Review: THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer Armentrout

Review:  THE DARKEST STAR by Jennifer ArmentroutThe Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout
four-stars
Series: Origin #1
Published by Tor Teen on October 30, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 368
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:

With her latest novel The Darkest Star, Jennifer Armentrout pays another visit to the Luxens, the alien beings who are featured in her popular Lux series.  When I first requested The Darkest Star, I actually had no idea that it was a spinoff of an existing series.  I was just looking for a sci-fi read and thought the synopsis for this book sounded cool.  Once I realized it followed another series, I was a little worried that I would be completely lost.  Thankfully, however, Armentrout does a very nice job of providing enough background on the Luxens that I was able to jump right in and follow the story without issue.

When The Darkest Star opens, we learn that the story is set four years after a Luxen invasion has left many dead and many of the Earth’s cities in ruins.  Not all of the Luxen were involved in the invasion, however, so some of them are now living right alongside the humans.  That’s not to say that relations between the humans and Luxens are great though.  While the two groups leave each other alone for the most part, there are definitely some humans who would rather have absolutely nothing to do with the Luxens.  Armentrout creates a palpable tension in the air in most of the scenes featuring humans and Luxens because they ultimately don’t trust each other.

That mistrust is evident as soon as we meet the main character, 17 year old Evie Dasher, who is accompanying her best friend to a club which happens to be a known hangout for Luxens.  Evie goes because she promised her friend, but she is definitely uneasy about it. Evie’s night then takes an unexpected turn when she meets and finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a gorgeous Luxen named Luc.  Something seems familiar about him, but Evie has no idea why since she’s never met him before.  She’s about to get to know him a lot better though…

One of the things I really liked about The Darkest Star is that it really starts off with a bang.  Armentrout hooked me immediately by not only having her main character wander into this Luxen club, but she then adds to the tension and the danger by having law enforcement raid the club, which of course sends everyone in a frenzy trying to get away.

At the same time she’s hooking me with such an exciting opening, Armentrout also introduces me to Evie and Luc, two characters that I immediately liked and wanted to get to know better.  Evie is a great protagonist.  It was easy to feel sympathetic toward her right away because we learn that her father was killed in the invasion and her mother is always working so Evie is on her own more often than not.  I also liked watching her feelings about the Luxens evolve as she gets to know Luc and some of his Luxen friends better.

Speaking of Luc, he’s the one who really steals the show.  Like all Luxens, he’s unnaturally hot.  Luc is also an arrogant smart ass.  He really gets under Evie’s skin from the moment they meet and most of the time she can’t decide if she wants to punch him or kiss him.  He’s endearing in a really obnoxious way.  I often found myself laughing out loud at some of the words that would come out of his mouth.  He’s also immediately super protective of Evie, so that gives him some bonus points to offset the obnoxiousness.

The Luxens are fascinating too.  As I mentioned earlier, they are ridiculously hot.  Unless they are trying to disguise themselves, they always stand out as the hottest, most flawless people in the room.  They also have an interesting array of powers, including being able to open locked doors, melt guns, and read minds, to name a few.  I also found myself sympathetic to the Luxens because of how they are viewed by so many humans. Even though this is science fiction, there are many parallels between how the Luxens are treated and how immigrants are sometimes treated.

Last but not least, I liked that this is one of those books that has a little something for everyone.  It’s a great action-packed sci-fi story, but it’s also got a great mix of romance and family drama.  Throw in a few dead bodies, another species of aliens, a heavy dose of danger, and you’ve got yourself one heck of an entertaining story!

 

The only real issue I had while reading was that I did wish I knew a little more about the Luxens and their powers.  That’s totally on me though for not having read the earlier series first.  Even without that information, I still thought it was a great start to a new series.

Whether you’re already a fan of the Luxens or you’re new to this world, The Darkest Star has a lot to offer.  It has left me not only wanting the next book in this new series, but also eager to backtrack and read the earlier series to fill my need for more information on the Luxens.  If you’re looking for a great sci-fi read, check out The Darkest Star.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When seventeen-year-old Evie Dasher is caught up in a raid at a notorious club known as one of the few places where humans and the surviving Luxen can mingle freely, she meets Luc, an unnaturally beautiful guy she initially assumes is a Luxen…but he is in fact something much more powerful. Her growing attraction for Luc will lead her deeper and deeper into a world she’d only heard about, a world where everything she thought she knew will be turned on its head…

#1 New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout returns to the universe of the Lux in this brand new series, featuring beloved characters both new and old.

four-stars

About Jennifer L. Armentrout

# 1 New York Times and # 1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Charles Town, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki. In early 2015, Jennifer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and death of cells in the retina, eventually resulting in loss of vision, among other complications. Due to this diagnosis, educating people on the varying degrees of blindness has become of passion of hers, right alongside writing, which she plans to do as long as she can.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Tor, HarperCollins Avon and William Morrow, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her Wicked Series has been optioned by PassionFlix. Jennifer has won numerous awards, including the 2013 Reviewers Choice Award for Wait for You, the 2015 Editor’s Pick for Fall With Me, and the 2014/2015 Moerser-Jugendbuch- Jury award for Obsidian. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA. Her adult romantic suspense novel TILL DEATH was a Amazon Editor’s Pick and iBook Book of the Month. Her young adult contemporary THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER is a 2017 RITA Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction. She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

She is the owner of ApollyCon and The Origin Event, the successful annual events that features over hundred bestselling authors in Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult Fiction, panels, parties, and more. She is also the creator and sole financier of the annual Write Your Way To RT Book Convention, a contest that gives aspiring authors a chance to win a fully paid trip to RT Book Reviews.

Jennifer would love to hear from you. If you have questions about any of her books, would like to set up an interview, book signing, etc, please use the email address below. Please check out each book/series individual page for more information about each title and the FAQ section.

For rights information on any of her titles, please contact Kevan Lyon from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. For interviews, please contact Kristin Dwyer at kdwyer@leoprny.com

If you are requesting an ARC please contact the publisher of that book.

To contact Jennifer directly, please email: jenniferlarmentrout@live.com

Review: THE GIRL FROM BERLIN

Review:  THE GIRL FROM BERLINThe Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson
four-stars
Series: Liam Taggart & Catherine Lockhart #5
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 9, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

REVIEW:

 

Ronald H. Balson’s The Girl from Berlin is the fifth installment in his Liam Taggart & Catherine Lockhart series.  I actually didn’t even realize this book was part of a series when I requested it from Netgalley; I just saw that it was a dual timeline WWII historical fiction that focused on the rise of the Nazis and knew that I had to read it.  Thankfully, even without four novels of background on main characters Catherine and Liam, I was still easily able to follow along and enjoy the compelling story of The Girl from Berlin.

Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart are a very likable duo.  Catherine is a very successful attorney in the United States, and her partner Liam, is a private investigator.  I enjoyed the way they worked together, like yin and yang, to get the job done, as well as their easy banter.  It made me want to go back and read the prior four books to watch them work together more.

Aside from having a likeable team leading the way, I also found both timelines and their stories equally compelling.  The modern day timeline features Catherine and Liam being approached by an old friend who has an elderly aunt in Tuscany who is in desperate need of legal assistance.  A powerful corporation is claiming that they actually own the property that the aunt has lived on all her life, and they have served her with an eviction notice.  The aunt has a deed to her property, but somehow the corporation also has a deed so the question is whose deed is valid?  Catherine and Liam don’t know if they can help but are willing to give it their best shot.  Prior to taking off for Tuscany, the aunt sends Catherine a bound handwritten manuscript.  She will not discuss the manuscript but indicates that all the answers anyone needs regarding the ownership of the property are in this manuscript, which leads us the second timeline.  I found the aunt to be a very sympathetic character as well.  I mean, how can you not love a scrappy old lady trying to keep a greedy corporation from kicking her off her land?

The second timeline takes place within the pages of this manuscript as Catherine reads it on her flight.  It is a journal of sorts kept by a woman named Ada Baumgarten, a Jewish girl who was born in Berlin at the end of WWI.  The manuscript details Ada’s life as a violin prodigy and her growing friendship with a boy named Kurt.  It goes on to detail how life was in Germany in the space between WWI and WWII, especially the way Hitler and the Nazis began to slowly consolidate their power in the lead up to WWII.  The manuscript reminded me a lot of Anne Frank’s diary as she chronicled how life became more and more restrictive for Jews and how persecution of them just grew and grew the more powerful Hitler got.  Ada’s story is a powerful one and an emotional one as we see how she, her family, friends, and neighbors are all impacted by the Nazis and the utter hatred that they ushered in with them as they rose to power.

In addition to finding each of the individual timelines so compelling, I was also captivated waiting to see how the author was going to weave them together into a seamless tale.  How does Ada and her journey through WWII fit in to the modern-day story of this elderly Italian aunt who is in danger of losing her home?  I’m not going to say anymore about this, but just know that he does and that he does so brilliantly.

Overall I found this story a very satisfying read, but I did find the passages that focused on specific details of Ada’s musical performances less interesting than the rest of the novel and found myself skimming through them at times.  I think if I was a musician, I probably would have appreciated those details a bit more, but as someone who is non-musically inclined, just knowing Ada was a gifted violinist and that it made some of the Nazis treat her differently was enough information for me.

 

Ronald H. Balson’s The Girl from Berlin is a powerful tale that is filled with secrets, lies, and corruption.  However, it’s also a tale of hope, determination, and resilience.  And even though Catherine and Liam are technically the main characters, the real stars are Ada and the Italian aunt and what connects them.  For that reason, you can easily read The Girl from Berlin even if this is your first time reading a book in this series.  If historical fiction and dual timelines are your thing, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of the The Girl from Berlin.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the newest novel from internationally-bestselling author, Liam and Catherine come to the aid of an old friend and are drawn into a property dispute in Tuscany that unearths long-buried secrets.

An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna―though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope―the ending of which is yet to be written.

four-stars

About Ronald H. Balson

When he’s not writing books, Ron is a practicing attorney with the firm of Stone, Pogrund & Korey in Chicago. He has been a civil litigation attorney for forty-three years. He was an adjunct professor of business law at the University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business for twenty-five years and was a frequent lecturer in the federal bar certification course and in trial advocacy seminars.

The demands of his legal practice have taken Ron into courts all across the United States and Canada, and for deposition testimony all across Europe and Asia. A few years ago, Ron became involved in a commercial dispute concerning telephone service in Poland. Numerous trips to Warsaw and southern Poland provided the inspiration for his first novel, Once We Were Brothers. Ron’s love of history and his travels to the Middle East provided the motivation for his second novel, Saving Sophie.

During the Once We Were Brothers book tour, Ron was introduced to several survivors of the World War II concentration camps. Of all the stories of courage and determination, one woman’s story was so moving that it formed the basis for Karolina’s Twins, Ron’s third book due out in 2016.

Ron was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction in 2014 and a finalist for the Premio Bancarella Italian Literature Award in 2014. He was an honoree at the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award dinner.

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must Read

Five Reasons Why Diane Chamberlain’s THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a Must ReadThe Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 2, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 384
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.

 

Before The Dream Daughter caught my eye, I have to confess that I had never given Diane Chamberlain’s novels a try.  I always thought the synopses of her books sounded interesting but somehow just never got around to reading one.  Well, let me tell you that I’m seriously kicking myself right now because I have clearly been missing out on some amazing books.  The Dream Daughter is one of the most exquisite novels I’ve ever read. I devoured it and know for certain that it will make my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year.  It’s just that good.

It’s also one of those books that is best read without knowing too much going in, so instead of writing a full fledged review here, I’m just going to give you five reasons why I loved this book and think you’ll love it too.

5 Reasons The Dream Daughter Should Be on Your Reading List

  1. I’m a huge fan of time travel novels when they are well written and Diane Chamberlain writes time travel to sheer perfection in The Dream Daughter. Using precise scientific calculations to locate portals that will take you to a date and location of your choice, Chamberlain creates a brilliant and logical time traveling premise that will stretch the bounds of your imagination but, at the same time, will make you seriously think about whether such a thing could actually be possible.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a unique blend of science fiction and historical fiction, as well as a heartwrenching domestic drama. It has a little bit of everything, and for someone like me who enjoys all three of these, having them so beautifully woven together in one story was reading heaven.  What I think Chamberlain does especially well with this is that none of these elements takes over the story so I think even someone who loves historical fiction, for example, but not necessarily sci-fi, would still love the book.
  1. The Dream Daughter is a poignant read that is sure to capture your heart. Chamberlain explores the lengths that a mother will go to and the sacrifices she is willing to make in order to save her unborn child.  I was just so moved by the main character’s plight and the strength she displayed at every step along the way.
  1. Speaking of characters, I was so impressed by the way both of the main characters in this book were written. The story is told from the point of view of Carly, a widowed soon-to-be mom who is in danger of losing her baby, and Hunter, a physicist who just appears in Carly’s life one day and ends up having a massive impact on her life.  It’s immediately easy to feel sympathy for Carly  because we learn that not only is her husband killed in the Vietnam War, but her unborn child also has an untreatable heart defect that is destined to be fatal soon after the baby’s birth.  Carly’s desperation is palpable and it’s impossible not to root for her as she tries to find a way to save her child.  Hunter, however, is equally sympathetic but he’s also a tad mysterious, which makes him all the more interesting. When we (and Carly) meet him, he is at a rehab facility recovering from a fall off a roof.  There is some question as to his mental health and whether or not the fall was actually a jump.  Although he is initially completely uncooperative with his physical therapists, he warms up to Carly right away and they become friends.  Their lives further intertwine when Hunter falls for and marries Carly’s sister and then later when he approaches Carly with a possible solution on how to save her unborn child…if she’s willing to take a giant leap of faith.  I thought Chamberlain did such an incredible job of developing compelling, layered stories for each of these characters and ultimately entwining them together into one beautifully complex story.
  1. As you’ve probably gathered by me gushing about Chamberlain’s character development, I’m a big fan of her writing style. Not only was the character development wonderful, but everything about the story was.  The prose was gorgeous, without being purple, and the pacing was perfect.  The need to save the unborn child also added such a sense of urgency that I truly could not put the book down until I knew how it ended.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel.

When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.

Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

ARC Mini Reviews for THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON & UNSTOPPABLE MOSESUnstoppable Moses by Tyler James Smith
three-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on September 25, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Katherine Locke

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

About Tyler James Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

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

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

 

 

 Find it:   GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksTBD

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

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

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

9/3/2018- Captivated Reading– Review

9/4/2018- Jrsbookreviews– Review

9/5/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

9/6/2018- YA Books Central– Interview

9/7/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

Week Two:

9/10/2018- Such A Novel Idea– Review

9/11/2018- Lisa Loves Literature– Review

9/12/2018- Wishful Endings– Interview

9/13/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

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

Week Three:

9/17/2018- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

9/18/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

9/19/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

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

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

Week Four:

9/24/2018- Do You Dog-ear?– Review

9/25/2018- Savings in Seconds– Review

9/26/2018- Book Briefs– Review

9/27/2018- Pacific Northwest Bookworm– Review

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

four-stars

About Colleen Houck

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

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESThe House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker
four-stars
Published by Annick Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth? Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite. But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences. This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems.

Review:

Michelle Barker’s gripping new novel The House of One Thousand Eyes is set in the early 1980’s, a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The novel follows Lena, an orphan whose parents were killed in a factory explosion, thus leaving her to be raised by her aunt, who is a devout member of the Communist ruling party.  The bright spot in Lena’s weeks are when she gets to visit her uncle Erich, who is a famous author and who is NOT a devout member of the Communist Party.

In this novel, Barker graphically portrays what it’s like to live under a government that rules with an iron fist.  If the Communist leaders don’t like what they think you’re up to, they have ways of making you disappear so as to quash down any signs of resistance.  Lena learns this lesson the hard way when her Uncle Erich suddenly goes missing and all traces of his existence disappear along with him.  She does everything she can to try to find him or find out what happened to him, but has to do so carefully so as not to put herself on the government’s radar.  Barker increasingly builds up suspense as Lena becomes more and more distraught. Everyone she talks to denies her Uncle’s existence, even her aunt who is Erich’s own sister.  I found the story absolutely riveting as Lena refuses to give up even though there are spies and informers everywhere who would love nothing more than to turn her in and score some points with the Stasi/German secret police.

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a novel about courage, strength, and determination.  The world that Barker paints is often brutal and terrifying and so it becomes very easy to cheer Lena on as she risks everything to resist the East German’s efforts to snuff out both her uncle and free speech.  If you’re interested in seeing what life was like in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, I would highly recommend this book.  4 STARS

 

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESLies by T.M. Logan
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you have the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect child—then, in one shattering moment, you discover nothing is as it seems? Now you are in the sights of a ruthless killer determined to destroy everything you treasure.

It’s the evening drive home from work on a route Joe Lynch has taken a hundred times with his young son. But today, Joe sees his wife meet another man—an encounter that will rip two families apart. Raising the question: Can we ever really trust those closest to us?

Joe will do whatever it takes to protect his family, but as the deception unravels, so does his life. A life played out without any rules. And a cunning opponent who’s always one step ahead.

Review:

T.M. Logan’s Lies is an exciting psychological thriller that will take you on the ride of your life.  It follows English teacher Joe Lynch, a loving father and devoted husband who makes what turns out to be a life altering decision – to follow his wife’s car when he happens to see her pulling into a hotel parking garage.  That one decision sets off a chain reaction of events, including a fight with a family friend named Ben who subsequently goes missing, that turns Joe’s entire life upside down and threatens his career, his family, and even his freedom.

Joe was a pretty likeable protagonist.  He’s a bit naïve at times, but I could easily see myself falling for some of the same things he did so, in that sense, I found him easy to relate to.  He’s also a great dad.  Watching him interact with his young son really made me all the more sympathetic to him.  He’s a man who definitely cares about his family above all else.

Lies is an easy read that I binge read in a couple of sittings.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of twists and turns both for Joe and the reader.  The author also effectively builds up suspense with the missing family friend, by way of an active police investigation and also with mysterious messages that Joe starts receiving – messages that threaten to take everything away from him.  Lies also features a messy, and at least for me, totally unexpected, jaw dropping ending.  Kudos to T.M. Logan for keeping me guessing all the way to the end.  4 STARS

four-stars

About Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker was born and raised in Vancouver. She attended Arts One at UBC, studied for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and graduated with a BA from UBC in English literature. After a short foray into comp lit, she left the Master’s program and worked as a research/editing assistant to Sherrill MacLaren. Sailed across the Pacific from Vancouver to Hawaii, had four children, lived for a summer in Montreal, a year in France, and then the Eastern Townships of Quebec for 10 years. After spending 7 years in the Okanagan, she returned to Vancouver. She received her MFA in creative writing at UBC’s optional-residency program in 2015.

Winner of gold National Magazine award in personal journalism (2002). Finalist for TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (2016), OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award (2017), Chocolate Lily Book Award (2016). Winner of 2017 Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.

Besides a chapbook of poetry called Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii, a YA fantasy novel, The Beggar King (2013), and a picture book called The Year of Borrowed Men (2016), she has also published poetry, short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology (2011).

Barker’s newest novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes, will be out in Fall, 2018, with Annick Press.

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn BowmanSummer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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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:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None! 😊

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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.

Review: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett

Review:  FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson BennettFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
four-stars
Series: Founders #1
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 505
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:

Foundryside is the first installment in an exciting new epic fantasy series from Robert Jackson Bennett.  Set in Tevanne, a city that runs on industrialized magic called scriving, and that is controlled by four rival Merchant Houses, Foundryside follows the story of Sancia Grado, a master thief who takes on what is supposed to be a simple job but that ends up landing her in some serious hot water.

Sancia has no idea who has hired her – she has been hired as a subcontractor of sorts by a fellow lawbreaker.  Her task is to steal a small box that is stored in a safe located in a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s waterfront.  She has simple instruction:  retrieve the box, return it to the person who hired her, and don’t look inside the box.

Well, let’s just say that things don’t go quite as smoothly as Sancia would have hoped.  She accidentally sets fire to the waterfront and makes an enemy of Captain Gregor Dandolo, who is the closest thing to law enforcement Tevanne has.  On top of all that, Sancia also can’t resist taking a peek to see what’s in the stolen box and as soon as she does, she realizes she is caught up in something way bigger than she expected.  The box contains a powerful magical artifact that could pretty much destroy life as they know it if it were to get into the wrong hands.  With that in mind, she decides she’s not going to hand over what’s in the box, especially after the guy who hired her turns up missing and it becomes clear that someone very powerful would like to get rid of her as well.

To survive, Sancia is going to have to get creative.  She needs allies, resources, and she needs to figure out a way to harness the power of the artifact herself.  It’s the only way she can make herself strong enough to prevail…

I really loved the whole cast of characters in Foundryside, particularly Sancia.  She of course falls on the anti-hero side of things a bit since she does make her living as a thief, but that just makes her all the more interesting, especially since she’s, without a doubt, the best thief in the city.  What makes her such a great thief is another fascinating side of her character – Sancia has the ability to touch something and immediately know everything about it. If she touches a building, for example, it’s almost like a blueprint of the building immediately pops into her head, as well as any potential obstacles that lie in her path.  Definitely a handy trick for a thief to have, even if Sancia has no idea how she came by this ability.  I don’t want to say too much else about it, but I’ll just say that we do find out how she has acquired this ability later in the book and it’s truly an OMG kind of moment!

In addition to her abilities, what also drew me to Sancia is that she is sassy, fierce, and resourceful, and because she never backs down from a fight.  I loved her sense of determination.  Through flashbacks, we also get hints that she has a troubled past that still haunts her and this of course gives her an added layer of vulnerability to round out her character.

Aside from Sancia, there’s also a fantastic cast of secondary characters, namely the ones who end up forming Sancia’s crew.  Captain Gregor Dandolo comes across as a bit of a butthead in the beginning as he goes head-to-head with Sancia and tries to arrest her.  Later on though, I really found myself warming up to him and admiring him for his sense of honor.  He really does want to bring some law and order to what is currently little more than a mob-run town because of the Merchant Houses.

Rounding out Sancia’s crew are Orso and Berenice, both of whom are skilled in the art of scriving.  Orso is the quintessential grumpy old man and is absolutely hilarious at times because he just grouses and grumbles his way through everything.  We don’t get to know too much about Berenice, but she is much nicer than Orso and thus is a lovely foil to his curmudgeonly personality.

Last but not least, there’s Clef.  You really need to discover Clef yourself without any hints from me, so I’m just going to say that you will adore everything about him, especially how funny he is.  As much as I loved Sancia, Clef really gave her a run for her money in terms of who was my favorite character.

The worldbuilding and the intricate magical system is where Robert Jackson Bennett truly excels with Foundryside.  He paints such a vivid portrait of the industrialized city of Tevanne and its Merchant Houses that I really felt like I was there, and the magical system of scriving was equally impressive and utterly unique.  I haven’t talked much about scriving, so let me give you a quick rundown.  On its most basic level, scriving is a magical code.  Those who are skilled in it can carve a list of scrived commands onto any object and it gives that object sentience.  What that means is that scrived commands can actually alter reality.  You could place a scrived command on a piece of cloth, for example, telling it that it’s a brick wall and the cloth would then act as if it had the properties of a brick wall.

Whoever controls this power would thus have the ability to alter the world to suit whatever their purposes are, no matter how good or bad, which is why the artifact in Sancia’s possession is so dangerous.  That artifact is tied to even more powerful ancient scriving magic.  If the ancient language can be decoded, it would give someone practically unlimited powers.

The only reason I didn’t give Foundryside 5 stars is because every once in a while, there was a bit of overexplaining that dragged down what was otherwise a very well-paced narrative.  I understand the need to fully establish and explain the intricate magical system and the history of its evolution, but I just didn’t like having those lengthy explanations interrupt an intense action scene.  It frustrated me because I wanted to keep following Sancia and her crew and see what they were up to, not get a mini lesson on the history of scriving.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of why you should give Foundryside a try, but to say anymore would be too spoilerish and I don’t want to go there.  If you enjoy epic fantasies with a bit of a heist plot thrown in, Foundryside is your book.  It’s also your book if you’re into anti heroes and misfits who actually end up making the perfect team.  The closest book I can think of to compare it to is perhaps Six of Crows.  If you enjoyed Six of Crows, I think you’d get a kick out of this book too.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new fantasy series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett. 

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

four-stars

About Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. His eighth novel, FOUNDRYSIDE, will be available in the US on 8/21 of 2018 and the UK on 8/23.

Early Review: MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud

Early Review:  MIRAGE by Somaiya DaudMirage by Somaiya Daud
four-half-stars
Series: Mirage # 1
Published by Flatiron Books on August 28, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Somaiya Daud

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