Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-stars

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

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

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

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

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

CLICK TO PURCHASE A COPY…

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

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

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

four-stars

About Emily A. Duncan

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

Early Review: SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn Bennett

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

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

Early Review: SKY WITHOUT STARS

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

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

SKY WITHOUT STARS Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Jessica Brody

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

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

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

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

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

About Joanne Rendell

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

Review: YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT by Laura Silverman

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing that I can think of.

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Laura Silverman

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

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

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

Early Review: YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen Cook

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU OWE ME A MURDER Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Eileen Cook

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

Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.

Early Review: RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE by Jeff Zentner

Early Review:  RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE by Jeff ZentnerRayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
four-half-stars
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on February 26, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE review

 

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is my first time reading a Jeff Zentner novel, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in.  What I got was pretty much everything I love about contemporary novels all rolled into one fabulous book.  It’s a story about friendship and family, first loves, taking risks and following your dreams, and it’s also a story about goodbyes.  It also features a hilarious Saturday night public access TV show that features horrible horror flicks, and it takes us on a road trip to a horror fan convention.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, and I was there for every minute of it.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee features two main characters, Delia and Josie, both of whom I found to be very likeable and the situations they found themselves in easy to relate to.  They are both high school seniors who are making plans for the future and wondering how those future plans are going to impact their friendship.  Josie wants a career on television and while she’s currently starring on a public access TV show with Delia, her opportunity to follow her dreams would be much greater if she moved away from their town and attended one of the bigger universities, one of which has an internship at the Food Network with her name all over it.  Josie is very conflicted about what to do, not just because she hates the idea of leaving Delia behind, but also because she has just met a new guy named Lawson that she has quickly grown very attached to, and going away to school would mean leaving him as well.

Delia’s plans for the future are less academic-based and more focused on her personal life and something that she needs to resolve once and for all for the sake of her mental health.  Her father abandoned her and her mom years ago, just up and disappeared and hasn’t been heard from since.  Between him leaving and now possibly Josie following suit, Delia is struggling emotionally with the idea that she is always being left behind.  She knows it’s not fair to think that in Josie’s case, but her father walking out had just been such a weight on her shoulders for so many years that it colors everything else in her life, even her TV show.  She really wants to track him down and confront him because she needs answers if she’s ever going to move on.

I loved both of these girls, and even Josie’s boyfriend Lawson, who is just super adorable in every way.  I thought Zentner did an incredible job of really getting inside of both Delia and Josie’s heads to give us so much insight on what they’re thinking and feeling as they’re trying to plan their futures without losing their friendship. The friendship between Josie and Delilah is written so beautifully. It feels so authentic and takes me back to when I was graduating from both high school and college and had to say goodbye to friends I had grown to love and those fears that we would drift apart if we didn’t see each other every day. It makes me shed a tear just thinking about how relatable this aspect of the story was.

Speaking of tears though, there were also many tears of joy shed.  In addition to the emotional journeys that both Delia and Josie take us on, there’s also a tremendous amount of humor in the book, especially as it relates to Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee, the public access TV show that Delia and Josie co-host.   All I could think while I was reading was that I need this TV show in my life.  For the show, the girls play horror hosts Rayne Ravencroft and Delilah Darkwood, dress up as vampires and do quirky comedic skits (a la Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for those who are old enough to remember her).  Their guest stars include their own pets, as well a group of boys who dress up in skeleton costumes and dance around like fools in the background.  As if those antics weren’t enough, they aren’t even the main event.  The main event each week is basically the worst, cheesiest horror flick you’ve ever seen.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 except with horror movies instead of cheesy old sci fi.  The whole concept for the show, and Delia and Josie working with their grumpy old tech guy Arliss, had me in stitches every time they went to prep an episode of their show.

While I thought it was sweet that Delia and Josie were often mistaken for sisters because their personalities and sense of humor were so similar, I also thought the similarity in voice made it a little challenging at first to keep the girls straight in my head.  I had to keep flipping back to the first page of each chapter to remember whose perspective I was reading.  Once each character’s journey became more defined, however, I settled in and was more easily able to keep track of who was who.  As you can see from my rating, it didn’t keep me from loving the book in any way but I figured I should mention it just to be 100% honest here.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee was a delightful read from beginning to end.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous, heartfelt reads that focus on family, friendship, and following your dreams.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A contemporary novel about two best friends who must make tough decisions about their futures–and the TV show they host–in their senior year of high school.

Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

four-half-stars

About Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults. He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.

Review: CROWN OF FEATHERS

Review:  CROWN OF FEATHERSCrown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
three-half-stars
Series: Crown of Feathers #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 496
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CROWN OF FEATHERS Review

 

Nicki Pau Preto’s Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy that centers on a world that has been torn apart by a war between two warrior queens who also happen to be sisters.  The legendary Phoenix Riders were the heroes of that world until the war between the sisters destroyed everything.  Years later, many are still struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table, including main character Veronyka, who is an orphan because of the war.  Veronyka is also an animage, which means she can communicate with animals. Animages are considered dangerous by the new empire, so Veronyka lives in hiding.  As an animage, however, Veronyka’s biggest dream is to find and join the Phoenix Riders.  She knows they’re still out there somewhere and is willing to do whatever it takes to become one of them, especially if it will get her away from her psychologically abusive sister, Val.

When Val betrays Veronyka in a most heinous and cruel way, Veronyka abandons her and sets out on her own, determined that she will either find the Phoenix Riders or die trying.  She finally locates a compound where apprentices are being trained to become Phoenix Riders. It’s everything she hoped it would be, except there’s a catch.  They aren’t taking new apprentices because they don’t have anymore available phoenixes and even if they were, they only train boys.  To join their ranks, Veronyka disguises herself as a boy, Nyk, and signs on as a stable hand.  She makes friends with Tristan, the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander, who promises to sponsor Nyk as an apprentice Phoenix Rider the next time they’re taking on new apprentices.

Can Veronyka keep her true identity hidden?  Where’s Val during all of this?  Are the Phoenix Riders safe from the new empire?  What will happen if they’re discovered?

My favorite character, by far, in Crown of Feathers was Veronyka.  The author had me in her corner from the first moment we meet her and see how poorly her sister Val treats her.  And as much as I hated it when Val betrays Veronyka, I loved the growth we get to see in Veronyka when she sets out on her own.  She’s determined, she’s fierce, and just a real force to be reckoned with, especially the closer she gets to making her dream come true.  She had my sympathy right away but eventually she earned my respect and admiration as well.

I also really liked the other two main characters, Tristan and Sev, and thought they also had interesting journeys in this book.  As I mentioned earlier, Tristan is the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander.  He is under tremendous pressure to live up to his father’s high expectations so that he might lead the Riders someday. In addition to watching his relationship with Nyk/Veronyka grow, much of Tristan’s journey focuses on him desperately trying to overcome his fears and make his father proud.  Sev, like Veronyka, is an animage in hiding.  Unlike Veronyka, however, Sev is hiding in plain sight, working as a soldier in the empire’s army.  His life takes an interesting and even more dangerous turn when he is approached by someone who knows what he is and is tasked with spying on the enemy from within.

Having the story unfold from these three unique perspectives added so many complex layers and interesting relationship dynamics. I really enjoyed watching all three of these characters grow and mature.

Aside from the characters, I also loved the whole concept of the Phoenix Riders.  The visual of these fierce warriors riding on fiery phoenixes gave me chills, and I also loved the way the author describes the unbreakable bond that forms between a phoenix and his or her rider of choice.  Everything about this was just so well thought out and well written. The author made it very easy to see why becoming a Phoenix Rider was Veronyka’s dream.

The ending was actually my absolute favorite part of Crown of Feathers.  If you’re into epic battle scenes, this book is for you.  I don’t want to spoil anything but think along the lines of the battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or even the battles to protect the wall in Game of Thrones.  It was so intense and had me flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  Regardless of my overall rating, I’d give the last 100 or so pages 5 stars.

My biggest issue with A Crown of Feathers centered on the worldbuilding.  As I mentioned, I thought the world itself was fantastic, especially the Phoenixes and the whole idea of the Phoenix Riders.  I just had a hard time with the way all of the background information was inserted in large clumps throughout the story.  It’s probably just me but getting the information that way really slowed the pacing of the story for me at times and just felt in the way of the action.

I also wanted more interaction between Val and Veronyka.  I have a thing for complicated sibling dynamics and was so excited by the way this story started off with Val betraying Veronyka in such a big way.  Then she just disappeared for hundreds of pages.  I spent much of the book wondering when she was going to make an appearance and either redeem herself or make things even worse between herself and Veronyka.

Even though I struggled with the pacing in the first half of the book, I still think Crown of Feathers is a very solid series opener and a stellar debut effort.  The way this first book ended has me very excited to find out where the story is going next. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, fierce female protagonists, and of course, those beautiful fiery phoenixes.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

three-half-stars

About Nicki Pau Preto

Nicki is a YA fantasy author living just outside Toronto, Canada. After getting a degree in visual arts, a masters in art history, and a diploma in graphic design, Nicki discovered two things: she loves to escape the real world, and she isn’t interested in a regular 9-5 life. Luckily, her chosen career covers both.

Her YA fantasy debut CROWN OF FEATHERS is coming February 12, 2019 from Simon Pulse.

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOOD

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODSpectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Published by Tor Teen on February 12, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A YA murder mystery in which a young reporter must use her supernatural visions to help track down a killer targeting the young women of Paris.

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day's new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered--from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie's search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie's strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer's identity--and she'll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

Review:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s debut novel Spectacle is a book I really wanted to love.  It’s a YA murder mystery set in Paris during the 1880s, and it features a female protagonist, Nathalie, who is a newspaper reporter and who also happens to have supernatural visions that could come in handy when it becomes clear a killer is on the loose in her city, targeting young women.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?

And there are quite a few things I did enjoy about it.  I liked that the novel reads as part thriller, part historical fiction, and that it even has a little supernatural twist.  I thought the author did an especially nice job of capturing 1880s Paris and of filling her murder mystery with lots of creepy twists and turns, many of which kept me guessing until the very end, and I was also very intrigued with the idea of the main character being a teenage girl who writes the daily morgue report for the local newspaper.

My struggles with the book, unfortunately, were many as well.  The pacing felt very slow at times and Nathalie felt rather underdeveloped even though she had several subplots swirling around her. While I felt like some of the subplots helped show how Nathalie ended up working where she’s working, unfortunately, they didn’t offer me anything else to make me feel much of a connection to her.  I also found her incredibly frustrating in that she knew full well there was a murderer on the loose who was targeting young women but yet was constantly out walking about the city by herself and at one point even makes a trip down into the Catacombs.

The ending also felt rather awkward. I think it was meant to be open-ended, but the way it just trailed off, it just felt like pages were missing. Between that, the lack of connection I felt to the main character, the slow pacing, and the fact that I predicted who one of the murder victims would be as soon as the character was introduced, I ended up pretty disappointed.  Hopefully other readers will have a better experience with this since it does have such an interesting and unique premise.  2.5 STARS

 

 

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODThe Sisterhood by A.J. Grainger
on February 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Lil’s heart was broken when her sister Mella disappeared. There’s been no trace or sighting of her since she vanished, so when Lil sees a girl lying in the road near her house she thinks for a heart-stopping moment that it’s Mella.

The girl is injured and disorientated and Lil has no choice but to take her home, even though she knows something’s not right. The girl claims she’s from a peaceful community called The Sisterhood of the Light, but why then does she have strange marks down her arms, and what—or who—is she running from?

Review:

A.J. Grainger’s The Sisterhood is a dark and twisty tale that centers around two sisters, Lil and Mella, and the fallout that takes place when Mella runs away from home after a fight with Lil.  Lil feels responsible and is heartsick about it, especially after months and months go by without a single sighting of Mella anywhere.  When Lil stumbles across a girl lying unconscious and injured in the road not far from her house, she decides that she needs to do everything she can to help the girl.  When the girl, whose name is Alice, regains consciousness, she confides in Lil that she is from The Sisterhood of the Light, which she claims is a peaceful and nurturing community.  Lil is suspicious, especially considering Alice was clearly running away from this group when she was injured and because she has what appear to be burn marks all over her arm. Lil decides to dig deeper – who is this Sisterhood, where are they located considering she’s never heard of them until finding Alice, could any of this tie in to what happened to Mella?

I found this story to be absolutely riveting.  The mystery of where Mella was had already grabbed my attention, but then from the moment Lil stumbled across Alice unconscious and bleeding in the road, I couldn’t put the book down because I just had to know what happened to her.  Then when Alice wakes up and starts going on and on about what sounded like a cult, I was totally hooked and ended up devouring the book in a single afternoon.

The story is told primarily from Lil’s perspective, alternating occasionally with some wild and sometimes creepy chapters from inside The Sisterhood, which I thought was a very effective way to have the story unfold.  Lil is a very likeable and complex character and the author does a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions going through her head as she is desperately missing her sister, while also trying to put on a brave face for her mom, who is also just falling apart because of Mella’s disappearance.  Lil feels like she failed Mella, and now she’s determined to help Alice as a way to do what she didn’t do for her own sister.  Some of Lil’s choices end up being a little questionable and not well thought out, but those flawed choices made her feel all the more real and relatable.

With its mysteries of what has happened to Mella and Alice, its creepy cult-like group, and its emotional impact as poor Lil puts herself through the wringer worrying about her sister, The Sisterhood is a captivating read from start to finish.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  4 STARS

About A.J. Grainger

A. J. Grainger was born in Reading, where she went to the same school as Jane Austen but not at the same time. She now lives in London with her husband and works as a children’s books editor. She loves writing and editing because it means she gets to talk about books all day. She likes novels with plenty of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the end. She is also a total sucker for love stories.

A. J. keeps a blog at www.ajgrainger.com, where she talks about books, writing, editing, making things and procrastinating.

About Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. Spectacle is her debut.