Review: I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit Frick

Review:  I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit FrickI Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick
Also by this author: All Eyes on Us
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 30, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kit Frick’s new novel, I Killed Zoe Spanos, has all of the ingredients that make for a great summer read.  It has a compelling mystery regarding what has happened to Zoe Spanos and who is responsible, and it also features a fantastic podcast run by a teenager who doesn’t think the police are doing enough to solve the mystery.  Top that off with an unreliable narrator and a small town setting in the ultra-elite Hamptons and you’ve got yourself a must-read book for the beach or your next vacation.

The protagonist of I Killed Zoe Spanos is Anna Cicconi.  Anna has come to Herron Mills, a village in the Hamptons, to work as a nanny for a family there.  She is hoping this job will be a fresh start for her.  Anna has gone through a rough patch lately and spent entirely too much time partying and drinking, to the point where she has started experiencing blackouts and memory loss.  Anna’s journey takes an unexpected turn when she arrives in Herron Mills and is immediately told by everyone she meets that she looks just like Zoe Spanos, a young woman who went missing in the village months earlier.  Anna becomes interested in Zoe’s disappearance and starts having little flashes of memories that convince her that she knows Zoe and that she has been to Herron Mills before.  When the story opens and we are faced with a scene in which Anna is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it becomes clear that Anna’s summer in the Hamptons is life changing in all the wrong ways.

We get most of the story from Anna’s perspective, and Anna is a classic unreliable narrator.  From the moment we meet her as she is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it’s clear that we can’t necessarily trust what she’s saying.  The confession is oddly specific yet filled with comments like “I guess,” “I think,” etc. It doesn’t sound at all like a statement made by someone who is sure she committed the crime.  An even bigger cloud of doubt is cast over Anna’s story when we learn from her best friend Kaylee that she was with Anna and they weren’t even at the house where Anna is saying Zoe died.  Even though the story opens with a confession, the mystery of what happened to Zoe and what, if any, role Anna had in it, is truly about as muddled as it gets and I was hooked on wanting to get to the bottom of it.  I also really liked Anna and that she was trying to get her life under control, so I wanted her account to be wrong. I didn’t want her to be a killer.  Sometimes unreliable narrators don’t work well for me, but I loved its use here.

I was also a big fan of the author’s use of a dual timeline.  One timeline follows the events that lead up to the discovery of Zoe’s body, while the other timeline deals with the fallout after the body is discovered.  I always love watching the pieces of a puzzle come together this way, as it allows me lots of opportunities to try to fit those pieces together and come up with my own theories about what has happened, as I did with this story.  In this case, the chapters alternate between the two timelines so that the reader is fed a few crumbs at a time from each end of the mystery, both from Anna’s perspective and from the perspective of Martina Jenkins, who is conducting her own investigation into what happened to Zoe, and broadcasting her findings on a podcast called Missing Zoe.

I don’t want to give away any details about what actually happened to Zoe, but I will say that it’s a wild ride to the final reveal.  I came up with lots of theories along the way and was wrong every time.  In addition to the mystery about Zoe, there are also plenty of little side plots filled with secrets and drama that add extra layers of intrigue and suspense to the overall story.  I devoured I Killed Zoe Spanos in just a couple of sittings and definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for a good mystery.

four-stars

About Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us (2019), and Windermere (2020), all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, and the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press). Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

Review: REBEL SPY by Veronica Rossi

Review:  REBEL SPY by Veronica RossiRebel Spy by Veronica Rossi
three-half-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on June 23, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was drawn to Veronica Rossi’s new novel Rebel Spy because although I love historical fiction and read it often, I’ve not read much in the way of fiction that focuses on the American Revolution.  I was especially intrigued by Rebel Spy because the rebel spy in question is actually a woman, which was definitely new information to me.  Aside from those who went on to become First Ladies, the only other female figure that even comes to mind when I think of the Revolutionary War is Betsy Ross.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that there were actually female spies in George Washington’s intelligencer networks and that they played a vital role in the war.

Rossi’s novel follows a woman identified in our historical records only as Agent 355 “Lady.”  Agent 355’s  true identity remains unknown to this day and all we know of her is that she was a woman of high society in New York and that she worked as a part of Washington’s Culper spy network.  In her novel, Rossi has used her imagination to fill in the gaps and reimagine Agent 355’s life.

In Rossi’s reimagining, Agent 355 is Frannie Tasker, an orphaned young woman who lives on Grand Bahama Island with her abusive stepfather.  Frannie dreams of a new life free from his abuse, and when her stepfather announces that he wants to marry her, Frannie becomes all the more desperate to get away from him.  A timely storm, a devastating shipwreck with no survivors, and the body of a young woman who drowned in the wreck and bears a striking resemblance to Frannie provides her the escape she has been looking for.  With her quick thinking, Frannie switches places with the young woman, thus assuming her identity. She learns that the young woman has lost her entire family in the shipwreck and the plan is now to put her on the next ship to New York, where her new guardian is located.  The story follows Frannie as she takes on this new identity, learns to behave like a proper lady of society, and begins her life anew in New York City.  It is while she is on the journey to New York that Frannie meets a young man who puts the idea of rebelling against the Crown into her head and sets into motion her journey to joining a spy ring.  Frannie’s new position as a lady of society in New York gives her a prime vantage spot for intelligence as there are constantly British soldiers milling around at events she attends.

Rebel Spy is definitely a character driven story in the sense that while we do see Frannie in action as a spy, the spy ring and the Revolutionary War itself are very much in the background.  This is a story about Frannie, the life she has left behind, the new life she embraces in New York, the new friends and more-than-friends she meets along the way, and then finally her introduction to the world of spying.  As much as I enjoyed reading about Frannie’s life and what a resourceful and principled young lady she was, I would have rated this book even higher if we had gotten to see a little more of the actual spying and the war up close.

Even with that little quibble, I still found Rebel Spy to be a quick and satisfying read and one that has definitely made me want to learn more about the women who played a role in the American Revolution.

three-half-stars

About Veronica Rossi

Veronica Rossi is a best selling author of fiction for young adults. Her debut novel, UNDER THE NEVER SKY, was the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy, and was deemed one of the Best Books of Year by School Library Journal. The series appeared in the NY Times and USA Today best seller lists and was published in over 25 foreign markets.

Her second series for young adults began with RIDERS and tells the story of four modern day teens who become incarnations of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the prophetic girl who brings them together. SEEKER completes the duology.

Veronica completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA and then went on to study fine art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is a lifelong reader and artist. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she has lived in Mexico, Venezuela, and all over the United States, to finally settle in Northern California with her husband and two sons.

When not writing, Veronica enjoys reading painting, hiking, and running. She does not like anything involving numbers, the addition of them, subtraction of them, you name it. They terrify her. Her obsessions generally lead to fictional works. Currently, she has just finished delving into New York City during the Revolutionary War.

Review: HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Review:  HARLEY IN THE SKY by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-stars
Published by Ink Road on March 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She excels at creating characters and stories that are just so incredibly relatable.  I loved her first two books, Starfish and Summer Bird Blue, but I have to admit I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t connect as much to her latest novel, Harley in the Sky, since it is set in the world of the circus and focuses on a girl’s dream of becoming a trapeze artist.  My worry was completely unfounded though because at its heart, Harley in the Sky is a beautiful coming of age story about the search for identity and following one’s dreams.

The story follows Harley Milano, a young woman who has grown up in her parent’s Las Vegas-based circus.  Harley has dreamed of flying high as an aerialist for as long as she can remember and has even trained with her parents’ performers whenever possible.  When Harley turns 18, she approaches her parents to tell them she wants to train full-time and become one of their aerialists.  To her shock and dismay, her parents shut her down completely.  She is going to college, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Harley is crushed by her parent’s reaction and rebels by leaving home and joining a rival traveling circus.

Harley’s growth as a character is what really drew me into this story.  She is a flawed and very realistic character and one that many will relate to. She’s stubborn and headstrong, prone to make rash and emotional decisions, and she’s all too willing to hurt and betray others to follow her dream.  Her journey is a hard one for her as well though.  It’s filled with hard work, disappointment, and at first, a great deal of loneliness as she must come to terms with what she has done and gradually work her way to accepting responsibility for the hurt she has caused if she has any hope of reconciling with her family.

Her journey is not all hard times though in that she makes some great new friends in the traveling circus and even meets a sweet boy named Vas.  While there is a romantic element there, Vas’ role is so much more than that as Harley is able to talk to him and work through her feelings in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else.

Harley in the Sky is also a story about identity.  In addition to the struggle she faces regarding her need for independence to pursue her dream, Harley is also struggling with who she is.  She comes from a multi-racial family and is equal parts Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and American.  In Harley’s mind, she is so little of each of them that she feels like none of them.

Harley in the Sky was an emotional read for me on a couple of different levels.  I found myself wrapped up, not only in Harley’s journey, but I was also caught up in Bowman’s gorgeous writing as she vividly captures the atmosphere of the circus and gave me several moments of nostalgia from my own childhood of watching those performers make magic and fly through the air.  If you’re into coming of age stories that are sure to take you back to your own journey to adulthood and independence, be sure to check out Harley in the Sky.

four-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Review: Of Curses and Kisses

Review:  Of Curses and KissesOf Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Series: St. Rosetta's Academy #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 18, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhya Menon’s latest book, Of Curses and Kisses, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast and I really enjoyed Menon’s spin on the classic fairytale. I thought it was very original and I especially liked the fact that she set her story at an elite international boarding school.

When the story opens, Princess Jaya Rao and her younger sister, Isha, have just arrived at their new boarding school, which is nestled in the mountains of Colorado.  The sisters have relocated halfway around the world to escape some negative media attention that Isha found herself caught in the middle of.  Their parents are hoping the time away will lead the media to get bored and move on to another scandal.  Even though Jaya herself has done nothing wrong, she is completely devoted to her family and preserving the Rao reputation so she agrees to go and keep an eye on Isha. Jaya also has an ulterior motive. She knows that Grey Emerson attends the school and thinks this is the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on him.  There is bad blood between the Rao and Emerson families that can be traced back to a stolen ruby and a subsequent retaliatory curse and Jaya is certain that the Emersons are responsible for her family’s latest troubles.

Ironically, Grey Emerson is also at the school because of the curse.  His cold-hearted father believes so thoroughly in the curse that he has cut all ties with his doomed son and shipped him off to boarding school. And since the curse threatens to wipe out his family line and he’s currently the last male heir, Grey can’t help but be concerned.

As one expects when reading one of Menon’s novels, both of her main characters are quite likable.  I loved Jaya’s devotion to her family and how thoroughly she watched over her sister.  I also liked getting inside of her head once she actually meets Grey and realizes he may not be the monster she thinks he is.  I really felt for her as she becomes more and more conflicted about what she should do.  I also really liked Grey and just felt tremendous sympathy for him.  He has spent his whole life tortured by this awful curse and feeling unloved by his father.  Grey believes there’s a good chance he will die once he turns 18, so he keeps others at a distance so no one will end up devastated if he really does die.  As much as I enjoyed reading Jaya’s conflicted internal monologues, I thought Grey’s were excellent as well, especially once he starts getting to know Jaya and wants to be close to her in spite of the curse and the Rao vs. Emerson feud.  My favorite character though was actually Jaya’s sister, Isha.  Isha is a STEM girl (YES!) who just wants to live her life without feeling constricted by her family’s royal status.  Isha is a firecracker who stole the spotlight in every scene she was in, and I adored her. I wanted more of her and would totally be on board for reading a story that focused more on her.

While I really did enjoy Of Curses and Kisses, I won’t say that it’s my favorite Menon novel.  I liked the characters, but didn’t love them with quite the same intensity that I’ve loved some of Menon’s other protagonists like Dimple and Rishi or Sweetie and Ashish. I also thought the pacing was a little slow at times.  Overall though, I still thought it was a solid read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to anyone who enjoys Beauty and the Beast retellings.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin

Review:  FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah CapinFoul Is Fair by Hannah Capin
three-half-stars
Series: Foul Is Fair #1
Published by Wednesday Books on February 18, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Meghan from St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in their blog tour for Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin.  I’m excited to share my thoughts on this thrilling new novel.

* * * * *

“Something wicked this way comes…”

Hannah Capin’s latest novel, Foul is Fair, is a violent and disturbing tale of revenge.  It is deliciously entertaining in the darkest of ways.  While it reads like a mash-up of Mean Girls, Riverdale, and Pretty Little Liars, Foul is Fair, as you may have surmised from the title, is actually a modern retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth.

I’m a total Shakespeare nerd and the tragedies are my favorites, so Foul is Fair was a must-read for me.  As I was reading, I was just so impressed with the creative revenge plot the author devised to mirror the original Macbeth storyline.  Foul is Fair follows Elle, who as the novel opens, is planning a night out with her best friends to celebrate her sweet sixteen birthday.  The girls get all glammed up and attend a party at the local elite prep school.  The night turns tragic, however, when Elle is drugged and raped at the party.  Elle knows who did it, and she also remembers who just stood around and let it happen.  The name of the game for Elle is vengeance as she vows to take them all down.

With the help of her girls (or her coven as she calls them), Elle, the Lady Macbeth of Foul is Fair, changes her appearance so that she isn’t recognizable, changes her name to Jade, and finally, arranges to transfer to the prep school. Once there, she sets her plot for revenge into motion, with the first step being to seduce a boy named Mack (the Macbeth of Foul is Fair) into doing her bidding and ultimately taking the fall for anything she does in her quest for vengeance.

My favorite part of the novel is the revenge plot itself. I flew through the pages once Jade started taking her rapists down, one by one.  Her quest for revenge is more intense than anything I could have imagined, truly vicious!  Elle/Jade is a master manipulator and the mind games she and her coven play on these boys are brilliant. She practically has them drowning in their paranoia and turning on each other.  I found myself cheering the girls on in a show of solidarity but also sitting there shocked at myself for cheering such violence.  I love a read that can do that to me.

Foul is Fair works well as a Macbeth retelling, but it also felt wholly unique and unpredictable even with the numerous references and shout-outs to the original Shakespearean play peppered throughout the novel.  If you’re into Shakespearean tragedies, retellings, or even just revenge thrillers, Foul is Fair is a must-read for you too.

* * * * *

On a side note, I also want to thank the author for posting clear trigger warnings regarding the subject matter. I knew going in that, as a Macbeth retelling, Foul is Fair would be a dark revenge tale, but I was grateful for the warning that the primary thematic content “centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. Additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.”

For a more detailed description of sensitive content in Foul is Fair, please visit hannahcapin.com/foulisfair.

 

 

PURCHASE LINK:

Wednesday Books

 

SUMMARY:

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

 

three-half-stars

About Hannah Capin

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

Review: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric Smith

Review:  DON’T READ THE COMMENTS by Eric SmithDon't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
four-stars
Published by Inkyard Press on January 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Eric Smith’s new novel Don’t Read the Comments.

Don’t Read the Comments follows Divya Sharma, a teen girl who has become internet famous because of her video game stream for Reclaim the Sun on the popular Glitch website.  Her stream has gained so many followers that she has received sponsorships from several big gaming companies, which means she receives a lot of gifted items and even cash.  While all of the perks are great and it’s fun being considered a celebrity of sorts, Divya also relies on the money she makes from streaming to help her mom make ends meet.  So when she encounters trolls online who threaten her livelihood, it’s a big deal on many levels. They send her messages telling her she doesn’t belong in their community and is taking money and endorsements that should go to others more talented and deserving than she is.

When they destroy her ship in the game, Divya refuses to give into them. She begins the game all over again, seeking a quiet corner of the Reclaim the Sun universe to start from scratch and rebuild her resources.  It is here she encounters the second protagonist of the book, Aaron Jericho, a teen who is equally passionate about video games but from the standpoint that he wants to actually write video games for a living. Aaron is a little starstruck at first because of Divya’s celebrity status but slowly, a friendship starts to build between them.

I really loved both Divya and Aaron.  Divya is smart, scrappy, and resourceful. She’s also a great friend and a good daughter. I loved that she was so determined to use her streaming income to help her mom achieve her dream of a college degree.  Aaron is equally likeable and is immediately a great friend to Divya. He’s also the sweetest big brother ever, even allowing his adorable little sister Mira to play video games with him and name planets he has claimed.  Divya and Aaron are just so sweet that it’s all the more wonderful that they find each other online.

Along with the relationship between Divya and Aaron, the other friendships in the novel really made Don’t Read the Comments such an enjoyable read for me. There were several feel good geeky moments throughout the story involving Divya and her Angst Armada, a group of fans/friends she has met and bonded with through the Reclaim the Sun game.  Having made many wonderful friends online myself, I found it very heartwarming to watch this group interact in such a positive way.

The author does a wonderful job of creating a balance between those feel good moments and the other darker aspects of the online gaming community.  While the story has many moments that left me smiling, it also has its fair share of tension and suspense, which is created by racism, sexism, and doxing, which takes harassment to a whole new level when it moves from online to in-your-face personal.

I have to confess that I was initially drawn to Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments because of the cute cover that promises a “wonderfully geeky” read.  And yes, while it was definitely a wonderfully geeky read, Don’t Read the Comments is so much more than that.  It’s also an in-depth exploration of the online world of video game streaming, both the good and the bad.  Smith exposes the undercurrent of racism, sexism and harassment that sometimes pervades the culture, he also shows the positives such as online friendships that are born from shared interests.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary reads that focus on relevant and timely issues, and definitely to anyone who loves video games.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

Slay meets Eliza and Her Monsters in Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments, an #ownvoices story in which two teen gamers find their virtual worlds—and blossoming romance—invaded by the real-world issues of trolling and doxing in the gaming community.

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

 

four-stars

About Eric Smith

Eric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison

Review: A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. GrandisonA Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison
four-stars
Published by Inkyard Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Blog Tour for Inkyard Press.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on A LOVE HATE THING by Whitney D. Grandison.

Whitney D. Grandison’s emotional debut, A Love Hate Thing, first caught my eye because of its title and that gorgeous cover.  The promise of my favorite romantic trope, hate to love, called to me like a siren.  What I got, however, was so much more than just a love-hate story.  A Love Hate Thing is just as much a coming of age story as it is a love story, and it’s also a story about second chances and making the most of them.

I fell in love with the protagonist Tyson Trice, who goes by Trice, as soon as we were introduced to him.  He’s a young man who comes across as vulnerable but yet also tough as nails.  A tragic event has left Trice without parents and recovering from a gunshot wound.  In hopes that he’ll be able to eventually heal and move forward from this tragedy, Trice has been sent to live with old family friends who happen to live in a safer and more affluent part of town.  Trice knows he doesn’t fit in, but all he’s really focused on at this point is trying to cope with what happened and get his life back on track, which starts with summer school in his new neighborhood.  Trice is such a sweetheart that it’s just impossible not to love him and want the best for him.  What I liked the most about Trice is that he’s determined to stay true to himself. He has no interest in trying to fit whatever mold the “in” crowd at his new school thinks he should strive for. I always love a good underdog so watching Trice navigate his way through these privileged and elitist types is totally my cup of tea.

Not so easy to love, however, is his counterpart, Nandy Smith.  I’ll be honest and say up front that I did not like Nandy at all when the story first opened.  Nandy’s family is who Trice ends up moving in with, and as soon as Nandy hears the news, she starts acting like a brat.  She’s considered a big shot at her school and is obsessed with maintaining her golden girl image.  She is not about to let some homeless boy from the wrong side of the tracks wreck her summer or damage her reputation.  From the first moment Trice enters her home, Nandy is rude and obnoxious, to the point where even her little brother tells her she needs to back off and stop acting like a jerk.  I didn’t start to warm up to Nandy until she started to warm up to Trice and actually get to know him.  Once she began to show tremendous growth and development as a character, I started to love her too.

The changing dynamic between Trice and Nandy was what really sold me on this story.  There’s history between them that accounts for some of Nandy’s early behavior and I loved learning about that and then watching their relationship evolve from there, especially as they are caught between their two worlds.  Can Trice fully let go of his past and embrace the second chance he has been given?  Can Nandy let go of her obsession with reputation and just be herself and be there for Trice?

A Love Hate Thing is an emotional roller coaster filled with heartwarming moments as well as its fair share of tearjerker moments.  If a story about family, belonging, love, loss, and ultimately finding a way to move forward sounds like your kind of read, give Whitney D. Grandison’s A Love Hate Thing a chance.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

A fantastic enemies to lovers romance about an It girl whose world is upended when a boy from the past moves into her house after tragedy strikes. For fans of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, Mary H. K. Choi and Samira Ahmed. Wattpad author Whitney D. Grandison’s traditional publishing debut.

When they’re stuck under one roof, the house may not be big enough for their hate…or their love

When Tyson Trice finds himself tossed into the affluent coastal community of Pacific Hills, he’s ready for the questions, the stares, and the total feeling of not belonging in the posh suburb. Not that he cares. After recovering from being shot and surviving the mean streets of Lindenwood, he doesn’t care about anyone or anything. He doesn’t even care how the rest of his life will play out.

In Pacific Hills, image is everything. Something that, as the resident golden girl, Nandy Smith knows all too well. She’s spent most of her life building the pristine image that it takes to fit in. After learning that her parents are taking in a former childhood friend, Nandy fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames. It’s the start of summer vacation and the last thing Nandy needs is some juvenile delinquent from the ’Wood crashing into her world.

Stuck together in close quarters, Trice and Nandy are in for some long summer nights. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.

four-stars

About Whitney D. Grandison

Whitney D. Grandison was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where she currently resides. A lover of stories since she first picked up a book, it’s no surprise she’s taken to writing her own. Some of her works can be found on Wattpad, one of the largest online story sharing platforms, where she has acquired over 30,000 followers and an audience of over fifteen million dedicated readers.

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THERE

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THEREThe Map from Here to There by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-stars
Series: The Start of Me and You #2
Published by Bloomsbury YA on January 7, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Review:

With The Map from Here to There, Emery Lord delivers a beautifully written and compelling follow-up to her popular novel, The Start of Me and You.  I loved the first novel and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the sequel because I really wanted more of Paige and Max’s journey.  The sequel was a little surprising, but in a good way. It’s a much more serious and emotional read than the fun and fluffy one I was expecting.  While there are certainly plenty of fun and fluffy moments with Paige and her friends as they go through their Senior year together, the story focuses more on Paige and her continuing struggles with anxiety and identity. Paige is trying to make big decisions about life and college and really just figure out who she really is and where Max fits into it all.  As Paige considers her options, endless questions just constantly flood her brain and ramp up her anxiety: Will their relationship survive if they go to separate schools? Should a decision about where to go to college be based in any way on what school your friends and/or significant other are going to?

Lord does a wonderful job of continuing Paige’s journey in a realistic and relatable way.  The fear and uncertainty about life after high school is certainly an almost universal experience.  I did find myself occasionally frustrated with Paige because of how she was letting all of her uncertainties interfere with the important relationships in her life, but at the same time, I found that was a realistic aspect of what she’s going through as well, so I could forgive her for it.

One of my favorite aspects of the sequel is actually that Paige’s core group of friends were still a big focus of the story. I honestly expected them to take a backseat to Max and Paige so it was great to see this wonderful friend group still in the forefront and to follow their Senior year journeys as well.

The Map from Here to There is overall a very satisfying sequel to The Start of Me and You.  If you weren’t ready to say goodbye to this lovable cast of characters after the first book, I think you’ll be happy with Lord’s continuation of their journeys.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for CHOSEN and THE MAP FROM HERE TO THEREChosen (Slayer, #2) by Kiersten White
Also by this author: The Guinevere Deception
four-stars
Series: Slayer #2
Published by Simon Pulse on January 7, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Review:

Last month I finally sat down and read Slayer, the first book in Kiersten White’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer-inspired series.  I’ve actually never watched an episode of Buffy (hangs head in shame), but even without prior knowledge of Buffy and her world, I still very much enjoyed Slayer.  White does a wonderful job bringing this world to life for me and I loved the characters, especially White’s additions to the Buffy universe.

Nina, the scrappy new Slayer that is the focus of White’s series is such an easy character to root for, so after meeting her in the first book, I was eager to follow her character’s evolution in Chosen, the second book in the series.  Chosen picks up right where Slayer leaves off and while it is just as action-packed as the first book, it is also more of an emotional read. I don’t want to give away any spoilers from the first book for those who haven’t read it yet, so I’ll just say that Nina experiences both loss and betrayal in Slayer and is still dealing with the emotional fallout in Chosen.  Nina is subsequently in kind of a dark place in this second book, but she still has plenty to keep her mind occupied, what with mastering her newly found Slayer abilities, creating demon sanctuaries, and of course, saving the world from yet another impending apocalypse.

My only real gripe about the sequel was Nina’s sister, Artemis.  I actually quite liked Artemis for the most part in the first book, but she frustrated me to no end in Chosen.  Her jealousy of Nina leads her to make some selfish and just plain awful decisions.  I found her disappointing, not just because of how her petty actions impacted Nina so much but also because they had real and potentially deadly consequences and she just couldn’t get past her own jealousy to see that.

Chosen successfully continues the magic of the first book in the series and I hope that White will continue the journey with a third book.  If demons, vampires, and a scrappy heroine trying to save the world from pending doom, all with a side of family drama, appeals to you, I would definitely recommend Kiersten White’s wildly entertaining Slayer series. 4 STARS

four-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

About Kiersten White

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows. Visit Kiersten online at KierstenWhite.com and follow @KierstenWhite on Twitter.

Review: THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION

Review:  THE GUINEVERE DECEPTIONThe Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Also by this author: Chosen (Slayer, #2)
three-stars
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION Review

 

Everyone who follows my blog knows I love retellings. I seriously can’t get enough of them and have been especially intrigued by the influx of retellings focusing on the legend of King Arthur and Camelot.  When I heard that Kiersten White had one coming out and that it would focus on Guinevere, I knew I just had to read it.  I’ve been wanting to try one of White’s books for ages anyway, so The Guinevere Deception seemed like a perfect fit.  Sadly, however, it ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag for me.

I was hooked from the moment I realized that Guinevere was not the Guinevere from the original Arthurian legend.  Instead, she’s a witch sent by Merlin to protect King Arthur.  I loved how unique White’s take on the Lady Guinevere is and thought it was absolutely brilliant to have her placed in the castle, posing as Arthur’s wife, but really serving as a secret weapon right under any enemy’s nose.  It might just be me, but I also found it amusing that Arthur was totally cool with going along with Merlin’s plan. He hadn’t found anyone he wanted to marry yet anyway, so hey, why not?

One of my favorite parts of The Guinevere Deception was watching Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship develop.  Around every other character, Guinevere has to put up a front and play her assigned role, but when she and Arthur are alone, she has those rare moments where she can let her guard down and we get to see more of the real Guinevere.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call their relationship romantic by any stretch — it’s more of a friendship or alliance — but it’s just nice watching two people have meaningful conversations and get to know each other better.

The world building was intriguing as well. I really like the way White brings her vision of a magical Camelot to life and was especially fascinated by the role of the trees in the opening scenes.  They appear to engulf and destroy a small village, leaving behind no survivors.  That whole man vs. nature creepy supernatural vibe really sets the tone for the rest of the book and left me hungry to know so much more about this world.

There’s one other scene I adored and I can’t say much about it for fear of spoilers, so all I’m going to say is that fans of Brienne of Tarth from Games of Thrones will love it too.

So, why the average rating when I clearly enjoyed several elements of The Guinevere Deception?  In one word, pacing.  The pacing of the book is excruciatingly slow and honestly just seemed to meander aimlessly for over two-thirds of the book.  Merlin has sent Guinevere to protect Arthur but he never tells her who or what the threat is, so she just wanders around, chats with other characters we recognize from the Arthurian legend like Mordred, she ties magical protection knots, and tying the knots makes her tired so she has to rest. The knot magic was interesting at first, but after a while, I found it boring.

The characters, for the most part, felt very flat too.  The exceptions to that were Guinevere and Mordred.  Most of the other characters were unfortunately pretty forgettable.  Between this and the pacing, I just found it very difficult to get fully invested in the story and found myself full on skimming by the halfway point.

I will say that the last third of the book is pretty amazing though.  It has the action, the betrayals, and all of the excitement we were promised in the synopsis.  The real threat to King Arthur is also finally revealed, but gosh, it just took so long to get there!  I don’t want to say I didn’t care by this point, but I think an earlier reveal would have had me more invested in the story overall and in how Guinevere and Arthur would deal with the threat.  I have a feeling that the rest of the series is going to be very exciting based on all of the set up done here.

If you’re into King Arthur retellings and don’t mind a slow burn plot, I’d definitely suggest giving Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

three-stars

About Kiersten White

Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of many books for teens and young readers, including And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Slayer. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, where she perpetually lurks in the shadows. Visit Kiersten online at KierstenWhite.com and follow @KierstenWhite on Twitter.

Review: SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. Larson

Review:  SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT by Sara B. LarsonSisters of Shadow and Light by Sara B. Larson
three-half-stars
Series: Sisters of Shadow and Light #1
Published by Tor Teen on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT Review

 

Sara B. Larson’s latest novel Sisters of Shadow and Light is a beautiful fantasy story about love, family, and sacrifice.  It features two sisters, Zuhra and Inara, who have been living in isolation inside a Citadel for the past 15 years with only their mother and a servant for company.  They are isolated from the rest of the outside world by a sentient hedge.  The hedge not only won’t let anyone from inside the Citadel leave, but it will also actually attack anyone from the outside who tries to approach the Citadel.

One of the elements of the story that immediately jumped out at me was the worldbuilding.  While the idea of being trapped in a Citadel is somewhat reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, everything else about it felt fresh and unique.  The Citadel the girls are living in is an abandoned fortress that once housed Paladin warriors.  All the girls really know about these legendary warriors is that they possessed powerful magic and that they’re now gone from this world.  That includes their Paladin father, who actually disappeared the night Inara, the younger sister was born.  He disappeared and the magical hedge appeared, trapping the girls and their mother in the Citadel.  No one really knows the circumstances behind his disappearance and his wife assumes he has abandoned his family, which breaks her emotionally. She retreats into herself, leaving the girls to raise themselves with the help of their servant. I was just so intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Paladins and trying to figure out how it would factor into the girls’ journey.

I love a good sibling story so what actually first drew me to Sisters of Shadow and Light was learning that the focus of the novel is actually the bond between two sisters. Inara has inherited her father’s magic but without him there to guide her, it has just become this uncontrollable roaring sound in her head that makes it impossible for her to communicate with anyone. Zuhra makes it her mission to try to figure out how to help Inara control it and while she is by no means fully successful, she does manage to calm Inara’s mind enough that they can occasionally sit down and chat and bond as sisters.

What drew me in to the story is also unfortunately what left me somewhat unsatisfied.  While I did love seeing the bond between sisters and was especially touched by Zuhra’s determination to break through the magic to reach Inara, I did feel that the character development was a little lopsided at times since we got so little from Inara firsthand.   I understand why because of the whole ‘magic roaring in her head’ business, but it still just made her feel like a secondary character for much of the story, which didn’t quite work for me.

Although the uneven character development was a bit of a letdown, the mystery surrounding the hedge still very much held my interest, especially when after fifteen years, it randomly lets a young man wander right through it and approach the Citadel.  Why has this young man been granted access after all of these years and how will it impact the sisters?  Once this young man enters, everything changes and the story blossoms into something entirely new and much more exciting than what it started as.  Long-buried truths are revealed and everything the girls thought they knew is turned on its head, especially as it pertains to both their father and the Paladins.

Even though Sisters of Shadow and Light starts off somewhat slowly as we are introduced to the characters and their world, it gradually picked up the pace and the intensity so that by the last third of the book, I just couldn’t put it down.  It also ends with an evil cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.  I would recommend Sisters of Shadow and Light for anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, sibling relationships, mysteries, and adventure.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“The night my sister was born, the stars died and were reborn in her eyes…”

Zuhra and Inara have grown up in the Citadel of the Paladins, an abandoned fortress where legendary, magical warriors once lived before disappearing from the world―including their Paladin father the night Inara was born.

On that same night, a massive, magical hedge grew and imprisoned them within the citadel. Inara inherited their father’s Paladin power; her eyes glow blue and she is able to make plants grow at unbelievable rates, but she has been trapped in her own mind because of a “roar” that drowns everything else out―leaving Zuhra virtually alone with their emotionally broken human mother.

For fifteen years they have lived, trapped in the citadel, with little contact from the outside world…until the day a stranger passes through the hedge, and everything changes.

three-half-stars

About Sara B. Larson

Sara B. Larson is the best-selling and critically acclaimed author of the YA fantasy DEFY trilogy (DEFY, IGNITE, and ENDURE) and the DARK BREAKS THE DAWN duology. Her next YA fantasy, SISTERS OF SHADOW AND LIGHT, comes out November 5th from Tor Teen. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books—although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband, their four children, and their Maltese, Loki. She writes in brief snippets throughout the day and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” When she’s not mothering or writing, you can often find her at the gym repenting for her sugar addiction.