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Early Review: SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn Bennett

Early Review:  SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn BennettSerious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on April 16, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT Review

 

Jenn Bennett has quickly become one of my favorite YA contemporary authors.  Her stories are always so heartfelt and filled with wonderful characters in relatable situations, as well as a strong focus on family and friendships.  I have yet to read a Jenn Bennett book that didn’t leave me with a smile on my face and her latest book, Serious Moonlight, was no exception.

Serious Moonlight follows Birdie Lindberg, an 18-year old teen, who lives with her grandfather on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle.  Birdie, who was orphaned at the age of 10, has lived a very sheltered life out on the island, and was home-schooled by her overly strict grandmother. She therefore hasn’t had many opportunities in life to make friends and/or date.  Birdie’s grandmother has recently passed away when the story opens and her grandfather has agreed that it’s time for Birdie to “spread her wings” a bit and thus he gives her permission to get a summer job.  She lands a job at a historical hotel in Seattle, working the graveyard shift.

When she starts her new job, Birdie finds herself immediately drawn to the hotel’s van driver, Daniel Aoki, a handsome young man she had a chance encounter with a few weeks earlier, but that ended on a most awkward note.  Daniel is drawn to Birdie as well, but neither of them is sure how to proceed after that first less-than-stellar meeting.

Can they figure out a way to move from awkward acquaintances to friends and then maybe even to more than friends?

Honestly, I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I was on my way to a serious reading slump when I started reading it, and Birdie and Daniel’s story just pulled me right out of it.  They were both just so adorable!

Birdie was my favorite character.  She’s an introverted, mystery-book loving teen who aspires to be a real-life Nancy Drew. I loved getting glimpses into her fantasy life where she imagines that she’s following clues and solving mysteries, and where she creates Nancy Drew-like profiles in her head to describe everyone she meets.  She also always wears a flower in her hair every day, inspired by the legendary jazz singer, Billie Holiday.  Just thinking about Birdie and how endearing of a character she is makes me smile.

Also endearing though is Daniel. Daniel is this sweet, soft boy who loves to do magic tricks and who is so obviously hung up on Birdie.  He is so tuned in to what her interests are and even arranges what can only be described as the absolute perfect outing for her, a live action game of Clue.  What could possibly be more perfect for a mystery-loving girl?  I just loved that he recognized how unique and special Birdie is and was so patient with her in every way.  Some of their heart-to-heart conversations as they get to know each other better are my favorite moments from the book.

Bennett is a master at creating secondary characters that add even more life to her stories, and in this story, Aunt Mona is that character.  Mona is Birdie’s aunt and godmother, and she is just a force to be reckoned with.  She’s an artist with a personality and fashion sense that is larger than life.  Mona literally just brings so much color into Birdie’s life. For you Gilmore Girls fans out there, personality-wise, she reminds me so much of Miss Patty.  She’s not just an aunt or a godmother either; she’s also Birdie’s best friend and confidante.

The setting of Serious Moonlight was also a huge draw for me.  I loved the Seattle location, but I especially loved that Birdie lived on Bainbridge Island and took a ferry to and from the city every day.  The view from her home is literally the Seattle skyline with its iconic Space Needle.  It was so easy to visualize that spectacular setting and I loved that the ferry ride provided moments for Daniel and Birdie to spend even more quality time together.

I also really loved the Moonlight Diner, a neighborhood diner in Seattle where Birdie would hang out whenever she needed to wait for the next ferry home.  Before Birdie’s mom passed away, she worked at the Moonlight and she and Birdie lived in an apartment upstairs.  Birdie, therefore, practically grew up in this diner and everyone there was part of her extended family.  I loved that the diner had such character and especially that they served the most delicious sounding pies.  Seriously, this book will have you craving pie like you would not believe!  I was practically drooling at the descriptions.  And the pie names are so great too!  They had me hoping Birdie would stop by the diner every single day just so that I could see what the pie of the day was called, lol.  I think my favorite was the Beyonce-inspired name, a cherry pie called “Put a Bing on It.”

The mystery subplot involving the famous reclusive writer was probably my least favorite part of Serious Moonlight.  That’s not to say there was anything really wrong with it, more just that some of the situations Birdie and Daniel found themselves in as they tried to solve the mystery seemed a little far-fetched.  It was still a fun subplot though so I wasn’t too hung up on it.

Serious Moonlight is everything I want in a contemporary read.  It’s a sweet story about two people trying to find their way in the world and their way to each other.  It’s also a heartfelt story about family, friendship, and love.  If you’re in the mood for a story that will leave you with a smile on your face, Jenn Bennett’s Serious Moonlight is the book you’re looking for.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review: BLOODLEAF

Review:  BLOODLEAFBloodleaf by Crystal Smith
three-half-stars
Series: Bloodleaf #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 12, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

BLOODLEAF Review

Bloodleaf is the first book in an exciting and imaginative new fantasy series of the same name by Crystal Smith. It is Smith’s debut, and with it, she has put her own creative spin on the Grimm fairy tale, “The Goose Girl.”

Bloodleaf follows Aurelia, who is the Princess of Renalt, and who is engaged to marry the Prince of Achleva, a young man she has never actually met. Their marriage is designed to serve a political agenda, to unite these two countries and ensure peace across the land.

In addition to being a Princess, however, Aurelia is also a witch who has been hiding her powers from everyone, especially the Tribunal, the ruling body in Renalt, for years. The Tribunal loathes magic and looks for every opportunity to execute a witch. The only way Aurelia can hope to escape the persecution her fellow witches face is to keep her magic hidden at all costs, something that isn’t always easy to do since Aurelia doesn’t really know how to control it yet.

While she is traveling to Achleva to meet her soon-to-be husband, there is an attempted assassination, which exposes Aurelia’s secret. Betrayed by those around her, Aurelia flees her country while an imposter continues on to Achleva to take her place. Unable to return home because everyone now knows she’s a witch and unable to move forward and marry the Prince because of the imposter, Aurelia must forge a new way for herself in the world.

She takes on a new identity, makes new friends, and works to hone her magical abilities. One of her abilities is that she can see and sometimes communicate with spirits, and it is this ability that lands Aurelia right in the middle of a sinister plot to destroy an enchanted wall that protects Achleva. An evil mage is determined to bring the wall down and is leaving a trail of bodies in his wake as he does everything he possibly can to break the spell that is keeping the wall intact.

Can Aurelia perfect her magical abilities in time to stop the deadly mage before even more lives are lost?

 

Bloodleaf hooked me pretty quickly because it starts on out such a dark and dangerous note, with a public execution. Renalt and the Tribunal definitely gave me Salem Witch Trial vibes with their relentless persecution and rush to judgement of anyone they believed to be a witch.

It also of course made me sympathetic to Aurelia since apparently not even her royal title could prevent her from the possibility of execution were she discovered to be a witch. What really impressed me about Aurelia though was how she rallied after being betrayed and took charge of her own destiny. She didn’t wait around like a damsel in distress, hoping to be saved.

I also liked that Aurelia isn’t flawless by any means. She makes some questionable choices along the way and sometimes makes things harder for herself because of those choices. But she is constantly learning from her mistakes and growing into a very admirable young woman, one who would make a wonderful leader if given the chance. As much as I enjoyed the action of the story, I think Aurelia’s inner journey was equally captivating for me.

In addition to Aurelia, Bloodleaf also features a fantastic cast of supporting characters. They’re not nearly as fleshed out as Aurelia, but I still really enjoyed them all anyway, especially Zan, Nathaniel, and Kate, who become unexpected allies for Aurelia after she is forced to flee everything she has ever known.

I also thought the author wrote a brilliant villain in Toris. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about him, but man, I really loved to hate that guy.

The mythology and the supernatural elements were also very well done and just added so much to the story. Between the spirits that only Aurelia could see and communicate with and their sometimes ominous messages and the almost mystical Stonehenge like vibe that I got every time Aurelia went to the enchanted wall, the book just had such an atmospheric quality.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed Bloodleaf but I did have a couple of minor issues with it. The first one was that the pacing was a little uneven and dragged just a little at times in the first half. It never bothered me enough that I would have considered quitting the book, but there was just a noticeable lull for me.

I also would have liked a little more memorable worldbuilding when it came specifically to Renalt and Achleva. I didn’t really feel like I came away with a distinct picture of what either of them really looked like.

 

Even with those couple of minor issues, however, I still thought Bloodleaf was a unique and compelling start to Smith’s debut fantasy series and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story next. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading fantasy and/or retellings, and also to anyone who enjoys the idea of a fierce princess who is no damsel in distress.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Perfect for fans of RED QUEEN and UPROOTED, Crystal Smith’s debut novel, BLOODLEAF, is an imaginative retelling of the Grimm Fairy tale “The Goose Girl” that takes a ghostly mystery and sets it inside an epic fantasy world.

Princess Aurelia is a prisoner to her crown and the heir that nobody wants. Surrounded by spirits and banned from using her blood-magic, Aurelia flees her country after a devastating assassination attempt. To escape her fate, Aurelia disguises herself as a commoner in a new land and discovers a happiness her crown has never allowed. As she forges new bonds and perfects her magic, she begins to fall for a man who is forbidden to rule beside her. But the ghosts that haunt Aurelia refuse to abandon her, and she finds herself succumbing to their call as they expose a nefarious plot that only she can defeat. Will she be forced to choose between the weight of the crown and the freedom of her new life?

three-half-stars

About Crystal Smith

Crystal Smith is a writer, photographer, and artist who developed an early love of storytelling in a family of voracious readers. She resides in Utah with her high school sweetheart husband and two lively sons. When she isn’t writing or creating, she can be found re-watching Jane Eyre and Howl’s Moving Castle or reading ghost stories with all the lights on.

Review: DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Review:  DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins ReidDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Also by this author: One True Loves
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on March 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical 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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DAISY JONES & THE SIX Review

 

I just recently started reading Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novels.  After enjoying her popular book One True Loves and absolutely falling in love with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest, Daisy Jones & the Six, especially after learning that it’s about the rise and fall of a rock band in the 1970s.  I’ve been a huge rock music fan all my life so I felt like this book really had my name written all over it.

The characters drew me in right away, every single one of them really, but especially Billy and Daisy, who are both just so incredibly compelling because of the inner demons they are both battling.  Daisy is an ‘It’ girl on the rise. She’s gorgeous, almost ethereal, and she has a penchant for living like a wild child, drinking and doing drugs whenever the mood hits.  She has adopted this party girl lifestyle after years of being neglected by her parents.  It’s her way of never having to be alone.  Deep down though, Daisy really just wants to focus on her music.  Daisy has a gift for singing and songwriting, and her dream is to write and perform her own songs.

Billy Dunne is the lead singer of the Six, a rock band whose star is rising just as fast as Daisy’s.  He is fighting similar demons, but is trying to get his act together because his girlfriend had just informed him she’s pregnant and he knows his baby deserves better than a drunken, drug-addicted father.  As Billy and Daisy battled their demons, they weren’t always the most likeable characters and sometimes they did awful things, but I still found myself wholeheartedly cheering them on and hoping they could conquer their demons.

The other members of the band and the friends and family members who were interviewed were also very well developed.  Daisy and Billy were the standouts for sure, but every single character in the book felt real as did all of the intricacies of their professional and personal relationships.  The love-hate relationships, the thrill of the band’s success, coupled with the jealousy of some of the band members who felt they were being shoved into the background by Billy and Daisy, the subsequent tension as those feelings continued to fester – all of it just felt so authentic and I found myself emotionally invested in all of the characters because they were like a family, albeit a sometimes dysfunctional one.

One of my favorite parts of the book is how much attention Taylor Jenkins Reid devotes to the actual making of the Daisy Jones & the Six album.  She leaves no detail unexplored and it felt like I truly was watching an album being crafted from start to finish. We get to see song writing sessions between Daisy and Billy, the rest of the band working on musical arrangements to fit Daisy and Billy’s lyrics, the actual mixing of the album, and even a photoshoot for the album cover.  As a music lover, I flew through these pages, completely infatuated by the whole process, especially those song writing sessions. Billy and Daisy are both so strong-willed that the sessions often started with a lot of head-butting before something would finally click with them.

Finally, I loved the way the band’s story is presented.  The premise is that they’re being interviewed years after the band has broken up, with each of them giving their perspective on what happened on their rise to the top and their subsequent break up.  The closest comparison I can make is that it reminded me of VH1’s Behind the Music, a television program that takes an intimate look into the personal lives of some of the most influential musicians of our time.  I loved the way the story unfolds because every band member tends to have their own version of what took place so the “truth” of what happened is definitely shaped by who happened to be telling the story at any given moment. I know I keep mentioning the word authentic, but it fits here as well. Taylor Jenkins Reid writes this format so well and infuses these characters with such life and such passion about what happens during their time in the band that I felt like I was reading an interview that had actually taken place. It didn’t feel like fiction at all. I even stopped reading at one point to Google the band and make sure they really were fictional because everything just felt that real.

My only issue is that I wish Daisy Jones & the Six was a real band because the whole time I was reading, I really wanted to hear their music.  The songs Billy and Daisy were writing just sounded that good!  Seriously though, no issues whatsoever.

I honestly didn’t think there was anyway Taylor Jenkins Reid could possibly top her phenomenal last novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but she really outdoes herself with Daisy Jones & the Six.  The characters, the intimacy and complexity of the relationships, the story telling, the authenticity of this band’s journey, really just everything about this book is about as close to perfection as it gets for me.  It’s only March and I can already tell you this book is going on my Best of 2019 list at the end of the year. It’s just that good.  I think music fans in particular will love Daisy Jones & the Six, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone else who just loves a well-crafted story.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

 

five-stars

About Taylor Jenkins Reid

TAYLOR JENKINS REID lives in Los Angeles and is the acclaimed author of One True Loves, Maybe in Another LifeAfter I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Her most recent novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, came out June 13, 2017. Her novels have been named best books of summer by People, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, InStyle, PopSugar, BuzzFeed, Goodreads, and others.

In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in places such as the Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post, and Money Magazine.

Early Review: DESPERATE PATHS by E. C. Diskin

Early Review:  DESPERATE PATHS by E. C. DiskinDesperate Paths by E.C. Diskin
Also by this author: Depth of Lies
four-stars
Published by Thomas & Mercer on March 19, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 336
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESPERATE PATHS Review

E.C. Diskin’s Desperate Paths opens with main character Brooklyn Anderson sitting in a jail cell in Eden, Illinois and we immediately learn that she is considered a potential suspect in the murder of her father. As Brooklyn sits in the cell wondering how she has landed in this mess, the story then flashes back to a week earlier when Brooklyn, an aspiring actress living in New York, receives a phone call from her estranged sister, Ginny, begging her to please come home because their dad has fallen and broken a hip.

As soon as Brooklyn comes face to face with her sister, she can tell that Ginny isn’t being completely honest with her about what happened to her dad.  The details don’t add up and she flat out catches Ginny in more than one lie.  While Brooklyn is at the hospital, she runs into the town sheriff, who happens to be a close family friend. She learns from him that former Eden resident and now famous actor, Darius Woods is also in the hospital, fighting for his life.  Darius had written a screen play that would bring to light some very ugly truths about the town of Eden and some of its residents.  Not many people knew about the script yet, but those who did know, knew how explosive it would be.  Within hours of Darius returning to Eden to visit his dad and talk about the script, someone shoots him.

As law enforcement investigates the shooting and Brooklyn continues to try to get the full truth about what has happened to her father from Ginny, Brooklyn discovers some uncomfortable truths about her own family and realizes her entire life has been nothing but a lie.

Diskin’s setup for the story is brilliant because within a few pages, my mind was already starting to churn with questions I’m dying to know the answers to.  How in the world does a daughter rush home to care for her father and end up in jail in danger of being charged with his murder? Why can’t Brooklyn get a straight answer from her sister about their Dad’s fall?  What shocking truths does Brooklyn uncover about her family?  Where does Darius fit into all of this or is his shooting completely unrelated?

I also got really caught up in the messy sibling relationship between Brooklyn and Ginny. Brooklyn is adopted and is much younger than Ginny, so Ginny has rarely shown much interest in being a part of Brooklyn’s life.  This made me sympathetic to Brooklyn right away, as did seeing her in the opening pages working so hard to make her dream of becoming an actress a reality.  Brooklyn is determined and resourceful, but is also willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to rush home and care for her father.  Because I found her such a likeable character, I was all the more invested in finding out how in the world she had landed herself in a jail cell.

Ginny, on the other hand, was not an especially likable character, at first.  She’s telling lie after lie to Brooklyn and to others, and it quickly becomes clear to Brooklyn that Ginny and her father are hiding something.  I was not a fan of Ginny’s deception and found myself actively disliking her.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers though so I’m just going to say that something Brooklyn discovers late in the story makes me take a second and more sympathetic look at Ginny.

The way the story is presented really appealed to me too.  We watch the drama unfold from the perspectives of Brooklyn, Ginny, and the Sheriff, and the three perspectives are so unique because Brooklyn is actively seeking truths about her family, while Ginny is actively trying to hide something, and all the while, the Sheriff’s investigation seems to be leading him closer and closer to the Anderson family.  The story was clearly building towards an explosive conclusion, but alternating between these points of view and their conflicting objectives effectively kept me guessing until the very end about how all of these seemingly unrelated events would tie together.

I also liked that Diskin isn’t afraid to infuse her story with some hot-button social issues.  Again, I don’t want to give away any spoilers since these social issues are a major contributing factor to the events of the story and the truth that Brooklyn and the Sheriff seek, but basically if it’s an issue that’s being covered in the news right now, it’s an issue that is mirrored in Eden, Illinois as well.

Overall, I thought Desperate Paths was an addictive read that kept me on the edge of my seat as I watched everyone’s secrets being exposed.  That said, however, I did find myself shaking my head at Darius Woods. Considering he grew up in Eden and knew exactly what kind of people he was dealing with, it seems like he should have known his script would not go over well.  In a tiny town like Eden where everyone knows everyone else and, of course, knows all of their personal business too, changing the names of characters doesn’t really go very far to protect any identities, especially if you’re calling your film Surviving Eden.  Darius obviously did not deserve to be shot for this, but it just seemed so naïve on his part and had me yelling at him a few times while I was reading, especially because he seemed like a pretty smart guy otherwise.

I went into E.C. Diskin’s Desperate Paths expecting to read an exciting thriller, and while I definitely got that, I feel like I also got so much more.  Yes, there’s a death and another attempted murder that drive much of the plot, but at its heart, Desperate Paths is really a family drama about the lengths family members will go to in order to protect their own and the dangers of what can happen when long-held secrets and betrayals are suddenly laid bare for the world to see.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

She knew everything about her family and her town. Except its secrets.

Brooklyn Anderson knows it looks bad. She was found wiping down a gun. His blood on her hands. Her father now dead. The incomprehensible nightmare has started.

Seven days earlier, Brooklyn had returned to Eden to care for her beloved father, who lay helpless in a hospital bed. Her estranged sister, Ginny, said he fell. But as Brooklyn soon realizes, Ginny is prone to lying.

Former Eden resident Darius Woods was in the hospital too. The famous actor had written a screenplay that would lay bare all the secrets of the town, but within hours of his return, someone shot him.

As the Woods investigation proceeds, and Brooklyn starts to question everything she believes about her family, her neighbors, and her home, secrets and lies begin to unravel. But nothing can prepare her for where those lies will finally lead.

And sharing the truth of what happened the night her father died might just make things worse.

four-stars

About E.C. Diskin

E.C. Diskin studied Radio/TV/Film and English in Texas (TCU), moved to New York to dance with a tap dance company in Soho, and finally became “an adult” when she moved to Chicago for law school. But after several years behind a desk, a drawer full of story ideas, and two little ones at home, she took a break from the law and began writing fiction. Fortunately, the fantasy of living a creative life became reality with the success of her debut legal thriller, The Green Line. Her second, Broken Grace, ventured into psych thrillers, and her latest, Depth of Lies, dives into the veneers and secrets behind the closed doors of suburbia. When she’s not reading, writing, binge-watching Netflix, chauffeuring kids, or at the movies, she likes to play with power tools and build stuff.

Early Review: YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen Cook

Early Review:  YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen CookYou Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook
four-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU OWE ME A MURDER Review

Eileen Cook’s latest novel You Owe Me a Murder follows 17-year-old Kim, who is traveling to London for a class trip.  Kim initially agrees to go on this trip because her then-boyfriend had signed up to go as well. However, when he later dumps Kim, the trip is suddenly much less appealing to her, especially when she finds out his new girlfriend will also be going on the trip.  Unable to get out of it, Kim tries to make the best of a bad situation and when she strikes up a conversation with Nicki, a young woman from London who will be on their flight too, things suddenly start to look up for her.  Nicki listens sympathetically to Kim’s rants about her ex, and Kim reciprocates as Nicki rants about her mother.  Reminiscent of the book and film Strangers on a Train, Nicki then starts joking around about how they should swap murders, and because it’s keeping her entertained on their long flight, Kim plays along.

When the unexpected happens soon after they arrive in London, and Kim’s ex mysteriously dies, Kim realizes she may have bitten off more than she can handle, especially when she starts getting threatening messages from Nicki, reminding her that she’d better hold up her end of the deal.

Kim is such a great character.  She’s an interesting blend of resourcefulness and vulnerability, and I liked her right away.  Can you imagine anything more awkward than being a teenager stuck on a school trip with your ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend?  It was impossible not to feel sympathetic towards her and hope that she could figure out a way to have a good time in spite of her ex.  It was also easy to see how Kim got in way over her head with Nicki.  Nicki played it off like she’s this cool chick who gets where Kim is coming from, but she’s really a predator who preys on Kim’s obvious misery and naivety and gets her to vent about what a jerk her ex is and how her life would be so much better if he wasn’t around.  When Kim gets off that plane, she feels so much better about her trip, thanks to Nicki, but is completely oblivious as to what she has unintentionally set into motion.

One of my favorite things about You Owe Me a Murder is how it’s presented from Kim’s perspective.  We get her raw emotions as she witnesses her ex-boyfriend dying unexpectedly, followed by the sudden realization as to who is responsible and what it means for her.  Then we get that firsthand look at just how far Nicki has gotten into Kim’s head as she runs through all her options trying to come up with a way out of her predicament.  Her fears are palpable, as is her growing concern that her only way out may actually be to commit a murder.  Kim’s mind racing like this had me racing through the pages and I don’t think the story would have been nearly as effective if it had come to us from any other point of view.

The pacing of You Owe Me a Murder was fantastic as well.  I read it in one day and every time I sat the book down, I couldn’t get back to it fast enough.  Cook does an incredible job of building up the suspense as Kim waits for Nicki’s next move and tries to figure out how to outsmart her.  There was plot twist after plot twist, none of them predictable, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see who would come out on top.

Finally, I also liked that the book left me with so much to think about.  It’s so easy to see how someone could be too trusting and end up being taken advantage of and manipulated like Kim was.  It’s an uneasy thought but one that really resonated with me.

The only issue I had was that I would have liked a little more development of the secondary characters.  Most of them fell flat in comparison to Kim and Nicki.

Eileen Cook’s You Owe Me a Murder is a riveting thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller, but especially to anyone who is a fan of either Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train or the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Kim gets more than she bargained for when she is set up for murder. Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying, E. Lockhart, and Gillian Flynn.

17-year-old Kim never expected to plot a murder. But that was before her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. Now, Kim’s stuck on a class trip to London with him and his new soulmate and she can’t help wishing he was a little bit dead, even if she’d never really do that.

But when Kim meets Nicki, a stranger on the plane who’s more than willing to listen to Kim’s woes, things start to look up. Nicki’s got a great sense of humor, and when she jokes about swapping murders, Kim plays along—that is, until Kim’s ex-boyfriend mysteriously dies.

Blackmailed by Nicki to fulfill her end of the deal, Kim will have to commit a murder or take the fall for one.

four-stars

About Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers find their unique story to tell.

Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.

Early Review: RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE by Jeff Zentner

Early Review:  RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE by Jeff ZentnerRayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
four-half-stars
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on February 26, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RAYNE & DELILAH’S MIDNITE MATINEE review

 

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is my first time reading a Jeff Zentner novel, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in.  What I got was pretty much everything I love about contemporary novels all rolled into one fabulous book.  It’s a story about friendship and family, first loves, taking risks and following your dreams, and it’s also a story about goodbyes.  It also features a hilarious Saturday night public access TV show that features horrible horror flicks, and it takes us on a road trip to a horror fan convention.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, and I was there for every minute of it.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee features two main characters, Delia and Josie, both of whom I found to be very likeable and the situations they found themselves in easy to relate to.  They are both high school seniors who are making plans for the future and wondering how those future plans are going to impact their friendship.  Josie wants a career on television and while she’s currently starring on a public access TV show with Delia, her opportunity to follow her dreams would be much greater if she moved away from their town and attended one of the bigger universities, one of which has an internship at the Food Network with her name all over it.  Josie is very conflicted about what to do, not just because she hates the idea of leaving Delia behind, but also because she has just met a new guy named Lawson that she has quickly grown very attached to, and going away to school would mean leaving him as well.

Delia’s plans for the future are less academic-based and more focused on her personal life and something that she needs to resolve once and for all for the sake of her mental health.  Her father abandoned her and her mom years ago, just up and disappeared and hasn’t been heard from since.  Between him leaving and now possibly Josie following suit, Delia is struggling emotionally with the idea that she is always being left behind.  She knows it’s not fair to think that in Josie’s case, but her father walking out had just been such a weight on her shoulders for so many years that it colors everything else in her life, even her TV show.  She really wants to track him down and confront him because she needs answers if she’s ever going to move on.

I loved both of these girls, and even Josie’s boyfriend Lawson, who is just super adorable in every way.  I thought Zentner did an incredible job of really getting inside of both Delia and Josie’s heads to give us so much insight on what they’re thinking and feeling as they’re trying to plan their futures without losing their friendship. The friendship between Josie and Delilah is written so beautifully. It feels so authentic and takes me back to when I was graduating from both high school and college and had to say goodbye to friends I had grown to love and those fears that we would drift apart if we didn’t see each other every day. It makes me shed a tear just thinking about how relatable this aspect of the story was.

Speaking of tears though, there were also many tears of joy shed.  In addition to the emotional journeys that both Delia and Josie take us on, there’s also a tremendous amount of humor in the book, especially as it relates to Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee, the public access TV show that Delia and Josie co-host.   All I could think while I was reading was that I need this TV show in my life.  For the show, the girls play horror hosts Rayne Ravencroft and Delilah Darkwood, dress up as vampires and do quirky comedic skits (a la Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for those who are old enough to remember her).  Their guest stars include their own pets, as well a group of boys who dress up in skeleton costumes and dance around like fools in the background.  As if those antics weren’t enough, they aren’t even the main event.  The main event each week is basically the worst, cheesiest horror flick you’ve ever seen.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 except with horror movies instead of cheesy old sci fi.  The whole concept for the show, and Delia and Josie working with their grumpy old tech guy Arliss, had me in stitches every time they went to prep an episode of their show.

While I thought it was sweet that Delia and Josie were often mistaken for sisters because their personalities and sense of humor were so similar, I also thought the similarity in voice made it a little challenging at first to keep the girls straight in my head.  I had to keep flipping back to the first page of each chapter to remember whose perspective I was reading.  Once each character’s journey became more defined, however, I settled in and was more easily able to keep track of who was who.  As you can see from my rating, it didn’t keep me from loving the book in any way but I figured I should mention it just to be 100% honest here.

Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee was a delightful read from beginning to end.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous, heartfelt reads that focus on family, friendship, and following your dreams.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A contemporary novel about two best friends who must make tough decisions about their futures–and the TV show they host–in their senior year of high school.

Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

four-half-stars

About Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults. He became interested in writing for young adults after volunteering at the Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp. As a kid, his parents would take him to the library and drop him off, where he would read until closing time. He worked at various bookstores through high school and college.

He speaks fluent Portuguese, having lived in the Amazon region of Brazil for two years.

Review: CROWN OF FEATHERS

Review:  CROWN OF FEATHERSCrown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
three-half-stars
Series: Crown of Feathers #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CROWN OF FEATHERS Review

 

Nicki Pau Preto’s Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy that centers on a world that has been torn apart by a war between two warrior queens who also happen to be sisters.  The legendary Phoenix Riders were the heroes of that world until the war between the sisters destroyed everything.  Years later, many are still struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table, including main character Veronyka, who is an orphan because of the war.  Veronyka is also an animage, which means she can communicate with animals. Animages are considered dangerous by the new empire, so Veronyka lives in hiding.  As an animage, however, Veronyka’s biggest dream is to find and join the Phoenix Riders.  She knows they’re still out there somewhere and is willing to do whatever it takes to become one of them, especially if it will get her away from her psychologically abusive sister, Val.

When Val betrays Veronyka in a most heinous and cruel way, Veronyka abandons her and sets out on her own, determined that she will either find the Phoenix Riders or die trying.  She finally locates a compound where apprentices are being trained to become Phoenix Riders. It’s everything she hoped it would be, except there’s a catch.  They aren’t taking new apprentices because they don’t have anymore available phoenixes and even if they were, they only train boys.  To join their ranks, Veronyka disguises herself as a boy, Nyk, and signs on as a stable hand.  She makes friends with Tristan, the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander, who promises to sponsor Nyk as an apprentice Phoenix Rider the next time they’re taking on new apprentices.

Can Veronyka keep her true identity hidden?  Where’s Val during all of this?  Are the Phoenix Riders safe from the new empire?  What will happen if they’re discovered?

My favorite character, by far, in Crown of Feathers was Veronyka.  The author had me in her corner from the first moment we meet her and see how poorly her sister Val treats her.  And as much as I hated it when Val betrays Veronyka, I loved the growth we get to see in Veronyka when she sets out on her own.  She’s determined, she’s fierce, and just a real force to be reckoned with, especially the closer she gets to making her dream come true.  She had my sympathy right away but eventually she earned my respect and admiration as well.

I also really liked the other two main characters, Tristan and Sev, and thought they also had interesting journeys in this book.  As I mentioned earlier, Tristan is the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander.  He is under tremendous pressure to live up to his father’s high expectations so that he might lead the Riders someday. In addition to watching his relationship with Nyk/Veronyka grow, much of Tristan’s journey focuses on him desperately trying to overcome his fears and make his father proud.  Sev, like Veronyka, is an animage in hiding.  Unlike Veronyka, however, Sev is hiding in plain sight, working as a soldier in the empire’s army.  His life takes an interesting and even more dangerous turn when he is approached by someone who knows what he is and is tasked with spying on the enemy from within.

Having the story unfold from these three unique perspectives added so many complex layers and interesting relationship dynamics. I really enjoyed watching all three of these characters grow and mature.

Aside from the characters, I also loved the whole concept of the Phoenix Riders.  The visual of these fierce warriors riding on fiery phoenixes gave me chills, and I also loved the way the author describes the unbreakable bond that forms between a phoenix and his or her rider of choice.  Everything about this was just so well thought out and well written. The author made it very easy to see why becoming a Phoenix Rider was Veronyka’s dream.

The ending was actually my absolute favorite part of Crown of Feathers.  If you’re into epic battle scenes, this book is for you.  I don’t want to spoil anything but think along the lines of the battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or even the battles to protect the wall in Game of Thrones.  It was so intense and had me flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  Regardless of my overall rating, I’d give the last 100 or so pages 5 stars.

My biggest issue with A Crown of Feathers centered on the worldbuilding.  As I mentioned, I thought the world itself was fantastic, especially the Phoenixes and the whole idea of the Phoenix Riders.  I just had a hard time with the way all of the background information was inserted in large clumps throughout the story.  It’s probably just me but getting the information that way really slowed the pacing of the story for me at times and just felt in the way of the action.

I also wanted more interaction between Val and Veronyka.  I have a thing for complicated sibling dynamics and was so excited by the way this story started off with Val betraying Veronyka in such a big way.  Then she just disappeared for hundreds of pages.  I spent much of the book wondering when she was going to make an appearance and either redeem herself or make things even worse between herself and Veronyka.

Even though I struggled with the pacing in the first half of the book, I still think Crown of Feathers is a very solid series opener and a stellar debut effort.  The way this first book ended has me very excited to find out where the story is going next. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, fierce female protagonists, and of course, those beautiful fiery phoenixes.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

three-half-stars

About Nicki Pau Preto

Nicki is a YA fantasy author living just outside Toronto, Canada. After getting a degree in visual arts, a masters in art history, and a diploma in graphic design, Nicki discovered two things: she loves to escape the real world, and she isn’t interested in a regular 9-5 life. Luckily, her chosen career covers both.

Her YA fantasy debut CROWN OF FEATHERS is coming February 12, 2019 from Simon Pulse.

Review: FORGET YOU KNOW ME

Review:  FORGET YOU KNOW MEForget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser
Also by this author: Not That I Could Tell
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
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.

FORGET YOU KNOW ME review

I went into Jessica Strawser’s Forget You Know Me expecting to read a thriller.  What I got, however, was something entirely different and not necessarily in a bad way.  Instead of being a thriller, Forget You Know Me is a powerful and emotional exploration of the hurt we all experience when we drift apart from someone we care about, be it a spouse, sibling, or a close friend.

There is a small “thriller” element that takes place in the early chapters of Forget You Know Me, but it’s only central to the plot in the sense that it serves as a catalyst to show just how far apart former best friends Molly and Liza have drifted over the years, as well as how fractured Molly’s relationship with her husband, Daniel, has become after years of neglect and taking advantage of each other.

During a video chat with Molly, for example, Liza sees something terrifying on screen that makes her jump in the car and drive hours to Molly’s house to make sure Molly is okay. When she arrives, however, instead of being grateful that her friend has come all this way to make sure she’s okay, Molly is cold and aloof and pretty much kicks Liza out of her house with no explanation.  The awkwardness continues when not only does Molly offer Liza no explanation, but she also hides what has happened from her husband, who probably should have been the first person she told.  Why the awkwardness and the secrets with the two people she should be closest to?

Strawser’s novel highlights the idea that you only get as much out of a relationship as you’re willing to put into it and just how fragile and fractured relationships can become if neglected.

My favorite part of Forget You Know Me was how well drawn all of the central characters are.  The book is filled with messy, complicated characters who are going through things we can all relate to, whether we want to or not.  Strawser does a wonderful job of making the ups and downs of the friendship between Molly and Liza feel so authentic.  We’ve all been in relationships where we’ve just simply drifted apart over the years, either because we’ve moved away and don’t make enough of an effort to stay in contact, or else because our interests just don’t coincide with one another anymore.

Strawser does an equally impressive job of fleshing out the marriage woes between Molly and Daniel, who have clearly fallen into a rut over the years.  Again, if you’ve been in any kind of long-term relationship, their relationship issues are oh-so-relatable.

In addition to complicated characters in relatable situations, Strawser also does a nice job of building a bit of suspense by keeping that thriller element lurking in the background throughout the novel as she is exploring the relationship struggles of her characters.  The tension created by all of these troubled relationships, in addition to wanting a resolution to the thriller element, kept me glued to the pages.

Strawser’s smooth writing style also kept me turning the pages. Everything just flowed so nicely and I really liked the way this whole story unfolded with its many twists and turns.

My only real disappointment with the novel was that the thriller element, although it had such a huge build up in the early part of the novel, just seemed to fizzle out and take a backseat to everything else that was going on. I really expected and hoped that it would be more central to the story than it ended up being.

I would recommend Forget You Know Me to anyone who is interested in a slightly suspenseful read that explores relationships and what happens to them if they aren’t properly nurtured.  If you’re looking for a true thriller, I’d say to try a different book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Forget You Know Me is that book you can’t put down, and can’t stop thinking about when you are finished.” —Sally Hepworth, bestselling author of The Family Next Door.

When a video call between friends captures a shocking incident no one was supposed to see, the secrets it exposes threaten to change their lives forever.

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit—in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.

Only one thing is certain: Molly needs her. Liza drives all night to be at Molly’s side—but when she arrives, the reception is icy, leaving Liza baffled and hurt. She knows there’s no denying what she saw.

Or is there?

In disbelief that their friendship could really be over, Liza is unaware she’s about to have a near miss of her own.

And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

Jessica Strawser’s Forget You Know Me is a “twisty, emotionally complex, powder keg of a tale” (bestselling author Emily Carpenter) about the wounds of people who’ve grown apart. Best, friends, separated by miles. Spouses, hardened by neglect. A mother, isolated by pain.

One moment will change things for them all.

three-half-stars

About Jessica Strawser

Jessica Strawser is the Editor-at-Large for Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade. Her debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU (St. Martin’s Press), was a Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction Selection upon its March 2017 release, as well as a She Reads Book Club Selection and a PopSugar Best Spring Read. Her second, NOT THAT I COULD TELL, was a bestselling Book of the Month selection for March 2018, and is now new in paperback and available at Target stores nationwide, with a bonus Reading Group Gold guide included.

Her latest novel of domestic suspense, FORGET YOU KNOW ME, released Feb. 5, 2019, from St. Martin’s Press, having been named to “Best Of” and “Most Anticipated” lists from Goodreads, PopSugar, BookBub, and elsewhere. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “masterful,” saying, “fans of well-written suspense are in for a treat.”

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans nearly two decades and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. A Pittsburgh native and “Outstanding Senior” graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, she counts her New York Times Modern Love essay and her Writer’s Digest cover interviews with such luminaries as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler and David Sedaris among her career highlights. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two children, and has recently been named the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

A proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she tweets @jessicastrawser, enjoys connecting at Facebook.com/jessicastrawserauthor, and speaks frequently at writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

Visit jessicastrawser.com to learn more, read some of her work and sign up for her email list to receive occasional updates and hellos.

Review: SISTERS OF THE FIRE by Kim Wilkins

Review:  SISTERS OF THE FIRE by Kim WilkinsSisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins
Also by this author: Daughters of the Storm
four-stars
Series: Blood and Gold #2
Published by Del Rey on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 448
Also in this series: Daughters of the Storm
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.

SISTERS OF THE FIRE Review

Sisters of the Fire is the second installment in Kim Wilkins’ captivating epic fantasy series, Blood and Gold.  It picks up four years after the events of the first book, continuing the adventures of the five royal daughters of the King of Thyrsland.  Events from the first book have left the King’s daughters scattered far and wide throughout the kingdom.  Only Bluebell, the eldest daughter, has remained at home with her father, as she will be heir to the throne one day.  Bluebell has attained nearly legendary status as a warrior and is deemed by most to be unkillable, so when she learns one of her enemies has had a magical sword created that has the power to kill her and that it is in the possession of one of her sisters, Bluebell goes on a quest to find each of her sisters and figure out who has the sword so that she can destroy it before it can do her harm.

As with the first book in the series, we follow the perspectives of each of the five sisters, so we see what trials and tribulations the other four sisters are facing while we’re also following Bluebell on her quest.  Sister Ash, a seer, is still in self-imposed exile learning to control her magic and hunting dragons, while sister Rose, is in hiding, having been cast aside by her husband because she was unfaithful. What made this second book an even better read for me than the first one was that the two younger sisters had much bigger roles this time whereas they felt more like secondary characters in the first book.  Ivy is living with her much older husband and is in a position to attain great power should something happen to him, and Willow, our religious zealot from the first book, has become even more fanatical about her faith when we meet her in this book.

Sisters of the Fire is filled with secrets, lies, betrayal, plenty of action, familial love, and yes, even a few hints of romance. It also does a wonderful job of advancing the story arcs of each of the sisters, as well as introducing my new favorite character, Rose’s daughter, Rowan, who was an infant in the first book. Rowan has grown into a feisty rebellious character, who aspires to be a fierce warrior like her aunt Bluebell, while everyone around her wants her to be proper and ladylike.  She’s a delightful addition to what was already a stellar cast of badass females, and I can’t wait to see how she factors in as this exciting series continues.

With this second installment, the Blood and Gold series continues to impress me and I look forward to seeing what is in store for all of the sisters, and of course, Rowan, in the next book. I highly recommend the series to fantasy fans, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about complicated family dynamics, especially sibling relationships.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In the next chapter of a fantasy series featuring five unforgettable sisters—the warrior, the magician, the lover, the zealot, and the gossip—an insidious threat jeopardizes a fragile peace.

Four years have passed since the five royal sisters—daughters of the king—worked together to restore their father to health and to the throne while fracturing the bonds among themselves almost irreparably. Only Bluebell remains at home, dutifully serving as heir to her father’s kingdom. Rose has been cast aside by her former husband and hides in exile with her aunt, separated forever from her beloved daughter, Rowan. Ash wanders the distant wastes with her teacher, learning magic and hunting dragons, determined that the dread fate she has foreseen for herself and her loved ones never comes to pass. Ivy rules over a prosperous seaport, married to an aged husband she hates yet finding delight in her two young sons and a handsome captain of the guard. And as for Willow, she hides the most dangerous secret of all—one that could destroy all that the sisters once sought to save.

four-stars

About Kim Wilkins

Kim Wilkins was born in London, and grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane, Australia. She has degrees in literature and creative writing, and teaches at the University of Queensland and in the community. Her first novel, The Infernal, a supernatural thriller was published in 1997. Since then, she has published across many genres and for many different age groups. Her latest books, contemporary epic women’s fiction, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman. Kim has won many awards and is published all over the world. She lives in Brisbane with a bunch of lovable people and pets.

Blog Tour Review – LITTLE DARLINGS by Melanie Golding

Blog Tour Review – LITTLE DARLINGS by Melanie GoldingLittle Darlings by Melanie Golding
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on April 30, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

LITTLE DARLINGS REVIEW

Melanie Golding’s Little Darlings is one of the most unsettling and addictive novels I’ve read in a long time.  It hooked me from the opening scene and kept me on the edge of my seat (and looking over my shoulder!) until the very last page.

Inspired by some pretty creepy folklore, in the vein of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the story follows exhausted new mom, Lauren Tranter, who has just given birth to identical twin boys.  One night while still at the hospital, Lauren wakes to find a filthy woman dressed in rags in her room trying to take Lauren’s babies and replace them with some creatures that she is carrying in a basket.  Lauren screams, grabs her babies, and locks herself in the bathroom, but when help arrives, there’s no sign that anyone has been there aside from Lauren.  Everyone chalks the incident up to Lauren just being so tired from taking care of her twins, but Lauren cannot be convinced that no one is trying to take her babies.

A month passes and Lauren is still terrified that someone is after her children, but reluctantly agrees that it’s time for all of them to get out of the house.  She takes the twins to the park, where she dozes off from sheer exhaustion.  When she wakes up, her babies are gone and she just knows it’s the woman from the hospital.  The police are called, and a search ensues, and thankfully the babies are located and returned to Lauren quickly.  Except that Lauren takes one look at these babies and swears that they aren’t hers.  She is convinced that they’re changelings and is prepared to resort to drastic and desperate measures to get rid of them and get her boys back.

If she’s wrong, however, it will cost her everything she holds dear…

One facet of Little Darlings I really liked was how well developed and relatable both of the main characters are.  Even though my son is now 11, I still vividly remember the crushing exhaustion that went along with those first few weeks after he was born.  Because of that, I immediately felt a connection to Lauren and felt tremendous sympathy for her, especially when her husband wasn’t being as helpful as he could be.  I also very much remember being hyper alert to any and all things that could possibly harm my baby.  The author does an incredible job bringing to life Lauren’s fears about her babies, as well as her growing frustration that no one believes what she is trying to tell them. The intensity of Lauren’s emotions made Little Darlings such a powerful and gripping read.

The other main character is a police sergeant named Harper who takes an interest in finding out what really happened in the hospital, even though the rest of her department and everyone else has written this off as some kind of postpartum psychotic episode that Lauren has experienced.  I liked Harper right away because she comes across as a bit of a rebel, always pushing the envelope, if she thinks she needs to investigate something further.  What draws her to Lauren’s case is something from her own past that still haunts her, and I loved the added layers Harper’s backstory added to the overall story.  It made her just as compelling a character as Lauren, which was ideal since the story is presented from each of their points of view.

Aside from giving me these two characters that I was immediately so invested in, I also loved that the suspense level was just off the charts and that I was kept guessing.  I didn’t know what to believe.  Had someone really been in the hospital room?  Is Lauren right in the park when she swears her babies have been swapped out for changelings?  Is there a real suspect at large or is there something supernatural afoot?  Or is everyone else right and Lauren is truly suffering a mental health crisis?  I wanted to know the answers to these questions so badly that I just couldn’t put the book down and ended up devouring the entire story in less than two days.  This book is the definition of a page turner!

The only real issue I had with Little Darlings was that I couldn’t stomach Lauren’s husband.  I found him utterly unlikable and didn’t want to believe that a new dad could be as selfish and clueless as he was.  I’m sure the author drew him that way to make it even easier to sympathize with Lauren, but that man seriously needed a swift kick in the pants.

If you’re a fan of creepy folklore and addictive thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat, Little Darlings should be on your must-read list.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

four-stars

About Melanie Golding

Melanie Golding is a graduate of the MA in creative writing program at Bath Spa University, with distinction. She has been employed in many occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spite of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. Little Darlings is her first novel, and has been optioned for screen by Free Range Films, the team behind the adaptation of My Cousin Rachel.