Review: DAUGHTERS OF THE STORM by Kim Wilkins

Review:  DAUGHTERS OF THE STORM by Kim WilkinsDaughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins
three-half-stars
Series: Blood and Gold #1
Published by Del Rey Books on March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

The first novel in an exciting new fantasy series by Kim Wilkins, Daughters of the Storm follows the story of five very different royal sisters who must put aside their differences and come together to save their kingdom.

These sisters are so different from one another, at times, it’s hard to believe that they share the same blood.  There’s Bluebell, the eldest, a fierce warrior who has been trained by her father to rule the kingdom of Thyrsland someday.  She is feared by all and actually rumored to be unkillable in battle.  Then there’s Ash, a gentler soul than Bluebell.  Ash is studying to be a healer but has discovered she has the ability to see the future.  As she struggles to learn more about and control this ability, she becomes more and more torn about whether being a seer is a gift or a curse.  The third sister is Rose, and Rose is ruled by her passion.  Her father married her off to the ruler of a neighboring kingdom, as a way to form an alliance and keep the peace.  Rose, however, does not love her husband and is willing to risk peaceful relations between the kingdoms by pursuing a forbidden love.  And finally, there are the twins Willow and Ivy, who have been living with a distant relative for a while and left to their own devices. For Willow, being left to her own devices translates to her joining a new religion and behaving as though she’s a brainwashed member of a cult.  For Ivy, it means being vain and flirtatious and trying to bed any man she desires.

When their father, the King, is stricken by a mysterious illness that appears to have magical roots, the sisters, led by Bluebell who appears to be the most devoted to their father, come together in a desperate attempt to save his life and their kingdom.  Not only do they need to track down a powerful witch who can cure the King, but they must also do so while not letting word get out that the King is near death. They have enough trouble on their hands trying to keep their treacherous stepbrother from stealing the throne; the last thing they need is to alert the rest of the King’s enemies that he is vulnerable should they wish to mount an attack.

 

What an exciting and fast-paced read this was!  I originally picked it up because I liked the idea of these sisters who would normally have little to do with one another being forced to come together to save their father.  But in many ways, it was so much more than that.  Not only are these sisters different from each other, but they also differ in their devotion to their father.  Bluebell, even though she would become ruler of the kingdom if her father were to die and is clearly ready to rule, is desperate to save his life at all costs.  Ash appears to be similarly devoted, but the younger three seem almost indifferent as to whether they save him or not.  They are annoyed they have been summoned from their lives to be a part of this rescue mission.  That was quite unexpected and added a layer of depth to the story I wasn’t expecting going into it and I wanted to know more about why each of them felt the way they did.

I got my opportunity to learn much more about each sister too as the story is presented to us from the alternating points of view of all five sisters, not to mention a few chapters from the stepbrother’s point of view as well.  At first I thought so many POVs would be too confusing and would bog down my reading experience, but Wilkins does a great job of incorporating each POV in a way that wasn’t confusing while still advancing the overall plot. I think the sisters being so different probably helped with that.  I never got one mixed up with another.  I also really loved getting inside of each sister’s head because wow, they are each holding on to some secrets that if they got out, could easily bring down their kingdom whether their father lives or not.

I also really liked the complicated family dynamic with the Queen as stepmother to the five sisters instead of their birth mother.  In many ways the Queen sets most of the drama into motion because of her assumption that Bluebell and the girls hate her and will expel her from the castle if their father dies.  Because of this fear, instead of sending word out to the girls first when their father falls ill, she summons her son instead. She wants him there in case they try to throw her out.  This just opens up a whole can of worms as Bluebell finds out elsewhere that her father is ill and thus immediately suspects that her stepmother and stepbrother are up to something.  Getting on Bluebell’s bad side from the get go probably wasn’t the smartest move.

As far as the sisters themselves, my reaction was a bit mixed.  Bluebell and Ash were, by far, my favorites. I admired the fierceness of Bluebell and the fact that people truly were scared to death of her.  I chuckled a few times throughout when people referred to her as Princess and then practically fell over themselves apologizing after receiving a death glare from her.  It becomes clear that it’s well known throughout the kingdom that she hates the term Princess and wishes only to be addressed as My Lord.  I found Ash to be equally as interesting as Bluebell, and I liked that they did appear to be pretty close unlike the other sisters. I also enjoyed the subplot involving Ash’s seer abilities that ran alongside the main storyline of the book.  It was fascinating to watch her learn more about and control her abilities, which are apparently a bit more than being able to see the future, to help on their quest to save their father, and I liked the self-sacrificing side of Ash that comes out whenever she thinks her abilities may cause others to be hurt.

Strangely enough, in many ways, however, the most interesting character was the stepbrother, Wylm. I think what I liked about him was that he was such a complicated character and kept me guessing throughout the story as to how much of a villain he really was.  At first I was okay with him, but then I hated him.  Then a bit later, something else happened and I thought “Hmmm, maybe he does have some redeeming qualities” and so on.  If you enjoy complicated characters, he’s definitely the one to keep your eyes on.

 

I didn’t have a lot of issues with this book, but I did have a couple.  The first of which is the name Bluebell.  I know it’s shallow and nitpicky to get hung up on a character’s name, but I just found it distracting, especially every time she was referred to as Bluebell the Fierce.  It’s hard to think of a character as a fierce warrior with a name like that.  So yeah, shallow nitpick from me because I loved everything about Bluebell except her name, but there it is.

The other issue I had was that I didn’t like the other three sisters at all.  Aside from the drama they added to the plot with their secrets and their willingness to betray one another and their kingdom, I just didn’t find them nearly as compelling as Bluebell and Ash. I’m wondering if they’ll play more important roles in later novels in the series, but for this one, most of the time they just felt like background noise to me.

 

Even with the couple of issues I had, I still thought Daughters of the Storm was an exciting read and I look forward to seeing where Wilkins takes the story next.  If you’re into strong female characters, with a side of secrets, lies, and betrayal, this is a fantasy world you’ll want to immerse yourself in.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Five very different sisters team up against their stepbrother to save their kingdom in this Norse-flavored fantasy epic–the start of a new series in the tradition of Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, and Robin Hobb.

FIVE ROYAL SISTERS. ONE CROWN.

They are the daughters of a king. Though they share the same royal blood, they could not be more different. Bluebell is a proud warrior, stronger than any man and with an ironclad heart to match. Rose’s heart is all too passionate: She is the queen of a neighboring kingdom, who is risking everything for a forbidden love. The twins: vain Ivy, who lives for admiration, and zealous Willow, who lives for the gods. And Ash, who is discovering a dangerous talent for magic that might be a gift–or a curse.

But when their father is stricken by a mysterious ailment, they must come together on a desperate journey to save him and prevent their treacherous stepbrother from seizing the throne. Their mission: find the powerful witch who can cure the king. But to succeed on their quest, they must overcome their differences, and hope that the secrets they hide from one another and the world are never brought to light. Because if this royal family breaks, it could destroy the kingdom.

three-half-stars

About Kim Wilkins

Kim Wilkins was born in London, and grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane, Australia. She has degrees in literature and creative writing, and teaches at the University of Queensland and in the community. Her first novel, The Infernal, a supernatural thriller was published in 1997. Since then, she has published across many genres and for many different age groups. Her latest books, contemporary epic women’s fiction, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman. Kim has won many awards and is published all over the world. She lives in Brisbane with a bunch of lovable people and pets.

Review: MY NAME IS VENUS BLACK by Heather Lloyd

Review:  MY NAME IS VENUS BLACK by Heather LloydMy Name Is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd
four-stars
Published by Dial Press on February 27th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Set in the 1980s, Heather Lloyd’s moving debut My Name is Venus Black follows the story of Venus Black, a thirteen year-old straight A student who dreams of becoming the first female astronaut in space.  When the story opens, Venus is being placed into the backseat of a police car and taken away from her home and subsequently charged with a horrific crime.  Venus refuses to talk to anyone about what happened or why it happened, but she is adamant that her mother is to blame and refuses to speak to her as well. Ultimately Venus is convicted and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for more than five years.  As if Venus’s crime and imprisonment wasn’t enough to tear apart the Black family, Venus’ seven year old brother Leo, who is developmentally disabled, also goes missing.  One minute he’s playing in the neighbor’s sandbox, the next he vanishes without a trace.  During one of their infrequent meetings, Venus’ mother Inez blurts out that she holds Venus responsible for the fact that Leo has gone missing.  Thus an already strained relationship becomes even more strained.

When Venus is finally released, she chooses not to go back home.  Instead, she decides she needs to make a fresh start so she obtains a fake id and thus tries to escape from her past and start over.  At first Venus is completely alone and refuses to trust anyone around her, but as she finally starts to meet new people, she finds herself opening up and letting more people in.  She makes a friend at the local coffee shop where she lands her first job, becomes like a big sister to the young daughter of a man she rents a room from, and even begins a bit of a flirtation with one of the regular customers at the coffee shop. What Venus eventually realizes, however, is that she can’t have these new relationships while living a lie and constantly looking over her shoulder wondering if someone has figured out who she really is.  This realization causes old wounds to reopen and Venus realizes that she has to face her past head on, including her estranged relationship with her mother as well as the disappearance of her brother (who is still missing), if she ever hopes to move past it.

Can Venus come to terms with the actions from her past and go after the second chance she deserves?  Can she forgive her mother for looking the other way when Venus needed her the most?  And most importantly, can Venus learn to forgive herself?

My Name is Venus Black is a moving coming of age story about second chances, forgiveness, facing up to one’s past, and most importantly, about family.

 

The focus on family was one of the themes that really resonated with me.  Whether it’s the family you’re born with or a family that you’ve made because you all happen to be living under one roof, this book is all about the connections we make with those around us.  Even though she is alone and has every intention of remaining so when she is first released, Venus slowly but surely finds herself forming an almost sisterly bond with a young girl named Piper that she lives with for a while.  Venus is also constantly reminded of the family she has lost and left behind.  She misses Leo and is always thinking about him and wondering if he is okay.  This story also strongly focuses on the idea that no matter how badly you think you’ve messed up, your family is always there for you and it’s never too late to start over if you’re willing to try.

What really got to me about My Name is Venus Black is that it was told mostly from the perspective of the two children, Venus and Leo.  Because some of the events of the story are so dark, it’s just all the more poignant to see them unfold through the eyes of a child.  All of the emotions, the fears and the uncertainty just got to me even more than they probably would have if the story had been presented to me differently.

I also loved both Venus and Leo.  Venus is such a strong voice in this story and her character development is incredible.  I felt bad for her in the beginning because she just wouldn’t talk about what happened and in some ways probably made things harder for herself by refusing to tell her story.  Venus’ story is all about growth though and what she goes through in this story takes her from being basically a terrified little girl in the beginning to a fierce young woman ready to take on the world by the end.

And even though this is mainly Venus’ story, Leo also plays a huge role.  He isn’t given a diagnosis in this book but based on the way he needs structure and the way he panics when his routine is disrupted, I think he is quite possibly autistic. Leo is such a vulnerable character that I immediately felt protective of him because he’s caught up in the middle of something he can’t even begin to comprehend.  Leo is important to the story primarily because of how his disappearance impacts Venus and Inez.  No matter how many years have passed, neither of them give up on the idea that he is still out there so he remains a connection between them no matter how estranged they are from one another.

 

I only had one real issue with My Name is Venus Black and that had to do with the way it would sometimes switch from one character’s perspective to another without warning right in the middle of a chapter.  Hopefully this is just an ARC formatting issue that will not be in the finished copy, but in the review copy I read, occasionally it would just randomly switch from Venus’ perspective to Leo’s from one paragraph to the next.  I found that a little odd, especially since the chapters themselves were told from different perspectives.  Why add further switches within the chapters instead of just making more chapters?  Anyway, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book but it did slow me down a few times while reading since it was a little jarring each time it happened.

 

My Name is Venus Black is an incredibly moving story about family and forgiveness.  It’s about learning that your actions have consequences and that you have to accept responsibility for them, but it’s also about second chances and how we’re all entitled to them.  If you’re looking for a poignant story filled with memorable characters, I’d highly recommend My Name is Venus Black.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Venus Black is a straitlaced A student fascinated by the study of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, goes missing.

More than five years later, Venus is released from prison with a suitcase of used clothes, a fake identity, and a determination to escape her painful past. Estranged from her mother, and with her beloved brother still missing, she sets out to make a fresh start in Seattle, skittish and alone. But as new people enter her orbit—including a romantic interest and a young girl who seems like a mirror image of her former lost self—old wounds resurface, and Venus realizes that she can’t find a future while she’s running from her past.

four-stars

About Heather Lloyd

Heather Lloyd, who has spent many years working as an editor and writing coach, lives with her husband in New York City. My Name Is Venus Black is her first novel.

Review: THE HUSH by John Hart

Review:  THE HUSH by John HartThe Hush by John Hart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 27th 2018
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I’ve been a fan of John Hart’s novels for years, ever since I read his gripping thriller The Last Child so I was beyond excited to get approved for an ARC of his latest novel, The Hush.  My excitement grew even more once I started reading and realized that The Hush actually revisits the characters and landscape that I fell in love with in The Last Child.

The Hush takes place ten years after the horrifying events that rocked the lives of both thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon and the rest of the folks who lived in Johnny’s hometown.  Over the years, even though he has shied away from the spotlight, people have written books and tried to exploit Johnny’s story, so whether he wants the attention or not, he has become somewhat of a local celebrity and is both feared and revered by those around him.  When the novel opens, Johnny is now 23 years old and, desperate to retain some element of privacy in his life, is living as a recluse in the middle of 6,000 once-sacred, wooded acres known as The Hush.

Johnny’s only real connection to his former way of life is his childhood friend, Jack Cross, who has just finished law school and landed his first job as an attorney. I don’t want to spoil anything from The Last Child so I’ll just say that what these two boys went through in that novel has made their bond of friendship stronger than ever.  Jack would literally do anything and give up everything for Johnny, and I think Johnny feels the same way about Jack.  Even though I’d classify this book as a mystery/thriller, it is a moving story about friendship as well.

There is something strange and ominous about the place Johnny now calls home, however, and Jack senses its hidden dangers.  He tries to talk to Johnny about it but Johnny doesn’t want to hear anyone speak ill of his beloved Hush.  It becomes more and more clear that what happens in The Hush is not normal.  Most people cannot navigate the wooded, swampy land.  Landmarks seems to disappear or flat out move about, strange mists appear and lead to people getting disoriented.  In fact, many who attempt to travel into The Hush don’t come out alive.  Because he lives there, Johnny of course is immediately considered a suspect every time something happens.  Jack knows his friend is innocent and makes it his mission to prove Johnny’s innocence, but big questions remain:  What the heck is really going on in The Hush? Who else is interested in it and why are they willing to pay so much money for it?

One element of the story I liked right away is that, without completely rehashing the plot of The Last Child, Hart provides his readers with just enough background information to remind us why Johnny would choose such a secluded way of life.  In that sense, The Hush works quite well as a standalone novel.  You don’t need to have read The Last Child to follow along with this story.  (I definitely recommend reading it though, just because it’s a fabulous read.)

I loved The Last Child so much, so it was also just a thrill for me to revisit this story, and especially the characters, Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross, who were both just such compelling characters.  It was wonderful to meet these boys again and see what kind of young men they have grown up to become and that Johnny has attained an almost mythic quality in the years since we left him.  The mysterious events that are taking place in The Hush also have Johnny pitted against local law enforcement, who seem eager to pin something on him, so legendary as he is, Johnny is also cast in the role of underdog in this story, and I’m always one to root for the underdog.

Hart drew me into this story, not just by revisiting some of my favorite characters, but also with the mystery of The Hush.  Johnny loves this place so much that even though he is on the verge of losing it if he can’t come up with the money to pay his taxes, he still won’t part with a single acre of it, not even when someone offers to pay him 10 times what it is worth.  The connection between Johnny and The Hush is almost surreal – Johnny is literally one with the land, and the land is one with him.  This intense connection captivated me immediately and had me zooming through the pages because I wanted to know how and why Johnny could have such a connection to the land, especially since it seemed to literally chew up and spit out anyone else who tried to venture onto it.

I’m also a huge fan of Hart’s writing style.  It’s a given that it’s filled with exciting twists and turns by virtue of the fact that it’s a mystery, but what I love about Hart’s writing is his gorgeous prose.  His descriptions, in particular of the landscape, are so lush and vivid that it’s easy to feel that you are right there with the characters.  What I love most is that he achieves this without making it feel forced or flowery; the descriptions are fluid and effortless.  I know he’s a writer so duh, but John Hart just really has a way with words.  His descriptions of The Hush were especially well done and just so atmospheric, especially when someone besides Johnny ventured in.  It was so beautiful and yet so creepy and ominous; I literally had goosebumps on my arms and felt like I was looking over my own shoulder for signs of danger.

Lastly, because I really don’t want to give anything away, I just want to say that I also love that Hart is willing to challenge himself by trying something different.  Whereas most of Hart’s novels are straight mystery/thrillers, The Hush actually ventures over into magical realism territory and is infused with a bit of the supernatural.  This was new and unexpected since that’s not what I’m used to with a John Hart novel, but I thought he did a fantastic job with it overall.  It kind of felt like a mashup of a typical John Hart novel and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and since Beloved is a favorite of mine, it was a great fit for me.

There was only one time when I had any kind of an issue with The Hush and that was towards the end.  I can’t really go into any detail without spoiling the plot, so I’m just going to say that it revolved around the supernatural aspect of the story.  It’s hard to even explain what my issue really was except that it’s along the lines of me being willing to suspend disbelief and see where the author wants to take the whole supernatural thing, but then reaching a point where I’m like “Nope, too far.  Reel it back in.”  If you read The Hush, you’ll probably know the exact scene that I’m referring to as soon as you get to it.  Aside from that one moment, I thought it was a fantastic read.

With his memorable characters and gorgeous prose, John Hart continues his streak of well-crafted stories with The Hush.  If you’re looking for a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end and can open your mind to supernatural possibilities, The Hush should be right up your alley.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The only writer in history to win consecutive Edgar Awards for Best Novel, New York Times bestselling author John Hart returns to the world of his most beloved novel, The Last Child.

Building on the world first seen in The Last Child (“A magnificent creation” —The Washington Post), John Hart delivers a stunning vision of a secret world, rarely seen.

It’s been ten years since the events that changed Johnny Merrimon’s life and rocked his hometown to the core. Since then, Johnny has fought to maintain his privacy, but books have been written of his exploits; the fascination remains. Living alone on six thousand acres of once-sacred land, Johnny’s only connection to normal life is his old friend, Jack. They’re not boys anymore, but the bonds remain. What they shared. What they lost.

But Jack sees danger in the wild places Johnny calls home; he senses darkness and hunger, an intractable intent. Johnny will discuss none of it, but there are the things he knows, the things he can do. A lesser friend might accept such abilities as a gift, but Jack has felt what moves in the swamp: the cold of it, the unspeakable fear.

More than an exploration of friendship, persistence, and forgotten power, The Hush leaves all categories behind, and cements Hart’s status as a writer of unique power.

four-stars

About John Hart

John Hart is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, THE KING OF LIES, DOWN RIVER, THE LAST CHILD, IRON HOUSE and REDEMPTION ROAD. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, the Southern Book Prize and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in over seventy countries. A former defense attorney and stockbroker, John spends his time in North Carolina and Virginia, where he writes full-time.

Review: HONOR AMONG THIEVES

Review:  HONOR AMONG THIEVESHonor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine, Ann Aguirre
four-stars
Series: The Honors #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 13th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Honor Among Thieves, a science fiction novel brought to us by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre, is a thrill ride from start to finish.  Set in the not-so-distant future, the story follows teenage protagonist Zara Cole, a petty thief who is using her street smarts to survive on her own in New Detroit.  New Detroit isn’t the most pleasant place to live.  It’s actually quite seedy, but it offers Zara what she needs at this point in her life, freedom to live on her own terms and make her own decisions.  Zara has a family—in fact, she could be living with her mother and sister on a wonderful colony on Mars.  Zara’s past, however, has been filled with pain – pain she has experienced at the hands of an abusive father, and then the pain she feels that she has caused her mother and sister.  She decides that they would be better off making a fresh start without her causing them further pain, and so this is how she finds herself alone in New Detroit.

Zara is doing just fine for herself, stealing as she needs to and pawning what she steals for cash.  That is, until she steals from the wrong person – the daughter of Mr. Deluca, the most powerful man around – and finds herself on the run as Mr. Deluca makes it his mission to take Zara down.  Zara faces jail or even death, but in a surprise twist of fate, she finds herself being chosen to become an Honor instead.

The Honors is an elite team of humans who are chosen by the Leviathan.  The Leviathan are a race of what I would say are actual living space ships.  They can be piloted and lived in like space ships, but they can also think, communicate, and feel emotions.  Ever since the Leviathan stepped in and saved Earth from destroying itself, the Leviathan and the humans have had a symbiotic relationship.  Every year the Leviathan select 100 humans who will become passengers aboard the living ships and explore the outer reaches of the universe.  Usually those chosen to be Honors are scientists, musicians, and other scholarly types.  No one from Zara’s community has ever been chosen to be an Honor, so it comes as quite a shock to Zara, who is immediately suspicious as to their motives but agrees to take part because ‘Hey it’s better than jail or death, right?’

What surprises Zara right away is how almost as soon as she meets Nadim, the living ship she will be traveling on, she immediately feels at home for the first time ever.  More comfortable than she ever felt in her own home growing up.  She actually begins to look forward to spending a year traveling with Nadim; that is, until she realizes there’s more to this journey she is on than meets the eye.  Behind the allure of the elite Honors program, things are much darker and more dangerous than Zara had anticipated.  Between that and the other dark truths of the universe that she begins to see while on her journey, Zara realizes she might be in as much danger here as she was back on earth.

Can her street smarts help her here or is Zara in completely over her head?

 

Zara was definitely my favorite part of Honor Among Thieves.  I loved her spunk and her street smarts. She is tough as nails and it’s easy to cheer her on, especially as she takes on the underdog role, both against Deluca and then again as a thief among Honors (Side note:  I loved that little play on words with the title).  As much as I enjoyed the action in the story, it’s actually Zara’s development as a character that really drew me in and kept me reading.  She is so closed off and mistrusting of everyone around her when the story opens, but once she gets on that ship and starts to bond both with Nadim and with Beatrice, her fellow Honor, she becomes almost a completely different person.  She’s so much more open and trusting and her compassionate side just really comes out when it comes to protecting and defending those she cares about.  I liked Zara when the story began, but I absolutely adored her by the end.

Nadim.  Okay, I’ll admit the whole idea of a living ship kind of weirded me out at first.  The image I have in my head is along the lines of Jonah and the Whale but the Whale is actually a space ship.  The whole concept was just so wild. Once I got used to it though, I loved it, especially Zara’s ship, Nadim.  Almost as soon as she boards the ship, Zara learns that some of Nadim’s previous missions haven’t gone very well and that if his mission with Zara goes badly, he will be banished to live alone in space.  What I really liked about Nadim was that even though he is this massive space ship, he still has this vulnerable, almost childlike quality about him, and like Zara, I found myself feeling very protective of him.

The Action.  Between the actual mission itself and then all of the underlying, unexpected drama, this is one action-packed book.  In a lot of ways, this aspect of it reminded me of Illuminae with its breakneck pace and with the way it becomes a survival story.  The last half of the book goes by especially fast because there’s so much drama and suspense.  If you like action, aliens, space battles, and conspiracies, you’d be in for a treat with this book.

 

The only aspect of Honor Among Thieves that I had trouble with is what was referred to as ‘Deep Bonding’ between a Leviathan and a human.  Zara and Nadim engage in this ‘deep bond’ at one point and I don’t know if it was supposed to come across this way, or if I just read more into it than I should have, but it had an almost sexual vibe to me.  I was all for the idea of Zara and Nadim in a non-sexual, soulmate kind of way, but that one section just made for an awkward read for me.

 

Honor Among Thieves is the start of what is sure to be wonderful new series.  I hadn’t read anything by either Rachel Caine or Ann Aguirre prior to reading this story, but they are both on my watch list now.  If you’re into spunky, street smart heroines, space exploration, and are intrigued by the idea of living space ships, be sure to check out Honor Among Thieves.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

four-stars

About Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. She likes all kinds of books, emo music, action movies and Doctor Who. She writes all kind of fiction in multiple genres, both YA and for adults.

About Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine’s rich, diverse bibliography of more than 50 books in print covers many categories and genres. She started out writing horror and fantasy as Roxanne Longstreet (Stormriders, The Undead, Red Angel, Cold Kiss, Slow Burn) before switching to the name Roxanne Conrad and publishing romantic suspense and mystery (Copper Moon, Bridge of Shadows, Exile). By 2003, she began to publish under her current pseudonym, specializing in urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal young adult fiction.

She has been writing original fiction since the age of fourteen, and professionally published since 1991. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso Texas (where she was a UIL all-state champion in music and journalism) and went on to earn an accounting degree from Texas Tech University. She played professionally as a musician for several years once out of college, but ultimately gave up the music for writing.

She’s had a varied “day job” career, including web design, graphic arts, accounting, payroll management, insurance investigation, and (most recently) corporate communications and crisis management. (It all counts as research.)

Rachel loves reading, writing, and mild amounts of arithmetic when required … but she has a special place in her heart for history, music, and science, and you’ll find those themes in many of her works.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUET

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUETWinter by Marissa Meyer
Also by this author: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)
five-stars
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 827
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend--the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

Review:

Winter is the fourth and final book in Melissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. In Winter we not only continue the original story that Meyer has created in the midst of her fairytale retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, but we also get a Snow White retelling added to the mix.  As always, I’m most impressed with the way Meyer manages to seamlessly weave so many retellings into this series without losing any of the originality of the overall storyline.

As the lovely, quirky, and perhaps somewhat mentally unstable Snow White character, Winter is a welcome addition to this wonderful cast of characters that I’ve come to love so much.  I was definitely more attached to the characters I’ve known longer, but I grew to love Winter too and wish I had had more time with her.  What I especially liked about the introduction of Winter was that her presence really served to cast Levana even more firmly into the role of the evil (ummm, psychotic?) stepmother. Have I mentioned how much I loathe Levana?

Speaking of Levana, one of the coolest parts of this final book is that we finally make it to Levana’s home on the planet Luna.  Meyer gives the reader a vivid look into the lives of the Lunar people and the ways they are forced to live because of Levana.  I don’t want to give away anything else about the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved getting to see these amazing characters in action one more time working together to fight against the tyranny of Levana and free the Lunar people from her once and for all. (Even Iko is a total badass and it’s just so much awesomeness!) Because it’s so focused on the resistance and taking Levana down, Winter is truly action-packed from start to finish.  That’s pretty much my favorite kind of read ever, so I loved every page of it.  I’m so sad to have finally reached the end of this series, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ending.  5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for WINTER and OUR DARK DUETOur Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Monsters of Verity, #2
Published by Greenwillow Books on June 13th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 510
Also in this series: This Savage Song
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn't afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she's good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims' inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

Review:

Victoria Schwab really blew me away with Our Dark Duet, the final book in her Monsters of Verity duology.  Not only was it filled with dark and creepy monsters and the action-packed goodness that I enjoyed so much in This Savage Song, the first book in the duology, but it also literally reduced me to tears by the end.

There’s so much to love about this book, but Kate Harker’s growth as a character is probably at the top of my list.  She is now a spike wielding, monster-killing badass and I adored her even more in this book than I did in the first one.  My love for poor tortured August is still strong in this book too, and I rooted for both he and Kate as they valiantly battled their demons, both literally and figuratively.

Schwab’s worldbuilding and pacing are spot on in Our Dark Duet too.  I love this world she has created – it’s dark and creepy with monsters literally lurking around every corner, which just makes for such an intense and suspenseful reading experience.  The pacing was incredible too as it mirrors what is going on with Kate and August.  It starts off at a steady and even pace as Kate and August are each battling a lot of internal demons, but then once they come together to battle a monster that appears to be even worse than the Corsai and Malachi we met in This Savage Song, the pace increases to almost a frenetic pace.  The second half of the book flies by and is filled with blood, explosions, destruction, and death.  I devoured the nearly 500 page book in 24 hours.

Don’t even get me started on the ending, which just shattered my heart into a million pieces.  Schwab has done it again — Our Dark Duet is truly a heartbreaking piece of writing perfection. 5 STARS

five-stars

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Review: When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas

Review:  When Light Left Us by Leah ThomasWhen Light Left Us by Leah Thomas
three-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on February 13th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas is one of the more unique books I’ve read lately.  At its heart is the Vasquez family, in particular, siblings Milo, Ana and Hank, who are reeling from the fact that their father has just walked out of their lives without so much as a goodbye.  They are all trying to cope with the loss as best as they can, until one night something happens that changes everything…a shimmering alien figure named Luz appears in the canyon behind their house. Luz fills the void left by their father, bonding with each of the siblings in his own way.  Until Luz disappears without a word too…taking something vital from each of them.

Struck by the sense of loss all over again, Milo, Ana, and Hank are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to go about their lives as normal. It’s much easier said than done and all three siblings flounder, filled with questions about why their father left them, why Luz left them, and how can they ever feel close to or trust anyone again.

Will the Vasquez kids get their lives back on track?  What were Luz’ motivations for coming into their lives and then leaving them so abruptly?  What did he take from them when he left?  All of these questions and so many more began filling my head as soon as I started reading this moving story about family.

 

I thought the focus on family was the highlight of When Light Left Us. Even though the book itself centered a lot on the alien Luz and the impact he had on each of the Vasquez siblings, it was the family itself and how the siblings dealt with the losses they experienced that really kept me reading.  Their struggles to function on a daily basis, their hesitation to trust and connect with others, and even their own now-awkward interactions with each other at home all felt so realistic as was their mother’s reaction.  First, Maggie’s husband walks out on them, then her children experience something together that can’t really even be explained but obviously continues to haunt them many months later, to the point where they can barely function.  Maggie loves her children more than anything in the world and is overwhelmed and frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be anything she can do to help them.  All of the pain this family experiences is just so palpable. I ended up really caring about them and wanting to know that they could make it through this.

 

Expected the unexpected.  I’m kind of a sci fi nut, so I was also a big fan of the twistedness of the whole Luz storyline. I loved how original this part of the storyline was and I loved how I initially felt a bit of an E.T. vibe from Luz with the way he came into these children’s lives and filled the void left by the father who abandoned them.  The E.T. vibe didn’t last long though as Luz ultimately ends up being a much more complex character than I was expecting and a bit more of an ass if I’m being truly honest.  I won’t go into any more details so as not to spoil anything but definitely if you like complex characters like I do, keep your eyes on Luz.

 

A final element that I thought was very well done was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view.  Thomas gives us the perspectives of each of the three Vasquez siblings, as well as a few chapters from their mother, and even as we move further into the book, a few chapters from Luz himself. Since I was so invested in this family, I liked being able to have a glimpse directly into each of their thoughts to get an honest look at how they were each doing.  The Luz chapters were especially illuminating since we finally get a look at what is driving his actions with respect to this family.

 

As much as I enjoyed When Life Left Us overall, I have to admit that it started out super confusing and I almost DNF’ed it about a quarter of the way through the story.  I like reading and putting together the pieces of a mystery as much as the next person, but in this case, for the longest time it didn’t feel like any of the pieces were fitting together at all. I just kept getting more and more pieces and setting them aside, waiting for them to finally make sense.  Once they did start to make sense, it was very satisfying, but I just thought it took way too long to get to that point.  I’m glad I pushed through and made it to the end, but if I hadn’t become so invested in the family so quickly, I’m pretty sure I would have given up on the book.

 

When Light Left Us is a beautiful story about how a family has the power to overcome their struggles if they stick together.  I’d obviously recommend it to anyone who loves stories that focus on families and relationships, but any science fiction fan would probably enjoy this as well.  If you’re impatient and like for the stories you read to make sense from the get-go, this might not be a good fit for you.  Even though I had issues with that, however, I still very much enjoyed the story overall.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When the Vasquez siblings’ father left, it seemed nothing could remedy the absence in their lives. . . until a shimmering figure named Luz appeared in the canyon behind their house.

Luz filled the void. He shot hoops with seventeen-year-old Hank’s hands. He showed fourteen-year-old Ana cinematic beauty behind her eyelids. He spoke kindly to eight-year-old Milo. But then Luz left, too, and he took something from each of them. As a new school year begins, Ana, Hank, and Milo must carry on as if an alien presence never altered them. But how can they ever feel close to other people again when Luz changed everything about how they see the world and themselves?

In an imaginative and heartfelt exploration of human—and non-human—nature, Leah Thomas champions the unyielding bonds between family and true friends.

three-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak Love

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak LoveTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
three-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on October 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

#1 bestselling author John Green returns with his first new novel since The Fault in Our Stars!

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

Review:

While not my favorite John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down was still a moving read for me.  I loved the main character Aza, who is smart, funny, and sometimes extremely quiet.  She’s quiet because she is living with OCD, which often occupies her thoughts and keeps her locked inside of her own head.  John Green does an incredible job of showing what OCD is like from inside the mind of someone who is actually experiencing it.  It’s raw and honest and sometimes quite painful to read.  If you think you know what OCD is like from either something you’ve read or maybe from someone you’ve watched going through it, you only know part of it.  Seeing from Aza’s perspective that ever-tightening spiral that kept her locked inside of her own mind was so enlightening.  Turtles All the Way Down is also an #ownvoices novel, so many thanks to John Green for sharing his own experiences with us.

In addition to the way it provides a greater understanding of OCD, I also liked the book’s focus on friendship.  While I wasn’t big on the part of the story where Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide they want to play amateur detective and investigate the father of Aza’s friend, Davis, I was very big on their friendship.  Aza and Daisy have a wonderful relationship that is built on honesty, even if that honesty is sometimes a little brutal. I liked the idea that Aza ultimately knew she had someone in her corner no matter how tough things got.

What else? Oh, a really sweet romance develops between Aza and Davis.  I liked Davis a lot and thought he and Aza had wonderful chemistry.  More importantly, I didn’t feel like their romance took away anything from the rest of the story and I liked that romance was not a cure for OCD.

The only thing I really didn’t like was a distracting and seemingly random subplot about an ancient lizard called a tuatara that Davis’ father kept as a pet.  Maybe there was a deeper meaning there that I missed, but for me, the lizard was just in the way.  Still a moving and entertaining read overall.  3.5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for Turtles All the Way Down and Speak Easy, Speak LoveSpeak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
four-half-stars
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 19th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 432
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer.

Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother, John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.

Review:

Speak Easy, Speak Love was just such a delightful read for me.  It’s a retelling of one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Much Ado About Nothing, and author McKelle George manages to capture all of the magic of the original play, while simultaneously crafting a fresh new story.  If you’ve read the original play, you’ll be particularly delighted to know that not only does she have her own Benedick and Beatrice, but their verbal sparring without a doubt rivals that of their Shakespearean counterparts.  I found myself laughing out loud numerous times, which is always refreshing.

Aside from bringing to life new versions of my favorite characters, George also chooses a fabulous setting for her retelling, New York in the 1920s.  The 1920s is such a rich and vibrant part of American history and I loved how George was able to incorporate so many important aspects of that time period.  She seamlessly weaves in Prohibition and speakeasies, the Mob, the Jazz Age, and with Benedick in particular who wants to be a writer, she also touches on the rise of great American authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

I can’t recommend Speak Easy, Speak Love highly enough.  There are lots of great shoutouts to Much Ado About Nothing sprinkled throughout the novel too, so before you read the book, I’d definitely also recommend reading the play or, even better, watch the 1993 film version where Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Benedick and Beatrice.  So much fun!  4.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About John Green

John Green is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than 55 languages and over 24 million copies are in print. John is also an active Twitter user with more than 5 million followers.

About McKelle George

McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). Her debut young adult novel Speak Easy, Speak Love comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB Novel

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB NovelInto the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: UNSUB
four-half-stars
Series: UNSUB #2
Published by Dutton on January 30th 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Also in this series: UNSUB
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I read the first book in Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB series earlier this month and absolutely devoured it. It was a 5-star read for me that was filled with suspense, memorable characters (including a badass heroine), a disturbing yet riveting storyline, great action scenes, and just an overall fascinating look at the psychology of a serial killer.  Because I enjoyed UNSUB so much, I began reading its follow-up Into the Black Nowhere with very high expectations.  And thankfully, I wasn’t at all disappointed.  Just like its predecessor, Into the Black Nowhere hooked me from the first page and didn’t let me go until I reached the nail biting conclusion.  I think I’ve found myself a new favorite series!

As in UNSUB, Into the Black Nowhere follows Caitlyn Hendrix, only now, instead of working as a police detective in California, she has taken a job as a rookie FBI agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia.  Caitlyn is still adjusting to her new job and life in Virginia, as well as trying to make a long distance relationship work with Sean, whom we met in UNSUB, but ultimately she is dedicated to her career and ready to catch a predator.

Caitlyn’s team is called to a town in Southern Texas where blonde women have been disappearing – one from a movie theater, one from a car that was stopped at a traffic light, and one from her own home.  Local law enforcement suspects they have a predator on their hands and so Caitlyn’s team is called in to help build a psychological profile of the UNSUB so that a suspect can hopefully be identified before any other women go missing.  When the bodies of two of the women are found in the woods, dressed in white nighties with heavily made up faces and slashed wrists, it becomes clear that they are looking for a serial killer, one that was likely inspired by Ted Bundy.  What’s even more disturbing is that not only has the UNSUB posed the bodies of these victims, but he has also surrounded them with Polaroid photos of other blonde women, potential victims that law enforcement hasn’t identified yet.  It becomes a race against the clock for Caitlyn and her team to catch this UNSUB before he hurts anyone else.

They are quickly able to get inside of their killer’s head and build a profile of the suspect, and with the help of a phone tip, they actually think they’ve found their guy.  This guy is a piece of work too. He’s arrogant, cunning, and manipulative, but is also charming enough to get almost anyone around him to let their guard down so it makes sense how he’s so easily able to accumulate so many victims.  Even though Caitlyn and her team are sure they have the right guy, the problem is that all they have on him so far is a lot of circumstantial evidence and so he keeps eluding them.

It seems like it’s almost a game to him, like he thrives on this game of cat and mouse, trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, but then he even manages to get inside of Caitlyn’s head. He finds and exploits her weaknesses, bringing things from her past up that she had hoped would remain buried and leaving her feeling vulnerable and exposed.  This of course makes her all the more determined to bring him down.

Can Caitlyn keep the UNSUB out of her head so that she can effectively do her job?  And can she and her team find the evidence they need in order to stop this monster once and for all?

 

I’m still loving Caitlyn Hendrix in this second book.  She’s just as fierce and focused on tracking down killers as she was in UNSUB, but still has that slightly vulnerable side as the killer manages to get inside of her head and make her face some demons from her past.  I like for the characters I’m reading about to have those layers of complexity so they don’t just come across as cardboard cutouts, which can often happen in thrillers because the characters take a backseat to the case at hand.  Not Caitlyn, she is fully-fleshed out and shows a lot of growth from the first book to the second, and even within the second.

In addition to adoring Caitlyn, I also thought her partner, Rainey, was amazing.  Rainey is the other female agent on her team, and Rainey is even more of a badass than Caitlyn.  Together the two of them make a formidable team and so I loved every scene that paired them together.  I hope to see them work together a lot more in future books in the series.

Gardiner not only writes fantastic characters, she is also a master at writing suspense.  I love following along with Caitlyn and the other agents as they uncover detail after detail about the killer and get ever closer to nailing him.  I was literally on the edge of my seat watching them frantically search for any clues that could help them take him down.  The added detail that he only takes his victims on Saturday added an extra layer of suspense and tension because the agents know they’re on a race against the clock and know exactly what their deadline is before another woman goes missing. The tension and sense of unease is so real in this book that I found myself looking over my own shoulder while reading.  It was just that creepy.

With all of that tension and suspense building up, I guess it goes without saying that this is a fast-paced book.  I read it from cover to cover in two days and found myself irritated every time I had to put the book down because I was so invested in the story.

 

My only real issue with Into the Black Nowhere was that rather than address the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of UNSUB, Caitlyn and her team instead move on to a new case, and it’s one that doesn’t appear to be at all related to the case from the first book.  In my mind, it does makes sense not to immediately revisit that case. Based on the way the first book ended and how soon the second book seems to follow the first, it’s probably too soon, but I’m just impatient and really want to know how that cliffhanger is going to play out!

I also would have liked a little more interaction between Caitlyn and her boyfriend, Sean.  They worked the first case together and I loved their chemistry together, both personally and professionally, so I missed that this time around since their relationship was relegated to the occasional phone call.  There were some hints along the way in this book, however, that lead me to believe they may end up working together on a future case, so I definitely look forward to that possibility.

 

Considering that I’m already anxiously awaiting the third book in this series, it’s safe to conclude that I recommend Into the Black Nowhere just as highly as I recommended UNSUB earlier this month.  Meg Gardiner has blown me away with the first two installments of this series and is now on my list of auto-buy authors.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, an exhilarating thriller in which FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer.

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style–posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology–that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy–dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.

four-half-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.

Backlist Review: Nevernight

Backlist Review:  NevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #1
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 429
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight is one of those books that has received so much hype that I’ll admit I kept pushing it aside on my shelf, fearing that it couldn’t possibly live up to the extremely high expectations I was building up in my own head for it.  I finally picked it up this year for the Beat the Backlist challenge I’m participating in and despite a few hiccups that I had early on, I think it’s safe to say this book really does live up to the hype.  As I was reading, I kept getting the vibe that it was basically a Game of Thrones/Harry Potter mash-up and since I love both of those series, it made for a winning combo for me.

Nevernight follows the story of Mia Corvere, a young woman who has recently lost everyone she loves at the hands of a corrupt government.  Mia’s father was wrongly executed for treason, and as further punishment, her family was kicked out of their home and left to rot in a prison.  Somehow, Mia miraculously escapes and goes into hiding.  She is determined to avenge her father’s death and using a gift she has but knows little about, the ability to communicate with shadows, Mia manages to find a retired killer who is willing to train her in the skills she’ll need to master in order to achieve her goal.

Mia soon finds herself in a position she never imagined, as an apprentice in a deadly school for assassins, the Red Church.  Here, she will continue her education in hopes of being chosen to serve as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder, which would put her a step closer to her ultimate goal of vengeance.  That is, if her fellow classmates don’t kill her first. The competition to become a blade is truly cutthroat, pardon the pun.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there is also a killer loose within the Church’s halls potentially threatening all of them, Mia is also being haunted by secrets from her own past that have resurfaced, and there also appears to be a conspiracy afoot that could bring down the entire Red Church and everyone in it.

What has Mia gotten herself into and will she even survive to the initiation ceremony, much less live to exact her revenge?

Mia was my favorite part of Nevernight, and her storyline is what gave me the Game of Thrones vibe that I enjoyed so much.  Mia reminded me so much of Arya Stark, who is my favorite GoT character.  Mia is a badass character who is also fiercely devoted to her family and will stop at nothing to avenge them, even if it means making a dangerous journey to a faraway land to receive proper training in the deadly arts she needs to ensure she does not fail.

What I really loved about Mia though is the sense of vulnerability that was also there beneath the surface.  Once she enters the assassin school, she appears to be quite skilled in several areas that are being taught.  Her biggest weakness, however, is that she seems way too quick to trust and make friends with those around her.  Given this is a cutthroat competition where only 4 out of 29 students will be chosen as Blades, this seemed a bit naïve.  At the same time though, while I wanted her to be more vigilant and less trusting, I also just liked how human it made her seem in the midst of such a ruthless and potentially deadly environment.  It added a nice layer of depth to her character and made her more relatable because of course we all want to have friends and she has been on her own since her family was taken away from her.

Mia wasn’t the only character I liked either.  Kristoff did one of my favorite things with this book – he gave me a cast of secondary characters that I also fell in love with because they’re so well-developed.  Mia’s fellow students and competitors were a fantastic bunch and I ended up loving even the ones that I probably shouldn’t have loved.  I found myself giving all of them the side eye throughout the story, trying to figure out if Mia could really trust any of them or not, and I loved that the story kept me guessing throughout:  will they be best friends or will they try to kill each other? Aside from that, I also liked getting a little backstory on them, particularly why each of them had chosen to come to the school. I knew why Mia wanted to be there, but it was equally fascinating to find out the motivations of the others.

Kristoff’s worldbuilding in Nevernight is truly exquisite.  The details were so richly drawn that I felt like I could easily visualize Godsgrave and even more especially, the assassin school of the Red Church.  And this is where my Harry Potter/Hogwarts vibe came into place.  The students are schooled in the areas of weaponry, poisons, pickpocketing, and the art of seduction, all skills designed to make them of service to the Lady of Blessed Murder.  As in the Harry Potter series, we actually follow Mia and her classmates to these classes and watch them progress in their lessons.  The classes are taught by masters in each of these areas called Shahiids, which reminded me of the Professors at Hogwarts.  Every detail of the school was well thought out, down to the contests and point systems in place to help determine the top four students at the end of the term.

Mia’s shadow gift is also pretty brilliant and I love the air of mystery it adds to her character. I don’t want to say too much about it since I think it’s best to learn more about her gift as she’s learning about it.  But can I just say that I want a shadowy “Not Cat” of my own?  Daemon or not, I loved that little shadow cat and the way it talked to Mia and stayed with her no matter what.

 

Overall I loved Nevernight, but I did have a couple of issues, one of which were the footnotes.  Even when footnotes contain essential information, I don’t like them because I find it distracting to have to stop my reading, go down to the bottom of the page and read the footnotes (some of which were very lengthy), and then go back up and start reading again.  I’ll admit that some of the footnotes were humorous and I liked the sarcastic tone of those, but most just left me annoyed that I had stopped reading the main action of the story to get what felt like a tidbit of trivia that didn’t really add much to what I was reading.  I’ve come across plenty of other readers who love the footnotes though, so I’m going to chalk this up as a personal quirk of mine.

I also had a little trouble settling into the novel at the beginning.  The language felt a little stilted and for the first few chapters, I thought the book might end up being a DNF because I wasn’t feeling wholly engaged with the story.  Thankfully though, whatever was bothering me early on seemed to give way pretty quickly to a more natural flowing prose and then I devoured the rest of the books in just a day or two.

 

Nevernight isn’t a book for the faint of heart.  It’s full of bloody violence, coarse language, treachery, and it has its fair share of smutty sex, but if you’re into those things, it’s a wild and entertaining ride!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of four Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, nominee for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards, named multiple times in the Kirkus and Amazon Best Teen Books list and published in over thirty countries, most of which he has never visited. He is as surprised about all of this as you are. He is 6’7 and has approximately 13030 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Book Review:  The Hazel WoodThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
three-half-stars
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is not your average story about fairytales.  Instead, it’s an edgy, dark, creepy, tale that at times, reads like a horror story.  That said, it was also one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 because it sounded like such a unique storyline. While I don’t think The Hazel Wood will ultimately end up on my Best Reads of 2018 list, it was still a pretty solidly entertaining read for me.

The Hazel Wood follows the story of seventeen-year old Alice and her mother, Ella.  They have spent most of Alice’s life moving from place to place, never staying in one spot for too long.  Why?  Because everywhere they go, bad luck seems to follow.  Ella and Alice are also a close-knit pair.  For as long as Alice can remember, it has just been the two of them, even though Alice knows she has a grandmother. Alice’s grandmother, who lives as a recluse at her estate, The Hazel Wood, wrote a book of dark fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland that became a cult classic. The book is now nearly impossible to find but it still has a loyal fan following.  When Alice’s grandmother dies, Alice and Ella’s luck goes from bad to worse, and Tales from the Hinterland seems to somehow be at the center of their troubles.  Ella is kidnapped by someone who claims to have come to them from the Hinterland, the supernatural setting of Alice’s grandmother’s book, and the only clue Ella leaves for Alice is “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has no idea what to do, but when she realizes that one of her classmates, Ellery Finch, is a Hinterland fanboy, she turns to him for help.  He knows more about the Hinterland than anyone she knows and because he’s so obsessed with Tales from the Hinterland, he is more than willing to offer up any assistance he can provide.  When creepy, inexplicable things start to happen all around them, all signs point to the Hinterland and Alice and Ellery quickly realize that the only possible way of saving Ella is to travel to the one place Alice has been told to stay away from, the Hazel Wood. Since it’s not exactly located on any map, will Alice and Ellery be able to even find their way to the Hinterland?  And if so, will they be able to find and save Ella?

 

My absolute favorite part about The Hazel Wood were the actual fairytales from Tales of the Hinterland.  Because the book is so rare, Alice has never had the opportunity to read the tales her grandmother wrote.  Because Finch is such a fanboy and has read them many times, he can basically recite them from memory and so he shares them with Alice whenever she asks.  And the tales are fabulous.  From Twice Killed Katherine to The Door That Wasn’t There, they’re dark, creepy, and just so delightfully twisted.  I think Tales from the Hinterland by itself would have been a 5-star read for me!

Another quality I loved about The Hazel Wood was how atmospheric and suspenseful it was.  The author drops us into a creepy version of New York with Alice where almost every time she turns around, it seems like someone is following her.  She keeps seeing a red-haired man that she remembers from her childhood, as well as a taxi driver who seems to mysteriously turn up where she is repeatedly.  Are these people really following her or is it a coincidence?  Then once she starts hanging around with Finch, he adds to the suspense and paranoid creepy factor as he thinks he recognizes some of the characters who keep turning up as actual characters from Tales from the Hinterland.  Talk about ratcheting up the WHOA factor!

Another interesting aspect of the story for me was that while I didn’t find the main character Alice an especially likeable character, I still felt myself drawn to her story and like her or not, I was determined to follow her as she unraveled the mystery of the Hinterland, her mother, and her grandmother.  Usually not liking a main character is enough to make me give up on reading a book, so I was intrigued that, in this case, it didn’t really deter me.  The Hinterland and its occupants were just that fascinating!

 

I think my biggest issue with The Hazel Wood was that the main characters felt a little flat and under-developed.  I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t especially like Alice, but I also didn’t feel like I really got to delve much into her character.  She clearly has some anger issues that she is dealing with, and while it gives her a little of that flawed, complex, realistic feel that I usually love in characters, I just didn’t really feel the love for Alice. I shared in her desire to figure out what the heck was going on and to find her mother, who has mysteriously disappeared, but otherwise, I didn’t feel like I connected with her much.  I found Ellery Finch a much more likeable character, probably because his fanboyish love of Tales from the Hinterland was so adorable, but I still don’t really feel like I ever got to know much else about him.  I guess the book was meant to be more plot driven than character driven, but I still just like to get to know the characters even if that’s the case.

One other issue, and this may just be me misreading the synopsis, but I went into the book with the idea that the entire book was going to basically be a giant twisted fairy tale, pure fantasy.  I was a little thrown when I started reading and it sounded like an ordinary contemporary novel set in New York. Even once we started getting glimpses of Hinterland characters, it still felt like magical realism rather than full-on fantasy until about the halfway point of the book.  I still enjoyed the read overall but was a little confused starting out since the story wasn’t what I was expecting and what had initially drawn me to the story.

 

The Hazel Wood would make a great read for anyone who likes the idea of dark, twisted fairytales with a supernatural twist.  Some of them are a bit violent and bloody, so I’d probably also recommend this to more mature readers.  It’s a dark and creepy ride that will keep you up late reading, and looking over your shoulder every time something goes bump in the night!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

three-half-stars

About Melissa Albert

Melissa Albert is the founding editor of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog and the managing editor of BN.com. She has written for McSweeney’s, Time Out Chicago, MTV, and more. Melissa is from Illinois and lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Hazel Wood is her first novel.