Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize.

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Review:

After a stressful work week, I was in the mood for a light and fun read to ease me into the weekend. I came across Teri Wilson’s The Accidental Beauty Queen, and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was exactly the kind of story I was searching for. As soon as I started reading about Charlotte, her twin sister Ginny, and their beauty pageant misadventures, I was hooked.  Their story is sweet, heartfelt, and just downright hilarious.

Charlotte was the biggest draw for me. She’s an elementary school librarian, and a huge fan of both Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. Truly a heroine after my own heart.  I loved that she’s such a huge book nerd and that she’s so completely devoted to her twin.  When an allergic reaction sidelines Ginny with a swollen, blotchy face, Charlotte agrees to switch places and compete in the preliminary rounds of the pageant to keep her sister’s dream of winning this pageant alive.  Charlotte knows that the pageant is important to Ginny, not just for the prestige, but also for sentimental reasons. It’s a pageant that their mom won years ago before she passed away from cancer.  I was touched by Charlotte not wanting to let her sister down, even if it meant doing something that she was completely uncomfortable doing.  Wilson also does a beautiful job of portraying this sisterly dynamic.  I’m a sucker for a good sibling story anyway, and this was realistic and moving, and just everything I wanted it to be.

There were lots of other things to like about this story as well.  I was also a fan of how the actual pageant was portrayed.  Instead of the cattiness I was expecting Charlotte to encounter, it was nice to see that each pageant scene had more of a supportive sisterhood vibe to it.  Another point of interest to me was Grey, one of the pageant judges and someone Charlotte continually bumps into throughout the book.  Grey is super charming and he’s also quite bookish, so I just adored it when he and Charlotte would talk nerdy to each other. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their banter was sprinkled with Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice references.  Pure perfection!

In short, The Accidental Beauty Queen was everything my book-loving heart desired and then some.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

By the New York Times bestselling author who “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly), My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a laugh-out-loud romp through online dating and its many, many fails.

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Review:

Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which explores the many ups and downs of online dating, is another book I picked up because I wanted a light and fluffy read.  It follows Millie Morris and her all-guy friend group as they try to use online dating apps to find themselves dates to a university function.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand really delivers with the laughs. I honestly lost track of how many times I laughed out loud at Millie and the guys as they bantered back and forth while trying out these apps.  In fact, the dynamics of this group was my favorite part of the whole book.  All I kept thinking while I was reading about them in action using these apps was that this whole premise would make for such a great episode of Friends. Everything about how they interacted with one another actually made me think of Friends, which is a good thing since Friends is one of my favorite shows.

I also really liked Millie.  She’s kind of a mother hen to the guys in her circle of friends, which is funny to watch.  What I liked most about Millie though is how much emotional growth there is with her character throughout the story.  When we first meet her, she’s very closed off about anything personal.  Even her closest friends can’t really pry any personal details out of her.  As the story progresses, however, she starts to have romantic feelings towards her best friend, Reid, and so she does slowly start to open up. She unfortunately makes some questionable choices along the way as she explores her feelings for Reid, but when her choices threaten their friendship, she vows to change her ways.  I liked that Millie was kind of a mess and trying to sort herself out. That made her feel very authentic to me.  I’m also all for a good friends to possible lovers story, so My Favorite Half-Night Stand really hit the spot in that area as well.

This was my first time reading anything by Christina Laurent but it definitely won’t be my last! 4 STARS

four-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.

About Teri Wilson

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies UNLEASHING MR. DARCY, MARRYING MR. DARCY, THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is a double finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novels THE PRINCESS PROBLEM and ROYALLY WED. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Feel free to visit and connect with her here at TeriWilson.net, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Early Review: THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine Arden

Early Review:  THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine ArdenThe Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Also by this author: The Bear and the Nightingale
five-stars
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
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:

 

The Winter of the Witch is the final book in Katherine Arden’s captivating Winternight Trilogy. I always find it difficult to review books that come late in a series because it’s so hard to talk about them without giving away spoilers, but I’m going to give it my best shot here and hope that my words do it justice because  filled with unforgettable characters, intricate worldbuilding, and creatures from Russian folklore, the Winternight Trilogy truly is one of the most beautifully crafted series I’ve ever read.

To give a bit of general context for those who have begun the series, The Winter of the Witch picks up right where the second book left off.  Moscow is in ruins and its terrified citizens are looking for answers, and more specifically, for someone to blame.  That someone, unfortunately, becomes our heroine Vasya, and the final book begins with her fleeing for her life from an angry mob who accuse her of being a witch and want to see her dead.

War is also brewing as the Grand Prince of Moscow looks to go after those who threaten his kingdom.  While the Grand Prince prepares for war, the priest Konstantin has troubles of his own.  Although he may be a powerful religious figure, Konstantin is a weak man, easily manipulated by those stronger than he is.  In Konstantin’s case, he finds himself the puppet of a vengeful demon named the Bear.  The Bear feeds off of chaos, fear, and war so he uses Konstantin to fan the flames of hatred and distrust to create chaos everywhere.

This chaos and turmoil affects not just the humans, but also the magical creatures.  Vasya finds herself with the weight of both worlds on her shoulders as she desperately tries to save both her Russian homeland and her beloved magical realm.

Can Vasya stop the Bear and Konstantin?  Can she stop a war?  And most importantly, is there any way that her magical pagan world can peacefully coexist with the human world?  It’s a tall order, and Vasya isn’t sure she’s up to the task.

Vasya.  As with the two prior books, Vasya is my favorite part about this story.  We’ve watched her grow from a young girl to a young woman and there has just been such tremendous character growth throughout each book. That growth continues well into this final book and I can honestly say that Vasya is one of my all-time favorite book heroines.  I love her big heart, her refusal to conform to what is expected of her, and most especially, I love her resilience.  The final book presents Vasya with several heartbreaking, gut-wrenching moments – moments that probably would have crushed a lesser person – but no matter how low she is pushed down, she always picks herself back up and refuses to give up.

Worldbuilding.  I honestly didn’t think Arden could improve upon the worldbuilding from the first two books, but she proved me wrong with the Winter of the Witch.  Again, I don’t want to say much because of spoilers, but into her world of Russian inspired folklore, she introduces what she calls the Road to Midnight and for me, it’s one of the most memorable and unique parts of the story.  Vasya finds herself journeying on this road as she desperately seeks help from the Frost Demon and the journey she takes is truly magical, so much so that it almost defies explanation.  It’s kind of like time traveling but so much more.  You really have to experience it for yourself to get a feel for how wild a ride it really is.

Wonderful Secondary Characters.  Some like Solovey, Vasya’s horse, and Morozko, the Frost Demon, I adored.  Others like the Bear and Konstantin, not so much. But whether I loved or hated them, this series has a fantastic and unforgettable cast of well-drawn characters.  We also meet several more mythological creatures in this final book and their bond of mutual respect with Vasya adds so much richness to the story and really emphasizes how she is a bridge between the two worlds.

Creative Use of History.  I didn’t realize this until I read the author’s note, but some of the characters and events in the series are based on real historical events, including a war.  Arden has, of course, put her own personal and creative twist on them, but the historical fiction fan in me thought it was very cool to learn the story was based on not just Russian folklore but on actual Russian history as well.

It made me cry.  This does not happen to me often when I read fantasy series, but The Winter of the Witch made me cry. Not just once or twice, but three times!  I won’t say specifically why I cried, but I will say that two times, my tears were tears of sadness and one time, they were tears of joy.  That’s how attached to these characters I got!

I dislike that the series is over because I’m going to miss these characters and this gorgeous world so much, but that’s really all I’ve got.  For me, this series is about as close to perfection as it gets.

The Winternight Trilogy is, by far, one of the most unforgettable series I’ve ever read.  I love that while it’s a wholly unique story inspired by Russian history and folklore, it’s also reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood fantasies like The Chronicles of Narnia because the strong element of whimsical magic and wonder that permeates it.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

 

five-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVEL

Early Review: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVELThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on February 12, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 336
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Crooked Lane Books blog tour for The Psychology of Time Travel.  Thanks so much to Crooked Lane Books and author Kate Mascarenhas for allowing me to read an advanced copy and share my thoughts on this exciting debut novel.

 

MY REVIEW:

The idea of being able to time travel is something that has captured my imagination since I was a child so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Kate Mascarenhas’ debut The Psychology of Time Travel.  I was eager to see what kind of spin she put on the concept and let me just say right now that I was not at all disappointed.  Mascarenhas brings a fresh new perspective to time travel by focusing on not so much on the idea of traveling itself, but more so on how moving back and forth through time can affect the mental health of those who regularly engage in the process.

When the novel opens, it’s 1967 and we are presented with four female scientists who are working together to build the world’s first time machine.  These pioneers decide to test the machine themselves while everyone else is off for the Christmas holidays and when they determine the machine works, they immediately contact the media to present their discovery.  To their dismay, however, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a live on-air mental breakdown, which threatens not only their project but also the entire future of time travel.  At the urging of Margaret, who has proclaimed herself the leader of their little group, the other three scientists decide that kicking Barbara out of the project and shunning her completely is the best way to save their discovery and keep it moving forward.

We then jump forward in time 50 years to see that time travel now occurs on a regular basis and that Margaret and the other two pioneering scientists now head up The Conclave, an elaborate complex that basically has a monopoly on time travel all over the world.  They run psychological screens and recruit candidates to become time travelers, they have their own currency system in place so that time travelers will always be able to have access to money no matter where they are in time, and they also have their own laws and courts so that they can police themselves through time.

When a dead body riddled with bullet holes turns up in the basement of a museum in 2018, however, it adds an extra twist to this time travel story by turning it into a murder mystery as well and lends itself to some very thought provoking questions.  How is this murder connected to the rest of the story?  Is the deceased from the timeline he or she was found in?  How do you catch a killer that could have come from and/or disappeared to any other point in time?

There’s a lot to love about this story but here are a few of my favorites:

Nearly all female cast of characters. If you enjoy a book with a full cast of strong female characters, then this is the book for you.  There is a minor male character or two in the book, but by and large, the story is led by women.  They have the brains, the power, the influence, and so on.  I won’t go so far as to say that all of the women in the story are likeable because Margaret really is the worst, but I will say that it is a diverse and very interesting group.

Psychological effects.  To play off the book’s title, the psychological effects on those who time travel were quite fascinating to read about.  The author clearly put a lot of thought into all of the possible reactions to having the ability to move back and forth through time.  For most who do it, it doesn’t really affect them much.  They jump forward and backwards in time, even encountering past and future versions of themselves and they don’t even bat an eye at it.  It doesn’t faze them a bit.

But then there are others who become obsessed with it.  Barbara, for example.  Once Margaret and the gang kick her out of their project, she spends most of the rest of her life obsessing about how to figure out a way back into their good graces and into the program because she’s desperate to time travel again.

Worldbuilding.  The worldbuilding in this story, especially with respect to the time traveling is just so intricate.   I thought it was brilliant that a time traveler could encounter older and younger versions of themselves. I also loved all the lingo the author came up with to describe time traveling itself and as well as the social structure within the Conclave.  I especially liked the idea that younger versions of yourself that you encountered were considered ‘Green’ while older versions of yourself that you encountered while time traveling were called ‘Silver.’

And yes, this is one seriously mind-bending book. The synopsis does not lie about that. LOL!  There were times when I expected to completely lose the plot because of all the intricate crisscrossing back and forth through time, but I’ll give the author major props in that she held on to all of the seemingly divergent threads of the story and managed to bring them all together to a cohesive and satisfying conclusion.

Ethical Questions.  I love a book that gives me food for thought and The Psychology of Time Travel definitely succeeded on that level.  In some ways the story can be quite disturbing, especially when it comes to the almost total disregard for danger and death that the time travelers have.  It’s like they’ve seen themselves and their loved ones at so many different points in the past and future that they’ve become immune to the idea of dying. It has no meaning for them.

The Conclave also seems to be ripe for corruption as they have such a monopoly on time travel and have their own rules and currency and court system.  The way they manipulate the system and move their money around to pay taxes whenever it’s most beneficial to them especially caught my attention.  I could see this book being a big hit with book clubs because there’s just so much to think about and discuss.  Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?

 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Psychology of Time Travel.  The only real issue I ran into was that partway through the book, the author added some extra POVs to the storytelling.  What the new perspectives added to the overall plot was vital so I understood why the author added them, but it was a little confusing since I had gotten so used to the original voices who were presenting the story.  The later additions also didn’t feel as developed as the earlier characters, which added to the challenge of keeping the characters and their places on the timeline straight in my mind.

Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel offers a fresh take on the concept of time traveling.  It’s equal parts science fiction and murder mystery, with a case study of the psychological effects of time travel thrown in for good measure. There’s really a little something for everyone.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Kate Mascarenhas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures comes The Psychology of Time Travel, a mind-bending, time-travel debut.

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.

 

four-stars

About Kate Mascarenhas

Kate Mascarenhas is a writer.

Born in 1980, she is of mixed heritage (white Irish father, brown British mother) and has family in Ireland and the Republic of Seychelles.

She studied English at Oxford and Applied Psychology at Derby. Her PhD, in literary studies and psychology, was completed at Worcester.

Since 2017 Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, bookbinder, and doll’s house maker. She lives in the English midlands with her partner.

Her new novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, is published in the UK by Head of Zeus. It will be available in the US from Crooked Lane in February 2019.

Early Review: ONCE UPON A RIVER

Early Review:  ONCE UPON A RIVEROnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
four-half-stars
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 480
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:

Years ago I read and fell in love with Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale.  Setterfield’s storytelling abilities and her atmospheric settings thoroughly captivated me and so when I read that she had a new novel coming out, Once Upon a River, I couldn’t get over to Netgalley fast enough so that I could request it.

I was a little nervous going in that my expectations were way too high just because I loved The Thirteenth Tale so much, but those fears were alleviated almost immediately as I was pulled into Once Upon a River’s magical tale right away.  The story itself follows several families who live in a town located near the Thames River and how their lives changed forever one winter night when an injured man staggered into the Swan Inn with a dead little girl in his arms.

The local nurse is summoned to examine both the man and the girl, and even though all signs indicate that the little girl is, in fact, dead, a few moments later, the girl inexplicably starts breathing again and opens her eyes.  No one can explain what has happened and the girl, who no one recognizes, including the man who found her and brought her to the inn, cannot speak so in addition to her miraculous and unexplainable return from the dead, her identity is also a mystery.

There is speculation that she is the long lost daughter of the Vaughn family, whose child was kidnapped two years before and hasn’t been seen since, but there is also the possibility that she could be the grandchild of Mr. Armstrong, whose mother was rumored to have killed herself and tried to drown her child in the river.

The townspeople are left with endless questions and so the search is on to figure out who the little girl is, what happened to her, while in the backs of everyone’s mind is the real question:  Was she really dead and if so, why isn’t she still dead?

I loved that Setterfield chooses to set Once Upon a River around the Thames River and that her version of the Thames has an almost mythological, supernatural quality to it.  My favorite bit of folklore attributed to the river in this tale is Mr. Quietly, the boatman who appears to those who find themselves in distress in the river.  It is said that Quietly will either escort you safely to land if it’s not your time to go, but that if it is your time, he will escort you to the “other side of the river.”  At its heart, Once Upon a River is about stories and folklore and how they can shape and influence people’s lives and so the river and all of the lore surrounding it really helps to lend an atmospheric quality to the story as a whole.

The story is actually so atmospheric and embedded with lore that for the characters in the story, the lines between the real and the imagined at times become blurred and this adds to the appeal of the story because Once Upon a River also contains this mystery about the little girl that must be solved.  It’s hard to talk about the mystery without giving away too much, but I will say that Setterfield crafts the mystery in such a way that it unfolds almost like a fairytale.  In fact, the whole book almost reads as if it’s a fairytale.  It has that quality of magical realism that we often see in books like those of Alice Hoffman or even Neil Gaiman.

I also found the cast of characters Setterfield creates to be an endearing bunch.  The appearance of the mysterious little girl opens up a lot of old wounds for those in the town who have lost a child.  It actually hurts to watch so many people get their hopes up about this little girl, knowing that she can only belong to one family, which means many others will end up disappointed and crushed by the loss all over again.

In contrast to those families who are haunted by this girl, there are also the other townsfolk who, although they aren’t really the focus of Once Upon a River, they still add a richness to the story because they all fancy themselves storytellers and they all latch on to the events of that fateful night and spin tale after tale, adding whatever creative details suit the purposes of their individual stories.  The storytellers ultimately end up infusing the girl’s story into the existing lore of the river, further blurring those lines between the real and the magical/supernatural.

I’d also like to speak a bit on the pacing of the novel.  If you’re expecting a fast-paced thrill ride as the mystery in Once Upon a River unfolds, you will probably be disappointed.  This is a mystery that unfolds at its own pace, where the reader is meant to savor each detail and each clue as they are revealed.  You’re meant to observe all of these seemingly unrelated characters and how they each share a possible connection to the little girl.  Yes, there are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected surprises, but the reveal builds slowly over time.  I will say that I typically prefer my mysteries to be fast-paced, but Setterfield makes the slower pace really work here.  I don’t think the story would have had such a magical feel to it if the pace had been faster.

One last element of the story that really appealed to me was that it also included the use of scientific experimentation to try to explain away the unexplainable.  I loved that although Nurse Rita feels the same draw to this little girl that everyone else feels, her scientific mind won’t let her just accept what has happened and move on.  She won’t be satisfied until she has tested every possible hypothesis for why the girl was dead but then wasn’t.  I really liked the balance between Rita’s scientific curiosity and the supernatural elements throughout Once Upon a River.

NONE!

If you’re looking for an atmospheric mystery that reads like a fairytale, look no further than Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.  It’s truly an exquisite piece of storytelling.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

four-half-stars

About Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel is Bellman & Black (2013), an unusual genre-defying meditation on workaholism, Victorian mourning ritual and rooks, and her third, Once Upon a River, will be published in early 2019.

Born in rural Berkshire, Diane spent most of her childhood in the village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.

The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in North Yorkshire and broadcast by BBC2 in 2013.

Diane now lives in Oxford by the Thames. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’

Mini Reviews: ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION'Twas the Knife Before Christmas by Jacqueline Frost
four-stars
Series: A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 23, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Cozy Mystery
Pages: 246
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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A Christmas delight, ’Twas the Knife Before Christmas will charm the stockings off readers of Joanne Fluke and Leslie Meier.

It’s out of the cupcake tin, into the fire for Holly White’s best friend, Caroline. Can Holly clear Caroline’s name in time to go caroling?

When a body turns up in the dumpster behind Caroline’s Cupcakes, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect. Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine’s sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death. Worse, Caroline’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, a custom-designed marble rolling pin.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly’s up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle. Juggling extra shifts at her family’s Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle—and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder. Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and run-ins with an ex-fiancé looking to make amends, and Holly’s ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody. Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas…even after she gains the true killer’s attention? Find out in ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost’s second pine-scented Christmas Tree Farm mystery.

Review:

If you’re looking for a delightful Christmas-themed cozy murder mystery, Jacqueline Frost’s ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is sure to please.  The story is set in Mistletoe, which is a charming little town in Maine, and boy, do these folks love Christmas!  For all of you Gilmore Girls fans out there, imagine Stars Hollow but all decked out for the holidays.  That was the vibe I got the entire time I was reading and I loved it.

The story follows Holly White and her quest to clear her best friend, Caroline, who happens to be a suspect in a murder that has rocked this quaint little Christmas town.  During the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, a man is found dead, stabbed and dumped into a giant dish of peppermint candies.  The last person seen with him was Caroline, the town’s beloved owner of Caroline’s Cupcakes, and they were having a pretty heated argument.  Although no one can believe their sweet Caroline could possibly be a murderer, she still finds herself a suspect.  Holly, in particular, knows her friend is innocent and makes it her mission to prove Caroline’s innocence and find the real killer, even if she drives her boyfriend, the town’s sheriff, crazy in the process.

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is filled with characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Holly, Caroline, and Sheriff Evan are all very likable, and some of the secondary characters are so quirky and fun that they practically steal the show. There’s Cookie Cutter who likes to brew “special” tea that is sure to put an extra kick in your step, a la Peppermint Schnapps, and then there’s Ray, who is so overprotective of his mother because she’s dating a new man, that he spends most of the book sneaking around spying on their dates.  Oh, and I can’t forget Holly’s cat, who has the best pet name ever, Cindy Loo Who.  Between the fabulous characters and a murder mystery that has plenty of twists and turns to keep the story interesting, I can’t recommend ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas highly enough. Cozy mystery fans are sure to love it!  4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATIONA Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry
Also by this author: Twenty-One Days (Daniel Pitt, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: Christmas Stories #16
Published by Ballantine Books on November 6, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Mystery
Pages: 192
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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this intriguing, uplifting holiday mystery from bestselling author Anne Perry, an orphan boy investigates a woman's kidnapping--and discovers there's more at stake than a disappearance.

It wouldn't quite be Christmas without a holiday mystery decorated with all the Victorian trimmings as only New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry can render it. Now the tradition continues as mayhem is once again found under the mistletoe, and intrigue stalks the cobblestone streets and gaslit parlors of old London Town.

Formerly a river urchin living on the banks of the Thames, nine-year-old Worm has never experienced a family Christmas. But thanks to a job at Hester Monk's clinic in Portpool Lane, he's found a makeshift family in kindly Miss Claudine Burroughs and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson.

When Worm witnesses the abduction of a beautiful woman by a pair of ruffians just days before Christmas, he frantically turns to Squeaky for help. A one-time brothel owner, Squeaky knows the perils of interfering in nasty business, but he can't bear to disappoint Worm--or leave the boy to attempt a rescue on his own. What neither of the would-be saviors expects, however, is that the damsel in distress already has her dilemma well in hand . . . and is taking steps to bring her captors to justice for crimes far worse than kidnapping. But the rogues, as cunning as they are deadly, are not to be underestimated. The aid of cynical old Squeaky and hopeful young Worm just might make the difference between a merry triumph over evil and a terrible yuletide tragedy.

Review:

A Christmas Revelation is the latest installment of Anne Perry’s Christmas Stories series, which takes characters from some of Perry’s other popular series and inserts them into holiday-themed stories of their own.  This was my first time reading one of these holiday stories and I’m pleased to say that overall, even though they’re supposed to be part of a series, A Christmas Revelation still works quite well as a standalone.

The story follows a nine-year old boy nicknamed Worm, who used to live on his own as a street urchin until he got himself a job at Hester Monk’s clinic.  That job also brought him a makeshift family in the form of the always kind Miss Claudine and especially in the cynical and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper, Squeaky.  Squeaky is a man who prefers to mind his own business at all costs, but when Worm comes to him, completely distraught because he thinks he has witnessed a woman being abducted, Squeaky promises Worm, against his better judgment, that he’ll help him find and rescue the woman, if she really is, in fact, in distress.  Squeaky also realizes while he and Worm are playing detective and trying to locate the missing woman, that Worm has never had a real Christmas before so he makes it his mission to deliver a real family Christmas for Worm and to explain to him the true meaning of Christmas.

What I enjoyed most about this story was that it was a nice balance between the mystery of what happened to the woman Worm saw and the Christmas aspect that Squeaky introduces.  The story also boasts what felt like a truly authentic Victorian London setting.  It felt so Dickensian that I half expected Worm and Squeaky to rush around a corner and run smack dab into Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  I also especially liked the idea that the holidays make us want to be our best selves, as is witnessed by Squeaky’s efforts to not disappoint Worm and to bring Christmas to him for the first time.  I think the story would have worked even better for me if I had known a little more of the background of these two characters, but overall it was still a great holiday read. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Anne Perry

Anne Perry (born Juliet Hulme) is a British historical novelist.

Juliet took the name “Anne Perry,” the latter being her stepfather’s surname. Her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, was published under this name in 1979. Her works generally fall into one of several categories of genre fiction, including historical murder mysteries and detective fiction. Many of them feature a number of recurring characters, most importantly Thomas Pitt, who appeared in her first novel, and amnesiac private investigator William Monk, who first appeared in her 1990 novel The Face of a Stranger. As of 2003 she had published 47 novels, and several collections of short stories. Her story “Heroes,” which first appeared the 1999 anthology Murder and Obsession, edited by Otto Penzler, won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

Recently she was included as an entry in Ben Peek’s Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a novel exploring the nature of truth in literature.

Series contributed to:
. Crime Through Time
. Perfectly Criminal
. Malice Domestic
. The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories
. Transgressions
. The Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories

About Jacqueline Frost

Jacqueline Frost is a mystery-loving pet enthusiast who hopes to make readers smile. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three spunky children. Jacqueline is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Review: THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS by Sarah Morgan

Review:  THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS by Sarah MorganThe Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan
four-stars
Published by Hqn on September 25, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday
Pages: 407
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:

 

Sarah Morgan’s The Christmas Sisters follows the story of Suzanne McBride and her three adopted daughters Hannah, Beth, and Posy.  Suzanne and Posy live in the Scottish Highlands, while Hannah and Beth have made their homes in New York City.  This year Suzanne is ecstatic because all three of her girls are coming home for Christmas and she has made it her mission in life to put together the perfect cozy Christmas for them all.  But all doesn’t go according to plan, however, because each of her daughters seem to be going through some personal drama that is weighing them down and creating tension.

When Suzanne falls ill and her plans for the perfect family Christmas start to fall apart, can her daughters set aside their own personal drama, embrace the holiday spirit, and come together to spread some Christmas cheer of their own?

The Christmas Sisters was just such an easy book to fall in love with and that’s mainly because of the complex, well drawn characters that Morgan has created with the McBride daughters.

Hannah, the eldest, is the workaholic of the group and she’s hesitant to come home because she has a life-altering secret that she has been hiding from her family.

Beth, the middle daughter, is also dealing with issues of her own.  She’s a stay-at-home mom who no longer wants to stay at home and is trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Posy, the youngest daughter, is pretty content living near her parents.  She is, however, starting to get the itch to spread her wings and travel.  She’s conflicted though because her parents really do depend on her for so much. She doesn’t want to take off and abandon them.

I really loved these characters.  Each daughter’s personality is so well-developed and realistically drawn that I felt like they could be my own family members.  I also found the personal issues they were each dealing with to be so relatable that it was just easy to connect with each of them and become invested in their journeys. They’ve also each been burdened for years by the family tragedy that took their birth parents’ lives, a tragedy that they all refuse to talk about, even though it still clearly weighs on them.  I was just really rooting for them to come together, share their secrets and problems with one another because that’s what sisters are for, and just really push through all the tension and awkwardness and just bond.

In addition to these marvelous characters, I also adored the setting of the book.  Morgan captures the beauty and the remote atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands perfectly.  I could practically feel the chill in the air every time she described the setting and it made me want to grab a cup of cocoa and sit in front of a warm fire.  Those descriptions and the feelings they conveyed made The Christmas Sisters a perfect holiday read.

The only real issue I had with the book was that I found myself frustrated with Beth, not because of her choice to go back to work, but rather because of who she chose to go to work for, a toxic boss from her past.  I won’t give away anymore details than that, but I’ll just say she had me shaking my head so much.  Even though Beth’s story frustrated and annoyed me at times, I give major props to Morgan for creating such a realistic scenario here.  I could totally see a stay-at-home mom trying to go back to work ending up in a similar situation.

With her new novel The Christmas Sisters, Sarah Morgan has crafted a heartwarming family tale that is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. This was my first time reading a novel from Sarah Morgan, but it definitely won’t be my last!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?

four-stars

About Sarah Morgan

USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes romance and contemporary women’s fiction and her trademark humour and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. She is a 3 time winner of the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and has been nominated five times. Sarah lives near London, England, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves being outdoors.

Look out for THE CHRISTMAS SISTERS, a festive family drama out now!

Review: Four Reasons Why SADIE Should Be on Your Reading List

Review:  Four Reasons Why SADIE Should Be on Your Reading ListSadie by Courtney Summers
five-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on September 4, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 311
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Sadie by Courtney Summers is, by far, one of the most heart-wrenching and unforgettable books I’ve read this year.  Nineteen-year-old Sadie and her younger sister Mattie were abandoned by their mother.  Sadie therefore has spent much of her young life acting as both mother and big sister to Mattie, even quitting school so that she could work to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Mattie is Sadie’s whole world, so when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s world comes crashing down around her.

Sadie is convinced she knows who killed Mattie and sets out after him, determined to bring Mattie’s killer to justice.  When her neighbors realize Sadie has gone missing, in addition to contacting local law enforcement, they also begin talking to West McCray, a radio personality, in hopes that he will use his connections to help them find Sadie before something happens to her.  While at first reluctant to get involved, West McCray soon becomes obsessed with tracking down the missing girl.

And so we follow Sadie as she tracks a killer, and we follow McCray as he tracks Sadie.  And wow, what a journey this is.  Sadie is dark, gritty, emotionally raw, and just downright brutal.  I don’t want to give away any plot details so I’ll just say that Sadie is a powerful story that is going to stick with me for a long time and then I’m going to share some reasons why I think you should give Sadie a try as well.

 

4 REASONS WHY SADIE SHOULD BE ON YOUR READING LIST:

 

  1. Sadie.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cared about a character as much as I cared about Sadie.  She had already been through so much because her mother was such a dud, and then tried to make the best of a bad situation by throwing herself into taking care of her sister, only to have her sister taken away too.  Who can come away from that intact?  My heart just bled for this emotionally wrecked girl who makes the decision to go after her sister’s killer.  She feels like she has absolutely nothing left to lose at this point because she’s already lost it all.

 

  1. Unique Storytelling Format. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Sadie and from those who are involved in the search for her.  The other perspectives are presented as part of an eight-episode podcast that West McCray has put together.  He gives his thoughts as he searches for Sadie and he shares interviews with people he has encountered who can provide information on the whereabouts of both Sadie and the elusive man she is after.  I liked this unique format and thought it very effectively moved both Sadie’s journey and McCray’s investigation along at a nice pace.

 

  1. The Suspense is Off the Charts. My fear for Sadie’s safety was the overall driving factor.  The author paints Sadie’s desperation, despair, and determination so vividly that the suspense just built steadily throughout until the book reaches its unforgettable conclusion.  I read this book in just a couple of sittings because I couldn’t put it down until I knew Sadie’s fate.  The author also does a brilliant job of making both journeys equally compelling.  Would Sadie catch the killer?  And if so, then what?  Or would McCray find Sadie first?  And again, if so, then what?

 

  1. All the Feels. If you like a book that gets to you on this level, Sadie is a book that is pretty much guaranteed to get an emotional reaction of out you.  It was an emotional roller coaster for me. Sometimes I was so angry and outraged, while at other times, I just felt so sad and heartbroken.  And yes, there were tears.  This book is by no means a light read; it deals with many dark themes, including abuse, and it’s a powerful read that won’t let go even after you finish.  It’s actually quite haunting in that sense.

 

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

five-stars

About Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario, 1986. At age 14, she dropped out of high school. At age 18, she wrote her first novel. Cracked Up to Be was published in 2008, when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBIL award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more critically acclaimed books: Some Girls Are, Fall for Anything, This is Not a Test and All the Rage, as well as an e-novella, Please Remain Calm which is a sequel to This is Not a Test. Her new novel, Sadie, is available now wherever books are sold. #findsadie

In 2016, Courtney was named one of Flare Magazine’s 60 under 30.

MIni Reviews: SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THAT

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATSea Witch by Sarah Henning
three-half-stars
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on July 31, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 368
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.

Review:

What always impresses me about fairytale retellings is how authors are able to take a beloved story that we all know so well and somehow manage to put their own completely unique spin on it to turn it into something fresh and new.  Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch is the third Little Mermaid retelling I’ve read recently and I found myself wondering if Henning could really bring anything to the table that I hadn’t already read.  Well, spoiler alert, she can and does!  With Sea Witch, Henning offers up a compelling origin story for resident villain, Ursula the Sea Witch.  It’s filled with memorable characters, a vivid and atmosphere setting, and a storyline peppered with mystery, secrets, and lies.

I was sympathetic to Evie, the main character, because of a tragedy that takes the life of her best friend, Anna.  Evie and Anna were out swimming and while they were racing each other, Anna drowns.  Evie survives but is shunned as an outcast by everyone in the small fishing town she lives in.  They see her as a witch or curse.  The exception to that is Prince Nik, who although he is royalty, has never cared what anyone thinks of him or Evie.  She is one of his best friends and like a sister to him.  Nik is a fantastic character for a lot of reasons.  He’s handsome and kind, hilarious and somewhat of a dork at times, and really just downright loveable.  Honestly, he was my favorite character.

I was also drawn in by both the worldbuilding and the storyline itself, which is a fairytale wrapped in a mystery.  The story is set in Havnestad, a small fishing town, and the author paints such a vivid picture that I could practically hear the waves crashing and the wind whipping through the ships’ sails, and taste and smell the salt in the air.  I also liked that the story had a dark, almost moody feel to it at times. It was so atmospheric that it was very easy to slip into the mystery and follow it until it leads to the “birth” of the Sea Witch.

Sea Witch is pretty well-paced overall, although I’ll admit it did lag a little for me during a festival early on in the story.  However, once the mysterious Annemette, who bears an almost eerie resemblance to the drowned Anna, appears on the scene and unloads her secrets on Evie, the mystery intensifies and the pace quickens.  The mystery of who Annemette really is, why she has come to Havnestad, and what she wants from Evie kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Even with my slight issue with the pacing and my liking a secondary character a little more than the main character, I still quite enjoyed Sea Witch and think fans of The Little Mermaid will love it.  3.5 STARS

 

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATGood Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson tragically passes away, she leaves one final wish for her best friends: to conquer the fears they still carry as adults.

For each of them, that means something different. For Marley, it's coming to terms with the survivor's guilt she's carried around since her twin sister's death, which has left her blind to the real chance for romance in her life. For Georgia, it's about learning to stop trying to live up to her mother's and brother's ridiculous standards, and learning to accept the love her ex-husband has tried to give her.

But as Marley and Georgia grow stronger, the real meaning of Emerson's dying wish becomes truly clear: more than anything, she wanted her friends to love themselves.

Review:

Wow, talk about a book that packs an emotional punch!  Good Luck with That was my first time reading anything by Kristan Higgins and I was not at all prepared for how hard hitting this story was going to be.  This is a story that tackles a tough but all too relevant issue for many of us – that of body image and how so many people have a tendency to define their sense of self-worth based on how they look and, especially in this story, how much they weigh.

The story follows three friends, Emerson, Georgia, and Marley, who have been friends since they were teens and met at a weight loss camp.  When Emerson tragically passes away, her dying wish is for her two best friends to complete the tasks on a list they made as teenagers, a list of things they would do when they finally became skinny.  While some of the items on the list now seem silly to Georgia and Marley, they make it their mission to fulfill Emerson’s last wish.  This becomes an emotional and sometimes painful journey for both women as they not only strive to face their lifelong fears and complete the tasks on this list but are also forced to reflect on choices that they’ve made throughout their lives.  Their perspectives are rounded out as we are also given Emerson’s thoughts as her life and health become increasingly fragile, as seen through the pages of the journal she kept.  It was hard to read at times but I thought Higgins did an incredible job of making it all sound so real and so honest.

While Good Luck with That can be an emotionally draining read at times, ultimately I think it just has such an important message and it’s one that I hope will stick with me long after having finished this book. Emerson wants Georgia and Marley to come away from that list knowing that life is too short and it’s so important to just love yourself as you are.  You can’t sit around and not live your life to the fullest just because you aren’t whatever your eyes or society’s eyes thinks is the ideal body shape and size.

This may not be a read for everyone as it does deal with such a tough topic, but I think Higgins handles it with great sensitivity and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is in search of a powerful read about body image and self-worth.  4 STARS.

three-half-stars

About Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her books have been honored with dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books and Romantic Times. She is a two-time winner of the RITA award from Romance Writers of America and a five-time nominee for the Kirkus Prize for best work of fiction. She is happily married to a heroic firefighter and the mother of two fine children.

About Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning is a recovering journalist who has worked for the Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. While in South Florida, Sarah lived and worked through five hurricanes, which gave her an extreme respect for the ocean. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, which, despite being extremely far from the beach, happens to be pretty cool.

Review: THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer Armentrout

Review:  THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer ArmentroutThe Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout
four-stars
Series: Origin #1
Published by Tor Teen on October 30, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science 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:

With her latest novel The Darkest Star, Jennifer Armentrout pays another visit to the Luxens, the alien beings who are featured in her popular Lux series.  When I first requested The Darkest Star, I actually had no idea that it was a spinoff of an existing series.  I was just looking for a sci-fi read and thought the synopsis for this book sounded cool.  Once I realized it followed another series, I was a little worried that I would be completely lost.  Thankfully, however, Armentrout does a very nice job of providing enough background on the Luxens that I was able to jump right in and follow the story without issue.

When The Darkest Star opens, we learn that the story is set four years after a Luxen invasion has left many dead and many of the Earth’s cities in ruins.  Not all of the Luxen were involved in the invasion, however, so some of them are now living right alongside the humans.  That’s not to say that relations between the humans and Luxens are great though.  While the two groups leave each other alone for the most part, there are definitely some humans who would rather have absolutely nothing to do with the Luxens.  Armentrout creates a palpable tension in the air in most of the scenes featuring humans and Luxens because they ultimately don’t trust each other.

That mistrust is evident as soon as we meet the main character, 17 year old Evie Dasher, who is accompanying her best friend to a club which happens to be a known hangout for Luxens.  Evie goes because she promised her friend, but she is definitely uneasy about it. Evie’s night then takes an unexpected turn when she meets and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a gorgeous Luxen named Luc.  Something seems familiar about him, but Evie has no idea why since she’s never met him before.  She’s about to get to know him a lot better though…

One of the things I really liked about The Darkest Star is that it really starts off with a bang.  Armentrout hooked me immediately by not only having her main character wander into this Luxen club, but she then adds to the tension and the danger by having law enforcement raid the club, which of course sends everyone in a frenzy trying to get away.

At the same time she’s hooking me with such an exciting opening, Armentrout also introduces me to Evie and Luc, two characters that I immediately liked and wanted to get to know better.  Evie is a great protagonist.  It was easy to feel sympathetic toward her right away because we learn that her father was killed in the invasion and her mother is always working so Evie is on her own more often than not.  I also liked watching her feelings about the Luxens evolve as she gets to know Luc and some of his Luxen friends better.

Speaking of Luc, he’s the one who really steals the show.  Like all Luxens, he’s unnaturally hot.  Luc is also an arrogant smart ass.  He really gets under Evie’s skin from the moment they meet and most of the time she can’t decide if she wants to punch him or kiss him.  He’s endearing in a really obnoxious way.  I often found myself laughing out loud at some of the words that would come out of his mouth.  He’s also immediately super protective of Evie, so that gives him some bonus points to offset the obnoxiousness.

The Luxens are fascinating too.  As I mentioned earlier, they are ridiculously hot.  Unless they are trying to disguise themselves, they always stand out as the hottest, most flawless people in the room.  They also have an interesting array of powers, including being able to open locked doors, melt guns, and read minds, to name a few.  I also found myself sympathetic to the Luxens because of how they are viewed by so many humans. Even though this is science fiction, there are many parallels between how the Luxens are treated and how immigrants are sometimes treated.

Last but not least, I liked that this is one of those books that has a little something for everyone.  It’s a great action-packed sci-fi story, but it’s also got a great mix of romance and family drama.  Throw in a few dead bodies, another species of aliens, a heavy dose of danger, and you’ve got yourself one heck of an entertaining story!

 

The only real issue I had while reading was that I did wish I knew a little more about the Luxens and their powers.  That’s totally on me though for not having read the earlier series first.  Even without that information, I still thought it was a great start to a new series.

Whether you’re already a fan of the Luxens or you’re new to this world, The Darkest Star has a lot to offer.  It has left me not only wanting the next book in this new series, but also eager to backtrack and read the earlier series to fill my need for more information on the Luxens.  If you’re looking for a great sci-fi read, check out The Darkest Star.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When seventeen-year-old Evie Dasher is caught up in a raid at a notorious club known as one of the few places where humans and the surviving Luxen can mingle freely, she meets Luc, an unnaturally beautiful guy she initially assumes is a Luxen…but he is in fact something much more powerful. Her growing attraction for Luc will lead her deeper and deeper into a world she’d only heard about, a world where everything she thought she knew will be turned on its head…

#1 New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout returns to the universe of the Lux in this brand new series, featuring beloved characters both new and old.

four-stars

About Jennifer L. Armentrout

# 1 New York Times and # 1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Charles Town, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki. In early 2015, Jennifer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and death of cells in the retina, eventually resulting in loss of vision, among other complications. Due to this diagnosis, educating people on the varying degrees of blindness has become of passion of hers, right alongside writing, which she plans to do as long as she can.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Tor, HarperCollins Avon and William Morrow, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her Wicked Series has been optioned by PassionFlix. Jennifer has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Reviewers Choice Award for Wait for You, the 2015 Editor’s Pick for Fall With Me, and the 2014/2015 Moerser-Jugendbuch- Jury award for Obsidian. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA. Her adult romantic suspense novel TILL DEATH was a Amazon Editor’s Pick and iBook Book of the Month. Her young adult contemporary THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER is a 2017 RITA Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction. She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

She is the owner of ApollyCon and The Origin Event, the successful annual events that features over hundred bestselling authors in Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult Fiction, panels, parties, and more. She is also the creator and sole financier of the annual Write Your Way To RT Book Convention, a contest that gives aspiring authors a chance to win a fully paid trip to RT Book Reviews.

Jennifer would love to hear from you. If you have questions about any of her books, would like to set up an interview, book signing, etc, please use the email address below. Please check out each book/series individual page for more information about each title and the FAQ section.

For rights information on any of her titles, please contact Kevan Lyon from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. For interviews, please contact Kristin Dwyer at kdwyer@leoprny.com

If you are requesting an ARC please contact the publisher of that book.

To contact Jennifer directly, please email: jenniferlarmentrout@live.com

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILD

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDCity of Bones by Cassandra Clare
four-stars
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 27, 2007
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 485
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...

Review:

I think I’m probably the last person on the planet to start reading the Mortal Instruments series, but finally decided on jump on the bandwagon as part of this year’s Beat the Backlist challenge.  I was looking for a fun and entertaining vacation read and City of Bones, the first book in this series, really fit the bill.  It’s a bit of a brick at 458 pages, but Cassandra Clare’s writing style is so fast-paced that I breezed right through the book in just a few sittings.

The worldbuilding was probably the biggest attraction for me in City of Bones. It was a fascinating journey to follow the protagonist, Clarissa Fray (Clary), as she learns about the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, a fantasy world that has been hidden in plain sight in NYC around her all her life.  The author does a fantastic job of weaving into her tale pretty much any kind of supernatural character you can imagine.  There are vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, demons, and of course the Shadowhunters, who are warriors tasked with ridding the world of demons.

Aside from the fantastic worldbuilding, the characters were also a huge draw.  I was a little slow to warm up to Clary at first (I’m not even sure why honestly), but I immediately became sympathetic to her when her mother goes missing and Clary is attacked by a demon in her own home.  I especially warmed up to Clary as she began to interact with the Shadowhunters, especially Jace, who is handsome but kind of an arrogant jerk at times. (I do have to give Jace bonus points though since he is willing to help Clary find her mom.)  The author writes some hilarious banter between Jace and Clary, as well as between Jace, Alec, and Isabelle, some of Jace’s fellow Shadowhunters.  They were a fun group and I especially liked how they all had each other’s backs even in the most dangerous of situations.  Clary’s friend Simon added some entertaining nerdiness to the dynamic as well.

Even though most people have probably already long since read City of Bones, I still don’t want to give away any spoiler, so I’m just going to say that the mystery of what has happened to Clary’s mother and why Clary suddenly finds herself attacked by demons really takes the reader on a journey filled with wild and crazy plot twists.  There was never a dull moment and I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.  I’ve read complaints that the story borrows from the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more, and while I did see some resemblance, it didn’t bother me and I still enjoyed the story overall.  The star I took off is primarily because I smelled an unnecessary love triangle brewing.  4 STARS.

 

Backlist Briefs:  Mini Reviews for CITY OF BONES & THE CHILDThe Child by Fiona Barton
three-half-stars
Series: Kate Waters #2
Published by Berkley Books on December 14, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

‘An engrossing, irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried secret.

When a paragraph in an evening newspaper reveals a decades-old tragedy, most readers barely give it a glance. But for three strangers it’s impossible to ignore.

For one woman, it’s a reminder of the worst thing that ever happened to her.

For another, it reveals the dangerous possibility that her darkest secret is about to be discovered.

And for the third, a journalist, it’s the first clue in a hunt to uncover the truth.

The Child’s story will be told.

Review:

Fiona Barton’s The Child is a compelling story about what happens when a long-buried secret unexpectedly rears its head and threatens to shatter lives.  It follows the story of what happens when construction workers who are demolishing a house uncover the skeleton of an infant.  For most, since forensics indicate the skeleton has been there for decades, the tragedy is barely a blip on their radar, but for three women, the discovery practically turns their lives upside down.

Emma is haunted by the discovery of the skeletal remains because she fears her darkest secret is about to be revealed for all the world (and especially for her mother Jude) to see.  Not unlike Emma, Angela sees the infant’s death as a reminder of the worst thing that has ever happened to her but is also somewhat hopeful that the discovery could bring her the closure she has never gotten over the years.  And then finally, there’s Kate, a journalist who makes it her mission in life to find out who this infant is and how she ended up buried in someone’s backyard decades ago.  I thought the author did a wonderful job of fleshing out each of these characters as well as their motivations for paying such close attention to what happens every step along the way as the skeletal remains are investigated in hopes of identifying the infant.

The main issue I had with The Child was the fact that even though I was interested in why each character reacted the way they did to the discovery of the remains, I can’t say that I really connected with any of them.  I felt like a bystander watching everything play out and waiting to see whose life would be the most turned upside down as the events unfolded.  Aside from not really connecting with the characters, I also felt like the plot, although very interesting, moved very slowly at times. It was very easy to set the book down and just come back to it whenever.

Overall, The Child is still a very solid mystery that, even with the pacing issues, I still wanted to know all the answers to.  And if you can hang around until the end, Holy Plot Twist, Batman! I totally did not see the ending coming!  3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.

Since her family moved around so much she found familiarity in books and went everywhere with a book under her arm. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates, including an epic novel called “The Beautiful Cassandra” based on a Jane Austen short story of the same name (and which later inspired her current pen name).

After college, Cassie lived in Los Angeles and New York where she worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina’s world travels and Britney Spears’ wardrobe malfunctions. She started working on her YA novel, City of Bones, in 2004, inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. She turned to writing fantasy fiction full time in 2006 and hopes never to have to write about Paris Hilton again.

Cassie’s first professional writing sale was a short story called “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord” in a Baen anthology of humor fantasy. Cassie hates working at home alone because she always gets distracted by reality TV shows and the antics of her two cats, so she usually sets out to write in local coffee shops and restaurants. She likes to work in the company of her friends, who see that she sticks to her deadlines.

City of Bones was her first novel.

About Fiona Barton

In Barton’s own words…

“My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.

But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know.

It took the liberation of my career change to turn that fascination into a tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the man suspected of the crime, the detective leading the hunt, the journalist covering the case and the mother of the victim.

Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists.

It gave me the confidence to write a second book ,The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. It begins with the discovery of a newborn’s skeleton on a building site. It only makes a paragraph in an evening newspaper but for three women it’s impossible to ignore.

The Child will be published in June 2017 and I am embarking on my next novel. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.”