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Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOOD

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODSpectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Published by Tor Teen on February 12, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
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:

A YA murder mystery in which a young reporter must use her supernatural visions to help track down a killer targeting the young women of Paris.

Paris, 1887.

Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day's new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered--from the perspective of the murderer himself.

When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie's search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie's strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer's identity--and she'll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.

Review:

Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s debut novel Spectacle is a book I really wanted to love.  It’s a YA murder mystery set in Paris during the 1880s, and it features a female protagonist, Nathalie, who is a newspaper reporter and who also happens to have supernatural visions that could come in handy when it becomes clear a killer is on the loose in her city, targeting young women.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?

And there are quite a few things I did enjoy about it.  I liked that the novel reads as part thriller, part historical fiction, and that it even has a little supernatural twist.  I thought the author did an especially nice job of capturing 1880s Paris and of filling her murder mystery with lots of creepy twists and turns, many of which kept me guessing until the very end, and I was also very intrigued with the idea of the main character being a teenage girl who writes the daily morgue report for the local newspaper.

My struggles with the book, unfortunately, were many as well.  The pacing felt very slow at times and Nathalie felt rather underdeveloped even though she had several subplots swirling around her. While I felt like some of the subplots helped show how Nathalie ended up working where she’s working, unfortunately, they didn’t offer me anything else to make me feel much of a connection to her.  I also found her incredibly frustrating in that she knew full well there was a murderer on the loose who was targeting young women but yet was constantly out walking about the city by herself and at one point even makes a trip down into the Catacombs.

The ending also felt rather awkward. I think it was meant to be open-ended, but the way it just trailed off, it just felt like pages were missing. Between that, the lack of connection I felt to the main character, the slow pacing, and the fact that I predicted who one of the murder victims would be as soon as the character was introduced, I ended up pretty disappointed.  Hopefully other readers will have a better experience with this since it does have such an interesting and unique premise.  2.5 STARS

 

 

Early Mini Reviews: SPECTACLE and THE SISTERHOODThe Sisterhood by A.J. Grainger
on February 12, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
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:

Seventeen-year-old Lil’s heart was broken when her sister Mella disappeared. There’s been no trace or sighting of her since she vanished, so when Lil sees a girl lying in the road near her house she thinks for a heart-stopping moment that it’s Mella.

The girl is injured and disorientated and Lil has no choice but to take her home, even though she knows something’s not right. The girl claims she’s from a peaceful community called The Sisterhood of the Light, but why then does she have strange marks down her arms, and what—or who—is she running from?

Review:

A.J. Grainger’s The Sisterhood is a dark and twisty tale that centers around two sisters, Lil and Mella, and the fallout that takes place when Mella runs away from home after a fight with Lil.  Lil feels responsible and is heartsick about it, especially after months and months go by without a single sighting of Mella anywhere.  When Lil stumbles across a girl lying unconscious and injured in the road not far from her house, she decides that she needs to do everything she can to help the girl.  When the girl, whose name is Alice, regains consciousness, she confides in Lil that she is from The Sisterhood of the Light, which she claims is a peaceful and nurturing community.  Lil is suspicious, especially considering Alice was clearly running away from this group when she was injured and because she has what appear to be burn marks all over her arm. Lil decides to dig deeper – who is this Sisterhood, where are they located considering she’s never heard of them until finding Alice, could any of this tie in to what happened to Mella?

I found this story to be absolutely riveting.  The mystery of where Mella was had already grabbed my attention, but then from the moment Lil stumbled across Alice unconscious and bleeding in the road, I couldn’t put the book down because I just had to know what happened to her.  Then when Alice wakes up and starts going on and on about what sounded like a cult, I was totally hooked and ended up devouring the book in a single afternoon.

The story is told primarily from Lil’s perspective, alternating occasionally with some wild and sometimes creepy chapters from inside The Sisterhood, which I thought was a very effective way to have the story unfold.  Lil is a very likeable and complex character and the author does a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions going through her head as she is desperately missing her sister, while also trying to put on a brave face for her mom, who is also just falling apart because of Mella’s disappearance.  Lil feels like she failed Mella, and now she’s determined to help Alice as a way to do what she didn’t do for her own sister.  Some of Lil’s choices end up being a little questionable and not well thought out, but those flawed choices made her feel all the more real and relatable.

With its mysteries of what has happened to Mella and Alice, its creepy cult-like group, and its emotional impact as poor Lil puts herself through the wringer worrying about her sister, The Sisterhood is a captivating read from start to finish.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  4 STARS

About A.J. Grainger

A. J. Grainger was born in Reading, where she went to the same school as Jane Austen but not at the same time. She now lives in London with her husband and works as a children’s books editor. She loves writing and editing because it means she gets to talk about books all day. She likes novels with plenty of twists and turns that keep you guessing right up until the end. She is also a total sucker for love stories.

A. J. keeps a blog at www.ajgrainger.com, where she talks about books, writing, editing, making things and procrastinating.

About Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History and an MBA. In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. Spectacle is her debut.

Early Reviews: DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESS

Early Reviews:  DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESSDark of the West by Joanna Hathaway
three-half-stars
Series: Glass Alliance #1
Published by Tor Teen on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.

Review:

Joanna Hathaway’s Dark of the West is the exciting first book in her ambitious debut YA Fantasy series, Glass Alliance. Inspired by the political landscape of WWII, the worldbuilding in this novel is lush and intricate, and manages to feel familiar and yet unique all at the same time.  I think this is a series that is going to have a little bit of something for everyone:  political intrigue, war mongering, spies, assassinations, epic battle scenes, just to name a few.  As exciting as all of that sounds, however, what really makes the story come alive are the star crossed lovers at its heart, Athan and Aurelia,

I loved the portrayal of these two young people.  Athan is a gifted pilot and the youngest son of a famous and ruthless general.  The general’s primary rival, is the Queen of Etania, who also happens to be Aurelia’s mother.  When Athan’s mother is unexpectedly gunned down by a sniper, Athan’s father is convinced that the Queen is behind it and sends Athan on a mission to avenge his mother’s death and to help his father overthrow the Queen.  It is while on this mission that Athan meets and falls in love with Aurelia, the one person he shouldn’t be with.

What I loved about this story is that it is presented to us from the viewpoints of both Athan and Aurelia.  We get to see firsthand from each side what is happening with regard to the war preparations since war appears to be imminent.  But then we also get to see firsthand just how conflicted both Athan and Aurelia are when it comes to their wanting to remain loyal to their families, but also the undeniable attraction they feel for one another.  Athan’s chapters were my favorites because in addition to witnessing all of the internal conflicts he is struggling with, we also get exciting chapters where he is in the sky, either flying training routes or actually engaged in battles in the air.  I kept thinking of Star Wars and Top Gun while reading those scenes and they were just such an adrenaline rush.

I did have a few issues with the book, however, which is why I’ve rated it what I have.  Aside from those flying scenes, I found the pacing of the first half of the novel to be somewhat slow.  I also wasn’t a big fan of the prologue, which drops some pretty big spoilers about where the story is ultimately going as it pertains to Athan and Aurelia.  While that information made for an exciting beginning, it ended up leaving me frustrated as Athan and Aurelia don’t even cross paths until almost the halfway point of the first book.  I honestly think I would have preferred no prologue. Even with those couple of issues, however, I still found Dark of the West to be a very solid first book in this series and I look forward to seeing how we end up at the scene we are presented with in the prologue.  3.5 STARS

 

 

Early Reviews:  DARK OF THE WEST & COURTING DARKNESSCourting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
three-half-stars
Series: Courting Darkness Duology #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Death wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning…

Sybella has always been the darkest of Death’s daughters, trained at the convent of Saint Mortain to serve as his justice. But she has a new mission now. In a desperate bid to keep her two youngest sisters safe from the family that nearly destroyed them all, she agrees to accompany the duchess to France, where they quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. Their one ray of hope is Sybella’s fellow novitiates, disguised and hidden deep in the French court years ago by the convent—provided Sybella can find them.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she struggles to remember who she is or what she’s supposed to be fighting for. Her only solace is a hidden prisoner who appears all but forgotten by his guards. When tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands—even if it means ignoring the long awaited orders from the convent.

As Sybella and Gen’s paths draw ever closer, the fate of everything they hold sacred rests on a knife’s edge. Will they find each other in time, or will their worlds collide, destroying everything they care about?

Review:

Robin LaFevers latest offering, Courting Darkness, is the first book in a new duology that follows some of the beloved characters from the popular His Fair Assassin series on a new adventure.  I didn’t realize this was connected to the other series when I requested it, but aside from a few moments of confusion here and there, I was able to settle into the story and read it without too much difficulty.

Set in 15th century France, this story is full of secrets, lies, and danger as it revolves around conflicts between France and Brittany.  It is presented in alternating points of view from two assassin nuns, Sybella and Genevieve, who were trained at the convent of Saint Mortain.  I was a little confused about what exactly they were supposed to be doing, but the gist is that Genevieve is deep undercover in the French courts and has been so for years, awaiting word of her next mission, while Sybella is stationed with the Duchess of Brittany and ends up accompanying her to France when it is agreed that the Duchess should marry the King of France.  While there, Sybella and the Duchess find themselves in hostile territory with Sybella’s siblings in the line of fire.  Determined to protect her sisters at all costs, Sybella starts scoping out all of the ladies in the French court, hoping to figure out which one is her fellow assassin so that the next phase of their mission can move forward.

While the politics, the deceits and the whole idea of assassin nuns are all quite interesting, even if a little confusing at times, my favorite part of the story was actually Sybella and Beast, one of the royal guards.  Their relationship was so sweet and it was ultimately what kept me turning the pages.  From what I’m hearing, they are a favorite pairing from His Fair Assassin so I definitely plan to go back and read more about those two, especially since I really did enjoy LaFevers’ fluid writing style.  I didn’t care for Genevieve quite as much as Sybella but I have a feeling that will change based on the excellent cliffhanger we’re left with at the end of Courting Darkness.

I think Courting Darkness would have been an even better read for me if I had gone into it after reading the His Fair Assassins trilogy, but I still found it to be an exciting read, especially for anyone who is into political intrigue.  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Joanna Hathaway

JOANNA HATHAWAY was born in Montréal and is an avid storyteller who was inspired to write after reading her great-grandfather’s memoirs of the First World War. A lifelong history buff, she now has shelves filled with biographies and historical accounts, and perhaps one too many books about pilots. She can often be found reading, traveling, or riding horses.

Her debut novel, DARK OF THE WEST (Tor Teen, February 5th, 2019), is the first in a WWII-infused fantasy series of forbidden love and deadly revenge.

She is represented by Steven Salpeter of Curtis Brown Ltd.

About Robin LaFevers

Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry. It is not surprising she grew up to be a hopeless romantic.

Though she has never trained as an assassin or joined a convent, she did attend Catholic school for three years, which instilled in her a deep fascination with sacred rituals and the concept of the Divine. She has been on a search for answers to life’s mysteries ever since.

While many of those answers still elude her, she was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living happily ever after with him in the foothills of southern California.

In addition to writing about teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany, she writes books for middle grade readers, including the Theodosia books and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series. You can learn more about those books at www.rllafevers.com.

Early Reviews: WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECT

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTWatch Us Rise by Renée Watson, Ellen Hagan
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women's Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine's response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Review:

Watch Us Rise is a timely and powerful read that focuses on Chelsea and Jasmine, two teens who are tired of the way women are treated even at their own high school, a progressive school in New York City that has received awards to recognize its dedication to social justice.  Their frustration boils over and they decide to start a Women’s Rights club, which they name Write Like a Girl, and which centers around a blog they create where they share videos, poems, and essays they have written, and where they spotlight female authors, and pay special attention to those who are women of color.

What I really loved about this story is the determination Jasmine and Chelsea show as they use their club and blog to make sure all women’s voices are heard, to speak out against sexism, racism, and even against those impossibly perfect standards of beauty and fashion that contribute to low self-esteem in so many young women.  I also liked that the story itself included excerpts from the blog, including some incredible resistance poems as well as comments from readers of the blog.  As a blogger myself, I just found this element of Watch Us Rise easy to relate to and loved that all of their hard work was paying off.

Watch Us Rise also explores some of the obstacles that the girls run up against as their blog grows in popularity.  They have their fair share of trolls, both online and in their school, and their principal isn’t nearly as supportive as he should be. I’ll admit I was not completely sold on the idea that the principal of such a progressive school wouldn’t be supportive of a Women’s Rights club, but I still thought that showing how the girls approached any obstacles that got in their path was very effective.

With Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan have written a thought-provoking story that is sure to resonate with and empower many young women.  4 STARS

 

 

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTGoodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard
Also by this author: A Quiet Kind of Thunder
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on January 29, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When I was wild, you were steady . . . Now you are wild - what am I?

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

In Goodbye, Perfect, Sara Barnard poignantly explores the intricacies of family, friendship, and what happens when one friend puts another in an impossible situation. When 15-year-old Bonnie and her music teacher suddenly decide to run away together, Bonnie tells no one, not even her best friend, Eden.  This leaves Eden behind to deal with the fallout, because no one believes Bonnie would run away without confiding in her best friend.  When Bonnie finally does fill Eden in via text message, she puts Eden in an even more impossible situation because she swears her to secrecy.

What I enjoyed most about Goodbye Perfect is that even though Bonnie and her teacher-boyfriend are the ones creating the drama with their very disturbing actions, the story actually focuses more on Eden and what is going through her head.  She is so conflicted between wanting to be loyal to her best friend and wanting her to come home safely so that everyone stops worrying.  I think Barnard does a beautiful job of realistically exploring all of the emotions that are running through Eden’s mind as she tries to maneuver through what feels like a mine field.

In addition to its focus on Eden and what she is going through rather than Bonnie, I was also a big fan of the support system that Barnard has created for Eden. Eden’s adoptive family was just wonderful, as was her super sweet longtime boyfriend, Connor. All of Eden’s scenes with Connor made me smile, as did a scene when Eden’s adoptive mom stuck up for her when Bonnie’s mom confronts her.  The book is filled with lots of great moments like this.

Goodbye, Perfect is the second novel I’ve read by Sara Barnard and I have to say that she is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.  Her writing is gorgeous and the stories she crafts always tug at my heartstrings because of the emotional journeys of characters like Eden. If you’re looking for a read that will resonate long after you’ve finished the last page, I highly recommend Goodbye, Perfect.  4.5 STARS

four-stars

About Renée Watson

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. The New York Times calls Renée’s writing, “charming and evocative.” Her poetry and fiction often centers around the lived experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Her books include young adult novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home, which were both nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Renée has worked as a writer in residence for over twenty years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College.

Renée has also worked as a consultant within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, providing professional development workshops and leadership trainings to artists, staff, executives, and board of directors. Some of her clients include Carnegie Hall, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, RAW Art Works, and Writers in the Schools-Portland.

In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers.

Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

About Sara Barnard

Sara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Email: info@sarabarnardofficial.com

For promotional enquiries, please contact: Rogers, Coleridge and White

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize.

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Review:

After a stressful work week, I was in the mood for a light and fun read to ease me into the weekend. I came across Teri Wilson’s The Accidental Beauty Queen, and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was exactly the kind of story I was searching for. As soon as I started reading about Charlotte, her twin sister Ginny, and their beauty pageant misadventures, I was hooked.  Their story is sweet, heartfelt, and just downright hilarious.

Charlotte was the biggest draw for me. She’s an elementary school librarian, and a huge fan of both Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. Truly a heroine after my own heart.  I loved that she’s such a huge book nerd and that she’s so completely devoted to her twin.  When an allergic reaction sidelines Ginny with a swollen, blotchy face, Charlotte agrees to switch places and compete in the preliminary rounds of the pageant to keep her sister’s dream of winning this pageant alive.  Charlotte knows that the pageant is important to Ginny, not just for the prestige, but also for sentimental reasons. It’s a pageant that their mom won years ago before she passed away from cancer.  I was touched by Charlotte not wanting to let her sister down, even if it meant doing something that she was completely uncomfortable doing.  Wilson also does a beautiful job of portraying this sisterly dynamic.  I’m a sucker for a good sibling story anyway, and this was realistic and moving, and just everything I wanted it to be.

There were lots of other things to like about this story as well.  I was also a fan of how the actual pageant was portrayed.  Instead of the cattiness I was expecting Charlotte to encounter, it was nice to see that each pageant scene had more of a supportive sisterhood vibe to it.  Another point of interest to me was Grey, one of the pageant judges and someone Charlotte continually bumps into throughout the book.  Grey is super charming and he’s also quite bookish, so I just adored it when he and Charlotte would talk nerdy to each other. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their banter was sprinkled with Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice references.  Pure perfection!

In short, The Accidental Beauty Queen was everything my book-loving heart desired and then some.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
Also by this author: The Unhoneymooners
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, 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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

By the New York Times bestselling author who “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly), My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a laugh-out-loud romp through online dating and its many, many fails.

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Review:

Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which explores the many ups and downs of online dating, is another book I picked up because I wanted a light and fluffy read.  It follows Millie Morris and her all-guy friend group as they try to use online dating apps to find themselves dates to a university function.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand really delivers with the laughs. I honestly lost track of how many times I laughed out loud at Millie and the guys as they bantered back and forth while trying out these apps.  In fact, the dynamics of this group was my favorite part of the whole book.  All I kept thinking while I was reading about them in action using these apps was that this whole premise would make for such a great episode of Friends. Everything about how they interacted with one another actually made me think of Friends, which is a good thing since Friends is one of my favorite shows.

I also really liked Millie.  She’s kind of a mother hen to the guys in her circle of friends, which is funny to watch.  What I liked most about Millie though is how much emotional growth there is with her character throughout the story.  When we first meet her, she’s very closed off about anything personal.  Even her closest friends can’t really pry any personal details out of her.  As the story progresses, however, she starts to have romantic feelings towards her best friend, Reid, and so she does slowly start to open up. She unfortunately makes some questionable choices along the way as she explores her feelings for Reid, but when her choices threaten their friendship, she vows to change her ways.  I liked that Millie was kind of a mess and trying to sort herself out. That made her feel very authentic to me.  I’m also all for a good friends to possible lovers story, so My Favorite Half-Night Stand really hit the spot in that area as well.

This was my first time reading anything by Christina Laurent but it definitely won’t be my last! 4 STARS

four-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.

About Teri Wilson

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies UNLEASHING MR. DARCY, MARRYING MR. DARCY, THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is a double finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novels THE PRINCESS PROBLEM and ROYALLY WED. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Feel free to visit and connect with her here at TeriWilson.net, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Mini Reviews: ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION'Twas the Knife Before Christmas by Jacqueline Frost
four-stars
Series: A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 23, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Cozy Mystery
Pages: 246
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 Christmas delight, ’Twas the Knife Before Christmas will charm the stockings off readers of Joanne Fluke and Leslie Meier.

It’s out of the cupcake tin, into the fire for Holly White’s best friend, Caroline. Can Holly clear Caroline’s name in time to go caroling?

When a body turns up in the dumpster behind Caroline’s Cupcakes, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect. Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine’s sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death. Worse, Caroline’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, a custom-designed marble rolling pin.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly’s up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle. Juggling extra shifts at her family’s Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle—and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder. Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and run-ins with an ex-fiancé looking to make amends, and Holly’s ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody. Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas…even after she gains the true killer’s attention? Find out in ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost’s second pine-scented Christmas Tree Farm mystery.

Review:

If you’re looking for a delightful Christmas-themed cozy murder mystery, Jacqueline Frost’s ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is sure to please.  The story is set in Mistletoe, which is a charming little town in Maine, and boy, do these folks love Christmas!  For all of you Gilmore Girls fans out there, imagine Stars Hollow but all decked out for the holidays.  That was the vibe I got the entire time I was reading and I loved it.

The story follows Holly White and her quest to clear her best friend, Caroline, who happens to be a suspect in a murder that has rocked this quaint little Christmas town.  During the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, a man is found dead, stabbed and dumped into a giant dish of peppermint candies.  The last person seen with him was Caroline, the town’s beloved owner of Caroline’s Cupcakes, and they were having a pretty heated argument.  Although no one can believe their sweet Caroline could possibly be a murderer, she still finds herself a suspect.  Holly, in particular, knows her friend is innocent and makes it her mission to prove Caroline’s innocence and find the real killer, even if she drives her boyfriend, the town’s sheriff, crazy in the process.

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is filled with characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Holly, Caroline, and Sheriff Evan are all very likable, and some of the secondary characters are so quirky and fun that they practically steal the show. There’s Cookie Cutter who likes to brew “special” tea that is sure to put an extra kick in your step, a la Peppermint Schnapps, and then there’s Ray, who is so overprotective of his mother because she’s dating a new man, that he spends most of the book sneaking around spying on their dates.  Oh, and I can’t forget Holly’s cat, who has the best pet name ever, Cindy Loo Who.  Between the fabulous characters and a murder mystery that has plenty of twists and turns to keep the story interesting, I can’t recommend ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas highly enough. Cozy mystery fans are sure to love it!  4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATIONA Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry
Also by this author: Twenty-One Days (Daniel Pitt, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: Christmas Stories #16
Published by Ballantine Books on November 6, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Mystery
Pages: 192
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:

In this intriguing, uplifting holiday mystery from bestselling author Anne Perry, an orphan boy investigates a woman's kidnapping--and discovers there's more at stake than a disappearance.

It wouldn't quite be Christmas without a holiday mystery decorated with all the Victorian trimmings as only New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry can render it. Now the tradition continues as mayhem is once again found under the mistletoe, and intrigue stalks the cobblestone streets and gaslit parlors of old London Town.

Formerly a river urchin living on the banks of the Thames, nine-year-old Worm has never experienced a family Christmas. But thanks to a job at Hester Monk's clinic in Portpool Lane, he's found a makeshift family in kindly Miss Claudine Burroughs and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson.

When Worm witnesses the abduction of a beautiful woman by a pair of ruffians just days before Christmas, he frantically turns to Squeaky for help. A one-time brothel owner, Squeaky knows the perils of interfering in nasty business, but he can't bear to disappoint Worm--or leave the boy to attempt a rescue on his own. What neither of the would-be saviors expects, however, is that the damsel in distress already has her dilemma well in hand . . . and is taking steps to bring her captors to justice for crimes far worse than kidnapping. But the rogues, as cunning as they are deadly, are not to be underestimated. The aid of cynical old Squeaky and hopeful young Worm just might make the difference between a merry triumph over evil and a terrible yuletide tragedy.

Review:

A Christmas Revelation is the latest installment of Anne Perry’s Christmas Stories series, which takes characters from some of Perry’s other popular series and inserts them into holiday-themed stories of their own.  This was my first time reading one of these holiday stories and I’m pleased to say that overall, even though they’re supposed to be part of a series, A Christmas Revelation still works quite well as a standalone.

The story follows a nine-year old boy nicknamed Worm, who used to live on his own as a street urchin until he got himself a job at Hester Monk’s clinic.  That job also brought him a makeshift family in the form of the always kind Miss Claudine and especially in the cynical and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper, Squeaky.  Squeaky is a man who prefers to mind his own business at all costs, but when Worm comes to him, completely distraught because he thinks he has witnessed a woman being abducted, Squeaky promises Worm, against his better judgment, that he’ll help him find and rescue the woman, if she really is, in fact, in distress.  Squeaky also realizes while he and Worm are playing detective and trying to locate the missing woman, that Worm has never had a real Christmas before so he makes it his mission to deliver a real family Christmas for Worm and to explain to him the true meaning of Christmas.

What I enjoyed most about this story was that it was a nice balance between the mystery of what happened to the woman Worm saw and the Christmas aspect that Squeaky introduces.  The story also boasts what felt like a truly authentic Victorian London setting.  It felt so Dickensian that I half expected Worm and Squeaky to rush around a corner and run smack dab into Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  I also especially liked the idea that the holidays make us want to be our best selves, as is witnessed by Squeaky’s efforts to not disappoint Worm and to bring Christmas to him for the first time.  I think the story would have worked even better for me if I had known a little more of the background of these two characters, but overall it was still a great holiday read. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Anne Perry

Anne Perry (born Juliet Hulme) is a British historical novelist.

Juliet took the name “Anne Perry,” the latter being her stepfather’s surname. Her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, was published under this name in 1979. Her works generally fall into one of several categories of genre fiction, including historical murder mysteries and detective fiction. Many of them feature a number of recurring characters, most importantly Thomas Pitt, who appeared in her first novel, and amnesiac private investigator William Monk, who first appeared in her 1990 novel The Face of a Stranger. As of 2003 she had published 47 novels, and several collections of short stories. Her story “Heroes,” which first appeared the 1999 anthology Murder and Obsession, edited by Otto Penzler, won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

Recently she was included as an entry in Ben Peek’s Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a novel exploring the nature of truth in literature.

Series contributed to:
. Crime Through Time
. Perfectly Criminal
. Malice Domestic
. The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories
. Transgressions
. The Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories

About Jacqueline Frost

Jacqueline Frost is a mystery-loving pet enthusiast who hopes to make readers smile. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three spunky children. Jacqueline is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC).

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESThe House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker
four-stars
Published by Annick Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth? Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite. But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences. This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems.

Review:

Michelle Barker’s gripping new novel The House of One Thousand Eyes is set in the early 1980’s, a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The novel follows Lena, an orphan whose parents were killed in a factory explosion, thus leaving her to be raised by her aunt, who is a devout member of the Communist ruling party.  The bright spot in Lena’s weeks are when she gets to visit her uncle Erich, who is a famous author and who is NOT a devout member of the Communist Party.

In this novel, Barker graphically portrays what it’s like to live under a government that rules with an iron fist.  If the Communist leaders don’t like what they think you’re up to, they have ways of making you disappear so as to quash down any signs of resistance.  Lena learns this lesson the hard way when her Uncle Erich suddenly goes missing and all traces of his existence disappear along with him.  She does everything she can to try to find him or find out what happened to him, but has to do so carefully so as not to put herself on the government’s radar.  Barker increasingly builds up suspense as Lena becomes more and more distraught. Everyone she talks to denies her Uncle’s existence, even her aunt who is Erich’s own sister.  I found the story absolutely riveting as Lena refuses to give up even though there are spies and informers everywhere who would love nothing more than to turn her in and score some points with the Stasi/German secret police.

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a novel about courage, strength, and determination.  The world that Barker paints is often brutal and terrifying and so it becomes very easy to cheer Lena on as she risks everything to resist the East German’s efforts to snuff out both her uncle and free speech.  If you’re interested in seeing what life was like in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, I would highly recommend this book.  4 STARS

 

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESLies by T.M. Logan
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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:

What if you have the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect child—then, in one shattering moment, you discover nothing is as it seems? Now you are in the sights of a ruthless killer determined to destroy everything you treasure.

It’s the evening drive home from work on a route Joe Lynch has taken a hundred times with his young son. But today, Joe sees his wife meet another man—an encounter that will rip two families apart. Raising the question: Can we ever really trust those closest to us?

Joe will do whatever it takes to protect his family, but as the deception unravels, so does his life. A life played out without any rules. And a cunning opponent who’s always one step ahead.

Review:

T.M. Logan’s Lies is an exciting psychological thriller that will take you on the ride of your life.  It follows English teacher Joe Lynch, a loving father and devoted husband who makes what turns out to be a life altering decision – to follow his wife’s car when he happens to see her pulling into a hotel parking garage.  That one decision sets off a chain reaction of events, including a fight with a family friend named Ben who subsequently goes missing, that turns Joe’s entire life upside down and threatens his career, his family, and even his freedom.

Joe was a pretty likeable protagonist.  He’s a bit naïve at times, but I could easily see myself falling for some of the same things he did so, in that sense, I found him easy to relate to.  He’s also a great dad.  Watching him interact with his young son really made me all the more sympathetic to him.  He’s a man who definitely cares about his family above all else.

Lies is an easy read that I binge read in a couple of sittings.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of twists and turns both for Joe and the reader.  The author also effectively builds up suspense with the missing family friend, by way of an active police investigation and also with mysterious messages that Joe starts receiving – messages that threaten to take everything away from him.  Lies also features a messy, and at least for me, totally unexpected, jaw dropping ending.  Kudos to T.M. Logan for keeping me guessing all the way to the end.  4 STARS

four-stars

About Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker was born and raised in Vancouver. She attended Arts One at UBC, studied for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and graduated with a BA from UBC in English literature. After a short foray into comp lit, she left the Master’s program and worked as a research/editing assistant to Sherrill MacLaren. Sailed across the Pacific from Vancouver to Hawaii, had four children, lived for a summer in Montreal, a year in France, and then the Eastern Townships of Quebec for 10 years. After spending 7 years in the Okanagan, she returned to Vancouver. She received her MFA in creative writing at UBC’s optional-residency program in 2015.

Winner of gold National Magazine award in personal journalism (2002). Finalist for TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (2016), OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award (2017), Chocolate Lily Book Award (2016). Winner of 2017 Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.

Besides a chapbook of poetry called Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii, a YA fantasy novel, The Beggar King (2013), and a picture book called The Year of Borrowed Men (2016), she has also published poetry, short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology (2011).

Barker’s newest novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes, will be out in Fall, 2018, with Annick Press.

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.