MIni Reviews: SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THAT

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATSea Witch by Sarah Henning
three-half-stars
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on July 31, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 368
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.

Review:

What always impresses me about fairytale retellings is how authors are able to take a beloved story that we all know so well and somehow manage to put their own completely unique spin on it to turn it into something fresh and new.  Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch is the third Little Mermaid retelling I’ve read recently and I found myself wondering if Henning could really bring anything to the table that I hadn’t already read.  Well, spoiler alert, she can and does!  With Sea Witch, Henning offers up a compelling origin story for resident villain, Ursula the Sea Witch.  It’s filled with memorable characters, a vivid and atmosphere setting, and a storyline peppered with mystery, secrets, and lies.

I was sympathetic to Evie, the main character, because of a tragedy that takes the life of her best friend, Anna.  Evie and Anna were out swimming and while they were racing each other, Anna drowns.  Evie survives but is shunned as an outcast by everyone in the small fishing town she lives in.  They see her as a witch or curse.  The exception to that is Prince Nik, who although he is royalty, has never cared what anyone thinks of him or Evie.  She is one of his best friends and like a sister to him.  Nik is a fantastic character for a lot of reasons.  He’s handsome and kind, hilarious and somewhat of a dork at times, and really just downright loveable.  Honestly, he was my favorite character.

I was also drawn in by both the worldbuilding and the storyline itself, which is a fairytale wrapped in a mystery.  The story is set in Havnestad, a small fishing town, and the author paints such a vivid picture that I could practically hear the waves crashing and the wind whipping through the ships’ sails, and taste and smell the salt in the air.  I also liked that the story had a dark, almost moody feel to it at times. It was so atmospheric that it was very easy to slip into the mystery and follow it until it leads to the “birth” of the Sea Witch.

Sea Witch is pretty well-paced overall, although I’ll admit it did lag a little for me during a festival early on in the story.  However, once the mysterious Annemette, who bears an almost eerie resemblance to the drowned Anna, appears on the scene and unloads her secrets on Evie, the mystery intensifies and the pace quickens.  The mystery of who Annemette really is, why she has come to Havnestad, and what she wants from Evie kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Even with my slight issue with the pacing and my liking a secondary character a little more than the main character, I still quite enjoyed Sea Witch and think fans of The Little Mermaid will love it.  3.5 STARS

 

MIni Reviews:  SEA WITCH & GOOD LUCK WITH THATGood Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Library
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Emerson, Georgia, and Marley have been best friends ever since they met at a weight-loss camp as teens. When Emerson tragically passes away, she leaves one final wish for her best friends: to conquer the fears they still carry as adults.

For each of them, that means something different. For Marley, it's coming to terms with the survivor's guilt she's carried around since her twin sister's death, which has left her blind to the real chance for romance in her life. For Georgia, it's about learning to stop trying to live up to her mother's and brother's ridiculous standards, and learning to accept the love her ex-husband has tried to give her.

But as Marley and Georgia grow stronger, the real meaning of Emerson's dying wish becomes truly clear: more than anything, she wanted her friends to love themselves.

Review:

Wow, talk about a book that packs an emotional punch!  Good Luck with That was my first time reading anything by Kristan Higgins and I was not at all prepared for how hard hitting this story was going to be.  This is a story that tackles a tough but all too relevant issue for many of us – that of body image and how so many people have a tendency to define their sense of self-worth based on how they look and, especially in this story, how much they weigh.

The story follows three friends, Emerson, Georgia, and Marley, who have been friends since they were teens and met at a weight loss camp.  When Emerson tragically passes away, her dying wish is for her two best friends to complete the tasks on a list they made as teenagers, a list of things they would do when they finally became skinny.  While some of the items on the list now seem silly to Georgia and Marley, they make it their mission to fulfill Emerson’s last wish.  This becomes an emotional and sometimes painful journey for both women as they not only strive to face their lifelong fears and complete the tasks on this list but are also forced to reflect on choices that they’ve made throughout their lives.  Their perspectives are rounded out as we are also given Emerson’s thoughts as her life and health become increasingly fragile, as seen through the pages of the journal she kept.  It was hard to read at times but I thought Higgins did an incredible job of making it all sound so real and so honest.

While Good Luck with That can be an emotionally draining read at times, ultimately I think it just has such an important message and it’s one that I hope will stick with me long after having finished this book. Emerson wants Georgia and Marley to come away from that list knowing that life is too short and it’s so important to just love yourself as you are.  You can’t sit around and not live your life to the fullest just because you aren’t whatever your eyes or society’s eyes thinks is the ideal body shape and size.

This may not be a read for everyone as it does deal with such a tough topic, but I think Higgins handles it with great sensitivity and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is in search of a powerful read about body image and self-worth.  4 STARS.

three-half-stars

About Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her books have been honored with dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books and Romantic Times. She is a two-time winner of the RITA award from Romance Writers of America and a five-time nominee for the Kirkus Prize for best work of fiction. She is happily married to a heroic firefighter and the mother of two fine children.

About Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning is a recovering journalist who has worked for the Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. While in South Florida, Sarah lived and worked through five hurricanes, which gave her an extreme respect for the ocean. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, which, despite being extremely far from the beach, happens to be pretty cool.

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
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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
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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.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
four-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #1
Published by BERKLEY on May 30, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 324
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

Review:

I’m not normally the biggest fan of romance novels, but I have to admit that Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient won me over almost immediately, mainly because of the fabulous protagonist, Stella Lane. Stella is smart and successful, an actual math whiz who drives a Tesla.  She has pretty much every aspect of her life firmly under control except, as her mother repeatedly reminds her, her love life.  Stella is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of difficulties interacting with others, especially when things start to get intimate.  Faced with the constant pressure from her mother to meet someone, settle down and start a family, Stella decides that she needs to problem-solve her relationship awkwardness.  She decides that most of her issues will resolve themselves if she can get better at sexual intercourse, so she takes matters into her own hands and hires a professional to teach her all about sex.

This is where Michael enters the picture. Charming, adorable, sexy Michael.  Michael works during the week as a tailor, but on Friday nights, he works as a professional escort.  He does so because his family needs the extra cash to help pay for his mother’s cancer treatments.  When Stella approaches Michael with an offer he can’t refuse, he agrees to take her on as a client.  Michael turns out to be the perfect choice for Stella.  Even though he has no idea that she has autism, he is still completely patient with her and really allows her to dictate the pace of their learning sessions.  I found myself immediately rooting for them to become more than just teacher and student.

The story is sexy, cute, and just all around sweet, which made for a fun read, but what I actually liked most about it was the way autism was represented.  The Kiss Quotient is an #ownvoices story and Hoang really does a brilliant job of getting inside the head of someone who has autism so that you can see the world from their perspective.  I have a niece and a nephew who are both on the spectrum so I just really appreciated this insight.  If you’re looking for a fun read with a refreshing protagonist and an endearing potential suitor, look no further than The Kiss Quotient.  The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because for me, the sex scenes were a little too graphic and too frequent.  They definitely fit in with the storyline so no criticism in that sense; they just weren’t my thing.  Still an utterly delightful read though. 4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYSold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
three-half-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on August 28, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
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:

From New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes another unforgettable novel inspired by a stunning piece of history.

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs, and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.

For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family’s dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. But when it leads to his big break, the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

At the paper, Lillian Palmer is haunted by her role in all that happened. She is far too familiar with the heartbreak of children deemed unwanted. As the bonds of motherhood are tested, she and Ellis must decide how much they are willing to risk to mend a fractured family.

Inspired by an actual newspaper photograph that stunned the nation, Sold on a Monday is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and the unexpected paths that bring us home.

Review:

Set during the Great Depression, Kristina McMorris’ thought-provoking novel Sold on a Monday follows rookie journalist Ellis Reed, who is trying to figure out how to make his mark in the cutthroat newspaper business.  When he comes across two children playing in their yard next to a sign that reads “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE,” he can’t resist taking their picture.  He really has no intention of ever publishing the photo – it just really struck a nerve with him that times were bad enough that parents would even consider parting with their own children.

Lillian Palmer, a secretary who has ambitions to be more than a secretary, however, happens across Ellis’s photograph and takes it to their editor, who offers Ellis the chance to write a feature for the paper.  Ellis reluctantly agrees, his ambition and his desire to finally make his father proud of him outweighing his not wanting to exploit the struggling family.  The original photo is accidentally destroyed, however, so Ellis has to go back and take another.  When he arrives, however, the neighbors tell him the family has moved out.  The “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE” sign is still there though so he pays the neighbor’s children to take a staged photo to replace the original.  The chain reaction of events that the publication of the staged photo sets into motion is something that Ellis could never have predicted, as a family is torn apart.  Wracked by guilt once they realize what has happened, both Ellis and Lillian are determined to do whatever it takes to right the wrongs they’ve caused and reunite a family that never should have been separated.

Sold on a Monday is a powerful and provocative read that really gave me a lot of food for thought. It is a journey of self-discovery for both Ellis and Lillian and McMorris take us inside the minds of each of them as they re-evaluate choices they have made and rethink what is most important in their lives, on both a personal and professional level.  McMorris doesn’t stop there though.  She also shines a light on the frustrating societal expectations for women during this time by having Lillian working as a secretary although she aspires to be a reporter like the famous Nellie Bly.  Lillian not only has to hide the fact that she is unmarried with a young child in order to secure a job in the first place, but then she also has to contend with her boss ignoring any and all ideas that she pitches to him. Unfortunately Sold on a Monday did suffer from some pacing issues, especially during the first half which I found to be somewhat slow, but I would still highly recommend the read to fans of historical fiction and especially anyone who has any interest in what things were like for families during the Great Depression.  3.5 STARS

 

four-stars

About Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

About Kristina McMorris

KRISTINA MCMORRIS is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her novels have garnered more than two dozen literary awards and nominations, including the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA® Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her works of fiction have been published by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Kensington Books. Her forthcoming novel, Sold on a Monday (Sourcebooks Landmark, 8-28-18), follows her widely praised The Edge of Lost, The Pieces We Keep, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and Letters from Home. Additionally, her novellas are featured in the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Prior to her writing career, Kristina hosted weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORSave the Date by Morgan Matson
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 5, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 417
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review:

Prior to reading Save the Date, I had never read a novel from Morgan Matson before.  I had always heard great things about her books though so when I was recently looking for a fun summer read and saw this book’s hilarious cover, I knew this was the book I had been looking for.  Everything about that cover just screams fun!  And let me tell you, this book seriously delivered too.  I devoured it in just over a day and was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Save the Date follows the Grant family and is set over the course of the three days leading up to daughter Linnie’s wedding.  And wow, what a three days it is!  Seriously, everything that can possibly go wrong with the wedding preparations goes wrong and then some.  The wedding hijinks had me literally laughing out loud and oh so grateful that my own wedding went so much more smoothly than poor Linnie’s.  In addition to the wedding chaos and its ensuing hilarity, however, Save the Date has a heartwarming focus on family that I adored even more than the humor.  The Grant family is what I would call perfectly imperfect and Matson does a beautiful job making each family member so loveable, flaws and all.  I was able to relate to each of them easily, especially Charlie, the youngest Grant.  It is from Charlie’s perspective that we watch the story unfold and it’s such an interesting perspective because she has always seen her family as picture perfect and practically worshipped the ground they all walked on.  Now that she’s older and watching her family reunite for Linnie’s wedding, she has to come to the somewhat painful realization that no one is perfect, not even the family that she idolizes.  It really makes her rethink her own identity and choices in life, and I loved that the novel had that coming of age theme included to really add some depth to the overall narrative.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read that will make you laugh out loud but also shed a tear or two at a flawed but loving family coming together as a team when it counts, I’d highly recommend Morgan Matson’s Save the Date.  As I said, this is my first Morgan Matson read, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last!  4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SAVE THE DATE & NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FORNot the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
three-half-stars
Published by Feiwel & Friends on June 19, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish.

Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review:

I’m a complete sucker for books that center around female friendships, so as soon as I heard that Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For features Lulu Saad and her best girl friends, I knew I had to read it.  While I did love getting to know Lulu and her friends and watching them go through their ups and downs, I have to say that overall, this was just a good read for me, not a great one.

I thought the author did a brilliant job of accurately portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to friendship dynamics.  I also liked that even though these girls clearly loved each other and would have each other’s backs no matter what, it’s definitely not all sunshine and roses for them.  Some of their fights really took me back to my own high school days and made me think back to my core group of friends back then and all of the ups and downs that we managed to make it through.  Safi perfectly captures all of those messy high school relationships that we’ve all experienced and it made the book so relatable (almost too relatable at times, lol).

Along similar lines, I was also a huge fan of the portrayal of Lulu’s family, both immediate and extended.  Lulu’s family on her father’s side is Muslim and I loved seeing that side of the family interact, both with each other and with Lulu’s mother, who is not Muslim.  The awkwardness is palpable as Lulu is caught in between and then gets herself into hot water when she disrespects one of her relatives.  I have a thing for messy family dynamics so Lulu’s family was a highlight for me.

So, what didn’t I like?  There were a few times in this book where it just felt like I was following Lulu around waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen.  Thankfully, exciting things eventually did start to happen, but for a few chapters there, my attention was starting to wander.  I was also a little disappointed because I found what I think was supposed to be a huge plot twist regarding Emma way too predictable.  I still loved the plot twist and her friends’ reactions to it; I just wish I hadn’t guessed it so early on.  All of that said, however, I still think this is a wonderful read, especially if you’re into realistic and sometimes messy portrayals of families and female friendships.  3.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Aminah Mae Safi

Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and the Fast and Furious franchise. She’s the winner of the We Need Diverse Books short story contest. Originally raised in Texas, she now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner, a cat bent on world domination, and another cat who’s just here for the snacks. NOT THE GIRLS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR is her first novel.

About Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson was born in New York City and grew up there and in Greenwich, Connecticut. She attended Occidental College as a theater major, but halfway through, switched her focus to writing and never looked back. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School, and then a second MFA in Screenwriting from USC.

She is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, all published by Simon & Schuster.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her rescue terrier, Murphy, in a house with blue floors that’s overflowing with books.

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
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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
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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.

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
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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
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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.

Review: THE BELLES

Review:  THE BELLESThe Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
four-stars
Series: The Belles #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 6, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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MY REVIEW:

Dhonielle Clayton’s gorgeous novel The Belles immersed me in one of the most unique fantasy worlds I’ve encountered in a long time.  I was captivated from the novel’s early pages as we are introduced to the legend of a curse that hangs over the heads of the people of Orleans.  The land of Orleans itself is exquisite, but its residents live under a terrible curse that causes them all to be born gray with red eyes.  Because of their cursed appearance, they think of themselves as anything but beautiful and, in fact, become downright obsessed with doing whatever they can to improve their appearance.

The curse is where the Belles come into play.  The Belles control beauty and have the ability, through magical gifts called arcana, to transform the gray-skinned, red-eyed citizens of Orleans into the most beautiful people in the world.  They can change skin tones, hair color and texture, eye color, and can even use their magic to sculpt bodies as though they were plastic surgeons.  Beauty is therefore a big deal in Orleans and the Belles are cherished by the citizens because of what they can do for them.  Whatever look they wish to have, the Belles can make it happen for them.  Well, for those who can afford it anyway.  Beauty is quite literally a big business in Orleans and appointments with the Belles do not come cheap.

This life of making others beautiful is all the Belles know. It’s what they were born to do and as we see with Camellia, the main character, and her Belle sisters, initially they’re happy to do it because they think they’re doing a public service…until they realize all that it entails. Once selected to work either at the royal palace or at one of the selective teahouses and effectively removed from the public’s eye, all of that cherished behavior goes away and the Belles are treated little better than prisoners or slaves. They work long hard hours, until they’re practically collapsing from exhaustion and overuse of their powers, and those in charge don’t care as long as the money keeps rolling in and the customers keep lining up.

Camellia is especially disappointed because she expects to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become ‘The Favorite’ and work in the royal palace, but once she finally gets there, she realizes that being ‘The Favorite’ isn’t nearly as wonderful as she thought it would be.  In fact, it’s downright awful as she encounters nothing but deceit, dark secrets, betrayals, and just so much ugliness in general. She finds herself at the mercy of Sophia, a particularly sadistic princess who constantly commands Camellia to use her arcana for revenge, to make people she doesn’t like ugly.  Camellia is horrified by just how cruel and twisted Sophia is and becomes even more horrified when she realizes Sophia is in line to become Queen unless her ailing older sister can be cured of the mystery illness that has left her in a coma for years.   The Queen, who is also ailing but is desperate to keep Sophia off the throne, begs Camellia for her help.

Even though it’s never been done before, can Camellia somehow use her arcana to heal the eldest royal daughter?  The future of Orleans rests on her shoulders and Camellia must decide if she’s willing to take a risk that could cost her her own life…

Camellia.  I found Camellia to be a compelling main character. She’s not perfect by any means, as we witness early in the book when she throws a near tantrum over the choosing of ‘The Favorite’, but she shows tremendous growth and compassion throughout the book, especially when she realizes the truth about The Belles and how they are treated, as well as once she sees firsthand just how sadistic and cruel Princess Sophia can be to those around her.  I immediately began cheering Camellia on and hoping she would find a way to rebel against the evil Sophia.

Speaking of Sophia, if you’re into characters you love to hate, Sophia is definitely your girl.  There is truly nothing redeeming about her personality that I could find.  I cringed every time I turned the page and her name was there because I just knew she was there to inflict her cruelty on yet another innocent person who had done nothing to her.  She may be exquisitely beautiful on the outside, thanks to the work of the Belles, but she is rotten to the core ugly on the inside.

The Worldbuilding and Magic System. I found everything about this world to be utterly captivating.  Orleans itself is opulent and beautiful, and I loved the author’s attention to detail as she described it.  Even more fascinating though was the actual legend that the book opens with, which explains how the curse came to be and how the Belles were then created to offset the curse.  It was all just so inventive and the magical system of arcana and how they could be used to create beauty was mesmerizing.  The author’s attention to detail as she described the process was truly exquisite and just so easy to visualize.

Beauty as a Veneer.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into The Belles, but it really struck me how much ugliness the author exposes in this beauty-obsessed world.  It was a much darker read than I was expecting and I appreciated the added depth as Clayton rips that surface layer of beauty off and exposes what lies beneath, and in the case of the palace and the teahouses, it’s lies, betrayals, greed, unspeakable cruelty, and so much more.

The only real issue I had with The Belles had to do with pacing.  Once I saw a few demonstrations of what the Belles could do with their arcana to transform and sculpt peoples’ bodies, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what their powers entailed.  Unfortunately though, the book doesn’t stop at just one or two beauty transformations. I understood that Camellia’s position required her to have regularly scheduled appointments throughout the day to make people beautiful, and even though I initially loved reading about how the process worked, there were just so many detailed, step-by-step accounts of these appointments that I started to get a little bored and skimmed through them to get to the more exciting parts.

The obsession with beauty brings out a lot of ugliness in people and The Belles powerfully explores and exposes this ugliness.  The first book ends with a pretty big cliffhanger so I look forward to reading the second book in the series to see how that turns out.  Is rebellion on the horizon for Camellia and the Belles?

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

four-stars

About Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs on the Maryland side and spent most of her time under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. A former teacher and middle school librarian, Dhonielle is co-founder of CAKE Literary—a creative development company whipping up decidedly diverse books for a wide array of readers—and COO of the non-profit, We Need Diverse Books. She’s got a serious travel bug and loves spending time outside of the USA, but makes her home in New York City, where she can most likely be found hunting for the best slice of pizza.

Review: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Review:  THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin HannahThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I didn’t think there was any way Kristin Hannah could top The Nightingale, which left me sobbing by the end and is one of my all-time favorite reads, but if she didn’t top it, she came awfully darn close with her latest novel.  The Great Alone is an absolutely exquisite piece of writing.  It’s filled with realistically drawn characters, a compelling storyline that will reach out and grab all of your emotions, all in an awe-inspiring landscape.  It can be a harsh and devastating story at times as it explores dark subjects such as domestic violence and the effects of PTSD, but ultimately The Great Alone paints a beautiful portrait of hope and resiliency in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone follows Ernt Allbright, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old daughter Leni as they set out to relocate from Seattle, Washington to a remote part of Alaska.  Ernt was a POW in the Vietnam War who has struggled with day-to-day life ever since he returned home.  His behavior is erratic and volatile at times and he is often plagued by nightmares (flashbacks from his captivity) and bouts of paranoia.  Ernt has also been struggling to find and keep a job so he and his family just keep moving from place to place, hoping their luck will change.  When one of Ernt’s fallen comrades leaves him some property in Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is a sign and convinces his family that a move to Alaska is exactly what they need.  Leni and Cora are hesitant, but what we learn right away is that Cora would follow her husband to the end of the world and back if he asked. It’s just the nature of their relationship.

When they arrive in remote Kaneq, Alaska, the local residents reach out immediately and let them know that no matter how prepared they think they are to survive in Alaska, they’re dead wrong and have a lot of work to do.  Thankfully, the sense of community is so strong that the regulars don’t just dole out the advice and go about their own business.  No, they dole out the advice and then jump in and help make that advice a reality.  They get Ernt and his family about as ready for an Alaska winter as they possibly can and embrace them as new members of their pioneer community.

At first, Ernt thrives in Alaska. There’s so much to do and he loves the idea of living off the land.  But then as winter approaches and he is faced with 18 hours of darkness a day, he starts to struggle again, this time turning to violence and alcohol.  As much danger as they face outside, with the threat of the frigid temperatures and deadly wild animals, Cora and Leni soon realize that they’re in danger inside their home as well.  It becomes more and more clear that they can’t rely on Ernt to help them survive in Alaska and that this “fresh start” could end up costing them their lives.

 

This is one of those books where I could go on and on about everything I loved, but I’m just going to stick with a few highlights so that I don’t write a novel about the novel. I hope it’s not too spoilery but maybe turn back now and just know I LOVED this book if you haven’t read it yet.

Sense of Community.  I was just so touched by the way the community of Kaneq makes it their mission to make sure everyone who comes to their remote area has the tools they need to survive.  The community is filled with strong, independent, resilient people and they treat each other like family, sharing their resources and looking out for one another.  And in many cases, it’s the women of the community who are the most formidable.   Large Marge, in particular, as her name suggests, is a force to be reckoned with and one of my favorite characters in the book.  She is strong, fiercely independent, will put someone in their place in a minute if they deserve it, and she’s also hilarious.  She might just be a secondary character, but take it from me, she is fabulous!

Mother-Daughter Bond.  I thought the relationship between Cora and Leni was just beautifully written.  They share such a deep bond, first from having lived together by themselves for so long while Ernt was a POW, but then they were basically on their own once Ernt succumbed to his dark nature in Alaska.  Cora and Leni are so protective of each other – each would sacrifice themselves in order to save the other from Ernt’s violent side.  Cora wants Leni to get away so that she knows Leni is safe, but Leni won’t leave because she knows her mother will never leave her father and therefore Leni feels that she must stay to try to protect her.  In so many ways it had me screaming at the book because I wanted them both to get away before he completely lost control and killed them, but at the same time, that strong mother-daughter bond moved me to tears.

Realistically Drawn, Flawed Characters.  Hannah has such a gift for creating characters that just feel so real.  All of her characters, especially Ernt, Cora, and Leni, are messy and flawed, and even the secondary characters feel three dimensional.  There’s just so much depth to all of their personalities.  I became invested not just in Ernt’s family but in the entire Kaneq community.

The Great Alone.  I want to talk about the atmospheric quality of Hannah’s writing here.  Her descriptions of Alaska are so detailed and vivid that I was left awestruck, not just by the physical beauty of the Alaskan landscape but also by how deadly that beautiful landscape can be.  I felt the bone-chilling cold, the darkness closing in as winter approached, and the lurking bears and wolves that could attack without warning.  I truly felt like I had been transported there and like I was planning my own survival and living the pioneer life.  The Great Alone is, by far, one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve ever experienced.

 

I can’t really say that I had any issues with this book, although the scenes of domestic violence were definitely hard to take, so be forewarned.  The scenes were jarring and horrific and the portrait of a toxic relationship is frighteningly realistic.  It’s a testament to how vivid and powerful Hannah’s writing is, but man, is it disturbing!

 

It’s a brutal read at times, but The Great Alone is still one of the most beautiful books I’ve read so far this year.  It both captivated and horrified me, gutted me yet filled me with hope, and it kept me reading until the wee hours of the night because I just had to know the fate of Ernt and his family.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

Alaska, 1974.  Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.  For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

five-stars

About Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, Winter Garden, Night Road, and Firefly Lane.

Her novel, The Nightingale, has been published in 43 languages and is currently in movie production at TriStar Pictures, which also optioned her novel, The Great Alone. Her novel, Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to direct.

Kristin is a former-lawyer-turned writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Her novel, Firefly Lane, became a runaway bestseller in 2009, a touchstone novel that brought women together, and The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LION

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: Grisha Verse, #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on June 5th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 358
Also in this series: Siege and Storm
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.

Review:

I originally skipped over Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse Trilogy in favor of reading the much-hyped Six of Crows duology, which is set in the same Russian-inspired fantasy world.  I adored the Six of Crows books so much that I just had to go back and read the Grishaverse Trilogy because I loved this world and wasn’t ready to leave it behind.  I’m so glad I did too because Shadow and Bone, the first book in the trilogy, was a truly wonderful read.

I loved the complex cast of characters Bardugo has created.  First, there’s Alina and Mal, orphans who were raised together and who may or may not have romantic feelings for one another.  Having tested negative for Grisha powers when they were children, Alina and Mal are clearly underdogs in the war ravaged nation of Ravka and I became invested in their journey immediately, especially once their journey takes them across the dangerous Shadow Fold.  A life-threatening incident on the fold changes their lives, however, because it reveals that Alina actually does possess dormant Grisha abilities.  Not only are her abilities powerful, but they could actually be the key to setting Ravka free.

I already knew a bit about the Grishaverse from Six of Crows, but I loved seeing the magical system in more detail and the lavish worldbuilding as Alina and Mal are brought to the Little Palace so that Alina can learn to master her powers under the teachings of my absolute favorite character, the Darkling.  As much as I liked Alina and Mal, the Darkling was really the highlight of the first book for me.  I’m a sucker for a complex, morally gray character and that most definitely describes the Darkling.  On the one hand, he’s quite charming, but on the other, he’s manipulative, deceitful, and basically just flat out horrible.  There are moments when he seems to really care about Alina, but most often, he only seems to be concerned with how he can harness her power for his own needs.  Watching the Darkling go head to head with Alina were some of my favorite moments of the novel.

Shadow and Bone was a quick and highly entertaining read for me because once I got started, and especially once I met the Darkling, I was hooked on trying to figure out what he was really up to and how Alina and her powers fit into his plans.  I’m also glad I waited to read this until all three books had been released because a major plot twist at the end of this first book had me reaching straight for the second book.  Love this series!  4.5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SHADOW & BONE and LITTLE & LIONLittle & Lion by Brandy Colbert
four-stars
on August 8th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 327
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

Review:

Little & Lion is one of those books that going into it, you think you’re getting one thing, but what you end up getting is so much more.  Not only did I get the beautiful and moving sibling story that I was hoping for, but I also got a wonderfully diverse story that explored many important and relevant topics, such as sexuality, mental illness, racism, and much more.  In that way, Little & Lion packs a big punch.

I loved how Colbert portrayed the sibling dynamic between Suzette (nicknamed Little by Lionel) and her step brother Lionel (nicknamed Lion by Suzette). They are incredibly close, so close in fact, that Suzette was sent away to boarding school when Lionel was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because her parents knew Suzette would never be able to focus on her school work and her own life because she would be so distraught watching Lionel suffer.  When she comes home for summer break, Suzette can immediately sense a strain in her relationship with Lionel and wonders how he is really doing.  I loved that Suzette was that tuned in to what her brother was going through.  On the flip side of that, I loved that Lionel, even though he is trying to deal with his illness, still tries to do whatever he can to make things as normal as possible between him and Suzette. Little moments like the two of them hanging out in their old treehouse were just so sweet.  They may be step siblings and only related through marriage, but Little and Lion are truly family through and through.

In addition to this wonderful sibling relationship, Little & Lion is also an incredibly diverse book.  Suzette is black, Jewish, and she is also bisexual.  As I’ve already mentioned, Lionel has bipolar disorder.  Suzette’s childhood friend and potential love interest, Emil, is black/Korean and he is also hearing impaired due to Meniere’s Disease, while another potential love interest for Suzette, Rafaela, identifies as pansexual, and Suzette’s best friend is a lesbian.  I was thrilled to see so much diversity, and I especially liked the way Colbert didn’t make it feel like she was just checking off boxes. All of these characters were complex and authentic.  They didn’t feel like stock characters or stereotypes.

My only complaint is that I would have liked a bit more about Lionel.  Since the story is told from Suzette’s perspective, we only see him through her eyes.  As much as I loved the story as it was written, I think it would have been a 5 star read for me if there were chapters from Lionel’s perspective.  Still a beautiful and relevant read though. 4 STARS

four-half-stars

About Brandy Colbert

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of Pointe, Little & Lion, and the forthcoming Finding Yvonne and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Her short fiction and essays have been published in several anthologies for young people. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Review – THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

Review – THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince by Holly Black
five-stars
Series: The Folk of the Air #1
on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I’m always a little hesitant to start reading a book that is surrounded by intense hype.  Am I going to enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to be or am I going to be the one person who feels let down by all of the hype?  Such was my fear going into Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, which is a much-anticipated read for almost every blogger I know.  Thankfully though, my fear was unfounded and I devoured this book in a couple of days.

The Cruel Prince follows Jude, a mortal who is growing up and trying to find her place in the immortal realm of Faerie.  Jude, her twin sister Taryn, and their older sister Vivi are living in Faerie even though they are mortals because their parents were murdered in a fit of rage by Madoc, their mother’s former lover, who also happens to be a General in the High Court of Faerie.  Because he loved their mother, Madoc brings her daughters to live with him and raise as his own.

The novel then fast forwards ten years to a 17-year-old Jude, who along with her twin, is attending classes alongside the fae children of the High Court. Jude wants nothing more than to feel like she belongs in Faerie and especially in the High Court, but it’s difficult for her since she is not immortal and many of the fae do not like mortals.  Jude and her sister are frequently subjected to mockery and bullying by her classmates, who include Prince Cardan of the High Court.  He is particularly ruthless when it comes to Jude.  His mission in life appears to be to make Jude as miserable as possible.  The more Cardan bullies Jude, the more determined Jude becomes to follow her dream, which is to best everyone in a combat tournament and earn a place as a Knight on the King’s Council.

As Jude pursues her dream, she unexpectedly finds herself up to her ears in palace intrigues and deceptions, and she also discovers that she isn’t opposed to spilling blood if the occasion calls for it.  Jude’s original plans ultimately come unraveled, however, as chaos erupts and the Courts of Faerie suddenly find themselves under eminent threat of a civil war.  Desperate to do whatever she can to save her family and her beloved Faerie, Jude makes the choice to risk her life and enter in a dangerous alliance with someone she isn’t sure she can trust.

Will Jude be able to save her family and her home?  Or is she in way over her head?

What I loved most about The Cruel Prince was how complex all of the characters are.  They’re all flawed, some more so than others, and even the most likeable of characters aren’t always likeable.  They all felt very real and it was very easy to become invested in their lives.

Jude, of course, was the most relatable character of the bunch.  As a mortal striving to become a Knight in the King’s Council, she is clearly an underdog so she caught my eye and my sympathy right away.  My sympathy for her only grew as I watched her suffer at the hands of the fae who were so determined to make her life hell.  I also admired her spunk and determination.  The more Prince Cardan tried to humiliate her — and boy, was he relentless! — the more Jude fought back and refused to let him get the best of her. It also made her crave power of her own, which added another layer of depth and a bit of a dark side to her character and made her all the more fascinating to follow. Jude’s need to secure power for herself becomes so great that she allows herself to make a somewhat shady deal with one of Prince Cardan’s older brothers, who is in line to ascend to the throne.  If she does his bidding (in secret of course), he will give her whatever she wants once he is King.  Jude readily agrees, even though it means lying to her family and leading a life of deception.

Speaking of Prince Cardan…this guy was seriously an ass.  He’s drunk most of the time, is completely unfit to ever lead his father’s kingdom, and of course he’s just awful to Jude.  I spent the majority of this first book loathing everything about him, and yet, the farther along I got, the more intrigued I became by him.  I’m not sure what’s there yet, but there certainly appears to be much more to Cardan than originally meets the eye and I want to learn more about him.

Vivi was another character that I found intriguing. Among other things, she has a much more complicated relationship with Madoc than either Jude or Taryn do.  Plus, also unlike Jude and Taryn, Vivi has absolutely no interest in trying to find her place in Faerie.  She refuses to attend classes and looks for every opportunity to slip back over into the mortal realm and go shopping at the mall, hang out with her girlfriend, or whatever else her heart desires.  Pleasing Madoc and trying to be a good ‘daughter’ are at the bottom of Vivi’s priority list.

Aside from how complex and realistic they all felt, I also loved that I never knew which characters, if any, could be trusted since they’re all embroiled in such a high stakes political game.  In that sense, The Cruel Prince actually gave me a major Game of Thrones vibe.

I don’t want to give anything else away, so I’m just going to say in addition to the cast of complex characters that I just couldn’t get enough of, The Cruel Prince is also jammed packed with so many of my favorite things to read about. There’s drama and excitement, deception and betrayals, conspiracies and political intrigue, spies and assassinations (yes, plural!), and even a hint of possible romance.

The pacing is perfect too.  It got off to a slightly slow start when Jude and her sisters first ended up in Faerie and the author was setting the stage for what it was like to live in Faerie as a mortal, but as soon as the stage was set, the story took off and I just couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

I also loved how Black ended the first book. I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger because I was very satisfied with the stopping point, but at the same time, the story is so good that I’m truly bummed to have to wait until January 2019 to continue with the book two.

As I mentioned early, The Cruel Prince started a little slow for me and I was worried that I wasn’t going to like it.  As you can see from my 5 star rating, I was dead wrong about that so if it starts out a little slow for you, give it some time.  By about the 10% mark, you won’t be able to put the book down, I promise!

If you’re looking for a hyped book that actually lives up to the hype, I’d definitely recommend Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince.  I don’t feel like I’ve written the words here to fully do it justice, but it’s truly one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a long time.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

five-stars

About Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.