Review: THE GUINEVERE DECEPTION

Review:  THE GUINEVERE DECEPTIONThe Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
three-stars
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press on November 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
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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
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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.

Review: FIREBORNE by Rosaria Munda

Review:  FIREBORNE by Rosaria MundaFireborne by Rosaria Munda
four-stars
Series: The Aurelian Cycle #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on October 15, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIREBORNE Review

 

Rosaria Munda’s debut novel Fireborne has everything I love in a fantasy: complex characters, exquisite world building, political intrigue, and most importantly, dragons!  Fireborne follows two main characters, Annie and Lee, both of whom were orphaned during a brutal revolution that took place when they were just young children.  Lee’s family was part of the aristocracy and was therefore murdered by the revolutionaries when they launched their attack, while prior to that, Lee’s father executed Annie’s whole lowborn family to make an example out of them for their fellow villagers.  Both Annie and Lee were spared execution themselves only so that they could serve as witnesses to what had happened and report back to their people.  Lee’s true identity is hidden for his own protection, and he and Annie eventually end up in the same orphanage together and immediately become friends.

When we first meet Lee and Annie, they are young adults and they are also Dragonriders, which is truly every bit as cool as it sounds.  The characters really do ride dragons, which gave me a combination Game of Thrones/How to Train Your Dragon vibe that I loved.  Lee and Annie are still the best of friends, but they are also both excellent Dragonriders and so are also friendly rivals for the title of Firstrider, a title that all Dragonriders aspire to.

Their world changes, however, when it is learned that there are survivors from the old regime and they’ve decided they want their city back.  This puts Lee in an almost impossible situation – he must decide whether to fight for or against his birth family. Will he and Annie end up on opposite sides of this war that is threatening their way of life? And If Lee chooses to fight for his birth family, does Annie have what it takes to fight against her best friend?

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into Fireborne but then I was just glued to it and finished it in less than two days.  Annie and Lee are both such likeable characters.  I was sympathetic to them both because of what they had gone through as children but also loved watching them achieve success and literally soar as Dragonriders.  I also loved watching their relationship evolve – they’re friends, they’re family, and at times, even felt like possibly a little more than that.  Lee was an especially fascinating character to me because of the complication of his hidden identity and what a wildcard he is when it comes to the old regime trying to return to power.  There’s plenty of gut-wrenching, emotional moments as Lee considers the choice he has to make.

Aside from Annie and Lee, I also really liked the rest of the Dragonriders fleet, especially Duck, who is just a sweetheart.  Power, another rider and rival of Lee’s, is kind of an ass at times, but I still found him very entertaining.  The best part of the Dragonriders though were the actual dragons.  I was fascinated by the way everything worked, from the way the dragons chose their riders, to how the tournaments worked to decide who would ultimately be first rider.  I thought the author did a fantastic job with her attention to detail here – from the rules of the tournament with its full heat kill shots versus glancing penalty shots, and especially with the fire suits with built-in coolants that the riders wore. It felt like she thought of everything and it really brought the contests to life.  Between the glorious images of dragons flying through the air and the exciting contests between the riders, I found myself flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  I loved everything about this aspect of the fantasy world in Fireborne.

I’m also a big fan of political intrigue, so seeing what’s going on behind the scenes as the Dragonriders prep for possible war was a big selling point for me too. I’m always drawn to those scenes where alliances are formed while other alliances are called into question and tested.  In the case of Fireborne, this led to a question that ultimately left me with food for thought:  If the new regime starts doing the same things that the old regime was doing, are you any better off now than you were then?

Even with everything I’ve written, I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the many layers of Rosaria Munda’s Fireborne.  It’s an emotional novel about revolution, rivalry, and family that is sure to captivate you.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that’s full of rivalry, romance… and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.

four-stars

About Rosaria Munda

Rosaria grew up in rural North Carolina, where she climbed trees, read Harry Potter fanfiction, and taught herself Latin. She studied political theory at Princeton and lives in Chicago with her husband and cat. Fireborne (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019) is her debut novel.

Review: THE GRACE YEAR by Kim Liggett

Review:  THE GRACE YEAR by Kim LiggettThe Grace Year by Kim Liggett
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on October 8, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GRACE YEAR Review

 

Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year is a dystopian novel that focuses on what happens when a group of sixteen-year-old girls are banished to a remote camp and forced to fend for themselves for a year.  Why? Because the society they live in believes that they all possess dangerous magic and must be purified before they are suitable to take their rightful place in society.  Sounds crazy and a little creepy, right?  Well, buckle up because that’s just the beginning of all of the craziness and creepiness that is to come if you pick up a copy of The Grace Year.

I want to start by talking about the world the story is set in.  The world of Granger County grabbed my attention right away. It’s a very dark place and has an almost Puritanical vibe to it.  The men are clearly in charge, while the women have no rights whatsoever.  This element of the story has a very Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.  The women’s role is to grow up, become wives, and bear children. Or if that isn’t an option, to go and work as laborers.  Females are also believed to possess a very dangerous and seductive kind of magic.  The men of the town believe that this magic must be driven from women of marriageable age before they can be suitable wives.  To accomplish this, the town has a ritual where all girls take part in a “grace year” when they turn sixteen.  They are all sent away to a remote camp where they must fend for themselves for an entire year.  The belief is that this is some kind of a purification ritual and the girls who survive it will come home ready to submit to their husbands or to a life of labor if that is their destiny.

Sounds like a fun place to live, right?  Yeah, the protagonist of the story, sixteen year old Tierney James, doesn’t think so either. The bulk of the story focuses on Tierney and how she thinks this whole patriarchal society is b.s. and has no interest whatsoever in becoming a wife or mother.  I loved Tierney right away, especially because her views about everything put her at odds with most of the people in Granger, including most of her fellow grace year girls.  A survival story always has its fair share of tension anyway, but the author ratchets it up a notch here by putting Tierney in the underdog role against all of these other girls that she is locked in with.

The author also effectively builds tension and suspense by having one of the rules of the ritual be that no one who makes it home from the camp is allowed to talk about what happened there.  Tierney and her fellow grace year girls have no idea what they’re walking into and I don’t want to say much about it either, so I’m going to leave it at this:  I’ve seen write-ups comparing The Grace Year to not only The Handmaid’s Tale, but also to Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games and I’m here to tell you that those comparisons are spot on!  What happened in there had me flying through the pages and wondering who, if anyone, was going to actually make it back home.

I’ve already mentioned that this is a dark world, as is to be expected in a dystopian read.  I just also want to quickly point out that I think the book is best geared towards older YA readers.  While there are some hopeful moments sprinkled throughout as I found myself cheering Tierney on to be one of the survivors, by and large, this is a violent, even gory, read and it tackles dark themes such as mental and physical abuse, suicide, and many others.  It’s not a read for the faint of heart.

Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year is one of those books that had me wanting to scream “Down with the Patriarchy!” the entire time I was reading it. If a dark but powerful tale of survival and resistance sounds like your cup of tea, you should give The Grace Year a try.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for their chance to grab one of the girls in order to make their fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

four-stars

About Kim Liggett

Kim Liggett, originally from the rural midwest, moved to New York City to pursue a career in the arts. She’s the author of Blood and Salt, Heart of Ash, The Last Harvest (Bram Stoker Award Winner), The Unfortunates, and The Grace Year. Kim spends her free time studying tarot and scouring Manhattan for rare vials of perfume and the perfect egg white cocktail.

Review: THE LADY ROGUE by Jenn Bennett

Review:  THE LADY ROGUE by Jenn BennettThe Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 3, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult 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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LADY ROGUE Review

 

I’ve been a fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporary novels for a while now but had yet to try one of her fantasy series.  When I saw that her latest novel, The Lady Rogue, was a fantasy novel with a historical twist, set in Romania, I couldn’t resist requesting it.

Jenn Bennett is one of my favorite authors because she does such a great job of creating characters that I immediately fall in love with and she did not let me down when it came to the main characters of The Lady Rogue.  I adored teens Theodora (or Theo as she is called) and Huck from the moment I met them.  Theo is sassy, whip-smart, and is addicted to cryptology and crossword puzzles.  She is also incredibly annoyed with her father when we first meet her.  She’s angry because he has dumped her in Istanbul with a babysitter while he’s off on a treasure hunting expedition in the mountains of Turkey.  When the babysitter gets tired of Theo’s antic and bails, taking all of Theo’s traveler’s checks with her as severance pay, Theo changes her tune.  She is now stranded until her father finally returns from his expedition.

Where Theo is all sass and brains, Huck is more of a lovable goofball but with a heartbreaking past.  His parents died in a car accident when he was younger, and he ended up living with Theo and her dad.  He practically became part of their family, until something happened between him and Theo that made everything awkward and ended with Theo’s dad finally telling him to move out and to have no further contact with Theo.

When Huck shows up at Theo’s hotel to retrieve her instead of her father, and with her father’s journal in hand, Theo is shocked and just knows something terrible has happened. She hasn’t seen Huck in over a year and assumed her father hadn’t either based on how they parted ways.  Her father’s instruction to Huck were quite simple:  give the journal to Theo, keep her safe, and get her home.  Or else…

Chaos and adventure ensue when Theo wants no parts of going home and decides she needs to find her father no matter what.  Huck reluctantly agrees to disobey his orders and help Theo find him.  Their adventure takes them on the Orient Express to Romania because apparently Theo’s father’s misadventures involve a supposedly cursed ring that once belonged to the legendary Vlad the Impaler, or as we more famously know him, Dracula.  As Theo and Huck quickly learn, Theo’s dad is not the only one looking for the ring. Some unsavory characters are also in pursuit of it and seem to think Dad’s journal would be a valuable resource, so Theo and Huck find themselves in the middle of a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The Lady Rogue is one of those books that has something for everyone.  If I was going to compare it to another novel, I’d say it has a Hunting Prince Dracula/Stalking Jack the Ripper vibe.  I loved the sense of adventure and suspense that Bennett builds as we follow Theo and Huck as they try to find Theo’s dad while evading their own pursuers.  I also thought Bennett did a beautiful job of capturing the Gothic feel of the Romanian villages and that creepy atmospheric vibe of knowing that’s Vlad the Impaler’s old stomping grounds.  In addition to the adventure and the mystery that surrounds the cursed ring and the disappearance of Theo’s father, I also really enjoyed the added tension from the personal storyline between Huck and Theo as they eventually have to talk about what happened the night when Huck was forced to move out.

Jenn Bennett continues to impress me with her writing and her storytelling abilities with The Lady Rogue.  If you enjoy reading fantasy and/or historical fiction that features lovable characters, magical or cursed objects, and an atmospheric Gothic-like setting, The Lady Rogue needs to go on your reading list.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

four-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.

Review & Giveaway: BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN by Jill Criswell

Review & Giveaway: BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN by Jill CriswellBeasts of the Frozen Sun by Jill Criswell
four-stars
Series: Frozen Sun Saga #1
Published by Blackstone on August 6, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for Jill Criswell’s debut novel, Beasts of the Frozen Sun.  It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read all year so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun is an entertaining and action-packed read that features clans engaged in warfare, Gods who enjoy manipulating members of the clans for their own entertainment, and caught in the middle of it all, a young man and woman who should be enemies but cannot help their attraction to one another.  It’s set in a dark world with an almost medieval feel to it.  Battles are fought with axes, swords, and arrows, and prisoners are brutally tortured at will. The warring clans reminded me of Vikings, which was a big draw for me, and I also loved the Gods as a meddling presence, as well with the mythology of Aillira, a God-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair was the catalyst for a war between the Gods and mortals.

The protagonists were the biggest draw for me though.  Lira, who is named after the famed Aillira, is God-gifted like her namesake and has the ability to read a person’s soul just by placing her hand on their chest. She’s literally a human lie detector, and her father, who is the chieftain of their clan, uses her as such to root out traitors.  Lira is a scrappy heroine who knows how to wield a sword. I loved how feisty and strong-willed she is, and I especially admired how determined she is to stand up for what she believes was right, even if that sometimes means defying her father and her entire clan.

Lira’s gift comes in handy as we meet the second protagonist, Reyker, a warrior, who after nearly drowning, has washed up on the shores of Glasnith, where Lira’s clan is based.  While it’s clear from Reyker’s appearance – golden hair and ocean blue eyes – that he is from the land of the Frozen Sun and therefore a ruthless monster and a sworn enemy of Lira’s clan, one touch from Lira reveals that he is not the monster she has been led to believe all of his kind are.  Rather than kill him as she has been taught she should do, Lira opts to hide Reyker and nurse him back to health.

I adored Lira, but Reyker is a really great character too.  Yes, he has done some things that could be considered monstrous, but as Lira sees, both through her gift and as she gets to know him better, most of what he has done he was forced to do against his will.  Reyker is actually a tortured soul who hates himself because of the violent things he has been forced to do.  He has also suffered great personal losses, which have left him broken and alone.

While the action surrounding the war between the clans was exciting and certainly made Beasts of the Frozen Sun an entertaining read, it’s this growing relationship between Lira and Reyker that really made me fall in love with this story.  I’m not generally a huge romantic but forbidden love is definitely a soft spot of mine, especially when the chemistry is off the charts like it is between these two.  I was there cheering them on every step of the way and pretty much willing them to stand up and defy their clans in the name of love.

The writing and the pacing of Beasts of the Frozen Sun couldn’t have been more perfect. The book is nearly 400 pages and I zoomed through it in just a couple of sittings because I was so invested in the fate of both Lira and Reyker.  Criswell does end Beasts with an evil cliffhanger though and now I’m anxiously awaiting the second installment in this exciting series.

If you’re into fast-paced, action-packed dark fantasies that feature warring clans and star crossed lovers, you should definitely give Beasts of the Frozen Sun a try.

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book DepositoryKobo | Google Books

 

Synopsis:

Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland–one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun–Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun.

 

GIVEAWAY

 

Prize: Win (1) of (3) BEASTS OF THE FROZEN SUN bundles: a signed copy of the book and some author swag (a bookmark, pendant, and magnet) [INT]. Giveaway ends August 28, 2019.

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four-stars

Review: THE BEST LIES by Sarah Lyu

Review:  THE BEST LIES by Sarah LyuThe Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 2, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
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 BEST LIES Review

 

Sarah Lyu’s exciting debut The Best Lies opens with a death and a police interrogation.  Remy Tsai’s boyfriend Jack has been shot dead, and the police are trying to get to the bottom of what happened.  All they know when the story opens is that the shooting took place at night in Remy’s best friend Elise’s home, Remy may or may not have been present, and it was Elise who pulled the trigger and ended Jack’s life.  Was it murder? Was it self-defense?

This is one of those books where I can’t say much at all without spoiling it, but I will say that I loved the opening.  The tension of the interrogation scene, coupled with finding out that such an awful thing had happened, immediately drew me in and had me wanting to know more.

I found Remy to be a tremendously sympathetic character.  She’s an emotional wreck when the story opens, trying to wrap her head around the fact that the boy she loves is gone and that her best friend is the one who took him away from her.  I can’t even imagine being in that kind of situation and the author does a wonderful job of showing us just how emotionally spent Remy is from the ordeal. Remy also comes from a home where her parents scream, fight, and threaten divorce constantly, so for Remy, it hurts all the more to have lost Jack, who was the one bright spot in her life.  Her emotional state makes her a somewhat unreliable narrator, which adds yet another layer to the story.  Can we trust anything she is saying about that night?

I didn’t like Elise as much as I liked Remy, but I still thought she was an interesting character. I had sympathy for her because she comes from an abusive home, but at the same time, I found some of the things she does to be somewhat juvenile and I sometimes wondered what Remy saw in her.  She does have what I’d consider to be a magnetic personality though so I’m thinking that was part of the allure.

The author also drew me in with the way she lets the story unfold.  The story is presented to us in two timelines, one in the present and one in the past.  In the present timeline, we are following Remy in the aftermath of the shooting as both she and the police try to make sense of what happened that night.  In the past timeline, we get to see how Remy meets both Elise and then Jack, and how their relationships evolve over time and how we end up where we are in the opening scene of the book. Lyu seamlessly weaves together these timelines into a complex and intricate story that is not just a crime thriller but that also explores what happens when friendships take a dark turn.

The Best Lies held my attention from start to finish as I waited with bated breath to find out the truth about what happened that night.  The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries and to anyone who gravitates to stories that deal with grief.  It’s a dark read but, at the same time, an emotional one.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Remy Tsai used to know how her story would turn out. But now, she doesn’t even know what tomorrow will look like.

She was happy once. Remy had her boyfriend Jack, and Elise, her best friend—her soulmate—who understood her better than anyone else in the world.

But now Jack is dead, shot through the chest—

And it was Elise who pulled the trigger.

Was it self-defense? Or something deeper, darker than anything Remy could have imagined? As the police investigate, Remy does the same, sifting through her own memories, looking for a scrap of truth that could save the friendship that means everything to her.

Told in alternating timelines, Thelma and Louise meets Gone Girl in this twisted psychological thriller about the dark side of obsessive friendship.

four-stars

About Sarah Lyu

Sarah Lyu grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband and dogs. She loves a good hike but can often be found with a book on her lap and sweet tea in hand. The Best Lies is her first book. You can visit her at SarahLyu.com.

Review: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power

Review:  WILDER GIRLS by Rory PowerWilder Girls by Rory Power
three-half-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on July 9, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Horror, Mystery
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..

 

 

 

 

 

WILDER GIRLS Review

Rory Power’s Wilder Girls is an atmospheric read that takes a hard and disturbing look at what happens when a mysterious plague-like disease called the Tox infects the entire population of an all-girls boarding school. When Wilder Girls opens, many are already dead, both teachers and students, and the entire island has been in quarantine for eighteen months.  Boats periodically come and drop off supplies for the quarantined survivors, but aside from that and the occasional promise that the CDC is doing everything they can to find a cure, there is no contact with the outside world.

The whole idea of the Tox drew me in right away.  Powers does a wonderful job of creating an eerie and terrifying atmosphere by plunging her readers right into the action and showing us what the Tox has done to the girls.  Even with our first glance around the school, we see a girl whose arm has suddenly grown reptilian-like scales on it, another girl whose eye has sealed shut and now appears to be growing something beneath the seal, and even a girl who appears to have grown a second spine that protrudes out of her back. And that’s just scratching the surface of ways this disease is manifesting itself.  The mood is dark and desperate, there aren’t nearly enough supplies being sent, and most social conventions have flown out the window as the name of the game is survival.  I read somewhere that this book is considered a feminist retelling of Lord of the Flies, and from those first moments, I definitely felt a similar vibe between the two books.

I also liked that the opening scenes really got my wheels turning with question after question and even got my inner conspiracy theorist humming.  What the heck is the Tox?  Why are everyone’s physical symptoms so different?  Why the total isolation, without even radio contact? Is the government responsible for the tox?  If not, is it something alien?   And on and on, you get the idea. This is a book that will definitely make you think and it’s also a quick read because you’ll find yourself just dying to get all of your questions answered.

In addition to being fascinated by the deadly Tox, I also really enjoyed the friendship of the three main characters, Hetty, Byatt, and Reese.  These three girls are very loyal to each other and do everything they can to make sure all three of them have the best chance of survival.  When Byatt unexpectedly disappears. Hetty and Reese make it their mission to find out what has happened to her.  What they find as they search for her is every bit as disturbing as the Tox itself and adds tremendous tension and suspense to what is already a book that you won’t want to put down.

*****

So why only 3.5 stars if this book has so many great things going for it?  Well, I did have a few issues with it.  The first is that I didn’t find the explanation for the Tox to be thorough enough for my liking.  As interesting as it was, I felt like it was explained in a very vague way.  Also, even though I liked the dynamic of their friendship, I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the three main characters.  I don’t want to say that I didn’t care about what happened to them because that’s not true, but I just felt like they were at arm’s length and would have preferred getting to know a little more about each of them.  One final issue I had was the ending, which was just way too open-ended for my liking.

Wilder Girls really is an entertaining read, especially for horror fans and if you don’t mind an open-ended read.  I wanted more from it since it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, but it’s still a good read overall.  Be forewarned though that it is violent and gory, there are many deaths, as well as mentions of self-harm and suicide.  It’s not a read for the faint of heart.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

three-half-stars

Review: CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT by Brigid Kemmerer

Review:  CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT by Brigid KemmererCall It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 25, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT Review

Call It What You Want is officially my new favorite novel from Brigid Kemmerer.  Kemmerer is a master of creating engaging stories filled with wonderful characters that will tug at your heartstrings, and she really captured my heart with this one.

Call It What You Want follows Rob and Maegan, two teens who have been ostracized by their classmates.  Rob’s father got caught embezzling funds from half the town, including the parents of many of his classmates.  Many people have wrongly assumed Rob knew exactly what his father was up to and so he has gone from being a popular star athlete at the top of the social food chain down to the bottom rung.  Maegan is an academic overachiever but we learn in the opening pages that she has cracked under the pressure of trying to be the best and cheated on her SATs.  Not only has Maegan potentially tanked her own chances at college, but she also caused the scores for dozens of her classmates to be invalidated as well.  Maegan is no one’s favorite person right now.

When the story opens, Rob and Maegan are both just in survival mode, each trying to lay low and get through the school year drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.  When Rob and Maegan get paired up on a project in Calculus class, however, everything changes.

The friendship that blossoms between Rob and Maegan is one of my favorite things about Call It What You Want.   I love the way Kemmerer writes unlikely friendships like theirs.  She portrays that initial awkwardness of the relationship and then the slow opening up to one another so authentically and so beautifully.  I could read books like this from Kemmerer all day every day and never get tired of them.

Another gem of a friendship that appears in the book is between Rob and Owen.  Owen is a loner and he’s also poor, so poor that he can’t even afford to buy lunch at school.  Owen’s struggles are, in part, due to what Rob’s father did, so a friendship between Owen and Rob seems nearly impossible and yet Kemmerer works her magic and creates yet another amazing friendship for me to smile about.  I actually adored Owen’s character so much that I’d love to see him with a book of his own at some point.

Aside from making me smile at the wonderful relationships being forged throughout the story, Kemmerer also puts them into situations that tugged at my heartstrings so hard.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Maegan and the mess she has gotten herself into.  It felt like one of those situations that any one of us could have found ourselves in back in school.  Even more heart-wrenching than Maegan’s situation though is Rob’s.  Not only did he not have any idea what his father was up to, but Rob and his mother are stuck dealing with all of the fallout, including taking care of his father, who botched a suicide attempt and is now brain damaged and mostly paralyzed.  Rob is also being bullied by his former best friend, so every day is pretty much a living hell for him.

Finally, what makes Call It What You Want my new favorite book from Kemmerer is the fact that she really had me thinking about some tough topics, especially as they pertain to Rob. Rob is desperate to try to fix what his father did and contemplates crossing into morally gray territory to make it happen.  It really got me thinking about right and wrong.  Can you ever really make something right by committing a wrong?  I love a book that can engage me with such important and thought-provoking topics.

Wow, I actually had no intention of writing so much, but the book is just that good! Call It What You Want is a heartfelt and beautifully written story about friendship, overcoming adversity, and making amends.  I know Kemmerer’s fans are going to love it, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a moving read.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship…

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?

four-half-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

Book Review & Giveaway: SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY by Amber Smith

Book Review & Giveaway: SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY by Amber SmithSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 18, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

Thanks so much to Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this beautifully written and moving story that explores how people deal with grief and loss and how they process traumatic events, as well as what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. The story follows Chris, a teenage boy who has just come out as transgender, and Maia, who is trying to come to terms with the unexpected death of her older sister.  Both Chris and Maia are having a hard time – Chris because his mother is struggling to accept him as transgender and because he was violently attacked at school by some of his classmates, and Maia because she has basically lost her own identity and sense of self.  To all of her classmates, she’s now just the little sister of the girl who died. When Chris leaves town and moves in with his Aunt Isobel for the summer, who is coincidentally Maia’s neighbor, Chris and Maia meet.  Maia doesn’t know Chris is transgender or that he was attacked, and Chris doesn’t know about Maia’s sister, so as they become acquainted, they see each other as a chance for a fresh start. Can a relationship survive though, friendship or otherwise, if it begins based on secrets and lies?

 

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY SHOULD BE ON YOUR SUMMER READING LIST

 

I really enjoyed reading Something Like Gravity.  I love how Smith crafted this story in a way that tackles very serious and meaningful topics, but also has a light side that focuses on summer vacation and falling in love.  It has everything I love in a contemporary read.  I could go on for days, but instead, I’m just going to share a few highlights as to why I think Something Like Gravity should be on your summer reading list.

 

  1. Authentic characters experiencing realistic and relatable struggles.  Both Chris and Maia are characters that I felt tremendous sympathy for.  I think the author does a wonderful job of authentically conveying the emotions they each must be feeling as they deal with their own internal conflicts.  Chris is dealing with not only what happened to him at school, but also his mother’s reaction to him coming out as transgender, not to mention everything that’s going through his own head about the fact that he is transgender.  Maia is grieving for her sister and struggling to figure out how to move forward. Her parents have pretty much shut down as well, so Maia is just in an all around unhealthy environment.  Both Chris and Maia are having to rediscover who they are and that journey of self-discovery is one I think we can all relate to.
  1. Complicated family dynamics.  I have a thing for books that focus on families, especially if those families come across as real.  And for me, real is messy and complicated.   Both Chris and Maia’s families score high marks in the messy and complicated department.  Chris is caught between a father who is supportive of him and a mother who isn’t, and because both of them have become so overprotective ever since his attack, he is practically suffocating at home.  His way out is cool Aunt Isobel who supports him no matter what, even if it causes friction between her and Chris’ mother.  Watching the intricacies of those relationships play out was fascinating, as was Maia’s situation, where not only is everyone in her home grieving over the death of her sister, but apparently her parents are actually divorced but still living under the same roof, so it’s tension city all the way around, with Maia trapped in the middle.
  1. Meaningful themes. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” This quote from Anais Nin is a running theme throughout the book and it just really resonated with me because it’s true on so many levels.  It means that for better or worse, our experiences color and shape everything we see.  And it also means that no two people see things exactly the same.  I think it’s an important message for everyone, to help them understand themselves and to understand others.
  1. Transgender representation.  I think this is actually the first book I’ve read that has transgender representation in it.  I enjoy diverse reads so I was pleased to see a transgender teen as a main character in the story.  Not being transgender myself, I can’t speak as to how accurate the representation is, but it felt like the author handled it in a respectful and sensitive way.
  1. Romance/First Love. I’m not really a romantic at heart, but I did really like the romance in this book.  There’s just something about falling in love for the first time, especially a summer romance, that makes me smile and I liked the chemistry between Maia and Chris.  They were sweet together and I was really rooting for them to be able to open up to one another about what they’re hiding so that they had a chance for a long-term relationship.

 

Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity is a heartfelt story about love, loss, and finding oneself.  I thought it was a beautiful story and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary romances, coming of age stories, and diverse reads.  If you enjoyed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, I think you would enjoy Something Like Gravity as well.

 

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book DepositoryiTunes | Google Books

 

 SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Love, Simon and Eleanor and Park, a romantic and sweet novel about a transgender boy who falls in love for the first time—and how first love changes us all—from New York Times bestselling author Amber Smith.

Chris and Maia aren’t off to a great start.

A near-fatal car accident first brings them together, and their next encounters don’t fare much better. Chris’s good intentions backfire. Maia’s temper gets the best of her.

But they’re neighbors, at least for the summer, and despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to stay away from each other.

The path forward isn’t easy. Chris has come out as transgender, but he’s still processing a frightening assault he survived the year before. Maia is grieving the loss of her older sister and trying to find her place in the world without her. Falling in love was the last thing on either of their minds.

But would it be so bad if it happened anyway?

 

GIVEAWAY

Win a copy of Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith (U.S. only). Giveaway ends July 2, 2019.

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June 18th

 

June 19th

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Corner for All – Review + Favourite Quotes

 

June 20th

The YA Obsessed – Review
A Walk To Wonderland – Review + Favourite Quotes
Life of a Literary Nerd – Review + Favourite Quotes
Dazzled by Books – Promotional Post

 

June 21st

Kait Plus Books – Guest Post
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June 22nd

Morgan Vega – Review + Playlist + Favourite Quotes
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June 23rd

Literary Meanderings – Promotional Post

 

June 24th

The Bookish Libra – Review
Bookish_Kali – Review + Favourite Quotes
A Bookish Escape – Review
A Dream Within A Dream – Promotional Post
four-stars

About Amber Smith

Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let Go, and Something Like Gravity. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her partner and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. You can find her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.