Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATER

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATERBone Gap by Laura Ruby
four-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on March 3, 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 345
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Review:

I purchased Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap on a whim last year at a local bookfair.  I had no idea what it was about but the cover with its bee and honeycomb just really drew me in.  I finally sat down and read it recently and, wow, what a gem of a book it turned out to be!  It’s also one of those books that it’s hard to say much about without giving away its secrets, and because those secrets are really the heart and soul of Bone Gap, I’m going to keep my remarks brief and vague. I’ll just say that what starts out as a straightforward mystery about a young woman who goes missing in a rural town takes a major turn for the unexpected.

Because I grew up in a similar environment, I had tremendous sympathy for the characters in this story. It’s hard to have secrets when you live in a tiny town where everyone makes it their business to know your business, and where the gossip/rumor mill always runs rampant.  Clearly the underdog of the story, Finn O’Sullivan captured my heart immediately.  He and his brother Sean were abandoned by their mother and are trying to live on their own.  Both brothers are beloved by those in their town, but everyone thinks Finn is an odd duck so when he comes forward one day to say that he saw a young woman named Roza kidnapped, no one believes him.  Finn knows Roza’s life is on the line and my heart just broke for him as he tried and tried to get people to believe him with no luck.  And it’s when Finn takes matters into his own hands that the story takes a walk on the wild and unexpected side.  I don’t want to say anything more, so I’ll just say think Neil Gaiman, or maybe even Maggie Stiefvater or Alice Hoffman and you’ll have a feel for the truly magical direction this small town tale takes.

I loved Finn’s brother Sean too, who has had to put his dreams of working in the medical field on hold to be the head of the household since their mom left them.  Sean is a great big brother and a good friend to all.  Petey, one of Finn’s female friends, is a hilarious addition to the cast.  She’s tough and sassy and gives every guy in town a run for their money, and I just loved every scene she was in.  Lastly, there’s Roza, the young woman who has gone missing.  Roza has a very painful past that she is running away from, but her arrival on the scene just after Finn and Sean’s mom left them, fills a void in both boys’ hearts.  When she then goes missing, both boys are heartbroken all over again, which is another reason why Finn so desperately wants to find her.

My only real complaint about the story is that the ending felt a little rushed, but I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Bone Gap to anyone who is looking for an unpredictable tale filled with endearing characters and also to anyone who is a fan of magical realism.  4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for BONE GAP & GIRL OUT OF WATERGirl Out of Water by Laura Silverman
four-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 2, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 350
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves?

Review:

Laura Silverman’s Girl out of Water is an engaging coming of age story about family, friendship, love, and sacrifice.  It follows teen Anise Sawyer, the quintessential California girl who loves the ocean and spends every free moment surfing with her friends.  When the novel opens, Anise is busy planning her last summer with most of her friends who are going off to college soon. All of her plans come crashing down around her, however, when her aunt is nearly killed in a car accident, and Anise and her dad have to travel to Nebraska to care for Anise’s young cousins until her aunt is well enough to do so herself.  Anise is torn:  California and the ocean are her happy place and she can’t think of anything worse than being separated from her friends and stuck in Nebraska all summer. At the same time, however, having lost her own mother, who abandoned her years ago, Anise knows how important family is and knows that going to Nebraska is the right thing to do.  But, boy is it going to be the longest summer ever…

This book worked well for me on a lot of levels.  I loved the focus on family and seeing Anise bond with and take care of her cousins.  In many ways, Anise needed them just as much as they needed her and it was nice to watch them all interact.  Anise is terrified that she’s going to somehow end up just like her mother and leave all her loved ones behind one day.  Having Anise work through those fears about her mother and abandonment really gave what could have been just a light summer read some added depth that I very much enjoyed.  The friendship dynamic also really kept me turning the pages.  Anise’s friends are all so fantastic and I loved that they were constantly trying to maintain contact with her even though she was halfway across the country.  She also makes a great friend/maybe more than friend named Lincoln while she’s in Nebraska and he was just too precious for words.  Lastly, I loved Silverman’s vivid descriptions of the ocean.  She makes it such a full sensory experience that I felt like I was on the beach watching the waves crash and smelling the salty air.

If you’re looking for a beautiful story about the importance of family and friendship and a young woman’s journey to find herself, I’d definitely recommend Girl out of Water4 STARS

four-stars

About Laura Ruby

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in Chicago with her family. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in various literary magazines, including Other Voices, The Florida Review, Sycamore Review and Nimrod. A collection of these stories, I’M NOT JULIA ROBERTS, was published by Warner Books in January 2007. Called “hilarious and heart-wrenching” by People and “a knowing look at the costs and rewards of remaking a family,” by the Hartford-Courant, the book was also featured in Redbook, Working Mother , and USA Today among others.

Ruby is also the author of the Edgar-nominated children’s mystery LILY’S GHOSTS (8/03), the children’s fantasy THE WALL AND THE WING (3/06) and a sequel, THE CHAOS KING (5/07) all from Harpercollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, GOOD GIRLS (9/06), also from Harpercollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007. A new young adult novel, PLAY ME, is slated for publication in fall of 2008. Her books have sold in England, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Serbia and Montenegro. THE WALL AND THE WING is currently in development with Laika Studios for release as an animated feature.

Ms. Ruby has been a featured speaker at BookExpo, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, the Miami Book Festival, the Florida Association of Media Educators (FAME) convention, the Midwest Literary Festival, the International Reading Association’s annual convention, and Illinois Reading Council annual conference, among other venues, and she has presented programs and workshops for both adults and children at numerous schools and libraries.

Currently, she is working on several thousand projects, drinking way too much coffee, and searching for new tunes for her iPod.

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.

Review: WILDCARD

Review:  WILDCARDWildcard by Marie Lu
Also by this author: Warcross
three-half-stars
Series: Warcross #2
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 18, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 341
Also in this series: Warcross
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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WILDCARD REVIEW:

Marie Lu’s Warcross was one of my favorite reads from 2017.  It was an action-packed, thrill ride and I adored the main character Emika Chen and her Warcross teammates, the Phoenix Riders.  Emika’s overall badassery, the brilliant worldbuilding that took us inside the world of the Warcross Games, and the comradery that develops between Emika and the Phoenix Riders, really made Warcross an exciting and entertaining read for me.  It also had a killer ending that left me anxious to get my hands on the next novel in the series, Wildcard.

I always find it hard to review books that are part of a series.  I want to share so much but also don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t started the series yet, so here’s a general list of what worked and what didn’t work for me as I was reading Wildcard.

  • Emika Chen is still all kinds of awesome. It seems like everyone she encounters in Wildcard is trying to use her for some purpose or another, but she remains determined to do what she thinks is right, no matter what.  I really admired her strength and that fierce determination.
  • Wildcard is a much different read than Warcross. Where Warcross is mostly about the excitement of the Warcross games and having us get to know Emika and Hideo, Wildcard makes a much more emotional punch as it takes us deeper into Hideo’s character and explores the heartbreaking backstory of Hideo’s younger brother, who was kidnapped and hasn’t been seen since.  Hideo has been searching for his brother for years and we can see firsthand in Wildcard how the search for his brother has shaped Hideo’s every move.  I really liked the added depth that the history of Hideo and his brother gave to the overall story.
  • I don’t want to say too much about him, but I think Zero was actually the most fascinating part of Wildcard for me. In many ways he steals the spotlight from Emika at times, but his whole story was so interesting that I honestly didn’t mind that one bit.
  • I also really liked the direction that Marie Lu took with Emika and Hideo’s relationship. If you were shipping them in the first book, I think you’ll be pleased, and I actually think even if you weren’t, you’ll be more into the complexities of their relationship this time around.

  • I did have some issues with the pacing of the novel. I remember breezing through Warcross in a day or two, but Wildcard took me almost a whole week.  Most of it went by fairly quickly but there were a few times when I found myself skimming because it felt like the story was dragging.
  • Even though I liked that this book was a different read and that it went way beyond just playing Warcross, I have to say I really missed the actual playing of the game, the practice sessions, and all of those things that made the first book so much fun.
  • Since the Phoenix Riders team was one of my favorite things about the first book, I wanted them to have a much bigger presence in this novel than they ended up having.
  • This will probably end up being just a “me” thing, but the ending seemed a little off. It’s hard to describe but I got to what I thought was the end, but then turned the page and it kept going.  Then I thought it was over a second time, turned the page, and there was still another chapter.  I was starting to wonder if it was ever going to end, lol.

 

Wildcard is a more intense read than Warcross in a lot of ways.  The stakes are definitely higher in this second installment since it moves beyond the idea of a bunch of teams trying to win a video game tournament.  Some of the differences worked for me, and some of them didn’t quite work, but even with the issues I had with Wildcard, I still think it’s a very worthy follow-up to Warcross.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

three-half-stars

About Marie Lu

Marie Lu is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy and The Young Elites trilogy. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry, working for Disney Interactive Studios as a Flash artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California (see above: traffic), with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

ARC Mini Reviews for THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON & UNSTOPPABLE MOSES

ARC Mini Reviews for THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON & UNSTOPPABLE MOSESThe Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
Also by this author: The Girl with the Red Balloon
four-half-stars
Published by Albert Whitman Company on October 2, 2018
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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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:

Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out?

Review:

The Spy with the Red Balloon is the second installment in Katherine Locke’s imaginative series, The Balloonmakers.  I fell in love with the first book in the series and so couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one.  The Spy with the Red Balloon employs the same magical system that we saw in The Girl with the Red Balloon, a unique combination of blood magic combined with a scientific element that allows the wielder to write equations on balloons which can then be used as a mode of transportation for people, objects, etc.  This time, however, we are taken to an earlier period in time, back to World War II, where Allies who are aware of the existence of this magic want to use it as a way to stop Hitler.

This series fascinates me with the unique way it infuses important historical events with magical elements, but what I loved most about this installment were the two main characters, Jewish siblings Ilse and Wolf.  Both siblings possess the ability to do blood magic but have been trying to keep it a secret.  When the U.S. government finds out, Ilse and Wolf are forced into service.  Ilse, a 16 year old with a brilliant scientific mind, was my favorite character.  She’s smart, feisty, and has an unbreakable bond with her big brother.  I loved their sibling relationship so much – the way they constantly worried about each other and had each other’s backs no matter what, even as they are sent to work in separate countries.  Ilse is assigned to a top secret lab in Tennessee.  Her job?  To come up with a way to use her magic to transport an atom bomb.  The challenge?  The bomb hasn’t even been developed yet, so she’s working blindly.  Wolf is a great character too.  While he’s equally as smart as Ilse, his smarts are of a more practical sort.  He, therefore, is trained as a spy and sent to Germany to try to sabotage Hitler’s efforts to develop an atom bomb of his own.  I thought the author did an incredible job of creating such a tremendous sense of urgency around the building and transporting of the atom bomb.  It’s basically a race against the clock, with Ilse and Wolf, each playing key roles.

In addition to the intense situation surrounding the effort to stop Hitler, The Spy with the Red Balloon also tackles other important issues, such as the ethical dilemmas that both Ilse and Wolf face.  Neither of them wants to be involved in something that kills people, but at the same time, as Jewish teens, they are torn because they would definitely love to be directly involved in crushing Hitler and his Nazis.  Diversity is also well done in this book, with both Ilse and Wolf being queer, and with one of the most brilliant scientists on Ilse’s team, Stella, being African American.  The diversity Locke incorporates into her story also allows her to touch on the fact that during the time period she is covering homosexuality was a crime, and racial segregation was still in place.

If you’re looking for a riveting historical read, infused with unique magical elements, and of two Jewish queer teens who are determined to kick Hitler’s butt, I’d highly recommend The Spy with the Red Balloon.  4.5 STARS

 

ARC Mini Reviews for THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON & UNSTOPPABLE MOSESUnstoppable Moses by Tyler James Smith
three-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on September 25, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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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:

After accidentally burning down a bowling alley with his cousin and best friend, Charlie, Moses has one week as a camp counselor to prove to the authorities—and to himself—that he isn't a worthless jerk who belongs in jail, when Charlie doesn't get that chance.

Review:

Tyler James Smith’s debut novel Unstoppable Moses is a powerful coming of age story that explores what happens when boys just being boys takes a tragic turn.  Seventeen year old Moses Hill and his cousin and best friend, Charlie, accidentally burn down a bowling alley.  It is a prank gone wrong, but things escalate when the police arrive and Charlie is killed.  In the aftermath of this tragedy, Moses is left trying to pick up the pieces of his life and figure out how to deal with the loss of his beloved cousin.  Moses and Charlie had been nearly inseparable so without Charlie, Moses doesn’t even know who he is anymore.  In the midst of dealing with his grief and the legal fallout from the deadly prank gone wrong, Moses is court-ordered to serve as a counselor at a children’s camp.

I thought the author did a wonderful job of portraying the raw emotions of grief, confusion, and even anger that Moses experiences in the aftermath of this tragedy.  He’s angry at himself, he’s angry at Charlie, and he’s really just all around lost.  Being sent to work at the children’s camp is a blessing in many ways because it actually gets him out of his own head a bit and also gives him a clean slate where he can interact with people who don’t know him as the kid who burned down a bowling alley and got his cousin killed.

The character who actually stole my heart in this book was not Moses, however, and this is why my rating is a little lower than it would normally be.  For me, the shining star of Unstoppable Moses was a secondary character, a young camper named Lump.  Lump, whose real name is Allison, has struggled to make friends at camp in the past and so Moses is assigned the task of taking her under his wing and to look out for her.  Lump, whose hero is Amelia Earhart, is easily one of the most endearing children I’ve ever read about.  She’s clever, brave, and just has the biggest heart.  When a fawn goes missing from the petting zoo, Lump makes it her mission in life to find the fawn and bring her home.  Even though she’s tiny, Lump is a character who is just larger than life and, at times, I honestly found myself more interested in Lump’s story than I did Moses’.  While both of their stories were compelling, Lump was just a little easier for me to relate to than Moses.

Even with that issue, I still found Unstoppable Moses to be a riveting read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction, especially if stories of how to cope with grief and loss are of interest.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Katherine Locke

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

About Tyler James Smith

Tyler Smith was born and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan. A lot of typical kid-stuff happened, then he went to college at Western Michigan University, where he studied Creative Writing under and around people who were much smarter and more talented than he could ever hope to be. Funnier, too.

He tried to write a book about zombies when he was in college, then he wrote a bad NaNoWriMo book, then he tried to write another NaNo book but it fell apart around 20,000 words, then he started reading YA and fell in love with the genre which caused him to write a book at the speed of one chapter per week, and then he wrote his debut novel, Unstoppable Moses, which took three years to edit. While all of that was happening, he worked at various times as a mailman, as a freelance writer, as a deli punk, at a book store, as a bartender, and eventually as a SECA in Chicago Public Schools.

He only brings all of this up to emphasize that the process can be long and weird, but it’s also really, really fulfilling and beautiful in its own screaming way, and that even some random schlub from a Detroit suburb can get this far along.

He currently lives in Chicago with his partner and an old Australian Cattle Dog named Dioji.

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANE

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANEThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on July 31, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.

There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

Review:

Kara Thomas’ The Cheerleaders is a gripping mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  The story focuses on Monica Rayburn, who attends Sunnybrook High, where five members of the school’s cheerleading squad died five years ago.  Two of the girls were killed in a tragic car accident, and very soon after that, two more were murdered by a neighbor for reasons no one has ever determined.  The final tragedy was when Monica’s own sister died in an apparent suicide.  The school decided to disband the cheerleading squad because no one wanted to be reminded of the losses they had suffered.  When the administration decides five years later that they want to do a memorial service to remember the girls, it opens up old wounds for Monica, who has never come to grips with the idea that her sister could have possibly killed herself.

Monica’s step father was one of the police officers who worked the murder case, and Monica decides to sneak into his office and see if there’s still anything there that has to do with the Cheerleaders’ case.  What she finds makes her realize that things may not be as they seem when it comes to this case and she becomes determined to find out the truth of what happened to those murdered girls. Her sleuthing takes her on a wild and potentially dangerous ride and the author builds so much suspense into the narrative that I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next!  I thought her use of flashbacks was especially effective.  She shows us scenes from five years ago from the perspective of Monica’s sister.  Those scenes really fleshed out the story and added a lot of depth that we couldn’t have possibly gotten from Monica.  I was thoroughly engaged not just because like Monica, I wanted to know what really happened to these girls, but also because I was terrified that Monica was going to open up a can of worms that was going to put a target on her own back if the murderer really is still out there somewhere.

What really made The Cheerleaders an even more engaging story, however, was that it was so much more than just an entertaining mystery/thriller.  It also packs a raw and emotional punch as we watch Monica try to work through the loss of her sister.  There’s a part of her that really wants to find evidence that proves her sister did not take her own life because it kills Monica to think that she did.  If you’re looking for a riveting thriller that also packs an emotional wallop, I’d highly recommend The Cheerleaders. You won’t be disappointed! 4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANEMy Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
three-half-stars
Series: The Lady Janies #2
Published by HarperTeen on June 26, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 464
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Review:

After the success of their Monty Python-esque My Lady Jane, the Lady Janies are back at it again, this time bringing their readers a highly entertaining retelling of the classic novel Jane Eyre.  For those familiar with the classic tale, Jane is still an orphan who is preparing to secure a job as a governess. The primary difference is that in the Lady Janies’ version of the tale, Jane also has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  Her talents are recognized by famed supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood who becomes determined to recruit her to join his ghost hunting society.  I don’t want to give anything else away, but as the book’s synopsis states, “prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportion!”

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, so I of course adored Jane in this book too.  She’s smart and feisty, and every bit as likable as her classic counterpart.  I also loved that the Lady Janies managed to effectively incorporate Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, into their story as well. In many ways, young Charlotte was actually my favorite character.  I thought it was brilliant how they wrote her in as an aspiring young author who is struggling to get people to take her seriously.  Ah, the life of a woman in Victorian society.  Those who follow my blog know I’m always a big fan of the underdogs, and orphan, penniless Jane and unappreciated author Charlotte were the underdogs I was cheering on in My Plain Jane.

While I really enjoyed My Plain Jane overall, especially its Gothic atmosphere with a Ghostbusters twist, my one complaint is that it didn’t quite have that same feeling of whimsy that My Lady Jane had.  I laughed out loud so many times when I read that book, but with this one, while I did find myself laughing a few times, there were several other times where the humor felt a little forced and fell flat for me.  I definitely still plan to continue the series, especially since the next book focuses on Calamity Jane, but I’ll probably lower my expectations a bit based on my experience with this book. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Brodi Ashton

From Brodi Ashton Writer (In Ms. Ashton’s own words):

Because of two parents who were Greek myth geeks, I grew up thinking the latest fashion trends were inspired by Aphrodite, and a good conversational opener was, “So, which mythological character do you most resemble?” Despite these social shortcomings, I found a great husband who’s always my first reader. We live in Utah with our two young boys, who still have no idea why I’m at the computer all the time.

I received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Utah and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

 

About Cynthia Hand

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of the Unearthly series with HarperTeen: UNEARTHLY, HALLOWED, RADIANT (an enovella) and BOUNDLESS, and the NYT bestselling contemporary, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE. She lives with her family in Idaho, where she teaches courses in creative writing at Boise State University. Her latest book, MY LADY JANE, (cowritten with Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows) was released on June 7, 2016.

About Jodi Meadows

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, and the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and a coauthor of MY LADY JANE (HarperTeen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com.

About Kara Thomas

Kara Thomas is a true crime addict and the author of THE DARKEST CORNERS, LITTLE MONSTERS, and THE CHEERLEADERS, all published by Delacorte Press. You can find her on Twitter (@karatwrites), Instagram (@kara__thomas), or at http://www.kara-thomas.com.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for THE LANTERN’S EMBER by Colleen Houck

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for THE LANTERN’S EMBER by Colleen HouckThe Lantern's Ember by Colleen Houck
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Rockstar Book Tours blog tour For Colleen Houck’s latest novel, The Lantern’s Ember and I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this unique and atmospheric read with a fun Halloween-themed twist.  This was my first time reading one of Colleen Houck’s books and after experiencing The Lantern’s Ember, I’m really looking forward to checking out more from her!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

The Lantern’s Ember follows Jack and Ember.  Jack used to be mortal until 500 years ago when he made a pact with the devil that led to him being sentenced as a Lantern.  As a Lantern, his job is to guard one of the portals to the Otherworld and keep everyone – mortal and non-mortal – on their respective sides of the portal.  He is supposed to immediately report to his supervisor if any mortal or supernatural creature ends up on the wrong side.  Ember is a teenage witch who, thanks to Jack and his ability to conceal her witch light, has managed to live undetected in the mortal realm for most of her young life.

Until now, that is.  Someone has detected Ember’s presence and wants to meet her.  A handsome vampire named Dev is hired to retrieve Ember, not a difficult task since Ember has been itching to visit the Otherworld for as long as she has known of its existence.  Jack, who has deemed himself Ember’s protector, has done everything in his power to deter Ember from the Otherworld, but the Vampire wins out and Ember slips away right under Jack’s nose.

Who could possibly be powerful enough to detect Ember when she should have been undetectable?  How much trouble is she going to get into with her vampire in the Otherworld?  Will Jack be able to find Ember now that she has a vampire cloaking her?  And if he can find her, can he bring her home safely?

 

Ember was probably the highlight of the book for me, primarily because she’s the catalyst for much of the story’s action.  She is smart, sassy, and stubborn.  Because she can’t resist the call of adventure or the allure of a dashing vampire, Ember completely ignores Jack’s warnings about the dangers of crossing over to the Otherworld.  Although Ember is a natural born witch, she is self-taught as to how to use her powers.  The result of her lack of formal training is that she is completely clueless as to how powerful she really is until she arrives in the Otherworld.  It was very entertaining watching her gradually learn how to more effectively channel her witch powers.

Aside from liking Ember, I also developed a soft spot for Jack immediately.  He lives a nearly solitary existence, a shell of a man, with his soul tethered to a pumpkin that he must carry around with him.  My love for Jack grew as soon as it became clear that not only has he been well aware of Ember’s presence in the mortal world since she was a small child, but instead of doing his job and turning her in, he has actually devoted himself to hiding her from those who would destroy her, serving as her self-appointed guardian.  He has strong feelings for Ember but knows that nothing will ever come of them because he’s stuck being a Lantern.  Jack earned bonus points from me when in spite of his sentence, he risks everything to follow Ember to the Otherworld.

There are endless wonderful secondary characters in The Lantern’s Ember as well.  Finney is, by far my favorite.  He’s kind of a nerd who loves to tinker and invent things.  He is a mortal and he and Ember grew up together.  Finney knows that Ember is a witch and helps her practice her spells.  He even designs gun-like weapons for her so that she can fire her spells at those she wishes to use them on.   Jack’s pumpkin apparently thinks Finney is as precious as I do because it follows Finney around like a puppy and is super protective of him.

In addition to such great characters, the other highlight for me when it comes to The Lantern’s Ember is the absolutely brilliant worldbuilding.  First of all, the Otherworld is surprisingly technologically advanced, way more so than the mortal realm.  As soon as I got a glimpse of it, I wanted to explore the world just as much as Ember did and found myself willing her to continue on her adventure so that I could see more.  I’m not sure exactly when the story is supposed to be set, but the Otherworld appears future-esque in comparison to the mortal realm.

Even cooler than the technology, however, was the way Houck also manages to incorporate both actual historical events and Halloween folklore to fully flesh out this world.  She places real historical events, such as the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the Salem Witch Trials,  and gives them plausible supernatural explanations.  She then takes it a step further by seamlessly blending all of our Halloween spooky favorites into her story and giving them what felt like origin stories:  the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, the Boogeyman, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, and the Invisible Man, just to name a few.   It was so much fun to turn the page and come across another favorite and see how Houck works her magic to incorporate them into her tale.

I don’t want to spoil anything about the adventure aspect of The Lantern’s Ember, so I’m just going to say that it’s a fast-paced adventure and that you’re in for a wild ride through the Otherworld, so buckle up!

 

I thought the book’s synopsis was a little misleading.  It might just be me, but the synopsis makes it sound like the book will be pretty terrifying.  Instead, I didn’t find it frightening at all. I found it whimsical and delightful.  I’ve seen a few mixed reviews for the book and I have to wonder if that synopsis is giving people the wrong expectations for The Lantern’s Ember.  The book also seemed to focus around romance more than I was expecting it to.  More than one of our characters have crushes on Ember.

My only other issue with the book is that the ending felt a bit rushed.  Again, it could have been me because I was having so much fun with the story that I didn’t want to say goodbye to the world or the characters.

 

If you’re looking for a scary Halloween-themed read, this book might not be for you.  But if you’re interested in a Halloween-themed read that is pure fun and whimsical, and even contains a hint of romance, definitely consider checking out The Lantern’s Ember.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It’s difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So, he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lantern—one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortal—or not-so-mortal—soul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O’Dare.

Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack’s warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampire—and the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.

 

 

 Find it:   GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksTBD

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE LANTERN’S EMBER, US Only.

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rafflecopter link:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e2389ba2793/?

TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

9/3/2018- Captivated Reading– Review

9/4/2018- Jrsbookreviews– Review

9/5/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

9/6/2018- YA Books Central– Interview

9/7/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

Week Two:

9/10/2018- Such A Novel Idea– Review

9/11/2018- Lisa Loves Literature– Review

9/12/2018- Wishful Endings– Interview

9/13/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

9/14/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

Week Three:

9/17/2018- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

9/18/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

9/19/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

9/20/2018- A Dream Within A Dream– Review

9/21/2018- A Court of Coffee and Books– Review

Week Four:

9/24/2018- Do You Dog-ear?– Review

9/25/2018- Savings in Seconds– Review

9/26/2018- Book Briefs– Review

9/27/2018- Pacific Northwest Bookworm– Review

9/28/2018- Two Chicks on Books– Excerpt

four-stars

About Colleen Houck

New York Times Bestselling author Colleen Houck is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, paranormal, science fiction, and romance. When she’s not busy writing, she likes to spend time chatting on the phone with one of her six siblings, watching plays, and shopping online. Colleen has lived in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, and North Carolina and is now permanently settled in Salem, Oregon with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers.

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn BowmanSummer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 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.

MY REVIEW:

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about grief and how to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, especially when that loved one is the person that you’re closest to in the whole world.  Rumi Seto and her younger sister Lea are like two peas in a pod.  They’re best friends and they both share a passion for music. They spend most of their time writing songs together and dream of making music together for a living when they’re older.  But then tragedy strikes and Lea dies in a car accident.

Rumi is overcome with grief and is struggling to cope.  Then things get even worse because without any warning or explanation, Rumi’s mother decides to send her away to stay with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer.  Rumi is hurt and confused – shouldn’t they be trying to work through their grief together?  All they have left is each other and now her own mother doesn’t want her around?   Rumi doesn’t know how she’s going to get through this on her own, or for that matter, if she will be able to get through this.    The sense of loss that she feels is so crushing that she can’t even bear to play music anymore because it just makes her heart ache so much.

Rumi arrives in Hawaii feeling so lost and angry that she immediately begins lashing out at everyone around her, especially her aunt and her aunt’s neighbors.  Everyone around her sees the pain that she is in and they want to help in any way they can, including a very persistent teenage surfer named Kai.  He is determined to break down the walls Rumi has built up around herself.  Will Rumi let him, or anyone else, in?

Summer Bird Blue has so many qualities that I love in a contemporary novel.    I could probably write about my LIKES for days, but I’ll try to restrain myself to a few highlights so I don’t accidentally spoil anything.

Rumi, of course, was a favorite from the beginning.  I loved seeing her interact with her sister, especially their song writing drill where they come up with three random words and then compose a song around those three words.  They were clearly about as close as two sisters could possibly be, so it was absolutely heartwrenching when the car accident took Lea away from Rumi.

I also thought Bowman did a beautiful job portraying all the emotions that Rumi was feeling after her sister’s death.  The grief, the frustration, the anger and the confusion – it’s all just so palpable.  Some may find Rumi somewhat abrasive and unlikable because of the way she lashes out at everyone around her, but she is so clearly being crushed by this suffocating grief that I didn’t hold her words or her actions against her.  It just all felt very real to me.  I’m very close to my sister too and know that I would probably react the exact same way if I lost her the way Rumi lost Lea.

Bowman’s use of flashbacks was also very effective.  She uses them to show memories that Rumi is reflecting on about her relationship with both her mother and her sister.  We begin to see that although Rumi loved her sister more than life, their relationship was pretty complex and a lot of what Rumi is feeling is also guilt because she wasn’t always the nicest to Lea.  There’s also an intricate dynamic between Rumi and her mom when it came to Lea that also sheds some light on why Rumi’s mom has seemingly abandoned her.

Summer Bird Blue also features a wonderful cast of secondary characters.  My favorite was Mr. Watanabe, the elderly man who turns his garden hose on Rumi when she lashes out at him and his dog.  After their initial contentious meeting, Mr. Watanabe becomes an unexpected source of emotional support for Rumi.  His home, along with the music he listens to, becomes somewhat of a sanctuary for Rumi.  Mr. Watanabe has also lost loved ones and so he understands that grieving is a process and that Rumi needs to work through it at her own pace.  The friendship that develops between them is just lovely.

In addition to Mr. Watanabe, surfer dude Kai was also a favorite of mine.  I loved his persistence, his sense of humor, and his free spirit.  Kai can be kind of an adorable dork at times, but when it comes down to it, he’s there for Rumi whether she wants him to be or not.

The last thing I want to talk about is how wonderfully diverse Summer Bird Blue is.  The entire cast of characters is multi-racial, and Bowman includes culture from every race that is represented.  She does an exceptional job of sharing Hawaiian culture, in particular, and had me wanting to pack my suitcase and fly there.

In addition to being racially and culturally diverse, however, Summer Bird Blue is also diverse in that while she is trying to work through her grief and figure out who she even is without Lea, Rumi is also questioning and exploring her sexuality.  She has never had any real interest in dating or in kissing anyone, and wonders why.  She’s not interested in boys or girls in any way beyond friendship and finally begins to understand and embrace the idea that she is both asexual and aromantic.

None! 😊

Summer Bird Blue is one of those books that I could just gush about for days.  Between it and Bowman’s earlier novel Starfish, she has become an auto buy author for me.  Her books are just always so heartfelt and are filled with such well-drawn characters.  Even when they make me cry, which both of these books did, they are a joy to read and I will never hesitant to recommend them to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

Early Review: MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud

Early Review:  MIRAGE by Somaiya DaudMirage by Somaiya Daud
four-half-stars
Series: Mirage # 1
Published by Flatiron Books on August 28, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science 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.

MY REVIEW:

I have to confess that when I first requested an ARC of Somaiya Daud’s Mirage, I did so because the hints of rebellion and the need for a body double revealed in the synopsis gave me Star Wars/Padme Amidala vibes.  Being a huge Star Wars fan, I was immediately intrigued.  What I got instead of just a story with a bit of a Star Wars vibe, however, was an absolutely gorgeous science fiction/fantasy story set in a Moroccan-inspired land and filled with complex, well drawn characters that captivated me from the moment I met each of them.

Mirage follows eighteen year old Amani, who lives on a moon that has been occupied by the brutal Vathek empire.  Because of her resemblance to the Vathek’s princess Maram, Amani is kidnapped from her home and taken to the royal palace.  There, she is told that if she wants to live, she will learn everything there is to know about Maram – mannerisms, her history, her relationships, etc. – so as to prepare herself to serve as Maram’s body double.  Why does Maram need a body double?  Because the people who have been conquered by the Vathek hate her and would love nothing more than to be able to assassinate her.  Amani’s job is to serve as a decoy, ready to die in Maram’s place if need be.

The story follows Amani as she is forced into this new role and as she meets the princess and suffers her wrath for the first time.  It is easy to see why someone would want to kill Princess Maram, and it makes the reader all the more sympathetic to the plight facing Amani.  The few bright spots in Amani’s days are those moments when she can sit back and admire the beauty of the palace and those when she is in the company of Maram’s fiancé, Idris.  One of Amani’s first tests was to see if she could fool Idris and Maram’s father, and while she succeeds with the King, Idris, on the other hand, suspects after a very short time that she is not Maram. As Amani gets to know Idris better, an unexpected bond forms between them that starts as friendship but could easily become more if either of them were to give in to the temptation.

But when the Vathek threaten Amani’s family if she doesn’t do her job to perfection, Amani knows that she needs to focus and not let affairs of the heart guide her choices, especially if she ever hopes to see her family again.

As I already mentioned, Mirage is filled with complex, well drawn characters.  In fact, I’d have to say it’s more character driven than it is plot driven.  Sometimes that doesn’t work all that well for me, but in this case, I loved it because I was so into Amani and Maram and the complexities of their relationship.  I loved how real these characters felt and how nothing was simple or black and white with them.

Amani was my favorite character, no surprise there.  I fell in love with her right away.  She is of course strong, smart, sassy, passionate, quite simply everything I love in a feisty heroine, but she’s also so much more than that.  I love her passion for all things related to her people and their beliefs.  She knows that the Vathek would love nothing more than to erase all of her people’s traditions as if they never existed and that they have banned so many things that they believe could lay the seeds of rebellion. And yet, she doesn’t care.  She still reads the forbidden poems whenever she can and she refuses to forget the ways of her people, including their language.  I loved how strongly she clung to all of these things and turned to them for strength whenever she felt like giving up.  She’s also not perfect by any means, which makes her feel all the more human.  The fact that she’s so tempted by her attraction to Idris shows that she is prone to make all-too-human mistakes, as is the fact that she really wants to make a connection with Maram even though she knows Maram could turn on her like a viper at any moment.

What probably comes as more of a surprise is that Princess Maram was actually my second favorite.  And OMG, talk about your complex characters.  At first she seems like the most evil, vindictive person alive, but as Amani gets to know her a little better, she starts to sense that there may be a lot more to Maram than originally meets the eye.  Amani actually starts to feel sympathy for Maram and wants to connect with her, but it’s impossible to tell whether Maram will let Amani in and possibly become friends or if she’ll cruelly reject Amani and lash out at her as everyone has come to expect from Maram.  I loved how unpredictable she was and that I could never decide which Maram was the real Maram, the one who lashes out at everyone or the more open and vulnerable one who occasionally came out in Amani’s presence.  I think my fascination with Maram is only going to continue to grow in the next book too.

In addition to these amazing characters, there is also a dash of forbidden love in Mirage that really appealed to me.  That is of course between Amani and Idris.  I mean, seriously, of all the people you could feel attracted to, you have to pick the guy who is engaged to the woman you are pretending to be?  How completely awkward but yet, oh so entertaining!

The worldbuilding in Mirage is some of the best that I’ve read.  Daud has woven together a rich and beautiful atmospheric setting that is inspired by Moroccan culture.  It is also complemented by elements of science fiction and fantasy, with a subtle magical system also included.  I was utterly captivated by this world and every detail in it.

Finally, since I mentioned the whole Star Wars vibe thing, yes there are definitely hints of rebellion and resistance to the Vathek in this novel.  Like Amani, those who have been conquered by the Vathek are clearly tired of being treated like dirt on what was actually their own land before the Vathek descended and took over control.  I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m going to say, but it screams to me that even though this first book was mostly character driven, the action is going to ratchet up in the next book!

 

I almost hate to write anything in this section because I really did adore the book overall, but since I pride myself on honest reviews, I will say that there were a couple of spots along the way where I felt the pacing was a little slow.  Thankfully there were only a couple and those centered around some of Amani’s training/study sessions where she was studying up on how to be like Maram and the “tests” that she had to take to see if she could actually fool anyone.  Most of those sessions and tests were pretty interesting, but after a while, I was definitely ready for the story to move along and get to something more exciting.

 

Somaiya Daud is truly a gifted storyteller whose writing style was just such a good fit for me.  The words in Mirage flow so smoothly and beautifully that I was drawn in immediately and couldn’t put the book down.  Mirage is a beautiful and moving tale with characters that command your attention and whose plight you can’t help but become fully invested in. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year so far and so I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy and science fiction, but especially to those who love character driven stories.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

four-half-stars

About Somaiya Daud

Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut, and is due from Flatiron Books in 8/28/2018.

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONES

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONESThe Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie
four-stars
Series: The Raging Ones, #1
Published by Wednesday Books on August 14, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press blog tour and I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts with you on The Raging Ones by Krista and Becca Ritchie.  For those who are familiar with the Ritchie sisters, you’re aware that they are well known for their steamy romance novels.  The Raging Ones is a different kind of adventure, however.  It’s equal parts coming of age story and space epic, and it’s sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

The Raging Ones is the exciting first book in a new science fiction/fantasy series from authors Krista and Becca Ritchie.  The world this series is set in fascinated me from the moment I started reading.  The landscape itself is cold, and the way of life is equally cold and impersonal.  Saltere-3 is a world where everyone knows the exact day they’re going to die and so their entire existence is basically structured around that knowledge.  There are Influentials, who have the longest life expectancies and are given the best educational opportunities and a higher social standing as they are expected to, as their name indicates, have a major impact on the world they live in.  Beneath the Influentials on the social scale are the Fast Trackers, who are expected to live between 13-29 years.  As their name indicates, they live hard and fast, trying to squeeze as much life as possible into the short lifetime they have.  Lastly on the social scale are the Babes, whose life expectancy is no more than 12 years.  What little time they have is spent living an innocent existence with their families.  Everyone accepts this as the normal way of life because no one can escape their death day.

Or can they?  Enter our main characters, Franny Bluecastle, Court Icecastle, and Mykal Kickfall.  On the surface these three characters have absolutely nothing in common – Franny is a poor but street smart Fast Tracker who is preparing for her death day, which is imminent.  Court is a wealthy and educated young man who has done time in prison and now just wants to start a new life somewhere other than this world that he feels has wronged him.  Mykal Kickfall is a Hinterlander who is super protective of those he loves and who also happens to have an unbreakable bond with Court.  Wherever Court goes, Mykal is going with him.

So, what do these three characters have in common?  All three miraculously manage to dodge their death days.  How?  No one knows.  It’s problematic for them, however, for two reasons:  1) they now have no idea when they’re going to die.  It could happen any minute or it may not happen for years.  What was utterly predictable is now the unknown.  And 2) because no one is supposed to be able to escape their death day, they fear what the government will do to them if they were to find out.  So Franny, Court, and Mykal all end up on the run trying to make sure no one finds out that they’ve somehow done the impossible.  Their only hope to avoid detection is to get off Saltare-3 and so they decide to hide their identities and participate in a rigorous competition for highly sought after spots in a new mission to space.  If they can get off the planet, they’ll be safe.  The only catch?  They’ll be competing against the elites of society – people who are better educated, have had far more advantages throughout their lives, and who know (because they know when their death days are) there’s no way they can possibly die no matter how intense and dangerous the competition gets.

 

I was hooked on Franny, Court, and Mykal right away since I always love to root for underdogs and they are immediately cast into that role as soon as they enter the space mission competition.  They are up against nearly impossible odds and the Ritchies do a wonderful job of using that competition and its elimination rounds to build up suspense and convey just how high the stakes are for Franny, Court, and Mykal.  I found myself unable to put the book down once I started reading about the competition because I just had to know if all three of them were going to advance or be eliminated.

Franny was the easiest character for me to relate to, mainly because of the three, she is the last to dodge her death day so all of this is new to her, whereas Mykal and Court dodged theirs years before and so have had time to adjust to the idea that they are different from everyone else.  She’s in the same boat the reader is as far as trying to understand and make sense of a world she thought she understood.  I also loved what a scrappy character she is.

Mykal was also a favorite, mainly just because he’s big and burly but gives off this teddy bear vibe at the same time.  I adored his immediate bond with Franny.  They had this brother/sister thing going on that was just so sweet.

Court was a little harder to get to know because he seems to have put up a lot of emotional walls around him, but I enjoyed watching Franny chip away at those walls and eventually strengthen her bond with Court.

So, what are these bonds I keep speaking of?  This is actually my absolute favorite part of the book.  How did Franny, Court, and Mykal even find each other in the first place?  Because they are empaths!  They share an actual bond where they can basically sense anything and everything about each other.  They sense each other’s emotions as well as physical pain and pleasure.  This sharing can get awkward at times, particularly if either of them becomes physically intimate with someone, because the other two can sense what they are experiencing.  There’s a lot more to the bond, but you get the general idea.  Anyway, by the time the book opens, Court and Mykal have been hanging out together for a while so they’re pretty used to it, but it’s fascinating to watch Franny try to adjust to life where she’s suddenly connected to two people she doesn’t even know.  At times it’s funny and at other times, it can be flat out awkward, but it’s always entertaining regardless.

I also loved the intricate world building with the death days and the social hierarchy of babes, fast trackers, and influentials.  It was all so utterly unique.  What I thought was particularly interesting about the worldbuilding is that the Ritchies do not do a huge info dump at the beginning like some books do.  Instead I had to exercise some patience while I was reading and watch the details of this world gradually unfold.  Again, like Franny, I had to learn as I went.  That might bother some readers but I quite enjoyed the journey.

Lastly, there’s also a plot twist/cliffhanger ending that had me wishing I could immediately get my hands on the next book in the series, so if you like a jaw-dropping ending, this might be the book for you!

 

There were a few times along the way where I had a little trouble distinguishing between the points of view of Court and Mykal.  I don’t know if it was because their bond was so intense or if it was something else altogether, but sometimes I found myself flipping back to the beginning of a chapter to remind myself whose point of view I was getting.  This was mostly at the beginning though and it got much easier to distinguish between them as I got further along in the book and got to know Court and Mykal better.

 

If you’re looking for a unique sci-fi fantasy read with compelling characters and a riveting element of competition, I’d highly recommend giving The Raging Ones a try.  I personally think it’s worth a read just for the experience of following three empaths and exploring their bonds, but the rest of the story is equally riveting as well.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a freezing world, where everyone knows the day they will die, three teens break all odds.

Franny Bluecastle, a tough city teen, dreams of dying in opulence, to see wealth she’s never known. Like the entire world, she believes it’s impossible to dodge a deathday.

Until the day she does.

Court Icecastle knows wealth. He also knows pain. Spending five years in Vorkter Prison, a fortress of ice and suffering, he dreams of life beyond the people that haunt him and the world that imprisoned him.

Mykal Kickfall fights for those he loves. The rugged Hinterlander shares a frustrating yet unbreakable connection with Court—which only grows more lawless and chaotic as their senses and emotions connect with Franny.

With the threat of people learning they’ve dodged their deathdays, they must flee their planet to survive. But to do so, all three will have to hide their shared bond as they vie for a highly sought after spot in the newest mission to space. Against thousands of people far smarter, who’ll live longer, and never fear death the way that they do.

four-stars

About Krista & Becca Ritchie

Krista & Becca Ritchie are New York Times Bestselling Authors and identical twins, one a science nerd, the other a comic book geek. With their shared passion for writing, they combined their mental powers as kids and have never stopped telling stories. Graduates from the University of Georgia in Biology and English & Journalism, the twin writing duo now lives in Atlanta. The Raging Ones is their first young adult novel.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and LOVE & GELATO

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLetters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
five-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review:

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  What really hooked me from the beginning is its exploration of loss and the grieving process through the use of anonymous letters.  Juliet and Declan have both lost loved ones and are struggling to move through their grief and both feel alone because no one seems to understand what they’re going through.  Juliet tries to work through her grief by writing letters to her dead mom and leaving them in the cemetery where Declan works.  When Declan sees and reads one of the letters, he relates to the sense of loss in the letter so much that he replies to it.  Declan and Juliet begin writing to each other anonymously and immediately form a deeper connection than either of them could have imagined because they are able to say things to each other that they’ve not been able to say to anyone else.  I thought this aspect of the story was just so beautifully done.  The letters themselves were so raw and emotional, like reading someone’s diary and peering down deep into their souls, and they had me in tears on more than one occasion while reading.

In addition to the powerful exploration of grief, Letters to the Lost was also a wonderfully engaging read for me because of all the relationships.  And not just Declan and Juliet’s either.  They both have two of the most amazing best friends a person could ask for.  I had already met Declan’s best friend, Rev, and knew how precious he was because I read Kemmerer’s More Than We Can Tell first and fell in love with him there, but Juliet’s best friend Rowan is equally amazing.  Plus, there are also several adults (parents, teachers, and work supervisors) trying to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible, which was just lovely to see, especially since a secondary theme of the book is about how wrong and unfair it is to judge people without ever bothering to get to know them first.

After reading and falling in love with both Letters to the Lost and More Than We Can Tell, Brigid Kemmerer has become an auto-buy author for me.  Her writing is exquisite, and her stories are filled with such incredibly realistic characters that you won’t be able to stop yourself from becoming fully invested in their lives.  If you’re looking for a read that will tug at your heart strings, I would highly recommend something from Kemmerer. 5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3, 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 389
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Review:

Jenna Evans Welch’s  Love & Gelato follows American teen Lina, who is sent to live in Florence, Italy after her mother passes away.  Lina’s mother had cancer and knew she was dying, so she made arrangements for Lina to go to Italy and get to know her father, whom she has never even met.  Although Lina doesn’t want to leave her friends and move to Italy, she feels like she has to respect her mother’s dying wish and at least visit.  Upon her arrival, she is handed an old journal that belonged to her mother that dates back to her own experiences living in Florence as a student.  It’s this old journal that takes Lina on a journey that she never expected to – one that leads her to discover never-before-known truths about both herself and her parents.

Although she was a bit stubborn and irritable at first, I found Lina to be a very likeable and relatable character overall.  It was easy to understand her attitude, given that she was being separated from everything she has ever known and sent off to live with strangers.  At the same time, I liked that once she was in Florence, she became determined to make the best of the situation.  I especially enjoyed reading along with her as she pored over her mother’s journal.  Her mother adored Florence and so it was fun to watch Lina slowly but surely discover a similar love for the city.  It was also fascinating to follow along as Lina learned more and more details about her mother’s life that had previously eluded her.  In many ways, it felt like we were both just getting to know Lina’s mother for the first time.

While Lina’s journey is mostly about discovering truths about her family, she also meets some wonderful friends while in Italy.  Ren, in particular, was just such a charming young man and I liked the friendship that developed between him and Lina, with its promise of becoming something more if Lina were to decide to stay in Florence.

My absolute favorite part of Love & Gelato though was that the author did such a magnificent job of capturing the essence of Florence and why it’s such an easy city to fall in love with.  I’ve visited Florence once and, after reading this book, I’m dying to go back!  4 STARS

 

five-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.

About Jenna Evans Welch

Jenna Evans Welch was the kind of insatiable child reader who had no choice but to grow up to become a writer. She is the New York Times Bestselling author of LOVE & GELATO and the upcoming LOVE & LUCK. When she isn’t writing girl abroad stories, Jenna can be found chasing her children or making elaborate messes in the kitchen. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and two young children.

Review: THE POINT by John Dixon

Review:  THE POINT by John DixonThe Point by John Dixon
four-stars
Published by Del Rey Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I really enjoyed John Dixon’s last two novels, Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.  They were fast-paced, action-packed reads that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading them.  Since I enjoyed those so much, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Point as soon as I heard about it, especially once I read the synopsis and saw that it was set at West Point Military Academy.

The Point follows the story of Scarlett Winter, a rebellious, thrill seeking teenager who has no interest in conforming to whatever life plans her parents have dreamed up for her. She just wants to do her own thing and be left alone.

That is, until one night when she finds herself on the wrong side of the law.  Scarlett tries to sneak into a party one of her former friends is having.  She knows she’s not invited but thinks it will be a good time to sneak in and shock everyone.  Instead, she stumbles upon some other folks who are lurking on the property planting a bomb.  She throws herself on the bomb and when it explodes, she walks away, basically unharmed.  Witnesses see her at the scene of the crime and before she knows it, two military recruiters come knocking at her door.  They know that she has some kind of superhuman power and they present her with an ultimatum – she can either attend West Point and serve in the military for a few years, or she can go to prison.

Scarlett chooses West Point, of course, but has no idea what’s in store for her once she gets there.  Can she tame her rebellious nature enough to keep from getting kicked out of West Point?  And what happens when a threat from the school’s dark past emerges placing Scarlett and all of her fellow classmates in danger?   Scarlett may be the only one with powers great enough to neutralize the threat, but will she rise to the occasion for the greater good?

Scarlett.  I’ll confess right now that I was not a big fan of Scarlett’s at first.  While I admired her sense of independence and her adventurous spirit, I was a little put off by the way she completely blew off her high school graduation ceremony –without telling her family – so that she could go off and get high with her boyfriend.  Scarlett just lets her parents go to the school and sit in that audience, only to end up shocked and embarrassed when her name was called and she’s not there. All I could think at that moment was “What kind of person even does that?”

That said, Scarlett also quickly began to grow on me the more I got to know her and could see firsthand the dysfunctional family dynamic that she was surrounded by.  Her father is abusive towards her older brother Dan, who then proceeds to hand down his own brand of abusive behavior to Scarlett, while their mother just sits by and lets it all happen.  It became so much easier to understand why Scarlett had such a rebellious streak.

I actually flat out fell in love with Scarlett once she arrives at West Point.  I am always one to cheer on an underdog and it’s clear from Scarlett’s first moments on campus that that’s exactly what she is.  Everyone around her is out to make her life hell and I became extremely invested in cheering on her successes and seeing her really grow and mature as she comes to embrace a life where she is part of something bigger:  the Long Gray Line.

West Point (and The Point).  I have a thing for books that are set in schools so I was thrilled to learn that the bulk of this book is set at West Point military academy.  Dixon has clearly done his research and beautifully captures the atmosphere of what it’s like for a plebe to walk onto this prestigious campus for the first time.  I also thought the whole concept of The Point, a secret training unit for superhumans located beneath the main campus was brilliant.

Superhuman Powers.  The superpowers were, by far, my favorite part of The Point.  And when I say superpowers, I’m talking X-Men, Marvel, whatever — pick your favorite superhero and imagine someone with their powers being trained to serve as a special strike force in the U.S. military.  There are students who can engage in combat using telekinesis, students who can walk through and manipulate the dreams of others, and then there’s Scarlett, who may truly end up being the most important weapon of all:  Scarlett has the ability to absorb and temporarily store any raw energy that is directed at her, and then redirect and release it toward whatever target she chooses.  I thought it was fascinating to watch Scarlett and her classmates practice and hone their incredible powers.

Excellent Pacing and Lots of Action.  If you like a fast-paced novel with plenty of vivid action scenes, you won’t be disappointed.  This book grabbed my attention from the first page and I devoured it in a day!

The only issue I had with The Point is that I would have liked the explanation for how those with the superhuman powers actually acquired them to have come earlier in the novel. I was glad to finally get the explanation towards the end of the novel and I thought the explanation itself was very well done, but I would have preferred it earlier so that I didn’t spend so much time wondering about it while reading.

John Dixon’s The Point is an action packed thriller that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys military and/or superhero novels.   It also has a powerful coming of age story woven in with Scarlett and her journey, so I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes stories that feature strong heroines.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone–until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line. 

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker–she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb–and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

 

four-stars

About John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, and its sequel, Devil’s Pocket, won back-to-back Bram Stoker Awards and inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, their daughter, and a freeloading dog. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.