Book Review: Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky – Stephen Parolini

Author: Stephen Parolini
Book Name: Beautiful Sky Beautiful Sky
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Family Life/Coming of Age/Historical
Overall SPA: 4 Stars
4 Stars

 

 

Blurb: High school senior David Tinker is a failed former second-string linebacker, a wannabe rock star, a pothead, a writer, and a bit of a jerk. It’s his final semester at North High and he’s beyond ready to be done with school. Wendy, his once-compliant girlfriend, expects too much of him. His ever-shrinking circle of friends is testing his patience. And his insult-slinging father is increasingly impossible to endure. And then there’s the choir director, Mr. Halston, who wields the power of graduation and isn’t above a little blackmail. When David’s world suddenly spins out of control, he finds himself searching for the one thing he didn’t know he was missing: hope.

Main SPA Evaluation Areas:

Characters: 3.5/5 Stars
Believability: 4.5/5 Stars
Personal Opinion: 4/5 Stars

This is the kind of story that is heavily layered, the kind that takes a little time for those layers to start building and before they become visible.

There were pieces here and there early on that I found running along some really offensive lines, but I had to stop and take in the fact that this is very much an honestly representative piece for the time it was set in. As someone that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, sometimes it isn’t pleasant to confront the ideas and attitudes and prejudices of that time and how easily they slipped off the tongue or into the mind back then. There are many times where you come face to face with those less than stellar aspects of that era in this book. It is an incredible look from that aspect of things to see how far we have come as a society and how far we have yet to go. As a child of that time, it makes me look at myself and how I’ve managed to grow since then.

Because this is set in 1980, you also get this amazing flood of music and cultural references to balance out some of the ugly. It is kind of this trip down memory lane for the senses of your mind in that respect. I’m not often tempted to listen to music while reading, but I almost wish this had a playlist at the beginning just so I could do that along the way. All of the songs referenced do this amazing job of setting the tone for many different scenes in the book and plays a huge part to the overall story. Because music tends to be so tied into emotions, it was a bit of a minefield for me, but I loved it.

One scene in particular sort of reached inside and ripped me apart because it could have been written based on my own personal history. Having already been primed with the setting and all the musical and cultural references, it was like hearing the words for myself all over again. This was an incredibly hard bit to read, but it was so much a product of this time period and attitudes, especially towards girls and women. So, yes, I absolutely connected with a certain character in particular.

If I had to pick an overall tone for this story, I’d say it is very heavy. The overall subject matter throughout is on the harsh, ugly side of things, but it has that tiny thread running through it to give it a little light. It is layered and complex. I can easily see this being the kind of book that people spend lots of time talking about and picking apart to analyze on a deeper level. I don’t often enjoy books like that, but this one is definitely going to be one that sticks with me for a long while.

I will note that there are some potentially sensitive subjects dealt with and discussed in this book, many only a mention, but they are still there. Things like racial stereotypes, homophobia, depression, suicide, drug use and sexual assault.

 

 

When Skies Have Fallen: Debbie McGowan

When Skies Have FallenAuthor: Debbie McGowan
Book Name: When Skies Have Fallen
Series: *
Order: *
Genre: Romance/LGBT/Historical
Rating:  Really Good
4+stars

 

Blurb:  For many in war-torn 1944, love blossoms in the dance hall, and airman Arty Clarke is no exception. He’s a thinker and a dreamer; however, it’s not the beautiful, talented dancer in his arms—his best friend Jean—who inspires his dreams. For when his gaze meets that of Technical Sergeant Jim Johnson, Arty dares to imagine a different dance.

Their love is forbidden, by both the armed forces and the law, but with Jean’s cunning and support, Arty and Jim try to bridge the distance between them and find true love despite the danger and a life-threatening disaster that could destroy Arty’s dreams for good.

Can the pair stand strong together, no matter how many skies have fallen?

Review:  While at times a little slower paced, this is a beautifully sweet, endearing story.  The characters are warm and heartfelt.  This story spans decades so you get more than just the falling in love part.  You get the working and living through the love and enduring all the bumps and sink holes in the road along the way.

The author does an amazing job of sinking the reader into the middle of those difficult times, pulling you right along with these characters.

Memory House: Honey Ridge, Book 1

The Memory HouseAuthor: Linda Goodnight
Book Name: The Memory House
Series: Honey Ridge
Order: #1
Genre: Contemporary/Historical/Romance
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb: Memories of motherhood and marriage are fresh for Julia Presley–though tragedy took away both years ago. Finding comfort in the routine of running the Peach Orchard Inn, she lets the historic, mysterious place fill the voids of love and family. No more pleasure of a man’s gentle kiss. No more joy in hearing a child call her Mommy. Life is calm, unchanging…until a stranger with a young boy and soul-deep secrets shows up in her Tennessee town and disrupts the loneliness of her world.

Julia suspects there’s more to Eli Donovan’s past than his motherless son, Alex. There’s a reason he’s chasing redemption and bent on earning it with a new beginning in Honey Ridge. Offering the guarded man work renovating the inn, she glimpses someone who–like her–has a heart in need of restoration. But with the chance discovery of a dusty stack of love letters buried within the lining of an old trunk, the long-dead ghosts of a Civil War romance envelop Julia and Eli, connecting them to the inn’s violent history and challenging them both to risk facing yesterday’s darkness for a future bright with hope and healing.

Review:  A story of heartbreak, redemption, healing and learning to love again.  This is a low intensity, gently paced book that, while it may have some darker subjects, still focuses on turning all of that towards a positive direction.

Both Eli and Julia are scarred by life and tragedy, but neither character comes across as dependent or hopeless.  They may feel beaten down, but they still try to be something better than just broken and needing someone else to fix them.  Their relationship is about helping each other rather than needing someone else to take care of it all for them.

It does have a time split between now and events long past.  Not often my favorite, but this was done well.  We see some parallels between the characters from both time frames so we understand the purpose behind having that in the story beyond just a plot device.

In all a solidly good, sweet story.

Shades of Milk and Honey: Glamourist Histories, Book 1

Shades of Milk and HoneyAuthor: Mary Robinette Kowal
Book Name: Shades of Milk and Honey
Series: Glamourist Histories
Order: #1
Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Historical
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

Blurb:  Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right-and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Review:  Shades of Milk and Honey definitely has the flavor of a classical literature romance.  It is well written and the slight magical bent to the story is a pretty interesting concept.

That said, I think this just wasn’t my type of book because I found it rather bland outside of those magical touches.  It was incredibly slow for the majority of the book.  About the only part that got intense was the very end.

The characters were all difficult to like.  Melody and the mother were shallow and self absorbed people and reminded me of Cinderella’s step mother and step sister with some of the attitudes they expressed.  Jane was pretty dull outside of her magical talent.  Very few of the other more minor characters came across as anything other than snooty.

The romantic aspect is really kind of non-existent outside of Jane’s head until the very end.  Again, what there was was just not all that interesting.  I get to some extent that her personality and the approach to the romantic side of the story is a product of the time, but I’m not a fan of characters that come across as uninteresting and lacking self esteem.  When the character spends the majority of the book infatuated with one character and then, “Because he noticed me” from another was suddenly in love, just doesn’t sell me on the relationship.  Yes, it is a product of the time and the writing style, but that is one of many reasons why it just wasn’t a good fit for me.

Again, this is a good book, if you like this style and type, but I just really couldn’t get engaged.

Undying Legion: Crown & Key, Book 2

Undying LegionAuthor: Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Book Name: Undying Legion
Series: Crown & Key
Order: #2
Genre: SciFi/Fantasy/Historical/Steampunk
Rating:  Really Good
4+stars

 

Blurb: With a flood of dark magic about to engulf Victorian London, can a handful of heroes vanquish a legion of the undead?

When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart–as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.

But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm–along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf–track down a necromancer who is reanimating the deceased. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and serpentine demons, the necromancer proves an elusive quarry. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.

Review: Started out as expected after the last one, just jumping right in to the action.  Then it slowed down quite a bit for a little while before picking back up again.  I didn’t see quite as much action in this one as the last.  Also got way more on the gadgets and stuff and really not a whole lot on either the alchemy or the magic from our main characters which was a little bit of a let down.

This just had a slightly different feel to it than the first book.  While still really good, it just wasn’t quite the same, so not quite as good.  I’m hoping the next one is more in line with the first.

Forbidden Highlander: Dark Sword, Book 2

Forbidden HighlanderAuthor: Donna Grant
Book Name: Forbidden Highlander
Series: Dark Sword
Order: #2
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Romance
Rating:  Okay
3+stars

 

Blurb:  Fallon McLeod has gifts any warrior would covet—fierce strength, unmatched skill, even immortality. But those gifts have come at a price that puts everyone he loves at risk. Only when his brother, Quinn, is taken captive does Fallon leave the seclusion of his Highland home to seek the king’s aid. And though every woman at court would gladly be his for the asking, one alone causes desire to roar to life within him: beautiful, mysterious Larena Monroe.

Rumors swirl around the castle about “The McLeod” but Larena knows the truth. Like Fallon, Larena is searching for a way to vanquish the evil Druid who wants to wreak havoc on earth. Drawn to Fallon in spite of her fear, she surrenders to a passion that shocks them both with its raw intensity. But Larena dares not hope for more—not when she holds a secret that could turn her fiery Highland love against her forever…

Review:  As with the first book, it came across as a pretty decent story, but honestly?  Nothing that was all that special or knocked my socks off.  The characters in this book seemed a bit wishy washy and not that solid, so I didn’t get that into them.  For me, this really was just an okay read.  I am planning on reading the next one because this one left a whole lot open, but after that I’m not sure I’ll read more.

 

Dangerous Highlander: Dark Sword, Book 1

Dangerous HighlanderAuthor: Donna Grant
Book Name: Dangerous Highlander
Series: Dark Sword
Order: #1
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Romance
Rating:  Good
3+stars

 

Blurb: The bold and passionate Lucan MacLeod—one of three brothers cursed by dark magic for eternity—is driven by desire for the one woman he dare not let himself possess…

He is magnificently strong—and dangerously seductive. One of the fiercest of his clan, Lucan MacLeod is a legend among warriors, inspiring fear in man and woman alike. For three hundred years, he has locked himself away from the world, hiding the vengeful god imprisoned in his soul. But then, a young lass caught in a raging storm awakens his deepest impulses…and darkest desires.

Cara doesn’t believe the rumors about the MacLeod castle—until the majestic Highland warrior appears like a fiery vision in the storm, pulling her into his powerful arms, and into his world of magic and Druids. An epic war between good and evil is brewing. And Lucan must battle his all-consuming attraction for Cara—or surrender to the flames of a reckless, impossible love that threatens to destroy them both…

Review: This has the look and feel of the standard historical romance with the slight paranormal twist.  Sadly, that twist is, at its base, so very similar to another series that I read a few years ago.  For me, because I read that other series first, and liked it, it was hard to get over feeling like it was that same thing with some basic differences.

I did enjoy the story on its own and the characters were very well done.  Cara pushes the helpless boundaries, but doesn’t cross them as she does end up learning to fight for herself.

I wasn’t all that jazzed about the fact that it was glossed over about the fact that Cara was mortal and Lucan wasn’t.  It was definitely discussed, but in the end, while they get their HEA, there is no explanation as to if or how that issue is overcome.  It is possible that it will be addressed in later books, but I just didn’t really like that it was an issue that was left hanging.

This was a good story that probably could have gotten a 4 star rating if I wasn’t so stuck on similarities to another series.