This Darkness Mine ★☆☆☆☆

9780062561596_305afI requested it because it was weird, and I like weird, but I don’t know… I just wasn’t feeling this.

Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure that her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.

But suddenly there’s a fork in the road, in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it, and she relishes the smell of him—smoke, beer, and trouble—all the things she’s avoided to get where she is. Even worse, every time he’s near Sasha, her heart stops, literally. Why does he know her so well—too well—and she doesn’t know him at all?

Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending another’s: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. As Sasha loses her much-cherished control, her life—and heart—become more entangled with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a dark and gripping psychological thriller about a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.

I sat on this one for a while. I mean, did I want to read a book that was going to so obviously end with split personalities? The longer I waited to pick it up the less interested I became in actually getting it off my review list.

And then I finally bit the bullet and opened it up.

The writing was confusing, at best. When it wasn’t confusing it was boring.

Part of what made my eyes roll is that Sasha is suddenly portrayed as “bad” the minute she has sex and the reason her unborn twin sister has any control is because Sasha absorbed her heart in the womb. Like I said, it’s “twist” is exactly what you thought it’d be.

I was really pushed out of the story for these issues, as well as the writing, and ultimately, I skipped around a lot just to look for the ending to confirm what I thought was going to happen.

And I want to put this out there: the synopsis says This Darkness Mine is about a “a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.” Being sexually active does not make you bad. The end.

Everless ★★★☆☆½

everlessTime is a prison. One girl holds the key. This is a thrilling, high-stakes new fantasy duology, perfect for fans of Red QueenThree Dark Crowns, and Six of Crows.

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is extracted from the blood, converted into coins, and used as currency or consumed to add to one’s lifespan. The rich aristocracy amass eons in their vaults, while the poor are forced to cut their futures short in order to survive in the present. And few families are richer than the Gerlings, who lord over the peasants from Everless, their palatial estate.

A fateful accident once spurred Jules and her father to flee Everless in the dark of night. But ten years later, in order to save her dying father, Jules must secretly return. Everless holds more temptations—and dangers—than Jules thought possible. Soon, she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets, and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

This dazzling debut novel, starring a fierce heroine and rife with high-stakes adventure, engrossing mysteries, star-crossed romance, and captivating magic all set in a richly built world, will leave you counting down the seconds until the next installment.

I’m mixed about this one. I definitely loved the prose and the very literal take on “time is money.” I really loved the greater world that Holland created here with the Sorceress and the Alchemist, and general fantastical elements that wove their way around this story.

But I hated the pacing and particular character flaw so much I put it down. Continue reading

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm ★★★★★

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LOVED THIS! Phoebe and Her Unicorn is one of my favorite middle grade comic series.

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

If you haven’t checked out the other Phoebe and Her Unicorn books or checked out the weekly strip on DanaSimpson.com, then go do that RIGHT NOW.

Phoebe and Marigold are the new Calvin and Hobbes. Period. End review.

But in all seriousness, I have yet to read a Phoebe and Marigold story that didn’t make me laugh out loud. They are equal parts hilarious and educational, complete with a list of vocabulary words that may be above grade level for some readers.

If I had children, these would be a staple before bedtime for us.

Pub Date: October 17, 2017

Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

They Both Die at the End ★★★★★

33385229Holy mother of feels, y’all. I was warned this one had a lot of heart-smashing, toe-curling feels to dish out, and even thought I knew what was going to happen (because, regardless of how hard you hope, the title tells you everything you need to know about the ending) I still cried like a baby.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

I really really really wanted this title to be a lie. I wanted to have Mateo and Rufus survive and be happy and together forever and the entire time I had hope that the title was wrong and that I wouldn’t cry forever.

I’m not a fan of contemporary. I don’t hide that fact. But this was just enough fantasy to pique my interest and I was hooked. The ways the characters and the story intersected was amazing. I loved the little details that tied it all together.

Though the closer I got to the ending, the more I despaired. I was sure the ending was going to happen a certain way and then it didn’t, and Mateo’s and Rufus’s actual deaths were fitting and just so goddamn painful to experience. I was barely able to read with all that rain coming out of my eyes.

I did have a lot of unanswered questions about Death-Cast and how that came to be and how it all worked. I wanted more out of the story in a world building way that I didn’t quite get.

So, in summary: feels on feels on feels on feels.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding ★★★★★

cover110213-mediumSave yourself the time of reading my review and just go buy the book. I LOVED IT!

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.”

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it?

Bracken uses the perfect blend of darkness and humor. I loved learning about Prosper’s family history and reading Alastor’s many, MANY quips at Prosper’s expense as well as the numerous other humorous moments.

“If I had sat down at my desk at home, opened my spiralbound notebook, and tried to draw my perfect nightmare… it would have been adorable in comparison to this place.”

“Why is he talking like that? … It sounds like he swallowed a Pilgrim.”

“Do not keep my lord and master waiting. It is a school night and he has a bedtime.”

Alastor is hilariously bad at being bad, Prosper is steadfast and good, and I loved every second of their journey together.

Without giving away too much, know that Alastor has been asleep for 300 years and doesn’t know what traffic cones are for. And that scene alone should be why you pick up this book.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass ★★☆☆☆

34932579I had hoped, more than anything, that I would love Girls Made of Snow and Glass. I was promised a feminist f/f fairy tale retelling, but all I got was a slow, dull book where the LGBT+ themes took a backseat to…whatever the hell was happening.

I really really wanted to like this book. But I had to DNF it, which I always hate doing.

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy retelling of the Snow White fairytale as you’ve never heard it before, tracing the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start: the beautiful princess and stepmother queen.

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

I thought the concept was awesome: a girl made of snow, and a woman with a glass heart. It was what initially pulled me to hit the ‘request’ button. But the alternating POVs with the time hopping (where Lynet’s POV was in the present, while Mina’s chapters were her backstory and leading up to her becoming the Queen) made it just a headache and a half.

It was part of the reason why it felt so agonizingly slow; by the time I finished a chapter and was properly attuned to that character, we changed timelines and everything was different. I had to remember what was going on in that timeline, who knew what and such and it was too much of a hassle. The intertwining of the past and present just flat out didn’t work.

As a result, I wasn’t connected to either character and had no desire to keep reading. I had to DNF it at a third of the way through the story, which is a shame, but I’ve learned a lot through book blogging: if I have to force my way through a book, then that book isn’t going to be enjoyable for me.

Shimmer and Burn ★★★★☆

9781481471992_fca55Don’t you just love when you pick a book for the cover and the writing is just as beautiful?

To save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

There were so many wonderful fantasy elements in Shimmer and Burn, and Taranta’s writing is so immersive that it was easy to get lost in it.

The opening scene is so powerful and dark and amazing and I knew after I’d finished the first chapter that I was going to be recommending this book to everyone. Faris’s mother attacks her on page one. There are so many emotions, questions, and eye openers in just that one scene there is literally no way for you to put the book down.

And it only got darker. Taranta was totally unafraid to kill these characters and there is no where, on any page, where I believed anyone was safe.

Faris’s characterization is wonderfully new in the world of YA. She is in no way, shape, or form a perfect little snowflake and I loved reading her. She makes mistakes and harbors a lot of guilt for them. She is incredibly well written.

The only place that Shimmer and Burn lost points for me was the romance, and that is really only because I’m tired of seeing that in my fiction. I always feel like romances take away from a character’s autonomy.

Shimmer and Burn is alluring and terrifying and deserves a very special place on your shelf.

 

Mask of Shadows – ★★★★☆

29960675Pre-order it here!

Mysterious and tense, Mask of Shadows delivered on almost every promise it had given. I was pulled in by the characters and Linsey Miller’s writing was thrilling and poetic. Plus the representation of genderfluid and other queer identities was everything that fantasy books have been missing. And yet…

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

The moment I heard that Mask of Shadows had a genderfluid main character, I knew I needed to get my hands on it, whether for reviewing purposes or just pre-ordering it to have and to hold. Then when I learned Mask of Shadows was a fantasy assassin fight to the death story, I was already in love.

Fantasy is a genre close to my heart, one I’ve always loved, but the lack of representation and diverse characters is glaring. In a world where magic and dragons are real, why shouldn’t there be queer characters? Why is a queer main character so unbelievable? Well, that’s a discussion for another blog topic.

I had some hesitations about Mask of Shadows, in that Sal would have been the only queer character and that the book would have used their identity as a marketing ploy; it wouldn’t be the first time books or movies have tried to garner queer readers, simply because we were starved for representation. But in reading, all my hesitations were thrown out the window at how well the representation was handled.

Sal was never only identified by their genderfluidity; they were a thief and an assassin first, a fierce competitor, clever and flirtatious and had terrible aim. The subject of pronouns was brought up, showing how natural asking or presenting pronouns should be, something we in our modern day world can’t seem to handle. Characters asked, “How should I address you?” and when characters that didn’t respect Sal’s pronouns tried to misgender them, that character was corrected (or punched in the mouth, depending on which character was doing the correcting).

Miller’s writing was lyrical and bright in many places, but sometimes I found certain passages confusing and ended up having to read over those several times. It was never enough to throw me out of the story, but it did slow me down. The only reason I can’t give Mask of Shadows five stars is because of the worldbuilding. The little worldbuilding we got left me wanting more, a little confused and sometimes frustrated.

We get a timeline of the history of the world towards the end of the book, but what I would have loved the most is having a map. A fantasy world is hardly complete without a map for readers to peruse and explore, or to reference when it’s brought up in the story. Especially since Mask of Shadows was rife with politics, a map would have been crucial to have. Barring a map, then there could have been better descriptions regarding the nations and the state of the world around the characters. Miller does a fantastic job of painting an intriguing character, but the setting often felt like a vignette: detailed the closer we were to the character, but fuzzy and empty the further away we got.

Mask of Shadows was still an entertaining read and one I think I’ll come back to again and again. If more fantasy books had the representation this one did, I think we queers would be alright.

Little Monsters ★★★★☆

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I don’t know if this is obvious, I love thrillers.

Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Recently, I posted a big long list of YA tropes, which you can view here. On it, are evil (cheerleader-esque) teenage girls. And there were a lot of them in Little Monsters. BUT… I love them so much. They’re so evil I love it. I’m a terrible person.

Kacey is a new girl in a small town. She had a big fight with her highly unstable mother and moved in with her father, whom she’s never met, and his family in Broken Falls. But lucky for her she made new friends: Bailey and Jade.

Queue my other least favorite tropes: girl goes to party, girl doesn’t make it home.

Okay, the party is presented like the usual “girl goes to party and tries drugs for the first time,” it’s a legitimate social gathering here and it’s huge, because Kacey wasn’t invited. As the summary says.

In a small town where everyone already has tight and long-form relationships, it’s not long before everyone suspects Kacey and she, rightfully so, begins to retreat inward and keep her loyalties to herself.

I did, despite many red herrings, guess the culprit, but I did suspect a few others before that.

I really loved the depiction of the small town, complete with its own local legends and universal small town culture. It really added to the general mood of Little Monsters.

I also loved the friendships. It was all so accurate about how complicated teenaged friendships can be. All the obsessions and jealousy was turned up for the sake of the story but it never popped me out of the book.

One thing that did bother me is Kacey’s “Mysterious Past,” which is never fully pinned down. It added to the mystery for sure, but definitely took away from the project as a whole. I think if Bailey’s journal entries, our only alternate viewpoint, could have been expanded to help us better understand Kacey.

Definitely a solid YA thriller and it’s already out! So go pick it up and… you know… don’t read it before bed. (You’ve been warned)

Zero Repeat Forever – ★★★★☆

Pre-order Zero Repeat Forever here!

28945665When the apocalypse comes and the invading Nahx destroy civilization, Raven struggles to survive with her friends in a world that’s slowly burning. A dark and lonely sci-fi story, Zero Repeat Forever was enthralling—but also a little disappointing.

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

I will 100% admit that I was drawn to Zero Repeat Forever by its shiny cover. It’s just so pretty. Take a minute to really cherish it.

Now back to this story.

On my list of favorite genres, Sci-fi trails somewhere in the middle of the list; it’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it. I find it hard to get into, most of the time. Zero Repeat Forever was half sci-fi, half apocalypse story. I couldn’t even call it a dystopia, since that would mean there was some sort of societal order to the setting, but there was just death and invasion.

I was intrigued by the dual POVs of the story, one of Raven, a human girl lost in the wilderness with some camping friends, trying to survive after the aliens invade, and the other was Eighth, a Nahx boy who’s “defective” and rebels against his people.

The survival plot was intense and definitely the reason I kept reading, but for most of the books, as the characters are traveling to and from certain points, not much happens. As my good friend J.M. Tuckerman likes to put it, “a whole heck of a lot of nothing happens. Twice.”

My biggest gripe with the story was that we didn’t even really get a sense of what the Nahx were doing, even though half of the book is written in one of their perspectives. We don’t know where they really came from, what they were doing on Earth and what their goals were. And I understand not knowing what the characters don’t know, but little hints dropped from Eighth’s perspective, just little bits and pieces we could try to put together would have made the story that much better.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but the ending was ultimately unsatisfying. Had we known more about what the Nahx were up to and how their process worked, the ending might have had a bit more weight to it. I won’t spoil anything, but I felt like the ending was too abrupt and it’s obvious it’s supposed to be setting up a sequel—but I would have liked at least some loose ends wrapped up, or certain things revealed.

G.S. Prendergast’s Website . Twitter

Zero Repeat Forever releases on August 29th, 2017.

Witchtown ★★★☆☆

30971734A mother-daughter witch duo that pulls heists as they travel across the continent seems like it would have been exciting, magical and engrossing. Instead, Witchtown was slow, vague and a bit of a let down.

When sixteen-year-old Macie O’Sullivan and her masterfully manipulative mother Aubra arrive at the gates of Witchtown—the most famous and mysterious witch-only haven in the world—they have one goal in mind: to rob it for all it’s worth.

But that plan derails when Macie and Aubra start to dig deeper into Witchtown’s history and uncover that there is more to the quirky haven than meets the eye.

Exploring the haven by herself, Macie finds that secrets are worth more than money in Witchtown.

Secrets have their own power.

That blurb alone made Witchtown, the haven Macie and her mother arrive in, sound like it was going to be creepy or deadly or something more than the dusty, plain small town it ended up being. Witchtown promised a lot but my expectations sort of fell immediately when the opening to the book started with a history lesson that toed a lot of lines, particularly when it referenced a massive systematic oppression that hearkened to a lot of what we’re seeing both today, regarding queer people and people of color, and what we’ve seen in the past, like in the times of Nazi Germany or the colonization of America and the subsequent, and still going, oppression of Indigenous peoples.

There’s a lot to unpack that wasn’t even mentioned in the first few pages of the book, and we haven’t even met our main character yet.

It took me a long, long time to get into the book. Call it what you will: a slow and boring start, a main character I wasn’t interested in, lackluster worldbuilding; but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Macie or the story until I was halfway through the book.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like WitchtownIt was a decent book, but it felt all over the place, tied through several unfinished and unexplored subplots, rather than one main thread.

I had expected a heist story, but that fell through almost immediately. Then I expected a mystery, where Macie tried to find out what was causing all the accidents and attacks. Then I expected Macie to start coming into her own power, but that never happened until the literal last few pages.

So little is actually explained and we’re only given poor vague reflections to try and orient ourselves. Not to mention that the town is so lackluster, I only imagine the town square and then a void surrounding it all. This is a town that’s supposed to be full of nothing but witches, it’s supposed to be quirky and different and full of people who come together as refugees from the outside world of non-witches, but it’s so boring.

Throw in a creepy, lying Prince Charming looking love interest and you have Witchtown.

If the story was really about Macie breaking from her mother’s heists to be with her new found friends, I might have liked it more. But it felt like a mishmash of different ideas hastily tied up that just sort of falls apart if you look at it too long.

I wanted to love Witchtown. I love magic and witches and twists and fun quirky towns. But it had so little of that, that I’m not quite sure what to call it. My favorite, though, definitely not.

Witchtown publishes July 18th, 2017. Pre-order it here!

Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora ★★★★☆

Definitely one of my favorite pieces featuring a second language since Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost.

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Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

For Arturo, summetime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

In Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex’s family heritage is present but not in the way that Arturo’s is.

Their life revolves around the family business and the family itself. Which was amazing. That was the sort of family that I grew up in and it made me feel right at home reliving those experiences. Especially with the mention of cousins aren’t really cousins but you call them cousins anyway. I had so many of those.

One of the greatest lessons I took from this book is that your family is important, but so is the family you choose. You see that with Arturo and his friends (especially in the Twitter DMs) but also in the community when they stand up for the restaurant.

My favorite part of the book, though, was Abuela, who only speaks in Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish. I had it once in sixth grade, and so my knowledge of the language includes numbers one through ten and a few greetings. But I knew what Abuela was saying.

Not because her speech was translated. Not because I looked up everything she said. But because the other characters just reacted to her and I took my context clues as I needed to – as I do when I’m at a friend’s house and their parents don’t speak English.

I loved the way her Spanish was included because I can see this book being used to introduce the language to not native speakers in the classroom, but also as a way for native speakers to shine in a class that isn’t taught in their first language.

The Best Kind of Magic ★★★½☆☆

25436641.jpgA cute premise with great potential that was squandered by a forgettable character voice and boring writing.

Amber Sand is not a witch. The Sand family Wicca gene somehow leapfrogged over her. But she did get one highly specific magical talent: she can see true love. As a matchmaker, Amber’s pretty far down the sorcery food chain (even birthday party magicians rank higher), but after five seconds of eye contact, she can envision anyone’s soul mate.

Amber works at her mother’s magic shop–Windy City Magic–in downtown Chicago, and she’s confident she’s seen every kind of happy ending there is: except for one–her own. (The Fates are tricky jerks that way.) So when Charlie Blitzman, the mayor’s son and most-desired boy in school, comes to her for help finding his father’s missing girlfriend, she’s distressed to find herself falling for him. Because while she can’t see her own match, she can see his–and it’s not Amber. How can she, an honest peddler of true love, pursue a boy she knows full well isn’t her match?

The Best Kind of Magic is set in urban Chicago and will appeal to readers who long for magic in the real world. With a sharp-witted and sassy heroine, a quirky cast of mystical beings, and a heady dose of adventure, this novel will have you laughing out loud and questioning your belief in happy endings.

A lot about this world is never clear from the start, including many key points about our protagonist. Her voice fluctuates from sounding like a 13 year old to a 16 year old, I never get a clear picture of her—and in fact only find out she had funky colored hair about a third of the way through the book—and her slang is outdated. In fact, it goes from Amber saying “amazeballs” to saying “gag me”.

There’s a lot of overcorrection and inconsistencies in the narrative, which not only means it’s annoying to the reader but also confusing. It feels like a waste of my time if the character spends a paragraph going “Well, actually…”. On multiple occasions, Amber mentions that not a lot of people know about magic or the magical underworld of Chicago, and yet a majority of her high school population is some brand of fey or troll or magical being.

I wasn’t invested in the story or even interested in really finding out what happens to the characters until nearly half way through the book. As a matter of fact, I was bored through most of it.

And even worse, the climax felt cheap as the threat never threatening at all. The one redeeming quality of the finale was Kim, as that would have been the only reason I would continue to read the story.

All in all, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, and I was more intrigued by the concept than the actual story. Amber’s voice irritated me and I didn’t quite root for her during the story. I would read book 2, but I wouldn’t buy it.

Buy it here!

Blood Rose Rebellion ★★☆☆☆

31020402.jpgIt’s no lie that I’m a lover of all things fantasy; give me a book about magic and I’ll instantly add it to my TBR pile. But sometimes, among the diamonds, I’ll just find shiny bits of broken glass. And Blood Rose Rebellion certainly falls into the “glass” territory.

The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

Magic that stems from your blood, a revolution sparking across Europe and a setting in an eastern European country? That’s ticking off so many boxes for me. I always love seeing fantasy books set in eastern Europe, which is what drew me to books like Blood Rose Rebellion and the Shadow and Bone series.

But Blood Rose Rebellion was agonizingly slow and I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. Y’all know I hate DNF’ing a book. I like to give the story the benefit of the doubt and at least try to finish it, just to see if it got better in the end. I just couldn’t keep going with this.

Anna has the power to break spells, but it takes her way too long to realize this power even though it’s immediately obvious. There’s supposed to be a rebellion brewing, but we don’t see that at all, except in strange little snippets of one character coming back to say, “Hey, remember that rebellion? We could use you!” and then disappearing for five chapters.

All we get is Anna obsessing over boys. And while that’s not inherently a problem, it becomes one when it hinders the progression and pace of the story. Not to mention that her cousin kisses her (and is a major creep about it) and Anna never addresses it again!

I couldn’t finish Blood Rose Rebellion no matter how hard I tried, and I just have other books I need to read that hopefully are much better than this one.

Follow Me Back ★★★☆☆½

I love the cover. I love the format. And I love the alternating viewpoints. But I don’t love the third viewpoint or where it gets added.

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Follow Me Back was everything I wanted with experimental formats. Conversations are formatted to look like tweets, the accounts actually exist online (see @TessaHeartsEric and @EricThornSucks), the platform itself is used correctly and not altered for the sake of what is needed for the story, and the police transcripts add just the right amount of tension.

I loved all of that.

Follow Me Back accurately depicts the real struggles of those with anxiety disorders. Geiger did a wonderful job with Tessa’s character, always showing her high levels of anxiety and letting us know her feelings on it. There was a never a moment when Tessa didn’t acknowledge that her anxiety was irrational.

These characters are their own, which is so important given the viewpoints are short and we switch from Eric to Tessa after as few as two paragraphs.

When Tessa and Eric’s relationship starts to get serious, we finally get the third viewpoint. And – I think it could have been left out. When I got there-I had no interest in this new character, and only a few sentences in I had strong suspicions as to who it was, and I was correct. I don’t like being correct when I read thrillers – it takes all the fun out of it.

I very strongly recommend that this book finds its way to your shelves, even with its extra character. You won’t regret it.

Dividing Eden ★★★★☆

diving edenTwins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

BEHOLD! FOR I HAVE FINALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK! And it was amazing.

I’m working my way back into love with the fantasy genre and between Diving EdenA Court of Thorns and Roses, and Red Queen my interest has certainly been piqued.

While I loved damn near all of Dividing Eden, it lost a few points with its prophecy: one twin is cursed (pronounced “evil”) and will spread the curse across the kingdom. The “one light-one dark” trope was definitely something that pushed me away from fantasy in the first place. After the king and the eldest prince die, Carys and Andreus are forced to compete in the Trial of Succession to prove who would be a better ruler.

I know it’s prevalent in YA but I really enjoy when there are trials like these. They often show a lot of culture. Think about the hunger games for a second-someone plans it all, someone approves of it being aired, million watch it, and twenty four people are volunteered to compete in it. You can see that people are monsters. Or, consider the choosing ceremony in Divergent, the motto is faction before blood, but people are still shocked and outraged when children choose a different faction than the one they grew up in.

Just something to consider.

As characters, Carys and Andreus were fleshed out wonderfully. They were engaging and despite the constant comparison between them, they remained two separate identities. They are fiercely loyal to one another, as twins often are, so I was rattled when it seemed so easy to wedge them apart

The head hopping was also difficult to adjust to. We are swapped between both of the twins but the swap often happens in the same scene. It was a bit jarring at first but I got used to it after a few chapters.

Overall, Dividing Eden is well written and a great start to a new series. I have many questions about the world and the characters that will keep me reading into book #2 and the plot was so engaging I know of at least five other bloggers that I’m going to force this book on.

Breaking ★★☆☆☆

31450940.jpgBreaking is a companion novel to Burning. So it was a little daunting to read having not read the other but was still an enjoyable read.

Prep school gets a twist of supernatural suspense in this commercial YA thriller.

Charlotte has always been content in the shadow of her two best friends at the prestigious Underhill Preparatory Institute. Ariel is daring and mysterious. Devon is beautiful and brilliant. Although Charlotte never lived up to the standards of the school—or her demanding mother—her two best friends became the family she never had. When Ariel and Devon suddenly commit suicide within a month of each other, Charlotte refuses to accept it as a coincidence. But as the clues point to a dangerous secret about Underhill Prep, Charlotte is suddenly in over her head. There’s a reason the students of Underhill are so exceptional, and the people responsible are willing to kill to protect the truth…

Suspenseful and scintillating, with hints of the supernatural, this fast-paced thriller will keep readers hooked.

Definitely slow to start and I was definitely missing something by not having read Burning first.

Breaking is a dark twisted little tale for fans of Alice in Wonderland even if it is a bit on the nose, complete with bottles that say “Drink Me.”

Charlotte’s story is intriguing enough for her story to work as a standalone, her two best friends kill themselves within a month of each other, but the world needs further building and I suspect the world is built up in Burning. 

I hope when this book goes to publish that the publishers are much clearer on the fact that this is a companion novel.

House of Furies ★★★★★

houseoffuriesAfter escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house. But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.

Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure whom to trust?

Roux uses language like Austen and plots like Brontë. House of Furies is simply amazing and if you think it isn’t up your alley-you’re wrong. Do not smile. Do not frown. Do not, under any circumstances, put this book down. Continue reading

House of Furies ★★★★★

houseoffuriesMadeleine Roux uses language like Austen and plots like Brontë. House of Furies is simply amazing and if you think it isn’t up your alley-you’re wrong. Do not smile. Do not frown. Do not, under any circumstances, put this book down.

After escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house. But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.

Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure whom to trust?

With a story that is very reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Madeleine Roux delivers a perfectly gothic ghostly mystery. I’m sure you’ve seen my other reviews here-I don’t use that praise lightly.

When I first opened House of Furies, I thought for sure that I would need to get used to the language. But Roux isn’t just dabbling in an Austenian language, she has mastered it. The language is beautiful and so important to the story since any modern day language would easily have affected the character development and flow.

House of Furies is told through Louisa’s POV with small snippets from a book on faerie lore. I am very happy to tell you that the chapters are never an intrusion to the narration and the chapters are always relevant to the past and future of the story.

The conclusion is an emotional roller coaster. So much so that I actively have notes on my ARC that say “AUGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” And they happen often. So if you are ready to audibly scream in public as you eagerly turn to the next page, pre-order House of Furies. And if you aren’t ready, do it anyway.

House of Furies Publishes May 30, 2017
PRE-ORDER THROUGH AMAZON AND SUPPORT RRW

The Hate U Give ★★★★★

32075671.jpgAngie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights, a predominant black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Angie Thomas’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Windwitch ★★★★☆

1I’ve got so many emotions about this one guys, I was a wreck reading it from start to finish. I loved Windwitch, and it definitely lived up to the high bar Truthwitch set up.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

It was a little weird to start Windwitch off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t exactly read Truthwitch. And before y’all get mad, I first listened to the audiobook. This was back when I first started commuting back and forth to school, so on my daily three hour car ride, I’d get through a lot of books. And Truthwitch was one of the ones I picked up one day. And I loved it so much I rushed out and bought a hard copy when I was done listening to it.

And now Windwitch is here and I actually read it. Listening to a book and reading a book are two completely different experiences. For instance, I never knew Kullen’s name was spelled with a ‘K’ (I always thought it was a ‘C’) and every time I read Iseult’s chapters, I heard the narrator’s voice (which was cool).

But Windwitch is a story that works in whatever format you consume it. Mainly, because it consumes you with emotion. I have so many feels about this story, about Merrik and Safi and Isuelt and Aeduan. I just want to hug all of them and tell them it’s going to be okay. The writing was immediately grabbing, the action had me staying up all night just so I could find out what happened, and let me tell you how much I fell in love with all the POV characters.

Windwitch is the sequel you don’t want to miss. This entire series is something you 100% need on your shelves. Plus, the third book, Bloodwitch, will be coming out soon! Not soon enough, mind you, but eventually!

Susan Dennard’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Tricked ★★★★★

trickedThings are changing at Fairy Tale Reform School.

At least, that’s what Gilly’s heard through the Enchantasia rumor mill. Word is, notorious trickster Rumpelstiltskin has taken over management from Headmistress Flora, and he’s locked down the school tighter than the Pied Piper’s pants. Not that this news concerns Gilly. She’s been released from FTRS and is now suffering through attending Jack of All Trades School, where she gets to learn about different kinds of shoe leather and ways to measure feet. Truly riveting stuff.

But when Gilly’s little sister Anna gets whisked off to FTRS thanks to her troublemaking new friends, Hansel and Gretel, Gilly knows she’s got to get Anna out of there. There’s only one thing to do; make some serious trouble and get thrown back into FTRS.

It’s time to out-trick a trickster.

Tricked is everything you want in a middle grade title–EVERYTHING! Continue reading

The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455If there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Lifeblood ★★★☆☆½

29275562I was not a fan of Firstlife. I only finished it so that I could review Lifeblood. And I have some thoughts on that too.

With her last living breath, Tenley “Ten” Lockwood made her choice and picked her realm in the Everlife. Now, as the war between Troika and Myriad rages, she must face the consequences.

Because Ten possesses a rare supernatural ability to absorb and share light, the Powers That Be have the highest expectations for her future—and the enemy wants her neutralized. Fighting to save her Secondlife, she must learn about her realm from the ground up while launching her first mission: convincing a select group of humans to join her side before they die. No pressure, right?

But Ten’s competition is Killian, the boy she can’t forget—the one who gave up everything for her happiness. He has only one shot at redemption: beating Ten at a game she’s never even played. As their throw-downs heat up, so do their undeniable feelings, and soon, Ten will have to make another choice. Love…or victory.

Tenley was obnoxious in Firstlife and SPOILERS: she’s still obnoxious. And Lifeblood was still guilty of many, many YA tropes, but I had significantly more moments which I enjoyed.

Watching Ten figure out her new role in the afterlife/everlife and having to deal with fighting against someone who had helped to protect her was great. But, like she did in Firstlife, she spent a lot of time milling over boys she’s loved and boys she’s lost rather than really coming into her own being.

The action didn’t feel like I needed to see. A bit more like action for the sake of action, than action to bolster the story. It was definitely a sagging book. So much so that sagging middle syndrome doesn’t begin to explain it.

Reading through Firstblood just felt like reading Firstlife over again. It wasn’t as bad as Firstlife, but it didn’t read much better. The realms are still fighting, there is still light verse dark, good verse evil, a lost/dead boyfriend. Did Tenley learn anything from being human? From being fought over? Meh.

So once again, I really loved the idea and the attempt to explore the grey area that is the afterlife–I just don’t think it was done very well. Despite the fact that I didn’t like it-I still think that you should go pick it up and check it out. The world is very interesting and I think everyone should pay it a visit.

Even if we all hate the inhabitants…

BUY THE BOOK HERE AND HELP SUPPORT RRW

 

Firstlife ★★★☆☆

25785357What do we do with Firstlife? The cover is gorgeous, the premise is intriguing… the book is… meh?

ONE CHOICE.
TWO REALMS.
NO SECOND CHANCE.

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.

There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

I didn’t hate Firstlife 100%, but I also didn’t love it… or like it. There are so many problems right up front. Starting with the opening line:

Duuuuuuuuude. A heads-up would’ve been nice. Can you say whack shack?

While I’m a sucker for experimental formats, the opening messages left a lot to be desired. For example, we’re in a fantasy setting (or so I am led to believe), so why is anyone saying “Duuuuuuuude?” Then, the “General” replies and is just as haughty. The scene was definitely guilty of writing at teens and not for teens.

Meanwhile, the rest of the story does nothing but talk down to the reader, explaining everything and nothing all at the same time. Jargon is everywhere, firstlife, everlife, Troika and Myriad, and is explained almost immediately after they’re each mentioned, like we’re being told a story instead of being immersed in one. Firstlife, is this life you are living now. Everlife, is essentially afterlife and there are two places to go, but they are at war. Troika and Myriad have been at war for a very long time and everyone has different visions of what these places are supposed to be, although, ultimately, one is light and the other dark.

But why are they at war? Why are they after people’s souls? Why does any of it matter? It just felt very awkward that Ten, and the world at large, didn’t have any answers for this-or even lies about this. There was simply nothing.

The setting is also confusing. Firstlife sounds like a fantasy, like a sci-fi, like a futuristic world, but also like modern day. The setting doesn’t come through strongly as most of the story is dialogue and Tenley attempting to convince us that she’s a “badass” because she can hurt people with spoons.

Among the information that falls into Tenley’s lap, is that she is a conduit. That’s code for “special.” This is a trope the YA fandom has long since been over: the reluctant special girl. They need her, they want her, she wants nothing to do with it.

At least in other “special” girl fictions, the girl has a reason, Tenley just hasn’t made a choice, which is why she is in Prynne Asylum “being tortured” until she chooses either Troika or Myriad. Which brings us back to-why does this matter?

The premise was intriguing, as I said at the beginning. A world where everyone knows what awaits them after death? The argument that they aren’t actually alive yet but are living in a sort of limbo and have become sentient? Count me in! I love that! But, duuuuuuuuuuuuuude, it just wasn’t executed well.

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Fly by Night ★☆☆☆☆

flybynight.pngDefinitely one of many books I have requested based on a good description and an awesome cover, but definitely not one that I would recommend.

Everybody knew that books were dangerous. Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad. Mosca Mye was born at a time sacred to Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns, which is why her father insisted on naming her after the housefly. He also insisted on teaching her to read—even in a world where books are dangerous, regulated things. Eight years later, Quillam Mye died, leaving behind an orphaned daughter with an inauspicious name and an all-consuming hunger for words. Trapped for years in the care of her cruel Uncle Westerly and Aunt Briony, Mosca leaps at the opportunity for escape, though it comes in the form of sneaky swindler Eponymous Clent. As she travels the land with Clent and her pet goose, Saracen, Mosca begins to discover complicated truths about the world she inhabits and the power of words.

Fly by Night starts too far into the story. The prologue is purely expository, telling us all about the political history of the world, and ends with a few sentences wrapping up when Mosca’s father dies and how old she will be in chapter one. In chapter one, Mosca is already running away with a stolen goose. She is looking to free Eponymous Clent, a man who was recently jailed as a con man. Mosca believes Clent can help her escape. It is not until the end of the chapter that we learn she has set fire to her uncle’s barn, that she was living with her uncle, or that her uncle was cruel to her.

There is also a significant amount of justification missing from Mosca’s characterization. Her life with her uncle is among that but so is her desperation to stay with Eponymous Clent, who literally abandons her every chance he gets. It feels like the only reason she is drawn to him is to have adult supervision. I have no reason to believe that Mosca needs Clent when she is capable, not only of catching up to him, but also of finding things on her own.

There is simply not enough building before the action of the story begins and ultimately, Fly by Night suffered for it.

Tricked ★★★★★

30095472Tricked is everything you want in a middle grade title–EVERYTHING!

Things are changing at Fairy Tale Reform School.

At least, that’s what Gilly’s heard through the Enchantasia rumor mill. Word is, notorious trickster Rumpelstiltskin has taken over management from Headmistress Flora, and he’s locked down the school tighter than the Pied Piper’s pants. Not that this news concerns Gilly. She’s been released from FTRS and is now suffering through attending Jack of All Trades School, where she gets to learn about different kinds of shoe leather and ways to measure feet. Truly riveting stuff.

But when Gilly’s little sister Anna gets whisked off to FTRS thanks to her troublemaking new friends, Hansel and Gretel, Gilly knows she’s got to get Anna out of there. There’s only one thing to do; make some serious trouble and get thrown back into FTRS.

It’s time to out-trick a trickster.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, you know I’m passionate about middle grade books that imitate and re-tell other stories (Go pick up Heck if you haven’t already.) So it should be no surprise when I tell you that this series needs a place on your shelves.

25879858Because I requested and was approved for Book #3, I needed to run through books #1 and #2. Lucky for me, they were easy to listen to. Because the FTRS is fantasy, there is a lot of world building, but we are never just told about it all. We learn so much about the world just by being it. I felt like I’d already been in Enchantasia, and that everything in this world was plausible.

From gargoyles to evil fairies, everything in this world is plausible. And everything is a pun that children and adults are sure to enjoy.

21996359.jpgJen’s quirk keeps up in all three installments. And we watch Gilly toggle back and forth between a likable quirky little thief-and an obnoxious little brat.

Tricked brings us back to FTRS to once again watch Gilly, Jax, Maxine, Ollie, and Kayla save the day. Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked ex-stepmother, is no longer the headmistress at Fairy Tale Reform School. She has been replaced by Mr. Stiltskin, and he is cracking down on the rules so hard that more children are being sent to FTRS than ever!

I guarantee this is a series you, your kids, your younger siblings, your classmates, and basically anybody with a pulse will enjoy. I definitely recommend you run out to your nearest bookstore to pick up a copy. Right now.

Jen Calonita’s Website
Amazon . B&N . IndieBound

King’s Cage ★★★★★

30226723.jpgSo not that long ago, I posted Full Series Stop, in which I was talking about how the preview for this book was making me less excited for it. I would now like to apologize for letting my enthusiasm wane. We waited for King’s Cage and Aveyard delivered.

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl’s spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

Let’s first talk about the viewpoints. Of course, we stay with mare throughout her imprisonment in Whitefire castle, but we also see Cameron and… wait for it…

SPOILERS

Evangeline.

These viewpoints were NOT fan service. Each cut away to a character served to give us information and insight into the characters. They also served to rip our hearts out. Because that’s what Aveyard does best.

We watch Mare work through her imprisonment, we watch her fight to remain strong. And unlike Glass Sword we never suffer through sagging middle syndrome. King’s Cage is jock full of action and suspense, as well as many details about characters we’ve only struck the surface with.

Maven’s characterization was beyond intriquing. In Glass Sword, Maven left notes for Mare while she was on the run and searching for newbloods. The most horrendous one was left with a baby he had murdered. Imagine how awkward it was to begin feeling pity toward Maven. His story left me wondering at what point do we forgive terrible actions? How much should a person suffer before they’re forgiven for their sins?

The Mesmerist ★★★★☆

mesmeristJessamine works with her mother pretending to be spiritualists—until the day where the pretending becomes real and she finds out she has mysterious powers. Ronald L. Smith has made a dark and memorable middle-grade story in The Mesmerist.

Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London’s supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself.

Set in Victorian London, The Mesmerist tackles many dark stories: death, vengeance, and violence. Jessamine Grace lived a normal live with her mother, until the day they found out that Jess was actually a mesmerist—someone who can read people’s thoughts and communicate with the dead. She joins the mysterious League of Ravens in order to fight necromancers.

A great story with a strong voice, The Mesmerist is sure to please any lover of middle-grade stories. With many familiar story ideas, young readers will love it.

My one gripe with the story was that it seemed to be trying to capture too many story lines in one book. And at less than 280 pages, there wasn’t much room to play with multiple story lines. With death and retribution being in the top spot, it was quickly followed by mystery, the Plague, and social-political statements that bog down the story and make it a little hard to keep one plotline straight.

Jess was a bright character and fiercely loyal and strong, and I fell in love with her immediately. While a lot of familiar tropes seem to fill the pages of The Mesmerist, and it did seem to border on cliche, it’s bound to become a staple in a young reader that loves dark stories and supernatural tales.

Ronald L. Smith

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Heartless ★★★★☆

18584855Aside from the fact that this book looks gorgeous, the writing was amazing. I expect nothing less from Marissa Meyer.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

This Wonderland re-telling begins before the Queen of Hearts is the notorious villain that we know and love today. Heartless is akin to other such works as Wicked and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. When we meet Catherine, she dreams only of opening her own bakery, not of falling in love, being courted by a king, or getting mixed up in any sort of political intrigue.

Heartless is a story without a villain as we would describe it. It has bad characters, but they are not working toward world domination, only toward covering up their own secrets, of which there are many.

Meyer’s re-tellings are popular because, just like Cath, she knows the right balance to cook up an amazing story. This story was about Catherine, and not about Wonderland. Meyer does a great job re-creating the quirkiness of Wonderland while letting us focus on her characters and not those of Lewis Carrol.

Heartless definitely left me hungry. For pie. It left me hungry for pie. Some of Meyer’s best descriptions are of the food.

While Cath’s story might seem over, it is my genuine hope that Meyer continues to explore her point of view (or that of other villains).

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Marissa Meyer’s Website

Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

28962906A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murder cases, right up there with the Black Dahlia, and tackling that case or even that time period is a difficult feat for any writer given the amount of prejudices readers will bring along with knowledge of the case.

I am always worried about historical fiction acting more like a museum that new characters are walking through as they explore a story that isn’t there own. But Maniscalco did a wonderful job adding her own characters and making this their story.

Perhaps my only real gripe is figuring out who Audrey Rose’s Jack was, and the subsequent half a chapter which tightly wrapped up any and all problems she encountered outside the brutally murdered women. I won’t tell you who it is so don’t worry, but I will discuss the end.

Throughout the story, Audrey Rose’s father constantly scolds her about living up to her place as a woman born into high society and looks down on her for studying forensic sciences with her uncle. Then–right at the end–poof! He’s totally fine with it. Even sends her off to a school to study it…

IN ROMANIA!

Along with her love interest.

It completely broke with the character that was built up for Lord Wadsworth and popped me right out of the story. Which, I’m not griping about as strongly as I could because it happened at the end of the book, but it definitely ruined what could have been five stars.

I definitely recommend Stalking Jack the Ripper, even with its terrible ending, because the rest of this book is amazing and beautifully written.

Amazon . B&N . Audible

The Magician’s Workshop ★★☆☆☆

The-Magicians-WorkshopThe Magician’s Workshop started with an interesting concept: magic that can make illusions from one’s own imagination, a girl who wants to make beautiful things but can only make monsters, and a boy who wants to have fun but is an outcast in his own town. But it turned sour pretty quickly. I wanted to like The Magician’s Workshop, as it promised to be thrilling and fun, but my expectations just weren’t met.

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

The Magician’s Workshop did not read like the first book in a series. It was littered with jargon, most of which was presented without context clues so you couldn’t even discern what most of it meant. I felt a bit like I should have known what was going on, but I was lost from the beginning.

We start the story with Layauna looking out a rainy window, then being called to join her family for magical storytime, where they image a story and it plays out in miniatures before them, sort of like a puppet show if the puppets were able to walk and talk on their own. It’s not a type of beginning that grabbed my attention. Layauna brooded and noted feeling like the oddball in her family, and I wasn’t interested until her magic turned the story from one about a knight and a princess and into one about a rampaging monster.

It’s an interesting character flaw, to only be able to make monsters, but the stakes aren’t quite there because we’re reminded that it’s all in her head and that the threat is imaginary.

The dialogue didn’t do much to keep me invested either; it was stilted and mainly expository. It did very little to build character besides someone saying, “Hey, remember that time we did this thing and this happened and we had to do this to fix it?”

Though the biggest reason I had to mark The Magician’s Workshop as a DNF was the characters’ age. For the first third of the book, I believed that Layauna, Kai and Kai’s friends were twelve, maybe thirteen if I stretch my disbelief. They interacted, reacted and behaved like children. That was a fact I was entirely able to accept. It felt right. But when one of Kai’s friends mentions how they’re seventeen and still haven’t achieved something a child is meant to achieve by sixteen, I was thrown right out of the story, firmly on my @$$ and I couldn’t fight my way back if I tried.

An entire chapter is dedicated to Kai and his friends playing make-believe with an illusion of King Kong. The way they acted and spoke had me firmly believing they were twelve or thirteen, maybe younger, because no sixteen or seventeen year old who is supposed to be entering adulthood and even the fantasy workforce/college that is the Magician’s Workshop, would be acting the way they did.

I could believe that Layauna was sixteen, with her slightly more mature outlook on life, but Kai’s desire to play with his friends in their make-believe worlds didn’t read as a teenager. The entire story read like it was either a mature middle-grade piece or wasn’t sure what teenagers are supposed to sound like.

Frankly, it dumbed down its teenagers, which are meant to be the target audience, and even though I haven’t been a teenager in years I was practically offended at this portrayal.

Having a child-like personality as a sixteen or seventeen year old is believable. But being a sixteen or seventeen year old and viewing and interacting with the world as if you were eleven and trying to market that character to me as a teenager is not. I wish I could say I’m going to finish The Magician’s Workshop, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it through.

Scythe ★★☆☆☆

28954189Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is a tale of humans conquering death, and taking the matter of population control into the hands of the scythes, a group of men and women entrusted with the power of permanent death. I’ve always been a fan of Shusterman’s work–I loved his Unwind series and Everlost–but Scythe was lacking something I desperately needed in a book, which ultimately turned me away from this series.

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Citra and Rowan are both present when a scythe comes to call for someone they know, and through that they’re both brought on as that scythe’s apprentices. They then learn the art of killing, and are privy to more knowledge and information than they ever have before.

But as their apprenticeship is a rather unconventional one, it comes with a stipulation: only one will receive their hood and scythe and as their first act within the scythedom they must kill their peer. This is, obviously, a problem as both Citra and Rowan start to fall for the other, despite strict rules that they can’t.

There’s a lot of time spent on building the world of this book, to the point where it was practically pure exposition in every chapter. I didn’t feel connected enough to either character because we very rarely get to see them in action, and only see them as shadows and students.

Shusterman has a great track record of incredibly complex and deep characters that are easy to relate to, but that seemed to have been lost in Scythe. The book was borderline boring to the point where I felt I had to force myself to finish–“Just one more page, and I’ll be that much closer to the end”–in order to justify buying the book.

I hope that Shusterman’s future works have their old spark back, and in which case I will very happily return to his world of words.

Carve the Mark ★☆☆☆☆

30117284.jpgI was so excited to get Carve the Mark, especially since I loved Divergent and I am an enormous Star Wars fan. But Carve the Mark left so much to be desired that I put it on my #DNF list when I was a quarter of the way through the book.

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

Where do I start? Do I start in the weird two chapter opening introducing us to Akos at an indiscernible age? Do I start in Cyra’s prolonged childhood flashback? That’s where Veronica Roth started.

We were launched into Carve the Mark before either Akos or Cyra get their current gifts, before the Assembly announces the fates of the chosen on the broadcast, and before Akos is taken from Thuvhe and taken to Shotet. Are you lost? Because I sure was.

Carve the Mark uses a lot of jargon and presents a significant amount of culture, both of which are important to world building, but does a very poor job with setting and relationships.

We are constantly told about hushflowers and floaters, iceflowers and painkillers, but we are not shown them. I made it 25% of my way through Carve the Mark and I never had a clear visual of what the world looked like.

Honestly, I think it could have benefited from more time on the editing desk. I hope in the future that Roth’s publishers afford her work the time it needs and deserves. Unfortunately, Carve the Mark wasn’t fleshed out as well as her previous work.

Maresi ★★★☆☆

28818217.jpgMaresi by Maria Turtschaninoff is a tale of girls looking out for each other in a world where they’re abused, mistreated and often thought of as less than human. There are plenty of diverse characters, bright young women, and strong role models. Unfortunately, what this book had in great female characters, it lacked in action and suffered from poor pacing.

Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.

-Goodreads

Maresi is a young girl who lives in the Red Abbey, having been sent there after their family struggled through an incredibly harsh winter. Maresi buried herself in reading and in studies, eventually becoming someone who took care of the younger girls coming into the Abbey.

It’s how she becomes guide and mentor to Jai, a fresh face to the Red Abbey with a cruel past and a heart set on revenge.

I thought Maresi was a great main character, she was kind and gentle and patient, but she was the wrong narrator for this story.

When I learned about Jai’s past, about her terrible and abusive father, and how she desperately wanted revenge, that was when I knew she should have been the narrator. It would have provided a better story, more deeply seeded in the world of this fantasy than it was with Maresi as the narrator.

Had we followed Jai from the beginning, we would have seen first hand how terrible this world is to women instead of learning about it through memories and flashbacks. We would have seen how amazing of a haven the Red Abbey was to girls who went through hell to get there and it would have made the island that much more precious. Jai’s revenge and survival seemed like the main story, but it was told from an outsider’s point of view, and we never really got to connect with either character.

I wanted to love Maresi more than I did, but all in all, it was still a good story and the translation from the original Finnish made it feel more authentic.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett ★★★★☆

25546710.jpgBitter, bored, and sarcastic-Lizzie Lovett is a girl after my own heart. Want to go back to high school and talk to You: Senior Year Edition? Great. Because she’s in this book.

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

You remember them. The popular kids. They had everything and nothing bad ever happened to them. Hawthorn had one direct interaction with Lizzie Lovett and held onto it in the darkest place in her heart.

And when Lizzie went missing-Hawthorn didn’t care… sort of.

With her wild imagination Hawthorn believes she figures out what happened to local dream queen Lizzie Lovett, but as she immerses herself into Lizzie’s life she finds out she not only doesn’t know what happened recently, but she didn’t know much about this girl she came to loathe entirely.

Hawthorn latches onto a few surface items about Lizzie, namely her love of wolves, and concocts an entire-fantastical-story about her disappearance. This is really where The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett lost a star for me but after that arc is over I really enjoyed watching Hawthorn come to terms with herself and her prejudices against a girl she never knew.

The character’s journey is always so important and watching Hawthorn grow and realize that the things she originally thought Lizzie lied about were just things that contradicted the girl she’d made up in her head was great. I was also 100% creeped out and a little outraged to watch as Hawthorn moved in on Lizzie’s life. I thought we were going to get a flashback any moment and find out that Hawthorn was a murderer. Spoilers: she’s not. But The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett could absolutely have gone in that direction and I would have been fine with it.

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Author’s Website

Freeks ★★★★☆

28220899Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

 

Freeks publishes January 3rd, 2017.

Amanda Hocking is doing a blog tour with us starting January 2, 2017! Check out the first chapter here and the fifth chapter here, the giveaway here, and her Q&A interview here!

Author’s Website
Amazon . B&N . Goodreads

Dragon Round ★★☆☆☆

27276218A swashbuckling adventure! Dragons! Ships! High fantasy! Sounds like the perfect recipe for a perfect book. Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power seemed like it’d be entering my Top Books of 2016 list. It even has a gorgeous cover to boot! Look at how pretty it is. Unfortunately, the cover and the summary hyped me up more than the actual story did.

A swashbuckling adventure with a dark side. When a ship captain is stranded on a deserted island by his mutinous crew, he finds a baby dragon that just might be the key to his salvation…and his revenge.

He only wanted justice. Instead he got revenge.

Jeryon has been the captain of the Comber for over a decade. He knows the rules. He likes the rules. But not everyone on his ship agrees. After a monstrous dragon attacks the galley, the surviving crewmembers decide to take the ship for themselves and give Jeryon and his self-righteous apothecary “the captain’s chance”: a small boat with no rudder, no sails, and nothing but the clothes on his back to survive on the open sea.

Fighting for their lives against the elements, Jeryon and his companion land on an island that isn’t as deserted as they originally thought. They find a baby dragon that, if trained, could be their way home. But as Jeryon and the dragon grow closer, the captain begins to realize that even if he makes it off the island, his old life won’t be waiting for him and in order get justice, he’ll have to take it for himself.

-Goodreads

Everyone knows me as the person who loves dragons in my stories. There’s very little you have to do to make me love a book about dragons. But Dragon Round was everything I could have hated about a book with dragons in it.

It started off pretty well–the present tense was a bit odd for a high fantasy, but it worked for the opening scene, which involved Captain Jeryon, our main character, trying to steer his ship away from a potential dragon attack. When that plan fails and things start hitting the fan, Jeryon gets booted off his ship by his crew and is told he has the “captain’s chance” of survival: a dingy and the clothes on his back and nothing else. If he survives to tell the tale, he gets off scot-free.

He’s also got the ship’s healer, whom he mostly refers to as Poth (short for Apothecary, I presume), and things aren’t going well for them. A storm, starvation, dehydration and that’s before they land on the island full of flesh-eating blue crabs.

I was excited for the idea of two people trying to train a dragon and seek revenge, but I only got 25% of the way through the book before I had to put it down, for good. The present tense wasn’t working for me and it just kept bringing me out of the story. The narration, which often jumped from POV to POV within the same paragraph at times, was too full of jargon and I had to stop every line to look up the definition of half the words. It dragged on and there were so many times when I just wanted something, anything, to happen.

It never did.

I hate to do it, but I have to slot Dragon Round as a DNF. But I give it at least two stars for the stellar opening, the awesome premise and the gorgeous cover. I’d print it and hang it on my wall if I could.

The Dragon Waking ★★★★☆

33313452An endearing tale of a girl who meets her best friend in the Nevada desert, who just so happens to be a dragon. The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure and a splash of magic.

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Helped only by her fantasy-obsessed friend and a local occult enthusiast, Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their sixty-five-million-year slumber. Can they find the Harbinger before Jade’s enemies? As their battle unfolds over the neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, Rose must face this overwhelming threat by drawing on the magic that humans possess the power of friendship, compassion, and trust.

The Dragon Waking is a little slow to start; we’re introduced to a lot of characters that don’t show up again after the first chapter or two and we’re not even given the meat of the reasoning of how Jade, our dragon friend, got to Earth until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. For more than half of the book, we’re led to believe that dragons are aliens of some sort, since the only dragon we meet is tied to a meteorite–a tektite–that fell from space. When we do learn that dragons actually roamed Earth 65 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs, it’s a little unbelievable.

The most redeeming quality of The Dragon Waking are the main characters, Rose and Jade. Their friendship was strong, built up slowly through lots of work, and their success relied heavily on their teamwork and them being stronger together. Rose is artistic and clever, able to think her way out of sticky situations and patient with Jade when trying to teach her English–another great thing about The Dragon Waking was the huge difference between the human language and the dragon language, and the barrier both girls had to overcome. The language barrier wasn’t swept aside and solved because Jade had magic and instantly learned how to speak human, but it was something both girls learned to process and communicate with through time.

Many of the characters did seem a little unnecessary; Rose’s friend Clay held no particular plot relevance other than to show that Rose had at least one human friend at some point, and to marvel at Jade being a dragon a little later on. But once the climax was approaching, he was put to sleep by the antagonist and didn’t appear again until the closing chapter. There was a heavy reliance on Mrs. Jersey, a teacher and neighbor of Rose’s, and also an adult. Middle-grade ought to have kids solving their problems on their own, but Mrs. Jersey seemed to smooth every problem and question and provide a little too much counsel to the girls in the first half of the book. Though, once she’s put to sleep at the same time as Clay, the girls are left to fend for themselves in true middle-grade fashion.

All-in-all, The Dragon Waking was a cute story about friendship and the prospect of human progress now that dragons are waking from their 65 million year slumber. Poetic language and plenty of lost in translation humor, this book is sure to please any kid with a love of dragons and dinosaurs.

Grayson Towler

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Truthwitch ★★★★★

21414439Can someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

-Goodreads

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute….

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well flushed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, in tense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, it’s sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.

Susan Dennard

Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

The Abyss Surrounds Us ★★★★★

24790901If there’s anything that can be said for me, is that I love my fiction to have a hearty dosage of pirates. And queer girls. And queer pirate girls. The Abyss Surrounds Us is that, and more. So much more.

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Cas became one of my absolute favorite characters in 2016. She’s smart, cunning and strong. She’s not afraid to face off against a pirate queen and a legion of pirates for what she believes is right. She’s loyal and best of all, queer. It’s always so hard to find good representation in fiction; but The Abyss Surrounds Us was great representation of lesbian and POC characters. There was nothing to not like about this book. Emily Skrutskie knows how to weave a good, action-packed story and can wrench your heart out of your chest with all the strength of a Reckoner pup.

The semi-futuristic not-quite dystopian setting was perfect for pirates and sea monsters. It felt a little old-timey and a little futuristic and it was totally perfect for the story.

Cas’s relationship to Swift, the pirate girl that’s meant to keep an eye on her when the pirates kidnap Cas, grows naturally and out of mutual respect and fondness. The possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and it’s problematic nature within the story is brought up between both characters. But it never comes to feel like Stockholm Syndrome is the reason these girls fall in love.

The whole story was tense–will Cas escape, will Bao survive, what’s going to happen to Cas and Swift–but the finale was quite possibly the tensest thing I’d read all year. Literally edge of my seat. Well, bed. You get the point.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is everything I ever could have wanted and more. This is the book you need on your shelves if you like pirates, sea monsters or queer representation. Perhaps all three.

Emily Skrutskie
 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

The Shadow Hour ★★★★☆

27245910Sequels are hard; sequels in trilogies are even harder. So many of them suffer through Sagging Middle Syndrome™ that some people aren’t even able to finish them. I read and reviewed The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey last year, and I fell head over heels and finished it in one go. It’s sequel, The Shadow Hour, was slightly less head-over-heelsy and more…trip and fall.

A battle has been won. But the war has only just begun.

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: she is the firebird, the creature of light that is said to bring peace.

The firebird has come into the world, but it has not come alone. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance. Cosmic forces threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now, as the firebird, her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome.

She knows the Dragon Prince will not fall without a fight.

Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the shadow hour.

-Goodreads

I was so excited for The Shadow Hour that I pre-ordered it the day it was announced. I didn’t even stop to read the summary attached, just ran straight over to Barnes & Noble’s website and put it in my cart. Melissa Grey had become one of my favorite authors of 2015, so she was surely to keep that Fave Status in 2016. I wasn’t wrong.

The Shadow Hour picks up more or less where The Girl at Midnight left off; Echo has become the firebird and has gained supernatural powers that can either send the world into darkness or bring peace. Quite a lot to put on the shoulders of a teenager, but hey, YA heroines are used to it.

Echo is as snappy as ever, there’s more stolen gazes and furtive kisses (Go Dorian and Jasper!) than in the last book and everyone in the main cast gets equal screen time so that all the character arcs are great and rounded. We even get some new love-to-hate characters on screen (I’m looking at you, Tanith. Why do you do the things you do?).

My only gripe with The Shadow Hour, and the only thing preventing it from entering my Top Books of 2016 list, was that I felt like I had to slosh through thick mud to get to the good parts. Some castle raids and kissing wasn’t enough to motivate me through 400 pages of book. I devoured The Girl at Midnight in a day; it took me over a week to get through The Shadow Hour. The best part of the book was the last 20 to 50 pages, when things hit the fan and Echo faces off against the Big Bad. Right around when that thing happened to Caius was when I started to get interested. (Man, it’s so hard to stay spoiler-free…)

But The Shadow Hour was still a good book and a great continuation of The Girl at Midnight. Now just to check to see if I can pre-order The Savage Dawn yet…

Melissa Grey
Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic ★★★★★

24585386.jpgMagic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

-Goodreads

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.

Lisa Papademetriou

Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

The Thousandth Floor ★☆☆☆☆

24921954Maybe it’s because the performance was terrible–maybe it’s because the book itself couldn’t be salvaged by a good reading–maybe I want to give it the benefit of doubt because I love the cover. Who knows? But I did NOT enjoy nor did I finish Katherine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor.

A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future where anything is possible—if you want it enough.

WELCOME TO MANHATTAN, 2118.

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will this new life cost Rylin her old one?

Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy for an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. But when you’re this high up, there’s nowhere to go but down….

I used an audible credit to purchase this book so my review is based on listening to–rather than reading–Katherine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor.

Narrated by Phoebe Strole, a reader who refuses to use different voices on an audio bookThe Thousandth Floor is about the world of futuristic New York. Oh, sure, there are characters, five viewpoint characters who get increasingly harder to follow since they are all written and read the same, but this book is about place.

And if McGee was trying to write about the characters her efforts fell flat.

The Thousandth Floor opens intensely, with a girl falling to her death from the top of the building. Instantly, I wanted to know who she was, why she was falling, and if she jumped or if she was pushed. As the story went on however-I found I didn’t care.

I suspected each of the female characters, and eventually Watt, a hacker helping Leda stalk her best friend’s brother (more on that fiasco in a bit), of pushing one of them. But by the time chapter twenty started and I still wasn’t anticipating any character’s story–I knew this wasn’t going to be a book I raved about.

Not only was I not intrigued by

  • A girl in love with her adoptive brother
  • A girl who’s father is not her real father
  • A girl who is poor and cleaning floors
  • A girl who spent the summer in rehab
  • A hacker who put his computer in his brain

but they all just seemed to have problems just to have problems. I got the sense that these issues didn’t necessarily matter to the book or the world at large and that the author just pulled them out of a hat. The fact that we spend so little time at a time with each character exacerbates this issue. How are we really supposed to get a sense for any of the when their stories are interrupted by someone else just as it reached its peak.

The relationships were toxic. A girl in love with her brother (adopted or not, it is a violation of the relationship), a best friend in love with her best friend’s brother, a rich boy essentially paying for the company of his dead maid’s daughter and said daughter taking advantage of the situation, and drugs and cyber terrorism. But these were presented as normal and even as something we as readers should want to attain.

One last problem I had with The Thousandth Floor was the way in which is was read. There was little to no change in Strole’s voice as she read lines from different characters. Dialogue without tags was beyond difficult to follow as I did not have the luxury of paragraph breaks and quotation marks while I listened to the story.

Mice of the Round Table ★★★★★

23384425I have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of this book ever since I heard about it from the author herself. I’m so happy that it’s finally out and that I can review it.

Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day when he will become a Knight of Camelot like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, Calib’s family has lived among the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. Calib just hopes he will be able to live up to the Christopher name.

Then, on the night of the annual Harvest Tournament, tragedy strikes. The mice suspect the Darklings are behind the vicious sneak attack, but Calib has his doubts, so he sets off on a quest for the truth. Venturing deep into the woods beyond the castle walls, Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a threat far greater than the Darklings is gathering, and human and animal knights alike are in grave danger.

With help from a host of unlikely new allies, including a young human boy named Galahad, Calib must get the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together. Only then will they be strong enough to save Camelot.

Calib Christopher has a lot to live up to starting with the expectations of a prospective knight of Camelot and ending with his family’s name. When someone puts his name into the drawing for the Harvest Tournament, the final test to become a true knight, he is forced to participate or be branded a coward and never attain knighthood.

We took a little time getting into the tournament and I was worried the story would be mostly about Calib passing tests. Instead, we see Calib take on an epic journey all his own to save the kingdom and reveal everyone’s own prejudices.

Perhaps the best lesson contained within these pages, beyond learning to trust and believe in your own self, is the lesson on prejudices and that everyone is the protagonist of their own story and villains are often cloaked in shining armor and riding white horses, an opinion which probably gives away a little of the plot, but that’s okay.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that although some of the mice shared names with Arthur’s knights that this was not simply a retelling of the Arthurian legends with mice. These mice are their own characters, as are the human two leggers. Gallahad, Guinevere, and the other knights’ appearances are minimal allowing us to focus on the impending war that threatens Camelot’s critters. As an added bonus, the appearance of the two leggers reminds us of the larger world the mice inhabit and enforce that the problems facing either race effect all of them.

A very cute and much needed read.

Amazon . B&N 
Author Website

Ghosts ★★★★★

25903764Graphic novels have always had a special place in my heart, and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier has taken my heart in its adorable fist and crushed it to smithereens.

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has a long list of great kidlit graphic novels, including DramaSmile, and her graphic adaptation of the Baby-Sitter’s Club. So Ghosts is another stellar addition to anyone’s library, and let me tell you, you need this book in your library.

Catrina is a great character, someone I would have heavily identified with as a kid–scared but loyal and a great big sister. Her younger sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and ends up stuck at home when she would rather be trick-or-treating or meeting ghosts in their new home in Bahía de la Luna. Bahía de la Luna is a town where the veil between the human world and the ghost world is thin, and so ghosts come into town every so often. But on Halloween night, every ghost comes into town to meet with their living family.

The art is adorable and the fact that Telgemeier shows all the little things about what it means to have cystic fibrosis is awesome; we see Maya’s nightly breathing ritual, how quickly a breathing attack can come on, how it affects Maya’s mentality about life and death. The juxtaposition of Maya’s inevitable passing and the reality of ghosts in town softens the blow that eventually Maya will leave her family in the world of the living, but it’s still so incredibly bittersweet.

Catrina grows and becomes courageous, not just for herself but also for her sister, and she meets the ghosts and makes new friends.

Ghosts by Raina Telegemeier is the perfect Halloween read for readers of any age.

Raina Telegemeier

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Last Seen Leaving ★★★★☆

25036310After reading the initial back copy, I was a little hesitant to request Last Seen Leaving, but I’m so glad that I did.

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

Imagine coming home and finding the police at your house to tell you that your recently ex-girlfriend is missing. The same one who’s been avoiding your calls and texts for a solid week. Because that’s how Flynn’s story starts.

I immediately felt sympathetic toward Flynn, which is a huge bonus. In other mysteries I have reviewed I was thrust out of the story simply because I could not feel for the narrative character. Simply not the case with Flynn who genuinely cares about his missing ex-girlfriend, January.

I loved that we uncovered January’s story slowly. New stepdad, new school, new issues in her relationship, but also many, many lies. You may remember the last mystery I attempted gave me all the back story right up front. Simply not the case with Last Seen Leaving. Seriously, ten out of ten points on the set-up and execution of the plot.

As with all great books, the outward journey is just surface value and the real one takes place within. Last Seen Leaving is also about Flynn’s ability to accept himself. And in order for me to discuss that fully, I simply can’t tell you much about it without spoiling what I think everyone should be reading.

Perhaps the only un-enjoyable thing about Last Seen Leaving, was the constant use of the word “dude.” And also January’s name. Girl has some cruel parents.

I definitely think everyone should give this a try.

Amazon . B&N
Author’s Page

Puddle’s Wonderous Worry Dolls ★☆☆☆☆

31368477.jpgI’ve been meaning to read more easy readers and middle grade, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with this one. Puddle’s Wonderous Worry Dolls reads like an easy reader but it tried desperately to enter into the heftier realm of middle grade.

Jemima- Puddle to her friends- helps out in her Mum’s shop and discovers Worry Dolls, pretty paper dolls in bright cotton pouches.

Puddle has never heard of Worry Dolls and her Mum explains that they make your worries fly away.  While they are talking, a box of Worry Dolls spookily falls off the table and Puddle scrabbles around picking them all up – when Puddle gets home she finds that one of those bags had fallen into her pocket. But these Worry Dolls are nothing like the shop ones –these are very very different – cool funky Worry dolls in a rainbow pouch. Puddle is pretty puzzled, did her Mum slip them into her pocket? But she gives them a worry to solve just for fun –  what happens next makes Puddle even more puzzled.

Puddle and her best friend Ally have plenty of problems at school -with three bullies who make everyone’s life a misery. Like all bullies they pick on the younger kids who can’t stand up for themselves. Their unkind names are a pain, but one day they go too far, so Puddle and Ally decide that it is time to teach them a lesson – together with her wondrous new friends – those Funky Worry Dolls, Puddle and Ally come up with some wonderful, but naughty, ideas.

Not only the school bullies get a taste of their own medicine – other crazy things happen,

Puddle and Ally save some bedraggled kittens. Puddle succeeds in a maths test, now that is a miracle! Puddle’s project group is a big success-

Those Worry Dolls are cool but a bit creepy!

Puddle has a bunch of problems going on in her life, she’s bad at math, there are bullies at school, she lost her grandmother’s bracelet, and someone left a sack full kittens in the river. Every day something else awful happens and every night she talks to her worry doll that she’s tucked beneath her pillow.

Aside from the constant shifting in tenses and forced, often perfunctory, dialogue, Puddle’s Wonderous Worry Dolls tried to tackle too many plot lines. Each problem goes one of two ways, either it is solved for them or they go about a deplorable way to solve it.

The first problem was the loss of her grandmother’s bracelet. We can safely assume the worry doll made it appear in Ally’s beat up couch. Notice how Puddle didn’t go looking for it.

The second problem was the bullies, aka the scaries (a relatively uncreative name for bullies that has been used time and time again). After watching the scaries bully an overweight girl in the locker room Puddle and Ally set up a system of pranks in the classroom so that they can steal the bullies’ phones and send mean text messages. Of course, the scaries break off their friendship. I was disappointed that distracting the classroom and stealing were the first ideas that popped into Puddle and Ally’s heads.

The third problem was the Math test (Maths test in the text because we’re not in the US). Puddle is terrible at Math and she worries that her classmates will make fun of her. With Ally’s help she passes the test. But I would rather have seen Puddle hit the books and work out her own problems.

Then there are the kittens. The sack of kittens they find by the river, who are malnourished and half drowned. One, in fact, did not make it and the girls calmly bury the small thing.

Puddle’s Wonderous Worry Dolls was trying to be much more mature than it needed to be and was more easy reader than middle grade novel. It was a cute premise but ultimately too much is solved from outside forces.

The Killer in Me ★☆☆☆☆

26095500.jpgThis is unfortunately just one of those books where we’re trying to please everyone so everything is happening all at once and all up front.

Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.

Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.

But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?

I made it roughly 15% of the way through The Killer in Me before I was pushed out of the story and back onto my couch. Although, to be honest, I’d been teetering on the edge for most of what I had read. Prior to finally putting it down, I was juggling a lot of background information.

Nina’s got a hefty past to confront that really should have been her current struggle rather than something she just recaps to us as a trial she’s already passed. We’ll start with her addiction to pills. She freely admits to having conquered this issue as she craves more pills in order to remain awake all night so as to watch the Thief. All fine and dandy but watching her struggle through that and succumb to the pills to stay away would have been much more interesting.

Moving on, she was adopted–and is completely aware of this fact because her mother, a single lesbian, never kept it from her. Again, both points are just fine. Great that her mother is a representative to the LGBQT community and great that she’s adopted.

Not great that this was not a discovery she made during the length of The Killer in Me. I feel robbed of an especially powerful and moving scene in which Nina finds all of this information out.

On top of this, Nina is psychically connected to the Thief, a serial killer.

When The Killer in Me opens, Nina already has the connection to the Thief. I think this annoyed me the most. We never got to watch her learn that it was real (or not–I honestly know because #DNF). We didn’t get to see her wake up from this nightmare. We didn’t get to watch a significant part of her journey.

We joined Nina after her breaking point and we were barely given the facts about how she got there.

Overall, there was simply too much going on up front and not enough to keep my interest. A lot of background information was dumped on the reader in an attempt to characterize Nina, but it was done so haphazardly and quickly that I was not drawn to her or her story. Cool idea, poor execution. No pun intended.

The Assassin Game ★★★☆☆

27969100It’s always scary when the games we play get too real, and I think McKay did a really good job keeping me on the edge with The Assassin Game.

Who will be left after lights out?

At Cate’s isolated boarding school, Killer is more than a game- it’s an elite secret society. Members must avoid being “Killed” during a series of thrilling pranks, and only the Game Master knows who the “Killer” is. When Cate’s finally invited to join the Assassins’ Guild, she know it’s her ticket to finally feeling like she belongs.

But when the game becomes all too real, the school threatens to shut it down. Cate will do anything to keep playing and save the Guild. But can she find the real assassin before she’s the next target?

One thing my friends and I like to do when we attend a convention is actually play the assassin game. You walk around for days together and it provides a little extra oomf to have a friendly competition going. But at Umfraville, the Guild plays Killed, same game different name. Everyone draws a card, whoever draws the one that says killer is, you guessed it, the killer, and must go around “killing” fellow students until they are all gone or the killer gets caught. It is fun, when people aren’t actually factually dying.

Cate’s childhood friend suddenly showed up in the middle and was immediately initiated into the Guild and the game. Which I felt was a bit too sudden. I felt obligated to suspect him and I would have preferred to have suspected someone already in the game and of my own volition.

I felt a little distanced from The Assassin Game‘s inconsistent characters, even though I was invested in the plot and the action. The Assassin Game was a good read and paced well. I recommend you pick it up and give it a try.

Labyrinth Lost ★★★★★

27969081.jpgCórdova immerses us in fantasy, language, and LGBQT in a way I haven’t seen done successfully in today’s YA literature.

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Goodreads

Labyrinth Lost shows us a custom fantasy culture of brujas with a hefty helping of Spanish language and family traditions. My experience with “diverse” literature lately has been for the author to go overboard, effectively alienating readers.

Alex has a lot on her plate: trying to keep her powers a secret from her family and her best friends, dealing with her feelings for Nova (a boy) and Rishi (a girl), being tracked by demons, and–not a spoiler it’s right there in the blurb–making her entire family, the living and the dead, disappear.

Whoops.

An amazing action packed read, Labyrinth Lost never left me wanting more. Until the end. When I wanted more book because I need more of these characters.

Córdova even made me care about the antagonists, making me care about their general well-being.

Not only pushing for diversity but achieving it, not predictable, and in no way shape or form boring, Labyrinth Lost delivers more than you could ask for of today’s YA literature.

Amazon . B&N . IndieBound
Author Website

For This Life Only ★★★★★

22608727I have a theory that Stacey Kade wants to watch me die from dehydration. A scene that’s absolutely plausible given how much I cried while reading For This Life Only.

Three minutes.

Jacob Palmer died for three life-changing minutes.

And when he woke up, nothing was the same. Elijah, his twin brother, is dead, and his family is broken. Jace’s planned future is crushed, along with his pitching arm. Everyone keeps telling him that Eli’s in a better place, but Jace isn’t so sure. Because in those three minutes, there was nothing.

Overwhelmed by guilt and doubt, Jace struggles to adjust to this new version of the world, one without his brother, one without the certainties he once relied on. And then Thera comes into his life.

She’s the last girl he should be turning to for help.

But she’s also the first person to truly see him.

Would you believe me if I said Jace’s loss of his twin is the least of his problems? He struggles to identify himself after the accident which claimed the life of his twin brother, Eli. Jace knew he was the screw-up and Eli was good. Jace knew that he was an athlete and Eli was a scholar. But after the accident all Jace knows is that he is alive and Eli is dead. And it was heart wrenching to watch him go through that struggle.

Jace’s characterization in For This Life Only is physical. He pops right off the page and sits down next to you to tell you his story. He is so, incredibly, aware of his situation in terms of what it is, what it was, and what it was supposed to be. Although his comparisons are constant, they are never overbearing.

When he finally begins to reach out and ask for help from “the last girl he should be turning to” it happens naturally like an un-dammed body of water rushing to find a new home. The pressure builds on him robbing him of his choice, causing him to let go of his prejudices and grow.

I loved the pacing in For This Life Only. I never felt rushed or like I was sitting in stagnant scenes. Kade got us where we needed to–when we needed to.

I do wish For This Life Only‘s ending were a bit longer, but I also feel that it was written exactly as it needed to be. For This Life Only gets released August 30th, 2016.

StaceyKade.com
Amazon . B&N

Unhooked ★★★☆☆

21518344.jpgI loved the story and the re-imagined world of Neverland. I loved the descriptions and the pictures that were painted in my mind. I didn’t love the romance or accents.

For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

Goodreads

Maxwell certainly gives us an amazingly lush terrain of threatening island jungle, but she also gives us a tropey romance on the decks of a pirate ship. Gwen, our heroine, is instantly attracted to Rowan (aka Hook).

Upfront, the romance in Unhooked was downplayed, with Gwen acknowledging that her attraction to the Captain was fairly similar to Stockholm Syndrone. But that doesn’t stop her from noticing his body. His warm body. His warm muscular body.

All well and good for a healthy teenaged girl. But I did not find anywhere in Unhooked where Gwen’s attraction went any further than something physical. Sure, Rowan saves her time and time again, but Gwen’s character never acknowledges that shes thankful to see Rowan. It’s usually “Oh, he’s going to throw me back on the ship.” or “His warm body wraps around me and keeps me from doing anything.”

My other issue with Unhooked was in the dialogue. Very rarely do the other characters call Gwen by her name, and if they do it is usually Gwendolyn. A not-so-subtle way for the characters to keep her at a distance. But each character also had a little slightly-condescending name for her:

Rowan : Lass

Pan : My Dear

Fairies : Young One

It might not seem condescending to you, but try seeing it on a page three or four times and it might start to irk you beyond belief.

Unhooked is a great read with a twisting turning plot similar to the island of Neverland itself. It’s throwbacks to the original source work are well-done and often humorous. I recommend that you at least give it a chance as I did.

Check Out Lisa’s Guest Post: 3 Tips from Lisa Maxwell

The Wolf in the Attic ★☆☆☆☆

23492495.jpgThe Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney is the long winded tale of Anna, a Greek refugee living in London with her father in the early 20th century. There was exactly one exciting, plot driven scene in the first quarter of the book and everything else is countless pages of details, descriptions and character reflections on repeat. I had to mark Wolf in the Attic as a DNF, which I hate to do.

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien… and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beau
tiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

-Goodreads

Anna’s journey is meant to be a magical one, full of mystery, strange creatures and the voices of some classic authors. But I found it dull and ended up forcing myself to get through the first quarter of it.

Anna has come to London with her father after Turks burn their hometown to the ground, and have since become refugees. She desperately wants to find a place of her own, but she is kept away from local children and her only source of companionship is Pie, a doll she’s had since she was very young, with whom she shares many conversations.

And for a long while, that’s the only person she speaks with. Most of the book is full of Anna’s reflections on what’s around her and pages of descriptions and details that never end. The only scene that actively held my interest was about fifteen percent of the way through the book; when Anna is in the meadow, watching a boy kill a man and then that boy following her all the way back to the city. After that, nothing of interest happens.

I really liked Anna’s character. She’s young, spunky and adventurous. I knew almost immediately that she not only had to be dealing with some form of PTSD, having lived through the trauma of her home being attack and losing her mother, but also some form of mental illness. As an eleven year-old still closely attached to her doll, not to mention her incredibly limited view of the world despite being at an age where she should be viewing things around her in a much more multi-dimensional fashion, she reads as someone on the autistic spectrum or as someone with a learning disability.

Since I began reviewing books, I’ve started to learn that sometimes, I won’t be able to finish every book. I’ve long since determined that I also won’t like every book I come across. I used to try and finish every book I get from NetGally, but it’s not always possible, especially if the book I’ve chosen to read that week isn’t a very good one or does not meet my expectations. Finishing books I don’t like just leads to headache, heartache and a long time spent moaning and groaning about how I couldn’t wait to be done.

I don’t particularly like marking books down as DNF; I used to find it unfair to the author, who put so much work and heart into the crafting of their story. But reading is meant to be a pleasure, something I do because I enjoy it and want to do. Reading bad books or books I don’t feel invested in for any reason is not pleasurable.

Finishing books is great, but sometimes, not finishing them is even better.

The Lie Tree – ★★★★☆

I’m always enamored by girls in stories that seem innocent and invisible but use that to their advantage to carve their own path — which is exactly what Faith Sunderly does in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s impossible to put down this historical mystery, set just after the advent of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, where young Faith takes the matter of her father’s murder into her own hands.

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. Lie Tree.jpgBut inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

-Goodreads

Historical fiction has always been that tiny love of mine, the flame of a candle burning in the back of my mind while I busied myself with fantasy. It’s always forgotten while I adventure with dragons and goblins, but I’m reminded how brightly that candle burns when I read something like The Lie Tree.

When I opened Lie Tree up, I couldn’t close it until I was almost halfway through, and the only reason I did was because it was 3 in the morning and I had work in a few hours. Faith is an incredibly strong female character–and not in the ways most people expect when they hear those three words. She’s immensely flawed, selfish and brash, but she’s kind and brave and willfull too. She seeks the truth when everyone else is blind to it, and she puts herself in danger to get to the bottom of it.

Every detail comes full circle in every aspect; Hardinge is a talented writer who wastes no word.

My only gripe, if I really could call it that, is the huge cast of characters. Some are only mentioned in passing and others we physically see on the page, but they end up flowing into one another and often I find myself asking, “Wait, who is that?”

It’s not a good thing to have happen, especially in a murder mystery where everyone you meet is a potential suspect. You forget who wronged whom or when they were last seen, and it gets confusing.

But regardless of your favorite genre, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction, you ought to pick up The Lie Tree as soon as you can.

Goodreads . Amazon . B&N . Indie . Author Page

The Lie Tree publishes on April 19th, 2016.

Mean Margaret ★★☆☆☆

mean-margaret-9781481410144_hrQuestion: What do a pair of newlywed woodchucks, a squirrel, a testy snake, a skunk, and a couple of bats have in common with a family of pudgy human beings named Hubble?Answer: Their lives are all turned topsy-turvey by a tyrannical toddler named Margaret.

Question: Will Margaret ever realize that there’s more to life than being mean? Answer: Read this touching comedy and find out.

-Goodreads

Fred, a neat, tidy, and prejudiced woodchuck, vehemently doesn’t want anything to mess up his life. But then he dreams about being married and begins to crave socialization. Continue reading

Shadowhunters Episode 12 ★☆☆☆☆

HARRY SHUM JR., DOMINIC SHERWOODI think this is the last episode of Shadowhunters that I’m forcing myself through.

Once again, we fly through story arcs and subplots. We are introduced to Magnus Bane’s old friend Ragnar Fell on the off-chance he might know how to awaken Clary’s mom from the weird potion induced coma that she is currently floating in. I think his total screen time takes up 5 minutes. His total arc follows Shadowhunters trademark, go find, finish formula: Clary and Co. find his home, make their ways through his wards, he drops “Book of the White” as a plot point and then gets killed.

Why even introduce him? The same information could have been given to us in a note. There was nothing special except to say there are other warlocks. Continue reading

Every Day ★★★★★

13262783I, admittedly, judged Every Day by its cover-which I’m not overly thrilled about-sorry. I was also turned off by “Every day in love with the same girl.”

Do I want to pick up another teen romance? I asked myself. Do I want to sit through another love at first site?

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

-Back Copy

Continue reading

Shadowhunters Episode 10 ★★★☆☆

Cb5ZET0W8AEY6o2Here we are. Episode 10 of FreeForm’s Shadowhunters, a show I can’t believe got a renewal for season 2. Not only because of its general terribleness but also because of the copyright suit against Cassandra Clare.

But let’s dive right in here because we’ve got three stories to follow:

  • Clary goes to an alternate dimension
  • Isabelle gets arrested for treason
  • Simon visits the wolves and tries to eat a guy

Continue reading

Glass Sword ★★★★★

If I could sum up my entire experience of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard in a single gif, it would be this one:

Glass Sword? More like Glass Case of Emotions!

If you’ve spent any amount of time on this site, or listening to our Podcasts, you know how much of a fan Jess and I are of Victoria Aveyard. We fell in love with Red Queen last year, and Glass Sword delivered as many emotions as its predecessor. Maybe even more.

Continue reading

Shadowhunters Ep 9 ★★☆☆☆

64bd74a1-9948-4c24-9838-35bdfd87b1ceLet’s use all the words like we’ve been using them all along and this isn’t still a new experience. I feel nothing for Clary, she’s just one of the unfortunate stereotypes of today’s literature attempting to make a strong female character. Overly confident and incapable of thinking ahead she gets on my nerves something fierce. A pale imitation of a “natural born leader,” Clary finds herself in charge of a Seelie/Werewolf/Vampire alliance. And that happens in minutes. Continue reading

Lydia’s Enchanted Toffee ★☆☆☆☆

cover72812-mediumPlanet Plenti is a most extraordinary place, a world of incredible edible delights; of confectionery minerals, fizzy pop springs, forests and jungles full of delectable plantlife …

And yet, for children in the land of Likrishka, life is less than ordinary, and mostly very grim – as the Likrish population lives under the watchful rule of Stannic, a tin-skinned tyrant, a Master Chef who commands an army of robot waiters.

Thus nine-year-old Lydia faces a future slaving away in a factory camp – but the girl was born with a mysterious power over metal (when she eats a special type of toffee) …

One eventful day, she meets a gang of other girls with strange sweetie powers: the deadly Bull’s-Eye, razor-toothed Jawbreaker, fire-breathing Peppermint, super-fast Hazel Whirl; there’s Marshmallow, Ice Lolly, Sugar Cube, Dolly Mixture, Cocoa and Marzipan … and together, they must travel across the robot-controlled Candi-Lands, on a treasure hunt for magic sweets that will help to defeat the villainous Chef … and return their world to its sweetest, once more.

-Goodreads

Perhaps I was hungry for more with Lydia’s Enchanted Toffee. The synopsis sounded so cute and, if I’m being honest, I love a good pun so the fact that the prologue is called the Appetizer made crack up.

But then it just stopped working. It felt almost juvenile. The dialogue didn’t seem real and after a few pages the amount of food descriptions was just too over the top.

Bakery became Baykari, which I ended up pronouncing Bay-CAR-ree because of its spelling. The Winelands are France and Italy is Nooga

And the whimsical language is incredibly difficult to stay with. Every sound–I mean EVERY sound–has onomatopoeia, like the craa-craa cries of the gulls and the shug-a-shug-a-shug of the snakes (and I’m not even sure that’s the right sound for snakes to be making).

There are also illustrations but… well they aren’t that amazing… and since the world is made of candy, don’t you think I know what candy looks like?

Ultimately, I didn’t finish Lydia’s Enchanted Toffee. I couldn’t put myself through it. And I hate doing that, but it would take me too long to push myself through this book.

If you see it out in the world, leave it where it is.

 

Shadowhunters Ep 8 ★★☆☆☆

This week on Shadowhunters, Clary Fray doesn’t check her phone messages. Evident with in the first few minutes of the episode.

“Oh Simon, I’ve got so much to tell you, so sorry I don’t seem to have the ability to listen to voicemail.”

I may have embellished the quote a little.

Oh but she does eventually actually listen to the voicemails, the many voicemails, that Simon left on her phone. And it’s what–days–weeks–later? Continue reading

California Skies ★★★★☆

California Skies by Kayla Bashe is an endearing and exiting Western romance featuring Maggie Valerian, a spirited heiress and author, and California Talbot, the most dangerous bounty hunter in the West, and Maggie’s childhood friend.California Skies

Bandits came looking for the legendary emeralds belonging to Maggie’s family, killing her older brother and scarring her face. She can’t change the past, but finding the jewels will help her injured sister recover. In need of reliable muscle, she goes to an old friend of her brother’s: tough-as-nails nonbinary bounty hunter California Talbot.

While Maggie expected hard roads and violence, given the tragedy that provoked the journey, she wasn’t expecting the bar fights, snakes, and bandits to be the easy part—and the difficult part to be a growing attraction to someone who’d probably never look twice at her mutilated face.

 – lessthanthreepress.com

Continue reading

REVIEW: Shadowhunters Ep 5 ★★☆☆☆

4eacd9b29257141cfb9c99a9fd172d0fThis… was the worst episode of Shadowhunters that I’ve seen yet. Where do I begin here?

I guess I’ll start with the setting. The Institute. The mysterious institute of–what exactly? Because that hasn’t really been explained or revealed in the TV show. Oh, we’ve seen some random “girl” training with Hodge (but seriously the actress looked well into her thirties–aren’t these supposed to be teens?), but other than that the “Institute” is just a bunch of computer screens. Continue reading

Shadowhunters Ep 1 ★★★☆☆

shadowhunters-series-premiereOkay, so FreeForm’s Shadowhunters started a few weeks ago, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It feels like a well-budgeted b-film and–not surprisingly–I kind of like that charm about it. But that’s not why you’re reading this review.

So I didn’t read the books, that’s an important lead out here. I have only Tumblr based fandom knowledge. I know going in that there are angels, demons, vampires, etc. and that humans are called mundanes. Continue reading

Citadel of the Sky ★★☆☆☆

Citadel of the SkyI was intrigued right away by The Citadel of the Sky by Chrysoula Tzavelas.

A fierce warrior princess setting out to defeat a great evil with a flaming sword. Sounds awesome, right? I thought so too. But things never turn out how we hope they will, do they?

I got more than halfway through this book before the plot started. I’d like to stress: 50% of this book went by before the first plot point occured. Continue reading

The Lost Girl ★★✰☆☆

cover69767-mediumI’m not really sure how to feel about R.L. Stine’s The Lost Girl. I grew up on Goosebumps books, my favorites being the choose your own adventure stories (like Return to Terror Tower).

I liked the plot:

Lizzy Palmer, the new girl, is the hot topic at Shadyside High. Michael and his girlfriend Pepper make friends with her, but as they get closer the stranger she is… and more attractive–at least for Michael.

After a snowmobile accident Michael’s friends start getting murdered. Pepper is convinced that Lizzy is the murderer but Michael doesn’t believe her.

Tragic Story.

Unthinkable betrayal.

Over 60 years ago.

Or 70 years ago. Because that’s kind of up in the air.
Continue reading

The Gracekeepers ★★★★☆

51JwuE6mTPL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading Kirsty Logan’s The Gracekeepers, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. A beautiful fantasy setting surrounding a system of once joined islands and archipelagos.

The world presented to us is one divided by those inhabiting the mainland, landlockers, and those who float on the sea, damplings.  The vast loneliness of the sea creeps into everyone’s lives whether they are embraced by the ocean’s waves or separated by them. Continue reading

A Whole New World ★☆☆☆☆

cover63942-medium

I was admittedly intrigued by a dark Disney tale. A Whole New World is the reimagined story of Aladdin from Liz Braswell, as part of Disney’s new Twisted Tales. Each book answers a big question: What is one key moment from the story was changed? In this edition of Aladdin, Jafar gets the lamp as soon as Aladdin exits the Cave of Wonders, leaving Aladdin in the cave without a magical way out.

Jafar still has the same wishes: become sultan, be all powerful sorcerer. At first, Jafar seems like a great alternative, the Street Rats are well fed, gold rains from the sky, but then Jafar’s insantiy comes out and Agrabah lives in fear.

My opinion? Great idea–poor execution. Continue reading

Serafina and the Black Cloak ★★★★☆

cover61596-mediumSerafina’s father always told her to never go into the deep parts of the forest, “for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.” She never had a reason to disobey her father’s wishes for her to remain on the grounds of the Biltmore estate, exploring its many rooms, taking care to never, ever be seen by anyone (especially since the Vanderbilt’s don’t know she exists or that she and her pa have been living in their basement).

When children start to go missing, however, Serafina hunts down the culprit. Even though it means disobeying her father and going into the woods.  Continue reading

Crystal Kingdom ★★★☆☆

cover61946-mediumA bit difficult to review since I didn’t read the first two in the series but I think I’ve read enough summaries and book reviews to get me up to speed.

Crystal Kingdom is the third book in the Kanin Chronicles, following Frostfire and Ice Kissed.

Bryn Aven, having been charged with murder and treason, is on the run. Konstantin Black is the only one who can help her, but he’s also her greatest enemy (since he tried to kill her father).

Bryn discovers the Kanin rulers’ darkest secrets as she tries to clear her name. Now the entire troll kingdom is on the precipice of war and it might tear her away from Ridley Dresden, the only man she’s ever loved.

Picking up where Ice Kissed leaves off, we find Brynn running from Doldastam and the bounty on her head, only to watch her get caught by Konstantin. She and Konstantin wind up working together to rally support for her in the other kingdoms, but it proves to be incredibly difficult.

From other reviews, I’ve gathered that the previous books had very sudden and fulfilling endings. Not the case here: this was built up cleanly to a colorful explosion of action.

Bryn doesn’t stand out as a female character for me. Probably the only real problem I had with the book. She is strong and thoughtful, just what I’d expect in a YA female lead, but I just don’t find her unique.

I was never really bored with this book–confused at times, but not bored. And my confusion was remedied by a quick internet search of the previous books–so no harm done.

I was very, VERY pleased with the LACK of triangular romance. Konstantin is never a romantic lead, which leaves Bryn and Ridley to their feelings.

If fantasy is your genre-drug of choice, I’d recommend the whole series to you. The first two books sound wonderful and I assure you that last book is worth it.

Secret of the Sevens ★★☆☆☆

cover58754-mediumThe Society of Seven isn’t a big secret at Singer, a boarding school for underprivileged children. Everyone knows, decades ago, the members of the secret society murdered the school’s founder and then perished in the sire they lit to cover the evidence.

Enter Talan Michaels, who doesn’t care about Singer’s past, or much else for that matter. He’s too focused on the fact that he’ll be homeless once he graduates since he never had the grades to go to college or do much else around town. Then he’s invited to join the resurrected Society of Seven to help the school and now he’s all tangled up in a mystery that someone will kill to keep hidden.

And yet, I just don’t care. About halfway through, the characters felt like undeveloped flat cardboard props just used the story of the Society of Sevens out into the world. I kept reading, hoping that it would get better. Continue reading

If I Stay ★★★☆☆

BN-DD882_ifista_DV_20140609182109If I Stay by Gale Forman: kind of Young Adult, kind of New Adult, kind of lost my interest half way through.

Let’s talk about how awful that makes me feel by the way. Brief synopsis: Mia and her family get into a car accident, her parents are killed instantly her brother might have a chance, she is rushed to the ICU and has restricted visitation. She’s not dead yet but she is battling the only choice before her: move on and die, or stay.

Spoilers Below

Now, I think that’s beautiful. Really, truly I do. Because, honestly, I wouldn’t have batted an eye lash if Mia chose to die. A lot happened to her in the course of a day: she loses both of her parents instantly, she loses her little brother, chances are that she will never play the cello again. The only thing still good and present in her life are her friends, remaining family, and her boyfriend.

All of whom, I didn’t connect to.

First, Mia sticks out from her family. They don’t seem to care but she certainly does. She prefers classical music to their rock and jazz. In fact, she seems put off by music that isn’t classical or in some way orchestral. And her ability on the cello, while obviously she has to be some sort of musical genius, I wonder, truly–does she need to be so humble about it? In an effort to be humble she actually sounded full of herself. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” and “I’m just not good enough” are constants in Mia’s mind, but I never really got a sense that she was confident in her musicianship, something she would definitely need if she were going to Julliard.

Second, there’s Adam, Mia’s rock-and-roll guitar playing boyfriend. He is upset by what happened to Mia, but not enough for me. He invites a rock star to her ICU, he makes a big scene just to sneak into her room, and I have to wonder why. Why not just talk to her family? Whom you know? Or continue talking to Kim, her best friend, who also knows the family? Why try to create a huge mob of people ultimately endangering the safety of your girlfriend and the other ICU patients? If I were a member of the family I would have made sure he couldn’t see her after that.

Then there’s Kim, her best friend, who doesn’t cry.

In fact, everyone puts on a brave face. That’s probably the biggest problem I have with these characters. They are obviously in shock and should be balling their eyes out every chance they get, but the only character openly displaying her distraught-ness was Kim’s mother and she was scolded by Kim for it.

I’m glad Mia chooses to live (I warned you about spoilers, don’t even try to get mad at me) and I think the ending is perfect. It happens where it needs to happen and ends where it needs to end.

But I would have enjoyed this so much more if I had just seen some realistic characters.