Review: BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. Small

Review:  BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. SmallBright Burning Stars by A.K. Small
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
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 Algonquin Young Readers blog tour for A.K. Small’s debut novel, Bright Burning Stars.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this fantastic read with all of you.  Thanks so much to Brittani from Algonquin for inviting me to take part in the tour.

 

BRIGHT BURNING STARS Review

A.K. Small’s Bright Burning Stars is a powerful debut that exposes the dark underbelly of competition at an elite ballet school in Paris.  The story follows Marine Duval and Kate Sanders, who have been best friends ever since they first started training at the school.  As the girls get older, the training gets more and more intense and the stakes get higher.  What every student wants is “the prize” – a spot in a prestigious ballet company.  The problem?  Only one male and one female student are chosen each year to win the prize and the competition is truly fierce, with students resorting to desperate measures to give themselves an edge over their fellow competitors.  Can Marine and Kate’s friendship survive in such a cutthroat environment?

This was such an addictive read for me, in part because of the nature of the competition itself and because of the toll it took on each of the student dancers.  There was just so much tension and suspense! I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I wanted to know who was going to win, of course, but also what the students were willing to do in order to win.  The very nature of the competition pits students against one another, forcing them into isolation from one another rather than encouraging them to bond.  As if that weren’t enough, there is also the regular ranking of students based on performance, which leads the students to define their self-worth strictly in terms of what their ranking happens to be at that moment and their sense of worth goes up or down as the rankings change.

I think the author does an incredible job of vividly and realistically portraying just how unhealthy such an environment is and what a strain it can put on even the strongest of friendships.  This is an environment primed for mental health struggles, drug abuse and eating disorders in the strive for a perfect dancer’s body, endless cattiness and jealousy, and even suicidal thoughts.  I found the challenges that both Marine and Kate faced to be riveting, and between the physical and emotional strain they were both under, I truly worried from page to page if both of them, and their friendship, could withstand the immense pressure they were under.

I also loved the way the author starkly contrasts the exquisite beauty of the dance itself with all of that ugliness that takes place behind the scenes.  I thought it made for a very powerful read.

Bright Burning Stars is a moving read about the drive for perfection, unrealistic expectation, and the need to sometimes reevaluate what’s most important in life.  I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in a dark story that will leave you with plenty to think about long after you’ve finished reading.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

four-stars

About A.K. Small

A.K. SMALL was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

Review: NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina June

Review:  NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina JuneNo Place Like Here by Christina June
four-stars
Published by Blink on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
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.

NO PLACE LIKE HERE Review

 

Christina June’s No Place Like Here is an engaging YA contemporary story about Ashlyn Zanotti, a young woman who lives in the shadow of an overbearing father who criticizes everything she does and tries to control every aspect of her life.  When the story opens, Ashlyn has just returned home from boarding school for the summer and is immediately hit with a bombshell – her father has been found guilty of tax evasion and is going to prison, and her mother, who suffers from depression, has checked herself into a treatment facility.  True to form, however, before being carted off to prison, Ashlyn’s father has dictated how Ashlyn will spend her entire summer.  Instead of spending it poolside with her friends, Ashlyn is being shipped off to live with family she hasn’t seen in over a decade and will work at a remote wilderness retreat. Ashlyn is furious and frustrated, but as always, feels she has no say in the matter and passively accepts her father’s orders.

My favorite part of No Place Like Here is how much Ashlyn grows throughout the story.  I think Ashlyn’s situation is one that will resonate with many readers – low self-esteem, overbearing parents, not feeling like you have any control over your life, etc. I just felt so bad for Ashlyn at the beginning because she seems almost beaten down by her father’s constant berating. She’s quiet and reserved, not really wanting to draw any attention to herself.  I really loved the transformation that she undergoes once she is able to get out from under her father’s shadow.  She makes friends, gains self-confidence, and finds her voice, even taking on leadership roles at the retreat.  For the first time, she actually feels proud of herself and the work she’s doing.

I felt like a proud parent watching Ashlyn discover her own potential. While working at the retreat, for example, an inquiry from one of the guests inspires her to organize offsite tours for guests who would like to explore the surrounding area while staying at the retreat.  She really takes ownership of the idea too, doing all the research and coordinating with local businesses to bring the project to life.  In addition to that, she also stands up to the incredibly unqualified woman who has been hired to manage the retreat.  When she realizes the woman is consistently being negligible in ways that could endanger guests, Ashlyn starts gathering evidence to take to the owners to help get the situation under control before someone gets hurt.  Ashlyn’s growth and her determination to stand up for what’s right had me really cheering her on and hoping that when she and her father finally meet again, she will stand up to him as well.

I also really loved the way the author handled Ashlyn’s mom and her depression.  It was done in a very positive way to show there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help when you’re struggling.  I think that’s such an important message, so I was glad it was presented in such a way.  I especially liked the conversations between Ashlyn and her mom where her mom discusses effective strategies she’s being taught to better help her cope once she has returned home.

The one thing about No Place Like Here that had me scratching my head was that I went into it thinking it was a Hansel and Gretel retelling based on something I had read about the book.  I kept trying to bend the story in my mind to make it work as a retelling and just didn’t see it.  After I finished, I saw a comment from the author where she describes No Place Like Here as loosely inspired by Hansel and Gretel and that’s a more apt description. I wish I had seen her comment prior to reading the book. It would have saved me some head scratching, haha.

Even with my misinformed belief that this was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, I still really enjoyed No Place Like Here overall.  It’s a wonderful coming of age story, and with its wilderness retreat and summertime setting, it’s also the perfect beach read.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” a.k.a. depression, her life is turned upside down.

The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.

With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.

four-stars

About Christina June

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor. She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland. She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.

Christina is the author of IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, and NO PLACE LIKE HERE.

Review: THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy Walker

Review:  THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy WalkerThe Night Before by Wendy Walker
Also by this author: Emma in the Night
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 14, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

THE NIGHT BEFORE Review

Wendy Walker’s The Night Before is a riveting and unique thriller about a woman, Laura Lochner, who goes out on a date with someone she met on the internet and doesn’t return home.  When Laura’s family realizes she is missing, they frantically begin searching for her.  They of course wanted to make sure Laura hasn’t been harmed by this random stranger from the internet. Interestingly enough, however, they are also concerned for the safety of the random stranger and worried that Laura may have harmed him.  The family’s unexpected thoughts about Laura and her potential for violence grabbed my attention right away and kept me turning the pages and what starts out as a seemingly straightforward missing person’s tale turns into a gripping exploration of how this family’s lives have been shaped by childhood trauma and long-buried family secrets.

One of the things I loved most about The Night Before is the way Walker uses multiple timelines and a dual point of view to gradually unfold the details of the story.  We follow Laura’s sister, Rosie, in the aftermath of the internet date gone wrong, as she, her husband, and a close family friend try to retrace Laura’s steps.  They’re trying to find her without involving the police if at all possible because of whatever has happened in Laura’s past to make her so volatile.

In addition to following Rosie, we also follow Laura the night before while she is on her date so that we are able to see what direction the date took and why she didn’t come home.  To further flesh out the story and offer insight into Laura’s past and what has the family so concerned, we also get to sit in on some of Laura’s earlier sessions with her therapist.  I thought this technique was very effective. It felt like watching the pieces of a puzzle start to fill in over time as the story alternated between the different timelines and povs.

I was also a big fan of the novel’s pacing.  You can easily read it in a couple of sittings because it’s quite fast-paced.  It starts out with the tense situation of Laura being missing and the tension only builds from there as everyone races to try to find her.  The suspense also ratchets up the closer and closer we get to finding out what happened in Laura’s past that continues to haunt both her and her family.  The story was filled with enough believable twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.

The only reason I didn’t rate this 5 stars was because even though I was concerned for the well-being of Laura, I just didn’t feel as much of a connection to her as I would normally like to feel when it comes to main characters.  I think it was because I was constantly torn between wondering if she was a victim or a perpetrator and therefore I didn’t entirely trust her account of events.  In that sense, the book had almost a Gone Girl vibe.

Even with that lack of connection, however, I still think The Night Before is an exciting read that mystery/thriller fans are sure to love.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control.

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…

four-stars

About Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure. She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIERed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Romance
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:

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Review:

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is honestly the romance book I didn’t know I needed in my life until I started reading it.  I was looking for a light, fluffy, and fun read when I requested this one and it was exactly what I was hoping for.   When I started reading, I realized Red, White & Royal Blue pretty much has all my favorite things all rolled into one story. There’s a generous helping of enemies to friends to lovers, fake relationships, and sassy but supportive friends and family, with a side of politics and royals thrown in for good measure.  It was truly the perfect recipe for a book that I devoured in just over a day.

I absolutely loved the premise of having Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, fall in love with Prince Henry of Wales.  It just immediately opened the door for so many entertaining possibilities, from the romance itself, to the media frenzy it was sure to generate, and to the potential political fallout it could create on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The premise was made even better by the fact that both Alex and Henry were just the two most precious young men on the planet.  Alex is hilarious, while Henry is soft, but put them together and their banter is full of wit and snark, and just flat out adorable.  I felt like I was either smiling or laughing out loud every time the two of them would text or call each other.  The sexual tension between them is also off the charts, even when they’re trying to hate on each other.

There’s also a more serious side to the story as Alex is still figuring out his sexual identity to a degree and as he and Henry worry about what they’re coming out as gay would mean for their families from a political standpoint.  A subplot of the story has Alex’s mother as the first female President of the United States (Can I live in this alternate reality please?!) and she’s up for reelection this year, while Henry is next in line to take the throne and rule his country.  I liked having these very relevant social and political issues meshed in with the light, fluffy fun.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Alex’s sister, June, and his best friend, Nora.  These smart, savvy, hilarious ladies at times really stole the show with all the ways they helped try to facilitate the relationship between Alex and Henry.  They were everything I’d want in a sibling and best friend, and if the author wanted to write more books featuring them, I’d totally read them.  (Hint, hint.)

If you’re looking for a fun and flirty read with a side of political drama, be sure to check out Red, White & Royal Blue.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIEThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
four-half-stars
Series: Dimple & Rishi #2
Published by Simon Pulse on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
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:

The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, which follows Rishi’s brother, Ashish, and a confident fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them.

Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Review:

There’s Something About Sweetie is the third book I’ve read from Sandhya Menon, and as with its predecessors, When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, it left me with a big grin on my face.

I’m a huge fan of the way Menon draws her female characters and Sweetie Nair is no exception. Sweetie is strong, bold, and full of life, and she’s also a talented singer and athlete who’s ready to take on the world.  There’s one obstacle, however, standing in her way…her mother.  Sweetie is overweight, and while her weight doesn’t bother her or her friends, it bothers Sweetie’s mother.  Her mother’s obsession with her weight becomes so emotionally draining for Sweetie, she decides it’s time to implement the Sassy Sweetie Project, where Sweetie is determined to live life to the fullest and do whatever makes her happy.  Sweetie really does love and respect her mother and doesn’t want to hurt her, but ultimately, it’s her life and she has to fight for it.  I really admired her determination to stick up for herself.

Menon does an equally wonderful job with the love interest for Sweetie in this book.  Those familiar with When Dimple Met Rishi will recognize Ashish Patel as Rishi’s younger brother. Ashish is a kind-hearted, soft boy who is in an especially vulnerable spot when the story opens.  His long-time girlfriend has cheated on and dumped him, and he’s so down on himself that he can barely function.  In fact, he’s so off his game and desperate, that he resorts to recruiting his parents’ help in finding him someone to date, and it’s his parents who bring Sweetie into his life.  I love the journey that Sweetie and Ashish begin together. They each have something to prove and I loved how supportive they were to each other and I spent many pages hoping Sweetie would be able to get her mother to back off so she and Ashish could have a chance at a happy ending.

There’s Something About Sweetie is a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys charming romance novels filled with lovable characters, supportive friend groups, and sometimes awkward family dynamics.  This is also a wonderfully diverse read in that both main characters are Indian American and several of their dates actually focus on learning more about their culture and embracing it.  I’d also recommend There’s Something About Sweetie to anyone looking for a book that has a strong focus on self-love and body positivity.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where she cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. She studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to her first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. She now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper.

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina LaurenThe Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
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.

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNHONEYMOONERS Review

 

I’m late to the Christina Lauren bandwagon.  The Unhoneymooners is only the second novel I’ve read from this popular writing duo (My Favorite Half-Night Stand was the first).  After absolutely loving both of my first two reads, however, I can happily say that I’m firmly on the bandwagon and that I now need to go back and read every Christina Lauren novel that has been written.  I love these reads so much because they’re just sexy, sassy, and so much fun!

Those who know me know that romance isn’t my go-to genre.  That said, however, I do enjoy a well written enemies-to-lovers story and that’s what we have here with The Unhoneymooners, with a side of the fake relationship trope thrown in for good measure.  The story focuses on Olive, who has got to be the unluckiest woman in the world.  When we first meet her, she has just lost her job, her roommate, and is in the process of losing her apartment as well.  To top it all off, her twin sister Amy has fitted her in the ugliest possible bridesmaid dress for her wedding.

Where Olive has no luck, Amy apparently has ALL the luck and has won everything for her wedding, including the aforementioned hideous bridesmaid dress and an all-expenses paid honeymoon trip to Maui, from a variety of internet contests she had entered.  Olive is way overdue for some good luck, and when food poisoning strikes at the wedding and Olive is one of the only ones to come away unscathed due to a seafood allergy, she thinks her time has come when Amy begs her to go on the honeymoon trip in her place so the free trip doesn’t go to waste.  There’s a catch though, of course.  Olive has to go with the groom’s brother, Ethan, her arch-nemesis, and they have to pretend to be Amy and her new husband so as not to be caught committing fraud.  What a dilemma for Olive.  Is a free trip worth having to spend time with the person she hates most in the world?  But it’s Maui (!) so Olive reluctantly agrees to go.

The sparks fly immediately and this is where Christina Lauren’s novels suck me in. I loved the sarcastic banter between Olive and Ethan as they both navigate this strange fake relationship territory.  They volleyed barbs at each other left and right, but even though Olive swears she loathes Ethan with every fiber of her being, I could still sense some sizzling chemistry lurking beneath the surface.  For that reason, it was just so much fun to get to know each of them better as they’re finally getting to know each other better and setting aside assumptions they had made early on when they first met.

All of that sarcastic banter, coupled with their fake relationship escapades as they tried not to blow their own cover as fake honeymooners, made for a quick and hilarious read.  I literally laughed out loud several time along the way and was left with a smile on my face long after I finished reading.

Sexy and fun, The Unhoneymooners is the ideal read to put in your beach bag this summer.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.

four-half-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.

Review: MIDDLEGAME

Review:  MIDDLEGAMEMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire
three-stars
Published by Tor.com on May 7, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 528
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.

 

 

 

 

 

MIDDLEGAME Review

 

Seanan McGuire’s latest novel Middlegame is a very ambitious novel.  It reads like equal parts science fiction and fantasy, and is a wild ride from start to finish.  It features twins separated at birth who somehow have the ability to telepathically communicate with one another, as well a man who wants to use the twins to help him carry out his ambitious and perhaps delusional plan to become a god and control the universe.  If that isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, Middlegame also features alchemy, time loops, and its fair share of ruthless killers.

This was my first time reading one of McGuire’s novels, but after seeing so many stellar reviews for the author’s Wayward Children series, I fully expected to love Middlegame.  That said, however, I unfortunately didn’t love it nearly as much as I was expecting to.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why it wasn’t a great read, but part of it was because I just felt like I had to work way too hard to keep everything that was going on straight in my mind.  The plot is very complicated and twisty, and then time starts to twist as well, which made everything all the more complicated, and at a certain point, my brain just screamed “Enough!”  On top of that, I felt like the pacing was slow in places which didn’t help since the book is over 500 pages long.

That said, however, even though I didn’t love the read because it confused me a few too many times for my liking, there were quite a few things I did enjoy.

I love how wild and original the overall concept of the novel is.  On one level, it reminds me of Frankenstein, with James Reed using his alchemical skills to create children that can help him achieve his goal.  His actions and motivations are unnatural and more than a little creepy, but yet fascinating at the same time.  On another level though, Middlegame reminds me of nothing I’ve ever read before. The idea of this Doctrine of Ethos being the key to controlling the Universe and that Reed can somehow harness its power and become a God if he places half of the doctrine in each child just blew my mind.  Reed was a disturbing yet almost mesmerizing character just because he’s so passionate that his goal is 100% achievable and is clearly totally okay with the idea of using his homemade children as science experiments and with eliminating anyone or anything that happens to get in his way.

While I found Reed completely disturbing, I found the other main characters, twins Roger and Dodger, quite endearing, especially the connection they shared.  The implanting of half the Ethos Doctrine in each of them has left Roger as a master of all language and communication, while Dodger is an absolute genius at math. There is literally no math problem she can’t solve.  Put them together and they’re pretty much unstoppable.  As soon as they are “born,” Reed separates them.  He has several sets of twins that he’s experimenting with so this “separation” variable is specific to Roger and Dodger’s experiment.  Except that they somehow manage to connect telepathically even though they live thousands of miles apart.  No matter how many times they get re-separated, they manage to find each other again.

Even though I felt frustrated and confused sometimes by everything that was going on in Middlegame, that bond between Roger and Dodger is what really kept me turning the pages. I was just so invested in them and ultimately wanted them to realize they were pawns in Reed’s deadly game and somehow turn the tables on him and stop the madness.

While Middlegame wasn’t a book that I loved, I did enjoy the read overall and would definitely recommend it to fans of science fiction and really to anyone who enjoys a wild and twisty read that makes you put on your thinking cap.  It has also intrigued me enough about McGuire’s unique brand of storytelling that I definitely plan to read the Wayward Children series.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

three-stars

About Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire was born in Martinez, California, and raised in a wide variety of locations, most of which boasted some sort of dangerous native wildlife. Despite her almost magnetic attraction to anything venomous, she somehow managed to survive long enough to acquire a typewriter, a reasonable grasp of the English language, and the desire to combine the two. The fact that she wasn’t killed for using her typewriter at three o’clock in the morning is probably more impressive than her lack of death by spider-bite.

Often described as a vortex of the surreal, many of Seanan’s anecdotes end with things like “and then we got the anti-venom” or “but it’s okay, because it turned out the water wasn’t that deep.” She has yet to be defeated in a game of “Who here was bitten by the strangest thing?,” and can be amused for hours by almost anything. “Almost anything” includes swamps, long walks, long walks in swamps, things that live in swamps, horror movies, strange noises, musical theater, reality TV, comic books, finding pennies on the street, and venomous reptiles. Seanan may be the only person on the planet who admits to using Kenneth Muir’s Horror Films of the 1980s as a checklist.

Seanan is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn’t enough, she also writes under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com.

In her spare time, Seanan records CDs of her original filk music (see the Albums page for details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, “With Friends Like These…”, as well as generating a truly ridiculous number of art cards. Surprisingly enough, she finds time to take multi-hour walks, blog regularly, watch a sickening amount of television, maintain her website, and go to pretty much any movie with the words “blood,” “night,” “terror,” or “attack” in the title. Most people believe she doesn’t sleep.

Seanan lives in an idiosyncratically designed labyrinth in the Pacific Northwest, which she shares with her cats, Alice and Thomas, a vast collection of creepy dolls and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard. She has strongly-held and oft-expressed beliefs about the origins of the Black Death, the X-Men, and the need for chainsaws in daily life.

Years of writing blurbs for convention program books have fixed Seanan in the habit of writing all her bios in the third person, so as to sound marginally less dorky. Stress is on the “marginally.” It probably doesn’t help that she has so many hobbies.

Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.

Review: PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS by Sonali Dev

Review:  PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS by Sonali DevPride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
four-stars
Series: The Rajes #1
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Retelling
Pages: 496
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS Review

 

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite novels.  I love everything about Pride and Prejudice but I’m especially fond of it because it’s where my love for the enemies to lovers trope began.  I’m also a sucker for retellings of any kind so when I heard that Sonali Dev’s latest novel Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is meant to be a modern-day Pride and Prejudice retelling, it sounded like the perfect read for me.

I was engaged by the story as soon as I met the main characters because I immediately realized it was going to be a P&P retelling I hadn’t encountered before.  Why?  Because it’s a gender-bent retelling.  The arrogant, unlikeable Mr. Darcy character is actually female.  I just found this such a delightful and unexpected twist!

Dr. Trisha Raje is a gifted neurosurgeon who also happens to be descended from Indian royalty.  Her father is directly descended from royalty, while her mother is a former Bollywood actress, and her brother is in the beginnings of a bright career in politics and who has his eye on the governorship of California.  The rules of the Raje household are very simple:  be careful who you associate with and do absolutely nothing to bring shame and scandal into the family.  Fifteen years ago, Trisha did exactly that and is now considered the black sheep of the family.  She wants to redeem herself and help her brother win his election, but the family doesn’t trust her.

I really loved the complexity that Dev gives Trisha.  Trisha begins showing her “Mr. Darcy” side at a fundraiser for her brother when she has a run-in with the chef who is catering the event.  She is rude and condescending to what she deems “the hired help,” which leaves a bad taste in the chef’s mouth and in my mouth too.  Trisha is completely obnoxious in the way she looks down on people like the chef, but at the same time, she possesses many good qualities too. She’s a brilliant surgeon who, after a chance encounter with blind children at an institute when she was a child, is drawn specifically to doing whatever she can to prevent or cure blindness.  It’s hard to reconcile that compassion for some with her seeming disdain for others, and I had to keep reminding myself that Mr. Darcy redeemed himself in the original book and that I needed to stay open-minded.

Chef DJ Caine, on the other hand, was easy to love right from the start.  We learn in the opening pages that he and his little sister, Emma, were tossed out on the street by their father’s family after their mother passed away.  DJ therefore practically raised Emma on his own, and all they have in the world in terms of family is each other.  When Emma is diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor, DJ quits his job so that he can be there for Emma.  How can you not love a brother who is so completely devoted to his sister?   It makes it all the more infuriating when he has his run-in with Trisha and she’s so rude to him. Then it spirals into an ongoing series of encounters with him looking down on her for looking down on him. Talk about awkward, haha!!

Things between Trisha and DJ become all the more awkward, however, when they each realize that Trisha is the only surgeon who can perform the surgery that can save Emma’s life.  Can they look past their initial clashing of personalities and come together for Emma’s sake?

In Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, there is a strong focus on the importance of family, as well as a thorough exploration of class and cultural differences and the prejudices that can arise because of them.  I was equally drawn in by the DJ and Trisha dynamic and wanting to know what was going to happen to DJ’s sister, and by wanting to know what in the world Trisha had done all those years ago to end up in such a bad spot with her family.

Overall, I really enjoyed the way Dev gave the original Pride and Prejudice such a fresh and modern update in terms of the actual plot without losing track of those themes that have made the original such an enduring classic.  I highly recommend Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors for Jane Austen fans, for those who enjoy a moving family story, and especially for those who enjoy a good enemies to lovers romance.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

  • Never trust an outsider
  • Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
  • And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.

A man who has never felt at home anywhere.

And a choice to be made between the two.

four-stars

About Sonali Dev

Award winning author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after.
Her books have been on NPR, Washington Post, Library Journal, and Kirkus Best Books of the year lists, but Sonali is most smug about Shelf Awareness calling her “Not only one of the best but also one of the bravest romance novelists working today.”
Sonali lives in Chicagoland with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog.
Find more at sonalidev.com.

Review: LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. Ali

Review:  LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. AliLove from A to Z by S.K. Ali
Also by this author: Saints and Misfits
five-stars
Published by Salaam Reads on April 30, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 

 

 

 

LOVE FROM A TO Z Review

 

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is an incredibly moving story that just had so many emotions running through my head the entire time I was reading.  Sometimes it made me sad, sometimes it made me angry and frustrated, but at times, it also made me smile.  I love that Ali’s storytelling is so powerful and authentic that it can evoke so many emotions.  Love From A to Z was such a great read for me because the story just has so many layers, each one equally meaningful and compelling.  It features a blossoming friendship between the main characters, Adam and Zayneb, but then it also tackles weighty topics such as Islamophobia. Finally, it features a character who is trying to cope with the life changing diagnosis of multiple sclerosis he has just received.

I became attached to Adam and Zayneb right away.  They’re both such great kids, but they each have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Adam has just been diagnosed with MS, the disease that took his mother’s life.  Adam remembers how crushed his father was when she died, so now he’s afraid to tell his father that he now has the same disease.  I loved that he wanted to protect his father so badly, but my heart just broke for Adam thinking about him trying to keep such a huge thing secret.

Zayneb tugged at my heartstrings too.  As the only Muslim student in her class, she is a target of blatant Islamophobia, especially from the supposed authority figures in the school.  I hated that it kept happening, but I was in constant admiration of Zayneb because she refused to just sit there and take it. Instead, she is fierce and brave, standing up for herself and speaking out against the hatred that keeps getting thrown in her face.  The situation at school is especially frustrating though because every time she stands up for herself, she somehow ends up being the one to get in trouble, while the bigot gets off scot free.  When Zayneb actually gets suspended from school for sticking up for herself, her parents send her to stay with her aunt in Qatar for a while to cool off and to try to come up with ways to fight Islamophobia without doing things that could negatively impact her own future.

Adam and Zayneb meet on the plane to Qatar, and the chemistry was instant. I was immediately rooting for them to become friends (and hopefully more than friends) because I loved both characters so much and they just seemed like they would be perfect for each other.  I was also rooting for them to deepen their connection because they each just needed someone in their corner so badly.

Aside from these two characters and their moving journeys, I was also a huge fan of the way the story was formatted.  Inspired by famous art entitled Marvels and Oddities, both Adam and Zayneb keep journals where they record marvels and oddities they encounter in their lives every day.  The story unfolds through these journal entries, which just makes Adam and Zayneb’s journeys all the more intimate and personal as they each battle the demons they’re facing.

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is a book that I’d love to recommend to everyone.  It’s a beautiful story about family, friendship, love, and support, as well as a hard-hitting story that strikes a powerful blow against Islamophobia.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

five-stars

About S.K. Ali

S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits. She lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti. Her second novel, LOVE FROM A TO Z, a story about finding love in the time of Islamophobia, will be published on April 30, 2019 by Simon & Schuster. She also has a picture book co-authored with Team USA Olympic Medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad, THE PROUDEST BLUE releasing on October 22, 2019, published by Little, Brown. Find her on twitter at https://twitter.com/SajidahWrites, on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/skalibooks/ and on her website at https://skalibooks.com/.

Review: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally Hepworth

Review:  THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally HepworthThe Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Also by this author: The Family Next Door
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 23, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW Review

 

Sally Hepworth is quickly becoming a go-to author for me when I’m in the mood for domestic dramas and mysteries.  Her latest novel, The Mother-In-Law is no exception, with Hepworth delivering both a compelling family drama as well as a riveting mystery.

The novel focuses on two women, Diana and Lucy.  Diana is Lucy’s mother-in-law and the two of them have a very uncomfortable relationship, to put it mildly.  Even though they have known each other for 10 years, Diana still treats Lucy like a stranger. Lucy can’t figure out why Diana seems to hate her so much and at a certain point, has just given up on trying.  Lucy and her husband Oliver have a good life together, only making contact with Diana when necessary, and such is their life.  That is, until a phone call from the police informs them that Diana is dead and that it is an apparent suicide based on some evidence found at the scene.  Lucy and Oliver are shocked because Diana is the most formidable person they’ve ever known and the last person they would expect to commit suicide.  When the coroner’s report comes back, however, the possibility that it was actually murder is suddenly on the table and the police begin investigating.

So many questions immediately start swirling about.  If Diana did take her own life, why?  If foul play was involved, who could possibly want to hurt her and why?

*****

If you like complicated characters, then this is your book because Diana is about as complicated as they come.  She has devoted much of her life to charitable causes and is a beloved and respected member of her community because of this.  Diana’s altruistic nature does not apparently extend to her actual family members. Even though she’s a very wealthy woman, Diana expects her children to stand up on their own two feet and make lives for themselves without handouts from her.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it certainly creates some uncomfortable and tense moments when her children find themselves struggling.  It doesn’t make Diana the easiest character to warm up to, but it definitely made me curious about her.

Where Diana is a character that is hard to warm up to, Lucy, on the other hand, is a character I loved immediately.  She lost her mother to cancer when she was only 13 years old, so when Lucy falls in love with Diana’s son Oliver and agrees to marry him, she’s over the moon about meeting Diana.  She can’t wait to finally have a mother-figure back in her life and goes out of her way to make sure she’s as likeable as possible at their first meeting.  Her dream is shattered immediately, however, when it becomes clear Diana has no interest in her.  It’s not that Diana is mean to Lucy because that’s not her nature, it’s more that she’s completely standoffish – as polite as she knows she has to be, but otherwise, basically a cold fish.  Their relationship starts off that way, and even after 10 years of marriage, it’s still pretty much the same.  This made me immediately sympathetic to Lucy and had me shaking my head at Diana and saying “OMG, why are you like this?”

Aside from the way Hepworth draws her characters, one of my favorite parts of The Mother-In-Law is how she weaves together her tale.  She effectively moves the story back and forth between the different characters’ perspectives, particularly Diana’s and Lucy’s, and between the past and present to gradually paint for her readers not only a complete portrait of Diana, but also toward the answer that we are ultimately all waiting for: what really happened to Diana.  I thought Hepworth’s choice of these elements was a perfect way to unravel both the mystery of Diana herself and of her death. Getting little glimpses into Diana’s earlier life gave me a much greater understanding as to why she’s the way she is, which in turn made me more sympathetic to her.

Other highlights of The Mother-In-Law for me were its quick pacing, its suspenseful plot twists, and the fact that the story was never predictable.  The ending, in particular, shocked me because I didn’t see it coming, not even for a single second!

Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-In-Law is a riveting read from start to finish.  Unraveling the mystery of Diana and why she is the way she is kept me turning the pages just as much as the desire to know what happened to her and if anyone else was responsible.  Hepworth’s books have been compared to those of Liane Moriarty, and I think the comparison is a good one.  If you’re into domestic dramas and mysteries with plenty of twists and turns, The Mother-In-Law is the perfect read for you.  It definitely made me appreciate how simple and uncomplicated my relationship with my own mother-in-law is.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they’ll never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships.

four-stars

About Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016) and The Mother’s Promise (2017), and The Family Next Door (Feb 2018). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.

Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.

Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars