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Review: Four Reasons Why SADIE Should Be on Your Reading List

Review:  Four Reasons Why SADIE Should Be on Your Reading ListSadie by Courtney Summers
five-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on September 4, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 311
Source: Purchased
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Sadie by Courtney Summers is, by far, one of the most heart-wrenching and unforgettable books I’ve read this year.  Nineteen-year-old Sadie and her younger sister Mattie were abandoned by their mother.  Sadie therefore has spent much of her young life acting as both mother and big sister to Mattie, even quitting school so that she could work to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Mattie is Sadie’s whole world, so when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s world comes crashing down around her.

Sadie is convinced she knows who killed Mattie and sets out after him, determined to bring Mattie’s killer to justice.  When her neighbors realize Sadie has gone missing, in addition to contacting local law enforcement, they also begin talking to West McCray, a radio personality, in hopes that he will use his connections to help them find Sadie before something happens to her.  While at first reluctant to get involved, West McCray soon becomes obsessed with tracking down the missing girl.

And so we follow Sadie as she tracks a killer, and we follow McCray as he tracks Sadie.  And wow, what a journey this is.  Sadie is dark, gritty, emotionally raw, and just downright brutal.  I don’t want to give away any plot details so I’ll just say that Sadie is a powerful story that is going to stick with me for a long time and then I’m going to share some reasons why I think you should give Sadie a try as well.

 

4 REASONS WHY SADIE SHOULD BE ON YOUR READING LIST:

 

  1. Sadie.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cared about a character as much as I cared about Sadie.  She had already been through so much because her mother was such a dud, and then tried to make the best of a bad situation by throwing herself into taking care of her sister, only to have her sister taken away too.  Who can come away from that intact?  My heart just bled for this emotionally wrecked girl who makes the decision to go after her sister’s killer.  She feels like she has absolutely nothing left to lose at this point because she’s already lost it all.

 

  1. Unique Storytelling Format. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Sadie and from those who are involved in the search for her.  The other perspectives are presented as part of an eight-episode podcast that West McCray has put together.  He gives his thoughts as he searches for Sadie and he shares interviews with people he has encountered who can provide information on the whereabouts of both Sadie and the elusive man she is after.  I liked this unique format and thought it very effectively moved both Sadie’s journey and McCray’s investigation along at a nice pace.

 

  1. The Suspense is Off the Charts. My fear for Sadie’s safety was the overall driving factor.  The author paints Sadie’s desperation, despair, and determination so vividly that the suspense just built steadily throughout until the book reaches its unforgettable conclusion.  I read this book in just a couple of sittings because I couldn’t put it down until I knew Sadie’s fate.  The author also does a brilliant job of making both journeys equally compelling.  Would Sadie catch the killer?  And if so, then what?  Or would McCray find Sadie first?  And again, if so, then what?

 

  1. All the Feels. If you like a book that gets to you on this level, Sadie is a book that is pretty much guaranteed to get an emotional reaction of out you.  It was an emotional roller coaster for me. Sometimes I was so angry and outraged, while at other times, I just felt so sad and heartbroken.  And yes, there were tears.  This book is by no means a light read; it deals with many dark themes, including abuse, and it’s a powerful read that won’t let go even after you finish.  It’s actually quite haunting in that sense.

 

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

five-stars

About Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario, 1986. At age 14, she dropped out of high school. At age 18, she wrote her first novel. Cracked Up to Be was published in 2008, when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBIL award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more critically acclaimed books: Some Girls Are, Fall for Anything, This is Not a Test and All the Rage, as well as an e-novella, Please Remain Calm which is a sequel to This is Not a Test. Her new novel, Sadie, is available now wherever books are sold. #findsadie

In 2016, Courtney was named one of Flare Magazine’s 60 under 30.

Review: THE GIRL FROM BERLIN

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

REVIEW:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Ronald H. Balson

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

 

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

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

5 Reasons The Dream Daughter Should Be on Your Reading List

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel.

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

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

And all for the love of her unborn child.

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

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

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

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

 

 

 Find it:   GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksTBD

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

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

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

9/3/2018- Captivated Reading– Review

9/4/2018- Jrsbookreviews– Review

9/5/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

9/6/2018- YA Books Central– Interview

9/7/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

Week Two:

9/10/2018- Such A Novel Idea– Review

9/11/2018- Lisa Loves Literature– Review

9/12/2018- Wishful Endings– Interview

9/13/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

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

Week Three:

9/17/2018- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

9/18/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

9/19/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

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

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

Week Four:

9/24/2018- Do You Dog-ear?– Review

9/25/2018- Savings in Seconds– Review

9/26/2018- Book Briefs– Review

9/27/2018- Pacific Northwest Bookworm– Review

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

four-stars

About Colleen Houck

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

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

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

MY REVIEW:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None! 😊

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

 

four-stars

About Helen Hoang

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

About Kristina McMorris

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

Review: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett

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

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

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Robert Jackson Bennett

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

Early Review: MIRAGE by Somaiya Daud

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

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

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Somaiya Daud

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

Early Review: NOT HER DAUGHTER

Early Review:  NOT HER DAUGHTERNot Her Daughter by Rea Frey
two-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on August 21, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
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.

MY REVIEW:

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is an engaging story that follows two women, Amy Townsend and Sarah Walker, and how their lives become entwined because of one little girl, Amy’s five-year old daughter Emma.  One day Sarah witnesses Amy behaving abusively toward Emma in the middle of a crowded airport.  She can’t get the incident out of her mind and, when a chance encounter makes their paths cross again and Sarah realizes that Amy’s abusive behavior is a chronic pattern, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  She convinces herself that she’s not really kidnapping Emma, but instead is rescuing her.  As she sets her plan into motion, it raises the question of how far Sarah is really willing to go to make sure Emma is safe?  How much is she willing to risk?

Sounds like an absolutely gripping read, right?  I checked Goodreads and it has plenty of 4 and 5 star ratings, so lots of readers are loving this book.  Sadly, I’m not one of them though so it looks like I’m going to have the Unpopular Opinion review, which is so disappointing because I really thought I would love this one..  I’m going to start with the good though because the book does have plenty of things going for it.

In spite of my overall low rating, there were a few things that I liked about Not Her Daughter, the first being that the author does tackle a very tough subject – kidnapping – and actually does so in a way that you can almost see where the kidnapping is justified.  That, in itself, is quite a feat.  She does this, of course, by making Emma’s home environment appear so completely unhealthy that you can’t help but wish that she could be removed from it.  Her mother is clearly abusive, and her father seems to just sit back and let the abuse happen unchecked.  She also has Sarah run through all of the horrible things about the foster care system as she is considering the best course of action to take to “save” Emma.  Sarah comes to the conclusion that it would be so much better for Emma to just go with her because she appreciates how special Emma is and could love her as her own instead of just dumping her in the system. Not that I would ever condone kidnapping, but it surprised me how convincing the argument Sarah made really was.  I could see this argument being a great starting point for a book club discussion – If you knew for a fact that a child was being abused, what lengths would you go to make sure that child was removed from harm’s way?

I also found it fascinating to have the story presented from the perspective of both Amy and Sarah.  Being able to get inside their heads and see what each of them is thinking is probably the best part of the book.  You get inside of Sarah’s head and understand that she comes from a background where she was abandoned by her mother when she was 8 and so it becomes clear why Emma’s experiences resonate with her to such an extreme.  Even more fascinating, however, are when we get inside of Amy’s head and actually see some of the dark thoughts she has at any given moment, especially when she thinks about whether she even wants Emma to come home.  It’s such a disturbing and non-maternal thing for a mother to think and it’s just a major WOW moment.

If you’re into stories with lots of suspense that will keep you turning the pages, Not Her Daughter really delivers in that area as well.  There are plenty of twists and turns as Sarah tries to evade the authorities, and each twist just ratchets up the suspense that much more.

I think this is going to be a case of “It’s me, not necessarily the book” but I just had several issues with the book that made it not a good fit for me.

The first is that I just didn’t feel a real connection to any of the characters in this book.  I definitely didn’t feel much of anything for Amy, her husband, or Sarah, and even though I felt very sympathetic toward Emma because of what she had gone through in her own house, I still just didn’t feel super connected to her.  Honestly, I would have expected a book on this subject matter to move me to tears, but it didn’t at all.  I just felt like a passive observer, and I’m not sure why – maybe it was the narrative style, I don’t know.

Another issue I had was that I just found some of the things that happened in the story to be farfetched.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep this vague but the ending in particular just seemed like something that would never actually happen and because it felt so unrealistic, I was left unsatisfied with the story as a whole.

Finally, what really took this book down a star for me, was how Amy was described throughout the book.  I get it – she’s a horrible mother who probably never should have had children in the first place and everything about her is supposed to disgust me.  But why do I need to know that she’s an overweight doughy woman who eats way too much cheese, is always gassy, and only poops about once a week?  And why do I need flashbacks of her thinking about giving birth to her children and pushing them out of her “hairy vagina”?  I’m all for vivid descriptions when they add something to the story, but those just felt unnecessary and distracting.

Even though Not Her Daughter wasn’t a good fit for me, I still think many readers will find it a powerful and riveting read.  Because of the moral dilemma that Sarah faces, it’s definitely a book that will make you think.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

two-half-stars

About Rea Frey

Rea always wanted to be a novelist.

When she was little, her nose was either stuffed in a book, sniffing paper, absorbing words, or letting her imagination wander. If not reading, she was writing. In journals. In notebooks. In diaries. On walls. In the sand. On legal pads. On typewriters. With quills.

In college, she majored in fiction writing and somehow fell into nonfiction and personal training. Her dreams of sitting in a writer’s haven on the water, wrapped in a sweater, penning her stories, was swapped for health and wellness gigs and her first fractured steps into the important world of the Author Platform (aka social media).

After four nonfiction books were published, countless magazine and newspaper articles written, editing jobs taken, content management contracts executed, a gym co-owned, and certifications sought, she realized she was hustling for the wrong type of writing.

So, she quit.

She gave herself a window to write a novel. Eight weeks, she told herself. Eight weeks to change everything.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she wrote her novel in just a month.

The rest went something like this: Secure a phenomenal agent, join a writer’s group, bear witness to the magic of self-belief as the book got into a bidding war and landed her a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

Now, when asked what she does, she says the following: I’m a motherfucking writer.

Rea is a novelist. She writes books. And swears. And drinks lots of coffee. And has a daughter. And a dreamy husband. And still manages to find the magic in books.

She hopes you will put down the phone and pick up a book (preferably hers when it hits the shelves). And find the joy in reading.

Because there’s nothing quite like the power of words…