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.

Review: DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Review:  DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins ReidDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Also by this author: One True Loves
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on March 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DAISY JONES & THE SIX Review

 

I just recently started reading Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novels.  After enjoying her popular book One True Loves and absolutely falling in love with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest, Daisy Jones & the Six, especially after learning that it’s about the rise and fall of a rock band in the 1970s.  I’ve been a huge rock music fan all my life so I felt like this book really had my name written all over it.

The characters drew me in right away, every single one of them really, but especially Billy and Daisy, who are both just so incredibly compelling because of the inner demons they are both battling.  Daisy is an ‘It’ girl on the rise. She’s gorgeous, almost ethereal, and she has a penchant for living like a wild child, drinking and doing drugs whenever the mood hits.  She has adopted this party girl lifestyle after years of being neglected by her parents.  It’s her way of never having to be alone.  Deep down though, Daisy really just wants to focus on her music.  Daisy has a gift for singing and songwriting, and her dream is to write and perform her own songs.

Billy Dunne is the lead singer of the Six, a rock band whose star is rising just as fast as Daisy’s.  He is fighting similar demons, but is trying to get his act together because his girlfriend had just informed him she’s pregnant and he knows his baby deserves better than a drunken, drug-addicted father.  As Billy and Daisy battled their demons, they weren’t always the most likeable characters and sometimes they did awful things, but I still found myself wholeheartedly cheering them on and hoping they could conquer their demons.

The other members of the band and the friends and family members who were interviewed were also very well developed.  Daisy and Billy were the standouts for sure, but every single character in the book felt real as did all of the intricacies of their professional and personal relationships.  The love-hate relationships, the thrill of the band’s success, coupled with the jealousy of some of the band members who felt they were being shoved into the background by Billy and Daisy, the subsequent tension as those feelings continued to fester – all of it just felt so authentic and I found myself emotionally invested in all of the characters because they were like a family, albeit a sometimes dysfunctional one.

One of my favorite parts of the book is how much attention Taylor Jenkins Reid devotes to the actual making of the Daisy Jones & the Six album.  She leaves no detail unexplored and it felt like I truly was watching an album being crafted from start to finish. We get to see song writing sessions between Daisy and Billy, the rest of the band working on musical arrangements to fit Daisy and Billy’s lyrics, the actual mixing of the album, and even a photoshoot for the album cover.  As a music lover, I flew through these pages, completely infatuated by the whole process, especially those song writing sessions. Billy and Daisy are both so strong-willed that the sessions often started with a lot of head-butting before something would finally click with them.

Finally, I loved the way the band’s story is presented.  The premise is that they’re being interviewed years after the band has broken up, with each of them giving their perspective on what happened on their rise to the top and their subsequent break up.  The closest comparison I can make is that it reminded me of VH1’s Behind the Music, a television program that takes an intimate look into the personal lives of some of the most influential musicians of our time.  I loved the way the story unfolds because every band member tends to have their own version of what took place so the “truth” of what happened is definitely shaped by who happened to be telling the story at any given moment. I know I keep mentioning the word authentic, but it fits here as well. Taylor Jenkins Reid writes this format so well and infuses these characters with such life and such passion about what happens during their time in the band that I felt like I was reading an interview that had actually taken place. It didn’t feel like fiction at all. I even stopped reading at one point to Google the band and make sure they really were fictional because everything just felt that real.

My only issue is that I wish Daisy Jones & the Six was a real band because the whole time I was reading, I really wanted to hear their music.  The songs Billy and Daisy were writing just sounded that good!  Seriously though, no issues whatsoever.

I honestly didn’t think there was anyway Taylor Jenkins Reid could possibly top her phenomenal last novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but she really outdoes herself with Daisy Jones & the Six.  The characters, the intimacy and complexity of the relationships, the story telling, the authenticity of this band’s journey, really just everything about this book is about as close to perfection as it gets for me.  It’s only March and I can already tell you this book is going on my Best of 2019 list at the end of the year. It’s just that good.  I think music fans in particular will love Daisy Jones & the Six, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone else who just loves a well-crafted story.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

 

five-stars

About Taylor Jenkins Reid

TAYLOR JENKINS REID lives in Los Angeles and is the acclaimed author of One True Loves, Maybe in Another LifeAfter I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Her most recent novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, came out June 13, 2017. Her novels have been named best books of summer by People, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, InStyle, PopSugar, BuzzFeed, Goodreads, and others.

In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in places such as the Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post, and Money Magazine.

Review: YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT by Laura Silverman

Review:  YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT by Laura SilvermanYou Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman
Also by this author: Girl Out of Water
four-half-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT review

Wow, what a book!  I thought Laura Silverman’s debut Girl out of Water was a great read, but with You Asked for Perfect, she really knocks it out of the park with a book that resonated with me both as someone who has been through and remembers all too well the stressful days of trying to get into a good college, and as the parent of a pre-teen who is already taking advanced classes and will soon be potentially heading down a path similar to that of Silverman’s protagonist, high school senior Ariel Stone.

On paper, Ariel is the ideal college applicant. He’s a straight A student who is well on his way to becoming class valedictorian, first chair violin in the school orchestra, and an active volunteer in his community.  He should easily be able to get into any college he applies to.  However, Ariel is dreaming big – Ivy League big — and Harvard is where he wants to go. Ariel knows he has to push for perfection in all areas if he wants to be the ideal Harvard applicant on paper, so when he unexpectedly fails a Calculus quiz, he knows he needs to step up his game if he’s going to keep his dream alive.

Ariel starts skipping out on time with his friends and family, putting together a rigorous schedule for studying and for meeting other assorted college-related deadlines.  He has his days mapped out by the hour to squeeze every moment of study time in that he can, leaving himself only about 5 hours of sleep a night. Even with this nearly impossible schedule, however, Ariel continues to struggle with Calculus and knows his dream is in danger of slipping out of reach.

Torn between trying to hide the fact that he’s struggling and knowing that he needs help, Ariel reluctantly approaches Amir, who is acing Calculus and asks him for assistance. Even though they’ve never been especially close, Amir agrees to be Ariel’s tutor.  The more time Ariel and Amir spend together, the more Ariel realizes that he likes Amir more than he thought he did, a lot more.  But Ariel is already pushing himself to the limit.  Can he handle adding a relationship into his already overbooked life?

What I loved most about this book is how much the story resonated with me.  Even though it has been many years since I graduated, Silverman paints such an authentic portrait of what it’s like to be a high school senior preparing for the future, that I felt like I was transported right back to my own senior year.  It brought back so many memories:  the pressure of taking multiple AP courses, finding the time for countless extracurricular activities, all in an effort to put together the best possible transcript for applying to colleges.  You Asked for Perfect also resonated with me as the parent of a pre-teen who is already taking advanced math courses and stressing about homework, etc., and who, in the not too distant future, could potentially be heading down a path similar to Ariel’s.  This book brings to life all of the worries I have for my own child and how he will react if he faces the kind of pressure Ariel is facing.

Speaking of Ariel, he was another favorite element in the book.  He’s such a likeable kid — he’s a wonderful brother to his little sister and he volunteers at the local animal shelter where he bathes and exercises the dogs – so it just pained me to watch him struggling so much.  Because his story is so relatable, I found it very easy to empathize with him and want him to either succeed or to realize that nothing in life is worth that kind of stress.

I also thought Amir was just precious.  Even though he could have easily spilled the beans and let all of their classmates know Ariel was failing Calculus, he instead chose to keep it to himself and to help him.  Watching their relationship evolve was really sweet and I was really rooting for Ariel to try to find a way to fit Amir into his life.

I also loved the focus on Ariel’s Jewish faith.  Sometimes books will mention that a character is of a certain faith but then not really explore it further, but in this book, Silverman does a wonderful job of really giving an inside look at Jewish traditions such as Shabbat dinners and the high holidays. There are also some very moving scenes where Ariel seeks counsel from his Rabbi.

Nothing that I can think of.

Laura Silverman’s You Asked for Perfect is a beautifully written and moving story that is sure to resonate with many readers, both students and parents alike.  I also think it’s an incredibly important read because it highlights just how much stress our students are putting on themselves and what can happen when that stress gets to be too much.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.

Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

four-half-stars

About Laura Silverman

Laura Silverman currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a writer and freelance editor, and spends way too much time hugging dogs instead of working.

Silverman’s debut novel, GIRL OUT OF WATER, is a summery coming-of-age story about a California surfer girl sent to landlocked Nebraska for the entire summer. It debuted in May 2017. Her second novel, YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT, is about the effects of intense academic pressure on a teenage Valedictorian-to-be. It comes out March 2019.

Silverman has degrees in English and Advertising from the University of Georgia, and an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. While she lived in NYC, she interned at Penguin and two different literary agencies. In addition to writing, Silverman also freelance edits manuscripts and query letters.

Early Review: DESPERATE PATHS by E. C. Diskin

Early Review:  DESPERATE PATHS by E. C. DiskinDesperate Paths by E.C. Diskin
Also by this author: Depth of Lies
four-stars
Published by Thomas & Mercer on March 19, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESPERATE PATHS Review

E.C. Diskin’s Desperate Paths opens with main character Brooklyn Anderson sitting in a jail cell in Eden, Illinois and we immediately learn that she is considered a potential suspect in the murder of her father. As Brooklyn sits in the cell wondering how she has landed in this mess, the story then flashes back to a week earlier when Brooklyn, an aspiring actress living in New York, receives a phone call from her estranged sister, Ginny, begging her to please come home because their dad has fallen and broken a hip.

As soon as Brooklyn comes face to face with her sister, she can tell that Ginny isn’t being completely honest with her about what happened to her dad.  The details don’t add up and she flat out catches Ginny in more than one lie.  While Brooklyn is at the hospital, she runs into the town sheriff, who happens to be a close family friend. She learns from him that former Eden resident and now famous actor, Darius Woods is also in the hospital, fighting for his life.  Darius had written a screen play that would bring to light some very ugly truths about the town of Eden and some of its residents.  Not many people knew about the script yet, but those who did know, knew how explosive it would be.  Within hours of Darius returning to Eden to visit his dad and talk about the script, someone shoots him.

As law enforcement investigates the shooting and Brooklyn continues to try to get the full truth about what has happened to her father from Ginny, Brooklyn discovers some uncomfortable truths about her own family and realizes her entire life has been nothing but a lie.

Diskin’s setup for the story is brilliant because within a few pages, my mind was already starting to churn with questions I’m dying to know the answers to.  How in the world does a daughter rush home to care for her father and end up in jail in danger of being charged with his murder? Why can’t Brooklyn get a straight answer from her sister about their Dad’s fall?  What shocking truths does Brooklyn uncover about her family?  Where does Darius fit into all of this or is his shooting completely unrelated?

I also got really caught up in the messy sibling relationship between Brooklyn and Ginny. Brooklyn is adopted and is much younger than Ginny, so Ginny has rarely shown much interest in being a part of Brooklyn’s life.  This made me sympathetic to Brooklyn right away, as did seeing her in the opening pages working so hard to make her dream of becoming an actress a reality.  Brooklyn is determined and resourceful, but is also willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to rush home and care for her father.  Because I found her such a likeable character, I was all the more invested in finding out how in the world she had landed herself in a jail cell.

Ginny, on the other hand, was not an especially likable character, at first.  She’s telling lie after lie to Brooklyn and to others, and it quickly becomes clear to Brooklyn that Ginny and her father are hiding something.  I was not a fan of Ginny’s deception and found myself actively disliking her.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers though so I’m just going to say that something Brooklyn discovers late in the story makes me take a second and more sympathetic look at Ginny.

The way the story is presented really appealed to me too.  We watch the drama unfold from the perspectives of Brooklyn, Ginny, and the Sheriff, and the three perspectives are so unique because Brooklyn is actively seeking truths about her family, while Ginny is actively trying to hide something, and all the while, the Sheriff’s investigation seems to be leading him closer and closer to the Anderson family.  The story was clearly building towards an explosive conclusion, but alternating between these points of view and their conflicting objectives effectively kept me guessing until the very end about how all of these seemingly unrelated events would tie together.

I also liked that Diskin isn’t afraid to infuse her story with some hot-button social issues.  Again, I don’t want to give away any spoilers since these social issues are a major contributing factor to the events of the story and the truth that Brooklyn and the Sheriff seek, but basically if it’s an issue that’s being covered in the news right now, it’s an issue that is mirrored in Eden, Illinois as well.

Overall, I thought Desperate Paths was an addictive read that kept me on the edge of my seat as I watched everyone’s secrets being exposed.  That said, however, I did find myself shaking my head at Darius Woods. Considering he grew up in Eden and knew exactly what kind of people he was dealing with, it seems like he should have known his script would not go over well.  In a tiny town like Eden where everyone knows everyone else and, of course, knows all of their personal business too, changing the names of characters doesn’t really go very far to protect any identities, especially if you’re calling your film Surviving Eden.  Darius obviously did not deserve to be shot for this, but it just seemed so naïve on his part and had me yelling at him a few times while I was reading, especially because he seemed like a pretty smart guy otherwise.

I went into E.C. Diskin’s Desperate Paths expecting to read an exciting thriller, and while I definitely got that, I feel like I also got so much more.  Yes, there’s a death and another attempted murder that drive much of the plot, but at its heart, Desperate Paths is really a family drama about the lengths family members will go to in order to protect their own and the dangers of what can happen when long-held secrets and betrayals are suddenly laid bare for the world to see.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

She knew everything about her family and her town. Except its secrets.

Brooklyn Anderson knows it looks bad. She was found wiping down a gun. His blood on her hands. Her father now dead. The incomprehensible nightmare has started.

Seven days earlier, Brooklyn had returned to Eden to care for her beloved father, who lay helpless in a hospital bed. Her estranged sister, Ginny, said he fell. But as Brooklyn soon realizes, Ginny is prone to lying.

Former Eden resident Darius Woods was in the hospital too. The famous actor had written a screenplay that would lay bare all the secrets of the town, but within hours of his return, someone shot him.

As the Woods investigation proceeds, and Brooklyn starts to question everything she believes about her family, her neighbors, and her home, secrets and lies begin to unravel. But nothing can prepare her for where those lies will finally lead.

And sharing the truth of what happened the night her father died might just make things worse.

four-stars

About E.C. Diskin

E.C. Diskin studied Radio/TV/Film and English in Texas (TCU), moved to New York to dance with a tap dance company in Soho, and finally became “an adult” when she moved to Chicago for law school. But after several years behind a desk, a drawer full of story ideas, and two little ones at home, she took a break from the law and began writing fiction. Fortunately, the fantasy of living a creative life became reality with the success of her debut legal thriller, The Green Line. Her second, Broken Grace, ventured into psych thrillers, and her latest, Depth of Lies, dives into the veneers and secrets behind the closed doors of suburbia. When she’s not reading, writing, binge-watching Netflix, chauffeuring kids, or at the movies, she likes to play with power tools and build stuff.

Early Review: YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen Cook

Early Review:  YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen CookYou Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook
four-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU OWE ME A MURDER Review

Eileen Cook’s latest novel You Owe Me a Murder follows 17-year-old Kim, who is traveling to London for a class trip.  Kim initially agrees to go on this trip because her then-boyfriend had signed up to go as well. However, when he later dumps Kim, the trip is suddenly much less appealing to her, especially when she finds out his new girlfriend will also be going on the trip.  Unable to get out of it, Kim tries to make the best of a bad situation and when she strikes up a conversation with Nicki, a young woman from London who will be on their flight too, things suddenly start to look up for her.  Nicki listens sympathetically to Kim’s rants about her ex, and Kim reciprocates as Nicki rants about her mother.  Reminiscent of the book and film Strangers on a Train, Nicki then starts joking around about how they should swap murders, and because it’s keeping her entertained on their long flight, Kim plays along.

When the unexpected happens soon after they arrive in London, and Kim’s ex mysteriously dies, Kim realizes she may have bitten off more than she can handle, especially when she starts getting threatening messages from Nicki, reminding her that she’d better hold up her end of the deal.

Kim is such a great character.  She’s an interesting blend of resourcefulness and vulnerability, and I liked her right away.  Can you imagine anything more awkward than being a teenager stuck on a school trip with your ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend?  It was impossible not to feel sympathetic towards her and hope that she could figure out a way to have a good time in spite of her ex.  It was also easy to see how Kim got in way over her head with Nicki.  Nicki played it off like she’s this cool chick who gets where Kim is coming from, but she’s really a predator who preys on Kim’s obvious misery and naivety and gets her to vent about what a jerk her ex is and how her life would be so much better if he wasn’t around.  When Kim gets off that plane, she feels so much better about her trip, thanks to Nicki, but is completely oblivious as to what she has unintentionally set into motion.

One of my favorite things about You Owe Me a Murder is how it’s presented from Kim’s perspective.  We get her raw emotions as she witnesses her ex-boyfriend dying unexpectedly, followed by the sudden realization as to who is responsible and what it means for her.  Then we get that firsthand look at just how far Nicki has gotten into Kim’s head as she runs through all her options trying to come up with a way out of her predicament.  Her fears are palpable, as is her growing concern that her only way out may actually be to commit a murder.  Kim’s mind racing like this had me racing through the pages and I don’t think the story would have been nearly as effective if it had come to us from any other point of view.

The pacing of You Owe Me a Murder was fantastic as well.  I read it in one day and every time I sat the book down, I couldn’t get back to it fast enough.  Cook does an incredible job of building up the suspense as Kim waits for Nicki’s next move and tries to figure out how to outsmart her.  There was plot twist after plot twist, none of them predictable, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see who would come out on top.

Finally, I also liked that the book left me with so much to think about.  It’s so easy to see how someone could be too trusting and end up being taken advantage of and manipulated like Kim was.  It’s an uneasy thought but one that really resonated with me.

The only issue I had was that I would have liked a little more development of the secondary characters.  Most of them fell flat in comparison to Kim and Nicki.

Eileen Cook’s You Owe Me a Murder is a riveting thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller, but especially to anyone who is a fan of either Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train or the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Kim gets more than she bargained for when she is set up for murder. Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying, E. Lockhart, and Gillian Flynn.

17-year-old Kim never expected to plot a murder. But that was before her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. Now, Kim’s stuck on a class trip to London with him and his new soulmate and she can’t help wishing he was a little bit dead, even if she’d never really do that.

But when Kim meets Nicki, a stranger on the plane who’s more than willing to listen to Kim’s woes, things start to look up. Nicki’s got a great sense of humor, and when she jokes about swapping murders, Kim plays along—that is, until Kim’s ex-boyfriend mysteriously dies.

Blackmailed by Nicki to fulfill her end of the deal, Kim will have to commit a murder or take the fall for one.

four-stars

About Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers find their unique story to tell.

Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.