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

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIERed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIEThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
four-half-stars
Series: Dimple & Rishi #2
Published by Simon Pulse on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Casey McQuiston

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

About Sandhya Menon

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

Review: THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren

Review:  THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina LaurenThe Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNHONEYMOONERS Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Christina Lauren

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

Review: MIDDLEGAME

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

MIDDLEGAME Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

three-stars

About Seanan McGuire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

 

 

 

LOVE FROM A TO Z Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

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

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

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

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

five-stars

About S.K. Ali

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

Blog Tour Review: IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult 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.

Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me to take part in their blog tour to promote Susan Kaplan Carlton’s new book, In the Neighborhood of True.  This was a wonderful read for me, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for me to read and review.

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

Don’t let that lovely pastel pink cover fool you into thinking Susan Kaplan Carlton’s In the Neighborhood of True is a light and fluffy read.  It is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year.

Set in the 1950’s in Atlanta, Georgia, In the Neighborhood of True is meant to be a work of  historical fiction that explores the racism and anti-Semitism that was rampant during that time period.  While the story itself is inspired by the Atlanta Temple bombing that took place in 1958, what makes the book such a hard hitting read, however, is that it’s not just historical fiction.  It really smacked me right in the face as I was reading this book that the hate and prejudice main character Ruth Robb was witnessing in the 50’s is still alive and well today, as people now have to contend with Islamophobia and homophobia in addition to the anti-Semitism and racism that we still haven’t managed to eradicate.

I always root for an underdog and it became apparent as soon as I started reading that Ruth Robb was my underdog.  Forced to relocate to Atlanta from Manhattan after her father passes away, Ruth, with her dark eyes and wild dark curls, sticks out like a sore thumb when she first enters the land of sweet tea, magnolia balls, and debutantes and meets the blonde, perfectly-coiffed “Pastel Posse” she will be attending school with.  She very quickly realizes that she has a hard choice to make:  either embrace her Jewish background and become a social outcast or try to pass as a Christian so that she can participate in the balls and other pre-debutante events and hang with the popular crowd at school.  Ruth is torn because she feels like she’s selling out her heritage, but there’s a part of her that wants to take the path of least resistance and do what she needs to do to just fit in.

Ruth’s inner conflict is the force that drives the plot of In the Neighborhood of True and I think the author does a fantastic job of making Ruth’s struggle feel authentic and relatable.  Don’t we all want to just fit in at times and not have everything be a struggle?  In Ruth’s case though, fitting in with the ‘It’ crowd at school means hiding who she is and what she believes, and it leads to her living a double life and hoping that neither side realizes the truth, a double life that is ultimately unsustainable long-term.

Even though the story is mostly about Ruth and the difficult journey she has to make in order to find and embrace her true self, In the Neighborhood of True is so much more than just a coming of age story.  It takes a hard look at anti-Semitism and at racism, shining a spotlight on the violent, horrific hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan. These acts were gut wrenching to read about and made me all the more sad that it’s still happening today. For this reason, Ruth wasn’t the only underdog I was rooting for as I was reading.  There was an active Jewish resistance movement present in the book and I was cheering them on all the way, especially since they were working tirelessly to fight anti-Semitism and racism.  As a character in the book states, “When hatred shows its face, you need to make a little ruckus.”

In the Neighborhood of True is an important and timely read, but it’s also a beautifully written story.  The author perfectly captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the South in the 1950’s – the music, the dances, the fashion and hair, the Co-Colas, and more, while at the same time, exposing that dark underbelly.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels with an element of social justice, or even just a good coming of age story.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

Early Review: LOST ROSES by Martha Hall Kelly

Early Review:  LOST ROSES by Martha Hall KellyLost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
Also by this author: Lilac Girls
five-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
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.

 

 

 

 

 

LOST ROSES Review

I was a huge fan of Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls, so I was thrilled to hear she has a new book, Lost Roses, coming out this year and that it actually ties in with Lilac Girls.  Where Lilac Girls featured American socialite Caroline Ferriday and was set during WWII, Lost Roses takes us back a generation and features Caroline’s mother Eliza and is set during WWI and the Russian Revolution.  While Caroline does make an appearance as a little girl in this latest novel, it is definitely Eliza’s story and can be read as a standalone.

As she did in Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly chooses to focus the narrative of Lost Roses on three very different women and show not only how their lives are impacted by the harsh reality of war, but also how their lives become intertwined with one another. Eliza lives in America and is a socialite, while Sofya, who is Eliza’s best friend, is a Russian aristocrat who is related to the reigning Czar.  Varinka, the third character who is a central figure in the story, is also Russian, but she is lower class, living in poverty.

I loved the focus on these women and how the novel showcased how strong and resilient each of them could be in the face of adversity.  Eliza was especially easy to love because she’s such a loyal friend to Sofya and because she’s just so kind-hearted in general.  As she’s trying to get news about Sofya, whose letters from Russia have suddenly stopped coming, she also fully dedicates herself to helping all the Russian women who are arriving in New York.  These women have managed to escape war torn Russia, but they have nothing except the clothes on their backs.  She devotes herself to finding them shelter and employment.  I just adored her determination and her compassion.

Sofya is also easy to love because even though she’s an aristocrat, she’s clearly in an underdog role once the Revolution begins.  The aristocracy is under fire, and Sofya is just trying to survive and be the best mom she can to her young son, Max, something that’s hard to do when you fear for your life every moment of the day. I admired Sofya’s inner strength so much while reading her chapters.  As the Revolution presses on, she endures tragic losses that would have made many people give up, but instead of giving up, she manages to dig deep and find an inner strength that she didn’t think she had.  It was clear Sofya would do whatever she had to do to make sure Max was safe.

Varinka was the character I was probably the most conflicted about.  I sympathized with her so much in her earlier chapters because she is really living in dire straits.  Varinka’s life becomes entwined with Sofya and her family when they flee to their country estate, hoping they’ll be safer there, and decide they need a nanny for Max. Varinka manages to secure the job for herself, but in doing so, unknowingly brings danger right to Sofya’s doorstep.  My sympathy for Varinka wavered because she makes some very questionable decisions at times that bring harm to others, but ultimately, even though her actions frustrated me, I could understand why she made the choices she did, based on her circumstances, and because we get a very clear picture of what’s going through her head and the moral dilemmas she is facing.  Her struggles felt very authentic and human, so in the end, I still felt sympathy towards her.

In addition to these three characters and their moving stories, I was also impressed by how well-researched the story is.  It’s historical fiction based on the real-life Eliza Woolsey, and it’s clear that the author knows her subjects well. She brings Eliza to life beautifully, and she does a tremendous job of capturing the atmosphere of lawlessness and anarchy that came with the Russian Revolution. And finally, she does an equally brilliant job of showing how badly the aristocracy treated the poor, thus contributing to the onset of the Revolution in the first place.

None!

My love for Martha Hall Kelly’s style of storytelling has only grown with my reading of Lost Roses.  The writing is exquisite, and I’m just constantly fascinated by the way she shows war from the perspective of women, which in most cases, is very different from what we’re used to seeing.  In addition to being about war, Lost Roses is also a well-crafted, moving story of strength, determination, and friendship. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Lilac Girls, enjoys historical fiction in general, and especially to anyone who would like to know more about the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of WWI.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

 

five-stars

About Martha Hall Kelly

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is excited to share the prequel, Lost Roses, coming this April and is thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind both books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and clues about the prequel Lost Roses on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

ARC Review: ONE SUMMER IN PARIS by Sarah Morgan

ARC Review:  ONE SUMMER IN PARIS by Sarah MorganOne Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan
Also by this author: The Christmas Sisters
four-half-stars
Published by Hqn on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Women's Literature, Romance
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

ONE SUMMER IN PARIS Review:

 

As soon as I saw the title of Sarah Morgan’s latest book, One Summer in Paris, I hit the request button on Netgalley.  Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’ve wanted to go back there ever since I first visited several years ago.  I read Sarah Morgan’s The Christmas Sisters this past winter and based on the way she transported me to the Scottish Highlands in that book, I knew she was the perfect choice to take me back to Paris.  Once I actually stopped flailing about the book being set in Paris and read the synopsis, I knew I was going to love it.

One Summer in Paris follows two women, 47 year old Grace and 18 year old Audrey, both of whom are in Paris for the summer.  Grace is supposed to be in Paris for a month with her husband, David, to celebrate their 25th anniversary.  However, when Grace presents David with the tickets for the Paris trip, David informs her that he is having an affair and wants a divorce.  Grace is devastated but decides to pluck up her courage and go to Paris alone.  Audrey is also dealing with some issues at her home in London that have left her feeling unloved and just wanting to get away and taste freedom for a while.  She decides that she needs an adventure, and even though she doesn’t speak the language, she boldly decides that she wants to live and work in Paris for the summer.   When Grace and Audrey unexpectedly cross paths in Paris, they form an immediate and unlikely friendship that will change both of their lives.

The friendship between Grace and Audrey was what really made this book such a winner for me.  Their personalities in many ways are polar opposites, with Audrey being the bold and daring one, while Grace is overly cautious and has lived an almost sheltered life.  I really loved how even though Grace was 47 and Audrey was only 18, Audrey teaches Grace just as many life lessons as Grace teachers her, and it was just so heartwarming to watch them support each other.  Audrey, who is a whiz with hair, makeup, and fashion, helps Grace really come out of her shell and enjoy her time in Paris to the fullest, while Grace, who is a language teacher, helps Audrey start to learn French so that she can more independently live and work in the city.  Grace becomes the mother figure Audrey has never really had, and Audrey becomes the BFF that Grace has never had.

You knew Paris was going to make my list of highlights, right? Morgan describes the “City of Lights” perfectly, capturing everything about the city that makes it such a magical and romantic destination for so many.  Between her lush descriptions of baguettes, croissants, delicious cheeses, and wine, and picnics by the Seine River, and her picture-perfect portrayal of iconic French landmarks and gently curving side streets that lead to charming bookstores and bistros, Morgan will make you feel like you are right in the heart of Paris.

I know those who follow my blog will be surprised to see romance in my highlights section, but Morgan has woven two of my favorite kinds of romance into this story and really did both of them very well.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m just going to say First Love and Second Chance Romance, and leave it at that. 😊

I love a story that is filled with complicated relationships and this book is chock full of them.  There are complicated family relationships, as well as complicated romantic relationships.  This is an uplifting and heartwarming story overall, but it also has its fair share of drama because of these relationships, which I think help ground the story and keep it from becoming saccharine sweet. Although, that said, I will say that I cried happy tears more than once as I got closer and closer to the end.

My only real complaint about One Summer in Paris was that a couple of plot points were a little predictable.  They took the story in ways I wanted it to go, however, so they didn’t really bother me too much.

I think One Summer in Paris is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys an engaging story about complicated family relationships, the importance of friendship, love, and above all else, a story about taking chances and finding oneself. It’s light enough to be a perfect summer/beach read, but it still has plenty of weight to it because of what both women are going through.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Morgan is a masterful storyteller, and readers will be fully immersed in this realistic but magical summer in Paris. Packed full of love, loss, heartbreak, and hope, this may just be Morgan’s best book yet. For fans of Jojo Moyes, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Stacey Ballis” -Booklist Review on One Summer in Paris.

USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with this heartwarming novel about the power of friendship, love and what happens when an ending is just the beginning…

To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.

Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes.

Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…

 

four-half-stars

About Sarah Morgan

USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes romance and contemporary women’s fiction and her trademark humour and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. She is a 3 time winner of the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and has been nominated five times. Sarah lives near London, England, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves being outdoors.

Blog Tour Book Review: WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. Duncan

Blog Tour Book Review:  WICKED SAINTS by Emily A. DuncanWicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
four-stars
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Published by Wednesday Books on April 2, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thanks so much to Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Wicked Saints.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this riveting read today.

Emily A. Duncan’s Wicked Saints is a dark and gritty fantasy that captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  It’s also a multi-layered story that features a religious war, political intrigue, morally gray characters, and a pretty hefty dose of secrets and lies.

At the center of the novel is a war between two lands, one is a land filled with heretics who rely on blood magic, while the other, a more religious land, is filled with those who worship saints and with clerics who can communicate with the saints and borrow their powers.  The heretics loathe all that the religious land stands for and the King of their land has made it his mission to wipe out his enemy.  This war has been raging for a long time and the King is so close to his objective, he can practically taste victory.

In fact, there is only one cleric left, a teenager named Nadya. As the last in her land who is able to call magic from the saints, Nadya had a target on her back and therefore has spent most of her life hiding in a monastery.  When the novel opens, the monastery is under attack because the King’s men, including his son Crown Prince Serefin, have figured out where Nadya is hiding and have been sent to kill her.

Nadya manages to escape but is on her own until she meets up with a band of rebels, led by Malachiaz.  The rebels say that they want to bring this war to an end, and when Nadya says she does as well, they hatch a plot to work together and assassinate the King.  Since he’s the one driving the war, they think eliminating him is the key to peace.

When they start implementing their plan, however, it becomes clear to Nadya that nothing and no one is as they seem.  She begins to question everything and has no idea who she can trust, if anyone…

Can Nadya bring an end to this war and bring peace to her people or is she destined to fail?

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY WICKED SAINTS SHOULD BE ON YOUR MUST-READ LIST

 

Wicked Saints sounds pretty epic, right?  Now I want to dive just a little deeper (in a non-spoilery way, of course) and share some of the highlights of the story for me.  If you love these qualities as much as I do, then Wicked Saints is a must-read for you!

 

  1. Nonstop Action and Suspense. I’m all about action scenes when I read fantasy, and this book is filled with intense fight scenes.  They’re violent and bloody and probably not for the faint of heart, but they are an adrenaline rush for sure.  Think Game of Thrones and you’re in the right ballpark!
  1. Incredible Worldbuilding. It’s a Russian-inspired world and it is beautifully done.  The snowy, rugged landscape, the magic system, the lore surrounding the Saints — all of it combined to make a very atmospheric read.  If you’ve read Leigh Bardugo, there’s a slight Grishaverse vibe, but I actually preferred this world.
  1. Morally Gray Characters. The characters in Wicked Saints really drew me into the story because each one has his or her own agenda, whether political, religious or something else altogether, and all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to try to achieve that agenda.  Some motives seemed purer than others, but I found myself constantly second guessing which characters were the monsters but still liking them all even if I started to consider them villains.  I really liked Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiaz pretty equally even though they all couldn’t possibly be heroes.  And in many ways, the character who turns out to be the most monstrous ended up being my favorite, which I totally did not see coming and was fascinated by my own reaction.
  1. The Magic. Nadya’s use of magic was just so cool.  Most clerics have the ability to communicate with a single saint and to borrow that saint’s magic as needed.  As we learn in the opening pages, however, Nadya somehow has the ability to do this with all of the saints.  She therefore has a pretty powerful arsenal of magic at her disposal. While she may be the last cleric, she is a mighty one.  What I loved most about her magic is that she literally has conversations with these saints in her head and they talk back to her.
  1. The Vultures. I don’t want to say much about this little band of creeps, but they are just deliciously evil and add an extra layer of danger throughout the story, which helped to ratchet up the suspense.  Everyone is aware of the Vultures and how menacing they can be, but what no one anticipates is that these villains are somehow able to weasel their way into the castle and become unexpectedly tight with the King.

 

I have to admit that I was really nervous when I first started reading Wicked Saints.  I had been in a fantasy rut for a while – nothing I was reading was holding my attention – and I worried that Wicked Saints would fall short for that reason.  I’m thrilled to say that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about though because Wicked Saints is everything that I love in a dark fantasy.  The story is riveting and gritty throughout and it ends with a jaw dropping cliffhanger that has me anxiously awaiting the next installment.  Thanks to Emily A. Duncan for a read that was so entertaining it busted me out of my reading slump!

 

 

CLICK TO PURCHASE A COPY…

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

four-stars

About Emily A. Duncan

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

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
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.