ARC Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a feminist Snow White retelling

ARC Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a feminist Snow White retellingGirls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
four-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on September 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling
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:

I have to confess that Snow White has always been one of my least favorite fairy tales because I could never get into the idea of one woman deciding she needed to poison another woman just because she might have taken her place as “the fairest of them all.”  That said, as soon as I heard that Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass was being advertised as a feminist retelling of the Snow White fairytale, it immediately became a must-read book for me.  I just couldn’t wait to find out what a feminist retelling would entail.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass was everything I hoped it would be and more.  It’s a beautifully written, character-driven exploration of the relationship between two women who are doomed to be rivals.  Lynet is the Snow White character in the story.  She is the 15 year old daughter of the King of Whitespring.  Lynet is a free spirit who loves to run, climb, and have endless adventures.  She has no interest whatsoever in politics or in ever becoming Queen.  Much to her frustration, her father constantly reminds her how much she looks like her beautiful dead mother and how one day she will take her mother’s place and become Queen of Whitespring.  Lynet doesn’t want to hear it because she just wants to grow up to be her own person, not a mirror image of a mother she never even met.  If she had to choose to be like anyone else, she would, in fact, choose to grow up to be like her strong and fierce stepmother, Mina.

Mina is, of course, the stepmother/Evil Queen figure in the story, and she also very unexpectedly turned out to be my favorite character.  Bashardoust writes such a rich and intricate backstory for Mina that even though she eventually ends up on a similar path to the stepmother in the original tale, it’s easy to see how she ends up in such a predicament.  We meet Mina while she is Queen of Whitespring, but the story quickly takes us back to when Mina was about Lynet’s age and being raised by her father, a well-known, often feared, magician in the kingdom. Mina’s father is cold, controlling, and sometimes hurtful.  In a particularly spiteful moment, he tells Mina that she nearly died of heart failure at age 4, and that to save her, he used magic to replace her dying heart with a glass one.  He tells Mina that because she has no actual heart, she cannot love and cannot be loved.  He goes on to tell Mina that all she can hope for is to make people love her because of her beauty.

When Mina’s father uses his magic to help the King one day, the King decides to repay him by offering him a place to live on the royal grounds.  Once living there, Mina comes up with the idea that if she can make the King fall in love with her, she can someday become Queen and thus earn the love of all of those in the kingdom.  Mina’s plan starts to fall into place and she and her stepdaughter Lynet actually become quite close, that is, until Lynet becomes old enough to become a threat to the throne.  Even though Lynet swears she has no interest in becoming queen, the threat she presents to Mina, who is so desperate to be loved, still starts to drive a wedge between them.

Are Lynet and Mina truly doomed to be rivals or can they figure out a way for each of them to get what they most want?

 

LIKES

My favorite part of Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the complexity of the relationship between Mina and Lynet.  Their relationship is ultimately the driving force behind this story and it’s no simple battle about who’s the fairest of them all.  These two women, care about one another, and as Lynet grows up, have truly become like family.  When Mina comes to the realization that Lynet may be the greatest obstacle to her finding that love she is so desperate for, it absolutely guts her.  She doesn’t want to have to hurt Lynet in any way to get what she wants.  Their relationship is just beautiful and heartbreaking.

Equally glorious to the complex relationship between the two main characters is the magic!  Okay, so there’s no dwarves, no poison apple, and no kiss from a handsome prince to break a curse.  A bit of a bummer maybe, but the magic Bashardoust has given to her characters more than makes up for it.  It’s just so creative and well, for lack of a better word, magical, haha!

As I’ve already mentioned, Mina’s father used magic to save Mina by giving her a glass heart.  As you probably also gleaned from the book’s title and synopsis, if Mina is the girl made of glass, then there is another girl who is made of snow.  Lynet is of course that girl.  There’s a very good reason why the King keeps telling Lynet she looks just like her mother.  The King had called Mina’s father to him, desperate to save his Queen, who was dying.  Mina’s father was unable to save her, but at the King’s request, used his magic to create an infant girl in the Queen’s likeness.  Using snow, Mina’s father gave the King what he wanted, Lynet.

Mina’s father somehow transferred a portion of his magic to each girl when he used it on them, thus infusing both Lynet and Mina with powers of their own.  That’s all I’m going to say about the magic for now, but trust me, it’s important and it’s awesome and these two young women are just badass, especially when they start using these powers.

Another element of the story that was really a highlight for me was an unexpected f/f relationship between Lynet and a young female surgeon named Nadia.  The romance comes about and develops in such a natural, low-key way and doesn’t at all distract from the rest of the plot, and I just thought it was beautifully written.   

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I only had a couple of issues with this story, the main one being that the men in it are just so UGHHH.  The King was basically a good man and he meant well, but at a certain point, it really started to bother me how much he kept obsessing on how much Lynet reminded him of her dead mother and how she was destined to take her mother’s place someday.  I know he didn’t mean it in an incestuous way, but it was still a little creepy.

Don’t even get me started on Mina’s father.  If you’re one who likes to have characters to hate, he’s your guy.  Aside from the fact that he did save Mina’s life when she was a little girl, there’s nothing else redeeming about him. He’s just a selfish, manipulative jerk.  He also had a creepy obsession with Lynet since he “made” her.  I have to admit, I spent much of the book wishing something horrible would happen to him.

Aside from the horrid men in the story, I did think the pacing was a little slow early on in the story and that it took me a little while to get used to Mina’s narrative being told from a present-day perspective as well as one from when she was 16.  Once I got used to the way Mina’s story was being presented, it was no longer an issue for me.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Girls of Snow and Glass is a book I’d recommend without hesitation to anyone who enjoys stories that are character driven.  I’d also recommend it to those who love fairytale retelling and even to those who say they’re burnt out on retellings. Even though this story borrows the overall idea of a young girl being in the way of her stepmother, Bashardoust has crafted such a creative story that if I hadn’t known this was a Snow White retelling going in, I don’t know that I would have guessed it.  It’s a uniquely fresh take on a timeless tale.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Melissa Bashardoust, and Flatiron Books for allowing me to preview Girls Made of Snow and Glass. This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

four-stars

ARC Review – Mask of Shadows

ARC Review – Mask of ShadowsMask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
three-half-stars
Series: Untitled #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 29th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
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:

Sallot Leon, the protagonist in Linsey Miller’s Mask of Shadows, is out for revenge.  Sal is the sole survivor of the territory of Nacea.  Nacea and all of its people were destroyed when the land of Erlend started a Civil War with the land of Alona.  Erlend was supposed to protect Nacea but when mysterious and deadly shadows were unleashed during the war, the Erlend lords chose to abandon Nacea and retreat to safety.  Completely alone and forced to live as a thief in order to survive, Sal is determined to make those Erlend lords pay for what they did to Nacea.

When Sal steals a poster advertising a contest to become Opal, one of the Queen’s group of elite assassins, it sounds like the perfect way to gain access to the lords and thus begin seeking revenge.  There’s just one catch – the competition to become Opal is basically a fight to the death, the last one alive wins.  So Sal’s plan is ultimately to get revenge or die trying.

 

LIKES

I’d have to say that Sal is definitely my favorite part of the novel. They are charming, witty, and extremely resourceful.  Sal is also the classic underdog in this competition because the majority of the competitors are heavily trained in combat and other lethal skills, whereas Sal is used to getting by on their street smarts.

You’ll also notice my use of ‘they’ as I’m referring to Sal.  Sal is a gender fluid protagonist, and in most cases is referred to as they, although Sal indicates that what gender pronouns are used should be dictated by what type of clothing is being worn. If Sal is wearing a dress, for example, using ‘she’ is perfectly acceptable.  I had never read a book with a gender fluid character in it before so this made for a unique read.  I don’t know much at all about gender fluidity but I thought Miller did a very nice job portraying it here.  I also liked that it was incorporated smoothly into the overall story and didn’t overshadow other plot points.  A few characters inquired about it in terms of how to address Sal, but otherwise they accepted it without question and moved on. It wasn’t treated as an oddity.

Another aspect of Mask of Shadows I enjoyed was the competition itself.  Yes, it was reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but it was still an exciting, action-packed part of the book regardless.  The rules were basically to kill as many of your fellow competitors as possible, but do so without being caught.  Since the competition is to become one of the Queen’s assassins, stealth is one of the most important qualities needed.  Miller does a fantastic job of building plenty of tension and suspense as the reader follows Sal through the competition, playing this ultra-intense kill-or-be-killed game, never knowing when a potential assassin might be hiding around any corner, or up in any tree, looking for the perfect opportunity to take them out. One distinct difference between this competition and The Hunger Games was that all of the competitors were referred to by numbers and wore numbered masks over their faces at all times.  They were only referred to by their numbers, which added an almost-dehumanizing element to the competition. I had mixed feelings about the masks because there were a few competitors I would have liked to know more about, but it was hard to connect with any of them since they were just faceless numbers.

Also somewhat reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but in a good way (for me anyway) is that each competitor is assigned a servant to help them dress, bathe, ensure they have safe, non-poisoned food to eat each day.  Sal’s servant, Maud, was one of my favorite characters in the book.  She’s not allowed to give Sal any kind of advantage during the competition, but behind the scenes, she is hard core in Sal’s corner.  Why?  Because if Sal wins, Maud gets a reward and a huge promotion.  So she’s very excited each day that Sal doesn’t die.  She’s sassy too, so she adds a much-welcomed element of lightheartedness in the middle of what is otherwise just scene after scene of murders and attempted murders.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

My biggest issues with Mask of Shadows had to do with pacing, which was slow at times, especially when the author was detailing Sal’s backstory and the reasons why they wanted to become one of the Queen’s assassins.  I lost interest a few times along the way and only came away with a vague notion of what the world of Mask of Shadows entailed so I would have loved more world building, but without it being in the form of info dumps.

I also had issues with the romance, which I found to be out of place and unfortunately distracting from the main storyline.  Although I thought Sal and Elise had a lot of chemistry when they first met (while Sal was robbing Elise), as the story went on and they are reunited as part of the competition, I preferred them  as teacher and student rather than romantic partners.

Overall, I think more action-packed competition scenes and little or no romance would have better served Mask of Shadows.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I did have some issues with it, overall I still enjoyed reading Mask of Shadows.  While parts of the storyline are in some ways reminiscent of The Hunger Games, the similarities did not bother me because there are still enough differences to make it a unique and entertaining read.

RATING:  3.5 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Linsey Miller, and Sourcebooks Fire for allowing me to preview this book.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book being reviewed.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class and the nobles who destroyed their home. 

When Sal Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen’s personal assassins named for the rings she wears — Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal — their world changes. They know it’s a chance for a new life.

Except the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge. 

three-half-stars

About Linsey Miller

A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in August 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

ARC Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

ARC Review:  The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine LockeThe Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
five-stars
Series: The Balloonmakers #1
Published by Albert Whitman Company on September 1st 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 256
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:

Katherine Locke’s The Girl with the Red Balloon is such a gorgeous and moving book that I’m nearly at a loss for words to convey just how good it really is.  I finished reading it a few days ago and just can’t stop thinking about it.   The Girl with the Red Balloon is not a light read by any stretch of the imagination – it deals with weighty subjects like the Holocaust, racism, homophobia, and what it was like to live behind the Iron Curtain before the Berlin Wall fell. For the most part, it’s a dark and gritty dual time period read that shows how horrific it was for Jews during World War II as well as how difficult it was to live under the eye of a totalitarian regime in 1980’s East Germany. It’s not all darkness and horror though. Katherine Locke uses a hint of magic and a bit of romance to offset all of that darkness.  You see, not only is this novel historical fiction that deals with more than one time period.  It’s also a time travel novel.

The Girl with the Red Balloon begins in present day Germany where we meet one of our main characters, sixteen year old Ellie Baum, who has traveled there on a class field trip.  She sees a red balloon floating nearby while hanging out with her classmates and asks her best friend to take a photo of her with it for her grandfather.  It reminds her of a story her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, always tells her, about how a girl in a purple dress handed him a red balloon when he arrived at a concentration camp during the war, and the balloon floated him out of the camp and to safety.

When Ellie grabs the balloon, however, the unexpected and unbelievable happens.  She travels back in time to 1988 and finds herself in East Berlin and in imminent danger!  There she is found and led to a safe house by Kai and Mitzi, a Romani gypsy and a German lesbian, who are part of a magical resistance group who uses red balloons to float people over the Berlin Wall and into West Germany.  The catch?  These balloons, while magical, are not supposed to travel through time.  The balloon makers are stumped as to what has happened to bring Ellie to them and are therefore unsure of how to get her back to her own time period.  The resistance group vows to keep Ellie safe from the East German police and to do everything they can to find a way to get her home, but when dead time travelers start turning up with red balloons, it becomes clear that someone is experimenting with forbidden dark magic and time travel.  Why is someone trying to travel back in time and why are they so willing to do it, even at the expense of innocent lives?  If others are dying when they grab these balloons, how was Ellie able to safely travel back in time? It becomes a race against time to stop who is behind this before the bodies start piling up, even if it means Ellie loses out on perhaps her only way back to the future.

LIKES

This is another one of those books where I could just write pages and pages about what I liked.  I don’t want to give anything away though so I’m just going to list a few highlights.

The friendship between Ellie and her two protectors, Kai and Mitzi, was one of my favorite parts of the book.  These three become fast friends while living in the safe house together, and their chemistry is fantastic.  They’re immediately like The Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all.  I also loved the diversity that these characters represented – Ellie is Jewish, Kai is Romani, and Mitzi is a lesbian. This diversity further forges a bond between them since all three are considered undesirable in East Berlin during this time frame.  The police would love nothing more than to find a reason to arrest them, so they always have each other’s backs.

As I mentioned, there is also a romance in this book and even though on the surface it might sound like somewhat out of place since we already have time traveling, the Holocaust, magical balloons, etc., the romance actually worked well for me.  First, it’s not instalove, so yay.  No, instead, the relationship develops quite naturally as Kai and Ellie get to know each other better.  Kai is kind of dark and brooding at times and he sees Ellie as this softness and light that he needs in his life.  Ellie becomes attracted to Kai, not just because he is handsome, but because of how he puts himself on the line trying to help as many people as he can get over into West Germany.  Ellie is also touched when she sees how devoted Kai is to his younger sister, Sabina.  He would literally do anything to keep Sabina safe and it’s heartwarming to see.

I was incredibly invested in this relationship not just because I liked that it developed naturally and that their two personalities really complimented each other, but also because it just tugged at my heart strings.  What happens to their relationship if the balloon makers are able to figure out how to send Ellie back to her own time period?  Would she go or would she stay with the man she is falling in love with?

Other highlights for me were the completely unique premise and the major themes of the novel.  Seriously, it doesn’t get much more creative than the idea of using magical red balloons to save people.  In addition to the unique premise, there were also so many themes that resonated me with as I was reading.  With respect to those balloons, I loved the beautiful message that there were heroes everywhere, both during World War II and during the time of the Iron Curtain – people who risked their own safety trying to save as many people as they could.  Another darker message that resonated with me as I got further into the story was more of a question of ethics – if a person’s overall intention is good, does that excuse any unethical behavior he or she may engage along the way accomplishing that goal?  This was definitely food for thought for me as I was reading.

A final highlight for me was the way the story was presented.  It’s presented in alternating chapters from the perspective of Kai and Ellie in 1988 East Berlin and from Ellie’s grandfather, Benno, as a young boy during World War II.  I loved how presenting the story this way effectively moves Ellie’s time traveling story forward as well as her relationship with Kai, while at the same time, circling back and showing the origin of the red balloons.  Seeing Benno’s horrific experiences in the Jewish ghettos, surrounded by disease and death, served as a poignant reminder that without that red balloon, neither Ellie nor any of her other family members would exist in present day.  Ellie literally owes her life to that magical balloon.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

The only real issue I had with this book was that it took me a few chapters to acclimate to the three alternating points of view.  I’m not going to call that a dislike because once I got used to it and remembered, I thought it was a beautiful way to tie together what happened with Benno and a red balloon during the war and what happened to his granddaughter when she touches a red balloon over 40 years later.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Girl with the Red Balloon is a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, magic, time travel, romance, and even mysteries.  Not only does it have a little something for everyone, but it’s also just a beautifully written story that will be on your mind long after you read the final pages.

RATING:  5 STARS

Thanks so much to Katherine Locke, Netgalley, and the Albert Whitman Company for allowing me the opportunity to preview an advanced copy of this book. It in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

five-stars

About Katherine Locke

Katherine Locke lives and writes in a small town outside Philadelphia, where she’s ruled by her feline overlords and her addiction to chai lattes. She writes about that which she cannot do: ballet, magic, and time travel. She secretly believes all stories are fairytales in disguise. Her YA debut, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, arrives September 2017 from Albert Whitman & Comapny.

Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series was such a glorious read that I was actually a little hesitant to move on to This Savage Song.  As good as its synopsis sounded, I was just convinced that nothing could top the adventures of Kell, Rhys, and Lila and the 4 Londons.  Well, my concerns were completely misplaced because while it may not have topped Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is equally brilliant in its own way and easily one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.

This Savage Song is an urban fantasy set in the war-torn city of Verity.  Not only is the city practically destroyed by war, but the violence that has taken place has actually led to the creation of actual monsters who threaten to overrun what is left of the city.  A treaty has divided Verity into two halves, one run by the ruthless Callum Harker, a crime boss who controls the majority of the monsters.  Being the “nice” guy that he is, Harker offers his services to protect the citizens on his side of the city from the monsters – for a fee.  Cross him or don’t pay your protection fee, and you’re the monsters’ next meal.  The other side of the city is run by Henry Flynn, a much more fair-minded individual who just wants to honor the terms of the treaty, keep the peace, and most especially, keep the monsters at bay so that his people are safe.

The story doesn’t actually focus on these two men, however, but rather on their children.  Kate Harker and August Flynn, and what happens when two children of powerful men become desperate to prove themselves to their fathers. But if you’re familiar with Schwab’s stories, you can guess that this is not your typical coming of age story.  Why?  Because August Flynn is a monster…literally. Yes,  Henry Flynn has monsters of his own, a rare breed that Kate’s father would love to get his hands on.  When August is finally given the opportunity to prove himself useful – by posing as a student at Kate’s school in case the Flynn resistance needs to grab her to use as leverage against her father, he actually ends up befriending Kate. He has to be careful though because if Kate finds out what he really is, what better way for her to prove herself to dear old dad than by capturing and bringing home one of Flynn’s rare monsters?

If you’re not familiar with Schwab’s writing, all I can say is be prepared for a ride that is dark, intense, creepy, and thrilling!

 

LIKES

I could go on for days about what I loved in this book, but here are some highlights to give you an idea of how amazing this book is.

The Monsters! I never thought I would hear myself gushing about a collection of monsters, but Schwab does a brilliant job of coming up with some of the most unique monsters I’ve ever encountered, and the idea that these monsters are “born” from violent acts committed by humans is just pure genius.  Schwab gives us the flesh-eating Corsai, who appear mainly as shadowy figures; the Malchai, who look like corpses and drink blood, and then finally the rarest form of monster, the Sunai.  The Sunai can actually pass for humans and they are the soul stealers.  The Sunai are, by far, the most fascinating of the three types, primarily because whereas Corsai and Malchai will attack anyone at any time, the Sunai seek justice and will only attack those who have committed heinous crimes.  They’re even more fascinating in terms of how they actually “attack” – each of the three Sunai uses music as their weapon.  They play music and draw the human’s soul to the surface and then feed on it.  It’s beautiful and awful all at the same time.

Complex Characters.  Kate Harker and August Flynn are the definition of complex characters.  Kate is a young woman determined to prove herself to her father by behaving like a monster, while August Flynn actually is a Sunai monster who wants nothing more than to be human.  August constantly fights against the Sunai instinct to feed on souls and just wants to prove himself to his “father” by being an active participant in the resistance.  In this sense, This Savage Song is as much a coming of age story as it is a dystopian story.  Both Kate and August have to make some difficult decisions as they decide what kind of people (or monsters) they want to be.

Action-Packed.  This Savage Song is set in the middle of a city that is already war torn and where the monsters are getting restless. There are monster attacks, assassination attempts, resistance missions, and so much more.  If you like action, this is your book.

The Overriding Theme.  The central idea that runs through This Savage Song – that human beings can be monsters may not be a unique one, but the way Schwab presents it – contrasting the behaviors of humans with actual monsters — totally is. It’s also a theme that seems very relevant these days with everything that is going on in the world.  There’s just so much hate and division out there.

 

DISLIKES

I thought the book was fantastic and had no issues with it at all.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While it is a very different kind of read from what we saw in the Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is still a powerful read.  If you’re into dark, gritty narratives that make you think about human nature and the tough choices we all have to make in difficult times, This Savage Song is a great choice.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. 

five-stars

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

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

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

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

Book Review: Caraval

Book Review:  CaravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
three-half-stars
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 407
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW

It’s always so disappointing when one of your most anticipated reads doesn’t quite live up to the hype.  Unfortunately, this was the case for me with Stephanie Garber’s CaravalCaraval is a book that was instantly on my radar as soon as I started seeing people comparing it to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, which is one of my all-time favorite books.  Based on that comparison and so many glowing reviews from my fellow bloggers, I fully expected Caraval to be a 5 star read for me and ended up so disappointed that it didn’t come close to that.  That’s not to say I didn’t like the novel, because I really did. I just didn’t love it like I had expected and hoped to.

Caraval tells the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live on a tiny island with their overbearing father. Ever since their mother passed away, their father has become cruel and abusive to his children and practically holds them both prisoner, never allowing them to leave the island.  Since she was a child, Scarlett has dreamed of attending Caraval, a once-a-year magical mystery and scavenger hunt of sorts, the winner of which is granted one wish. When her father arranges for her to be married to a man she has never met, Scarlett assumes that her dream of attending Caraval is dead once and for all, until her long-awaited invitation arrives.  Thanks to an elaborate scheme concocted by her sister Tella, and with the help of a sexy sailor named Julian, Scarlett and Tella run away for a few days so that Scarlett can finally experience the magic of Caraval before settling into this married life her father has chosen for her. The catch?  Her father has scheduled the wedding date so close to when Caraval takes places that it’s going to be a race against the clock to sail to Caraval, participate in the events, and then sail back home.  Can they make it back in time? And is experiencing Caraval really worth possibly exciting the wrath of their abusive father?

 

LIKES

I’d have to say my favorite part about this novel was the world building itself once the girls actually make it to Caraval.  I loved the idea of the exotic faraway setting and the hints of magic that were everywhere. Garber does a beautiful job of setting the stage for this great adventure and infusing everything with a touch of whimsy. One of my favorite parts was when Scarlett and Julian first enter Caraval and are greeted by a young woman riding a unicycle, immediately invoking a carnival-esque atmosphere.  Another whimsical touch I enjoyed was the outfit Scarlett was given to wear soon after her arrival.  At first glance, it looked like little more than a potato sack, but then it magically transformed into whatever attire the powers that be at Caraval decided Scarlett needed at any given moment, whether it was a gorgeous and daring evening gown or a sexy negligee.  How handy would an outfit like that be?!

I thought the whole concept for the event itself was brilliant too. I mean, seriously?  A magical game of illusion and trickery that will seem so real that you actually have to sign a contract acknowledging that you fully understand it’s all just a game before they will even let you play? How fascinating is that?  I also loved that the game was only played at night.  The participants played only once the sun went down and had to be back in their rooms before the sun came back up the next morning.  This added an extra layer of mystique to the already magical atmosphere.

I also liked the relationship between the two sisters, Scarlett and Tella.  Since their mother died, Scarlett has taken on the role of protector when it comes to her younger sister, Tella, and sometimes she has her hands full because Tella is much more free-spirited and rebellious than she is.  It is Tella’s love of taking risks that makes Scarlett’s dream of attending Caraval possible, and once they get there and Tella is “kidnapped” as part of the game, Scarlett is desperate to find her sister to make sure she’s safe.  That sisterly bond is beautiful – it’s clear either would do absolutely anything for the other.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so I loved the world of Caraval, I liked the overall premise of the game, and I enjoyed the sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella.  So where did Caraval not measure up for me?

Characters that weren’t well developed or likeable.  While I felt tremendous sympathy for these two girls because their father was such a cruel beast, I just didn’t particularly like them all that much.  They kind of fell flat.  Even though I loved the bond between Scarlett and Tella, I got so tired of listening to Scarlett constantly whine about needing to find her.  I mean, seriously, she was told by two employees as soon as she entered Caraval AND had to sign a contract stating she was fully aware this was all a game, and she still kept whining about needing to get to her sister like she was truly in mortal danger.  I just found that incredibly frustrating.

I did like Tella more than Scarlett because I did enjoy her sense of rebelliousness, but she disappears for 90% of the book, so yeah, it didn’t really matter if I liked her or not.

I couldn’t stand their father of course because he was a monster, but at the same time, I didn’t understand why he became such a monster.  It’s stated in the novel that before his wife died, he was a much kinder man.  So the love of his life dies and he chooses to grieve for her by abusing their children?  I just didn’t get this at all.

Too many twists and turns.  I never thought I would see myself complain about twists and turns, but in the case of this book, I just thought there were too many. Once Scarlett started playing the game, at first the twists and turns were fun to follow along with, but after a while it felt like every page was filled with lie after lie and plot twist after plot twist.  It just got so convoluted that I often found myself going in circles, and since I wasn’t overly invested in any of the characters anyway, after a certain point, I just really wanted it to be over.

Distracting romance.  Julian, the handsome sailor Tella enlists to help them get to Caraval, decides to participate in the game with Scarlett after Tella disappears.  Even though Scarlett at one moment is frantic with worry about her sister, the next moment she’s practically falling all over herself as her attraction to Julian grows.  I wasn’t a big fan of the romance because it seemed to come out of nowhere, especially since in the opening pages, Julian and Tella were mad flirting with one another.  The romance did grow on me a bit the further into the book I got, but for a large portion of it, it just felt cringe-worthy and too ‘love at first sight’ for my taste.

Flowery prose.  I like vivid descriptions as much as the next person, but some of the descriptions in Caraval were just too much for me.  The book is just packed with sentences like this one:  “She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist.” I’m sure there are plenty of readers that would love a book written with these types of descriptions, but I like prose that is more simple and straightforward.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In some ways I think I probably set myself up for disappointment because I had overhyped Caraval so much in my own mind.  Those comparisons to The Night Circus set the bar really high for me.   Even though it didn’t quite achieve the magic and mystery of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it enough to stick with it until the end and will probably continue with the second book when it comes out.  I think for the right audience though, maybe someone who hasn’t read The Night Circus, Caraval would make for a wonderful and imaginative read.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

three-half-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.

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Review:  Heartless by Marissa MeyerHeartless by Marissa Meyer
Also by this author: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 453
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is one of the most wonderful, whimsical, and heartbreaking books I’ve read this year.  It was actually one of my most anticipated reads for 2016, but for reasons I can’t explain, I’m just now getting around to reading it.  Thankfully though, it was so worth the wait! I devoured Heartless in just a couple of sittings and feel like I can’t sing its praises high enough.

For anyone unfamiliar with the premise for Heartless, it’s meant to be an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, basically providing a plausible backstory for her and explaining what then led her to become the character that we all love to hate.  Well, not only does Meyer create a plausible backstory for the Queen of Hearts, complete with new characters and an original storyline, but she is also able to do all of this while retaining all of the whimsy and wonder from the original fairytale.  Although I knew the story would ultimately end badly for Meyer’s heroine, I still loved reading every magical moment of her journey.

 

LIKES

Cath.  Even knowing that she would eventually become the Queen of Hearts, I still fell in love with Cath right away.  She’s smart, sassy, and a girl ahead of her time.  While most girls in the kingdom of Hearts would dream of having a chance to marry the King and become Queen, Cath has absolutely no interest in that whatsoever.  Why?  Because she and her best friend and maid, MaryAnn, have their own dream.  They want to go into business together and open a bakery.  Cath is a gifted baker and MaryAnn has a head for numbers, so they have a whole business plan all worked out and ready to go, if only Cath’s parents would just let her follow her dreams instead of theirs.

Jest.  Jest was actually my favorite character in Heartless.  He is the new court jester for the King of Hearts, and he’s mysterious, a bit roguish, witty, and a real showman when it comes to entertaining the King and his guests.  He piques Cath’s interest from the first moment she watches him perform, and there is an instant connection between them when they finally come face to face.  I don’t know if I’d call it love at first sight, but there’s definite chemistry there and once Cath and Jest do start to get closer, it’s almost impossible not to root for them, especially when the alternative for Cath is the ridiculous, always giggling King of Hearts.  I swear, that King is way more of a fool than his court jester. I just cringed every time I read a scene with him in it, haha.

Characters and Scenes from the Original Fairytale.  I thought Meyer did a brilliant job of seamlessly weaving so many beloved characters and memorable scenes from Alice in Wonderland into her story.  It made me smile every time I came across something familiar, whether it was the mischievous Cheshire Cat, being just as much of a pain in the rear as he is in the original tale, or Caterpillar smoking his hookah pipe and asking “WHO…ARE…YOU?” or the Mad Hatter (Hatta in Meyer’s tale) with his tea party, and especially the croquet match where they used hedgehogs for balls, flamingos for clubs, and the deck of cards as wickets.  And don’t even get me started on what Meyer did with the Jabberwock…it was brilliant!  Much of my excitement while reading was because I was so eager to see how else she had incorporated elements from the original tale into Heartless.

Shout-outs to Other Famous Rhymes.  As if all of the cameos by characters from Alice in Wonderland weren’t enough, Meyer takes it a step further and includes a couple other famous tales that are sure to be recognized by most, if not all readers.  Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater and his wife actually play a major role in the story, and then there’s also the most delightful shout-out to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, The Raven.  There is literally a raven, a sidekick of Jest’s of course, flying around and quoting lines from ‘The Raven: “Nevermore!”  And you might read this and think that sounds kind of hokey, but nope…trust me, it’s fabulous!

The idea that a sexist world is what ultimately creates the Queen of Hearts.  As much as I kept hoping something miraculous was going to happen and save Cath from the dreaded fate we all know is in store for her, I thought it was somewhat poetic that sexism plays such a huge role in Cath’s fate. I swear, if I lived in a place where no one took me or my dreams seriously and where everyone told me it was my duty to marry some daft king, I’d be running around yelling ‘Off with their heads!’ too.  Just ugh!

After everything goes dreadfully wrong for Cath and it appears she has no options left other than to marry the King, her parents try to make amends by asking what would make her happy (even though it’s already too late), Cath’s response just says it all: “How different everything could have been if you had thought to ask me that before.”  (I have to admit I shed a few tears when I read that line.)

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I loved pretty much every aspect of this story (aside from the ending of course since we already know, because this is an origin story, that Cath is doomed to become the Queen of Hearts. *cries*).  The only thing I didn’t particularly care for were the character names, Cath and MaryAnn.  They just seemed so ordinary compared to so many of the other names we came across.  Obviously, the names in no way hampered my enjoyment of Heartless, but I kept wishing the names were a little more whimsical in keeping with the rest of the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Heartless is one of those books I’d recommend to almost anyone.  I loved that it was an original read but that it also had so many familiar elements and characters that reading it reminded me of my childhood.  Meyer’s take on the original tale made me laugh and it made me cry. If that kind of read is one that appeals to you, then definitely consider giving Heartless a try.

RATING:  4.5 STARS

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

 

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tour: Project Pandora by Aden Polydoros – Review & Giveaway

Blog Tour:  Project Pandora by Aden Polydoros – Review & GiveawayProject Pandora by Aden Polydoros
four-stars
Series: Assassin Fall #1
Published by Entangled: Teen on August 1st 2017
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 372
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.

 

Today I’m participating in the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for Project Pandora by Aden Polydoros. It’s my first time participating in a blog tour, so I’m pretty excited to be trying something new here on The Bookish Libra. My stop on the tour is a book review, so without further ado, here are my thoughts on Project Pandora.

MY REVIEW:

Project Pandora, written by Aden Polydoros is the first book in the Assassin Fall series.  It’s a dark and gritty story that focuses on Project Pandora, a secret program designed to create a team of teenage assassins.  Using mind control and psychotropic drugs, the Project Pandora doctors have systematically “programmed” these teens from birth to “activate” when they hear the phrase “Olympus is Rising.”  They could be in the middle of anything – at home, at work, at school, anywhere — but as soon as they hear that phrase, they immediately switch over into assassin mode until the mission they’ve been assigned is complete.  As if that isn’t alarming enough, once they come out of that “activated” state, the teens have no memory of what they have done or the murders they have committed.  Creepy, right?  Why on Earth would anyone want to turn a bunch of teenagers into assassins? What’s their endgame with this project?  And how have they gotten away with it thus far? As soon as all of these questions started swarming around in my head, I knew I was hooked…

 

 

The novel follows the perspectives of four teens who have been trained/brain washed by Project Pandora.  First, there’s Tyler and Shannon who, when they aren’t in full-on assassin mode, appear to be pretty typical teenagers.  They go to high school, do normal teen activities, and they also both happen to live with foster families.  Then there’s Katherine, who is also a fairly typical teen, although she is also the daughter of a senator and has a bit of a rebellious streak because she’s tired of her parents expecting her to be Little Miss Perfect all the time.  Lastly, there’s Hades.  As you can probably guess based on his name, there is very little about Hades that is typical.  Hades is also the only one of the four who is aware of his role in Project Pandora.

So what happens when those who have unknowingly been a part of this project slowly begin to realize they are not fully in control of their minds and bodies and are committing crimes while under someone else’s control? Can they break free?  And most importantly, can they stop Project Pandora, which clearly has been created with a sinister purpose in mind?

 

 

LIKES

There’s so much to love about Project Pandora.  It’s one of the more unique storylines I’ve read and it appeals to both my love of science fiction and my love of fast-paced thrillers.  Here are just a few of the book’s highlights for me:

Multiple Points of View.  Sometimes multiple points of view works for me, sometimes it doesn’t.  In the case of Project Pandora, however, I thought presenting the story through the eyes of several who are under the influence of mind control was truly fascinating.  The reader gets to follow these characters through their day-to-day lives, see what happens to trigger them to flip over into assassin mode, and then watch them flip right back over once the kill has been made.  It does make for a somewhat disjointed narrative at times as characters like Tyler and Shannon start having these almost out-of-body  moments while they’re in the middle of a “job” as if they’re watching themselves kill people.  I think the disjointedness is to be expected though since both you and the characters you’re reading about are simultaneously trying to piece together what is happening and why.  As I was reading scenes like these, I kept thinking what an incredible film this would be.

Hades.  Hades quickly became my favorite character in Project Pandora.  I don’t know if that was supposed to happen, but I always find morally ambiguous characters so fascinating, and Hades is about as morally ambiguous as they come.  He’s definitely what I would consider to be an anti-hero.  Not only is Hades aware that he is participating in this project, he even goes so far as to tattoo notches on his forearm to keep track of how many he has killed.  Even though he’s a hardcore killer who seems pretty content to do what he does, there’s still just something about Hades that made me very sympathetic to him.

Dark and Full of Action and Suspense.  Pretty much everything about this book is dark, twisted, and full of mystery and intrigue.   The idea that a group of people could be twisted enough to turn a bunch of children into weapons was mind blowing, and I just couldn’t stop reading until I knew if these kids would be okay or not.   If they broke free of the mind control, would they be safe or would the others involved with the Project come after them if they suddenly went rogue?  Would the people behind this project be brought to justice for both the murders they’re responsible for and for what they did to these children?  There’s just so much there to keep sucking you into the story and turning those pages!  I literally could not put this book down once I got started.

Unique Format.  In addition to using alternating chapters from the four teens to tell the story, the author has also inserted case files throughout the novel.  In an almost flashback-like fashion, these case files provide insight into each of the main characters while they were going through the ‘programming’ phase of the Project.  I thought it was a creative way to add background information about each character and about the inner workings of the Project itself. It also lent the novel an almost sci-fi feel, which I really liked.

 

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Overall I really enjoyed the read.  I did, however, have a couple of areas where I just wanted a little more from the story.  I’d classify these as my own personal reading quirks though and they probably wouldn’t faze most other readers.

Not enough connection with the characters.  Even though I had tremendous sympathy for them because of what had been done to them and felt outraged by the whole concept of the project, I just didn’t really feel all that connected to any of the characters on a more personal level.  I feel confident though that this will change now that this first book has laid all of the groundwork for the rest of the series and we can focus even more on the characters.

Needed more information about the Project and its motives.  I really wanted more information about Project Pandora.  We’re given a number of hints to indicate what it’s all about, but I thought a lot of the information was a bit vague and was left with more questions than answers.  Again, I’m sure my questions will be answered in future books, but I’m just impatient, haha!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a light and fluffy read, this is not the book you’re looking for.  On the other hand, if you like a book that will take you on a dark and twisted, action-packed ride, with a plot that’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream, then Project Pandora will blow you away!

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Entangled Teen, and of course to Aden Polydoros for allowing me the opportunity to preview and review Project Pandora.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Tyler Bennett trusts no one. Just another foster kid bounced from home to home, he’s learned that lesson the hard way. Cue world’s tiniest violin. But when strange things start happening—waking up with bloody knuckles and no memory of the night before or the burner phone he can’t let out of his sight— Tyler starts to wonder if he can even trust himself.

Even stranger, the girl he’s falling for has a burner phone just like his. Finding out what’s really happening only leads to more questions…questions that could get them both killed. It’s not like someone’s kidnapping teens lost in the system and brainwashing them to be assassins or anything, right? And what happens to rogue assets who defy control?

In a race against the clock, they’ll have to uncover the truth behind Project Pandora and take it down—before they’re reactivated. Good thing the program spent millions training them to kick ass…

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

 

Amazon | Amazon.com.au | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled

 

 

FOLLOW THE REST OF THE PROJECT PANDORA BLOG TOUR:

Chapter By Chapter Project Pandora Blog Tour Schedule

 

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

Project Pandora Prize Pack (US) or a $10 Amazon Gift card (INT)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

four-stars

About Aden Polydoros

Aden Polydoros grew up in Long Grove, Illinois, the youngest of three children. Aden’s family moved to Arizona when he was in second grade. As a kid, he spent much of his time exploring the desert near his home. When he wasn’t searching for snakes and lizards, he was raiding the bookshelves of the local library. As a teenager, Aden decided that he wanted to be a writer. He spent his free time writing short stories. He was encouraged by his English teacher to try his hand at writing a novel, which inspired him to begin PROJECT PANDORA. The YA thriller is set for publication with Entangled Publishing in Summer of 2017. He is represented by Mallory Brown of Triada US.

ARC Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

ARC Review:  Emma in the Night by Wendy WalkerEmma in the Night by Wendy Walker
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 8th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

MY REVIEW:

Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night is a captivating psychological thriller that centers on an unsolved missing persons case.  Three years earlier, seventeen year old Emma Tanner and her fifteen year old sister Cass, disappeared.  A thorough investigation was conducted but no trace of either sister was ever found and the case went cold.  That is, until Cass suddenly turns up at her mother’s home with a harrowing tale of how she and Emma had been abducted and held prisoner on an island and that they need to go back and save Emma.  As Cass recounts her story to law enforcement, a forensic psychiatrist on the case, Dr. Abby Winter, starts to get the feeling that Cass may not be telling them the whole story.  Driven by some disturbing parallels she sees between Cass’s mother and her own, who suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Abby decides to take a closer look at Cass, Emma, and their family.  Will Abby uncover a truth that is even more shocking than the tale Cass has come home with, or will she become so obsessed with the parallels to her own life that she can no longer work the case objectively?

LIKES

Emma in the Night is one of those books that it’s best to go into knowing as little as possible, so aside from information already mentioned in the synopsis, I’m going to keep my comments as general as I can.  That said, here are some elements of Walker’s novel that I thought made for effective storytelling.

Dual Point of View.  Emma in the Night is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of Cass, the sister who has returned, and from Abby, the forensic psychiatrist who has been working the case since the sisters first went missing.  I loved watching the mystery unfold this way, especially as the writing style for each point of view was so distinctive.  Cass’s point of view sometimes came across confused and a little disjointed, while at other times, it almost sounded too precise, to the point of being calculated. It became clearer with each passing chapter that she may not be a very reliable narrator.  As I became more and more suspicious of what she was saying sometimes, it was then nice to switch to a chapter from Abby’s perspective and see that she, as one who was listening to Cass tell her story, had some of the same questions and doubts I did.

Flawed Characters.  I have a thing for flawed characters.  I find characters with flaws to be so much more human and therefore interesting than characters that are too perfect.  Well, let me tell you…this book is packed with flawed characters!  We’re talking the textbook definition of a dysfunctional family right here.  Interestingly enough, none of the characters are all that likeable either, maybe with the exception of Abby and the detective she works with.  Likeable or not though, they are some of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read.  There is an unhealthy power struggle in this family that is one of the biggest driving forces in this novel.  Who has the power? Who wants the power? Who is willing to go to the furthest extreme to grab the power?, etc. It’s a tug of war that dominates and taints every aspect of their lives.

Intricate, Suspenseful Plot.  If you like a thriller that will keep you guessing until the final pages, Emma in the Night is your book.  I kept coming up with what I thought were very plausible theories about what happened the entire time I was reading, only to have my theories immediately debunked.  I became as obsessed with the case as Abby was and devoured the entire book in less than a day because I just had to know if Cass was telling the truth or not.  I never did guess the truth about what happened and was completely shocked when it was finally revealed, so major kudos to Walker for crafting such an intricate and unpredictable storyline.

Portrayal of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  I majored in Psychology in college and remember reading many case studies on persons who suffered from this disorder.  I appreciate that Walker clearly did her research and gives the reader an accurate portrayal not only of an individual who has NPD, but also of what it’s like to live with someone who has it.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

The only real issue I had with Emma in the Night was the pacing.  At first it seemed to move a little slowly for my liking.  I came to quickly appreciate that though because it slowed me down and made me pay close attention to everything Cass was saying and especially how sometimes what she said didn’t quite mesh with what she was actually thinking.  I think I might have missed some of the subtleties if the novel had started off at a break neck pace.  Once I sensed something was off in Cass’s narrative and got caught up in trying to figure out the full story about what happened to Emma and Cass, the pacing became a non-issue.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Emma in the Night is a well-crafted and truly riveting psychological thriller.  If you’re looking for a suspenseful read that you won’t be able to put down once you start reading, I highly recommend this one.

RATING:  4.5 STARS

Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Press and Wendy Walker for allowing me to preview an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back…

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

four-half-stars

About Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure. She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Book Review:  When Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 380
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I was looking for a light contemporary read for my day off and when I read the synopsis for Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, it sounded exactly like what I was looking for.  And what a cute read it was! It’s fun, romantic in an adorably nerdy kind of way, and it also focuses a lot on family, especially the drama that can arise when children have hopes and dreams that are at odds with what their parents want for them.

Dimple Shah is a career-minded young woman.  She has just graduated from high school and plans to attend Stanford University in the fall, where she will study web development and coding.  She can’t wait to move out and get away from her overbearing mother, who is obsessed with finding Dimple the “Ideal Indian Husband” and is constantly criticizing Dimple for not wearing makeup, for not doing more with her hair, and for, just in general, not doing more to attract the ideal husband.  Dimple desperately wants a break from her mom’s nagging and knows what would make for a perfect means to escape, if her parents will go along with the idea: a summer program at San Francisco State University for aspiring web developers.  Dimple doesn’t think her parents will go for the idea, but when she broaches the subject with them, they’re all for it so off Dimple goes to SFSU.

Rishi Patel is also college-bound.  He will be attending MIT, a prestigious university that is sure to secure him a lucrative career.  Rishi is also a hopeless romantic who embraces the idea of arranged marriages.  He knows that his parents have selected an ideal candidate to be his future wife, and so he is 100% on board when they tell him that he can meet her if he attends a summer camp at SFSU.

Who is this ideal candidate?  Why, Dimple of course, which explains why her parents were so quick to agree to her attending this summer camp.  What a plan these parents have come up with!  Too bad no one thought to clue Dimple in.  When she arrives at campus, she is immediately accosted by some weird guy who greets her as his future bride.  Talk about awkward!  Dimple flings an iced coffee all over Rishi and runs off, afraid that he’s some kind of crazy stalker dude.  Things take a turn for the even more awkward when Dimple and Rishi are then assigned to be partners for the duration of the camp and have to work on a project together.

Will Dimple be so put off by what her parents have set her up for that she refuses to make nice with Rishi, or will Rishi be able to win her over?

LIKES

Dimple and Rishi.  These two are such likeable characters.  At first I wasn’t super crazy about Dimple because she was so rude when it came to pretty much anything her mom said. I just kept thinking ‘Be nice. She’s the only momma you’ve got.”  At the same time though, I could completely understand her frustration.  When you’re heart set on pursuing a career, and a good career at that, it’s got to be a kick in the head having your mom so focused on you “improving” your appearance so that you can bag the ideal husband.

Although it took me some time to warm up to Dimple, with Rishi, on the other hand, it was love at first sight.  He’s just this precious young man who is totally into his heritage and who also wants to make his parents happy. I just wanted to give him a hug when he came bounding up to Dimple, like an enthusiastic puppy, only to end up shot down and drenched in iced coffee.  Rishi, of course, has no idea that Dimple has been left in the dark about the whole arranged marriage idea, but as soon as he realizes she’s at the camp for her career and that she has no interest whatsoever in making a love connection while there, Rishi apologizes and is even willing to withdraw from the camp and go home to make things less awkward for Dimple so that she can focus on what she came to learn.  How can you not fall for a guy who is willing to do that?

Nerds!  I also loved that both of them are basically awkward nerdy types.  Dimple’s into coding, and Rishi, even though he’s going to MIT, which is nerdy enough on its own, also has a secret passion – he loves to draw comics and is exceptionally gifted at it too.  Books that feature nerdy characters are my favorites, so this was just perfect for me.

Diversity.  If you’re looking for a great diverse read, When Dimple Met Rishi fits that bill as well since the two main characters are both Indian Americans. I liked that many aspects of Indian culture were presented and that they were worked into the story in a way that flowed very naturally in conversations like one between Dimple and Rishi where Rishi explains to Dimple why he embraces the idea of an arranged marriage.  I just loved Rishi talking about why so many Indian traditions are important to him.  It’s nice to see a young person who sees the value in heritage and tradition, and he seems to open up Dimple’s eyes to aspects of her own culture that she had paid little attention to as a child.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

My only real issue was the subplot with Rishi’s brother.  It just felt unnecessary since the main purpose the brother served in the story was to help explain why Rishi feels so strongly about not ever disappointing his parents.  He’s trying to make up for his brother’s behavior.  That’s not to say his brother is a bad kid.  It’s just that Rishi’s brother does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, whether it makes their parents happy or not.  Beyond that, his character wasn’t really developed too much more. I actually can’t even remember his name as I’m sitting here typing my review, so I think the story would have worked even better without him showing up at the university and inserting himself into the plot.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a fun and diverse summer read that’s delightfully nerdy and contains a hint of romantic possibility, you’ll definitely want to check out When Dimple Met Rishi.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

four-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.

Book Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Book Review:  Words in Deep Blue by Cath CrowleyWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
four-stars
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on June 6th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 273
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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MY REVIEW:

I went into Words in Deep Blue not really knowing what to expect.  I had read that it was a book about books and the people who love them, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity.  It was also my first time reading anything by Cath Crowley and I’m always game to try out a new author.

What I experienced, however, was so much more than just a book about books.  Words in Deep Blue is a beautifully written and moving novel that deftly explores themes of love and friendship, as well as those of loss and the grieving process.

The story centers on life-long best friends Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones.  Over the years, Rachel grows to have more than just friendly feelings toward Henry and when she learns her family is moving away from the area, she decides to confess her feelings to Henry via a love note, which she leaves in Henry’s favorite book at his family’s bookshop.  She sends Henry a message letting him know about the letter and hopes that he’ll read it and come visit her before she moves away.  She waits as long as she can, but when Henry is a no-show, Rachel moves away and vows to cut all ties with him because she feels so hurt.

Rachel stays gone for three years and only returns after a family tragedy – her brother Cal drowns – leaves her so deep in the throes of grief that she needs to get away from everything that reminds her of Cal, the ocean that took his life, and the fact that her own life has pretty much fallen apart since he died.  Consumed by grief, Rachel has failed Year 12 and now cannot see a clear future for herself.  Before her brother’s death, she and Cal shared a fascination with the ocean and all ocean life, so much so that Rachel had planned to pursue a career in the field of Oceanography.  But now she can’t even stomach the sight of the ocean, so she feels lost.

Henry, although going through nothing as tragic as the death of a sibling, is still having a pretty rough go of things himself.  Henry is pining after Amy, a girl he was dating during the entire time Rachel was away, but who has since broken up with him.  To make matters worse, Amy not only dumped Henry, but she also started dating a guy that Henry absolutely hates.  So Henry spends most of his time embarrassing himself by trying to get Amy back or seething because he hates her new boyfriend so much.  In addition to his girlfriend troubles, Henry is also dealing with the fact that his parents are splitting up and may also be selling their beloved second hand bookstore, Howling Books.  Everything he has ever known and loved could be about to change.

When Rachel comes back to town and ends up working at Howling Books, where Henry also works, will it be impossibly awkward or will Rachel and Henry embrace this second chance to rekindle their friendship and help each other work through their troubles?

 

LIKES

Relatable Themes.  As I’ve already mentioned, Words in Deep Blue explores the themes of friendship, love, loss, and the grieving process.  We’ve all experienced one or more of these in our lives and so I think this just makes Words in Deep Blue such an easy book to connect with.  That and Crowley does a wonderful job of exploring each of these themes in such a realistic way that you can’t help but see yourself in her characters and what they’re going through.

Realistic, Flawed Characters.  I loved both Henry and Rachel, not because they were the perfect characters, but for the exact opposite reason…because they both had their fair share of flaws and it made them so easy to relate to.  In the case of Rachel, it was easy to understand why she wanted to escape from her life for a while to work through her grief, but at the same time, it really started to frustrate me that she wouldn’t open up to any of her friends from her old town to let them know what had happened to Cal.  Everyone is constantly asking her how Cal’s doing and she just makes up lies, saying that he’s fine and living with his Dad.  How can you work through your grief when you’re carrying around this burden and adding to it by telling lies?

In much the same way, it’s easy to understand why Henry is upset about losing Amy.  They had been dating for years and had started to make serious plans for the future together, starting with a big trip around the world together.  Amy really pulls the rug out from under Henry, and he’s left there holding a non-refundable, non-transferrable airline ticket.  That said, however, it becomes increasingly frustrating the longer Henry pines over her because the more we see Amy in action, the more clear it becomes that she doesn’t love Henry, probably never did, and on top of that, is just a nasty person all the way around.  The fact that Henry started to see what we were seeing about Amy and continued to think about getting her back made me want to scream.  But at the same time, haven’t we all been there at some point?  So yeah, totally relatable.

Dual Narration.  I’m always a big fan of dual point of views and this book is no exception.  What I always like about dual narratives and especially liked about reading the alternating chapters from Rachel and Henry’s point of view was that peek behind the curtain, so to speak.  I get to see firsthand how they are actually feeling about something versus how they then choose to present themselves to others.  I loved it for both characters but really liked the added depth that it added to Rachel’s story.

The Setting.  I don’t know that I have ever loved the setting of a book more than Howling Books.  Seriously.  I want this shop to open up in my town. I’d be there everyday.  I loved the atmosphere, with the coffee shop next door with the quaint little garden between the two shops, and with its monthly book club. It was perfect in every way.  I loved the caring customer service that Henry and his family provided, especially with respect to the customer who is looking for a second hand copy of a book that he once owned and gave away and now desperately wants to get back because it belonged to his deceased wife.  Henry and his family located copy after copy of this book in hopes of locating the special one for their customer.  The amount of effort they put into trying to find that book was just so touching to see.

As if that wasn’t enough, the whole concept of the Letter Library moved me to tears.  As Henry’s dad says, it’s the heart and soul of their bookshop.  The Letter Library is a collection of books that cannot be purchased but that customers are allowed to peruse as they wish and even make notes in.  It embraces the idea that each reader brings their own experiences to a book and gives them the opportunity to leave behind their unique experience for the next reader to find.  The Letter Library also goes a step further in that some people actually leave letters, sometimes signed and sometimes anonymous, within the pages of the books.  That whole idea was just so romantic and charming.  Again, why is there not something like this in my town?

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I hate to even put anything in this section since it is such a lovely read, but I do have to confess that as much as I adored the concept of the Letter Library, it was hard for me to imagine some of the characters in the book actually using it, especially since they’re all carrying around smart phones and texting each other.  It was hard to reconcile the idea that the same kid who just sent someone a text would then sit down and handwrite a letter to that same exact person and put it in a book for them to read and reply to.  It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, but it was a niggling thought in the back of my mind every time a letter was left or retrieved.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Words in Deep Blue is one of those books that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.  It’s filled with so many relatable themes and life lessons that I think any reader could easily connect to it.  And of course, I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and the power of the written word because the world of Howling Books is one you’ll want to immerse yourself in.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Love lives between the lines.

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

 

four-stars

About Cath Crowley

Cath Crowley is an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her novels include Words in Deep Blue, Graffiti Moon, Chasing Charlie Duskin (A Little Wanting Song) and the Gracie Faltrain trilogy and Rosie Staples’ Magical Misunderstanding. Awards include The Prime Minister’s Literary Award (2011), The Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature (2011), Winner of the Indie Book Awards (2017), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List (2013), Cooperative Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) Recommended Book.

Cath is also a freelance writer, editor and teacher.