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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

four-stars

About Laura Ruby

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

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

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

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

About Laura Silverman

Laura Silverman currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a writer and freelance editor, and spends way too much time hugging dogs instead of working.

Silverman’s debut novel, GIRL OUT OF WATER, is a summery coming-of-age story about a California surfer girl sent to landlocked Nebraska for the entire summer. It debuted in May 2017. Her second novel, YOU ASKED FOR PERFECT, is about the effects of intense academic pressure on a teenage Valedictorian-to-be. It comes out March 2019.

Silverman has degrees in English and Advertising from the University of Georgia, and an MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. While she lived in NYC, she interned at Penguin and two different literary agencies. In addition to writing, Silverman also freelance edits manuscripts and query letters.

Review: WILDCARD

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

three-half-stars

About Marie Lu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

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

“I made the wrong choice.”

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

five-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

About Jenna Evans Welch

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

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISING

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGA Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Also by this author: A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)
three-half-stars
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, #4
Published by Bantam Books on October 17, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 1061
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.

Review:

I always feel like I have accomplished something monumental every time I finish one of George R.R. Martin’s books and A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is no exception.  Every book in the series is challenging and a major time investment because of the intricate plots, detailed worldbuilding, and all of the machinations of those who are jockeying for position to seize control of the Iron Throne.  These are not light reads by any stretch of the imagination.

What makes A Feast for Crows so much more of a challenging read, however, is that several of the major players from the first three books are suddenly missing and their absence, at least for me anyway, poses a huge distraction. With each chapter that I finished, I kept turning the page expecting to see a chapter from Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen.  I found their absence incredibly frustrating, especially since they are three of my favorite characters.  It was also frustrating because not only was I not getting three of my favorites, but now all of the sudden, four books into the series, I’m suddenly getting a whole slew of new narrators. While these new players are no doubt important to the overall series plot, they just weren’t who I wanted to read about, especially after the events of the third book.

A Feast for Crows also has a slightly different feel from the others in that there was a lot less action (i.e. favorite characters dying) and a lot more character development.  Brienne of Tarth’s chapters were probably my favorite because I’m just such a huge fan of her absolute determination to keep her oath to Catelyn Stark, even as her journey continues to take more and more dangerous turns and trying to fulfill that oath may end up costing Brienne her own life.  After Brienne, I’d have to say that Cersei Lannister’s chapters are a close second favorite. Even though she probably has the most uphill battle of all of those vying for the Iron Throne, she will stop at absolutely nothing to try to take it. Cersei possesses this unique combination where she comes across as utterly ruthless yet somehow still a bit vulnerable.  I love to hate her, but at the same time, I find myself cheering her on even as I ultimately want her to fail. Other favorites who appear in this book are Jaime Lannister, whose journey toward redemption continues, as well as the Stark sisters, Arya and Sansa, who each appear to be on journeys where they must give up their own identities, at least temporarily, in order to survive.

Even though A Feast for Crows is not my favorite book in the series, it’s still overall a solid read.  The brilliant character arcs of each of the characters I mentioned really does help to offset the frustration that the absence of Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys creates.  They better be in the next book though, and the dragons too! 3.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A FEAST FOR CROWS & RUIN AND RISINGRuin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-stars
Series: Shadow and Bone, #3
Published by Indigo on June 19, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 350
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Review:

I’m so excited to be able to say that, with my reading of Ruin and Rising, I have finally finished Leigh Bardugo’s  Grisha Trilogy!  The one thing I hate about trying to review series books is that it’s so hard to talk about the final book in a series without spoiling the entire rest of the series.  Because I really don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to visit the Grishaverse, I’m going to be both vague and brief in my remarks.

First and foremost, let me say that overall I found Ruin and Rising to be a very satisfying ending to the Grisha trilogy. Did I get everything I wanted?  No, not entirely, but I did get enough that I was content when I reached the last page and closed the book.  I think much of my contentment has to do with the fact that I was solely invested in Alina finding that third amplifier and defeating the Darkling to save Ravka.  I was not at all invested in any of the three romantic possibilities that presented themselves to her.  Since I usually loathe love triangles in any form, I actually consider it quite a testament to Bardugo’s storytelling abilities that I was able to fully enjoy the overall storyline without getting super annoyed by Alina’s attraction to Mal, the Darkling, and to Nikolai.  Normally something that like would have me wanting to fling the book across the room, lol.

I do have to admit that my love of the Darkling was completely obliterated in this final book.  He crossed enough lines this time around that there was just no redeeming himself in my mind.  The biggest draw for me in this third book, instead, was actually watching Alina, forever the underdog whether she’s a saint or not, regroup and come up with a new plan to take down the Darkling.  I loved watching her move so naturally into that leadership role, just as I also loved watching Alina and her team in their pursuit of that third amplifier, which was so desperately needed if she was going to have a chance of overpowering the Darkling.  And don’t even get me started on the huge plot twist involving the third amplifier. That totally blew my mind!

While I do wish that a few characters had gotten better endings (I’m looking at you, poor Nikolai), overall, I thought everything about the ending was quite fitting and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the series to anyone who enjoys reading fantasies and is looking for a quick and addictive read. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin was born September 20, 1948, in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was Raymond Collins Martin, a longshoreman, and his mother was Margaret Brady Martin. He has two sisters, Darleen Martin Lapinski and Janet Martin Patten.

Martin attended Mary Jane Donohoe School and Marist High School. He began writing very young, selling monster stories to other neighborhood children for pennies, dramatic readings included. Later he became a comic book fan and collector in high school, and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin’s first professional sale was made in 1970 at age 21: “The Hero,” sold to Galaxy, published in February, 1971 issue. Other sales followed.

In 1970 Martin received a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, graduating summa cum laude. He went on to complete a M.S. in Journalism in 1971, also from Northwestern.

As a conscientious objector, Martin did alternative service 1972-1974 with VISTA, attached to Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. He also directed chess tournaments for the Continental Chess Association from 1973-1976, and was a Journalism instructor at Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976-1978. He wrote part-time throughout the 1970s while working as a VISTA Volunteer, chess director, and teacher.

In 1975 he married Gale Burnick. They divorced in 1979, with no children. Martin became a full-time writer in 1979. He was writer-in-residence at Clarke College from 1978-79.

Moving on to Hollywood, Martin signed on as a story editor for Twilight Zone at CBS Television in 1986. In 1987 Martin became an Executive Story Consultant for Beauty and the Beast at CBS. In 1988 he became a Producer for Beauty and the Beast, then in 1989 moved up to Co-Supervising Producer. He was Executive Producer for Doorways, a pilot which he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television, which was filmed during 1992-93.

Martin’s present home is Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (he was South-Central Regional Director 1977-1979, and Vice President 1996-1998), and of Writers’ Guild of America, West.

About Leigh Bardugo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

five-stars

About Alexandra Christo

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

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

About E. Lockhart

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

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review:

Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove.  Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way.  I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book.  He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times.  What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness.  Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her.  I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.

My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past.  The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him.  I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife.  This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.

The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story.  The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors.  They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer.  This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine.  They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!

If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try.  The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes.  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKSA Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex

He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.

Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam.  The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex.  I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife.  I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish.  The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out.  And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong.  No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.

I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life.  Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.

A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me.  I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up:  “Life is an adventure, not a walk.  That’s why it’s difficult.”  Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss.  4 STARS

FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks 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.

four-stars

About Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

About Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist. His heartwarming debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and a major bestseller, and was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son. Keith has written for publications including Empire, Red and Esquire, and is the former games editor of the Guardian. He lives with his wife and two sons in Frome, Somerset.

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

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

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

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

five-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

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

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

About Robin Benway

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

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

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWDark Matter by Blake Crouch
five-stars
Published by Crown on July 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 342
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Review:

Dark Matter is a fast-paced sci-fi novel that, at its essence, explores how far a man will go to get back to his loved ones.  It follows Jason, a man who has a pretty decent life.  He’s got a wife who loves him, a great teenage son, and a job as a science professor at a local university in Chicago.  One night Jason goes out to buy ice cream and his entire world turns upside down.  He is abducted at gunpoint, drugged, and wakes up in a world that he doesn’t recognize.  It’s still Chicago, but it’s not his Chicago.  In the version of Chicago Jason wakes up in, not only does he not have a wife and child, but he’s also an award-winning physicist who has been working on and apparently testing a way to travel in the multiverse.  His theory is similar to time travel, except that instead of actually traveling through time, you can travel to an unlimited number of parallel universes, each of which were created at key moments in one’s life when choices had to be made.  Jason quickly realizes that someone has used his invention to steal his life and deposit him here in this alternate version of his world and begins a desperate race to find his way back home to his family.

I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I thought the premise was unique and I thought the author did a brilliant job of incorporating many complex scientific ideas like string theory, while still making the storyline entirely accessible to even a reader who isn’t into science or science fiction.  I thought the pacing of the book was fantastic as well. It was an incredibly suspenseful read and the pacing never lagged.  It actually just got faster and faster until it reached a breakneck pace each time Jason tried and failed to find his way back home.

It was definitely a plot-driven read, although I thought it also posed some very deep philosophical questions, the main one being how far would you go to be reunited with your loved ones…Would you kill someone if it meant you could have your family and your life back?

I’m probably the last person on the planet to read this book, but if you’re looking for a wild ride that will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime, Dark Matter will not disappoint!  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 427
Source: Purchased
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Review:

The Woman in the Window is a riveting psychological thriller that follows main character Anna Fox, a child psychologist who has been forced to retire because she was recently diagnosed with agoraphobia and is afraid to leave her home.  Because her whole world is now confined to her house, Anna has minimal contact with actual people.  She has standing appointments with her psychiatrist and a physical therapist, who are willing to make house calls, but aside from that, Anna spends much of her time online playing chess, taking French lessons, and taking part in an online agoraphobia forum where she, ironically, counsels others who are suffering from her condition and helps them move forward with their lives even though she has been trapped in her home for 10 months now.  When she’s not online, Anna spends the rest of her time either drinking wine, popping prescription pills, or standing at her window with her camera observing her neighbors. She knows all of the comings and goings of her neighbors, and takes a special interest in the new neighbors that move in across the street.  When she accidentally witnesses what appears to be a crime one night while staring at their house and no one believes her when she tries to report it, it turns her entire world upside down to the point where she doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t anymore.  Did she imagine it?  Is there danger across the street?

One of the mysteries of the book that I found most compelling was that there are hints that Anna has suffered some kind of horrific trauma that has led to her agoraphobia, but we must follow the clues throughout the story to get to the truth about what has happened to her.  I actually guessed this plot twist fairly early on, which on the one hand, was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, it also made me feel tremendous empathy for Anna, which I might otherwise not have felt.  This also helped me to better accept why she is such an unreliable character and it made me very invested in wanting to see her get better.

The story of what happened to Anna, coupled with getting to the bottom of what actually happened across the street, made for such a gripping read. I literally could not put this book down.  At one point, I even had my Kindle propped up next to the stove while I was cooking so that I could sneak in a few more pages.  It’s always such a treat to find a book that grabs my attention like that, so with that said, if you’re looking for a suspenseful and twisted thrill ride that will have you questioning what is real vs. what is imagined, I’d highly recommend The Woman in the Window. 4 STARS

five-stars

About A.J. Finn

A.J. Finn has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years before returning to New York City.

About Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015’s #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado.

The best way to stay apprised of new releases is to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SIEGE & STORM and GEMINA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SIEGE & STORM and GEMINASiege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: Grisha Verse #2
Published by Henry Holt and Company on June 4th 2013
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 435
Also in this series: Shadow and Bone
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Review:

Siege and Storm, the second installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse trilogy, is a much darker book than its predecessor, Shadow and Bone, and I loved every page of it.  The Darkling is back and he has a few new tricks up his sleeves with which to terrorize Alina and anyone else who resists him.  He’s more determined than ever to bend Alina to his will.

Speaking of Alina, she faces many challenges in this second book, the Darkling playing a starring role in many of them, and she faces each challenge head on, becoming ever more powerful along the away.  I found Alina to be a much more appealing character in this second installment, not just because she rises to the occasion and becomes a total badass but also because her character develops a bit of a dark side along the way.  She is really feeling the allure of her growing power, and the more she has, the more she wants.  The plus side is that her power could possibly be strong enough to defeat the Darkling, in spite of his new tricks. The downside is that her hunger for power, as well as her growing obsession with defeating the Darkling, puts a tremendous strain on her relationship with childhood friend and potential love interest, Mal.  Things get awkward, to say the least.

The awkwardness between Alina and Mal was a bit of a drag, but thankfully the addition of a fabulous new character kept me from getting down too much.  Sturmhond is a pirate and an inventor of sorts and he is just the most charming character ever!  Imagine Carswell Thorne from The Lunar Chronicles in pirate form.  He’s full of fun stories and witty banter, and just when you think you have him figured out, he springs an entirely new and unexpected identity on you.  I thought the Darkling was my favorite character, but I have to rethink that now that Sturmhond is in the mix.

Siege and Storm takes us from the lavish worldbuilding and the set up of Alina versus the Darkling straight into full-on adventure, dangerous mind games, and epic battle scenes, all of which culminate in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. I’m so glad I already have a copy of the final book in the series because I need to know who comes out on top!  4 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for SIEGE & STORM and GEMINAGemina by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 18th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 659
Also in this series: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Review:

Each time I start reading a book from The Illuminae Files, my initial thought is that I’m not going to like it.  I always worry that I’ll find the book’s structure to be gimmicky and that it will distract me from what is actually taking place in the story.  And each time I’ve been dead wrong.  I love everything about this series and not only does the book’s structure not distract from the story, but it actually enhances it and makes it feel all the more authentic, like you really are sitting there reading a case file about an incident aboard a space station.

When Gemina opens, we meet our two new main characters, Hanna and Nik, polar opposites with seemingly nothing in common aside from the fact that they both live on Jump Station Heimdall.  Hanna is the pampered daughter of the ship’s captain, while Nik is a member of a prominent crime family.  Although they have nothing in common, one view Nik and Hanna share is that they are on the “most boring” space station in the universe.  But all that is about to change… Heimdall is the station Kady Grant and what’s left of the Hypatia crew are fleeing to after the events of Illuminae, the first book in the series. The Hypatia is trying to get news of an invasion that killed most of the residents on the planet Kerenza, including proof about who was behind the invasion.

Once we meet Hanna and Nik, it’s off to the races on a heart-pounding adventure as those responsible for the deadly invasion have dispatched an elite strike team to attack Heimdall.  Their mission:  to ambush and destroy the Hypatia, thereby destroying all evidence of their murderous actions on Kerenza.  Once they get aboard Heimdall, they immediately round up all of the station’s residents and lie in wait for the Hypatia.  Guess who they missed though?  You guessed it, Hanna and Nik.  The burden of saving their station, the Hypatia, and possibly the known universe falls on the shoulders of these two young people.  Nothing like a race against the clock to help two people bond…

Oh and did I mention the snake-like alien predators that have somehow gotten loose aboard the station who are picking off residents one by one?  No?  Well, yes, as if they didn’t have enough to contend with, there’s that too. So needless to say, Gemina is an action-packed, thrill ride full of danger and suspense and I thought it was absolutely brilliant!  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Illuminae (with Jay Kristoff) and These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light (with Meagan Spooner.) She writes science fiction and fantasy for teens, and her favourite procrastination techniques involve chocolate, baking, sailing, excellent books and TV, plotting and executing overseas travel, and napping.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and her considerable library. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

About Jay Kristoff

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

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

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

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

About Leigh Bardugo

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Brandy Colbert

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

About Leigh Bardugo

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

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

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