Book Review: Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

A stunning new voice in American fiction, Sara Gruen makes a masterful debut with a novel of family, tragedy, rebirth … and the breathtaking love of something wild.

As a world-class equestrienne and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, her beloved and distinctively marked horse.

Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father’s New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenaged daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables — and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl … and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.

But everything will change yet again with one glimpse of a red and white striped gelding startlingly similar to the one Annemarie lost in another lifetime. And an obsession is born that could shatter her fragile world.

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen is an emotional story that takes you down several different paths. It takes you down the what might have been and the what could be path with Annemarie Zimmer. Once a promising eventer on the way to the fast track to the Olympics, that all came to an end in a horrific accident. Annemarie almost lost the ability to walk, move and most of all she lost the horse love of her life Harry. Twenty years later her world starts to fall a part at the seams again with the loss of her job and the end of her marriage and it sends her home. Memories of her beloved horse fill her and consume her when another rare brindle patterned horse comes into her life.

As someone who has been a rider since I can remember I connected with this story on so many levels. I could understand her deep love of Harry. I can understand the basic feelings she had when she walked into a barn, her love of the smell of hay, manure and horse. When Annemarie went up to a horse and pushed her nose to its neck I smiled because I have done that exact same thing many times. Annemarie seems to have her life closing in on her, she has to deal with her past while being hit with a lot of new things that are part of life and difficult. Having to handle a teenage Daughter and the upcoming death of her Father.

This is really a great book that is both emotional and inspirational. There was not any character that I did not like. I could in some way relate to most of them. I would recommend this one to any reader.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: Buyer Beware by Diane Vallere

Release Date: March 5th 2013

Out-of-work fashion expert Samantha Kidd is strapped. But when the buyer of handbags for a hot new retailer turns up dead and Samantha is recruited for the job, the opportunity comes with a caveat: she’s expected to find some answers. The police name a suspect but the label doesn’t fit. Samantha turns to a sexy stranger for help, but as the walls close around her like a snug satin lining, she must get a handle on the suspects, or risk being caught in the killer’s clutches.

Buyer Beware by Diane Vallere is the second book in her Style and Error series of mysteries. Samantha Kidd is an out of work fashion expert who is like many who are unemployed struggling to make ends meat. It would seem her prayers have been answered when she is recruited to be the buyer for a hot new retailer, but all is not as it seems. The person in the position before her has been murdered and while she is offered the job it is expected she find some answers. So a girl has to do the job, help solve the murder and try not to be murdered herself.

The first thing I can say about Buyer beware is that for the Kindle version there were some serious formatting issues. I am sure (or at least I hope) these will be addressed before the publication date because when you are reading a book it can be very distracting and take you away from the story with such glaring issues. That aside the book itself was okay.

It had good pacing and the character of Samantha Kidd is likeable. The writing style in using Samantha’s point of view makes it an entertaining read and it is a fast one too. I would have liked some of the plot pieces not to be quite so predictable. Even as someone who is just getting back into mystery books I was able to figure out several pieces of the story well in advance. It is a good read if your looking for something fast and fairly entertaining, if you liked the first book a lot you will probably like this one as well.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: Burned by P.C & Kristin Cast

When friends stop trusting each other, Darkness is there to fan the flames….

Things have turned black at the House of Night. Zoey Redbird’s soul has shattered. With everything she’s ever stood for falling apart, and a broken heart making her want to stay in the Otherworld forever, Zoey’s fading fast. It’s seeming more and more doubtful that she will be able pull herself back together in time to rejoin her friends and set the world to rights. As the only living person who can reach her, Stark must find a way to get to her. But how? He will have to die to do so, the Vampyre High Council stipulates. And then Zoey will give up for sure. There are only 7 days left…

Enter BFF Stevie Rae. She wants to help Z but she has massive problems of her own. The rogue Red Fledglings are acting up, and this time not even Stevie Rae can protect them from the consequences. Her kinda boyfriend, Dallas, is sweet but too nosy for his own good. The truth is, Stevie Rae’s hiding a secret that might be the key to getting Zoey home but also threatens to explode her whole world.

In the middle of the whole mess is Aphrodite: ex-Fledgling, trust-fund baby, total hag from Hell (and proud of it). She’s always been blessed (if you could call it that) with visions that can reveal the future, but now it seems Nyx has decided to speak through her with the goddess’s own voice, whether she wants it or not. Aphrodite’s loyalty can swing a lot of different ways, but right now Zoey’s fate hangs in the balance.

Three girls… playing with fire… if they don’t watch out, everyone will get Burned.

Once again I jumped into the world of the House of Night and it’s unique set of tattooed vampires. Burned picks up right where we left everyone from the last book, Stevie Rae is recovering from her burns from being on top of the roof and Zoey’s soul has shattered with the death of her human consort Heath. Because it has been a little while for me since I read the last book in the series it did take me a little bit to feel comfortable with everyone again, but because of the nice smooth building writing style of the book it did not take long.

I can not say how much I enjoy this series of books, for every twist that a story takes where I know the answer there is another one in which I don’t. We get to meet another collection of characters in Burned when Stark takes the empty body of Zoey to The Isle of Women, an island said to be off Scotland with a Warrior Queen at it’s head. We are than also introduced to an ancient religion power within this world of two bulls The Black Bull of good and The White Bull of evil. Think that is backwards? Yeah I did to until I read the reasoning given and then it all made perfect sense.

Aphrodite is her usual smart ass self, and yet even while doing that she does good and she is growing on me as a character. There is goodness in her and it is nice to see her maturing into the person that her warrior Darius seems to think she can be. There are still plenty of fun pop culture references that keep the book fresh (love me some True Blood references!) and over all it really is just an enjoyable fast paced read. Of course the ending is a cliff hanger and Kalona the bad guy is still out there along with Neferet, but it is a series after all. I highly recommend this one!

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back by Sariah Wilson

Everyone knows how all those fairy tales go. The princess gets beautiful, nabs her prince, falls instantly in love, lives happily ever after and leaves her evil stepsisters in the dust.

But what happens when you’re the ugly stepsister and your obnoxiously perfect—read pretty, smart, and, worst of all, sickeningly nice—stepsister is dating the charming, tall, devastatingly handsome guy you’ve had a thing for since you were nine years old?

Quirky, artistic and snarky Mattie Lowe does not lead a charmed life. Her mother is constantly belittling her on Skype. Mercedes, the school mean girl, has made it her personal mission to torment Mattie. But worst of all? Her stepsister Ella is the most beautiful, popular girl in school and is dating Mattie’s secret longtime crush, Jake Kingston.

Tired of being left out and done with waiting for her own stupid fairy godmother to show up, Mattie decides to change her life. She’ll start by running for senior class president against wildly popular Jake.

Ella can keep her Prince Annoying. Mattie’s going to rule the school.

And no one, not even a cute and suddenly flirty Jake, is going to stop her.

The Ugly Step sister strikes back by Sariah Wilson takes us into the world of two teenagers Ella and Mattie. Ella is of course cast as the Cinderella stepsister by Mattie and the book opens with Mattie listing her grievances against the pretty, kind, sweet (etc) Ella. We also meet Prince Charming, or is he Prince not so charming when Mattie tells us about the love her young life Jake.

My first thought when I started reading Sariah Wilson’s book was “wow this Mattie is a bit of a whinny mean girl.”. I think that is what your supposed to feel until you get to know Mattie a bit better the Ugly Step Sister Strikes back is indeed a journey for the reader for for Mattie and Ella. A journey that I found myself really invested in for both girls.

Both Ella and Mattie find out things not only about each other but about themselves. They find out that while they both made some sore misjudgments about one another they also wanted a relationship. I personally really enjoyed the journey that they took and by the end of the book I really loved both Mattie and Ella. Not to mention I love the take on the mean girl spirit of the book and well I don’t want to ruin the story but you have to enjoy the outcome of everything concerned.

My Gemstone Rating:


Teaser Tuesday 2/26/13

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

“No one has experienced it’s like since the mighty vampyre Cleopatra casted a protective circle around her beloved Alexandria.”
“No one enters the Isle of Women without the permission of Sgiach, ” Darius said. pg.88 Burned (House of Night)

Book Review: The Icecutter’s Daughter by Tracie Peterson

Release Date: March 1st 2013
Merrill Krause longs for a family of her own, but she’s bound by a promise to her dying mother to care for her father and older brothers until they no longer need her. She enjoys being part of the family business, harvesting ice during the brutal Minnesota winters. Merrill actively takes part, possessing a keen ability to work with the horses–despite the advice of her good friend, who disapproves of her unladylike behavior.

This book had me at Minnesota. I am homesick for the state that I was born and raised in so I was more than happy to settle into a book that had familiar surroundings for me, even if they were in the end of the 1800’s. While those who know me know that I am not a huge Christian Fiction reader I do enjoy some stories and authors and Tracie Peterson is one of them, she really did draw me into The Icecutter’s daughter from the get go.

Merrill Krause is the only daughter in a family where her Mother passed and she is tasked with taking care of her Father and Brothers. She is more comfortable out in the barn with the horses then doing her hair or picking out fabric for dresses. In short for me Merrill is a Lady who is just like me in many senses so of course I like her right off. I in fact like the whole of the Krause family and everything about them a good strong German Minnesotan family.

Rurik is a tall Swede from Kansas who comes to Minnesota to help his Uncle due to failing health. He is also a loveable character, honorable, strong and a gentleman. It is no surprise when he sets his eyes to Merrill and she to him. I won’t ruin the story by giving away many of the trials that the pair must face, but there are many and they are well written. Everything in this book flows along nicely and lends itself to be a fast and heart warming read.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.

But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola’s reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.

The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain’s most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.

I really tried to like this book, I wanted to like this book as it has been on my to read pile for a long time but it was one I thought sounded really good. Sadly I just could not get into this one and while I read the whole thing it really was not one I probably should have finished.

The core things that I look for in a good historical fiction were there. The history was solid and I liked the time period as well as the location. You can not get much better then a story in Florence during the Renaissance after all. I love hearing about all the art of the time, after all some of the finest art came out of that time. However there was just something about this one that I could not get myself to like. I suspect it was the general writing style as it just did not connect well with me. There is also the fact that after the initial introduction (which I enjoyed) most of the book becomes rather predictable.

While I can look past mistakes in form and technical aspect of things if the story grips me because this one didn’t I tended to find the mistakes in this one easier and it bothered me. I know others have enjoyed the book and I would love for them to perhaps tell me the key to what I am missing here although perhaps I am not missing anything at all, I just did not care for it much. If you like predictable plot, and a lot of art talk this may be a read for you, otherwise I wouldn’t read it.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: Spin the Plate by Donna Anastasi

Synopsis of Spin the Plate: Jo is a survivor of a bleak and abusive childhood who roams the city streets at night as a powerful vigilante. Francis is a mysterious man she meets on the subway train. In this story, the average-guy hero battles to win the battered heart of the wary, edgy, less-than-perfect heroine. “A fast-paced, edgy, darkly comic tale of resilience, romance, and redemption that breaks over you in waves.” – Holly Robinson, author

Spin the plate is not a book that is for the faint of heart. The content is of course emotional and gripping with the past the Jo has. However for every bit of darker emotional edge you also see a spirit that is a fighter one that despite everything she has been through wants to battle back and find sense of normalcy again. In Jo you find a character that you can really admire. She has been through so much and yet she is a fighter both in the thought of the word and literally with her vigilante justice she serves out.

The book is well written and a really good read. I like a book that gets me emotionally involved and this one does it. While I connected more with Jo I think Francis is also a good character and very relate able for readers which always makes for a great read. I would recommend this one for anyone who likes a story that not only has a romantic angle, because it does have that. Francis is a great guy trying to win the heart of his battered lady. But a story about fighter who take abuse that she has suffered and comes back in a very kick ass way. The writing is solid and the plot takes a nice progressive curve with the pacing. So as long as your not scared of a little bit of the dark side with some dark comedy wrapped around it, give Spin the plate a try, I promise you will not regret it.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: Witches of East End by Melissa De la Cruz

From the author of the highly addictive and bestselling Blue Bloods series, with almost 3 million copies sold, comes a new novel, Melissa de la Cruz’s first for adults, featuring a family of formidable and beguiling witches.

The three Beauchamp women–Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid–live in North Hampton, out on the tip of Long Island. Their beautiful, mist-shrouded town seems almost stuck in time, and all three women lead seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret–they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. Joanna can resurrect people from the dead and heal the most serious of injuries. Ingrid, her bookish daughter, has the ability to predict the future and weave knots that can solve anything from infertility to infidelity. And finally, there’s Freya, the wild child, who has a charm or a potion that can cure most any heartache.

For centuries, all three women have been forced to suppress their abilities. But then Freya, who is about to get married to the wealthy and mysterious Bran Gardiner, finds that her increasingly complicated romantic life makes it more difficult than ever to hide her secret. Soon Ingrid and Joanna confront similar dilemmas, and the Beauchamp women realize they can no longer conceal their true selves. They unearth their wands from the attic, dust off their broomsticks, and begin casting spells on the townspeople. It all seems like a bit of good-natured, innocent magic, but then mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town. When a young girl disappears over the Fourth of July weekend, they realize it’s time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.

With a brand-new cast of characters, a fascinating and fresh world to discover, and a few surprise appearances from some of the Blue Blood fan favorites, this is a page-turning, deliciously fun, magical summer read fraught with love affairs, witchcraft, and an unforgettable battle between good and evil.

I am a huge fan of the Blue Bloods young Adult Novels by Melissa de la Cruz, so I was happily surprised when I found she had started a series for Adults on Witches. I admit I do not follow authors (even ones I like) as often as I should so I am a little behind the eight ball but I was happy to set to reading this first in the stories of the Beauchamps.

Joanna, Ingrid and Freya are a family of a Mother and two Sisters who after the Salem witch trials were put under a restriction by the council that governs them. They were no longer able to use the powers that they have always had, they must live immortal lives as normal as possible. Not a very easy task when your used to using magic all the time. They were lucky to escape the punishments with out being destroyed however so moving to the seemingly sleepy down of North Hampton they adjusted to life without magic.

That is until they decided like many do to say screw the authority! This rebellion starts selflessly however. The three do not use the powers they have for any personal gain, although it has been tempting it seems to do things such as clean the house (oh don’t we all wish!). Freya the youngest uses her powers to make a love potion to keep a couple together and from things for them ending in certain doom. Ingrid uses hers to help a friend who has been desperate to have a child with her husband to have the child they have always wanted, and Joanna uses hers to help keep a small boy happy. Things of course spiral from there and before long they are doing a lot more than just those small basics, however it is still always to help other people.

I really love the way this story spins and grows as it tells the tale. I had my suspicions of who the three might be because of my knowledge of Norse myths and the name Freya and then her making love potions gave it away some. Still I loved hearing of this and I have to say it was very cool to also see the Blue Bloods woven into the story as well, so we see the fallen angel Christian themes of Blue Bloods woven in with the Nordic Pagan themes of Norse Gods and Goddesses. I will not give away who all the players are because it would spoil a good deal of the plot, however you should be prepared to also see Balder (Baldr) and Loki show up, alas Thor does not but hey maybe next book because the ending is a cliff hanger for sure!

This is a great first adult novel effort by Melissa de la Cruz and I am looking forward to the next in the series. I would recommend this to any fan of her Young Adult books who wants to see what she can do as an adult and of course fans of mythology are going to love it as well.

My Gemstone Rating:


Book Review: Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

Release Date: Feb 26th 2013

To contemporaries, the Wars of the Roses were known collectively as a “cousins’ war.” The series of dynastic conflicts that tore apart the ruling Plantagenet family in fifteenth-century England was truly a domestic drama, as fraught and intimate as any family feud before or since.

As acclaimed historian Sarah Gristwood reveals in Blood Sisters, while the events of this turbulent time are usually described in terms of the male leads who fought and died seeking the throne, a handful of powerful women would prove just as decisive as their kinfolks’ clashing armies. These mothers, wives, and daughters were locked in a web of loyalty and betrayal that would ultimately change the course of English history. In a captivating, multigenerational narrative, Gristwood traces the rise and rule of the seven most critical women in the wars: from Marguerite of Anjou, wife of the Lancastrian Henry VI, who steered the kingdom in her insane husband’s stead; to Cecily Neville, matriarch of the rival Yorkist clan, whose son Edward IV murdered his own brother to maintain power; to Margaret Beaufort, who gave up her own claim to the throne in favor of her son, a man who would become the first of a new line of Tudor kings.

A richly drawn, absorbing epic, Blood Sisters is a tale of hopeful births alongside bloody deaths, of romance as well as brutal pragmatism. It is a story of how women, and the power that women could wield, helped to end the Wars of the Roses, paving the way for the Tudor age—and the creation of modern England.

Another one of my War of the Roses read I enjoyed Blood Sisters because it dealt with the women of the family. Most historians focus on the obvious part of the War of the Roses the men of the York and Lancaster families. However women like Marguerite of Anjou, Margaret of Burgundy and Margaret Beaufort were strong and powerful women who rose Armies!

You can tell that this book has been well researched and the history is all correct, while bringing to mind the pomp and pageants of the time period. I enjoy when I can see ceremonies that I have studied put to page and explained well. Sarah Gristwood really has created something that those new to the time period, or who are familiar with it like me will enjoy.

Of course if you are looking for a fictionalized account of the seven women covered in this book Blood Sisters is not the book for you. Sarah Gristwood has created a historical non fiction piece of work that is both educational and enjoyable. I know a lot of people who enjoy fictions don’t want to read the non fiction because they think it will be boring, but Blood Sisters is not it really draws you in. You get a lot of great information but it is presented in a way that is easy to understand and almost could be a non fiction. I would recommend this one to history fans and those who are just getting into it alike. You will enjoy it and hopefully have a better understanding of the women behind the War of the Roses.

My Gemstone Rating:


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