Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for TO KILL A KINGDOM & WE WERE LIARS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for TO KILL A KINGDOM & WE WERE LIARSTo Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
five-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on March 6, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Retelling
Pages: 352
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

Review:

Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom might be loosely based on The Little Mermaid, but in Christo’s version of the classic tale, our heroine is no Disney princess.  Princess Lira is a siren who has been trained from a young age by her mother, the Sea Queen, to use her siren’s song to drown Princes and rip out their hearts. The Prince she sets her sights on when we first meet her is Elian, a prince who would much rather live his life as a pirate rather than sit on a throne.  Elian also wants to devote his life to killing sirens so that his people can be safe from their deadly songs.  An unexpected incident throws Elian and Lira together and forces Lira to kill one of her own kind.  Lira’s mother becomes enraged and strips Lira of all of her Siren’s powers, including her song, and casts her out of the kingdom.  The only way Lira will be allowed to return is if she can figure out a way to kill Elian without powers. So she poses as a drowning woman and Elian rescues her and brings her aboard his ship.  Lira becomes so intrigued by Elian that rather than kill him and return to her evil mother’s side, Lira begins devising an alternate plan that could make things better for both of their kingdoms.  Can they trust each other?  What will Elian do if he figures out who Lira really is?

I adored both Lira and Elian so much.  They both just have so much depth to them, especially the more we see of each of their backstories.  Christo does an incredible job of fleshing them both out and making them both equally sympathetic.  I also adored that they were both so darn sassy!  Seriously, the banter in this book gave me life!  There’s definitely a slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers kind of vibe going on where they alternate between flirting and threatening to kill each other, and I was on board with all of it.  In addition to these two fabulous main characters, I also thought Elian’s pirate crew was seriously the most lovable crew ever.  Again, with them, there was even more witty, snarky banter to make my day but they also just displayed such incredible loyalty to Elian.  They’re truly willing to die for him, and I just loved them for it.  And lastly, I can’t forget to mention the Sea Queen, who between her numerous tentacles and just her overall heinous behavior, you will not be able to read about her without picturing Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.  And she is a glorious villain too!

If you’re in the mood for a dark fantasy that is filled with memorable and loveable characters, incredibly vivid worldbuilding that brings not only the deadly sea to life, but also kingdoms of frost and kingdoms of romance, then I definitely recommend giving To Kill a Kingdom a try.  It is a book that lives up to, and actually exceeds, all of the hype that has surrounded it this year.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for TO KILL A KINGDOM & WE WERE LIARSWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on May 13, 2014
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 227
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A beautiful and distinguished family.A private island.A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.A revolution. An accident. A secret.Lies upon lies.True love.The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it.And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Review:

Lockhart’s We Were Liars is a tiny book that packs a big punch. It’s also a hard book to say much about because to say too much will spoil what is probably one of the most powerful plot twists I’ve ever read. It’s definitely one of those books that’s best to go into knowing as little as possible.  What starts out as a book exploring summers on a private island quickly evolves into a mystery filled with suspense, twists and turns, and dotted with lots of clues along the way as to what has happened.

The story is narrated by Cadence Sinclair.  The Sinclairs come from old money and have their own private island, which is where Cadence and her family, including her beloved cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and their good friend Gat, vacation every summer. Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat, or “The Liars” as they call themselves, were inseparable every summer and the book opens with Cadence thinking back on some of their summers together.  When she gets to the summer when she was fifteen, however, events take a darker, more suspenseful turn.  Apparently sometime during that summer, Cadence was involved in some kind of accident and ended up with amnesia and violent headaches.  She has been told that she dove into the water and hit her head on something, but even without her memories, she feels like people, even her fellow Liars, are keeping things from her and it’s very upsetting.

I don’t want to say anymore about the plot beyond that this is a book about friendship and how easily they can be torn apart.  The writing in this book is so poetic and precise. There are no extra words, no fluff. Every word, every detail leads us closer and closer to what really happened the summer that Cadence was hurt.  I picked this book up because the cover makes it look like it will be a light and fluffy summer read, but oh what a deceptive cover…We Were Liars is a painfully beautiful read with an ending that shredded my heart into little bits.  4 STARS.     

five-stars

About Alexandra Christo

Alexandra Christo decided to write books when she was four and her teacher told her she couldn’t be a fairy. She has a BA in Creative Writing and works as a copywriter in London, both of which make her sound more grown up than she feels. When she’s not busy making up stories, she can be found buying far too many cushions and organizing food crawls all over the city.

Alexandra currently lives in Hertfordshire with an abundance of cacti (because they’re the only plants she can keep alive).

About E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars and the upcoming Genuine Fraud, a psychological thriller. Her other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends. She also wrote How to Be Bad with Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. Visit her online at emilylockhart.com, and follow her on Twitter at @elockhart.

Review: LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg Leder

Review:  LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg LederLetting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 17, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
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.

MY REVIEW:

Meg Leder’s Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful, emotionally engaging story about a young woman named Parker and her twin brother, Charlie.  When the novel opens, Parker, as Class Valedictorian, is giving a speech at her graduation.  Parker has been wildly successful in her academic life – making straight As, achieving perfect scores on her SATs, getting accepted to Harvard where she plans to study to become a doctor, and landing herself a spot at a very competitive internship at the local children’s hospital.  Charlie, on the other hand, even though he’s Parker’s twin, is not graduating.  Instead, he is being held back because he missed too much time from school.  Why?  Because Charlie has been battling cancer.  He was diagnosed with it for the first time when he was in fourth grade, went into remission, only to have it return the summer before his senior year.

Parker is obsessed with making sure her twin is safe.  She watches over him like a hawk, reporting back to her parents anytime she fears Charlie might be doing something that will cause another relapse.  While Charlie understands where his sister is coming from, ultimately he can’t stand being around her because she makes him feel like he’s a caged animal with no freedom to do anything he wants to do.  Needless to say, their relationship is quite strained and Parker begins to wonder if things will ever be normal between them again…

 

I really loved Parker.  I thought she was just such a sweetheart and even though it drives Charlie crazy, I loved how devoted Parker is to him.  I have a sister, and she’s not even a twin, but I feel that level of fierce protectiveness for her that Parker has for Charlie.  Parker has devoted most of her life to watching over Charlie, so much so that he’s actually the main reason she’s planning to study pre-med at Harvard.  She wants to be a pediatric oncologist, specifically because of what has happened to Charlie.  Her parents are giddy about her decision, with her dad already starting to call her Dr. McCullough.  Parker, however, has been experiencing anxiety every time she thinks about going to Harvard in the fall, and when she arrives at the hospital to begin her internship, she has a full on panic attack and has to leave.  At this moment, Parker begins to seriously question if this is what she really wants.

The story is told from Parker’s perspective and this was fantastic too because the author does an incredible job of portraying all of the conflicting emotions that were at war in Parker’s head.  While Charlie may feel like a caged animal because everyone watches him like a hawk, Parker starts to feel equally caged in by her fears – fear of failure, fear of disappointing her loved ones, and of course, fear of losing her loved ones.  Being inside of Parker’s head was kind of a messy place to be because she has so much going on in there, but everything she’s thinking, feeling, and fearing just felt so realistic.

The relationships in Letting Go of Gravity were beautifully written as well. The very complex and strained sibling relationship between Parker and Charlie was my favorite, but I also loved the friendships.  Parker has three incredible friends, Finn, Em and Ruby, and they are as devoted to Parker as Parker is to Charlie.  Their support is unwavering but they are also all there to give Parker a kick in the pants when she really needs it.  There are also a couple of potential romances that come out of these friendships, but the author does a wonderful job of weaving those in gently so that they don’t get in the way of what I would say is more of a coming of age story than anything else as these friends give Parker the love and support she needs to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Lastly, this story is just packed with moving, relatable, and relevant themes, which is something that always makes a contemporary novel appealing to me.  This novel tackles how cancer and other serious illnesses impact, not just the patient, but also the entire family – the fear that comes when faced with the possibility of losing someone you love, the sacrifices you’re willing to make to do everything in your power to keep that from happening, and so on.  Letting Go of Gravity also explores anxiety and the pressure of putting too much on yourself, especially if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, but really, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.  As the title implies, sometimes you just have to let go of what is weighing you down.

 

The only real issue I had with Letting Go of Gravity was that I found some of it to be a little too predictable.  I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers, but I guessed almost immediately how things were going to go for Parker.  I can’t say that it really lessened my enjoyment of the overall story, but I always prefer it when plot twists actually surprise me.

 

Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful and moving book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of John Green, Jennifer Niven, and Brigid Kemmerer.  If you like emotional books that feature sibling relationships and great friendships, and that might make you shed a tear or two, give Letting Go of Gravity a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Twins Parker and Charlie are polar opposites.  Where Charlie is fearless, Parker is careful.  Charlie is confident while Parker aims to please.  Charlie is outgoing and outspoken; Parker is introverted and reserved.  And of course, there’s the one other major difference: Charlie got leukemia. Parker didn’t.

But now that Charlie is officially in remission, life couldn’t be going better for Parker. She’s landed a prestigious summer internship at the hospital and is headed to Harvard in the fall to study pediatric oncology—which is why the anxiety she’s felt since her Harvard acceptance is so unsettling. And it doesn’t help that her relationship with Charlie has been on the rocks since his diagnosis.

Enter Finn, a boy who’s been leaving strange graffiti messages all over town. Parker can’t stop thinking about those messages, or about Finn, who makes her feel free for the first time: free to doubt, free to make mistakes, and free to confront the truth that Parker has been hiding from for a long time.

That she keeps trying to save Charlie, when the person who really needs saving is herself.

four-stars

Review: FURYBORN

Review:  FURYBORNFuryborn by Claire Legrand
three-stars
Series: Empirium #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 22, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
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.

MY REVIEW:

Novels that feature strong, independent female characters and dual timelines are nearly always guaranteed to grab my attention and such was the case with Claire Legrand’s YA fantasy novel, Furyborn.  Furyborn follows two incredibly independent women, Rielle Dardenne and Eliana Ferracora, who lived centuries apart but who both play a role in an ancient prophecy known to all in their lands.  The prophecy states that two magic-wielding Queens will rise to power, a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen, and one will have the power to save their kingdom, while the other will have the power to destroy them all.

Furyborn is an exciting adventure from start to finish as we follow these two fiercely independent women as they rush forward to meet their destinies.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Furyborn was the way the dual timeline was used to allow each woman’s journey to unfold.  With Rielle, we are presented with not only her role in the prophecy, but also the way she meets her end, in the novel’s prologue.  Rielle’s journey in the book, therefore, is more of a rewind back to show how she got to the point where we find her as the book begins.  Eliana’s narrative, on the other hand, moves more straightforward in that we simply follow her to find out where she fits into the prophecy and to where her story ultimately intersects with Rielle’s.

Out of the two main characters, I’d have to say that Eliana was probably my favorite.  As I’ve already mentioned she’s incredibly independent and strong. What I found most interesting about her, however, is that she also falls into the morally gray category.  When the Empire came in and conquered her kingdom, Eliana began working for them as a bounty hunter.  She’ll slit a Rebel’s throat in a heartbeat if there’s money involved, thus earning herself the nickname “The Dread of Orline.”  Although many of her actions are morally questionable, her heart, however, is in the right place because she’s desperate to have enough money to take care of her mother and brother.  Eliana could be arrogant and obnoxious at times, but I still ultimately liked her because of that big heart of hers.

Even though I didn’t like her quite as much as I liked Eliana, Rielle was also a pretty likable character.  What I liked about Rielle was that she fit so well into that underdog category that I’m always such a big fan of.  Rielle lives in a time where most individuals possess some magic and wield control over one of the natural elements.  During a horse race, Rielle’s best friend finds himself in mortal danger and when Rielle jumps in to try to save him, she accidentally reveals that not only does she too possess magic, but she wields control over more than the usual one element.  In trying to save her friend, she has used her magic recklessly and wreaked so much havoc that everyone in the kingdom is terrified of her.  Whispers about the prophecy and that she might be one of the Queens immediately begin.  Rielle is brought before the King where he informs her that she must face seven potentially deadly elemental trials.  She will either successfully complete each of these trials, thus proving that she is one of the two prophesied Queens or else she will not succeed and she will die.  No pressure there, right?  I just really admired the way she faced each challenge head-on, almost defiant, at times.

I was also quite intrigued by the world building in Furyborn.  This fantasy world and its magical system were quite fascinating, especially the Empirum and how Rielle was able to manipulate it, but I still would have liked a little more detail about pretty much everything.  Some parts of it were a little confusing, especially the angels, who were apparently bad and banished.  I’m hoping a second book will shed more light on some of the fantasy elements in the series.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher even though I quite enjoyed the story overall was that it honestly felt like two separate books where I was reading a chapter from one and then a chapter from the other.  I would have liked to see more connective threads between them throughout to remind me that the two stories would eventually interconnect.

A second issue I had, and this is probably one of those ‘It’s me, not the book’ scenarios, but Rielle’s storyline started to wear thin on me after a while.  Those trials, while initially exciting, started to feel somewhat tedious. I can, admittedly, have the attention span of a gnat, but after the first couple of trials, I kept hoping that something would happen so that we didn’t have to go through all seven of them or that the author would simply gloss over the details rather than give us a play-by-play of everything that happened.  I also thought too much emphasis was placed on her costumes, each of which were custom made to match the element of the trial she was about to engage in.  It reminded me of the scenes from The Hunger Games when Katniss was dressed up as the Girl on Fire.  Since I didn’t particularly care for those scenes in The Hunger Games, it was a little ugh going through similar scenes in Furyborn.

One other area that didn’t set well with me was a scene early on where Rielle, clearly not in control of her magic, cruelly kills an animal.  I understood what the author was trying to show in this scene, but it was just very graphic and upsetting.

While it’s not a perfect read, it’s still highly entertaining overall and I do think that Furyborn is a solid beginning to what is sure to be a great new fantasy series.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

three-stars

About Claire Legrand

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a librarian and New York Times bestselling author living in central New Jersey (although her heart will always live in her home state of Texas).

Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. She is also the author of The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers; and Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker. Some Kind of Happiness, her middle grade novel about mental illness, family secrets, and the power of storytelling, is a 2017 Edgar Award Nominee. Claire’s latest novel, Foxheart, is a classic fantasy-adventure and a 2016 Junior Library Guild selection. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade short fiction that was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and among the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014.

Her latest novel, Furyborn, debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is the first book in the Empirium Trilogy, a young adult epic fantasy series. Her next book, Sawkill Girls, is a queer young adult horror novel and will release on October 2nd, 2018.

Her work is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAFar from the Tree by Robin Benway
five-stars
Published by HarperTeen on October 3, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 374
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Review:

Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree is an incredibly moving and engaging read that grabbed hold of all of my emotions and didn’t let go until long after I reached the final page.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and sometimes it just really made me sad and frustrated.  Why? Because Far From the Tree isn’t just a book about family.  It also touches on some important social issues that really resonate, such as teen pregnancy and the stigma that seems to follow the teen mom but not the teen dad; the many fears that plague both kids who have been adopted as well as those who are stuck in the foster care system; the impact addiction can have on a family; and so many more.

Far From the Tree follows three teenagers, Grace, Mia, and Joaquin, who are related by blood, but who have never met because their mother gave each of them up soon after they were born.  Grace and Mia were both adopted as babies, but Joaquin was never adopted and has spent his entire life drifting in and out of foster homes.  Grace has lived most of her life knowing that she was adopted, but until a heart-to-heart conversation with her parents, she had no idea that she also had two siblings out there in the world.  She sets out to find them and it’s just such an incredible moment to watch the three of them connect and gradually start to bond with each other, gradually sharing more and more about themselves, including most importantly, fears, whether rational or irrational, that have plagued them for most of their lives.

It’s incredibly easy to fall in love with all three siblings because Benway does such a wonderful job making each interaction feel authentic as she poignantly captures the awkwardness and all of the emotions that Grace, Mia, and Joaquin experience as they realize they’re not as alone as they each thought they were.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written contemporary novel that explores what it truly means to be a family, look no further than Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAHunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
four-stars
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #2
on September 19, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 434
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper's true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe's best schools of forensic medicine...and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life's dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school's forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

Review:

Hunting Prince Dracula is the second installment in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series.  I loved the first book in this series so much and I’m happy to report that the second book is just as good, if not better, than the first!

Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell were just as fabulous this time around, as they traveled together to Romania to study forensic medicine.  Their witty and flirtatious banter fills the pages and serves as a fantastic counterpoint to the dark atmosphere and the danger that they of course find themselves enmeshed in once they enter the school, which turns out to be a super creepy castle.  I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself but there’s blood, bodies, bats, stakes through the heart, and oh so much more, including the threat that perhaps the infamous Vlad the Impaler has returned from beyond the grave.

 While the overall formula for Hunting Prince Dracula is quite similar to that of the first book – there’s a mystery to be solved and Thomas and Audrey Rose get on each other’s nerves as they set out to solve it – what took the second book to a different level for me was the emotional turmoil that Audrey Rose experiences as a result of some of the things she learned about her family at the end of the first book.  It’s a thread that follows her throughout Hunting Prince Dracula and it adds some welcome depth to her character, although I of course already loved Audrey Rose because she’s so ahead of her time and is such a feminist.  I love watching her verbally filet anyone who tries to tell her she shouldn’t be at the school studying forensics.  She just has such a feisty, take no prisoners attitude and I love it (as does Thomas)!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book in the series to see what’s in store for Thomas and Audrey Rose next!  4 STARS

five-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

About Robin Benway

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her most recent title, Emmy & Oliver, was published in 2015 by Harper Teen, and was named one of the best books of summer by the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Review: LEGENDARY

Review:  LEGENDARYLegendary by Stephanie Garber
Also by this author: Caraval
four-stars
Series: Caraval #2
Published by Flatiron Books on May 29, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Also in this series: Caraval
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:

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017. While, unfortunately, it did not quite live up to my very high expectations for it, I still found it an entertaining enough read that I wanted to continue the series, especially once I read the premise for the second book, Legendary, and saw that the story was being told from the perspective of my favorite character from Caraval, younger sister Donatella Dragna, or Tella as she is called. I didn’t feel like nearly enough attention was paid to Tella in the first book, so knowing that the second book is her story made Legendary a must-read for me.  I kept my expectations in check this time around and I’m thrilled to say that Legendary far exceeded all of my expectations and now has me eager to complete the series.

Reviewing middle books in a series is always so hard for me.  I want to gush about everything I loved, but it’s hard to do it without potentially spoiling the first book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  I’ve therefore decided to do this review a little differently than I normally do and just present you with all of the reasons why Legendary worked so much better for me than Caraval did.  Hopefully it’s not spoilery, and if it is, hopefully it’s only mildly so.

 

5 REASONS WHY I ENJOYED LEGENDARY MORE THAN CARAVAL

 

  1. Tella is a more compelling narrator than Scarlett. I’ll admit it…and I’m pretty sure I admitted it when I reviewed Caraval, Scarlett was not my favorite Dragna sister.  While I liked her loyalty and devotion to her sister, Tella, beyond that she just didn’t really hold my attention at all.   Tella, on the other hand, is a much more complex and interesting character.  She’s the sister who everyone thinks is just high strung and flaky, and so they always underestimate her.  I enjoyed watching the second installment of this series unfold through Tella’s eyes and even more so, I loved getting inside her head and discovering that there really is so much more to her than people give her credit for.  Tella was actually my favorite character in Caraval and even though that first book was only an okay read for me, as soon as I heard Legendary was Tella’s story, I knew I had to continue the series and I’m thrilled that I did because the second book far exceeded my expectations and that’s mostly because of the change in perspective from Scarlett to Tella.
  1. Caraval Fall Out. Something that really made Legendary a more interesting read for me than Caraval was the fallout from being in an environment where literally no one could be trusted.  Now that Scarlett and Tella are interacting with some of the Caraval players outside of the game, it adds an underlying element of mistrust in all of their interactions that I found very entertaining.  It’s like “Can I trust you now?  Do you really like me or is this still an act?” All of the players are clearly gifted actors so it was easy to understand why Tella and Scarlett remained so suspicious of them. 
  1. Greater sense of urgency. Instead of just being an elite game that everyone is dying to play as in the first book, this time the Caraval experience has much higher stakes, thanks to a bargain Tella has secretly made with a mysterious and shady individual.  There’s something she desperately wants that he says only he can deliver, but he’ll only do so if she can get something for him in return, the true identity of Caraval mastermind, Legend.  Legend’s identity is one of Caraval’s best kept secrets and the only way she can get it is to win Caraval.  As soon as Tella begins to play, however, she learns that this Caraval is quite different from the first one she participated in, dangerously so.  It becomes clear that Legend has enemies who will stop at nothing to take him down and won’t hesitate to take Tella down as well if she gets in their way.
  1. Rules are Made to be Broken. One of the reasons I wasn’t keen on Scarlett in the first book was her refusal to let the main rule of Caraval sink into her head. No matter how many times people reminded her it was just a game, nothing was real, she just took everything so seriously and kept diving off the deep end. For that reason, I loved the twist Garber throws in Legendary.  Instead of being told that nothing is real and everything’s a game, Tella is instead warned that this time around, everything IS real.  It keeps Tella and the reader in a constant state of doubt over whether things are real or not because this situation is the exact opposite of what we and Tella were expecting and it’s hard to believe Caraval would completely change up its number one rule. 
  1. Less “Purple” Prose. I was not a huge fan of some of the writing in Caraval.  In some ways it felt like Garber was just trying too hard to convey a sense of the magical atmosphere that is Caraval, using overly flowery descriptions that sometimes didn’t make sense and therefore slowed down my reading of the story.  That said, however, Garber really hits her stride in Legendary and her efforts to capture the magical atmosphere of the latest Caraval setting just felt so much more effortless.  I really appreciated how easily I was able to breeze through the writing this time and only stumbled over an occasional “purple” phrase: “The air tasted like wonder. Like candied butterfly wings caught in sugared spiderwebs, and drunken peaches coated in luck.”  I’ll admit that one gave me pause, but generally speaking, the descriptions just felt so much more natural and streamlined in Legendary and Garber has done this while still retaining all of the magical quality that is Caraval.

 

BONUS REASON (BECAUSE I JUST COULDN’T STOP AT 5!)

 

  1. The Fates. I can’t really say anything about this without spoiling the second book.  If you’ve already read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you‘ll know why I loved this part so much.  The addition of the Fates to the story was both unexpected and totally brilliant.

 

So there you have it.  I hope I’ve managed to convey my love of the second book without completely spoiling the first for those who haven’t started the series yet.  I’ll close by saying while I may have gotten off to a rough start with the Caraval series, I’m all in now and can’t wait to get my hands on the final book in this magical trilogy.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

four-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay KristoffLIFEL1K3 (Lifelike, #1) by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: Lifelike #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 29, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

GoodreadsAmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBD

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Book Tour to promote Jay Kristoff’s latest novel, LIFEL1K3.  Thanks so much to RockStar Book Tours for allowing me to take part in this tour and thanks so much to Jay Kristoff for allowing me to preview his book.

 

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s LifeL1k3 truly captivated me from the first page. It’s an action-packed science fiction adventure that follows Eve, a scrappy street smart young woman who lives with her grandfather and who is doing the best she can to survive from one day to the next.  The America we know has been decimated by war and natural disasters and Eve, like most others in her world, now live as scavengers.  When we first meet Eve, she is fighting in a robot gladiator duel, trying to earn money.  Unfortunately, her opponent is bigger and stronger and ultimately Eve’s robot is destroyed.  When her own life is unexpectedly put in danger by her opponent, she unleashes a power that she never realized she had and destroys the other robot just by thinking about it and screaming.  She has no idea how she did it, but what she does know is that it means she is now in a world of trouble. “Deviants” like Eve have been labeled unacceptable by a puritanical Brotherhood that has somehow put itself in charge in an otherwise lawless environment.  There is now a bounty on Eve’s head, which has her looking over her shoulder for trouble at every turn.

The trouble Eve finds comes in the shape of an android boy named Ezekiel that Eve finds in the wreckage of a downed plane.  Somehow Ezekiel knows Eve, and the more Eve learns about how Ezekiel knows her, the more she realizes her entire life has been a lie. Eve desperately needs answers so she, Ezekiel, and her friends set off on a dangerous journey to discover the truth.  Will the price for the truth be too high though?

There’s so much to love about LifeL1k3 that I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll just start with the fantastic characters Kristoff has created in this book.

First, there’s Eve.  There are many sides to Eve and I just love the complexity with which Kristoff has written her. On the one hand, she’s this super sassy badass robot fighter, yet on the other hand, she’s also an underdog with a bounty on her head. I always like to cheer for the underdog anyway so Eve captured my attention and my support from those opening moments, especially as soon as we learn that she’s not just robot fighting to win a little extra cash.  No, she’s desperately trying to win money to purchase cancer meds for her ailing grandfather.  That devotion to her family really sealed the deal for me when it came to Eve, especially once it was coupled with the fact that she then learns that her whole life has basically been a lie and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. That kind of deception can really do a number on a person so even when Eve occasionally lashes out at those around her, I still felt for her because I can only imagine how I would react in her shoes.

As much as I liked Eve, however, Kristoff has created a cast of secondary characters in LifeL1k3 that truly stole my heart.  Lemon Fresh was my absolute favorite character.  She’s a hilarious pink-haired bundle of sass but she’s also the most loyal friend Eve could ever ask for.  Then there’s Cricket, who is a small robot with a major attitude when it comes to his stature:  “Don’t call me little!” He is programmed to protect Eve at all costs and like Lemon, is one of Eve’s most loyal companions.  And finally, there’s the most loyal of them all, Kaiser, who is the most precious cyborg Rottweiler ever.  He’s totally mechanical but has the brain of an actual dog, and he’s just too adorable for words.  He even loves to have his metal tummy rubbed just like a real dog.  I just adored these characters so much and loved how completely devoted to Eve they all were.  They’re a little family or like the four musketeers.

Ezekiel is another incredibly well developed character, especially considering he’s an android (or Lifelike).  He comes across as so real that I had to keep reminding myself he’s a robot. He’s also the one who turns Eve’s whole world upside down, and I enjoyed all of the complicated dynamics of his relationship with Eve.

In addition to a cast of incredible characters, I was also a huge fan of Kristoff’s worldbuilding in LifeL1k3.  The story is set in the future, in a post-war, post-apocalyptic version of America. It’s a desert wasteland, filled with ruins and radiation, and overall it has a very Mad Max vibe to it, which I loved.

As if all of that wasn’t fabulous enough, what actually appealed to me the most was all of the big themes that were encompassed in this book.  It’s not just an action-packed sci-fi read that provided me with a major adrenaline rush.  It’s also a thought-provoking story that tackles major topics like the idea of man playing God and the inevitable consequences of doing so, as well as the idea that we are not necessarily defined by our past, that we still have free will to choose who we want to be.  I love a book that gives me plenty of food for thought, and this book really does just that.

The only real issue I had with LifeL1k3 was that it took a little getting used to the different slang words the characters used. That’s usually the case for me with science fiction though so I expected it going in and it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the overall story.

I was also a little confused at first when we started getting chapters from Lemon’s point of view since the bulk of the story came to us from Eve.  I ultimately didn’t mind though because I loved Lemon even more once I had a chance to get inside of her head and see things from her perspective.  Her voice was a welcome addition to the storytelling.  I also hope that it means Lemon will play an even bigger role as the series continues.

LifeL1k3 is an action-packed science fiction adventure that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  There’s deception, drama, and plot twists galore, and it’s also filled with memorable characters that you’re sure to fall in love with.  With LifeL1k3, Jay Kristoff has crafted a wonderful book that has a little something for everyone.  I really can’t wait to continue the series and see what happens next!

 

 

FINISHED COPY GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of LIFEL1K3, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

PRE-ORDER GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

The LIFEL1K# pre-order is now live for folks in the US! To get your sticky booky hands on a full color map of the Yousay by the amazing Virginia Allyn and four brill LIFEL1K3 bookmarks with illustrations by the incredibly talented Mona May, all you need to is:

  1. Pre order LIFEL1K3 (Amazon/Barnes&Noble/Indiebound/Powells/Book Depository/ it doesn’t matter from where, just get a receipt)
  2. Head to getunderlined.com and search for “Lifel1k3”. Or better yet, just click HERE.
  3. Enter your details and upload your receipt.
  4. Profit.

 

AUSSIE & NEW ZEALAND GIVEAWAY!

HOW TO ENTER

Take a SELFIE with a copy of LIFEL1K3 and SHARE IT using #LIFEL1K3comp for your chance to win tickets for you and a friend to go to any concert of your choice!

 Entry is open to Australian and New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply. Ends 09/05/2018.

https://a.pgtb.me/mlvSGS

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

5/14/2018- Mary Had a Little Book Blog– Review

5/15/2018- Fiction Fare– Review

5/16/2018- Birdie Bookworm– Review

5/17/2018- Novel Heartbeat– Review

5/18/2018- Bookish In Bed– Review

Week Two:

5/21/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

5/22/2018- Confessions of a YA Reader– Review

5/23/2018- Emily Reads Everything– Review

5/24/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

5/25/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

5/28/2018- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

5/29/2018- Diary of an Avid Reader– Review

5/30/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

5/31/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

6/1/2018- Nerdophiles– Review

 

Week Four:

6/4/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

6/5/2018- Novel Novice– Review

6/6/2018- The Book Nut– Review

6/7/2018- Book Briefs– Review

6/8/2018- A Gingerly Review– Review

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

His LOTUS WAR trilogy was critically acclaimed in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards and won the 2014 Aurealis Award. Jay’s new series, the SciFi thriller THE ILLUMINAE FILES, was co-authored with Amie Kaufman. Book 1, ILLUMINAE, became a New York Times and international bestseller, was named among the Kirkus, Amazon and YALSA Best Books of 2015, became a finalist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and won the 2016 Aurealis Award and an ABIA Book of the Year award. ILLUMINAE is currently slated to be published in thirty five countries, and film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment.

Jay’s new fantasy series, THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, commenced in 2016. The novel was an international bestseller, won the Aurealis award and earned Kristoff his second Gemmell nomination. Part 2, GODSGRAVE, was published in 2017, and won the series its second Aurealis award. A new YA series, LIFEL1K3 has also been acquired by Knopf/Random House Kids, and commences publication in early 2018. A new series with Amie Kaufman, THE ANDROMEDA CYCLE, begins in 2019 with Knopf/Random House Kids. Jay is as surprised about all this as you are. He is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 12,000 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell. He does not believe in happy endings.

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review:  From Twinkle, With LoveFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 22, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
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:

Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love is a light and romantic YA contemporary that is sure to delight fans of her first book When Dimple Met Rishi.  It follows high school student Twinkle Mehra, who is an inspiring filmmaker but also a bit of a wallflower who is really working on trying to find her voice.  She wants to use her passion for filmmaking to tell stories to the world but feels like she really needs to work on building herself up so that the world will listen to her.  When fellow film buff, cutie Sahil Roy suggests that they work on a film project together for an upcoming school festival, Twinkle jumps at the opportunity. This could be the big break she has been looking for, to finally share her filmmaking vision with more than just her five YouTube subscribers.  If she does this project, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people will finally see her work.  An added bonus for Twinkle is that working with Sahil could get her closer to her longtime crush, Sahil’s twin brother, Neil, who in her mind, she has scripted out a picture perfect future with.

As Twinkle and Sahil get to know each other better, however, Twinkle starts to unexpectedly have feelings for Sahil.  He’s cute, sweet, and everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend…except that Sahil’s not the boy she has been fantasizing about.  He’s not the popular brother who could be the key to Twinkle climbing the social ladder and reinserting herself into former bff Maddie’s new circle of rich friends.  Will Twinkle follow her heart to Sahil or will her desire to be noticed by the popular kids stand in the way of her chance at real love?

Twinkle: I’ll admit that Twinkle was a bit of a mixed bag for me, although I did like her overall.  I loved her intelligence and her passion for filmmaking and that she has all of these stories that she wants to tell.  Where I struggled a little more with Twinkle was when it came to the relationships in her life, whether it’s friendships, love interests, and especially her family.  Twinkle is messy and complicated in these areas, which I liked in the sense that it made her come across as very realistic, but at the same time, it also made her, at times, come across as a bit juvenile.  I lost track of how many times I thought “Girl, you have some serious growing up to do.”  I did feel sympathy for her most of the time, especially when her best friend Maddie basically ditches her for some new rich friends who aren’t even remotely nice to Twinkle.  Watching that relationship fall apart was pretty painful, but even more painful, was watching Twinkle desperately cling to it and obsess over how she was going to get Maddie back.

One of the things I liked the most about Twinkle though was watching her finally find her voice.  She starts off as somewhat meek, thinking things but never saying them. But as she grows into her role as a film director while working with Sahil and her classmates on the film project, she really comes into her own and finds her voice.  This, too, is messy because she goes off the rails a bit before she finds the right balance, but again, that just made it feel all the more realistic.

Sahil:  I think Sahil could give Rishi a serious run for his money in the precious and adorable department.  I’m sure the title character of this book was the one who was supposed to steal my heart but instead, it was Sahil all the way.  Sahil is so kind, patient, and selfless, and he’s also a little reserved and sad at times because he lives in the shadow of his superstar twin brother Neil. And like Twinkle, Sahil has a passion for films.  I thought it was so sweet when he worked up the nerve to ask her to work on a film with him for the school festival, especially after learning that Sahil has had a mad crush on Twinkle since they were both 11 years old.  And my heart just ached for him knowing how he felt about Twinkle, while at the same time, knowing that she’s busy scheming how to get his brother to notice her.  I spent a lot of the novel worrying that Twinkle was going to accidentally squish Sahil’s heart into a million pieces.

Unique Structure:  One of my favorite aspects of From Twinkle, with Love is the way Menon presents most of the story through Twinkle’s journal entries.  I thought it was just brilliant that instead of just randomly writing entries in her journals, she actually addresses them to her favorite female directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ava Duvernay. As someone who has always wanted to keep a journal but consistently failed at it miserably, I couldn’t help but wish I had thought of doing something like this.  And there’s more…While most of the story is presented from Twinkle’s perspective, we do get a little of it from Sahil’s perspective as well in a combination of bro-texts to his two bffs and some not-so-anonymous posts to his blog about his love for “Sparkle.” You know, because no one would EVER figure out that Sparkle is Twinkle, lol.  (Have I mentioned that Sahil is the absolute most precious and adorable part of this entire book?  Because yeah, he totally is!)

Groundlings vs Silk Feathered Hat Wearers:  I think this is going to be one of those things that really annoyed me but won’t bother most people, but the constant use of this comparison throughout the novel really drove me crazy after a while.  At first I thought it was clever when Twinkle started writing about Shakespearean theater and comparing herself to the groundlings (those with little money who would go to see the plays but stood on the ground at the theater because they couldn’t afford to purchase a seat) vs. the Silk Feathered Hat Wearing types who could afford the seats and who pranced around in fancy clothing acting important.  Twinkle’s dream is to use her filmmaking talents to rise up from “Groundling” status so that she is no longer invisible to those of higher social status.  While I didn’t necessarily have an issue with Twinkle’s dream, it drove me batty that literally every time she talked or wrote about the dream, she mentioned the actual terms ‘Groundlings’ and ‘Silk Feathered Hat Wearers.’ It went from feeling clever to feeling repetitive.

Too Many Love Interests:  I actually think the story would have been a stronger read for me with less focus on boys and more focus on filmmaking.  There were just too many potential love interests floating around – Sahil and Twinkle, or is it Neil and Twinkle, or no, wait, is it the anonymous email-writing secret admirer and Twinkle?  For someone like me who isn’t that much of a romance reader, this was just too much for me.

One final area where I struggled a little is that Twinkle seemed very young and immature at times.  She mentions in the first journal entry that she is sixteen but there were times when I thought she came across as much younger than that, more like 14.  Thankfully she did start to show some growth and maturity as I moved through the book, but it threw me a little in the early goings and made it a little harder to connect with Twinkle than I would have hoped.  I think maybe my expectations were just misplaced because Dimple and Rishi seemed so much older and more mature in Menon’s first book.

From Twinkle, with Love explores a lot of themes that readers are sure to find relatable – love, friendship, family, finding one’s voice, and following one’s dreams. While I didn’t find it quite as captivating a story as I did When Dimple Met Rishi, I still thought it was a solidly entertaining read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
Series: Creekwood #2
Published by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 339
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Review:

Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads from the past few years.  Simon and his fabulous group of friends just made me smile the entire time I read that book so when it was announced that Albertalli was doing a follow up book called Leah on the Offbeat about Simon’s best friend, Leah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to read it.  I don’t even know where to start aside from to say that I absolutely adored everything about Leah on the Offbeat, especially the main character herself.  How do I love Leah Burke?  Let me count the ways!  I love her snark, her sarcasm, her badass drummer girl persona, that she’ll let an F bomb drop without batting an eye, and most of all, I love that she is so much more than all of the things I just listed.  She is a teenage ball of angst just like most of the rest of us were when we were in high school.

It was just so wonderful to visit Creekside High again and see Simon and the gang as they are going through their senior year and getting ready for college.  I know it’s been ages since I was a senior but Albertalli so vividly portrayed all of the quintessential senior activities – like senior prom and applying to colleges and stressing while you waited to here if you got into your first choice, and of course constantly thinking about how this is the last time you’re going to hang out with your best friends before everything changes, etc. – that I felt like I was right back in high school myself. Her dialogue is fantastically spot-on, and I especially loved how many Harry Potter references she had sprinkled throughout the book.

Albertalli also does a fantastic job of realistically portraying all of the relationship turmoil that inevitably happens in high school and the impact it can have on even the most solid of friend groups.  I think many people will find Leah’s predicament relatable as she feels stuck in the middle watching couples in her friend group break up and not knowing what to do about it.  The angst that she experiences as she realizes she is attracted to one of them is also very relatable, not to mention the added stress that she is bisexual but has yet to come out to any of her friends, even though at least two of them are openly gay themselves.  Leah’s life is just a big ball of awkwardness beneath that cool drummer girl persona.

One of my favorite qualities about Albertalli’s books is that on the surface, they feel like light, fluffy, feel good stories, but at the same time, they’re also filled with meaningful messages about family, friendships, and love.  This is the third book by Albertalli I’ve read and I look forward to reading many more from her. 4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYI Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
four-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 258
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A powerful story of empathy and friendship from the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of If I Stay.

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

An emotionally cathartic story of losing love, finding love, and discovering the person you are meant to be, I Have Lost My Way is best­selling author Gayle Forman at her finest.

Review:

Set in New York City, Gayle Forman’s I Have Lost My Way is a poignant story that follows three young people – Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel – each of whom has lost their way in life and needs help getting back on track.  Freya is an almost famous singer but has mysteriously and unexpectedly lost her singing voice right in the middle of recording her debut album and doesn’t know what will become of her or her career if it doesn’t come back.  Harun is a gay Muslim who is desperately trying to figure out how to come out to his parents.  He is sure his family will react badly, but he also knows if he doesn’t come out soon, he is in danger of losing James, the love of his life.  Nathaniel is a young man who has come to New York with nothing but a backpack.  All we know when we meet him is that he seems confused and disoriented upon his arrival to the city, keeps calling a phone number and listening to a message from his father, and that he also appears to be starving.  Nathaniel definitely appears to be lost, both physically and in other ways, but it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story just how lost he really is.  An accident of fate brings these three lost souls together and as they slowly bond with one another, they realize that perhaps helping each other is a way for them to find themselves again.

I Have Lost My Way is a relatively short book but it packs a huge emotional punch, particularly if, like me, you’re a fan of character-driven stories.  Forman presents her story from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel so that we are able to dive deep into their minds and see firsthand just how lost and alone all three of them are feeling.  I also loved the way the book was structured in the sense that even though the story itself only spans the course of a single day, through the use of flashbacks throughout the novel, Forman is able to really flesh out each of these characters and give Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel each a rich history as we explore their complicated relationships with various family members and other loved ones and how exactly they found themselves in the emotional states that they’re in when we meet them.  Those flashbacks allowed me to quickly become very invested in the well beings of all three characters even though I only really met them for one day.

I Have Lost My Way was also a captivating read for me because it explored so many themes that we can all relate to.  It touches on love, loss, family, loneliness, the healing power of friendship, and acceptance.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written and moving read, I would highly recommend this book.  The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me is that there is a romance involved between two of these characters and I think the story would have been even more powerful without that as it was a little distracting.  Still an incredible read though.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

About Gayle Forman

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was Here, Where She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults in 2016 and her latest novel, I Have Lost My Way, came out in March of 2018.

Gayle lives with her husband and daughters in Brooklyn.

Review: BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)

Review:  BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
three-half-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 1, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 391
Source: Netgalley
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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:

When I was in high school, I fell in love with Jane Eyre when I read it.  I just couldn’t resist the tale of a plain young woman from a humble background who falls in love with the wealthy but dark and brooding Mr. Rochester.  The Gothic setting, the secrets and the lies, but underneath it all, an attraction that they just can’t fight – all of it was just so perfect.

Needless to say, when I heard a retelling of Jane Eyre was coming out and that it was set in space (!), I rushed over to Netgalley to request it and was so ecstatic when I was approved.

I dove in and was immediately impressed by what a unique storyline author Alexa Donne had crafted, while at the same time, retaining so many elements from the classic novel.  Donne’s story is actually set in the future where a second Ice Age has made the Earth uninhabitable forcing those from Earth to live aboard a fleet of spaceships.  When the story opens, they have been living aboard these ships for a couple hundred years and some of the aging ships are starting to show signs that they cannot remain in space for much longer.  Resources are becoming scarce, especially aboard the poorer ships and residents know there will come a time when they are forced to return to Earth.  All they can do is hope that the Earth has thawed enough so that they have a chance to survive.

Our Jane Eyre character, seventeen year old Stella Ainsley, is aboard such an aging ship.  Stella works as both a teacher and a part-time engineer on the ship so she knows firsthand how poor their prospects are for remaining in space much longer.  She also knows that her only chance of not being sent to Earth is to secure employment on another ship but jobs are as scarce as resources are so her options are few and far between.  That is, until a privately owned ship called The Rochester, offers her employment as a governess.  Ecstatic at her good luck, Stella accepts the job immediately and leaves for The Rochester.

Stella gets a lot more than she bargained for, however, once she is aboard The Rochester, including handsome 19-year old Hugo Fairfax, who unexpectedly is the Captain of the ship and now Stella’s boss, as Stella will be teaching his younger sister, Jessa..  Although Hugo has a reputation for being moody and a drunk, Stella finds him to be charming and kind, at least around her.  She finds herself immediately attracted to him but becomes weary when she realizes that he is keeping secrets from her.  She has heard rumors that The Rochester is haunted and when strange things start happening aboard the ship, Stella becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. What Stella doesn’t bargain on, however, is that trying to find the answer to one mystery leads her down an even more dangerous path, one that she may not be able to escape from…

Stella.  I really liked Stella right away.  Just like the original Jane Eyre character, Stella is smart, plain, and very outspoken.  She’s also an orphan who happens to be great with kids.  One of my favorite qualities about her is that while she remains respectful at all times, she doesn’t just stand there and let people insult her because they think they’re better than she is.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a sucker for a scrappy underdog and Stella fits the bill. When Stella goes head-to-head with a wealthy young woman named Bianca who perceives Stella as a threat for Hugo’s affections and goes out of her way to belittle Stella in front of Hugo, I was cheering Stella on every step of the way. Aside from her outspokenness, I also admired Stella’s sense of self-sacrifice.  She has a very strong moral compass and will sacrifice herself at any moment to save the lives of others.  It was an impressive quality to see in someone so young.

Hugo.  My love for Hugo stems from my love for complicated characters and they don’t get much more complicated than Hugo Fairfax.  One moment he’s fun, flirty, and charming, and being the best big brother Jessa could ever wish for, but then the next moment, he’s broody, secretive, and constantly drinking.  It’s clear that he’s hiding something.  It’s just not clear what that something is, or whether anyone else on his crew knows what it is either.  I loved that his character had all of these layers, and like Stella, I wanted to get through all of them and figure out who the real Hugo is.

Romance.  I really liked that Donne crafted a romance between Stella and Hugo that was very reminiscent of what we got with Jane and Mr. Rochester in the original tale.  The chemistry between Stella and Hugo is believable and I liked that even though the attraction was almost immediate, the relationship itself still takes time to develop and is fraught with obstacles, including not only Bianca but also whatever Hugo is hiding from Stella regarding the happenings aboard The Rochester.

Secrets, Mysteries, and Danger.  Even though the setting is in space, the story still has a Gothic feel to it because of all of the secrets that seem to be lurking in the shadows aboard The Rochester.  As Stella begins to investigate, the suspense and tension really starts to ratchet up and I found myself getting more and more into the story because I wanted to know what was really going on aboard the ship once it became clear it was not just Stella’s imagination getting the better of her.

Made Up Words.  This will probably be one of those things that bothers me but no one else, but it was driving me crazy that the characters in Brightly Burning kept using the word FREX as a curse.   I mean, seriously – Set in the future or not, most of the characters we encounter on the ships are descended from Americans and even if they aren’t, the ‘F’ word they are clearly trying to use is universal enough that it made no sense to me how they got from the familiar ‘F’ word to frex.  Frex this, frex that, frexxing etc.  Like I said, it’s probably just me but I just cringed every time the word came up.

Rushed Ending.  I don’t want to say that the pacing was slow throughout the rest of the novel because it wasn’t, but it felt like we really kicked it into high gear as the end drew near.  I’m being vague here because I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that it felt like a few important details were just glossed over in favor of wrapping things up quickly.  For that reason, while I did love the ending overall, I just would have liked a little more from it.

Brightly Burning is a fun and unique retelling of the classic novel, Jane Eyre.  The author does a remarkable job of updating the story to a believable and entertaining science fiction tale set in space, while retaining all of the memorable details from the original novel.  I think Brightly Burning would appeal to readers, even if they’ve never read Jane Eyre, as long as they enjoy science fiction with a side of swoony romance, dark secrets, and even a conspiracy or two.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

three-half-stars

About Alexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including fan convention organizing, teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Brightly Burning is her debut novel.

Alexa is represented by Elana Roth-Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAI Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter
five-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 27, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn't need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.

But when the unthinkable happens, Ellie finds herself trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn't the first victim, and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.

The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

Review:

T.E. Carter’s I Stop Somewhere is a stark, raw, and heart wrenching story about a teenager named Ellie Frias, who finds herself trapped after a brutal assault.  Not only is Ellie unable to escape, she is forced to watch many other girls be victimized as she was because her attackers are serial rapists.  As she waits for someone to find her, Ellie resorts to using her memories as a way to cope with not only what she has gone through, but what she is forced to witness each time her attackers find a new victim.

What I found so interesting about this book is that even though there’s clearly a crime, there’s no mystery here to solve.  Because we’re seeing everything unfold through the eyes of the victim, we know exactly who the perpetrators are.  The only questions here are will they be punished for their crimes and will the victims get justice, which is where the crux of Carter’s narrative lies.  I Stop Somewhere points out some ugly truths about rape culture and misogyny, victim blaming in particular, and it also exposes how wealth and privilege mean more to some than making sure justice is served.

The most powerful aspect of I Stop Somewhere, however, is actually not its exploration of these dark themes.  Instead, it’s the look inside of Ellie’s mind that we are given.  As we watch the events of the present unfold through Ellie’s eyes, we also take an intimate look at her life as she reflects on all of her hopes and dreams, regrets, as well as any and all choices that she has made throughout her life that have led to her current situation.  I found myself in tears a few times while reading Ellie’s thoughts because all she wanted was to be loved. It’s a heartbreaking look at just how fragile and vulnerable a teenage girl’s esteem can be and how there are monsters out there who prey on that vulnerability.

I Stop Somewhere is, by no means, an easy book to read. There were times when I had to set it aside because it just had me too upset to continue. I went back and forth between being heartbroken about everything that happened to Ellie and being absolutely furious about how law enforcement and the justice system were treating the victims.  It’s an emotional draining read at times, but one that I would highly recommend.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for I STOP SOMEWHERE and GEEKERELLAGeekerella by Ashley Poston
four-stars
Series: Starfield #1
Published by Quirk Books on April 4, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad's old costume, Elle's determined to win - unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons - before he was famous. Now they're nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake - until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Review:

As you can probably surmise from the title, Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairytale.  What I loved most about this story is that although it clearly retained lots of awesome shout-outs to the original tale –  the evil stepmother and stepsisters, the pumpkin coach, the dance, the slipper, and so much more – it was still a completely unique, fun, and quirky contemporary tale in its own right.

I liked the spin the author put on the Cinderella tale here because not only do we get Cinderella’s side of the story, as we would expect, but Poston also delivers Prince Charming’s side of the story as well.  Our Cinderella in this story is a teenager named Elle.  Her parents are dead so she is living with her stepmother and stepsisters.  Elle is a geek at heart and a diehard fan of the cult classic sci-fi show Starfield.  When she learns there is going to be a cosplay contest as part of a promotion for a new Starfield movie, Elle can’t resist entering, especially since the prize is a trip to the fan convention, ExcelsiCon (that her father founded).  Our Prince Charming in Geekerella is Darien, a popular actor who has been cast to play the lead in the new Starfield movie.  We learn that even though he’s a teen heartthrob and has fangirls practically throwing themselves at his feet, he’s also a super geek and diehard Starfield fan as well.  Playing the lead in this film is a dream come true for him.

Even though I’m not a big romance reader, I thought the budding romance in Geekerella was super cute. I thought it was hilarious that Elle absolutely hated Darien’s guts in the beginning and thought he was the worst possible choice to play the lead in the movie.  Darien kind of brings this on himself because he has kept his fanboy life a secret, but it’s great fun watching their relationship unfold and develop from that initial misunderstanding.

My absolute favorite part of the book though was the way the author writes about the Starfield fandom.  She does such an amazing job that I was practically convinced that there really was such a fandom.  And I wanted there to be such a fandom – I wanted to watch the TV show, get dressed up and go to the ExcelsiCon.  I thought she just did such a brilliant job capturing the excitement of being a part of a fandom, particularly her descriptions of the cosplaying and going to cons.  If you’re looking for a book that will bring out your own inner geek, definitely consider reading Geekerella.  It’s one of the cutest and quirkiest retellings I’ve read in a long time.  4 STARS

five-stars

About Ashley Poston

ASHLEY POSTON loves dread pirates, moving castles, and starry night skies. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in How to Kick Butt Without Even Trying (aka English), and solidified her love for storytelling. When not proclaiming her undying love for movie star studs and emotionally compromised robots, she’s in search for her next great adventure. She lives in South Carolina with her bossy cat, and they are firm believers that we’re all a bunch of weirdos looking at other weirdos, asking for their usernames.

Sometimes, you can catch her lurking around in coffee shops where she reads copious amounts of fanfic, watches way too much anime, and plays a lot of video games. Oh, and she writes books, too. Sometimes. When the stars are in position.

For rights inquiries, please contact Holly Root of Root Literary.

About T.E. Carter

TE Carter was born in New England and has lived in New England for pretty much her entire life. Throughout her career, she’s done a lot of things, although her passion has always been writing. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found reading classic literature, playing Xbox, organizing her comic collection, or binge watching baking competitions. She continues to live in New England with her husband and their two cats.