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Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read List

 

Today I have a new batch of reviews to share and this time it’s a very eclectic mix of February and March releases that I’ve enjoyed reading recently.  This selection of books fed my love of historical fiction, as well as my enjoyment of thrillers and contemporary reads.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as well.

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird Goodreads

Author: Josie Silver

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December a couple of months ago and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that I immediately requested her newest novel, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.  Just as with the case of One Day in DecemberThe Two Lives of Lydia Bird captured my heart as soon as I met the main character.

Lydia Bird has been in love with her fiance, Freddie, for over a decade.  She has adored Freddie with every fiber of her being since she was a teenager and so is utterly devastated when he is killed in a car accident on her 28th birthday.  Silver does an incredible job of making Lydia’s pain feel so real and my heart broke more and more for her with every page.  Lydia is truly in despair and can barely function without Freddie.  Her doctor finally prescribes her some sleeping pills in hopes of getting Lydia to rest, and what Lydia discovers when she takes the pills is that not only does she dream deeply, but her dreams are filled with Freddie, of a whole alternate life where she can experience what her life would be like if Freddie hadn’t died. Her dream life quickly becomes her preferred place to be since she still has Freddie there.

Throughout the novel, we watch Lydia try to navigate her life in both worlds as she both clings to the what-ifs of a life with Freddie, but also tries to consider the possibilities of what her real life will be like without Freddie.  I loved the support system that Lydia has surrounding her throughout the story – her sister and her mom, both of whom she’s very close to, her wonderful coworkers, and perhaps most importantly, Jonah Jones, who is her oldest friend and who was also Freddie’s best friend.  Jonah understands her grief perhaps better than anyone else she knows and is there for her every step of the way.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a moving story about love, loss, and about how individual the grieving process is.  It beautifully conveys the message that we all grieve in different ways and move through the process at our own pace.  At times, this is a truly heartbreaking story, but I was happy that it offered glimmers of hope throughout as well.  I did feel that the ending was a little awkward and would have preferred something different, but I still adored the book even with the ending as is.  4.5 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListRed Letter Days Goodreads

Author: Sarah-Jane Stratford

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Sarah-Jane Stratford’s latest novel, Red Letter Days, is a riveting work of historical fiction that explores the McCarthy Era or “Red Scare”, a dark time in post World War II American history where fear and hysteria led to American citizens being persecuted as Communists, in many cases, without any evidence whatsoever.  Red Letter Days specifically focuses on how this Communist witchhunt impacted the Hollywood community and women, in particular.

Phoebe Adler, one of the story’s protagonists, is trying to make it as a television writer in a man’s world.  I loved Phoebe right from the start. She’s a New Yorker through and through. She’s smart, tough as nails, and she’s a talented writer who is passionate about her craft.  I got the vibe right away that if anyone could make it as a TV writer in the 50’s, it would be Phoebe.  Somehow, though, Phoebe finds herself on an ever-growing blacklist of Communist sympathizers and it costs her her job.  Devastated that she has lost everything and fearful of what else could befall her since so many have been arrested, Phoebe flees to London. It is in London where Phoebe meets the novel’s second protagonist, the formidable Hannah Wolfson.  I loved Hannah as well. Hannah, another American who has found herself living in exile in London, is brave, ambitious, and as a successful TV and film producer, she sees it as her mission to help blacklisted writers like Phoebe continue pursuing their passion by letting them write for her under assumed names.  Phoebe and Hannah hit it off right away and become close, but both of them know they are living in dangerous times and that everything they’re working for could come crashing down around them as the witchhunt continues to spread and reach beyond the shores of America.

I thoroughly enjoyed Red Letter Days.  In addition to these two wonderful protagonists who were so easy to root for. They are both the epitome of strength, resilience, and even defiance, as they fought to resist the Red Scare and its ever growing hysteria.   I also loved the focus on the camaraderie and support of those in exile and especially the growing friendship between Hannah and Phoebe.  If you’re interested in learning about how McCarthyism and the Red Scare impacted the entertainment writers’ community, I’d highly recommend Red Letter Days.  Red Letter Days is both a well-researched work of historical fiction and an incredibly suspenseful read.  4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListFollow Me Goodreads

Author: Kathleen Barber

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Kathleen Barber’s latest thriller, Follow Me, is a frightening look inside the dangers of oversharing on social media.  The story follows Audrey Miller, a semi-famous Instagram influencer, who is addicted to the spotlight and hungers for the adoration of her 1 million plus followers on the social media platform.  When she relocates from New York City to Washington D.C. for a new job, she chronicles the details of her new adventure for her followers.  What Audrey doesn’t realize, however, is that her life is about to take an absolutely terrifying turn because her move has brought her to much closer proximity to a male fan who is obsessed with her.

What made Follow Me so completely riveting for me is that in addition to seeing the story unfold from Audrey’s perspective, we are also given the perspective of the male fan.  It’s super creepy to watch his obsession with Audrey grow and to watch how he becomes less and less satisfied with just following her Instagram now that he’s close enough to physically follow her.  Nothing is ever enough to satisfy him though so he ultimately turns to the dark web to seek advice on how to make Audrey his once and for all.

Follow Me is a wild, dark, and suspenseful page turner that will have you wanting to delete all your social media accounts, smash your webcam, and never overshare ever again!  4 STARS

 

Book Reviews – February and March Releases to add to your Must Read ListThe Girl in White Gloves Goodreads

Author: Kerri Maher

Publication Date: February 25, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Kerri Maher’s latest novel, The Girl in White Gloves, is based on the life of Hollywood icon turned Princess, Grace Kelly.  The novel takes readers behind the curtain of Kelly’s seemingly fairy tale-like life to reveal that it really wasn’t much of a fairy tale at all.

The Girl in White Gloves gives us two timelines that fully explore Kelly’s life, one that follows her as she is pursuing her dream to be an actress and one that follows her after she has given up that life for the love of Prince Rainier.

I requested this book because I honestly didn’t know that much about Grace Kelly but I remember my grandmother being fascinated by her and so I wanted to learn more.  What I really loved about this book was how far into Grace Kelly’s head we got at every point during her life.  We get a glimpse as to what she must have been feeling and thinking as she navigates the two paths illuminated by the dual timelines.  We experience the confusion, the unexpected loneliness, the pressure of societal expectations, the constant disapproval  and disappointment of her father, and finally, Grace’s desperate need to find fulfillment in her life and the risks she is willing to take to get that fulfillment.

The Girl in White Gloves is a well-researched and truly captivating portrait of what a complex woman Grace Kelly was.  I went into it expecting to learn a little more about her and was impressed at how the thoroughly the author drew me in to Kelly’s life story.  It was a truly immersive experience.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller Edition

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s February ARCs, specifically three amazing thrillers that need to go on your must read list.  I don’t want to say much about these since with thrillers, it’s usually best to go in knowing as little as possible, but I do want to share a few highlights of what I loved about each book.

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionA Good Girl's Guide to Murder Goodreads

Author: Holly Jackson

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Delacorte Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a YA murder mystery that follows Pip, who has been thinking about a local murder investigation from a few years earlier, the outcome of which has never set well with her.  The case in question involved local high school students, Andie Bell and Sal Singh.  Andie went missing and Sal, who was her boyfriend at the time, immediately becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance.  When Sal takes his own life, everyone assumes that he killed Andie and committed suicide and thus the case was closed. Pip doesn’t buy it. Sal was one of the sweetest people she has ever known and she refuses to believe for one second that he hurt Andie.  Pip therefore decides to use her senior project as an opportunity to re-examine the case and find the real killer and she enlists Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to help her.

This was such a fun read for me. I loved watching Pip in action.  She’s a very sharp young lady and has a real knack for being able to sift through clues and put together the pieces of a five year old murder mystery.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as Pip followed the evidence and recorded her findings in her project journal. I also really loved that we were given the excerpts from Pip’s journal so that we could get inside of her head and follow her thought patterns as she sifted through what she found.  In addition to the thrill of feeling like I was right there with Pip as she investigated, there was also growing tension and suspense as Pip starts receiving anonymous threats warning her to back off or else.

While the case itself and Pip’s journey toward the truth is riveting, I also really enjoyed A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder because of the growing friendship between Pip and Ravi.  Ravi of course never believed his brother was capable of murder and has always wanted the opportunity to prove Sal’s innocence.  Instead of having that chance, however, Ravi, as the brother of an accused murderer, has pretty much been ostracized by the community. I loved that Pip reached out to him and gave him the opportunity to help clear his brother and get closure, and I especially loved that a true friendship between Pip and Ravi grew from them working on this project together.  I’m also excited that this book is the first in a series so I’m hoping we’ll get more of both Pip and Ravi in the next installment.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is one heck of a wild ride and I highly recommend it to fans of YA thrillers.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Sun Down Motel Goodreads

Author: Simone St. James

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I’m going to predict right now that Simone St. James’ latest novel The Sun Down Motel lands on my Best of 2020 list.  This book, hands down, blew me away, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to write anything here that will do it justice.  I devoured the book in less than 24 hours and it had me so hooked that I simply refused to put it down and do anything else until I knew how it ended.

The story follows two young women, Viv and Carly, 35 years apart, who both become entangled in the secrets that haunt an old run-down, roadside motel called the Sun Down Motel, located in the tiny town of Fell, New York.  In 1982, Viv Delaney was working as a night clerk at the motel when she unexpectedly went missing and was never heard from again.  In 2017, we meet Carly, who is actually Viv’s niece and who has left college and come to Fell, NY, trying to find the truth about what happened to her aunt. When Carly visits the Sun Down, while trying to retrace her aunt’s footsteps, she sees they are looking for a new night shift clerk, her aunt’s old shift. Carly can’t explain why but she feels compelled to take the job while she’s in town looking for leads on Viv.  And that’s when strange things start happening at the Sun Down Motel, like something out of The Twilight Zone.  The strange happenings at the Sun Down, as well as the mystery and secrets that surrounded them, absolutely enthralled me, as did the use of the dual timeline to show Viv investigating them in 1982 and then Carly experiencing and investigating the same things 35 years later in 2017. Would Carly find out what happened to Viv all those years ago…or would Carly disappear as well?

I don’t want to say anything else because both Carly and Viv’s journeys are best experienced with as few spoilers as possible going in. I will say though that this is absolutely one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, mysterious, and haunting books I’ve read in a long time.  5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews – Must-Read February Releases: The Thriller EditionThe Dark Corners of the Night (UNSUB, #3) Goodreads

Author: Meg Gardiner

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Blackstone Publishing

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m a huge fan of the UNSUB series and that The Dark Corners of the Night is one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I’m happy to report that my love for the series has only grown with this third book because author Meg Gardiner really knocked it out of the park.  While the cover of the book is super creepy, let me just say that the story itself is even creepier. My skin crawled as I read about the horrific adventures of the killer who has been dubbed “The Midnight Man.”

The Midnight Man sneaks into family homes in the Los Angeles, CA area under the cover of darkness.  He deliberately chooses families, and he murders the parents but leaves the children alive as witnesses to his unspeakable acts.  As the body count quickly starts to rise and local law enforcement officers realize they are dealing with a serial killer, they call in the FBI, which is where the protagonist of the UNSUB series, FBI behavioral analyst, Caitlyn Hendrix, enters the picture.

As with the first two novels in the series, it is absolutely riveting watching Caitlyn and her team carefully piece together a behavioral profile for this UNSUB and gradually work their way toward a list of possible suspects.  I love the sense of trust and camraderie that has developed between the members of the FBI team in these first three books, but I also liked the bit of tension that I saw here between the local law enforcement.  It was an uneasy alliance between the two groups even though they were both there trying to achieve the same goal: to catch a killer.

Caitlyn is always a big draw for me when I start a new UNSUB book, but she really drew me in even more than usual in this one, for a couple of reasons.  First, as she’s learning more and more about the profile of the Midnight Man, she starts to see something of herself in him. He reminds her of her past and it disturbs her so much that she has to fight to keep it from impacting her work.  Second, The Dark Corners of the Night also signals that we are finally starting to circle back around to an unresolved case that was left hanging at the end of the first book.  My one disappointment with the second book was that it wasn’t really touched on, so I was thrilled to see it revisited here with some teasers to advance the plot.

I think the books work fine as standalones but are absolutely outstanding as a series read in order, especially when it comes to watching for developments with that unsolved case that keeps dogging Caitlyn.  If you’re into thrillers and especially into shows like Criminal Minds that delve into the FBI world of analyzing criminal behavior, I highly recommend the UNSUB series.  5 STARS

Book Reviews: February Contemporary Releases

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of adult contemporary novels I read recently and really enjoyed, The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin and Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West.

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesThe Antidote For Everything Goodreads

Author: Kimmery Martin

Publication Date: February 18, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

The Antidote for Everything is a powerful and emotional read that explores the all too relevant and timely topic of LGBTQ discrimination.  Set in Charleston, SC, the story follows what happens when two doctors buck the system and fight for the rights of their transgender patients who have suddenly and unexpectedly been denied access to medical care at a local hospital.

Dr. Georgia Brown, the protagonist, is a respected urologist at the hospital in question.  She is on her way to a conference in Amsterdam when she hears the news about patients being turned away from her best friend and fellow doctor, Jonah Tsukada, who is also part of the LGBTQ community.  When Jonah refuses to comply with the administration’s new policy, he is fired and the hospital starts circulating vicious rumors about him.  When Jonah fills Georgia in on everything that has happened, she is equally distraught, both for her own patients and of course for her best friend, and vows to join the fight with him as soon as she returns home.

The doctors’ fight against discrimination made for a truly powerful and riveting read, but it honestly was the characters that made me love this book so much.  Georgia is smart, feisty, and fierce, and Jonah is just everything I’d want in a best friend. It killed me to think that someone would go out of his or her way to tank his career just because they didn’t approve of his or his patients’ sexual orientation.  The wit, the banter, and the unwavering support between Georgia and Jonah just captivated my heart.  Both characters are complicated, messy, and sometimes don’t make the best decisions, but for me, that was part of their charm and what made them feel so real.

In addition to the gripping drama and scandal that surrounded the hospital, there was also a romance on the side for Georgia that really balanced out the story for me.  Georgia has never been lucky in love, but when there is a medical emergency on her plane to Amsterdam and she’s the only doctor on board, a potential Mr. Right, whose name is Mark, falls right into her path.  Their chemistry had me smiling, even though the rest of the book had me equal parts sad, angry, and frustrated for Jonah, Georgia, and their patients.

With a discrimination story and subsequent scandal that felt like something that could appear in the headlines of any media outlet these days, The Antidote for Everything grabbed my attention from the opening scenes and held my interest to the very last page.  If you’re into medical dramas, stories about social justice, and stories about friendship and loyalty, give The Antidote for Everything a try. 4 STARS

 

 

Book Reviews: February Contemporary ReleasesMinor Dramas & Other Catastrophes Goodreads

Author: Kathleen West

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Kathleen West’s debut novel Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is an entertaining read that focuses on the cutthroat world of school politics and teachers who find themselves at the mercy of helicopter parents and social media trolls.

The story follows Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a prestigious school who prides herself on challenging her students to open their minds and consider a variety of perspectives when reading literary classics.  When the school starts receiving complaints about what she’s teaching and an anonymous Facebook page starts attacking her reputation, Isobel learns the hard way that the parents wield all of the power and that her own colleagues won’t defend her. I adored Isobel so much! She’s such a well drawn character, and I really admired her strength. It would have been very easy to immediately give in to the parents’ demands, but Isobel is determined to stand her ground even if the consequence could be losing her job.

While Isobel had my heart, I also felt for Julia Abbott, an over-the-top theater mom who barges into the school while class is still in session to find out if her son was cast in the school play.  In a moment of excitement when she sees her son’s name on the cast list, Julia enthusiastically pumps her fist…and accidentally punches a student in the stomach.  The incident is caught on video and immediately goes viral. Chaos ensues and Julia finds herself quite the outcast. While Julia isn’t an especially likeable character, her situation is a sad one and I liked that the author ultimately made her a sympathetic character instead of just a crazy stereotype.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes really struck a chord with me as I watched these two women fight to defend themselves and my emotions were all over the place.  There were moments that made me angry and frustrated, and there were also moments that made me laugh.  Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a delightful and engaging read as well as one that tackles some pretty serious issues that many teachers face. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading more from Kathleen West.  4 STARS

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIE

 

It’s time for another roundup of ARCs I’ve been reading.  This time I want to share a couple of fantastic thrillers that I’ve read recently, The Look Alike by Erica Spindler and Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald.

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEThe Look-Alike Goodreads

Author: Erica Spindler

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Genre:  Thriller

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Erica Spindler’s latest novel The Look Alike is a gripping psychological thriller that follows Sienna Scott, a young woman who, while a college student, discovered a dead body in the snow one night as she was walking back home from the campus library.  The campus and local police were never able to solve the case.  Sienna is also dealing with some troubles at home. Her mother suffers from a condition that makes her both paranoid and delusional.  She believes that everyone is out to get her and, specifically, that they’re going to hurt her by hurting her daughter. These circumstances create such a suffocating environment for Sienna that her father finally tells her she should leave home so that she can have some semblance of a life. Sierra stays away for 10 years but returns home to care for her mother after her father passes away.

As soon as Sierra returns, that unsolved murder begins to dominate her thoughts and a nagging thought she had all those years ago returns – She and the dead woman were wearing the same jacket that fateful night.  When strange things start happening – prank phone calls, a strange van driving past her house at all hours of the day and night, etc. – Sienna becomes even more convinced that she may have been the intended target and is now in danger. Is she right? Or is she just letting her imagination get the better of her?  Or is it possible her mother’s condition is hereditary?

Wow, this book was such a wild ride! It was so suspenseful and filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. Every time I thought I had the murderer figured out, the author would introduce a new clue that would send me spinning off in another direction. I devoured The Look Alike in just a couple of sittings because I needed to know what happened and which girl was truly the killer’s target.

I was also very much drawn in by the characters.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Sienna for all that she has had to contend with, and I felt equally sympathetic toward Sienna’s mom. Yes, she can be suffocating at times, but it’s the mental illness that makes her that way.  Imagine thinking day in and day out that someone is out to hurt you and your child. That would be pure hell for any parent.   With her latest novel, The Look Alike, Erica Spindler has crafted both a riveting murder mystery and an intense family drama about mental illness.  I highly recommend it!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews for THE LOOK ALIKE and BEHIND EVERY LIEBehind Every Lie Goodreads

Author: Christina McDonald

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Publisher:  Gallery Books

Genre:  Thriller

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

With a title like Behind Every Lie, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in for a read filled with twists and turns, and author Christina McDonald does not disappoint. Behind Every Lie opens with a young woman named Eva Hansen frantically running down the street. She is clearly afraid, possibly in shock, and is covered in blood.  She stops for a moment, to take stock of her situation and then everything abruptly goes dark.  When Eva awakens, she is in the hospital being treated for, against all odds, a lightning strike.  Eva has no memory of what happened to her leading up to the moment she was struck by lightning, which becomes a real problem when a police detective shows up at the hospital and tells her that her mother has been stabbed to death.  Eva was found near her mother’s house and covered with blood, so she is automatically the prime suspect.  Even with no memory of what happened that night, Eva is sure there’s no way she could have killed her own mother so she flees the hospital and sets out to find the real killer and clear her name.

Those who follow my reviews know that I’m a sucker for a story that features a dual timeline and McDonald uses one here to great effect.  The story unfolds from both Eva’s perspective in the present and her mother Kat’s perspective in the past.  As Eva uncovers more and more details about her mother’s life, the more she realizes her mother lived a life filled with secrets and lies and that by extension, Eva’s entire life has been nothing but a lie.  She also realizes that whoever else knew about her mother’s secret could very easily be the person who killer her.

Unreliable narrators can be hit or miss for me, but I really like the way it was used here.  Eva is unreliable quite simply because she has amnesia brought on by the lightning strike.  I loved the twists and turns that each returning memory added to the story, especially when the doctor said that she couldn’t necessarily trust those memories at first.  The bits and pieces Eva keeps remembering have her doubting her own innocence even as she’s finding evidence that there may be a real killer out there somewhere.

Behind Every Lie grabbed me from the opening scene and kept me riveted to the end.  If murder mysteries, dual timelines and unreliable narrators are your thing, be sure to add Christina McDonald’s Behind Every Lie to your must-read list.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between Us

 

It’s time for a new batch of mini reviews and this time it’s January ARCs!  There are a ton of great new books coming out in early January so if you have Christmas money to spend, here are some titles you should consider.

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsScavenge the Stars (Scavenge the Stars, #1) Goodreads

Author: Tara Sim

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Disney Hyperion

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

If you’re in the mood for a good revenge story, then Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim is the book you’re looking for.  It’s a gender-bent retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,, which is also a tale of revenge.  Scavenge the Stars follows a young woman named Amaya, who has spent much of her life imprisoned aboard a debtor’s ship, forced to work off her parents’ debt.  For seven years, Amaya has known nothing but shame, cruelty, and unfair treatment, and thus has vowed that as soon as she is finally free from her parents’ debt, her first act will be to seek revenge against the man who ruined her family. When the opportunity presents itself, Amaya secures her freedom and sets out to implement her plan of revenge.  Amaya unexpectedly finds herself entangled with Cayo, the son of the man she seeks revenge against, and the more she gets to know Cayo, the more she realizes nothing is as it seems and that she has been living a lie for most of her life.

Amaya and Cayo really made the story for me.  I loved everything about both characters.  Amaya is absolutely fierce. She’s smart, scrappy, and sassy, and she’s ultra-protective of those she cares about.  I admired her determination to bring down those who destroyed her life as well as those who are cruel enough to imprison children as payment for debts.  Cayo, while the son of a rich man, has spent much of his time in the proverbial dog house, due to an over fondness for gambling.  He’s trying to live down past mistakes and prove to his father that he can live a respectable life.  Like Amaya, he learns something about his family that turns his world up on its end and makes him question who he really is and what kind of person he is. I really loved the complexity of each of these characters.  The story is told from each of their perspectives and there’s just so much inner turmoil for both Amaya and Cayo as they struggle to find their way through the secrets and lies of the past.  That struggle makes it easy to feel sympathy for them both.

Scavenge the Stars is an engaging fantasy filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, family drama, political intrigue, and even a hint of potential romance.  It’s also a story about not letting mistakes from the past define or control you.  Filled with complex, three-dimensional characters, and plenty of action-packed scenes, Scavenge the Stars is sure to please.  I highly recommend it to fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsEchoes Between Us Goodreads

Author: Katie McGarry

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Echoes Between Us by Katie McGarry is a heart-wrenching story about love and loss, family and friends, and about facing your fears.  It follows Veronica, who is a senior in high school and who suffers from debilitating migraines that are caused by a brain tumor. And not just a brain tumor, but the same kind of brain tumor that killed her mother.  So while all of her friends are preparing for life after high school, Veronica lives knowing there’s a possibility that there may be no life after high school for her.  Veronica is also a girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She does what she wants to do, dresses however wild she wants to dress, and celebrates holidays on random days of the year and only a core group of friends appreciates Veronica and her originality.  Most of her classmates, including golden boy Sawyer and his friends, think Veronica is a weirdo and have nothing to do with her.  That is, until Sawyer and his family move into the apartment that Veronica’s dad rents out.  Once he starts spending time with Veronica, Sawyer realizes how truly special she is and his whole outlook on life changes.

I can’t even express how much I loved both Veronica and Sawyer.  Veronica captured my heart right away. I loved the way she lived her life to the fullest, even with a tumor and these horrible migraines hanging over her head at all times.  She’s just this fearless dynamo who always speaks her mind and it was so admirable to watch.  I also adored her close relationship with her dad.  It broke my heart that she would hide that her condition was worsening from him, but I could completely understand why. It would clearly crush him to lose both his wife and his daughter this way and Veronica wanted to protect her dad from that pain for as long as she could.  Sawyer was a character it took me a few pages to warm up to, but once I did, I fell hard.  He may seem like the golden boy on the outside, but he is fighting demons of his own in the form of an adrenaline addiction, as well as having to deal with a less than ideal home life.  As much as my heart hurt for Veronica and what she was going through, my heart hurt just as much for Sawyer. They are both in impossible situations and need each other more than either one of them ever could have thought possible.  I loved watching their friendship blossom and my heart just ached for them, knowing how fragile Veronica’s health was.

I don’t want to give away anything about how Echoes Between Us ends so I’m just going to say it was one of the most moving and emotional reads I experienced in 2019. Many tears were shed, both happy and sad.  If you like a story that will constantly tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of Katie McGarry’s Echoes Between Us4.5 STARS

 

Mini Reviews for Scavenge the Stars, You Were There Too, & Echoes Between UsYou Were There Too Goodreads

Author: Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley is a story about love and fate.  The novel follows Mia Graydon, an artist who dreams of starting a family with her husband Harrison.  Luck has not been on their side, however, and they have suffered several miscarriages. Frustration has set in and has started to put a strain on their relationship, especially as Harrison is also battling some internal demons of his own.  Even though Mia and Harrison really are happily married, Mia has been having recurring dreams about another man for several years.  The dreams themselves are odd enough, but what’s most odd about them is that Mia has no idea who the man is. She has never met him before.  When Mia and Harrison decide to relocate to a small town in Pennsylvania, Mia unexpectedly meets Oliver, the mystery man from her dreams. Not only that but he tells her that he has been having dreams about her too.  Determined to make sense of it all, Mia and Oliver dive deep into their pasts, looking for any possible connection between them.  As Mia and Oliver grow closer, Mia starts to think about fate and what her life would be like if she was with Oliver instead of Harrison.

I loved this story, mainly because I was just so immediately invested in the relationship between Mia and Harrison.  The two of them were so sweet together and so clearly in love and it just hurt to see them struggle so much to start their family.  Then when I learned more about the demons that Harrison was battling and saw how it was tearing him apart inside, it just hurt all the more, especially when Oliver appears on the scene and unintentionally threatens all that they have built together.  I think the ‘What Ifs’ that Mia starts experiencing are what really made this story so engrossing for me.  I could understand where she was coming from in wondering what life might have been like if she had met Oliver sooner and even though I wanted to be angry with Mia for even thinking about it, I could especially understand it as Harrison’s demons start to consume him more and more and because Oliver was such a likable guy.

You Were There Too kept me reading late into the night because I just had to know what Mia was going to do.  Does she embrace the idea of fate and go after the man who has haunted her dreams for all these years or does she stay faithful to the man she vowed to be there for in good times and in bad? If a heart-wrenching story about love, fate, and making hard choices appeals to you, Colleen Oakley’s You Were There Too is the book for you.  4 STARS

Mini Reviews: VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKED

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash
three-half-stars
on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Modern love plus online anonymity is a recipe for romantic disaster in this lighthearted new romance from the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So, when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

Review:

Sarvenaz Tash’s Virtually Yours is a delightful and lighthearted read that is sure to please romance fans.  It follows Mariam Vakilian, who is a freshman at NYU.  Right before leaving for college, Mariam and her long-time boyfriend Caleb broke up and now Mariam finds herself struggling to move on and date new people.  When she receives a coupon from a new virtual reality dating service called HEAVR, she decides to give it a go. Maybe it will give her the kickstart she needs to get over Caleb. HEAVR throws a monkey wrench into Mariam’s plan, however, when one of her top three matches ends up being Caleb of all people.  Mariam is torn because as much as she knows she should move on, surely this must be a sign that she and Caleb were meant to be together, right?

Mariam was my absolute favorite part of Virtually Yours.  She’s incredibly relatable because she’s so perfectly imperfect.  She’s a sweet girl, one I could easily see myself making friends with if I was at NYU, She’s also that friend that you love so much, but at the same time, find yourself wanting to scream at because she doesn’t think and ends up doing cringy things.  Or maybe she’s me.  Haven’t we all made bad decisions at times even when our hearts are in the right place?  Anyway, I just loved Mariam, flaws and all.  I especially loved her journey because at the beginning of the story, she’s clinging to her past so tightly that she can’t even see what’s right in front of her face.  It was fun to watch her “wake up” so to speak.  For that reason, I’d consider Virtually Yours equal parts rom-com, coming of age story.

My biggest issue with Virtually Yours is that I found the HEAVR match results to be unrealistic.  I mean, seriously, if you select ‘Worldwide’ in terms of who you’re willing to be matched with, what are the odds that out of all the people in the world using that service, two out of your top three matches end up being people you know? That just really annoyed me and had me considering not finishing the book, but I finally let it go and ended up enjoying the rest of the story.  I was also not a fan of the catfishing in the novel.  I understood why it was there but could have done without it.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy read that will leave you with a smile on your face, give Virtually Yours a try. You won’t regret it!  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDWild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
Also by this author: When Light Left Us
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Critically-acclaimed author Leah Thomas blends a small-town setting with the secrets of a long-ago crime, in a compelling novel about breaking free from the past.

In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence's name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro's citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.

Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he's either known as the "disabled kid" because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.

When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families' pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?.

Review:

Leah Thomas’ latest novel Wild and Crooked is a story about family, friendship, and not letting mistakes from the past dictate your present and future.  The story follows two small town teens, Gus Peake and Kalyn Spence.  Gus has lived in Samsboro, Kentucky all his life and is known either as that “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy or as that kid whose dad was murdered.  Kalyn Spence has just returned to Samsboro and is going to school under an assumed name because her father is the one in jail for murdering Gus’ dad and the Spence name is therefore infamous in Samsboro.  Gus and Kalyn run into each other one day and a fast friendship ensues.  The only problem is that Kalyn has no idea Gus’ dad is who her father is accused of murdering, and Gus has no idea that Kalyn is the daughter of his dad’s accused murderer.  When they each finally learn the truth, it’s a tough pill to swallow and one that will test the bonds of their newfound friendship.

I adored both Gus and Kalyn, Gus because he’s just such a sweetheart.  He just wants so badly to be defined by something other than his disability or by his family’s tragedy.  Gus is immediately drawn to Kalyn, not because she’s the pretty new girl at school, but instead because when they meet, she immediately treats him like she would any other kid at school.  For Gus, Kalyn is like a breath of fresh air because she sees the person behind the disability.  Kalyn is drawn to Gus for similar reasons. She has basically reinvented herself and is acting like the perfect little southern belle every day at school.  It’s draining after a while, and when Kalyn realizes Gus can basically see right through her act, he becomes a refuge for her where she can be herself.  I really loved watching their friendship grow over the course of the book and was really rooting for them to be able to withstand whatever life threw at them.

Even though Wild and Crooked is over 400 pages long, I devoured it in just over a day and I attribute that to Leah Thomas’ masterful way of weaving together a moving story of friendship with the gripping story of what really happened between Gus and Kalyn’s fathers all those years ago.  The anger and prejudice of the Samsboro town folk was palpable once they realized who Kalyn was, and even though she clearly had nothing to do with the murder, in their eyes, she’s guilty by association.  I thought Thomas did a brilliant job of realistically capturing their mob-like mentality.  Thomas also had me simultaneously cheering on this blossoming friendship and sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the truth about the murder.

If you’re looking for a compelling story about friendship and overcoming the past, I highly recommend Wild and Crooked. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

About Sarvenaz Tash

Sarvenaz Tash is the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love (an Amazon Best Book of the Year, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers), Virtually Yours, Three Day Summer and The Mapmaker and the Ghost. She was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, Emmy-award winning copywriting, and professional tweeting for the likes of Bravo and MTV. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

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.