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of her—and in fact only find out she had funky colored hair about a third of the way through the book—and her slang is outdated.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!

The Podcast Starts This Week!

http://feeds.feedburner.com/bookedallnight/jOjUStarting this Thursday at 11pm, Booked All Night will be posting podcasts talking about YA (specifically the reading and writing there of). We will be talking about YA books at large, specific titles, our own work, and we’ll be doing it all with a healthy dose of adult language.

We will be adding the podcast to both iTunes and GooglePlay, but you can use these feeds to add the podcast to any player:

Our direct RSS: https://bookedallnight.blog/category/podcast/feed

Feedburner: http://feeds.feedburner.com/bookedallnight/jOjU

Waiting on Wednesday #5

Want

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

Buy it here!

71CkxWRUEbL.jpgFrom critically acclaimed author Cindy Pon comes an edge-of-your-seat sci-fi thriller, set in a near-future Taipei plagued by pollution, about a group of teens who risk everything to save their city.

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

I’ve been dipping my toes into sci-fi a bit more recently, and Want has everything I seem to like: dystopian, futuristic setting, teens struggling to make a difference, and set in a non-Western location? Heck yeah! Also, look how shiny that cover is!

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.

BookCon 2017

Maggie and I went to BookCon this weekend. It was a lot of fun and, as always, a lot of strife. ARCs were really hard to come by this year. I didn’t see any that weren’t attached to a LONG autograph line-and on the note of autograph lines-can we talk about how PRH seemed grossly under-prepared to handled all of their in booth signings?

A line for tickets that security kept moving, a line after tickets that security kept moving, no idea where to wrap it–every time I passed their booth the inside was just a gaggle of people. It’s not their first rodeo so it’s very disconcerting to see things like that.

I made it to all of my autographing sessions but not the panels. Panels were another let down this year. The booktuber panel especially was just watching them do what they do on their channels. It was boring. And they didn’t know how to talk into a microphone or moderate themselves.

The Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo panel though-hands down-best panel I have seen at BookCon period. They were just fabulous. Fun fact: Leigh jumped out of a tree to meet Holly at SDCC.

One year, I really need ReedPop to step up their game and get organized. This year was such a pinnacle of no one knew where things were supposed to be. They turned lines around-like-completely around-made the front the back and the back the front, cut them in weird sections, told us we couldn’t go one way, then that we could only go that way. It’s unacceptable beyond the first year. These are lessons they should have learned from by now.

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.

Bring Your Own Book #3

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Happy Weekend Booknerds!

It’s time to play Bring Your Own Book! Here are the rules!

  • I post a target: Famous Last Words, Currency in a Dystopia, Wedding Toasts, etc
  • You post an answer that you find in the pages of your nearest or dearest book in the comment
  • You cite your answer so that everyone can get the book!
  • I re-post my favorite answers!

Today’s goal is…

Continue reading

Jessica’s June TBR

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I have taken soooo long to get through A Court of Wings and Ruin that I barely made any progress on this list. I’m willing to bet it’s just my usual Summer slump, when I read slower because nothing is due and everything is done on my time.

Buy Them Here (Affiliate Links)

  • Dividing Eden
  • The Hate U Give
  • Hunted
  • Spindle Fire
  • A thousand Pieces of You
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You
  • The Wood

Dividing Eden

32051572.jpgTwins 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?

I actually have this one for review and I totally requested it for its cover. I mean look at that cover. That chair is sexy. I said it. That is a sexy chair.

The Hate U Give

32075671.jpgSixteen-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.

Hunted

Spindle Fire

A Thousand Pieces of You

Ten Thousand Skies Above You

The Wood

Waiting on Wednesday #4

Dividing Eden

Publication Date: June 6th 2017
Buy it here!

diving eden.jpgTwins 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?

Honestly, I really want it for the cover. I’m currently reviewing it, but I want this cover on my shelf.

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.

B.Y.O.B. #2

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Happy Weekend Booknerds!

It’s time to play Bring Your Own Book! Here are the rules!

  • I post a target: Famous Last Words, Currency in a Dystopia, Wedding Toasts, etc
  • You post an answer that you find in the pages of your nearest or dearest book in the comment
  • You cite your answer so that everyone can get the book!
  • I re-post my favorite answers!

Today’s goal is…

Continue reading

WoW: House of Furies

Publication Date: May 30th 2017
Get it here!

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?

Featuring stunning interior illustrations from artist Iris Compiet, plus photo-collages that bring Coldthistle House to chilling life, House of Furies invites readers to a world where the line between monsters and men is ghostly thin.

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

Bring Your Own Book #1

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Happy Weekend Booknerds!

It’s time to play Bring Your Own Book! Here are the rules!

  • I post a target: Famous Last Words, Currency in a Dystopia, Wedding Toasts, etc
  • You post an answer that you find in the pages of your nearest or dearest book in the comment
  • You cite your answer so that everyone can get the book!
  • I re-post my favorite answers!

Today’s goal is…

Continue reading

Social Badges for BookCon

Not every bookworm is a social butterfly. As of yet, BookCon does not have social badges for their event. So I made some. Feel free to download these badges, print them, fold them in half, laminate them, and hang them from your lanyard to help make your con a little easier.

3Green: I like making friends! Come talk to me!

2Yellow: I’m a little shy. Please let me start the conversation.

1Red: Do not talk to me unless I know you.

WoW: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

That’s mah teachah!!

I’m not going to lie, I’m mainly excited for The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora because Pablo Cartaya was my mentor last fall at Sierra Nevada College and he was the #Best. Pablo is ridiculously talented and I’m 100% psyched for everything he does. And since, technically, Epic Fail is already out, I’m just waiting for it to be delivered to my house!

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.
Funny and poignant, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is the vibrant story of a family, a striking portrait of a town, and one boy’s quest to save both, perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia.

COVER REVEAL

christina newAbout the Author:

Christina Benjamin is an Award-Winning Author residing in Florida. She’s a proud book nerd, 100% Gryffindor, has entirely too many book boyfriends and loves coffee and tacos!

She loves to read and write across genres. Her best selling books are The Geneva Project series and The Practice Boyfriend. Check them out if you dare.

About the Book:

The Almost Boyfriend by Christina Benjamin

Genre: YA contemporary romance
Nobody likes Devon James, including Devon James. And why should they? He had it all and took it for granted—money, girls, popularity and a future with endless possibility. Now he’s just a washed up has-been. Or so everyone thinks. No one knows the real reason the handsome soccer star quit the team and dumped the hottest girl in school, but they’re not about to forgive him for it either. That’s why he’s perfect for Samantha Connors.
Sam Connors always follows the rules. But when her father forces her to leave Boston to finish her senior year of high school at a posh prep school in Ireland she has no choice but to rebel. And bad boy Devon James is just the guy to help her break all the rules.
Sam is determined to get her life back and return to Boston by any means necessary. Her plan is crazy, but she’s convinced it will work—almost.
A Fun, Fast, YA Romance Read.Perfect for fans of Gossip Girl, 13 Reason’s Why and Pretty Little Liars. (Note: Suggested reading age 16+ for mature language and content.)
And now for the cover…

Continue reading

EXCERPT : Girl Out of Water

I float in the Pacific Ocean.

As I straddle my longboard, cool water lapping around me, I watch surfers up and down the coast take on baby waves, four-­footers that will carry them a short distance before breaking into froth and foam.

I’m waiting for something better.

The sun beats down on the slip of my neck between my wet suit and hairline. The tender skin burns, but I don’t dare move to massage it. Seagulls circle overhead, squawking over the swilling water. They dive to the surface, then soar back up, carrying scraps of seaweed and tiny fish.

And then I see it—­in the distance, coming toward me, coming for me. My gaze flickers over the green-­blue water as I watch the wave take shape. It’s not a three-footer or even a four-footer. No, it’s much better. My fingers drum against my thighs, and I lean forward, gnawing my sun-­chapped lip. Continue reading

Q&A with Laurie Boyle Crompton

image003 (1)Was there anything you had to edit out of the story that you wish you could have kept?

Not in this book, but in my last book ADRENALINE CRUSH there was a lot of character defining backstory that got cut for the sake of pacing and it still stings a bit. I even considered posting excerpts on my website of ‘deleted scenes’ but know that for a story to flow smoothly, it can’t carry too much baggage.

What are some writing rituals you go through before sitting down to write?

All I need is a caffeinated beverage and my two pups by my side. When there’s time I’ll do a partial roll through social media, but have to limit that or I’d never finish another book!

What was the main inspiration for the main character? Did she change over the course of writing the story?

I always knew I wanted Rory to be resilient and she absolutely remained that way, but as I told her story she surprised me with her willingness to open up and be vulnerable. I was proud of how much she managed to grow through the course of the story. Continue reading

BookCon Newbie Guide

Hi there Booknerds!

BookCon season is upon us! Badges are in the mail! Badges are in hands! And the official I-Really-Can’t Waiting Game has begun! If you’re on the BookCon App (and I highly recommend that you are) then you’ve probably seen all sort of questions about how things work at BookCon and questions about big important things-like autographing lines.

Social Cards

Some cons include social cards with your badges. Green for “I’m social! Please feel free to talk to me!” Yellow for “I’m a little shy. Please don’t talk to me unless I’ve instigated the conversation.” Red for “Do not talk to me.” This helps people who don’t do well with crowds (like myself). BookCon does not include these types of badges but I’ve made up a few that you can keep with you to put with your badges in case you need them.

Continue reading

WoW: Cold Summer

waitingonwednesday-ban.png

So admittedly, I was drawn to this one 100% by its cover.

Just from the description, I was like-meh-time travel. But I want to see how the PTSD is approached and I’m even more curious about Kale stopping his own death in the future…past…

Plus I love the cover.

25092254.jpgToday, he’s a high school dropout with no future.

Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II.

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves.

But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him.

Stealing Candy Spotlight & Giveaway

stealing.candy.coverCLICK HERE TO ENTER

Candy hates boarding school. As a junior, graduation is still eons away, and making films is the only way to survive the boredom.

Until she is kidnapped.

Candy panics. Along Came a Spider, Ransom, Taken, Cellular… Candy knows how these movies end. The only reason anyone would abduct her is to get a payout from her rock star father. Except Candy and her father are estranged. There’s no way he’s going to pay.

But with every hour that passes, Candy’s fear slowly recedes. Being on the road is freeing, not to mention great material for a new documentary. And the more time she spends with her mysterious and handsome captor, Levon, the more she learns the whole scheme is not just about ransom. It’s about revenge. What began as a kidnapping is spiraling into a crazy road trip adventure as Candy and Levon find a lot of wrong ways to do the right thing.

image003About the Author: Stewart Lewis is a singer-songwriter and radio journalist who lives in D.C. and western Massachusetts and frequents New York City. Stewart has had two YAs published by Delacorte (You Have Seven Messages in 2011 and The Secret Ingredient in 2013). Visit stewartlewis.com.

Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound

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Love and Vandalism Spotlight & Blog Tour

image002.jpgCLICK HERE TO ENTER

He calls it fate. She calls it blackmail.

Rory has a secret: she’s the vandal who paints graffiti lions all over her small town. If her policeman dad knew, he’d probably disown her. So when Hayes, a former screw-up on the path to recovery, catches her in the act, Rory’s sure she’s busted. Instead, he makes her a deal. If Rory shows him around town, he won’t turn her in. It might be coercion, but at least the boy is hot.

As they spend more time together, Rory worries she made the wrong choice. Hayes has a way of making her want things she shouldn’t want and feel emotions she’s tried to bury. Rory’s going to have to distance herself from Hayes or confront a secret she can’t bring herself to face…

image003 (1).jpgAbout the Author: When she was 17, LAURIE BOYLE CROMPTON painted her first car hot pink using 40 cans of spray paint. This turned her into an overnight icon in Butler, PA. She now lives near NYC in Queens, but maintains a secret identity in New Paltz, NY where she and her family can often be found tromping through the forest. Visit www.lboylecrompton.com

Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound

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Q&A with V. E. Schwab

Blog HEADERS(This interview was originally posted on RoundRobinWrites.com and conducted by Elizabeth DiPietro on behalf of RRW)

She’s the bestselling author of the Shades of Magic Series, This Savage Song, and Vicious. We’re looking at a Shades of Magic TV adaption on the horizon so there’s no slowing down V.E. Schwab. Despite traveling all over the country/world and drowning in deadlines, Ms. Schwab still managed to take some time out to answer a few of our questions.

Q: A trademark of your books are strong, complicated female characters (Lila Bard, Kate Harper). When you’re working on these characters do you ever find it difficult to not let them blend together?

VS: I think the problem is we still don’t see enough strong female characters, so we don’t always realize that it’s a spectrum unto itself. I may have multiple strong female characters, but they all want different things–to be seen, to be remembered, to be valid, to be free. They have to be people first, and everything else second.

Q: In regards to This Savage Song, what inspired you to combine music and monsters?

VS: Honestly, the fact that I have no talent when it comes to music has always made the ability to play vaguely supernatural, so it was only a matter of time before it played a prime role in one of my books. And when I listen to instrumental music, I feel…elevated. Like part of my mind is coming free. So in designing my soul-eating Sunai, it made sense to me that music might serve as a way to bring those souls to surface. Continue reading

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

Q&A with Emily Skrutskie

skrutskieinterview.pngIf you aren’t sure who Emily Skrutskie is, we would like to point you toward our reviews of The Edge of the Abyss and The Abyss Surrounds Us. If you are looking for more information you can always visit her website and glimpse her bio. If you are looking for even more information, we have great news! Emily stopped by and answered a few questions for us about her writing, her reading, and some quirky questions about her process.

In both The Abyss Surrounds Us & The Edge of the Abyss, Cas has some world-shaking revelations, but she still tries to remain true to herself. What sort of difficulties did you run into when pitting Cas against the truths she once knew?

My biggest struggle—something I really had to lock down in revisions—was making sure that Cas’s journey was consistent from chapter to chapter. I actually had a document on the side where I wrote down exactly what Cas thought and believed in each chapter so that I could make sure the logic flowed naturally without any gaps.

The series deals with a lot of ecological and social issues, which definitely mirror our world today. Were there any specific events in the real world that inspired the world of The Edge of the Abyss and The Abyss Surrounds Us?

Nothing springs to mind immediately. The ecological themes in the book come less from any one inspiration and more from a logical projection of what we might be dealing with more than a century in the future, as well as the fallout of having MASSIVE super predators in the ocean. Continue reading

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

Stranger Things Have Happened Spotlight & Giveaway

31409123.jpgYou can’t always believe what you see in this hilarious coming of age novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and I Have a Bad Feeling about This.

Harry Houdini. Penn and Teller. David Copperfield. Marcus Millian the Third.

Okay, so Marcus isn’t a famous magician. He may not even be a great magician. But his great-grandfather, the once-legendary and long-retired Zachary the Stupendous, insists Marcus has true talent. And when Grandpa Zachary boasts that he and Marcus are working on an illusion that will shock, stun, and astonish, Marcus wishes he could make himself disappear.

The problem? Marcus also has stage fright—in spades. It’s one thing to perform elaborate card tricks in front of his best friend, Kimberly, but it’s an entirely different feat to perform in front of an audience.

Then Grandpa Zachary dies in his sleep.

To uphold his great-grandfather’s honor, the show must go on. It would take a true sorcerer to pull off the trick Marcus has planned. But maybe he’s the next best thing…

Continue reading

Pretty Fierce Spotlight & Giveaway

pretty-fierce.cover.jpgAn action-packed, edge-of-your-seat novel about a teen who, when backed into a corner, fights back, from the author of What Waits in the Woods

Kaia has been on the run her whole life. The daughter of professional assassins, she knows danger—and she’ll do anything to survive. After her parents vanished during a job gone bad, Kaia’s spent the last year in hiding, trying to blend in as an ordinary teenager, and there’s no one who makes her feel more normal, more special, than her boyfriend, Oliver.

But when she’s attacked by someone from her mother’s past and Oliver catches her fighting back, Kaia’s secret is exposed. In a split-second decision, she flees the small town, taking Oliver with her. Stalked at every turn, Oliver and Kaia must protect each other…or die trying.

Continue reading

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…

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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

Ultimatum Spotlight & Giveaway

ultimatum.coverFrom the author of Cracked and Empty comes a gripping, emotional story of two brothers who must make the ultimate decision about what’s more important: family or their differences.

It’s not Oscar’s fault he’s misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected by his father and bullied by his self-absorbed older brother, so he withdraws from his fractured family, seeking refuge in his art.

Vance wishes his younger brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. At least when Vance pushes himself in lacrosse and parties, he feels alive.

But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two brothers must come face-to-face with their demons–and each other–if they are going to survive a very uncertain future.

Continue reading

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.

Q&A with Amanda Hocking

Amanda-Hocking

Amanda Hocking

How did writing FREEKS differ from your writing your previous novels?

FREEKS was the first thing I had written in awhile that was started out just for me. For most of the past ten years, I have been writing my books with the intention of publishing them, with the audience and readers and trends in mind. I think I had gotten a little burnt out on trying to make everyone happy (mostly because it is impossible to please all readers all the time), and I just wanted to write something that for the sake of writing it.

And that turned out to be a gothic love story about a teenage girl travelling with a band of misfits in the 1980s. It was a very cathartic writing experience for me, and it reminded me of exactly why I loved writing in the first place – I love getting lost in the world, with the characters.

Tell us a little bit about FREEKS and where you got the inspiration to write it.

I was going through a rough patch, creatively speaking, and so I just sat back and tried to think of my favorite and what I loved most that I would want to write about.

When I was a kid, I used to get old books at garage sales all the time, and I distinctly remember getting Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and a few old V. C. Andrews novels, which are pulpy Southern Gothic-esque novels. I also watched The Lost Boys and Pretty in Pink over and over again (I think I literally ruined the old VHS of The Lost Boys from watching it too much).

So I basically threw all those things together in a soup, and I picked apart the things I liked and wanted to explore more. That became a travelling sideshow in the 80s stopping Louisiana, where a supernatural monster is afoot, and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is smith with a local boy with secrets of his own. Continue reading

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.

Amazon . B&N
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

Unnatural Deeds Spotlight & Giveaway

Secrets. Obsession. Murder. Victoria is about to discover just how dangerous it can be to lose yourself.

Victoria Zell doesn’t fit in, but she’s okay with that. All she needs is the company of her equally oddball boyfriend, Andrew, who is a musical prodigy, homeschooled, and agoraphobic. They’ve been neighbors and inseparable all their lives, and Vic doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Until the day Zachary Zimmerman sits beside her in homeroom. Z, as he likes to be called, is magnetic, charming, and mysterious, and Vic is drawn to him in ways she doesn’t understand.

Despite Vic’s loyalty to Andrew, she finds her life entwining with Z’s. He’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and she becomes obsessed with figuring him out. Soon, she’s lying to everyone she knows—even Andrew—in an effort to unravel his secrets.

But Z’s not the only one with a past. Vic’s hiding secrets. Dark, horrible secrets. Secrets that will come back to haunt her…and destroy everything in her path.


unnatural.deeds.cover

Chapter 1

Foul whisp’rings are abroad. Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.

—Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1

Duchess—­Police are investigating an apparent homicide after a body was found in a wooded area early Tuesday morning. Authorities have not yet released the name of the victim or the person(s) they are questioning in connection with the investigation.

—­Central Maine Express Times

Is this thing on?

Ha–ha, I’m a laugh a minute.

Anyway, Andrew. It’s me. Vic. I wanted to say I’m sorry. Sorry for… Well, where do I begin? I—-

Cough, cough, cough.

Sorry. I’m losing my voice. Something bitter is stuck in my throat, and the air is so cold it’s hard to breathe. This place reeks of decaying leaves, of the musty, damp rot of dead things returning to the earth.

There’s something soft and wet under my head. I hope it’s not brain matter. I can’t raise my arms to check because of the way I’m twisted here. I think my leg is broken. Or maybe my back? Damned if I can twitch a muscle without pain screaming its way up my spine.

Somehow I managed to pry my phone out of my jacket pocket and prop it on my chest, but you know how spotty service is around Duchess. All charged up with zero bars—-not that I’d be calling anyone but you. I wish I could see the background photo of you and me. It’d keep me company. You know the one. It’s the picture of us at the Renaissance Faire when we were fourteen. We’re both grinning like mad and you have your arm around me, claiming me as your own. It’s probably the only time you were ever comfortable with yourself. With us. I miss that.

Anyway, you know how glass half–empty I am, Andrew. I wanted to record a note for you on my phone. You know, in case I don’t get out of here.

Of course I’ll get out of here. I wouldn’t be lucky enough to die here. But maybe this’ll be easier than telling you in person.

Cough, cough.

Where should I start?

It’s so quiet. You must have left me, Andrew. But you’ll come back. You always come back. You were scared, maybe, when you saw what you’d done. And now I’m all alone here.

I don’t really know where “here” is. I think it’s a drainage ditch on the side of Route 11. The last thing I remember is rushing down the road near the Kissing Woods, feeling powerful. Immortal. Like everything I wanted could be mine. For an instant, I felt like he could be mine.

But that’s not possible now.

I know what people have said behind my back in hushed whispers. They call me delusional. But I’m not. I know what is real and what isn’t.

No, wait. The last thing I remember is you with that fierce look in your eyes. You sure surprised me. Who knew that my boyfriend, quiet, unassuming Andrew Quinn, had that in him?

I thought I knew you inside and out, but…I was wrong.

I guess I should explain. After all, I have no other pressing engagements. And you’re overdue an explanation, aren’t you? The tall pines can be my witnesses. They can pass judgment as they see fit.

I’m not sure when it all began, but Lady M said it best. Hell is goddamn murky.

Whoops. Blasphemy. Yet another sin to add to my act–of–contrition list.

Looking back, you knew when I started to change, didn’t you, Andrew? You know everything about me. It was that very first day of school, the day my life began and the day it began to unravel.

So here are the gory details. It won’t be enough, but I’ll try. You can’t know it all until you’ve smelled that intoxicating cinnamon–and–cloves scent, read those texts that elevated even the blandest words to poetry, and seen those heart–stoppingly blue eyes.

His eyes. Even now, I can see them with perfect clarity. I’ve seen them in my dreams, in the sky when the sun hits the clouds just right, and in my morning breakfast cereal. It all goes back to him. Every single thought always winds right back to him. Always. Always. Always.

It’s no use. I want him out of my head. I wish I could scrape him out of my memory. I don’t want to live with him etched in the deepest part of me. I don’t want to die thinking of him.

But I know I will.


Goodreads . Our Review

Amazon . Barnes & Noble . IndieBound 

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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 Spotlight & Giveaway

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

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 marks 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 . Buy the Book Here . Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page


labyrinth.lost.cover

1

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos

The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”

Zoraida_new author photo_Nov12About the Author:

Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro or visit her at zoraidacordova.com.

Author Website . Labyrinth Lost Website . Facebook . Twitter . Instagram . Author Tumblr . Labyrinth Lost Tumblr . YouTube

Giveaway: 2 Copies of Labyrinth Lost with Signed Labyrinth Lost Bookmarks

September 6-September 19 (US & Canada only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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

Beyond the Red ★★★★★

21414439.jpgWhen it comes to the broad sibling genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I’ve always been more in the favor of Fantasy. But Beyond The Red by Ava Jae showed me a whole new world within the Sci-Fi realm, and I have fallen in love.

Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

– Goodreads

I’ve been a long time follower of Ava Jae’s writing advice Writability (and you should be too!), and when I heard that their debut was coming, I was ecstatic. Surely, someone who gives such great and dependable writing advice should have written an amazing book, right? And Ava delivered, beyond all expectations.

Reading the book of someone who you hold in high regard due to their advice can feel like you’re walking on a fine line. On one hand, their book could not hold up to your expectations, and fall flat, thereby disillusioning you to their advice. It could be just plain bad and you’ll forever doubt any sort of advice they may try to give, because clearly their advice wasn’t good enough if they didn’t follow it. But, like in the case of Beyond the Red, it could be everything you could have ever hoped for and more.

I felt deeply connected to Ava’s characters, rooting for them from the start. Ava’s writing is rich and powerful, and their prose is almost lyrical when read. The book has a strong set of characters, all with their different agendas, and the story itself has the potential to become a classic and a staple in the sci-fi/fantasy community.

My one and only gripe comes from the sudden end of the book, which sets up for a sequel, and perhaps it comes from my deep need to know more and submerge myself in the world of Sefara. I want more world-building, more stories, a comprehensive guide to the Sephari language, a history of all things Sephari and how humans came to the world. I essentially want this to become as wide and detailed as Harry Potter or LoTR, where I can learn the language and read everything there ever is to read about this story.

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

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