Review: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally Hepworth

Review:  THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally HepworthThe Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Also by this author: The Family Next Door
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 23, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW Review

 

Sally Hepworth is quickly becoming a go-to author for me when I’m in the mood for domestic dramas and mysteries.  Her latest novel, The Mother-In-Law is no exception, with Hepworth delivering both a compelling family drama as well as a riveting mystery.

The novel focuses on two women, Diana and Lucy.  Diana is Lucy’s mother-in-law and the two of them have a very uncomfortable relationship, to put it mildly.  Even though they have known each other for 10 years, Diana still treats Lucy like a stranger. Lucy can’t figure out why Diana seems to hate her so much and at a certain point, has just given up on trying.  Lucy and her husband Oliver have a good life together, only making contact with Diana when necessary, and such is their life.  That is, until a phone call from the police informs them that Diana is dead and that it is an apparent suicide based on some evidence found at the scene.  Lucy and Oliver are shocked because Diana is the most formidable person they’ve ever known and the last person they would expect to commit suicide.  When the coroner’s report comes back, however, the possibility that it was actually murder is suddenly on the table and the police begin investigating.

So many questions immediately start swirling about.  If Diana did take her own life, why?  If foul play was involved, who could possibly want to hurt her and why?

*****

If you like complicated characters, then this is your book because Diana is about as complicated as they come.  She has devoted much of her life to charitable causes and is a beloved and respected member of her community because of this.  Diana’s altruistic nature does not apparently extend to her actual family members. Even though she’s a very wealthy woman, Diana expects her children to stand up on their own two feet and make lives for themselves without handouts from her.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it certainly creates some uncomfortable and tense moments when her children find themselves struggling.  It doesn’t make Diana the easiest character to warm up to, but it definitely made me curious about her.

Where Diana is a character that is hard to warm up to, Lucy, on the other hand, is a character I loved immediately.  She lost her mother to cancer when she was only 13 years old, so when Lucy falls in love with Diana’s son Oliver and agrees to marry him, she’s over the moon about meeting Diana.  She can’t wait to finally have a mother-figure back in her life and goes out of her way to make sure she’s as likeable as possible at their first meeting.  Her dream is shattered immediately, however, when it becomes clear Diana has no interest in her.  It’s not that Diana is mean to Lucy because that’s not her nature, it’s more that she’s completely standoffish – as polite as she knows she has to be, but otherwise, basically a cold fish.  Their relationship starts off that way, and even after 10 years of marriage, it’s still pretty much the same.  This made me immediately sympathetic to Lucy and had me shaking my head at Diana and saying “OMG, why are you like this?”

Aside from the way Hepworth draws her characters, one of my favorite parts of The Mother-In-Law is how she weaves together her tale.  She effectively moves the story back and forth between the different characters’ perspectives, particularly Diana’s and Lucy’s, and between the past and present to gradually paint for her readers not only a complete portrait of Diana, but also toward the answer that we are ultimately all waiting for: what really happened to Diana.  I thought Hepworth’s choice of these elements was a perfect way to unravel both the mystery of Diana herself and of her death. Getting little glimpses into Diana’s earlier life gave me a much greater understanding as to why she’s the way she is, which in turn made me more sympathetic to her.

Other highlights of The Mother-In-Law for me were its quick pacing, its suspenseful plot twists, and the fact that the story was never predictable.  The ending, in particular, shocked me because I didn’t see it coming, not even for a single second!

Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-In-Law is a riveting read from start to finish.  Unraveling the mystery of Diana and why she is the way she is kept me turning the pages just as much as the desire to know what happened to her and if anyone else was responsible.  Hepworth’s books have been compared to those of Liane Moriarty, and I think the comparison is a good one.  If you’re into domestic dramas and mysteries with plenty of twists and turns, The Mother-In-Law is the perfect read for you.  It definitely made me appreciate how simple and uncomplicated my relationship with my own mother-in-law is.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they’ll never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships.

four-stars

About Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016) and The Mother’s Promise (2017), and The Family Next Door (Feb 2018). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.

Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.

Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.

Early Review: THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang

Early Review:  THE BRIDE TEST by Helen HoangThe Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Also by this author: The Kiss Quotient
five-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #2
Published by BERKLEY on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Kiss Quotient
Source: a Blog Giveaway
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE BRIDE TEST Review

 

After falling in love with Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest book, The Bride Test.  I was fortunate enough to win a copy of an ARC in a giveaway at jennifertarheelreader.com and dove into the book this past weekend.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous that The Bride Test wouldn’t be able to live up to my very high expectations, but I’m happy to report that I loved it.  So much so that I devoured the book in less than 24 hours!  In addition to being a really sweet and sexy romance, The Bride Test also features so much more.  It’s also a powerful and heartfelt read that takes on important topics such as grief and mourning, what it’s like to live with autism, and also what it’s like to be an immigrant who comes to America looking for a better way of life.

I adored the main characters, Khai Diep and Esme Tran, from the first moment I met them.  Khai is just precious.  He is autistic and doesn’t think that he is capable of feeling emotions.  He feels nothing while attending the funeral of one of his best friends and just shies away from most relationships because he thinks everyone deserves better than what he can offer them.  Khai’s mother isn’t buying it though.  She  wants grandbabies and makes it her mission in life to find the perfect girl for Khai.  When she has a chance encounter with Esme, a single mom living in Vietnam, she knows Esme is the right girl and makes her a surprising and somewhat shocking offer – she will pay for Esme to come to America if Esme is willing to do whatever it takes to win Khai’s heart.  Esme sees this as her best chance to secure a better life for herself and for her daughter, so she accepts the offer.  Esme won my heart right away because she’s incredibly brave and resourceful, working on a backup plan for herself so that even if things don’t go well with Khai, she has the skills and education she needs to be able to stay in America and bring her daughter over as well.

There’s just so much to love about The Bride Test.  The romance was just so well written.  Esme and Khai are adorably awkward together but still manage to have intense chemistry. I loved how realistic the relationship felt with all of its ups and downs. At the same time, however, Hoang also weaves some wonderful family moments into her story.  Khai’s siblings, Quan and Vy, are wonderful secondary characters and I just loved watching them educate Khai on all matters of the heart.  The family dynamic was so sweet, as they were all so devoted to making sure Khai has every chance at love and happiness.  Hoang’s depiction of autism also felt very authentic, as did her portrayal of what it’s like to be an immigrant in search of the “American Dream.”  Overall, The Bride Test is a very satisfying read in every way and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons

five-stars

About Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars

Blog Tour Review: IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
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.

Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me to take part in their blog tour to promote Susan Kaplan Carlton’s new book, In the Neighborhood of True.  This was a wonderful read for me, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for me to read and review.

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

Don’t let that lovely pastel pink cover fool you into thinking Susan Kaplan Carlton’s In the Neighborhood of True is a light and fluffy read.  It is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year.

Set in the 1950’s in Atlanta, Georgia, In the Neighborhood of True is meant to be a work of  historical fiction that explores the racism and anti-Semitism that was rampant during that time period.  While the story itself is inspired by the Atlanta Temple bombing that took place in 1958, what makes the book such a hard hitting read, however, is that it’s not just historical fiction.  It really smacked me right in the face as I was reading this book that the hate and prejudice main character Ruth Robb was witnessing in the 50’s is still alive and well today, as people now have to contend with Islamophobia and homophobia in addition to the anti-Semitism and racism that we still haven’t managed to eradicate.

I always root for an underdog and it became apparent as soon as I started reading that Ruth Robb was my underdog.  Forced to relocate to Atlanta from Manhattan after her father passes away, Ruth, with her dark eyes and wild dark curls, sticks out like a sore thumb when she first enters the land of sweet tea, magnolia balls, and debutantes and meets the blonde, perfectly-coiffed “Pastel Posse” she will be attending school with.  She very quickly realizes that she has a hard choice to make:  either embrace her Jewish background and become a social outcast or try to pass as a Christian so that she can participate in the balls and other pre-debutante events and hang with the popular crowd at school.  Ruth is torn because she feels like she’s selling out her heritage, but there’s a part of her that wants to take the path of least resistance and do what she needs to do to just fit in.

Ruth’s inner conflict is the force that drives the plot of In the Neighborhood of True and I think the author does a fantastic job of making Ruth’s struggle feel authentic and relatable.  Don’t we all want to just fit in at times and not have everything be a struggle?  In Ruth’s case though, fitting in with the ‘It’ crowd at school means hiding who she is and what she believes, and it leads to her living a double life and hoping that neither side realizes the truth, a double life that is ultimately unsustainable long-term.

Even though the story is mostly about Ruth and the difficult journey she has to make in order to find and embrace her true self, In the Neighborhood of True is so much more than just a coming of age story.  It takes a hard look at anti-Semitism and at racism, shining a spotlight on the violent, horrific hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan. These acts were gut wrenching to read about and made me all the more sad that it’s still happening today. For this reason, Ruth wasn’t the only underdog I was rooting for as I was reading.  There was an active Jewish resistance movement present in the book and I was cheering them on all the way, especially since they were working tirelessly to fight anti-Semitism and racism.  As a character in the book states, “When hatred shows its face, you need to make a little ruckus.”

In the Neighborhood of True is an important and timely read, but it’s also a beautifully written story.  The author perfectly captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the South in the 1950’s – the music, the dances, the fashion and hair, the Co-Colas, and more, while at the same time, exposing that dark underbelly.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels with an element of social justice, or even just a good coming of age story.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

Early Review: LOST ROSES by Martha Hall Kelly

Early Review:  LOST ROSES by Martha Hall KellyLost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
Also by this author: Lilac Girls
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
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.

 

 

 

 

 

LOST ROSES Review

I was a huge fan of Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls, so I was thrilled to hear she has a new book, Lost Roses, coming out this year and that it actually ties in with Lilac Girls.  Where Lilac Girls featured American socialite Caroline Ferriday and was set during WWII, Lost Roses takes us back a generation and features Caroline’s mother Eliza and is set during WWI and the Russian Revolution.  While Caroline does make an appearance as a little girl in this latest novel, it is definitely Eliza’s story and can be read as a standalone.

As she did in Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly chooses to focus the narrative of Lost Roses on three very different women and show not only how their lives are impacted by the harsh reality of war, but also how their lives become intertwined with one another. Eliza lives in America and is a socialite, while Sofya, who is Eliza’s best friend, is a Russian aristocrat who is related to the reigning Czar.  Varinka, the third character who is a central figure in the story, is also Russian, but she is lower class, living in poverty.

I loved the focus on these women and how the novel showcased how strong and resilient each of them could be in the face of adversity.  Eliza was especially easy to love because she’s such a loyal friend to Sofya and because she’s just so kind-hearted in general.  As she’s trying to get news about Sofya, whose letters from Russia have suddenly stopped coming, she also fully dedicates herself to helping all the Russian women who are arriving in New York.  These women have managed to escape war torn Russia, but they have nothing except the clothes on their backs.  She devotes herself to finding them shelter and employment.  I just adored her determination and her compassion.

Sofya is also easy to love because even though she’s an aristocrat, she’s clearly in an underdog role once the Revolution begins.  The aristocracy is under fire, and Sofya is just trying to survive and be the best mom she can to her young son, Max, something that’s hard to do when you fear for your life every moment of the day. I admired Sofya’s inner strength so much while reading her chapters.  As the Revolution presses on, she endures tragic losses that would have made many people give up, but instead of giving up, she manages to dig deep and find an inner strength that she didn’t think she had.  It was clear Sofya would do whatever she had to do to make sure Max was safe.

Varinka was the character I was probably the most conflicted about.  I sympathized with her so much in her earlier chapters because she is really living in dire straits.  Varinka’s life becomes entwined with Sofya and her family when they flee to their country estate, hoping they’ll be safer there, and decide they need a nanny for Max. Varinka manages to secure the job for herself, but in doing so, unknowingly brings danger right to Sofya’s doorstep.  My sympathy for Varinka wavered because she makes some very questionable decisions at times that bring harm to others, but ultimately, even though her actions frustrated me, I could understand why she made the choices she did, based on her circumstances, and because we get a very clear picture of what’s going through her head and the moral dilemmas she is facing.  Her struggles felt very authentic and human, so in the end, I still felt sympathy towards her.

In addition to these three characters and their moving stories, I was also impressed by how well-researched the story is.  It’s historical fiction based on the real-life Eliza Woolsey, and it’s clear that the author knows her subjects well. She brings Eliza to life beautifully, and she does a tremendous job of capturing the atmosphere of lawlessness and anarchy that came with the Russian Revolution. And finally, she does an equally brilliant job of showing how badly the aristocracy treated the poor, thus contributing to the onset of the Revolution in the first place.

None!

My love for Martha Hall Kelly’s style of storytelling has only grown with my reading of Lost Roses.  The writing is exquisite, and I’m just constantly fascinated by the way she shows war from the perspective of women, which in most cases, is very different from what we’re used to seeing.  In addition to being about war, Lost Roses is also a well-crafted, moving story of strength, determination, and friendship. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Lilac Girls, enjoys historical fiction in general, and especially to anyone who would like to know more about the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of WWI.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

 

five-stars

About Martha Hall Kelly

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is excited to share the prequel, Lost Roses, coming this April and is thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind both books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and clues about the prequel Lost Roses on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

ARC Review: ONE SUMMER IN PARIS by Sarah Morgan

ARC Review:  ONE SUMMER IN PARIS by Sarah MorganOne Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan
Also by this author: The Christmas Sisters
four-half-stars
Published by Hqn on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Women's Literature, 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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

ONE SUMMER IN PARIS Review:

 

As soon as I saw the title of Sarah Morgan’s latest book, One Summer in Paris, I hit the request button on Netgalley.  Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’ve wanted to go back there ever since I first visited several years ago.  I read Sarah Morgan’s The Christmas Sisters this past winter and based on the way she transported me to the Scottish Highlands in that book, I knew she was the perfect choice to take me back to Paris.  Once I actually stopped flailing about the book being set in Paris and read the synopsis, I knew I was going to love it.

One Summer in Paris follows two women, 47 year old Grace and 18 year old Audrey, both of whom are in Paris for the summer.  Grace is supposed to be in Paris for a month with her husband, David, to celebrate their 25th anniversary.  However, when Grace presents David with the tickets for the Paris trip, David informs her that he is having an affair and wants a divorce.  Grace is devastated but decides to pluck up her courage and go to Paris alone.  Audrey is also dealing with some issues at her home in London that have left her feeling unloved and just wanting to get away and taste freedom for a while.  She decides that she needs an adventure, and even though she doesn’t speak the language, she boldly decides that she wants to live and work in Paris for the summer.   When Grace and Audrey unexpectedly cross paths in Paris, they form an immediate and unlikely friendship that will change both of their lives.

The friendship between Grace and Audrey was what really made this book such a winner for me.  Their personalities in many ways are polar opposites, with Audrey being the bold and daring one, while Grace is overly cautious and has lived an almost sheltered life.  I really loved how even though Grace was 47 and Audrey was only 18, Audrey teaches Grace just as many life lessons as Grace teachers her, and it was just so heartwarming to watch them support each other.  Audrey, who is a whiz with hair, makeup, and fashion, helps Grace really come out of her shell and enjoy her time in Paris to the fullest, while Grace, who is a language teacher, helps Audrey start to learn French so that she can more independently live and work in the city.  Grace becomes the mother figure Audrey has never really had, and Audrey becomes the BFF that Grace has never had.

You knew Paris was going to make my list of highlights, right? Morgan describes the “City of Lights” perfectly, capturing everything about the city that makes it such a magical and romantic destination for so many.  Between her lush descriptions of baguettes, croissants, delicious cheeses, and wine, and picnics by the Seine River, and her picture-perfect portrayal of iconic French landmarks and gently curving side streets that lead to charming bookstores and bistros, Morgan will make you feel like you are right in the heart of Paris.

I know those who follow my blog will be surprised to see romance in my highlights section, but Morgan has woven two of my favorite kinds of romance into this story and really did both of them very well.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m just going to say First Love and Second Chance Romance, and leave it at that. 😊

I love a story that is filled with complicated relationships and this book is chock full of them.  There are complicated family relationships, as well as complicated romantic relationships.  This is an uplifting and heartwarming story overall, but it also has its fair share of drama because of these relationships, which I think help ground the story and keep it from becoming saccharine sweet. Although, that said, I will say that I cried happy tears more than once as I got closer and closer to the end.

My only real complaint about One Summer in Paris was that a couple of plot points were a little predictable.  They took the story in ways I wanted it to go, however, so they didn’t really bother me too much.

I think One Summer in Paris is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys an engaging story about complicated family relationships, the importance of friendship, love, and above all else, a story about taking chances and finding oneself. It’s light enough to be a perfect summer/beach read, but it still has plenty of weight to it because of what both women are going through.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Morgan is a masterful storyteller, and readers will be fully immersed in this realistic but magical summer in Paris. Packed full of love, loss, heartbreak, and hope, this may just be Morgan’s best book yet. For fans of Jojo Moyes, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Stacey Ballis” -Booklist Review on One Summer in Paris.

USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with this heartwarming novel about the power of friendship, love and what happens when an ending is just the beginning…

To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.

Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes.

Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…

 

four-half-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.

Blog Tour Book Review: WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. Duncan

Blog Tour Book Review:  WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. DuncanWicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
four-stars
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Published by Wednesday Books on April 2, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thanks so much to Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Wicked Saints.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this riveting read today.

Emily A. Duncan’s Wicked Saints is a dark and gritty fantasy that captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  It’s also a multi-layered story that features a religious war, political intrigue, morally gray characters, and a pretty hefty dose of secrets and lies.

At the center of the novel is a war between two lands, one is a land filled with heretics who rely on blood magic, while the other, a more religious land, is filled with those who worship saints and with clerics who can communicate with the saints and borrow their powers.  The heretics loathe all that the religious land stands for and the King of their land has made it his mission to wipe out his enemy.  This war has been raging for a long time and the King is so close to his objective, he can practically taste victory.

In fact, there is only one cleric left, a teenager named Nadya. As the last in her land who is able to call magic from the saints, Nadya had a target on her back and therefore has spent most of her life hiding in a monastery.  When the novel opens, the monastery is under attack because the King’s men, including his son Crown Prince Serefin, have figured out where Nadya is hiding and have been sent to kill her.

Nadya manages to escape but is on her own until she meets up with a band of rebels, led by Malachiaz.  The rebels say that they want to bring this war to an end, and when Nadya says she does as well, they hatch a plot to work together and assassinate the King.  Since he’s the one driving the war, they think eliminating him is the key to peace.

When they start implementing their plan, however, it becomes clear to Nadya that nothing and no one is as they seem.  She begins to question everything and has no idea who she can trust, if anyone…

Can Nadya bring an end to this war and bring peace to her people or is she destined to fail?

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY WICKED SAINTS SHOULD BE ON YOUR MUST-READ LIST

 

Wicked Saints sounds pretty epic, right?  Now I want to dive just a little deeper (in a non-spoilery way, of course) and share some of the highlights of the story for me.  If you love these qualities as much as I do, then Wicked Saints is a must-read for you!

 

  1. Nonstop Action and Suspense. I’m all about action scenes when I read fantasy, and this book is filled with intense fight scenes.  They’re violent and bloody and probably not for the faint of heart, but they are an adrenaline rush for sure.  Think Game of Thrones and you’re in the right ballpark!
  1. Incredible Worldbuilding. It’s a Russian-inspired world and it is beautifully done.  The snowy, rugged landscape, the magic system, the lore surrounding the Saints — all of it combined to make a very atmospheric read.  If you’ve read Leigh Bardugo, there’s a slight Grishaverse vibe, but I actually preferred this world.
  1. Morally Gray Characters. The characters in Wicked Saints really drew me into the story because each one has his or her own agenda, whether political, religious or something else altogether, and all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to try to achieve that agenda.  Some motives seemed purer than others, but I found myself constantly second guessing which characters were the monsters but still liking them all even if I started to consider them villains.  I really liked Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiaz pretty equally even though they all couldn’t possibly be heroes.  And in many ways, the character who turns out to be the most monstrous ended up being my favorite, which I totally did not see coming and was fascinated by my own reaction.
  1. The Magic. Nadya’s use of magic was just so cool.  Most clerics have the ability to communicate with a single saint and to borrow that saint’s magic as needed.  As we learn in the opening pages, however, Nadya somehow has the ability to do this with all of the saints.  She therefore has a pretty powerful arsenal of magic at her disposal. While she may be the last cleric, she is a mighty one.  What I loved most about her magic is that she literally has conversations with these saints in her head and they talk back to her.
  1. The Vultures. I don’t want to say much about this little band of creeps, but they are just deliciously evil and add an extra layer of danger throughout the story, which helped to ratchet up the suspense.  Everyone is aware of the Vultures and how menacing they can be, but what no one anticipates is that these villains are somehow able to weasel their way into the castle and become unexpectedly tight with the King.

 

I have to admit that I was really nervous when I first started reading Wicked Saints.  I had been in a fantasy rut for a while – nothing I was reading was holding my attention – and I worried that Wicked Saints would fall short for that reason.  I’m thrilled to say that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about though because Wicked Saints is everything that I love in a dark fantasy.  The story is riveting and gritty throughout and it ends with a jaw dropping cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next installment.  Thanks to Emily A. Duncan for a read that was so entertaining it busted me out of my reading slump!

 

 

CLICK TO PURCHASE A COPY…

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

four-stars

About Emily A. Duncan

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

Early Review: SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn Bennett

Early Review:  SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn BennettSerious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on April 16, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT Review

 

Jenn Bennett has quickly become one of my favorite YA contemporary authors.  Her stories are always so heartfelt and filled with wonderful characters in relatable situations, as well as a strong focus on family and friendships.  I have yet to read a Jenn Bennett book that didn’t leave me with a smile on my face and her latest book, Serious Moonlight, was no exception.

Serious Moonlight follows Birdie Lindberg, an 18-year old teen, who lives with her grandfather on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle.  Birdie, who was orphaned at the age of 10, has lived a very sheltered life out on the island, and was home-schooled by her overly strict grandmother. She therefore hasn’t had many opportunities in life to make friends and/or date.  Birdie’s grandmother has recently passed away when the story opens and her grandfather has agreed that it’s time for Birdie to “spread her wings” a bit and thus he gives her permission to get a summer job.  She lands a job at a historical hotel in Seattle, working the graveyard shift.

When she starts her new job, Birdie finds herself immediately drawn to the hotel’s van driver, Daniel Aoki, a handsome young man she had a chance encounter with a few weeks earlier, but that ended on a most awkward note.  Daniel is drawn to Birdie as well, but neither of them is sure how to proceed after that first less-than-stellar meeting.

Can they figure out a way to move from awkward acquaintances to friends and then maybe even to more than friends?

Honestly, I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I was on my way to a serious reading slump when I started reading it, and Birdie and Daniel’s story just pulled me right out of it.  They were both just so adorable!

Birdie was my favorite character.  She’s an introverted, mystery-book loving teen who aspires to be a real-life Nancy Drew. I loved getting glimpses into her fantasy life where she imagines that she’s following clues and solving mysteries, and where she creates Nancy Drew-like profiles in her head to describe everyone she meets.  She also always wears a flower in her hair every day, inspired by the legendary jazz singer, Billie Holiday.  Just thinking about Birdie and how endearing of a character she is makes me smile.

Also endearing though is Daniel. Daniel is this sweet, soft boy who loves to do magic tricks and who is so obviously hung up on Birdie.  He is so tuned in to what her interests are and even arranges what can only be described as the absolute perfect outing for her, a live action game of Clue.  What could possibly be more perfect for a mystery-loving girl?  I just loved that he recognized how unique and special Birdie is and was so patient with her in every way.  Some of their heart-to-heart conversations as they get to know each other better are my favorite moments from the book.

Bennett is a master at creating secondary characters that add even more life to her stories, and in this story, Aunt Mona is that character.  Mona is Birdie’s aunt and godmother, and she is just a force to be reckoned with.  She’s an artist with a personality and fashion sense that is larger than life.  Mona literally just brings so much color into Birdie’s life. For you Gilmore Girls fans out there, personality-wise, she reminds me so much of Miss Patty.  She’s not just an aunt or a godmother either; she’s also Birdie’s best friend and confidante.

The setting of Serious Moonlight was also a huge draw for me.  I loved the Seattle location, but I especially loved that Birdie lived on Bainbridge Island and took a ferry to and from the city every day.  The view from her home is literally the Seattle skyline with its iconic Space Needle.  It was so easy to visualize that spectacular setting and I loved that the ferry ride provided moments for Daniel and Birdie to spend even more quality time together.

I also really loved the Moonlight Diner, a neighborhood diner in Seattle where Birdie would hang out whenever she needed to wait for the next ferry home.  Before Birdie’s mom passed away, she worked at the Moonlight and she and Birdie lived in an apartment upstairs.  Birdie, therefore, practically grew up in this diner and everyone there was part of her extended family.  I loved that the diner had such character and especially that they served the most delicious sounding pies.  Seriously, this book will have you craving pie like you would not believe!  I was practically drooling at the descriptions.  And the pie names are so great too!  They had me hoping Birdie would stop by the diner every single day just so that I could see what the pie of the day was called, lol.  I think my favorite was the Beyonce-inspired name, a cherry pie called “Put a Bing on It.”

The mystery subplot involving the famous reclusive writer was probably my least favorite part of Serious Moonlight.  That’s not to say there was anything really wrong with it, more just that some of the situations Birdie and Daniel found themselves in as they tried to solve the mystery seemed a little far-fetched.  It was still a fun subplot though so I wasn’t too hung up on it.

Serious Moonlight is everything I want in a contemporary read.  It’s a sweet story about two people trying to find their way in the world and their way to each other.  It’s also a heartfelt story about family, friendship, and love.  If you’re in the mood for a story that will leave you with a smile on your face, Jenn Bennett’s Serious Moonlight is the book you’re looking for.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Early Review: SKY WITHOUT STARS

Early Review:  SKY WITHOUT STARSSky Without Stars (System Divine, #1) by Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell
four-stars
Series: System Divine #1
Published by Simon Pulse on March 26, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 592
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.

SKY WITHOUT STARS Review

 

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a favorite of mine – I’ve read the book, seen the movie adaptations, and I’ve watched the Broadway show. I’m also a big sci-fi fan so I when I heard that Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell is a retelling of Les Miserables set in outer space, it immediately became a must-read for me.

Sky Without Stars is a dark and intense story of oppression, rebellion, and revolution.  It features three main characters – a thief, an officer, and a young woman who is guardian to the last surviving library.  These three seemingly unrelated characters will find their lives unexpectedly intertwined as the poor and oppressed citizen of the planet Laterre threaten to rise up against those who would keep them down.

In an atmosphere filled with danger and destruction, who will survive?

The worldbuilding in Sky Without Stars is top notch.  The story is set in outer space on the fictional planet of Laterre.  The authors did a brilliant job of reimaging the tense social climate in France at the time of the French Revolution, the way the filthy rich and the authorities built themselves up on the backs of the poor, while at the same time, turning their backs on them and letting them live in slums or starve in the streets. The descriptions were so vivid that it was easy to imagine the horrid conditions the poor were stuck in while the rich lived in their opulent homes. They also added in lots of futuristic gadgets and weapons, including a modernized version of a guillotine that reminded me a lot of a Star Wars lightsaber.

Chatine was my favorite character. She’s street smart and feisty, and all about doing whatever she has to do in order to survive.  Disguising herself as a boy, Chatine works as a thief, picking pockets all day.  She lives with her con artist family, but there’s no love lost there so Chatine is trying to thieve her way into getting enough money to buy her way onto a better planet.  I live for a good underdog, so I was cheering Chatine on every step of the way.

Marcellus was another interesting character.  He’s a military officer who is in training to take over leadership of the military.  He begins to question his loyalty to the government, however, after receiving a cryptic message from his father, that implores him to go and visit an old friend – an old friend who happens to be suspected of being one of the masterminds behind a rebel faction hiding amongst them.  It was interesting to watch how complicated things got for Marcellus as he struggled to figure out if his loyalties should lie with the government he works for or with the people, who are clearly suffering.

Alouette is the third voice we hear in the story and like, Chatine and Marcellus, she is an easy character to sympathize with.  At first I’ll admit that I found her a little dull compared to the other two characters, but once she is confronted with the fact that her whole life has been a lie, she gets a lot more interesting.

There is also a secondary character that I fell in love with, a young boy named Roche.  He’s a little thief like Chatine, but he has more personality in his body than all of the other characters added together.  He’s clearly modelled after Gavroche, who stole the show in the original story.

The main issue I had with Sky Without Stars was that I found myself constantly comparing it to Les Miserables.  I kept trying to match up every character in the retelling with who they were inspired by in the original and it actually started to get very distracting, especially if I thought the new character fell short of the original, case in point Alouette as Cosette and Marcellus as Marius.  Although I liked both Alouette and Marcellus overall, I just found them a little flat if I thought of them in relation to Cosette and Marius too much.

I also found myself missing characters like Fantine and Valjean, one who was not included in the retelling at all and one who seemed severely underused, even though I considered their roles to be pretty vital in the original.

It can be hard to measure up to a beloved classic, but I think Sky Without Stars stands on its own as a pretty exciting space opera.  I actually think I would have enjoyed it even more than I did if I had been less familiar with the original Les Miserables.  I guess what I’m trying to say there is I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction, even if you’re not at all familiar with the original classic.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

four-stars

About Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples, and electrical tape.

After graduating from Smith College in 2001 where she double majored in Economics and French and minored in Japanese, Jessica later went on to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development. In May of 2005, Jessica quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

Since then, Jessica has sold over twelve novels for teens, tweens, and adults including 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, The Karma Club, My Life Undecided, and the three books in the Unremembered trilogy, the first of which is currently in development as a major motion picture by the producers of The Vampire Academy, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Slumdog Millionaire. In 2016, she will release two new contemporary novels, A Week of Mondays (August) and Boys of Summer (April), and in 2017, her debut middle grade novel entitled, Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, will hit bookstore shelves.

Jessica also writes books for the Descendants: “School of Secrets” series, based on the hit Disney Channel Original movie, Descendants!

Jessica’s books are published and translated in over twenty foreign countries. She currently splits her time between California and Colorado.

About Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell is the author of three novels and holds a PhD in English Literature. She teaches fiction writing to teens and kids, as well as online writing classes at Udemy.com and Lynda.com. Joanne is a board member for the youth Shakespeare company, New Genesis Productions. With her husband and son, she divides her time between New York City and New Paltz, New York.

Review: BLOODLEAF

Review:  BLOODLEAFBloodleaf by Crystal Smith
three-half-stars
Series: Bloodleaf #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 12, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

BLOODLEAF Review

Bloodleaf is the first book in an exciting and imaginative new fantasy series of the same name by Crystal Smith. It is Smith’s debut, and with it, she has put her own creative spin on the Grimm fairy tale, “The Goose Girl.”

Bloodleaf follows Aurelia, who is the Princess of Renalt, and who is engaged to marry the Prince of Achleva, a young man she has never actually met. Their marriage is designed to serve a political agenda, to unite these two countries and ensure peace across the land.

In addition to being a Princess, however, Aurelia is also a witch who has been hiding her powers from everyone, especially the Tribunal, the ruling body in Renalt, for years. The Tribunal loathes magic and looks for every opportunity to execute a witch. The only way Aurelia can hope to escape the persecution her fellow witches face is to keep her magic hidden at all costs, something that isn’t always easy to do since Aurelia doesn’t really know how to control it yet.

While she is traveling to Achleva to meet her soon-to-be husband, there is an attempted assassination, which exposes Aurelia’s secret. Betrayed by those around her, Aurelia flees her country while an imposter continues on to Achleva to take her place. Unable to return home because everyone now knows she’s a witch and unable to move forward and marry the Prince because of the imposter, Aurelia must forge a new way for herself in the world.

She takes on a new identity, makes new friends, and works to hone her magical abilities. One of her abilities is that she can see and sometimes communicate with spirits, and it is this ability that lands Aurelia right in the middle of a sinister plot to destroy an enchanted wall that protects Achleva. An evil mage is determined to bring the wall down and is leaving a trail of bodies in his wake as he does everything he possibly can to break the spell that is keeping the wall intact.

Can Aurelia perfect her magical abilities in time to stop the deadly mage before even more lives are lost?

 

Bloodleaf hooked me pretty quickly because it starts on out such a dark and dangerous note, with a public execution. Renalt and the Tribunal definitely gave me Salem Witch Trial vibes with their relentless persecution and rush to judgement of anyone they believed to be a witch.

It also of course made me sympathetic to Aurelia since apparently not even her royal title could prevent her from the possibility of execution were she discovered to be a witch. What really impressed me about Aurelia though was how she rallied after being betrayed and took charge of her own destiny. She didn’t wait around like a damsel in distress, hoping to be saved.

I also liked that Aurelia isn’t flawless by any means. She makes some questionable choices along the way and sometimes makes things harder for herself because of those choices. But she is constantly learning from her mistakes and growing into a very admirable young woman, one who would make a wonderful leader if given the chance. As much as I enjoyed the action of the story, I think Aurelia’s inner journey was equally captivating for me.

In addition to Aurelia, Bloodleaf also features a fantastic cast of supporting characters. They’re not nearly as fleshed out as Aurelia, but I still really enjoyed them all anyway, especially Zan, Nathaniel, and Kate, who become unexpected allies for Aurelia after she is forced to flee everything she has ever known.

I also thought the author wrote a brilliant villain in Toris. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about him, but man, I really loved to hate that guy.

The mythology and the supernatural elements were also very well done and just added so much to the story. Between the spirits that only Aurelia could see and communicate with and their sometimes ominous messages and the almost mystical Stonehenge like vibe that I got every time Aurelia went to the enchanted wall, the book just had such an atmospheric quality.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed Bloodleaf but I did have a couple of minor issues with it. The first one was that the pacing was a little uneven and dragged just a little at times in the first half. It never bothered me enough that I would have considered quitting the book, but there was just a noticeable lull for me.

I also would have liked a little more memorable worldbuilding when it came specifically to Renalt and Achleva. I didn’t really feel like I came away with a distinct picture of what either of them really looked like.

 

Even with those couple of minor issues, however, I still thought Bloodleaf was a unique and compelling start to Smith’s debut fantasy series and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story next. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy and/or retellings, and also to anyone who enjoys the idea of a fierce princess who is no damsel in distress.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of RED QUEEN and UPROOTED, Crystal Smith’s debut novel, BLOODLEAF, is an imaginative retelling of the Grimm Fairy tale “The Goose Girl” that takes a ghostly mystery and sets it inside an epic fantasy world.

Princess Aurelia is a prisoner to her crown and the heir that nobody wants. Surrounded by spirits and banned from using her blood-magic, Aurelia flees her country after a devastating assassination attempt. To escape her fate, Aurelia disguises herself as a commoner in a new land and discovers a happiness her crown has never allowed. As she forges new bonds and perfects her magic, she begins to fall for a man who is forbidden to rule beside her. But the ghosts that haunt Aurelia refuse to abandon her, and she finds herself succumbing to their call as they expose a nefarious plot that only she can defeat. Will she be forced to choose between the weight of the crown and the freedom of her new life?

three-half-stars

About Crystal Smith

Crystal Smith is a writer, photographer, and artist who developed an early love of storytelling in a family of voracious readers. She resides in Utah with her high school sweetheart husband and two lively sons. When she isn’t writing or creating, she can be found re-watching Jane Eyre and Howl’s Moving Castle or reading ghost stories with all the lights on.