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

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

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

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

CLICK TO PURCHASE A COPY…

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

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

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

four-stars

About Emily A. Duncan

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

Blog Tour Review – LITTLE DARLINGS by Melanie Golding

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

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

LITTLE DARLINGS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Melanie Golding

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

Blog Tour Book Review: WHITE STAG by Kara Barbieri

Blog Tour Book Review:  WHITE STAG by Kara BarbieriWhite Stag (Permafrost, #1) by Kara Barbieri
three-half-stars
Series: Permafrost #1
Published by Wednesday Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

White Stag is the first installment in an exciting new fantasy series by author Kara Barbieri.  I’ll admit right from the start that I first became interested in this book because I was drawn to its stunning cover and especially because the white stag on it brought to mind Harry Potter and his patronus.  Cover love aside, once I read the synopsis and saw that the book was actually about goblins, I knew I had to read it!

Barbieri gets her story off to a strong start by tossing her readers right into an action-packed fight scene in the Goblin Palace.  In one fell swoop, we meet the main character Janneke, learn that she is a slave who has a complicated relationship with her captor, Soren, and that she is also a pretty badass fighter.  We also meet the heinous and sadistic villain, Soren’s uncle Lydian, and learn that he has a history of violence with Janneke that still haunts her to this day.  In addition to all of this, we also see the Goblin King slain before our very eyes and learn that there will be a stag hunt to determine who the next King is.  Talk about starting off with a bang!  I was thoroughly engaged from that first scene and wanted to know more about Janneke, how she ended up where she is, and why Soren and his uncle seem so completely different from one another even though they’re both Goblins, and then of course I wanted to know more about the death of the King and the stag hunt to crown the new King.

The only survivor when the Goblins burned her village to the ground, 17-year-old Janneke is a character I was drawn to immediately.  The Goblins took her into their world, and for the past 100+ years, she has been their slave, first to the repugnant Lydian and then to Soren, once Lydian grew tired of her. Consider yourself forewarned that Janneke’s history with Lydian is dark and violent (Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse).  I had a somewhat difficult time reading about her time with Lydian and how it still torments her, but it is portrayed realistically and it does shape the person that we meet in the book so I think it’s well done. Janneke is definitely a survivor in every sense of the word and it’s easy to feel sympathetic toward her as she realizes and becomes conflicted by the fact that the more time she spends with the Goblins in their land, the less human she has become.  She fears turning into a monster, and it’s easy to understand why she feels that way knowing her history with Lydian.

Soren is also a very likeable character.  Even though Janneke is technically his slave, it’s clear from the opening pages that their relationship is anything but Master and Slave.  I found Soren to be very intriguing, and I liked how protective he was of Janneke. It often felt like he’s trying to make up for his uncle’s cruelty. Soren stands as a reminder that Goblins aren’t necessarily monsters, and throughout the course of the novel, I think he and Janneke learn a lot from each other about the nature of humanity and monsters.

Another aspect of White Stag that I really enjoyed was that there were two equally compelling plotlinesJanneke’s journey is an emotional one as, caught between the human world and the world of the Permafrost, she battles her inner demons and tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs.  Janneke’s plight is one that is easy to get caught up in and she’s such a likeable character that I just found myself really wanting her to find a resolution that would make her happy.

In addition to Janneke’s emotional story, however, there is also the very exciting stag hunt, which will determine the next Goblin King.  In many ways, this was actually my favorite part of the story because it was just so action-packed and fraught with danger, not to mention all of the backstabbing and conniving behavior!  The stag hunt is basically a free-for-all, and even if you form alliances with other goblins, it’s fully with the understanding that all alliances are temporary the closer everyone gets to the stag.  Barbieri does a very nice job of crafting these two separate plotlines and then seamlessly entwining them by way of Janneke, who has a tremendous stake in who becomes the next Goblin King since the main two contenders are Soren and Lydian.

Another strong point of the novel is the worldbuilding.  I just loved the wild and wintry setting of the Goblin’s Permafrost.  It’s filled with danger and excitement, myths, ancient rituals, and magical creatures and was just everything I hoped it would be.

Although I enjoyed the novel very much overall, I did run into a couple of issues while reading White Stag. One was that I was not completely sold on any kind of a romantic relationship between Soren and Janneke.  I’m not even sure why honestly. I enjoyed their banter, especially when Janneke was trying to teach Soren how to appreciate sarcasm and use it properly, but I guess for me, their chemistry felt more friend-like than it did romantic. For that reason, it threw me for a bit of a loop when things started to heat up between them.

 A second issue was that there were a couple of times when I just felt like I wanted more information, such as the idea that Janneke is still technically 17 years old even though she has been with the Goblins for over 100 years.  I would have liked a little more explanation as to how that was possible.

Overall, I found White Stag to be a very impressive debut from Kara Barbieri and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story in her next book.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The first book in a brutally stunning series where a young girl finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.

three-half-stars

About Kara Barbieri

Kara Barbieri is a writer living in the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin. An avid fantasy fan, she began writing White Stag at eighteen and posting it to Wattpad soon after under the name of ‘Pandean’. When she’s not writing, you can find her marathoning Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reviving gothic fashion, and jamming to synthpop.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

MY REVIEW:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

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

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

 

 

 Find it:   GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksTBD

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

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

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

9/3/2018- Captivated Reading– Review

9/4/2018- Jrsbookreviews– Review

9/5/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

9/6/2018- YA Books Central– Interview

9/7/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

Week Two:

9/10/2018- Such A Novel Idea– Review

9/11/2018- Lisa Loves Literature– Review

9/12/2018- Wishful Endings– Interview

9/13/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

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

Week Three:

9/17/2018- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

9/18/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

9/19/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

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

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

Week Four:

9/24/2018- Do You Dog-ear?– Review

9/25/2018- Savings in Seconds– Review

9/26/2018- Book Briefs– Review

9/27/2018- Pacific Northwest Bookworm– Review

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

four-stars

About Colleen Houck

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

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONES

Blog Tour – Review for THE RAGING ONESThe Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie
four-stars
Series: The Raging Ones, #1
Published by Wednesday Books on August 14, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press blog tour and I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts with you on The Raging Ones by Krista and Becca Ritchie.  For those who are familiar with the Ritchie sisters, you’re aware that they are well known for their steamy romance novels.  The Raging Ones is a different kind of adventure, however.  It’s equal parts coming of age story and space epic, and it’s sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

The Raging Ones is the exciting first book in a new science fiction/fantasy series from authors Krista and Becca Ritchie.  The world this series is set in fascinated me from the moment I started reading.  The landscape itself is cold, and the way of life is equally cold and impersonal.  Saltere-3 is a world where everyone knows the exact day they’re going to die and so their entire existence is basically structured around that knowledge.  There are Influentials, who have the longest life expectancies and are given the best educational opportunities and a higher social standing as they are expected to, as their name indicates, have a major impact on the world they live in.  Beneath the Influentials on the social scale are the Fast Trackers, who are expected to live between 13-29 years.  As their name indicates, they live hard and fast, trying to squeeze as much life as possible into the short lifetime they have.  Lastly on the social scale are the Babes, whose life expectancy is no more than 12 years.  What little time they have is spent living an innocent existence with their families.  Everyone accepts this as the normal way of life because no one can escape their death day.

Or can they?  Enter our main characters, Franny Bluecastle, Court Icecastle, and Mykal Kickfall.  On the surface these three characters have absolutely nothing in common – Franny is a poor but street smart Fast Tracker who is preparing for her death day, which is imminent.  Court is a wealthy and educated young man who has done time in prison and now just wants to start a new life somewhere other than this world that he feels has wronged him.  Mykal Kickfall is a Hinterlander who is super protective of those he loves and who also happens to have an unbreakable bond with Court.  Wherever Court goes, Mykal is going with him.

So, what do these three characters have in common?  All three miraculously manage to dodge their death days.  How?  No one knows.  It’s problematic for them, however, for two reasons:  1) they now have no idea when they’re going to die.  It could happen any minute or it may not happen for years.  What was utterly predictable is now the unknown.  And 2) because no one is supposed to be able to escape their death day, they fear what the government will do to them if they were to find out.  So Franny, Court, and Mykal all end up on the run trying to make sure no one finds out that they’ve somehow done the impossible.  Their only hope to avoid detection is to get off Saltare-3 and so they decide to hide their identities and participate in a rigorous competition for highly sought after spots in a new mission to space.  If they can get off the planet, they’ll be safe.  The only catch?  They’ll be competing against the elites of society – people who are better educated, have had far more advantages throughout their lives, and who know (because they know when their death days are) there’s no way they can possibly die no matter how intense and dangerous the competition gets.

 

I was hooked on Franny, Court, and Mykal right away since I always love to root for underdogs and they are immediately cast into that role as soon as they enter the space mission competition.  They are up against nearly impossible odds and the Ritchies do a wonderful job of using that competition and its elimination rounds to build up suspense and convey just how high the stakes are for Franny, Court, and Mykal.  I found myself unable to put the book down once I started reading about the competition because I just had to know if all three of them were going to advance or be eliminated.

Franny was the easiest character for me to relate to, mainly because of the three, she is the last to dodge her death day so all of this is new to her, whereas Mykal and Court dodged theirs years before and so have had time to adjust to the idea that they are different from everyone else.  She’s in the same boat the reader is as far as trying to understand and make sense of a world she thought she understood.  I also loved what a scrappy character she is.

Mykal was also a favorite, mainly just because he’s big and burly but gives off this teddy bear vibe at the same time.  I adored his immediate bond with Franny.  They had this brother/sister thing going on that was just so sweet.

Court was a little harder to get to know because he seems to have put up a lot of emotional walls around him, but I enjoyed watching Franny chip away at those walls and eventually strengthen her bond with Court.

So, what are these bonds I keep speaking of?  This is actually my absolute favorite part of the book.  How did Franny, Court, and Mykal even find each other in the first place?  Because they are empaths!  They share an actual bond where they can basically sense anything and everything about each other.  They sense each other’s emotions as well as physical pain and pleasure.  This sharing can get awkward at times, particularly if either of them becomes physically intimate with someone, because the other two can sense what they are experiencing.  There’s a lot more to the bond, but you get the general idea.  Anyway, by the time the book opens, Court and Mykal have been hanging out together for a while so they’re pretty used to it, but it’s fascinating to watch Franny try to adjust to life where she’s suddenly connected to two people she doesn’t even know.  At times it’s funny and at other times, it can be flat out awkward, but it’s always entertaining regardless.

I also loved the intricate world building with the death days and the social hierarchy of babes, fast trackers, and influentials.  It was all so utterly unique.  What I thought was particularly interesting about the worldbuilding is that the Ritchies do not do a huge info dump at the beginning like some books do.  Instead I had to exercise some patience while I was reading and watch the details of this world gradually unfold.  Again, like Franny, I had to learn as I went.  That might bother some readers but I quite enjoyed the journey.

Lastly, there’s also a plot twist/cliffhanger ending that had me wishing I could immediately get my hands on the next book in the series, so if you like a jaw-dropping ending, this might be the book for you!

 

There were a few times along the way where I had a little trouble distinguishing between the points of view of Court and Mykal.  I don’t know if it was because their bond was so intense or if it was something else altogether, but sometimes I found myself flipping back to the beginning of a chapter to remind myself whose point of view I was getting.  This was mostly at the beginning though and it got much easier to distinguish between them as I got further along in the book and got to know Court and Mykal better.

 

If you’re looking for a unique sci-fi fantasy read with compelling characters and a riveting element of competition, I’d highly recommend giving The Raging Ones a try.  I personally think it’s worth a read just for the experience of following three empaths and exploring their bonds, but the rest of the story is equally riveting as well.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In a freezing world, where everyone knows the day they will die, three teens break all odds.

Franny Bluecastle, a tough city teen, dreams of dying in opulence, to see wealth she’s never known. Like the entire world, she believes it’s impossible to dodge a deathday.

Until the day she does.

Court Icecastle knows wealth. He also knows pain. Spending five years in Vorkter Prison, a fortress of ice and suffering, he dreams of life beyond the people that haunt him and the world that imprisoned him.

Mykal Kickfall fights for those he loves. The rugged Hinterlander shares a frustrating yet unbreakable connection with Court—which only grows more lawless and chaotic as their senses and emotions connect with Franny.

With the threat of people learning they’ve dodged their deathdays, they must flee their planet to survive. But to do so, all three will have to hide their shared bond as they vie for a highly sought after spot in the newest mission to space. Against thousands of people far smarter, who’ll live longer, and never fear death the way that they do.

four-stars

About Krista & Becca Ritchie

Krista & Becca Ritchie are New York Times Bestselling Authors and identical twins, one a science nerd, the other a comic book geek. With their shared passion for writing, they combined their mental powers as kids and have never stopped telling stories. Graduates from the University of Georgia in Biology and English & Journalism, the twin writing duo now lives in Atlanta. The Raging Ones is their first young adult novel.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summer

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summerBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
three-half-stars
on July 17, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

Sweetness can be deceptive.

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press Blog Tour for Zoje Stage’s upcoming thriller, Baby Teeth.  Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Press and Jordan Handley for inviting me to take part in this tour, and course to Zoje Stage for allowing me to preview her book.

 

MY REVIEW:

 

Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth is a dark and twisted tale of a seven-year old girl named Hanna who has one goal in life – to get rid of her mother so that she and her father can live happily ever after together.  As a mom, I found Baby Teeth to be perhaps my worst nightmare come true – that my child would hate me and want me gone – so in that sense, it was an incredibly uncomfortable read for me.  At the same time, however, it was still such a riveting read that I couldn’t stop turning the pages no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

Hanna is a troubled young girl.  For reasons doctors haven’t established yet, she does not speak.  In addition to being mute, she also has severe behavioral issues and has thus been expelled from every school that her parents have enrolled her in.  Suzette, Hanna’s mom, makes the decision to stay home with Hanna and home school her.  It’s not a permanent solution but at least Hanna won’t fall behind academically until a better solution presents itself.

Somewhere along the way, Hanna decides that she hates her mother and only loves her daddy.  While she and her mom are alone together all day, Hanna goes out of her way to let her mom know just how much she hates her and then even starts scheming about ways to get rid of her.  Then when Daddy comes home, she turns on the sweetness and perfectly plays the role of Daddy’s little angel, keeping him in the dark about how she really feels about her mom and of course frustrating her mother to no end.

As Daddy remains oblivious to Hanna’s dark side even as Hanna steps up her attacks on her mom, Suzette truly begins to fear for her own safety.  Can she get through to her husband and make him understand that they have a serious problem on their hands with Hanna before it’s too late?

 

It’s hard to review books like this because I don’t want to give away any of the twist and turns that make it such a compelling read, but here are some elements of Baby Teeth that I really thought the author did a wonderful job with:

Two Points of View – I thought it was brilliant to present this story in alternating chapters between Suzette and Hanna.  Being able to get a glimpse inside each of their heads as this disturbing family dynamic played out was what really made the book such an engaging read for me.

Suzette’s perspective was especially easy to relate to because all she can think about is what did she do wrong as a mother to make Hanna hate her so much.  Not only does she question where she went wrong as a parent, but then she feels tremendous guilt because there are times when Hannah pushes the envelope so far, that Suzette finds herself thinking horrible things about her child and sometimes even saying horrible things to her because she has been pushed to her limit.  In many ways, Suzette starts to really question herself as a mom.  How could she possibly think such terrible things about her child, who she really does love with all her heart, no matter how troubled she is?  Again, I found Suzette’s perspective to be very relatable and could imagine myself thinking many of the same things if I was in her shoes.

Hanna’s perspective added another disturbing layer to the narrative because even a quick glance at what’s going on inside her head reveals that she is truly a troubled little girl on many levels.  She’s callous, unfeeling, manipulative, and frankly, just all around creepy.  As soon as I’d read a chapter from Hanna, I’d instantly be all the more sympathetic to Suzette because she clearly had her hands full and was on her own thanks to Daddy Oblivious falling for all of Hanna’s tricks.

Twists and Turns – Another aspect of Baby Teeth that really entertained me was that it was fast-paced and filled with twists and turns that constantly kept me guessing about what was really going on with Hanna.  At times, the story had the feel of a horror movie so it really had me considering any and all possible explanations for Hanna’s behavior – is it psychological?  Are we going to find out she was somehow abused?  Is there something supernatural afoot?  I liked that the story really had me open to so many possibilities, no matter how over the top they seemed.

 

I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on the fact that I was not a huge fan of Hanna’s dad.  I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt – that Hanna was just that good of a manipulator – but it really just frustrated me to no end that he just didn’t get how dysfunctional their whole family situation was and how troubled his daughter truly was.

The only other real issue I had with Baby Teeth was that sometimes I found it hard to believe that a 7-year old child could devise some of the intricate and truly evil plots that Hanna came up with against her mother.  I know some kids are more precocious than others, but some of her schemes and just some of her thoughts in general came across as way too sophisticated for a child of that age.  In some ways it bothered me because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it and sometimes it felt like maybe the author was just trying too hard to make the book shocking, but at the same time, it still kind of worked for me because it made my own imagination run wild, which added to the dark and twisted nature of the book and to the horror vibe that I was already feeling:  Does she have multiple personality disorder or some other mental illness?  Is she a psychopath?  Do we have a case of The Exorcist going on here?  Has she been possessed?  Those last ones probably sound a little silly, but the book really just sucks you in that much!

 

Baby Teeth is sure to please readers who enjoy thrillers and/or horror.  It’s a wild, dark, and twisted ride that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the battle between Hanna and Suzette play out.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER FOR BABY TEETH

 

 

* * * * * *

 

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN AN ARC of BABY TEETH (U.S. residents only, sorry!)

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter for your chance to win an ARC of this book.  I have 3 copies to give away and the giveaway will run until June 8th.  Please be sure to follow me on twitter as I plan to DM the three winners to get mailing addresses.  I do apologize in advance that this giveaway is U.S. only since I always prefer to do international.  I have the ARCs in hand to pass along to the winners and sadly I just can’t afford to ship them internationally.  🙁

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

three-half-stars

About Zoje Stage

Before turning to novels, Zoje Stage had a deep and eclectic background in film and theatre. Highlights include being a 2012 Emerging Storytellers Fellow from the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP.org), and a 2008 Fellow in Screenwriting from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA.org). In 2009 she won the Screenplay Live! Screenwriting Competition, which afforded her the opportunity to direct a staged reading of her winning script, THE MACHINE WHO LOVED, for the High Falls Film Festival (Rochester, NY). Zoje has written-directed-produced numerous zero-budget films, including the documentary short BEST OF LUCK (“an amusing take on the travails of aspiring writers” – The New York Times). Her films have screened at venues such as Anthology Film Archives and Two Boots Pioneer Theater (both in NYC), Film Kitchen (Pittsburgh, PA), and Emerging Filmmakers (Rochester, NY). As a playwright, Zoje is most proud of her play MONSTER, which was produced in Pittsburgh by the Upstairs Theatre (“Ms. Stage now makes her own contribution to holocaust literature with a demanding and intensely felt play… a must-see for those wanting another view of why and how the holocaust happened.” – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). After living in Rochester, NY for many years, she is back in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaways: LIFEL1K3 by Jay KristoffLIFEL1K3 (Lifelike, #1) by Jay Kristoff
Also by this author: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)
four-stars
Series: Lifelike #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 29, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

GoodreadsAmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBD

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Book Tour to promote Jay Kristoff’s latest novel, LIFEL1K3.  Thanks so much to RockStar Book Tours for allowing me to take part in this tour and thanks so much to Jay Kristoff for allowing me to preview his book.

 

MY REVIEW:

Jay Kristoff’s LifeL1k3 truly captivated me from the first page. It’s an action-packed science fiction adventure that follows Eve, a scrappy street smart young woman who lives with her grandfather and who is doing the best she can to survive from one day to the next.  The America we know has been decimated by war and natural disasters and Eve, like most others in her world, now live as scavengers.  When we first meet Eve, she is fighting in a robot gladiator duel, trying to earn money.  Unfortunately, her opponent is bigger and stronger and ultimately Eve’s robot is destroyed.  When her own life is unexpectedly put in danger by her opponent, she unleashes a power that she never realized she had and destroys the other robot just by thinking about it and screaming.  She has no idea how she did it, but what she does know is that it means she is now in a world of trouble. “Deviants” like Eve have been labeled unacceptable by a puritanical Brotherhood that has somehow put itself in charge in an otherwise lawless environment.  There is now a bounty on Eve’s head, which has her looking over her shoulder for trouble at every turn.

The trouble Eve finds comes in the shape of an android boy named Ezekiel that Eve finds in the wreckage of a downed plane.  Somehow Ezekiel knows Eve, and the more Eve learns about how Ezekiel knows her, the more she realizes her entire life has been a lie. Eve desperately needs answers so she, Ezekiel, and her friends set off on a dangerous journey to discover the truth.  Will the price for the truth be too high though?

There’s so much to love about LifeL1k3 that I hardly know where to begin, so I think I’ll just start with the fantastic characters Kristoff has created in this book.

First, there’s Eve.  There are many sides to Eve and I just love the complexity with which Kristoff has written her. On the one hand, she’s this super sassy badass robot fighter, yet on the other hand, she’s also an underdog with a bounty on her head. I always like to cheer for the underdog anyway so Eve captured my attention and my support from those opening moments, especially as soon as we learn that she’s not just robot fighting to win a little extra cash.  No, she’s desperately trying to win money to purchase cancer meds for her ailing grandfather.  That devotion to her family really sealed the deal for me when it came to Eve, especially once it was coupled with the fact that she then learns that her whole life has basically been a lie and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore. That kind of deception can really do a number on a person so even when Eve occasionally lashes out at those around her, I still felt for her because I can only imagine how I would react in her shoes.

As much as I liked Eve, however, Kristoff has created a cast of secondary characters in LifeL1k3 that truly stole my heart.  Lemon Fresh was my absolute favorite character.  She’s a hilarious pink-haired bundle of sass but she’s also the most loyal friend Eve could ever ask for.  Then there’s Cricket, who is a small robot with a major attitude when it comes to his stature:  “Don’t call me little!” He is programmed to protect Eve at all costs and like Lemon, is one of Eve’s most loyal companions.  And finally, there’s the most loyal of them all, Kaiser, who is the most precious cyborg Rottweiler ever.  He’s totally mechanical but has the brain of an actual dog, and he’s just too adorable for words.  He even loves to have his metal tummy rubbed just like a real dog.  I just adored these characters so much and loved how completely devoted to Eve they all were.  They’re a little family or like the four musketeers.

Ezekiel is another incredibly well developed character, especially considering he’s an android (or Lifelike).  He comes across as so real that I had to keep reminding myself he’s a robot. He’s also the one who turns Eve’s whole world upside down, and I enjoyed all of the complicated dynamics of his relationship with Eve.

In addition to a cast of incredible characters, I was also a huge fan of Kristoff’s worldbuilding in LifeL1k3.  The story is set in the future, in a post-war, post-apocalyptic version of America. It’s a desert wasteland, filled with ruins and radiation, and overall it has a very Mad Max vibe to it, which I loved.

As if all of that wasn’t fabulous enough, what actually appealed to me the most was all of the big themes that were encompassed in this book.  It’s not just an action-packed sci-fi read that provided me with a major adrenaline rush.  It’s also a thought-provoking story that tackles major topics like the idea of man playing God and the inevitable consequences of doing so, as well as the idea that we are not necessarily defined by our past, that we still have free will to choose who we want to be.  I love a book that gives me plenty of food for thought, and this book really does just that.

The only real issue I had with LifeL1k3 was that it took a little getting used to the different slang words the characters used. That’s usually the case for me with science fiction though so I expected it going in and it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the overall story.

I was also a little confused at first when we started getting chapters from Lemon’s point of view since the bulk of the story came to us from Eve.  I ultimately didn’t mind though because I loved Lemon even more once I had a chance to get inside of her head and see things from her perspective.  Her voice was a welcome addition to the storytelling.  I also hope that it means Lemon will play an even bigger role as the series continues.

LifeL1k3 is an action-packed science fiction adventure that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  There’s deception, drama, and plot twists galore, and it’s also filled with memorable characters that you’re sure to fall in love with.  With LifeL1k3, Jay Kristoff has crafted a wonderful book that has a little something for everyone.  I really can’t wait to continue the series and see what happens next!

 

 

FINISHED COPY GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of LIFEL1K3, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

PRE-ORDER GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

The LIFEL1K# pre-order is now live for folks in the US! To get your sticky booky hands on a full color map of the Yousay by the amazing Virginia Allyn and four brill LIFEL1K3 bookmarks with illustrations by the incredibly talented Mona May, all you need to is:

  1. Pre order LIFEL1K3 (Amazon/Barnes&Noble/Indiebound/Powells/Book Depository/ it doesn’t matter from where, just get a receipt)
  2. Head to getunderlined.com and search for “Lifel1k3”. Or better yet, just click HERE.
  3. Enter your details and upload your receipt.
  4. Profit.

 

AUSSIE & NEW ZEALAND GIVEAWAY!

HOW TO ENTER

Take a SELFIE with a copy of LIFEL1K3 and SHARE IT using #LIFEL1K3comp for your chance to win tickets for you and a friend to go to any concert of your choice!

 Entry is open to Australian and New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply. Ends 09/05/2018.

https://a.pgtb.me/mlvSGS

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Week One:

5/14/2018- Mary Had a Little Book Blog– Review

5/15/2018- Fiction Fare– Review

5/16/2018- Birdie Bookworm– Review

5/17/2018- Novel Heartbeat– Review

5/18/2018- Bookish In Bed– Review

Week Two:

5/21/2018- Portrait of a Book– Review

5/22/2018- Confessions of a YA Reader– Review

5/23/2018- Emily Reads Everything– Review

5/24/2018- Zach’s YA Reviews– Review

5/25/2018- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

5/28/2018- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

5/29/2018- Diary of an Avid Reader– Review

5/30/2018- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

5/31/2018- Book-Keeping– Review

6/1/2018- Nerdophiles– Review

 

Week Four:

6/4/2018- Smada’s Book Smack– Review

6/5/2018- Novel Novice– Review

6/6/2018- The Book Nut– Review

6/7/2018- Book Briefs– Review

6/8/2018- A Gingerly Review– Review

four-stars

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is a #1 international, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy. He grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of.

His LOTUS WAR trilogy was critically acclaimed in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards and won the 2014 Aurealis Award. Jay’s new series, the SciFi thriller THE ILLUMINAE FILES, was co-authored with Amie Kaufman. Book 1, ILLUMINAE, became a New York Times and international bestseller, was named among the Kirkus, Amazon and YALSA Best Books of 2015, became a finalist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and won the 2016 Aurealis Award and an ABIA Book of the Year award. ILLUMINAE is currently slated to be published in thirty five countries, and film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment.

Jay’s new fantasy series, THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, commenced in 2016. The novel was an international bestseller, won the Aurealis award and earned Kristoff his second Gemmell nomination. Part 2, GODSGRAVE, was published in 2017, and won the series its second Aurealis award. A new YA series, LIFEL1K3 has also been acquired by Knopf/Random House Kids, and commences publication in early 2018. A new series with Amie Kaufman, THE ANDROMEDA CYCLE, begins in 2019 with Knopf/Random House Kids. Jay is as surprised about all this as you are. He is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Jay is 6’7 and has approximately 12,000 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell. He does not believe in happy endings.

Blog Tour Book Review: SONG OF BLOOD & STONE

Blog Tour Book Review:  SONG OF BLOOD & STONESong of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
three-half-stars
Series: Earthsinger Chronicles
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 1, 2018
Genres: Fantasy
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the St Martin’s Press Blog Tour for L. Penelope’s new novel, Song of Blood & Stone., so in this post, I’ll be sharing my honest thoughts on this first installment in Penelope’s exciting new historical fantasy series, Earthsinger Chronicles.

MY REVIEW:

Song of Blood & Stone is the captivating and thrilling first installment in L. Penelope’s new Earthsinger Chronicles fantasy series.  It follows Jasminda, a young woman who is orphaned and living alone.  She lives caught between two warring lands, Elsira and Lagrimar.  The people of Lagrimar are dark-skinned and many of them possess an unusual magic called Earthsong, while the people of Elsira are fair-skinned, non-magical, and possess a strong fear of this strange magic.  The Elsirans and Lagrimars have disliked and distrusted each other for generations and live in relative peace only because the two lands are separated by a magical wall called the Mantle.  The mantle has occasionally been breached over the years and each time there has been a breach, war has followed.

Even though she considers Elsira to be her homeland, because she is half-Elsiran and half-Lagrimar, Jasminda is treated as an outcast by everyone around her.  She therefore lives alone on the outskirts of Elsira and has little human contact on any given day, that is, until a group of menacing Elsiran soldiers show up on her doorstep seeking refuge.  With them is a prisoner they have clearly mistreated and beaten within an inch of his life.  Jasminda is drawn to this prisoner, whose name is Jack, right away and communicates with him whenever she can steal a moment to visit him.  She learns that Jack is actually a spy who had disguised himself to go behind enemy lines and prove that the rumors are true:  the Mantle is about to be destroyed and then nothing will stop the tyrant True Father and the people of Lagrimar from bring war and their magic to Elsira.

Jasminda helps Jack heal from his wounds and, working together, they manage to slip away from the Elsiran soldiers.  Realizing that their homeland truly is in danger, Jack and Jasminda vow to do whatever they can to stop this war and so they set off on a dangerous journey together to save Elsira by unlocking the mystery of what caused these two lands to become enemies in the first place…

 

Jasminda was such an easy character to fall in love with. Being half Elsiran and half Lagrimar, Jasminda is dark-skinned and possesses a weak version of the Earthsong like the Lagrimars, so while the Elsirans tolerate her on their land, they do not trust her and shun her at every opportunity. She endeared herself to me from the opening scenes of the book when some Elsiran ladies sneer at her while she is retrieving her mail, and she responds by using her Earthsong to change her skin color to match theirs, taunting the women and asking them if that made her appearance more acceptable to them.  I laughed aloud as the ladies, with horrified looks on their faces, scurried away from Jasminda as fast as they possibly could.

I’m always drawn to a character who is portrayed as an underdog anyway, but Jasminda also appealed to me because she’s smart, independent, and resourceful.  She knows how to take care of herself and she’s also a proud woman who refuses to hang her head no matter how poorly those around her treat her, not even when her grandfather tries to pay her to say that she is not related to him.  Apparently he fears that this mixed race child, visible proof of his own daughter’s transgression, might put a crimp in his political ambitions, so he wants Jasminda out of his life permanently.

Jack was also a likeable character.  He’s a proud Elsiran who serves in their military.  When Jasminda first encounters him, he is working as a spy, trying to gather evidence to prove there is a breach imminent so that his people can prepare for the war that will also be imminent. Even though he’s fiercely devoted to his own people, what I immediately liked about Jack was that he didn’t turn his nose up at Jasminda because of her skin color like the rest of his people do.  Instead, because she lives on Elsiran land, he sees it as his duty to protect her just as he would protect any other Elsiran citizen.  I admired his sense of duty and how passionate he was about doing what was right and honorable.

Even though I liked Jack, I have to admit there were a few moments when I wanted to throttle him.  As he became more and more attracted to Jasminda, he became very intense in his need to protect her.  I found myself yelling at him:  “Dude, she wears a knife strapped to her with a garter belt and she has saved your ass more than once already! She does NOT need you to save her!” LOL!

That said, I did very much enjoy their relationship.  Even though there was a bit of instant attraction, there was clearly chemistry between them and it felt like their relationship naturally progressed throughout the novel.  Even more than the romantic aspect of their relationship, what I really liked was how well they worked together as a team to try to find a way to stop the breach and the war.

Aside from these two great characters, what appealed to me the most about Song of Blood & Stone is that even though it was a fantasy, the author has packed it full of social issues that parallel important issues we are dealing with today in our own society.  This fantasy world very much mirrors our reality so it just made the story feel all the more relevant.  The two warring lands have created a refugee crisis similar to what we have witnessed in Syria.  Elsira has hundreds of Lagrimar refugees, and as we’ve witnessed with the Syrian refugees, reactions to them are very mixed.  While some are accepting of them, by and large, people are prejudiced against them and afraid of the magic and just want them to go back where they came from.  We also clearly see the racism and prejudice everywhere Jasminda goes.  She even experiences it as a guest in the royal palace.

The author also creates a magnificent backstory that explains how the war between the Elsirans and the Lagrimars got started in the first place.  The story is locked inside of a magical stone, and for reasons no one understands, only Jasminda is able to connect with the stone and reveal the story.  She does so a little at a time so that the backstory unfolds parallel to the story we’re following.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say that it illustrates the roles that both the noble Sleeping Queen and the tyrannical True Father play in the conflict’s origins, as well as how the magical Earthsong factors in, and it ultimately reveals why Jasminda is able to connect with the stone when no one else can.  It’s all quite fascinating and I loved watching the two stories unfold alongside each other.

 

I don’t want to call any of these issues dislikes, but there were a few areas where I just felt like I wanted more from the story.

The first of which is the worldbuilding.  While I loved what the author created with the two warring lands and the mantle dividing them, I still felt like I only had a vague notion of what this fantasy world actually looked like.  I just couldn’t easily picture it, which was a little disappointing. I like to be able to vividly picture the fantasy land I’m reading about, so I’m really hoping for more detail in the next book.

I had the same experience with the magical system.  The idea of the Earthsong completely fascinated me, especially with its intense healing powers and the way Earthsingers can “link” and share their songs. That said, however, I felt like I never quite fully understand how exactly the Earthsong worked or what exactly one could do with it.  It seemed like everyone who could use it did something different with it and I didn’t really see a common thread.  So yeah, I’d definitely love to learn more about this Earthsong and what it entails, especially after seeing how differently True Father used it from so many others.

Finally, even though I enjoyed the romance between Jasminda and Jack, I still felt like it started to become a distraction the further along in the book I got.  I’m frantically flipping through pages trying to figure out how they’re going to stop the war, and Jack and Jasminda seem more and more preoccupied with how they’re going to be together since their relationship will be deemed unacceptable because of Jasminda’s mixed heritage.  War is coming, people. Focus! Fight first, love later! Needless to say, it was a little frustrating at times, haha!

 

Even with those few issues, I still thought this was a very strong start to what promises to be an outstanding fantasy series.  I thought the ending was absolutely brilliant and look forward to seeing where the story goes next.  I would recommend this to any reader who enjoys fantasy, romance, or even books that focus on social issues.  I would also say that this is probably best geared toward mature readers as the sexual encounters between Jasminda and Jack are quite detailed and intense.

That said, if you like fantasy and a badass heroine, definitely consider reading Song of Blood & Stone!

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers. 

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

 

 

 

three-half-stars

About L. Penelope

Leslye Penelope has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head. She is an award-winning author of fantasy and paranormal romance.

She was born in the Bronx, just after the birth of hip hop, but left before she could acquire an accent. Equally left and right-brained, she studied Film at Howard University and minored in Computer Science. This led to a graduate degree in Multimedia and a career in website development. She’s also an award-winning independent filmmaker, co-founded a literary magazine, and sometimes dreams in HTML.

Leslye lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry dependents. Sign up for new release information and giveaways on her website: http://www.lpenelope.com.

Release Week Blitz & Giveaway: HAVEN by Mary Lindsey

 

Welcome to the Release Week Blitz for

Haven by Mary Lindsey

presented by Entangled Teen!

Grab your copy today!

 

Congratulations Mary!

 

 

“We all hold a beast inside. The only difference is what form it takes when freed.”

Rain Ryland has never belonged anywhere, He’s use to people judging him for his rough background, his intimidating size, and now, his orphan status. He’s always been on the outside, looking in, and he’s fine with that. Until he moves to New Wurzburg and meets Friederike Burkhart.

Freddie isn’t like normal teen girls, though. And someone wants her dead for it. Freddie warns he’d better stay far away if he wants to stay alive, but Rain’s never been good at running rom trouble. For the first time, Rain has something worth fighting for, worth living for. Worth dying for.

Ancient magic and modern society collide in a sexy, spellbinding romance perfect for fans of C. C. Hunter and Maggie Stiefvater that proves sometimes beauty is the beast…

 

Haven by Mary Lindsey
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen

 

Amazon | Amazon Australia | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

 

 

Mary Lindsey is a multi award-winning, RITA® nominated author of romance for adults and teens. She lives on an island in the middle of a river. Seriously, she does. When not writing, she wrangles her rowdy pack of three teens, two Cairn Terriers, and one husband. Inexplicably, her favorite animal is the giant anteater and at one point, she had over 200 “pet” Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. The roaches are a long story involving three science-crazed kids and a soft spot for rescue animals. The good news is, the “pet” roaches found a home… somewhere else.

 

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GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

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Swag box including books (not Haven) and fun stuff.*

A $15 Amazon gift card will be substituted in place of the prize pack if the winner is international.

 

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