and has stopped breathing....The colors are symbolic, as well. I feel that the red represents life, and the blue and deep purple, death. So she's floating between life and death, but is drifting inexorably toward death.

It's truly amazing how an image can convey meaning without words. Despair, frustration, a longing for peace, they're all there in this very powerful cover. 

The title is enigmatic, as well, but a reading of the synopsis will inform the reader that another character in the novel, who is also in deep inner pain, steps outside of his own torment to reach out and pull this girl back to life. They're both in deep water, metaphorically speaking. 

I like the font used for the title, too, as it evokes the undulating waves of the sea. Also, the fact that it's white, and placed against a dark-colored background, makes it stand out all the more. 

The creator of this great cover is a graphic designer by the name of Najla Qamber. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any biographical information about her, but I have the link to her website, which includes a book cover portfolio. I also have links to her social media pages.

Yet another name for my favorite book cover artists list!!

Online Links

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 111: Bookstore Bliss

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

What's your immediate feeling, when
entering a bookstore, as
compared to how you feel when
entering a department store?

(Submitted  by Maria @ 

My Answer

There's no comparison in feelings, really. When I enter a department store (especially if it's one which I know for a fact doesn't sell books), I feel a mild sense of interest and anticipation. Perhaps I will find a purse there, or a sweater, or a pair of jeans. what? I am NOT thrilled, or filled with bubbly enthusiasm. After all, these are just practical, necessary items needed for daily life, for....(shudders!) REALITY.

When I step into a bookstore, though, the feeling is simply.....wonderful, joyful, uplifting; in short, UTTERLY BLISSFUL. It's not merely breathless anticipation, or excitement at the possibility of acquiring a new literary treasure, but a feeling of entering ANOTHER WORLD, one where fantastical wonders await, philosophical conundrums hide behind pages, and even the whole enchilada beckons from within Mexican cookbooks (except that I don't cook, haha!). Romance, drama, science fiction, information on shifting soul states, meditation, or on creative writing techniques, and even mandala coloring books, as well as manuals on Quidditch and how to create the perfect Hogwarts potion -- they're all there, waiting, in the enthralling place I have nicknamed "Paradise"! 

I decided to give this name to the Barnes & Noble located about 5 miles from our condo. There's another B&N store in the Coral Gables area, near our former apartment, but the one we now thankfully live close to is just.....BREATHTAKING, as you will see from the pictures below. Thus, it's my favorite of the two! 

But really, ANY bookstore is truly "Paradise", for a bookstore houses printed treasures that are much more valuable than diamonds! So forget about the saying, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." MY motto is: "BOOKS are a girl's best friend"! ABSOLUTELY!!! 

So, even if I might indeed be in dire need of a new purse, a pair of shoes, or anything else of an eminently practical nature, I just can't feel as enthused about acquiring any of these things as I would at the prospect of acquiring a new (or even used) book!! 

And here I bring you pictures of my local Paradise!!


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