Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch

Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch
Book Two of the Snow Like Ashes series
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Rating: 1 star
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s been three months since the Winterians were freed and Spring’s king, Angra, disappeared—thanks largely to the help of Cordell.

Meira just wants her people to be safe. When Cordellan debt forces the Winterians to dig their mines for payment, they unearth something powerful and possibly dangerous: Primoria’s lost chasm of magic. Theron sees this find as an opportunity—with this much magic, the world can finally stand against threats like Angra. But Meira fears the danger the chasm poses—the last time the world had access to so much magic, it spawned the Decay. So when the king of Cordell orders the two on a mission across the kingdoms of Primoria to discover the chasm’s secrets, Meira plans to use the trip to garner support to keep the chasm shut and Winter safe—even if it means clashing with Theron. But can she do so without endangering the people she loves?

Mather just wants to be free. The horrors inflicted on the Winterians hang fresh and raw in Januari—leaving Winter vulnerable to Cordell’s growing oppression. When Meira leaves to search for allies, he decides to take Winter’s security into his own hands. Can he rebuild his broken kingdom and protect them from new threats?

As the web of power and deception weaves tighter, Theron fights for magic, Mather fights for freedom—and Meira starts to wonder if she should be fighting not just for Winter, but for the world.

What I Liked:

Ahem. Keep reading. The one thing I can think of that I liked was maybe all the times Meira realized that she was wrong or stupid. Oops?

What I Did Not Like:

Ahh. This review is going to be a struggle to write, I already know it. I've eaten ice cream, a pre-one-star-review treat - sustenance? I had a feeling, before I started this one, that it wouldn't go well for me. So I already had super low expectations for this book, despite liking Snow Like Ashes.

I'll try to be as brief as possible, because I don't want to accidentally spoil anything, I don't want this to be a long and boring review, and I don't want to talk about this book longer than I have to. I'll start with Meira - gosh, I hated her in this book. I don't have to like a single person (this is directed at all those people who hate it when a reader hates a female protagonist), and I did not like Meira. I think I liked her in Snow Like Ashes? But I could not stand her in this book.

Maybe it was the constant "I want to save the world" or "I am Queen" or "Winter is EVERYTHING". Those thoughts going through Meira's head were SO ANNOYING. Literally all she thought about were these things. Dang, girl, you need something cute in your life, like a puppy. Or an obsession with chocolate. Chill the f*** out. There are zero warm and fuzzy moments in this book, no times when I was like awww, Meira, or hahaha, Meira you're hilarious. Nope. This book was entirely gloom and doom, and a ridiculous set of gloom and doom.

Meira makes a lot of stupid, non-queenly decisions, and she realizes it as she goes. I LIVED for those scenes when she realized how dumb she had been, after every "thing" that she did badly. Poor girl lost brain cells between Snow Like Ashes and this book. We're supposed to see character growth in her, from book one to this book, from the beginning of this book to the end. But in my opinion, Meira did is still immature and irrational, a stubborn sixteen-year-old who is totally unfit to rule Winter.

I hate Meira. Moving on. This book is so over the top. The whole "save the world" thing is so old, so unoriginal, so cliche. The author doesn't even dress it up as anything special or unique. This book is so cliche and unoriginal! The tone is supposed to be ominous (or something?), but it came off as childish, obnoxious, and totally over the top. So exaggerated. This is just a feeling that I got, not something I can specifically quantify.

Another thing - this book does not do a good job of doing the little recap thing in the beginning. The author does not slowly disseminate information that occurred in Snow Like Ashes, like many authors do in sequels. I completely forgot just about everything that occurred in book one, so when this book mentioned things like Theron imprisoned in Abril, I was like huh? This is news to me! Although I suppose it happened in book one? I can't remember, and it's a problem because this book should have recapped important things!

Remember how I said this book is cliche and unoriginal? Okay so the plot of this book was very unoriginal - guess what we're doing in this book?! Looking for a thing that will unlock power (this is as general as it gets). Surprise! Isn't that what every high fantasy novel seems to like to do - look for artifacts or things of power? Yay! UGH.

Not to mention that this book is nearly five hundred pages and could easily be boiled down to about FIFTY. You literally need the last few chapters, you could skip the whole book. I'm so serious. Maybe one or two characters are introduced that are important, but the whole book is so pointless, and boring. It comes down to the last fifty pages or so, but the thing is, the rest of the book is so unnecessary. It felt like nothing was happening - which is why it was boring.

Let's talk romance, so I can exit with a flourish. Literally I hate everything about the romance of this book. Theron and Meira are traveling together, and for a while, it seems like things are going well between them. By the end, I wanted to throw this book, for all the reasons I mentioned above, and then the romance too. Raasch f***s up the romance, reintroduces the love triangle, and basically flips it. Think The Wrath and the Dawn. That's as much as I can say without things getting spoiler-y. The author did awful things to Theron in general (not including the romance), and I don't think he deserved it. I'm so disappointed in this plot arc, as well as the direction of the romance.

The ending is complete s***, and I won't say more than that about it. Prepare to be tortured, whether you love or hate the book.

Mostly I hate Meira though, and once you dislike the protagonist, it's pretty much all over. I HATE Mather too - he is such a child! Why does no one act more mature in this book?! You're all kings and queen and royalty - you'd think these children would act like it? Instead they're acting like tweens. Teens in high fantasy settings are MUCH different from teens in contemporary (modern) settings. I feel like their maturity should reflect this, from the start.

I know there was more I disliked, but I'm not going to think about it anymore! Tl; dr: hot mess.

Would I Recommend It:

This book (and now, series) is getting one big solid NO from me. Don't start this series if you haven't already. It might turn around in book three, and I will probably read book three. But I wouldn't torture yourself until book three is published. Or maybe skip this book altogether. You could do that and be JUST FINE, trust me.


1 star. I know there are a ton of positive reviews and feedback on Goodreads for this book, and that's great! But I hope, even if you're one of those people that are totally indoctrinated, that you at least consider what I've said here. You won't quite understand until you've read this book, but just know that SOMEONE didn't like the book!

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

What I Liked:

Of McGinnis's three books, this one would be my favorite. Yes, all three books have received three stars from me. I thought Not a Drop to Drink was okay, and I liked In a Handful of Dust slightly less, but this one was different. Strange, twisted, dark, but very refreshing in YA. I know there were certain things that I personally didn't like, but I can't fault McGinnis's talent as a writer.

Grace has been sent to an asylum by her family, who has told polite society that she is on a European vacation. Truth be told, someone raped her, and she's pregnant. She isn't the first female this man has taken advantage of. This Boston senator has a magnetic personality, as well as a good deal of power. The insane asylum is filled with truly insane people, but Grace is not one of them. When an opportunity hits, and Grace is smuggled out of the asylum, she is given a chance to work with a doctor working in criminal psychology. She and the doctor work in the dead of night, investigating murders and crime scenes. But a particularly frightening series of killings has strikes Grace in a personal way. When past and present collide, will madness win?

First thing I'd like to note is the setting. McGinnis masterfully created this historical world of the Americas. I believe it is nineteenth-century America, in Boston. I studied U.S. history enough to know the horrors of insane asylums back then (even now though...). As well as medical practices! Our doctor, Dr. Thornhollow, has some, ah, interesting methods of doctoring. But as to be expected. I LOVE how Phineas Gage is such a big influence in this book - I've studied him in Psychology classes, and have always been fascinated by him!

This book is written in third person, limited to Grace's point-of-view. After being in the asylum for so long, Grace truly believes that she is nothing, and only survives for what grows inside her. But as the story goes on, Grace finds her voice - literally and figuratively. She'd been silent too long in the asylum. It was chance that brought her out of the asylum, and she does not throw away her opportunities. She has a sharp memory and an eye for detail, making her a perfect assistant to Dr. Thornhollow, and she accompanies him to crime scenes. I like Grace, though I didn't feel a strong connection to her. Perhaps a third-person issue.

Dr. Thornhollow is an odd fellow. He is a young doctor, studying phrenology - pseudoscience. He is obsessed with the brain, and wants to analyze the brains of criminals. He is very kind to Grace, despite the fact that he pretty much ignores emotions and emotional connections to humans, and is very invested in his work. He isn't insane, yet he is driven and dedicated to his strange work.

To be honest, I didn't read the summary of this book before picking it up from Edelweiss months ago. That's some faith in the author, especially after her first two books being three-star reads. While this one was also a three-star read, I rather enjoyed it. It was hard to read at times, but once Thornhollow enters the picture, things get MUCH more readable. Other characters turn up too, and I really like those characters. Lizzie, Nell, Adelaide - especially Adelaide, she is a favorite. 

So I think I was pleased with this book overall, though I could never see himself rereading it. I don't regret picking it up at all, though I struggled a bit while reading it (see below). I will probably continue reading McGinnis's books in the future!

What I Did Not Like:

The first, hmm, fifth of this book was very hard for me to read. For one, I didn't read the synopsis of this book, so I didn't know that Grace would not be in the insane asylum for the entire book. She gets out of there after about a fifth of the book of so. But I didn't know this (I didn't read the synopsis, just picked up the book based on the author's name alone). I almost stopped reading.

The beginning was hard for me. Grace is treated terribly, cruelly, almost like torture. Physical torture, emotional torture, mental torture. Grace is withered to nothing, physically and emotionally. She never speaks, never cries out, never fights. "No" stopped meaning anything, after, well, what got her into the asylum. I couldn't stand how Grace was treated, though I know it was all very authentic and plausible, and the author did an amazing (and chilling) job with this. But... that doesn't mean I had to enjoy it or think it was great. 

So I almost DNF'd. Then Thornhollow entered the picture, and I breathed a little. The book is much easier to read, and much faster to read, once Grace gets out of the asylum. Not to say that terrible and chilling things stop happening - they keep coming. But they more manageable, easier to stomach. If that makes sense.

I personally think the big answer/solution to the crime mystery they were solving was too hastily rushed, towards the end, and the climax was too abrupt. Of course, this could very well be an Alyssa opinion, but the climax was done in the snap of fingers. You could almost miss it, if you're not careful. And then something else happens - it's not really falling action, or a denouement. I didn't really like how the ending kind of just happened, especially how conveniently it did. Emotionally, I don't really think the author tied things up, in terms of Grace's mental/emotional mindset. As well as with the culprit, and the other criminal at the very end. Something just felt like it was missing.

Also, this isn't a dislike necessarily, but there is no romance in this book. None whatsoever. Don't expect any or go looking for any.

Would I Recommend It:

I don't know if I would recommend this book to just ANYONE. This isn't a natural crowd-pleaser, one of those books that everyone likes. McGinnis's books attract a certain, narrow audience, so you kind of have to know if you're one of those people or not. I personally liked the book, but didn't love it, and probably wouldn't have glanced at it twice if I hadn't heard of the author. Don't read this if you're sensitive to rape, pregnancy from rape, suicide, torture, death, murder, etc.


3 stars. I know I've rated all three of McGinnis's novels with 3 stars, but I still think I'll be looking for more by McGinnis! She's a very talented writer, and I like reading her books, though I think they may not be for me. I always love seeing what she comes up with!

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stacking the Shelves (#140)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!

So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, August 23rd to Saturday, August 29th?

(all links to Goodreads are provided!)

In the mail:

For the Random House Banned Books tour!

Thank you so so so much, Random House! SO EXCITED TO READ THIS!

I got a print ARC last week, actually, and forgot to post it! I've already read the book (HERE).

From NetGalley:

Conclusion novel! I liked Gilded and Silvern. :)

My soon-to-be September Pili-Pushed read!

From Edelweiss:

For the blog tour! I loved Dirty Thoughts.

All of these are from HarperTeen - click on the covers for Goodreads information!



I am excited about all of these. So much fantasy! :D

I know. This week was a big one in books! Classes started for me, this past Thursday. *hides*

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: First Time with a Highlander by Gwyn Cready

First Time with a Highlander by Gwyn Cready
Book Two of the Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands series
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***

Official Summary:

She needs a man-but only for a night

What do you get when you imbibe centuries-old whiskey-besides a hangover the size of the Highlands? If you're twenty-first century ad exec Gerard Innes, you get swept back to 18th-century Edinburgh and into the bed of a gorgeous, fiery redhead. Gerard has only a foggy idea what he and the lady have been up to...but what he does remember draws him into the most dangerous and exhilarating campaign of his life.

Be careful what you wish for...

Serafina Seonag Fallon's scoundrel of a fiancé has left her with nothing, and she's determined to turn the tables. If she can come up with a ringer, she can claim the cargo he stole from her. But the dashing man she summons from the future demands more than a night, and Serafina finds it easier to command the seas under her feet than the crashing waves he unleashes in her heart.

What I Liked:

I requested this book from the publisher on a whim - mostly because I absolutely LOVE the cover, and because I love Scottish historical romance novels (I could list a dozen!). I've not read Just in Time for a Highlander, book one of this series, but as with most historical romance series, this one is a companion series, so I didn't feel the need to read it. I may go back and read book one though, as I am now very interested in those two characters' story!

Serafina needs a man who looks like her ex-fiance Edward Turnball, so that the man will sign over the cargo that Edward stole from her back to her. Her friend Undine is something like a witch, so when Undine leaves herbs and a potion, Serafina mixes a potion and BAM! Gerard Innes from twenty-first century New York is now in the eighteenth century, in Edinburgh. At first Gerard is furious, but he discovers that he likes 1706 Edinburgh, grumpy Duncan, mischievous Abby, contemplative Undine... and fiery Serafina. Serafina is only trying to get her cargo back - falling for the man from another time and country wasn't the plan. But Gerard is seductive and captivating, and just what Serafina needs,

This historical romance was different from any other I've read, in that it deals with a bit of time-travel. It's not centered around time-travel, but clearly time-travel has a huge impact on the book. Time-travel novels are hit or miss for me, so I'm glad time-travel isn't overwhelmingly present. It is, but it isn't. It becomes more of an issue towards the end of the book. The paranormal aspect is big in this book, as Undine is something like a witch. Gerard is pulled from the twenty-first century into the eighteenth century - that is magic!

I LOVE Gerard. He is hilarious! He is so modern and such a guy, yet he's so complex. He's a lady's man for sure, charismatic and charming, a big flirt ("seducer" in 1706 terms). He has a wonderful sense of humor, and he is so easy to love. He transitions into 1706 remarkably well (too well?), and after his initial shock and anger, he does what he can to help Serafina. Did I mention that he is quite the flirt? I love this guy!

Serafina is a complicated woman. Her fiancee "ruined" her, they became lovers but weren't married, but then he stole her cargo, which is basically her life's worth. She has nothing, not a penny to her name, so she will steal back the cargo if she has to. Serafina is fierce and fearless, strong and strong-willed, refusing to let anyone boss her around, speak for her, or save her. Honestly, she has a lot of pride, and sometimes, it gets in the way. But she sees this. Serafina is a likable protagonist, and I think she and Gerard are a great match.

The story is a bit of a wild goose chase - Serafina is trying to get her stolen cargo turned back over to her (stolen by her ex-fiance). But then the cargo goes missing! Serafina and Gerard, as well as Abby, Undine, and Duncan, all play important roles in finding the cargo. Serafina sneaks around (and pisses off Gerard in the processes), and stops at nothing to uncover an even more complex scheme going on, involving her former fiance and noblemen. 

I like the romance. It's not as explicitly steamy as I'm used to, in historical romance novels. I kind of think this is a negative, but then, the scenes that are supposed to be steamy are not terrible. They're just abbreviated, so even if you can't deal with super steamy scenes in adult romance novels, you'll be able to handle this book's scenes. Super mild, guys. But the romance is sweet. Gerard and Serafina do NOT want to fall for each other, but they certainly like each other in certain physical ways. They bicker and fight and Gerard makes light of anything remotely funny. I like their relationship, and the progression of the romance. 

The world-building is great, very detailed and well-constructed. And it needs to be, as we have a twenty-first century male lead in an eighteenth century world. We NEED to obviously see the differences between the two worlds, Cready did a great job with the world and setting.

I really liked this book! It's lovely and a very fun story. The ending is satisfying and fulfilling. I've not read any of Cready's other books, but I will change this!

What I Did Not Like:

I wanted the steamy scenes to be more steamy. The references to the intimate interactions are super mild. I mean, there is nothing specifically wrong with this, but I am soooo used to really fiery hot chemistry and romance in a historical romance novel! This is my only complaint, I think.

Would I Recommend It:

I liked this book a lot, and I would recommend it! Any historical romance fans out there - you will enjoy this one. It delivers on the Scottish setting, hot accents, swoony males, and several strong females (including the female lead). So much to like about this book!


4 stars. I will definitely be looking out for the next book in this series! Sooo far away... but that gives me time to go back and read book one, Duncan and Abby's story!

Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blog Tour and Giveaway: When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare

Welcome to the blog tour for When a Scot Ties the Knot! I absolutely adore Tessa Dare's Castles Ever After series, and this book was my favorite! Check out a wonderful excerpt from the book, and enter the giveaway!

About the Book:

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
Book Three of the Castles Ever After series
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: August 25, 2015

***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers***

Official Summary:

On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.

A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.

Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh.  The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

About the Author:

Tessa Dare is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of more than a dozen historical romances. A librarian by training and a book-lover at heart, Tessa lives in Southern California with her husband, their two children, and a big brown dog.

Praise for When a Scot Ties the Knot:

“Dare’s marvelous third Castles Ever After Regency romance (after Say Yes to the Marquess) builds a gradual, intense romance between two people who are determined to avoid love and commitment….Dare’s swiftly moving plot is enhanced by the seamlessly developed romance, and the sensuality is heightened by the slow awakening of the pair’s mutual attraction.”—Publishers Weekly, **STARRED**

“With sharp, clever banter, breathtaking sensuality, colorful descriptions, and solid cultural detail, this compelling, often hilarious escapade puts a refreshing spin on the [‘imaginary lover’ theme and adds another winner to Dare’s riveting ‘Castles’ series.” —Library Journal, **STARRED**
“Dare’s latest begins with a fairy-tale twist of fate, then leads readers on a mesmerizing and intense emotional journey that explores love in many forms and the powerful pull of dreams.” —Kirkus, **STARRED**

“Dare delights with another marvelously romantic story that delivers a deep sigh, a tear and a smile. With her painfully shy heroine and vulnerable hero, readers are immediately captivated and will savor the joy of this imaginary-sweetheart plotline. You’ll stay up all night to reach the unforgettable ending.” —RT Book Reviews, **4.5 Stars, Top Pick!**

The Excerpt:


September 21, 1808

Dear Captain Logan MacKenzie,

There is but one consolation in writing this absurd letter. And that is that you, my dear delusion, do not exist to read it.

But I run ahead of myself. Introductions first.

I am Madeline Eloise Gracechurch. The greatest ninny to ever draw breath in England. This will come as a shock, I fear, but you fell deeply in love with me when we did not cross paths in Brighton. And now we are engaged.

Maddie could not remember the first time she’d held a drawing pencil. She only knew she could not recall a time she’d been without one.

In fact, she usually carried two or three. She kept them tucked in her apron pockets and speared in her upswept dark hair, and sometimes—when she needed all her limbs for climbing a tree or vaulting a fence rail—clenched in her teeth.

And she wore them down to nubs. She sketched songbirds when she was supposed to be minding her lessons, and she sketched church mice when she was meant to be at prayer. When she had time to ramble out of doors, anything in Nature was fair game—from the shoots of clover between her toes to any cloud that meandered overhead.

She loved to draw anything. Well, almost anything.

She hated drawing attention to herself.

And thus, at sixteen years old, she found herself staring down her first London season with approximately as much joy as one might anticipate a dose of purgative.

After many years as a widower, Papa had taken a new wife. One a mere eight years older than Maddie herself. Anne was cheerful, elegant, lively. Every- thing her new stepdaughter was not.

Oh, to be Cinderella in all her soot-smeared, rag-clad misery. Maddie would have been thrilled to have a wicked stepmother lock her in the tower while everyone else went to the ball. Instead, she was stuck with a very different sort of stepmother— one eager to dress her in silks, send her to dances, and thrust her into the arms of an unsuspecting prince.

Figuratively, of course.

At best, Maddie was expected to fetch a third son with aspirations to the Church, or perhaps an insolvent baronet.

At worst . . .

Maddie didn’t do well in crowds. More to the point, she didn’t do anything in crowds. In any large gathering—be it a market, a theater, a ballroom— she had a tendency to freeze, almost literally. An arctic sense of terror took hold of her, and the crush of bodies rendered her solid and stupid as a block of ice.

The mere thought of a London season made her shudder.

And yet, she had no choice.

While Papa and Anne (she could not bring her- self to address a twenty-four-year-old as Mama) en- joyed their honeymoon, Maddie was sent to a ladies’ rooming house in Brighton. The sea air and society were meant to coax her out of her shell before her season commenced.

It didn’t quite work that way.

Instead, Maddie spent most of those weeks with shells. Collecting them on the beach, sketching them in her notebook, and trying not to think about parties or balls or gentlemen.

On the morning she returned, Anne greeted her with a pointed question. 
“There now. Are you all ready to meet your special someone?”

That was when Maddie panicked. And lied. On the spur of the moment, she concocted an outrageous falsehood that would, for better and worse, determine the rest of her life.

“I’ve met him already.”

The look of astonishment on her stepmother’s face was immensely satisfying. But within seconds, Maddie realized how stupid she’d been. She ought to have known that her little statement wouldn’t put paid to the matter. Of course it only launched a hundred other questions.

When is he coming here?

Oh, er . . . He can’t. He wanted to, but he had to leave the country at once.

Whatever for?

Because he’s in the army. An officer.

What of his family? We at least should meet them.

But you can’t. He’s from too far away. All the way in Scotland. And also, they’re dead.

At least tell us his name.

MacKenzie. His name is Logan MacKenzie.

Logan MacKenzie. Suddenly her not-real suitor had a name. By the end of the afternoon, he had hair (brown), eyes (blue), a voice (deep, with a Highland burr), a rank (captain), and a personality (firm, but intelligent and kind).

And that evening, at her family’s urging, Maddie sat down to write him a letter.

. . . Right this moment, they think I am writing a letter to my secret kilted betrothed, and I am filling a page with nonsense instead, just praying no one looks over my shoulder. Worst of all, I shall have no choice but to post the thing when I’m done. It will end up in some military dead letter office. I hope. Or it will be read and passed around whole regiments for ridicule, which I would richly deserve.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now the clock is ticking, and when it strikes doom I will have to confess. I will firstly be compelled to explain that I lied about attracting a handsome Scottish officer while staying in Brighton. Then, when I do, I shall have no further excuse to avoid the actual rejection of countless English gentlemen come spring.

My dear imaginary Captain MacKenzie, you are not real and never will be. I, however, am a true and eternal fool.

Here, have a drawing of a snail.

October 5, 1808

Dear not-really-a-Captain MacKenzie,

On second thought, perhaps I won’t have to explain it this year. I might be able to stretch this for a whole season. I must admit, it’s rather convenient. And my family looks at me in a whole new light. I am now a woman who inspired at least one headlong tumble into everlasting love, and really—isn’t one enough?

Because, you see, you are mad for me. Utterly consumed with passion after just a few chance meetings and walks along the shore. You made me a great many promises. I was reluctant to accept them, knowing how our nascent love would be tested by distance and war. But you assured me that your heart is true, and I . . .

And I have read too many novels, I think.

November 10, 1808

Dear Captain MacWhimsy,

Is there anything more mortifying than bearing witness to one’s own father’s love affair? Ugh. We all knew he needed to remarry and produce an heir. To take a young, fertile wife made the most sense. I just didn’t expect him to enjoy it so much, or with so few nods to dignity. Curse this endless war and its effect of hampering proper months-long honeymoons. They disappear together every afternoon, and then I and the servants must all pretend to not know what they are doing. I shudder.

I know I should be happy to see them both happy, and I am. Rather. But until this heir-making project takes root, I think I shall be writing you fewer letters and taking a great many walks.

December 18, 1808

Dear Captain MacFantasy,

I have a new accomplice. My aunt Thea has come to stay. In her youth she was a scandalous demimondaine, ruined at court in France by a wicked comte, but she’s frail and harmless now.

Aunt Thea adores the idea that I’m suffering with love and anxiety for my endangered Scottish officer. I scarcely have to lie at all. “Of course Madeline doesn’t wish to attend parties and balls in London! Can’t you see, the poor dear is eaten with worry for her Captain MacKenzie.”

Truly, it’s a bit frightening how much she cherishes my misery. She has even convinced my father that I should be served breakfasts in my room now, like a married lady or an invalid. I am excused from anything resembling public merriment, I am per- mitted to spend as much time as I please sketching in peace. Chocolate and toast are delivered to my bedside every morning, and I read the newspaper even before Papa has his turn.

I am starting to believe you were a stroke of brilliance.

June 26, 1809

Dear Captain Imaginary MacFigment,

O happy day! Ring the bells, sound the trumpets. Swab the floors with lemon oil. My father’s bride is vomiting profusely every morning, and most every afternoon, as well. The signs are plain. A noisy, smelly, writhing thing will push its way into the world in some six or seven months’ time. Their joy is complete, and I am pushed further and further to the margins of it.

No matter. We have the rest of the world, you and I. Aunt Thea helps me chart the routes of your campaign. She tells me stories about the French countryside so that I might imagine the sights that will greet you as you drive Napoleon to the other side of the Pyrenees. When you smell lavender, she says, victory is near.

I must remind myself to appear sad from time to time, as though I’m worried for you. Sometimes, oddly enough, it’s quite an easy thing to pretend.

Stay well and whole, my captain.

December 9, 1809

Oh, my dear captain,

You will be put out with me. I know I swore my heart to be true, but I must confess. I have fallen in love. Lost my heart to another, irrevocably. His name is Henry Edward Gracechurch. He weighs just a half stone, he’s pink and wrinkled all over . . . and he is perfect. I don’t know how I ever called him a thing. A more beautiful, charming angel never existed.

Now that Papa has an heir, our estate shall never pass to The Dreaded American, and I will never be thrown into genteel poverty. This means I do not have to marry, and I no longer need a fictional Scottish suitor to explain it.

I could claim that we’ve grown apart, put an end to all these silly letters and lies. But Aunt Thea is ever so fond of you by now, and I am ever so fond of her. Besides, I would miss writing.

It’s the oddest thing. I do not understand myself. But sometimes I fancy that you do.

November 9, 1810

Dear Logan,

(Surely we can claim a Christian-name familiarity by now.)

What follows is an exercise in pure mortification. I can’t even believe I’m going to write it down, but perhaps putting it on paper and sending it away will help rid me of the stupid habit. You see, I have a pillow. It’s a fine pillow, all stuffed with goose down. Quite firm and big. Almost a bolster, really. At night I put it on one side of the bed and place a hot brick beneath it to warm it all up. Then I nestle up alongside it, and if I close my eyes and fall into that half-sleep place . . . I can almost believe it’s you. Beside me. Keeping me warm and safe. But it’s not you, because it is a pillow and you are not even a real person. And I am a bug. But now I’ve grown so accustomed to the thing, I can’t sleep without it. The nights simply stretch too long and lonely.

Wherever you are, I hope you are sleeping well. Sweet dreams, Captain MacPillow.

July 17, 1811

My dear Highland laird and captain,

You have pulled off quite a trick for a man who is no more than a pillow stuffed with lies and embroidered with a hint of personality. You are going to be a land- owner. Aunt Thea has convinced my godfather, the Earl of Lynforth, to leave me a little something in his will. That “little something” being a castle in the Scottish Highlands. Lannair Castle, it’s called. It is meant to be our home when you return from war. That is the perfect ending to this masterpiece of absurdity, isn’t it?

Dear Lord. A castle.

March 16, 1813

Dear captain of my heart’s true folly,

Little Master Henry and Miss Emma are growing like reeds. I’ve enclosed a sketch. Thanks to their doting mama, they have learnt to say their nightly prayers. And every night—my heart twists to write it—they pray for you. “God bless and keep our brave Captain MacKenzie.” Well, the way Emma says it, it sounds more like “Cap’n Macaroni.” And each time they pray for you, I feel my own soul sliding ever closer to brimstone. This has all gone too far, and yet—if I were to reveal my lie, they would despise me. And mourn you. After all, it’s been almost five years since we did not meet in Brighton.

You are part of our family now.

June 20, 1813

My dear, silent friend,

It breaks my heart, but I have to do it. I must. I can’t bear the guilt any longer. There’s only one way to end this now.

You have to die.

I’m so sorry. You can’t know how sorry. I prom- ise, I’ll make it a valiant death. You’ll save four—no, six—other men in a feat of courage and noble sac- rifice. As for me, I’m devastated. These are genuine tears dotting this parchment. The mourning I shall wear for you will be real, as well. It’s as though I’m killing off part of myself—the part that had all those romantic, if foolish, hopes. I will settle into life as a spinster now, just as I always knew I would. I will never be married. Or held, or loved. Maybe if I write those things out, I’ll get used to the truth of them. It’s time to stop lying and put aside dreaming.

My darling, departed Captain MacKenzie . . . Adieu.

The Giveaway:

Swoon Thursday (#135): Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith

Swoon Thursday is a hot meme hosted by the fabulous ladies at YA Bound!

- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting

This week, my swoon is from Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith!

"I love you. I love you so much, Brandt Germanius Strassbourg, and I don't care if you're promised to House Alizard, because I'm not afraid to dream."

Brandt's face has turned ashen, and I can see bruises in the crystal-cut hollows of his cheeks. He reeks of exhaustion and strife. But now, as he leans over me, hi smile lights him from the inside.

"Neither am I."

He kisses he like nothing else matters at all. Nightmare, Farthing, Barstadt, the Iron Winds - for now, there's only my golden-haired boy nestled in my arms, his warmth burning through me like a fire. This is what I dream of - my best friend, my confidante, my love. He pulls me closer, and I curl against him, both of us moving wordlessly in our own fluency.

- ARC, page 384

I liked this book! This particular swoon was so hard-fought and well-won. :)