The Uninvited

The Uninvited

First Lines: I admit, I had seen a ghost or two.

Cat Winters is a writer I frequently come back to. She writes interesting historical fictions that are heavily researched and nuanced while also having a touch of something supernatural about them. I love that combo. (Her debut, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was a pretty big YA hit.) This one, one of her first adult books, had been on my to-read list for a while. I knew I’d like it…I just wasn’t sure when I’d be in the mood for it.

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after suffering from the flu only to discover the world has turned upside down. Ivy’s “gift” (more like curse) of seeing the dead still remains. These ghostly appearances always mean that someone is going to die. On an October evening in 1918, she sees her grandmother in her mother’s rocking chair. An hour later, Ivy learns her father and brother killed a German in retaliation for the death of Ivy’s brother Billy in the Great War. Horrified, Ivy has to leave home, only to discover that the flu has caused panic and changed the rules of society. Ivy’s drawn to the world of jazz, passion, and freedom, a world where anyone could die tomorrow but they’re living for today. But as her uninvited ghosts appear more often, she knows something terrible is happening–and she doesn’t know what to do about it.

I was not expecting it to hit as hard as it did.

Of course, it’s set in 1918 as World War I is ongoing and the Spanish Flu is ravishing the country. I knew the pandemic stuff was going to be tough, considering 2020, but it was both easier and harder to read because of that. For one, I could obviously picture the mounting panic the city was going through as the virus spread. I knew what their next steps would be to mitigate risks. But it was also harder to read because the Spanish Flu symptoms these people have…they’re horrific. Absolutely horrific.

This story also touches quite a bit on how Americans turned against anyone and anything German. Streets and businesses changed names, people who were German were forced to do humiliating things like kiss American flags in front of mobs to prove their loyalty to the US, and even that might still not be enough. As the descendent of German immigrants, this hurt to read about, knowing my own family probably experienced some of this.

Now that we’ve gotten past setting, let’s talk characters. Ivy is very sweet. She’s been sick with the flu but is recovering when her father and brother come home and reveal they’ve killed a German man in town. She’s horrified. And she feels incredibly guilty. She wants to make amends in any way she can, which leads her to Daniel Schendel’s doorstep. I really liked Ivy for her determination and her sense of right and wrong, which was needed more than you might think. Her ability to see ghosts added another layer of interest to the story.

As for minor characters, there are so many different personalities there. A war widow into Spiritualism, an APL volunteer keeping an eye out for anti-American behavior (like speaking in your native language or playing Beethoven), a couple of Red Cross nurses desperate to save as many people as possible, etc. They’re all so real and interesting in their own ways. And Daniel…I have a soft spot for this grieving, broken man just trying to move on.

But I tell you what, that ending hit me hard. It was raw and surprising and heartbreaking. It got me right in the feels. I needed tissues.

This was really good. My only complaint was that I felt there were times the story was slow in the beginning and it didn’t always keep my interest.

Cascade (River of Time, #2)

Cascade (River of Time, #2)

First Lines: Mom freaked out when she saw us, of course.

Ok, so after reading the first book in this series, I immediately tried to get my hands on the second. I had to know what happened next. It’s not often I find a time travel series that I really enjoy (except Outlander) and I am here for this.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Even though sisters Gabi and Lia just returned to the twenty-first century from the dangers of the fourteenth century, Gabi needs to go back. She left her love, Marcello, behind. And the only way Gabi gets back is if she convinces Lia to go as well. When they return to the past, months have gone by and all of Siena wants to honor the She-Wolves who protected them against Florence. And their enemies will do anything to see them die. Even between battles, Gabi is more drawn to Marcello than ever before–just as Lia is to Luca. Life here isn’t easy, but the girls will discover things about themselves they didn’t in the present–the connection with their mom, courage, and understanding how important sacrifices can be.

I was not disappointed by this.

Admittedly, I still have issues with the romance between Gabi and Marcello. Again, I love both characters individually–I just don’t feel much of a spark between the two of them, although it’s better this time around than it was in the first book. And I adore the minor characters–Lia, Luca, Mom. All such strong characters in their own ways.

What actually draws me into these stories every. single. time. is the writing. I started this book thinking it was going a bit slow and that I just wasn’t sure it was going to be as good as the last one, but I was wrong. There is constant action in the story, constant conflict that gets your heart pounding and sitting on the edge of your seat. Then, when just when you get a moment to catch your breath, something else comes up and it starts over. I love it. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy action series with strong female leads.

And by “strong” I want to explain that it’s not necessarily physical strength. Sure, Gabi wields a sword and Lia has her bow, but it’s more than that. Gabi gets herself into a really bad scrape in this book and she cracks emotionally, but never breaks in ways she shouldn’t. Like, if she didn’t start crying through some of this, I would have been worried she was a psychopath. It’s the way she’s written and the way Lia is written that draws me in over and over. They’re so good and their sisterly bond so strong that I almost don’t even care about the romance.

I also want to give a shoutout to the first person limited POV in this story for sticking strongly to it. There are times Gabi is separated from certain parts of the action and the story never wavers from Gabi’s perspective. The lack of knowledge builds suspense and it’s so fantastic. So good.

I mentioned with the last book I didn’t understand why it won some Christian lit award because religion really wasn’t a part of the story. Ironically, I thought this book was far more religious and yet I don’t think it’s recognized as Christian lit at all. Granted, it still wasn’t super religious, but Gabi does buy into God and prayer more than she did previously. It shows up more often. She’s also fitting in more with the culture of 14th century Italy, so that’s why.

I loved this. I cannot wait to see what shenanigans they get into next.

Once and For All

Once and for All

First Lines: Well, this was a first. “Deborah?” I said as I knocked softly, yet still with enough intensity to convey the proper urgency, on the door. “It’s Louna. Can I help you with anything?”

Like many of us here, I really like Sarah Dessen’s writing. But this book was the one that had escaped me for a long time. I’m not totally sure why I didn’t read it when it came out, but I didn’t. And then it just kept getting forgotten and before I knew it, years had gone by. Finally, I had to read it.

Louna’s mom is kind of famous. Natalie Barrett, her mom, is a famed wedding planner who can plan weddings at any venue and make it exactly what the bride wants. And maybe because she watched so many of these happily-ever-afters fall apart months or years after the weddings, Louna is pretty cynical about love. It doesn’t help that her first love ended tragically. So when Louna meets Ambrose, a happy-go-lucky serial dater, she doesn’t want much of anything to do with him. But Ambrose isn’t discouraged, now that he’s found the girl he really wants.

Why did no one warn me this book was going to tear my heart out?

Louna’s mother has a wedding planning business, which has made Louna more than a little cynical about her own love life. I mean, when you see so many weddings fail after a few years, well, it definitely makes it difficult to believe in Happily Ever After. So meeting Ambrose certainly doesn’t change that. He’s a one-night-stand type, a guy who can always find someone for a date even if he was stranded on a desert island. Like, he’s that charming.

I liked Louna and Ambrose. As characters, I liked them individually and as a potential couple. Louna’s cynicism is balanced by Ambrose’s positivity for just about anything. Ambrose certainly gets on Louna’s nerves (and mine at times), but he has a good heart. I did think that their chemistry felt a bit weak, though, and it was sometimes hard to see why exactly Louna wanted to date him. But generally speaking, I really loved the characters.

Like any Dessen novel, it is only partially a love story. It’s also a story that is going to knock you back a few steps. It hit me harder than I was anticipating. There are always serious topics that get juggled in these books, but this one was darker than Dessen has gone in a while. It’s real, though, and very relevant. That’s why it was tough. And I wasn’t expecting this particular twist, so I didn’t have the chance to mentally prep for it.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a solid read with great characters (especially some quirky ones) and a cute look at what it means to be in love