Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review:

Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove.  Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way.  I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book.  He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times.  What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness.  Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her.  I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.

My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past.  The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife.  This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.

The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story.  The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors.  They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer.  This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine.  They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!

If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try.  The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes.  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam.  The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife.  I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish.  The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out.  And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong.  No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.

I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life.  Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.

A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me.  I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up:  “Life is an adventure, not a walk.  That’s why it’s difficult.”  Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss.  4 STARS

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks 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.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

About Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist. His heartwarming debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and a major bestseller, and was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son. Keith has written for publications including Empire, Red and Esquire, and is the former games editor of the Guardian. He lives with his wife and two sons in Frome, Somerset.

Review: A STUDY IN TREASON

Review:  A STUDY IN TREASONA Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg
three-half-stars
Series: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Leonard Goldberg’s A Study in Treason is the second book in the popular series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries.  These books feature Joanna Blalock, daughter of Sherlock Holmes, and her husband, John Watson, Jr., who is (you guessed it), the son of Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John Watson, Sr. as they follow in their parents’ footsteps and solve mysteries that are so tough they stump both local law enforcement and the finest detectives at Scotland Yard. I’ve always been a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries so I thought this would be a fun read

In this second book in the series, there is an imminent threat of war (WWI) and England and France have entered into a secret treaty that details strategies on how they will work together to defeat Germany if they actually do go to war.  The treaty is sent to the country estate of Lord Halifax so that copies of it can be produced, and even though the document is kept under lock and key and the room it is stored in is guarded at all times, somehow the document is still stolen. The local police and Scotland Yard are called in immediately, but when they can’t determine how the document was stolen from a locked and guarded room, Joanna and the Watsons are called in to lend their assistance.

 

My favorite part about A Study in Treason was actually the mystery itself.  It’s a cleverly crafted locked door mystery, filled with plenty of suspense and twists and turns that kept me guessing as to who the culprit was and how they did it, all the way to the very end.

I also loved the feeling of nostalgia that I got while reading because Goldberg does such a fine job of writing the story in the style of the original Sherlock mysteries and in capturing the atmosphere of pre-WWI England.  In that sense, I think this series makes for a great complement to the original series.  It was like meeting up with an old friend after many years.

Speaking of meeting up with old friends after many years, I also really loved seeing Dr. Watson again.  Sherlock has unfortunately passed away by the time this story is set, but Watson is still with us and it just warmed my heart to see him and especially to see how wonderful his relationship with his son is.

I also liked Joanna, well most of the time anyway. She’s quite the feminist and doesn’t put up with anyone treating her as less than capable because of her gender.  She is also truly a chip off the old block, both in terms of her personality and her investigative skills. She’s like Sherlock in a dress and is quite a fun character to follow around, as many of her mannerisms even mimic dear old dad’s.

 

As much as I liked Joanna, I unfortunately also had some issues with her as well.  Some of the clues Joanna found while investigating seemed like clues that any trained member of law enforcement should have also been able to locate.  In that sense it almost felt like other characters were being “dumbed down” to make Joanna appear more superior.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the way she would micro-manage everyone around her as if they were dimwits who couldn’t think for themselves at all.  There was one scene in particular where she wants her husband John to observe what one of their suspects is doing, but to do so without being seen.  She actually instructs him to hold his hand up next to his face to shield his face from view, as if he doesn’t have enough common sense on his own to figure out how not to be recognized.  She speaks in a similarly condescending tone to Dr. Watson at times, as if he’s a child, and I found it annoying.  Then, if they did something well or came up with an idea on their own, she would praise them as if they were pets.  I half expected her to reward them with treats every time they did something that pleased her.  That same arrogance used to occasionally annoy me about Sherlock, so I guess it’s not surprising that it annoys me with his daughter as well, lol.

 

Overall, I found A Study in Treason to be an entertaining read. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes or even just a fan of mysteries, in particular, locked door mysteries, I’d definitely say to give it a try.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch

three-half-stars

About Leonard Goldberg

Leonard Goldberg is an American physicist, professor of medicine, and the author of the Joanna Blalock series of medical thrillers.

His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide. Leonard Goldberg is himself a consulting physician affiliated with the UCLA Medical Center, where he holds an appointment as Clinical Professor of Medicine. A sought-after expert witness in medical malpractice trials, he is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and rheumatology, and has published over a hundred scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Leonard Goldberg’s writing career began with a clinical interest in blood disorders. While involved in a research project at UCLA, he encountered a most unusual blood type. The patient’s red blood cells were O-Rh null, indicating they were totally deficient in A, B and Rh factors and could be administered to virtually anyone without fear of a transfusion reaction. In essence, the patient was the proverbial “universal” blood donor. This finding spurred the idea for a story in which an individual was born without a tissue type, making that person’s organs transplantable into anyone without worry of rejection. His first novel, Transplant, revolved around a young woman who is discovered to be a universal organ donor and is hounded by a wealthy, powerful man in desperate need of a new kidney. The book quickly went through multiple printings and was optioned by a major Hollywood studio.

Dr. Goldberg is a native of Charleston and a long-time California resident. He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and an island off the coast of South Carolina.

Review: FURYBORN

Review:  FURYBORNFuryborn by Claire Legrand
three-stars
Series: Empirium #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 22, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Novels that feature strong, independent female characters and dual timelines are nearly always guaranteed to grab my attention and such was the case with Claire Legrand’s YA fantasy novel, Furyborn.  Furyborn follows two incredibly independent women, Rielle Dardenne and Eliana Ferracora, who lived centuries apart but who both play a role in an ancient prophecy known to all in their lands.  The prophecy states that two magic-wielding Queens will rise to power, a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen, and one will have the power to save their kingdom, while the other will have the power to destroy them all.

Furyborn is an exciting adventure from start to finish as we follow these two fiercely independent women as they rush forward to meet their destinies.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Furyborn was the way the dual timeline was used to allow each woman’s journey to unfold.  With Rielle, we are presented with not only her role in the prophecy, but also the way she meets her end, in the novel’s prologue.  Rielle’s journey in the book, therefore, is more of a rewind back to show how she got to the point where we find her as the book begins.  Eliana’s narrative, on the other hand, moves more straightforward in that we simply follow her to find out where she fits into the prophecy and to where her story ultimately intersects with Rielle’s.

Out of the two main characters, I’d have to say that Eliana was probably my favorite.  As I’ve already mentioned she’s incredibly independent and strong. What I found most interesting about her, however, is that she also falls into the morally gray category.  When the Empire came in and conquered her kingdom, Eliana began working for them as a bounty hunter.  She’ll slit a Rebel’s throat in a heartbeat if there’s money involved, thus earning herself the nickname “The Dread of Orline.”  Although many of her actions are morally questionable, her heart, however, is in the right place because she’s desperate to have enough money to take care of her mother and brother.  Eliana could be arrogant and obnoxious at times, but I still ultimately liked her because of that big heart of hers.

Even though I didn’t like her quite as much as I liked Eliana, Rielle was also a pretty likable character.  What I liked about Rielle was that she fit so well into that underdog category that I’m always such a big fan of.  Rielle lives in a time where most individuals possess some magic and wield control over one of the natural elements.  During a horse race, Rielle’s best friend finds himself in mortal danger and when Rielle jumps in to try to save him, she accidentally reveals that not only does she too possess magic, but she wields control over more than the usual one element.  In trying to save her friend, she has used her magic recklessly and wreaked so much havoc that everyone in the kingdom is terrified of her.  Whispers about the prophecy and that she might be one of the Queens immediately begin.  Rielle is brought before the King where he informs her that she must face seven potentially deadly elemental trials.  She will either successfully complete each of these trials, thus proving that she is one of the two prophesied Queens or else she will not succeed and she will die.  No pressure there, right?  I just really admired the way she faced each challenge head-on, almost defiant, at times.

I was also quite intrigued by the world building in Furyborn.  This fantasy world and its magical system were quite fascinating, especially the Empirum and how Rielle was able to manipulate it, but I still would have liked a little more detail about pretty much everything.  Some parts of it were a little confusing, especially the angels, who were apparently bad and banished.  I’m hoping a second book will shed more light on some of the fantasy elements in the series.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher even though I quite enjoyed the story overall was that it honestly felt like two separate books where I was reading a chapter from one and then a chapter from the other.  I would have liked to see more connective threads between them throughout to remind me that the two stories would eventually interconnect.

A second issue I had, and this is probably one of those ‘It’s me, not the book’ scenarios, but Rielle’s storyline started to wear thin on me after a while.  Those trials, while initially exciting, started to feel somewhat tedious. I can, admittedly, have the attention span of a gnat, but after the first couple of trials, I kept hoping that something would happen so that we didn’t have to go through all seven of them or that the author would simply gloss over the details rather than give us a play-by-play of everything that happened.  I also thought too much emphasis was placed on her costumes, each of which were custom made to match the element of the trial she was about to engage in.  It reminded me of the scenes from The Hunger Games when Katniss was dressed up as the Girl on Fire.  Since I didn’t particularly care for those scenes in The Hunger Games, it was a little ugh going through similar scenes in Furyborn.

One other area that didn’t set well with me was a scene early on where Rielle, clearly not in control of her magic, cruelly kills an animal.  I understood what the author was trying to show in this scene, but it was just very graphic and upsetting.

While it’s not a perfect read, it’s still highly entertaining overall and I do think that Furyborn is a solid beginning to what is sure to be a great new fantasy series.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

three-stars

About Claire Legrand

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a librarian and New York Times bestselling author living in central New Jersey (although her heart will always live in her home state of Texas).

Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. She is also the author of The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers; and Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker. Some Kind of Happiness, her middle grade novel about mental illness, family secrets, and the power of storytelling, is a 2017 Edgar Award Nominee. Claire’s latest novel, Foxheart, is a classic fantasy-adventure and a 2016 Junior Library Guild selection. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade short fiction that was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and among the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014.

Her latest novel, Furyborn, debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is the first book in the Empirium Trilogy, a young adult epic fantasy series. Her next book, Sawkill Girls, is a queer young adult horror novel and will release on October 2nd, 2018.

Her work is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Review: LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy Regan

Review:  LITTLE BIG LOVE by Katy ReganLittle Big Love by Katy Regan
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I requested Katy Regan’s Little Big Love from Netgalley primarily because the book’s synopsis describes it as About a Boy meets ParenthoodParenthood is one of my all-time favorite family-centric dramas and I loved it because every episode took me through a full range of emotions because I became so invested in the Braverman family:  joy, sadness, anger, frustration, love, regret – you name it, I felt it. Seeing Little Big Love compared to Parenthood therefore made it a must-read for me.  The comparison is apt too because the characters in Little Big Love captured my heart in much the same way the Bravermans did in Parenthood.

Little Big Love follows Zac Hutchinson, a 10-year old boy who is on a mission to find the his father, whom he has never met.  Zac knows he has a dad because, of course, everyone does, but all Zac knows about his is that according to his mom and grandparents, Zac’s dad “did a runner” as soon as Zac was born and never came back.  Zac has therefore spent his entire life without a dad and is obsessed with what it would be like to have one.  The older he gets, the more convinced he is that if his dad could just meet him once, he’d want to stick around.  Then, one fateful night when his mom, in a drunken state, confesses to Zac that she still loves his dad, Zac, with the help of his best friend Teagan, sets his “Find Dad Mission” into motion. Now he wants to find his dad, not just for himself, because he also thinks it would finally make his mom happy again.

Zac.  10-year-old Zac was, by far, my favorite character in this story.  He’s such a sweetheart, always thinking of others, and just the type of kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  It broke my heart to watch him obsess so much about not having a Dad in his life, especially once I realized how many secrets about his father his mom and grandparents were keeping from him.  For reasons that weren’t revealed until much later, it was as if all mention of Zac’s father had been banned from their household so Zac literally knew nothing about his dad, aside from his name.  Zac was also an incredibly sympathetic character because he’s being bullied at school because of his weight and because he doesn’t stick up for himself.  The kids are just so evil and relentless, and I cried for Zac several times as I was reading.  Regan really got me in the feels when it came to Zac.

Teagan.  Teagan is Zac’s classmate and best friend, and she is the spunkiest little firecracker there ever was.  She is Zac’s biggest supporter, which makes me love her all the more knowing how low Zac’s self-esteem is because of his weight and because of the constant bullying.  Teagan is also a breath of fresh air, frequently using comical expressions like “He just needs a rocket up his bum!” to bring some levity and humor into what is otherwise a pretty heavy story.  My favorite thing about Teagan is her enthusiastic support of Zac’s mission to find his dad.  She spends a lot of time watching crime and detective shows so that she can share helpful tips on how Zac should conduct his investigation and gather evidence that will help locate his dad.  It’s just adorable!

3 Points of View.  While the children were my favorite characters in Little Big Love and Zac’s chapters were my favorites because that have that honesty and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness that only an innocent child can bring, I also appreciated that the story was presented not just from Zac’s perspective, but also from the perspectives of Zac’s mom, Juliet, and Zac’s grandfather, Mick. Juliet is a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet and who is also dealing with her own self-esteem and weight issues.  All she wants is what’s best for Zac but sometimes finds herself questioning her life’s choices.  Mick, Zac’s granddad brings us the perspective of a recovering alcoholic who loves his family more than life itself, but who is weighted down by secrets that if revealed, could cost him everyone he loves.  I loved all of the layers that Regan adds to the story by using these three completely different perspectives.

Realistic Issues and Big Themes.  As I mentioned earlier, at times, Little Big Love was a heavy read.  It deals with some issues and themes that really got to me on an emotional level.  They’re issues that many families will face and perhaps they got to me all the more since I have a son Zac’s age.

There is of course the family drama with these secrets that they’re keeping and how those secrets are just weighing everyone down. But then there’s also alcoholism, bullying, loss and grief, and mental health/low self-esteem issues as well.  This whole family has been through so much, and as I said with Parenthood, I became so invested in them that their stories – the good and the bad – just really had me so emotional at times.  Bless little Teagan and her “rocket up the bum” jokes to lighten the mood and keep things from getting too heavy, lol.

Even though I really enjoyed Little Big Love overall, I did occasionally struggle with the pacing, especially in the beginning.  I adored all of Zac’s chapters and just flew through them, but I’ll admit that I struggled to get into Juliet’s story and even Mick’s at first.  I was a little put off by the secrets they were keeping because I just didn’t see where any good could possibly come from what they were doing.  Ultimately though, they won me over because it became clear that they both loved Zac more than anything else in this world and that they were beating themselves up about their choices just as much, if not even more, than I was beating them up.

Katy Regan’s Little Big Love is a moving story about a flawed but beautiful family and the things they’re willing to do to protect both themselves and the ones they love.  They don’t always make the best choices, but their hearts are in the right place, even if their heads aren’t.  I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys books that feature endearing characters, especially lovable children, as well as messy but realistic family situations.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

About a Boy meets Parenthood in this smart, big-hearted love story about a family for whom everything changed one night, a decade ago, and the young boy who unites them all.

Told through the eyes of Zac, Juliet, and grandfather Mick, Little Big Love is a layered, heartfelt, utterly satisfying story about family, love, and the secrets that can define who we are.

four-stars

About Katy Regan

Katy Regan was born and brought up in the northern seaside town of Morecambe. Her claim to fame – aside from being possibly the only person in the world to get expelled from primary school – is that at the age of 16 she went to stage school in Surrey with Posh Spice. She worked at 19 magazine for two years before joining Marie Claire in 2002. ‘Highlights’ in that position included spending ten days in the buff on a nudist resort and becoming a footballer’s wife for a week — all in the name of investigative journalism. In 2004 at the height of her career as the office roving reporter singleton, she fell accidentally pregnant by her best mate (who just remained a friend). Seeing the creative possibilities in this unconventional situation, her editor commissioned her to write a column – And then there were three! which proved so successful it ran for two years and inspired many a reader to write in to Katy with their life story. She has now taken her loyal following to her blog – The State She’s In – on the Marie Claire website. She lives in south London and shares care of her son Fergus with his dad who lives across the road.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAFar from the Tree by Robin Benway
five-stars
Published by HarperTeen on October 3, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 374
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Review:

Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree is an incredibly moving and engaging read that grabbed hold of all of my emotions and didn’t let go until long after I reached the final page.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and sometimes it just really made me sad and frustrated.  Why? Because Far From the Tree isn’t just a book about family.  It also touches on some important social issues that really resonate, such as teen pregnancy and the stigma that seems to follow the teen mom but not the teen dad; the many fears that plague both kids who have been adopted as well as those who are stuck in the foster care system; the impact addiction can have on a family; and so many more.

Far From the Tree follows three teenagers, Grace, Mia, and Joaquin, who are related by blood, but who have never met because their mother gave each of them up soon after they were born.  Grace and Mia were both adopted as babies, but Joaquin was never adopted and has spent his entire life drifting in and out of foster homes.  Grace has lived most of her life knowing that she was adopted, but until a heart-to-heart conversation with her parents, she had no idea that she also had two siblings out there in the world.  She sets out to find them and it’s just such an incredible moment to watch the three of them connect and gradually start to bond with each other, gradually sharing more and more about themselves, including most importantly, fears, whether rational or irrational, that have plagued them for most of their lives.

It’s incredibly easy to fall in love with all three siblings because Benway does such a wonderful job making each interaction feel authentic as she poignantly captures the awkwardness and all of the emotions that Grace, Mia, and Joaquin experience as they realize they’re not as alone as they each thought they were.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written contemporary novel that explores what it truly means to be a family, look no further than Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAHunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
four-stars
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #2
on September 19, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 434
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper's true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe's best schools of forensic medicine...and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life's dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school's forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

Review:

Hunting Prince Dracula is the second installment in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series.  I loved the first book in this series so much and I’m happy to report that the second book is just as good, if not better, than the first!

Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell were just as fabulous this time around, as they traveled together to Romania to study forensic medicine.  Their witty and flirtatious banter fills the pages and serves as a fantastic counterpoint to the dark atmosphere and the danger that they of course find themselves enmeshed in once they enter the school, which turns out to be a super creepy castle.  I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself but there’s blood, bodies, bats, stakes through the heart, and oh so much more, including the threat that perhaps the infamous Vlad the Impaler has returned from beyond the grave.

 While the overall formula for Hunting Prince Dracula is quite similar to that of the first book – there’s a mystery to be solved and Thomas and Audrey Rose get on each other’s nerves as they set out to solve it – what took the second book to a different level for me was the emotional turmoil that Audrey Rose experiences as a result of some of the things she learned about her family at the end of the first book.  It’s a thread that follows her throughout Hunting Prince Dracula and it adds some welcome depth to her character, although I of course already loved Audrey Rose because she’s so ahead of her time and is such a feminist.  I love watching her verbally filet anyone who tries to tell her she shouldn’t be at the school studying forensics.  She just has such a feisty, take no prisoners attitude and I love it (as does Thomas)!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book in the series to see what’s in store for Thomas and Audrey Rose next!  4 STARS

five-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

About Robin Benway

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her most recent title, Emmy & Oliver, was published in 2015 by Harper Teen, and was named one of the best books of summer by the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Review: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

Review:  THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAYThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on May 29, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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:

Even though I’m typically a huge fan of suspenseful thrillers, for some reason I had not gotten around to trying one of Ruth Ware’s popular novels yet. I don’t really have any real excuse other than I sometimes tend to shy away from hyped books and this was one of those cases, especially since I’ve seen Ware referred to as the Agatha Christie of our time and that seems like a pretty tall order for any author to try to live up to.  The synopsis of The Death of Mrs. Westaway captivated me, however, and I decided it was past time for me to try my first Ruth Ware novel.  How did it work out?  I’d say the fact that I’ve ordered copies of all of Ware’s novels since finishing this one is a pretty good indicator of how it went.  While I might not go so far as to call her the Agatha Christie of our day, Ruth Ware is a superb mystery author in her own right.

 

Sympathetic Protagonist:  Harriet Westaway (or Hal as she is more often referred to) is a character that tugged on my heartstrings from the first pages of the novel.  She is a 21-year-old tarot card reader who works on a pier in Brighton, England.  Hal fell into this line of work a few years earlier when her mother, also a tarot card reader, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident.  The driver was never caught and so Hal was forced to drop out of school and take up her mother’s work in order to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  There’s no father and no other family in the picture so Hal is all alone in the world and is struggling to make ends meet.  When we meet Hal, she is up to her neck in trouble, having borrowed some money from a sleazy loan shark who keeps changing the terms of her repayment and has sent his goons to deliver a message to her, that message being threat of bodily harm or even worse if she doesn’t cough up 3,000 pounds, which she clearly doesn’t have.

Although Hal is a sympathetic character, she’s still pretty savvy and street smart, which is another thing I liked about her, as well as the fact that she also has a bit of a morally gray element that adds even more interesting layers to her personality.  When a letter from an attorney’s office arrives in the mail telling Hal she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a Mrs. Westaway who has just passed away, Hal knows it can’t possibly be her, as she has no family.  That said, however, she can’t help but wonder if her ability to read people – so finely honed by years of reading tarot cards and telling fortunes – is sharp enough for her to fool people so that she really can claim the aforementioned inheritance.  Yes, there’s a risk she could go to jail for fraud, but if she can pull it off, it’s the answer to all of her prayers.  That in itself makes it a risk worth taking.  It’s so wrong of course, but I just couldn’t help but admire her guts and determination.

Atmospheric Quality: In addition to the wonderfully well-rounded character that is Hal, my other favorite part of the book is the atmosphere that Ware has created. Everything about the atmosphere has an air of suspense to it but it takes a turn for the creepy and Gothic once Hal arrives at the residence of the late Mrs. Westaway.  The house itself is dusty and ill-maintained, some of the windows are barred, It’s filled with endless dark corridors and stairways, and to top it off, there’s a mean old housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, that Hal seems to find lurking around every corner.  Everything about the house just had this ominous feel to it and had me wanting to yell at Hal to get out while she could.

Family Secrets – Web of Lies:  If you’re into books that focus on messy families and their dirty little secrets, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the book for you! As soon as Hal arrives and hears the will reading, she can tell that something is amiss with the Westaway family and that she has landed herself right in the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Nothing is as it seems and although she knows she should just cut and run before she ends up in potentially deeper trouble than she already is, she feels compelled to find out the truth about the family and whatever it is they appear to be hiding.  Ware does a marvelous job with the pacing of the novel and I remained enthralled as I waited for each strand of the web of lies to unravel.

 

I don’t really have anything at all here. It was a phenomenal read that I couldn’t put down once I started reading.

 

While this was my first time reading Ruth Ware, it will definitely not be my last.  I’d recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway to anyone who is a fan of mysteries and thrillers as well as to anyone who enjoys a good domestic drama.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-half-stars

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summer

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summerBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
three-half-stars
on July 17, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
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.

Sweetness can be deceptive.

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press Blog Tour for Zoje Stage’s upcoming thriller, Baby Teeth.  Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Press and Jordan Handley for inviting me to take part in this tour, and course to Zoje Stage for allowing me to preview her book.

 

MY REVIEW:

 

Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth is a dark and twisted tale of a seven-year old girl named Hanna who has one goal in life – to get rid of her mother so that she and her father can live happily ever after together.  As a mom, I found Baby Teeth to be perhaps my worst nightmare come true – that my child would hate me and want me gone – so in that sense, it was an incredibly uncomfortable read for me.  At the same time, however, it was still such a riveting read that I couldn’t stop turning the pages no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

Hanna is a troubled young girl.  For reasons doctors haven’t established yet, she does not speak.  In addition to being mute, she also has severe behavioral issues and has thus been expelled from every school that her parents have enrolled her in.  Suzette, Hanna’s mom, makes the decision to stay home with Hanna and home school her.  It’s not a permanent solution but at least Hanna won’t fall behind academically until a better solution presents itself.

Somewhere along the way, Hanna decides that she hates her mother and only loves her daddy.  While she and her mom are alone together all day, Hanna goes out of her way to let her mom know just how much she hates her and then even starts scheming about ways to get rid of her.  Then when Daddy comes home, she turns on the sweetness and perfectly plays the role of Daddy’s little angel, keeping him in the dark about how she really feels about her mom and of course frustrating her mother to no end.

As Daddy remains oblivious to Hanna’s dark side even as Hanna steps up her attacks on her mom, Suzette truly begins to fear for her own safety.  Can she get through to her husband and make him understand that they have a serious problem on their hands with Hanna before it’s too late?

 

It’s hard to review books like this because I don’t want to give away any of the twist and turns that make it such a compelling read, but here are some elements of Baby Teeth that I really thought the author did a wonderful job with:

Two Points of View – I thought it was brilliant to present this story in alternating chapters between Suzette and Hanna.  Being able to get a glimpse inside each of their heads as this disturbing family dynamic played out was what really made the book such an engaging read for me.

Suzette’s perspective was especially easy to relate to because all she can think about is what did she do wrong as a mother to make Hanna hate her so much.  Not only does she question where she went wrong as a parent, but then she feels tremendous guilt because there are times when Hannah pushes the envelope so far, that Suzette finds herself thinking horrible things about her child and sometimes even saying horrible things to her because she has been pushed to her limit.  In many ways, Suzette starts to really question herself as a mom.  How could she possibly think such terrible things about her child, who she really does love with all her heart, no matter how troubled she is?  Again, I found Suzette’s perspective to be very relatable and could imagine myself thinking many of the same things if I was in her shoes.

Hanna’s perspective added another disturbing layer to the narrative because even a quick glance at what’s going on inside her head reveals that she is truly a troubled little girl on many levels.  She’s callous, unfeeling, manipulative, and frankly, just all around creepy.  As soon as I’d read a chapter from Hanna, I’d instantly be all the more sympathetic to Suzette because she clearly had her hands full and was on her own thanks to Daddy Oblivious falling for all of Hanna’s tricks.

Twists and Turns – Another aspect of Baby Teeth that really entertained me was that it was fast-paced and filled with twists and turns that constantly kept me guessing about what was really going on with Hanna.  At times, the story had the feel of a horror movie so it really had me considering any and all possible explanations for Hanna’s behavior – is it psychological?  Are we going to find out she was somehow abused?  Is there something supernatural afoot?  I liked that the story really had me open to so many possibilities, no matter how over the top they seemed.

 

I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on the fact that I was not a huge fan of Hanna’s dad.  I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt – that Hanna was just that good of a manipulator – but it really just frustrated me to no end that he just didn’t get how dysfunctional their whole family situation was and how troubled his daughter truly was.

The only other real issue I had with Baby Teeth was that sometimes I found it hard to believe that a 7-year old child could devise some of the intricate and truly evil plots that Hanna came up with against her mother.  I know some kids are more precocious than others, but some of her schemes and just some of her thoughts in general came across as way too sophisticated for a child of that age.  In some ways it bothered me because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it and sometimes it felt like maybe the author was just trying too hard to make the book shocking, but at the same time, it still kind of worked for me because it made my own imagination run wild, which added to the dark and twisted nature of the book and to the horror vibe that I was already feeling:  Does she have multiple personality disorder or some other mental illness?  Is she a psychopath?  Do we have a case of The Exorcist going on here?  Has she been possessed?  Those last ones probably sound a little silly, but the book really just sucks you in that much!

 

Baby Teeth is sure to please readers who enjoy thrillers and/or horror.  It’s a wild, dark, and twisted ride that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the battle between Hanna and Suzette play out.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER FOR BABY TEETH

 

 

* * * * * *

 

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN AN ARC of BABY TEETH (U.S. residents only, sorry!)

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter for your chance to win an ARC of this book.  I have 3 copies to give away and the giveaway will run until June 8th.  Please be sure to follow me on twitter as I plan to DM the three winners to get mailing addresses.  I do apologize in advance that this giveaway is U.S. only since I always prefer to do international.  I have the ARCs in hand to pass along to the winners and sadly I just can’t afford to ship them internationally.  🙁

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

three-half-stars

About Zoje Stage

Before turning to novels, Zoje Stage had a deep and eclectic background in film and theatre. Highlights include being a 2012 Emerging Storytellers Fellow from the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP.org), and a 2008 Fellow in Screenwriting from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA.org). In 2009 she won the Screenplay Live! Screenwriting Competition, which afforded her the opportunity to direct a staged reading of her winning script, THE MACHINE WHO LOVED, for the High Falls Film Festival (Rochester, NY). Zoje has written-directed-produced numerous zero-budget films, including the documentary short BEST OF LUCK (“an amusing take on the travails of aspiring writers” – The New York Times). Her films have screened at venues such as Anthology Film Archives and Two Boots Pioneer Theater (both in NYC), Film Kitchen (Pittsburgh, PA), and Emerging Filmmakers (Rochester, NY). As a playwright, Zoje is most proud of her play MONSTER, which was produced in Pittsburgh by the Upstairs Theatre (“Ms. Stage now makes her own contribution to holocaust literature with a demanding and intensely felt play… a must-see for those wanting another view of why and how the holocaust happened.” – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). After living in Rochester, NY for many years, she is back in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.

Review: LEGENDARY

Review:  LEGENDARYLegendary by Stephanie Garber
Also by this author: Caraval
four-stars
Series: Caraval #2
Published by Flatiron Books on May 29, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Also in this series: Caraval
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:

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017. While, unfortunately, it did not quite live up to my very high expectations for it, I still found it an entertaining enough read that I wanted to continue the series, especially once I read the premise for the second book, Legendary, and saw that the story was being told from the perspective of my favorite character from Caraval, younger sister Donatella Dragna, or Tella as she is called. I didn’t feel like nearly enough attention was paid to Tella in the first book, so knowing that the second book is her story made Legendary a must-read for me.  I kept my expectations in check this time around and I’m thrilled to say that Legendary far exceeded all of my expectations and now has me eager to complete the series.

Reviewing middle books in a series is always so hard for me.  I want to gush about everything I loved, but it’s hard to do it without potentially spoiling the first book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  I’ve therefore decided to do this review a little differently than I normally do and just present you with all of the reasons why Legendary worked so much better for me than Caraval did.  Hopefully it’s not spoilery, and if it is, hopefully it’s only mildly so.

 

5 REASONS WHY I ENJOYED LEGENDARY MORE THAN CARAVAL

 

  1. Tella is a more compelling narrator than Scarlett. I’ll admit it…and I’m pretty sure I admitted it when I reviewed Caraval, Scarlett was not my favorite Dragna sister.  While I liked her loyalty and devotion to her sister, Tella, beyond that she just didn’t really hold my attention at all.   Tella, on the other hand, is a much more complex and interesting character.  She’s the sister who everyone thinks is just high strung and flaky, and so they always underestimate her.  I enjoyed watching the second installment of this series unfold through Tella’s eyes and even more so, I loved getting inside her head and discovering that there really is so much more to her than people give her credit for.  Tella was actually my favorite character in Caraval and even though that first book was only an okay read for me, as soon as I heard Legendary was Tella’s story, I knew I had to continue the series and I’m thrilled that I did because the second book far exceeded my expectations and that’s mostly because of the change in perspective from Scarlett to Tella.
  1. Caraval Fall Out. Something that really made Legendary a more interesting read for me than Caraval was the fallout from being in an environment where literally no one could be trusted.  Now that Scarlett and Tella are interacting with some of the Caraval players outside of the game, it adds an underlying element of mistrust in all of their interactions that I found very entertaining.  It’s like “Can I trust you now?  Do you really like me or is this still an act?” All of the players are clearly gifted actors so it was easy to understand why Tella and Scarlett remained so suspicious of them. 
  1. Greater sense of urgency. Instead of just being an elite game that everyone is dying to play as in the first book, this time the Caraval experience has much higher stakes, thanks to a bargain Tella has secretly made with a mysterious and shady individual.  There’s something she desperately wants that he says only he can deliver, but he’ll only do so if she can get something for him in return, the true identity of Caraval mastermind, Legend.  Legend’s identity is one of Caraval’s best kept secrets and the only way she can get it is to win Caraval.  As soon as Tella begins to play, however, she learns that this Caraval is quite different from the first one she participated in, dangerously so.  It becomes clear that Legend has enemies who will stop at nothing to take him down and won’t hesitate to take Tella down as well if she gets in their way.
  1. Rules are Made to be Broken. One of the reasons I wasn’t keen on Scarlett in the first book was her refusal to let the main rule of Caraval sink into her head. No matter how many times people reminded her it was just a game, nothing was real, she just took everything so seriously and kept diving off the deep end. For that reason, I loved the twist Garber throws in Legendary.  Instead of being told that nothing is real and everything’s a game, Tella is instead warned that this time around, everything IS real.  It keeps Tella and the reader in a constant state of doubt over whether things are real or not because this situation is the exact opposite of what we and Tella were expecting and it’s hard to believe Caraval would completely change up its number one rule. 
  1. Less “Purple” Prose. I was not a huge fan of some of the writing in Caraval.  In some ways it felt like Garber was just trying too hard to convey a sense of the magical atmosphere that is Caraval, using overly flowery descriptions that sometimes didn’t make sense and therefore slowed down my reading of the story.  That said, however, Garber really hits her stride in Legendary and her efforts to capture the magical atmosphere of the latest Caraval setting just felt so much more effortless.  I really appreciated how easily I was able to breeze through the writing this time and only stumbled over an occasional “purple” phrase: “The air tasted like wonder. Like candied butterfly wings caught in sugared spiderwebs, and drunken peaches coated in luck.”  I’ll admit that one gave me pause, but generally speaking, the descriptions just felt so much more natural and streamlined in Legendary and Garber has done this while still retaining all of the magical quality that is Caraval.

 

BONUS REASON (BECAUSE I JUST COULDN’T STOP AT 5!)

 

  1. The Fates. I can’t really say anything about this without spoiling the second book.  If you’ve already read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you‘ll know why I loved this part so much.  The addition of the Fates to the story was both unexpected and totally brilliant.

 

So there you have it.  I hope I’ve managed to convey my love of the second book without completely spoiling the first for those who haven’t started the series yet.  I’ll close by saying while I may have gotten off to a rough start with the Caraval series, I’m all in now and can’t wait to get my hands on the final book in this magical trilogy.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

four-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay KristoffLIFEL1K3 (Lifelike, #1) by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: Lifelike #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 29, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

GoodreadsAmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBD

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Book Tour to promote Jay Kristoff’s latest novel, LIFEL1K3.  Thanks so much to RockStar Book Tours for allowing me to take part in this tour and thanks so much to Jay Kristoff for allowing me to preview his book.

 

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s LifeL1k3 truly captivated me from the first page. It’s an action-packed science fiction adventure that follows Eve, a scrappy street smart young woman who lives with her grandfather and who is doing the best she can to survive from one day to the next.  The America we know has been decimated by war and natural disasters and Eve, like most others in her world, now live as scavengers.  When we first meet Eve, she is fighting in a robot gladiator duel, trying to earn money.  Unfortunately, her opponent is bigger and stronger and ultimately Eve’s robot is destroyed.  When her own life is unexpectedly put in danger by her opponent, she unleashes a power that she never realized she had and destroys the other robot just by thinking about it and screaming.  She has no idea how she did it, but what she does know is that it means she is now in a world of trouble. “Deviants” like Eve have been labeled unacceptable by a puritanical Brotherhood that has somehow put itself in charge in an otherwise lawless environment.  There is now a bounty on Eve’s head, which has her looking over her shoulder for trouble at every turn.

The trouble Eve finds comes in the shape of an android boy named Ezekiel that Eve finds in the wreckage of a downed plane.  Somehow Ezekiel knows Eve, and the more Eve learns about how Ezekiel knows her, the more she realizes her entire life has been a lie. Eve desperately needs answers so she, Ezekiel, and her friends set off on a dangerous journey to discover the truth.  Will the price for the truth be too high though?

There’s so much to love about LifeL1k3 that I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll just start with the fantastic characters Kristoff has created in this book.

First, there’s Eve.  There are many sides to Eve and I just love the complexity with which Kristoff has written her. On the one hand, she’s this super sassy badass robot fighter, yet on the other hand, she’s also an underdog with a bounty on her head. I always like to cheer for the underdog anyway so Eve captured my attention and my support from those opening moments, especially as soon as we learn that she’s not just robot fighting to win a little extra cash.  No, she’s desperately trying to win money to purchase cancer meds for her ailing grandfather.  That devotion to her family really sealed the deal for me when it came to Eve, especially once it was coupled with the fact that she then learns that her whole life has basically been a lie and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. That kind of deception can really do a number on a person so even when Eve occasionally lashes out at those around her, I still felt for her because I can only imagine how I would react in her shoes.

As much as I liked Eve, however, Kristoff has created a cast of secondary characters in LifeL1k3 that truly stole my heart.  Lemon Fresh was my absolute favorite character.  She’s a hilarious pink-haired bundle of sass but she’s also the most loyal friend Eve could ever ask for.  Then there’s Cricket, who is a small robot with a major attitude when it comes to his stature:  “Don’t call me little!” He is programmed to protect Eve at all costs and like Lemon, is one of Eve’s most loyal companions.  And finally, there’s the most loyal of them all, Kaiser, who is the most precious cyborg Rottweiler ever.  He’s totally mechanical but has the brain of an actual dog, and he’s just too adorable for words.  He even loves to have his metal tummy rubbed just like a real dog.  I just adored these characters so much and loved how completely devoted to Eve they all were.  They’re a little family or like the four musketeers.

Ezekiel is another incredibly well developed character, especially considering he’s an android (or Lifelike).  He comes across as so real that I had to keep reminding myself he’s a robot. He’s also the one who turns Eve’s whole world upside down, and I enjoyed all of the complicated dynamics of his relationship with Eve.

In addition to a cast of incredible characters, I was also a huge fan of Kristoff’s worldbuilding in LifeL1k3.  The story is set in the future, in a post-war, post-apocalyptic version of America. It’s a desert wasteland, filled with ruins and radiation, and overall it has a very Mad Max vibe to it, which I loved.

As if all of that wasn’t fabulous enough, what actually appealed to me the most was all of the big themes that were encompassed in this book.  It’s not just an action-packed sci-fi read that provided me with a major adrenaline rush.  It’s also a thought-provoking story that tackles major topics like the idea of man playing God and the inevitable consequences of doing so, as well as the idea that we are not necessarily defined by our past, that we still have free will to choose who we want to be.  I love a book that gives me plenty of food for thought, and this book really does just that.

The only real issue I had with LifeL1k3 was that it took a little getting used to the different slang words the characters used. That’s usually the case for me with science fiction though so I expected it going in and it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the overall story.

I was also a little confused at first when we started getting chapters from Lemon’s point of view since the bulk of the story came to us from Eve.  I ultimately didn’t mind though because I loved Lemon even more once I had a chance to get inside of her head and see things from her perspective.  Her voice was a welcome addition to the storytelling.  I also hope that it means Lemon will play an even bigger role as the series continues.

LifeL1k3 is an action-packed science fiction adventure that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  There’s deception, drama, and plot twists galore, and it’s also filled with memorable characters that you’re sure to fall in love with.  With LifeL1k3, Jay Kristoff has crafted a wonderful book that has a little something for everyone.  I really can’t wait to continue the series and see what happens next!

 

 

FINISHED COPY GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of LIFEL1K3, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

PRE-ORDER GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

The LIFEL1K# pre-order is now live for folks in the US! To get your sticky booky hands on a full color map of the Yousay by the amazing Virginia Allyn and four brill LIFEL1K3 bookmarks with illustrations by the incredibly talented Mona May, all you need to is:

  1. Pre order LIFEL1K3 (Amazon/Barnes&Noble/Indiebound/Powells/Book Depository/ it doesn’t matter from where, just get a receipt)
  2. Head to getunderlined.com and search for “Lifel1k3”. Or better yet, just click HERE.
  3. Enter your details and upload your receipt.
  4. Profit.

 

AUSSIE & NEW ZEALAND GIVEAWAY!

HOW TO ENTER

Take a SELFIE with a copy of LIFEL1K3 and SHARE IT using #LIFEL1K3comp for your chance to win tickets for you and a friend to go to any concert of your choice!

 Entry is open to Australian and New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply. Ends 09/05/2018.

https://a.pgtb.me/mlvSGS

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

5/14/2018- Mary Had a Little Book Blog– Review

5/15/2018- Fiction Fare– Review

5/16/2018- Birdie Bookworm– Review

5/17/2018- Novel Heartbeat– Review

5/18/2018- Bookish In Bed– Review

Week Two:

5/21/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

5/22/2018- Confessions of a YA Reader– Review

5/23/2018- Emily Reads Everything– Review

5/24/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

5/25/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

5/28/2018- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

5/29/2018- Diary of an Avid Reader– Review

5/30/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

5/31/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

6/1/2018- Nerdophiles– Review

 

Week Four:

6/4/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

6/5/2018- Novel Novice– Review

6/6/2018- The Book Nut– Review

6/7/2018- Book Briefs– Review

6/8/2018- A Gingerly Review– Review

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

His LOTUS WAR trilogy was critically acclaimed in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards and won the 2014 Aurealis Award. Jay’s new series, the SciFi thriller THE ILLUMINAE FILES, was co-authored with Amie Kaufman. Book 1, ILLUMINAE, became a New York Times and international bestseller, was named among the Kirkus, Amazon and YALSA Best Books of 2015, became a finalist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and won the 2016 Aurealis Award and an ABIA Book of the Year award. ILLUMINAE is currently slated to be published in thirty five countries, and film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment.

Jay’s new fantasy series, THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, commenced in 2016. The novel was an international bestseller, won the Aurealis award and earned Kristoff his second Gemmell nomination. Part 2, GODSGRAVE, was published in 2017, and won the series its second Aurealis award. A new YA series, LIFEL1K3 has also been acquired by Knopf/Random House Kids, and commences publication in early 2018. A new series with Amie Kaufman, THE ANDROMEDA CYCLE, begins in 2019 with Knopf/Random House Kids. Jay is as surprised about all this as you are. He is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 12,000 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell. He does not believe in happy endings.

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review:  From Twinkle, With LoveFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 22, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
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:

Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love is a light and romantic YA contemporary that is sure to delight fans of her first book When Dimple Met Rishi.  It follows high school student Twinkle Mehra, who is an inspiring filmmaker but also a bit of a wallflower who is really working on trying to find her voice.  She wants to use her passion for filmmaking to tell stories to the world but feels like she really needs to work on building herself up so that the world will listen to her.  When fellow film buff, cutie Sahil Roy suggests that they work on a film project together for an upcoming school festival, Twinkle jumps at the opportunity. This could be the big break she has been looking for, to finally share her filmmaking vision with more than just her five YouTube subscribers.  If she does this project, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people will finally see her work.  An added bonus for Twinkle is that working with Sahil could get her closer to her longtime crush, Sahil’s twin brother, Neil, who in her mind, she has scripted out a picture perfect future with.

As Twinkle and Sahil get to know each other better, however, Twinkle starts to unexpectedly have feelings for Sahil.  He’s cute, sweet, and everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend…except that Sahil’s not the boy she has been fantasizing about.  He’s not the popular brother who could be the key to Twinkle climbing the social ladder and reinserting herself into former bff Maddie’s new circle of rich friends.  Will Twinkle follow her heart to Sahil or will her desire to be noticed by the popular kids stand in the way of her chance at real love?

Twinkle: I’ll admit that Twinkle was a bit of a mixed bag for me, although I did like her overall.  I loved her intelligence and her passion for filmmaking and that she has all of these stories that she wants to tell.  Where I struggled a little more with Twinkle was when it came to the relationships in her life, whether it’s friendships, love interests, and especially her family.  Twinkle is messy and complicated in these areas, which I liked in the sense that it made her come across as very realistic, but at the same time, it also made her, at times, come across as a bit juvenile.  I lost track of how many times I thought “Girl, you have some serious growing up to do.”  I did feel sympathy for her most of the time, especially when her best friend Maddie basically ditches her for some new rich friends who aren’t even remotely nice to Twinkle.  Watching that relationship fall apart was pretty painful, but even more painful, was watching Twinkle desperately cling to it and obsess over how she was going to get Maddie back.

One of the things I liked the most about Twinkle though was watching her finally find her voice.  She starts off as somewhat meek, thinking things but never saying them. But as she grows into her role as a film director while working with Sahil and her classmates on the film project, she really comes into her own and finds her voice.  This, too, is messy because she goes off the rails a bit before she finds the right balance, but again, that just made it feel all the more realistic.

Sahil:  I think Sahil could give Rishi a serious run for his money in the precious and adorable department.  I’m sure the title character of this book was the one who was supposed to steal my heart but instead, it was Sahil all the way.  Sahil is so kind, patient, and selfless, and he’s also a little reserved and sad at times because he lives in the shadow of his superstar twin brother Neil. And like Twinkle, Sahil has a passion for films.  I thought it was so sweet when he worked up the nerve to ask her to work on a film with him for the school festival, especially after learning that Sahil has had a mad crush on Twinkle since they were both 11 years old.  And my heart just ached for him knowing how he felt about Twinkle, while at the same time, knowing that she’s busy scheming how to get his brother to notice her.  I spent a lot of the novel worrying that Twinkle was going to accidentally squish Sahil’s heart into a million pieces.

Unique Structure:  One of my favorite aspects of From Twinkle, with Love is the way Menon presents most of the story through Twinkle’s journal entries.  I thought it was just brilliant that instead of just randomly writing entries in her journals, she actually addresses them to her favorite female directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ava Duvernay. As someone who has always wanted to keep a journal but consistently failed at it miserably, I couldn’t help but wish I had thought of doing something like this.  And there’s more…While most of the story is presented from Twinkle’s perspective, we do get a little of it from Sahil’s perspective as well in a combination of bro-texts to his two bffs and some not-so-anonymous posts to his blog about his love for “Sparkle.” You know, because no one would EVER figure out that Sparkle is Twinkle, lol.  (Have I mentioned that Sahil is the absolute most precious and adorable part of this entire book?  Because yeah, he totally is!)

Groundlings vs Silk Feathered Hat Wearers:  I think this is going to be one of those things that really annoyed me but won’t bother most people, but the constant use of this comparison throughout the novel really drove me crazy after a while.  At first I thought it was clever when Twinkle started writing about Shakespearean theater and comparing herself to the groundlings (those with little money who would go to see the plays but stood on the ground at the theater because they couldn’t afford to purchase a seat) vs. the Silk Feathered Hat Wearing types who could afford the seats and who pranced around in fancy clothing acting important.  Twinkle’s dream is to use her filmmaking talents to rise up from “Groundling” status so that she is no longer invisible to those of higher social status.  While I didn’t necessarily have an issue with Twinkle’s dream, it drove me batty that literally every time she talked or wrote about the dream, she mentioned the actual terms ‘Groundlings’ and ‘Silk Feathered Hat Wearers.’ It went from feeling clever to feeling repetitive.

Too Many Love Interests:  I actually think the story would have been a stronger read for me with less focus on boys and more focus on filmmaking.  There were just too many potential love interests floating around – Sahil and Twinkle, or is it Neil and Twinkle, or no, wait, is it the anonymous email-writing secret admirer and Twinkle?  For someone like me who isn’t that much of a romance reader, this was just too much for me.

One final area where I struggled a little is that Twinkle seemed very young and immature at times.  She mentions in the first journal entry that she is sixteen but there were times when I thought she came across as much younger than that, more like 14.  Thankfully she did start to show some growth and maturity as I moved through the book, but it threw me a little in the early goings and made it a little harder to connect with Twinkle than I would have hoped.  I think maybe my expectations were just misplaced because Dimple and Rishi seemed so much older and more mature in Menon’s first book.

From Twinkle, with Love explores a lot of themes that readers are sure to find relatable – love, friendship, family, finding one’s voice, and following one’s dreams. While I didn’t find it quite as captivating a story as I did When Dimple Met Rishi, I still thought it was a solidly entertaining read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.