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Review: A STUDY IN TREASON

Review:  A STUDY IN TREASONA Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg
three-half-stars
Series: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Historical 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.

MY REVIEW:

Leonard Goldberg’s A Study in Treason is the second book in the popular series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries.  These books feature Joanna Blalock, daughter of Sherlock Holmes, and her husband, John Watson, Jr., who is (you guessed it), the son of Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John Watson, Sr. as they follow in their parents’ footsteps and solve mysteries that are so tough they stump both local law enforcement and the finest detectives at Scotland Yard. I’ve always been a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries so I thought this would be a fun read

In this second book in the series, there is an imminent threat of war (WWI) and England and France have entered into a secret treaty that details strategies on how they will work together to defeat Germany if they actually do go to war.  The treaty is sent to the country estate of Lord Halifax so that copies of it can be produced, and even though the document is kept under lock and key and the room it is stored in is guarded at all times, somehow the document is still stolen. The local police and Scotland Yard are called in immediately, but when they can’t determine how the document was stolen from a locked and guarded room, Joanna and the Watsons are called in to lend their assistance.

 

My favorite part about A Study in Treason was actually the mystery itself.  It’s a cleverly crafted locked door mystery, filled with plenty of suspense and twists and turns that kept me guessing as to who the culprit was and how they did it, all the way to the very end.

I also loved the feeling of nostalgia that I got while reading because Goldberg does such a fine job of writing the story in the style of the original Sherlock mysteries and in capturing the atmosphere of pre-WWI England.  In that sense, I think this series makes for a great complement to the original series.  It was like meeting up with an old friend after many years.

Speaking of meeting up with old friends after many years, I also really loved seeing Dr. Watson again.  Sherlock has unfortunately passed away by the time this story is set, but Watson is still with us and it just warmed my heart to see him and especially to see how wonderful his relationship with his son is.

I also liked Joanna, well most of the time anyway. She’s quite the feminist and doesn’t put up with anyone treating her as less than capable because of her gender.  She is also truly a chip off the old block, both in terms of her personality and her investigative skills. She’s like Sherlock in a dress and is quite a fun character to follow around, as many of her mannerisms even mimic dear old dad’s.

 

As much as I liked Joanna, I unfortunately also had some issues with her as well.  Some of the clues Joanna found while investigating seemed like clues that any trained member of law enforcement should have also been able to locate.  In that sense it almost felt like other characters were being “dumbed down” to make Joanna appear more superior.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the way she would micro-manage everyone around her as if they were dimwits who couldn’t think for themselves at all.  There was one scene in particular where she wants her husband John to observe what one of their suspects is doing, but to do so without being seen.  She actually instructs him to hold his hand up next to his face to shield his face from view, as if he doesn’t have enough common sense on his own to figure out how not to be recognized.  She speaks in a similarly condescending tone to Dr. Watson at times, as if he’s a child, and I found it annoying.  Then, if they did something well or came up with an idea on their own, she would praise them as if they were pets.  I half expected her to reward them with treats every time they did something that pleased her.  That same arrogance used to occasionally annoy me about Sherlock, so I guess it’s not surprising that it annoys me with his daughter as well, lol.

 

Overall, I found A Study in Treason to be an entertaining read. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes or even just a fan of mysteries, in particular, locked door mysteries, I’d definitely say to give it a try.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch

three-half-stars

About Leonard Goldberg

Leonard Goldberg is an American physicist, professor of medicine, and the author of the Joanna Blalock series of medical thrillers.

His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide. Leonard Goldberg is himself a consulting physician affiliated with the UCLA Medical Center, where he holds an appointment as Clinical Professor of Medicine. A sought-after expert witness in medical malpractice trials, he is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and rheumatology, and has published over a hundred scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Leonard Goldberg’s writing career began with a clinical interest in blood disorders. While involved in a research project at UCLA, he encountered a most unusual blood type. The patient’s red blood cells were O-Rh null, indicating they were totally deficient in A, B and Rh factors and could be administered to virtually anyone without fear of a transfusion reaction. In essence, the patient was the proverbial “universal” blood donor. This finding spurred the idea for a story in which an individual was born without a tissue type, making that person’s organs transplantable into anyone without worry of rejection. His first novel, Transplant, revolved around a young woman who is discovered to be a universal organ donor and is hounded by a wealthy, powerful man in desperate need of a new kidney. The book quickly went through multiple printings and was optioned by a major Hollywood studio.

Dr. Goldberg is a native of Charleston and a long-time California resident. He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and an island off the coast of South Carolina.

Review: FURYBORN

Review:  FURYBORNFuryborn by Claire Legrand
three-stars
Series: Empirium #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 22, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Novels that feature strong, independent female characters and dual timelines are nearly always guaranteed to grab my attention and such was the case with Claire Legrand’s YA fantasy novel, Furyborn.  Furyborn follows two incredibly independent women, Rielle Dardenne and Eliana Ferracora, who lived centuries apart but who both play a role in an ancient prophecy known to all in their lands.  The prophecy states that two magic-wielding Queens will rise to power, a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen, and one will have the power to save their kingdom, while the other will have the power to destroy them all.

Furyborn is an exciting adventure from start to finish as we follow these two fiercely independent women as they rush forward to meet their destinies.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Furyborn was the way the dual timeline was used to allow each woman’s journey to unfold.  With Rielle, we are presented with not only her role in the prophecy, but also the way she meets her end, in the novel’s prologue.  Rielle’s journey in the book, therefore, is more of a rewind back to show how she got to the point where we find her as the book begins.  Eliana’s narrative, on the other hand, moves more straightforward in that we simply follow her to find out where she fits into the prophecy and to where her story ultimately intersects with Rielle’s.

Out of the two main characters, I’d have to say that Eliana was probably my favorite.  As I’ve already mentioned she’s incredibly independent and strong. What I found most interesting about her, however, is that she also falls into the morally gray category.  When the Empire came in and conquered her kingdom, Eliana began working for them as a bounty hunter.  She’ll slit a Rebel’s throat in a heartbeat if there’s money involved, thus earning herself the nickname “The Dread of Orline.”  Although many of her actions are morally questionable, her heart, however, is in the right place because she’s desperate to have enough money to take care of her mother and brother.  Eliana could be arrogant and obnoxious at times, but I still ultimately liked her because of that big heart of hers.

Even though I didn’t like her quite as much as I liked Eliana, Rielle was also a pretty likable character.  What I liked about Rielle was that she fit so well into that underdog category that I’m always such a big fan of.  Rielle lives in a time where most individuals possess some magic and wield control over one of the natural elements.  During a horse race, Rielle’s best friend finds himself in mortal danger and when Rielle jumps in to try to save him, she accidentally reveals that not only does she too possess magic, but she wields control over more than the usual one element.  In trying to save her friend, she has used her magic recklessly and wreaked so much havoc that everyone in the kingdom is terrified of her.  Whispers about the prophecy and that she might be one of the Queens immediately begin.  Rielle is brought before the King where he informs her that she must face seven potentially deadly elemental trials.  She will either successfully complete each of these trials, thus proving that she is one of the two prophesied Queens or else she will not succeed and she will die.  No pressure there, right?  I just really admired the way she faced each challenge head-on, almost defiant, at times.

I was also quite intrigued by the world building in Furyborn.  This fantasy world and its magical system were quite fascinating, especially the Empirum and how Rielle was able to manipulate it, but I still would have liked a little more detail about pretty much everything.  Some parts of it were a little confusing, especially the angels, who were apparently bad and banished.  I’m hoping a second book will shed more light on some of the fantasy elements in the series.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher even though I quite enjoyed the story overall was that it honestly felt like two separate books where I was reading a chapter from one and then a chapter from the other.  I would have liked to see more connective threads between them throughout to remind me that the two stories would eventually interconnect.

A second issue I had, and this is probably one of those ‘It’s me, not the book’ scenarios, but Rielle’s storyline started to wear thin on me after a while.  Those trials, while initially exciting, started to feel somewhat tedious. I can, admittedly, have the attention span of a gnat, but after the first couple of trials, I kept hoping that something would happen so that we didn’t have to go through all seven of them or that the author would simply gloss over the details rather than give us a play-by-play of everything that happened.  I also thought too much emphasis was placed on her costumes, each of which were custom made to match the element of the trial she was about to engage in.  It reminded me of the scenes from The Hunger Games when Katniss was dressed up as the Girl on Fire.  Since I didn’t particularly care for those scenes in The Hunger Games, it was a little ugh going through similar scenes in Furyborn.

One other area that didn’t set well with me was a scene early on where Rielle, clearly not in control of her magic, cruelly kills an animal.  I understood what the author was trying to show in this scene, but it was just very graphic and upsetting.

While it’s not a perfect read, it’s still highly entertaining overall and I do think that Furyborn is a solid beginning to what is sure to be a great new fantasy series.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

three-stars

About Claire Legrand

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a librarian and New York Times bestselling author living in central New Jersey (although her heart will always live in her home state of Texas).

Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. She is also the author of The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers; and Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker. Some Kind of Happiness, her middle grade novel about mental illness, family secrets, and the power of storytelling, is a 2017 Edgar Award Nominee. Claire’s latest novel, Foxheart, is a classic fantasy-adventure and a 2016 Junior Library Guild selection. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade short fiction that was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and among the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014.

Her latest novel, Furyborn, debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is the first book in the Empirium Trilogy, a young adult epic fantasy series. Her next book, Sawkill Girls, is a queer young adult horror novel and will release on October 2nd, 2018.

Her work is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Review: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

Review:  THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAYThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on May 29, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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.

MY REVIEW:

Even though I’m typically a huge fan of suspenseful thrillers, for some reason I had not gotten around to trying one of Ruth Ware’s popular novels yet. I don’t really have any real excuse other than I sometimes tend to shy away from hyped books and this was one of those cases, especially since I’ve seen Ware referred to as the Agatha Christie of our time and that seems like a pretty tall order for any author to try to live up to.  The synopsis of The Death of Mrs. Westaway captivated me, however, and I decided it was past time for me to try my first Ruth Ware novel.  How did it work out?  I’d say the fact that I’ve ordered copies of all of Ware’s novels since finishing this one is a pretty good indicator of how it went.  While I might not go so far as to call her the Agatha Christie of our day, Ruth Ware is a superb mystery author in her own right.

 

Sympathetic Protagonist:  Harriet Westaway (or Hal as she is more often referred to) is a character that tugged on my heartstrings from the first pages of the novel.  She is a 21-year-old tarot card reader who works on a pier in Brighton, England.  Hal fell into this line of work a few years earlier when her mother, also a tarot card reader, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident.  The driver was never caught and so Hal was forced to drop out of school and take up her mother’s work in order to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  There’s no father and no other family in the picture so Hal is all alone in the world and is struggling to make ends meet.  When we meet Hal, she is up to her neck in trouble, having borrowed some money from a sleazy loan shark who keeps changing the terms of her repayment and has sent his goons to deliver a message to her, that message being threat of bodily harm or even worse if she doesn’t cough up 3,000 pounds, which she clearly doesn’t have.

Although Hal is a sympathetic character, she’s still pretty savvy and street smart, which is another thing I liked about her, as well as the fact that she also has a bit of a morally gray element that adds even more interesting layers to her personality.  When a letter from an attorney’s office arrives in the mail telling Hal she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a Mrs. Westaway who has just passed away, Hal knows it can’t possibly be her, as she has no family.  That said, however, she can’t help but wonder if her ability to read people – so finely honed by years of reading tarot cards and telling fortunes – is sharp enough for her to fool people so that she really can claim the aforementioned inheritance.  Yes, there’s a risk she could go to jail for fraud, but if she can pull it off, it’s the answer to all of her prayers.  That in itself makes it a risk worth taking.  It’s so wrong of course, but I just couldn’t help but admire her guts and determination.

Atmospheric Quality: In addition to the wonderfully well-rounded character that is Hal, my other favorite part of the book is the atmosphere that Ware has created. Everything about the atmosphere has an air of suspense to it but it takes a turn for the creepy and Gothic once Hal arrives at the residence of the late Mrs. Westaway.  The house itself is dusty and ill-maintained, some of the windows are barred, It’s filled with endless dark corridors and stairways, and to top it off, there’s a mean old housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, that Hal seems to find lurking around every corner.  Everything about the house just had this ominous feel to it and had me wanting to yell at Hal to get out while she could.

Family Secrets – Web of Lies:  If you’re into books that focus on messy families and their dirty little secrets, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the book for you! As soon as Hal arrives and hears the will reading, she can tell that something is amiss with the Westaway family and that she has landed herself right in the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Nothing is as it seems and although she knows she should just cut and run before she ends up in potentially deeper trouble than she already is, she feels compelled to find out the truth about the family and whatever it is they appear to be hiding.  Ware does a marvelous job with the pacing of the novel and I remained enthralled as I waited for each strand of the web of lies to unravel.

 

I don’t really have anything at all here. It was a phenomenal read that I couldn’t put down once I started reading.

 

While this was my first time reading Ruth Ware, it will definitely not be my last.  I’d recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway to anyone who is a fan of mysteries and thrillers as well as to anyone who enjoys a good domestic drama.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-half-stars

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.

Review: LEGENDARY

Review:  LEGENDARYLegendary by Stephanie Garber
Also by this author: Caraval
four-stars
Series: Caraval #2
Published by Flatiron Books on May 29, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Also in this series: Caraval
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.

MY REVIEW:

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017. While, unfortunately, it did not quite live up to my very high expectations for it, I still found it an entertaining enough read that I wanted to continue the series, especially once I read the premise for the second book, Legendary, and saw that the story was being told from the perspective of my favorite character from Caraval, younger sister Donatella Dragna, or Tella as she is called. I didn’t feel like nearly enough attention was paid to Tella in the first book, so knowing that the second book is her story made Legendary a must-read for me.  I kept my expectations in check this time around and I’m thrilled to say that Legendary far exceeded all of my expectations and now has me eager to complete the series.

Reviewing middle books in a series is always so hard for me.  I want to gush about everything I loved, but it’s hard to do it without potentially spoiling the first book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  I’ve therefore decided to do this review a little differently than I normally do and just present you with all of the reasons why Legendary worked so much better for me than Caraval did.  Hopefully it’s not spoilery, and if it is, hopefully it’s only mildly so.

 

5 REASONS WHY I ENJOYED LEGENDARY MORE THAN CARAVAL

 

  1. Tella is a more compelling narrator than Scarlett. I’ll admit it…and I’m pretty sure I admitted it when I reviewed Caraval, Scarlett was not my favorite Dragna sister.  While I liked her loyalty and devotion to her sister, Tella, beyond that she just didn’t really hold my attention at all.   Tella, on the other hand, is a much more complex and interesting character.  She’s the sister who everyone thinks is just high strung and flaky, and so they always underestimate her.  I enjoyed watching the second installment of this series unfold through Tella’s eyes and even more so, I loved getting inside her head and discovering that there really is so much more to her than people give her credit for.  Tella was actually my favorite character in Caraval and even though that first book was only an okay read for me, as soon as I heard Legendary was Tella’s story, I knew I had to continue the series and I’m thrilled that I did because the second book far exceeded my expectations and that’s mostly because of the change in perspective from Scarlett to Tella.
  1. Caraval Fall Out. Something that really made Legendary a more interesting read for me than Caraval was the fallout from being in an environment where literally no one could be trusted.  Now that Scarlett and Tella are interacting with some of the Caraval players outside of the game, it adds an underlying element of mistrust in all of their interactions that I found very entertaining.  It’s like “Can I trust you now?  Do you really like me or is this still an act?” All of the players are clearly gifted actors so it was easy to understand why Tella and Scarlett remained so suspicious of them. 
  1. Greater sense of urgency. Instead of just being an elite game that everyone is dying to play as in the first book, this time the Caraval experience has much higher stakes, thanks to a bargain Tella has secretly made with a mysterious and shady individual.  There’s something she desperately wants that he says only he can deliver, but he’ll only do so if she can get something for him in return, the true identity of Caraval mastermind, Legend.  Legend’s identity is one of Caraval’s best kept secrets and the only way she can get it is to win Caraval.  As soon as Tella begins to play, however, she learns that this Caraval is quite different from the first one she participated in, dangerously so.  It becomes clear that Legend has enemies who will stop at nothing to take him down and won’t hesitate to take Tella down as well if she gets in their way.
  1. Rules are Made to be Broken. One of the reasons I wasn’t keen on Scarlett in the first book was her refusal to let the main rule of Caraval sink into her head. No matter how many times people reminded her it was just a game, nothing was real, she just took everything so seriously and kept diving off the deep end. For that reason, I loved the twist Garber throws in Legendary.  Instead of being told that nothing is real and everything’s a game, Tella is instead warned that this time around, everything IS real.  It keeps Tella and the reader in a constant state of doubt over whether things are real or not because this situation is the exact opposite of what we and Tella were expecting and it’s hard to believe Caraval would completely change up its number one rule. 
  1. Less “Purple” Prose. I was not a huge fan of some of the writing in Caraval.  In some ways it felt like Garber was just trying too hard to convey a sense of the magical atmosphere that is Caraval, using overly flowery descriptions that sometimes didn’t make sense and therefore slowed down my reading of the story.  That said, however, Garber really hits her stride in Legendary and her efforts to capture the magical atmosphere of the latest Caraval setting just felt so much more effortless.  I really appreciated how easily I was able to breeze through the writing this time and only stumbled over an occasional “purple” phrase: “The air tasted like wonder. Like candied butterfly wings caught in sugared spiderwebs, and drunken peaches coated in luck.”  I’ll admit that one gave me pause, but generally speaking, the descriptions just felt so much more natural and streamlined in Legendary and Garber has done this while still retaining all of the magical quality that is Caraval.

 

BONUS REASON (BECAUSE I JUST COULDN’T STOP AT 5!)

 

  1. The Fates. I can’t really say anything about this without spoiling the second book.  If you’ve already read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, you‘ll know why I loved this part so much.  The addition of the Fates to the story was both unexpected and totally brilliant.

 

So there you have it.  I hope I’ve managed to convey my love of the second book without completely spoiling the first for those who haven’t started the series yet.  I’ll close by saying while I may have gotten off to a rough start with the Caraval series, I’m all in now and can’t wait to get my hands on the final book in this magical trilogy.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

four-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review:  From Twinkle, With LoveFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 22, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

MY REVIEW:

Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love is a light and romantic YA contemporary that is sure to delight fans of her first book When Dimple Met Rishi.  It follows high school student Twinkle Mehra, who is an inspiring filmmaker but also a bit of a wallflower who is really working on trying to find her voice.  She wants to use her passion for filmmaking to tell stories to the world but feels like she really needs to work on building herself up so that the world will listen to her.  When fellow film buff, cutie Sahil Roy suggests that they work on a film project together for an upcoming school festival, Twinkle jumps at the opportunity. This could be the big break she has been looking for, to finally share her filmmaking vision with more than just her five YouTube subscribers.  If she does this project, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people will finally see her work.  An added bonus for Twinkle is that working with Sahil could get her closer to her longtime crush, Sahil’s twin brother, Neil, who in her mind, she has scripted out a picture perfect future with.

As Twinkle and Sahil get to know each other better, however, Twinkle starts to unexpectedly have feelings for Sahil.  He’s cute, sweet, and everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend…except that Sahil’s not the boy she has been fantasizing about.  He’s not the popular brother who could be the key to Twinkle climbing the social ladder and reinserting herself into former bff Maddie’s new circle of rich friends.  Will Twinkle follow her heart to Sahil or will her desire to be noticed by the popular kids stand in the way of her chance at real love?

Twinkle: I’ll admit that Twinkle was a bit of a mixed bag for me, although I did like her overall.  I loved her intelligence and her passion for filmmaking and that she has all of these stories that she wants to tell.  Where I struggled a little more with Twinkle was when it came to the relationships in her life, whether it’s friendships, love interests, and especially her family.  Twinkle is messy and complicated in these areas, which I liked in the sense that it made her come across as very realistic, but at the same time, it also made her, at times, come across as a bit juvenile.  I lost track of how many times I thought “Girl, you have some serious growing up to do.”  I did feel sympathy for her most of the time, especially when her best friend Maddie basically ditches her for some new rich friends who aren’t even remotely nice to Twinkle.  Watching that relationship fall apart was pretty painful, but even more painful, was watching Twinkle desperately cling to it and obsess over how she was going to get Maddie back.

One of the things I liked the most about Twinkle though was watching her finally find her voice.  She starts off as somewhat meek, thinking things but never saying them. But as she grows into her role as a film director while working with Sahil and her classmates on the film project, she really comes into her own and finds her voice.  This, too, is messy because she goes off the rails a bit before she finds the right balance, but again, that just made it feel all the more realistic.

Sahil:  I think Sahil could give Rishi a serious run for his money in the precious and adorable department.  I’m sure the title character of this book was the one who was supposed to steal my heart but instead, it was Sahil all the way.  Sahil is so kind, patient, and selfless, and he’s also a little reserved and sad at times because he lives in the shadow of his superstar twin brother Neil. And like Twinkle, Sahil has a passion for films.  I thought it was so sweet when he worked up the nerve to ask her to work on a film with him for the school festival, especially after learning that Sahil has had a mad crush on Twinkle since they were both 11 years old.  And my heart just ached for him knowing how he felt about Twinkle, while at the same time, knowing that she’s busy scheming how to get his brother to notice her.  I spent a lot of the novel worrying that Twinkle was going to accidentally squish Sahil’s heart into a million pieces.

Unique Structure:  One of my favorite aspects of From Twinkle, with Love is the way Menon presents most of the story through Twinkle’s journal entries.  I thought it was just brilliant that instead of just randomly writing entries in her journals, she actually addresses them to her favorite female directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ava Duvernay. As someone who has always wanted to keep a journal but consistently failed at it miserably, I couldn’t help but wish I had thought of doing something like this.  And there’s more…While most of the story is presented from Twinkle’s perspective, we do get a little of it from Sahil’s perspective as well in a combination of bro-texts to his two bffs and some not-so-anonymous posts to his blog about his love for “Sparkle.” You know, because no one would EVER figure out that Sparkle is Twinkle, lol.  (Have I mentioned that Sahil is the absolute most precious and adorable part of this entire book?  Because yeah, he totally is!)

Groundlings vs Silk Feathered Hat Wearers:  I think this is going to be one of those things that really annoyed me but won’t bother most people, but the constant use of this comparison throughout the novel really drove me crazy after a while.  At first I thought it was clever when Twinkle started writing about Shakespearean theater and comparing herself to the groundlings (those with little money who would go to see the plays but stood on the ground at the theater because they couldn’t afford to purchase a seat) vs. the Silk Feathered Hat Wearing types who could afford the seats and who pranced around in fancy clothing acting important.  Twinkle’s dream is to use her filmmaking talents to rise up from “Groundling” status so that she is no longer invisible to those of higher social status.  While I didn’t necessarily have an issue with Twinkle’s dream, it drove me batty that literally every time she talked or wrote about the dream, she mentioned the actual terms ‘Groundlings’ and ‘Silk Feathered Hat Wearers.’ It went from feeling clever to feeling repetitive.

Too Many Love Interests:  I actually think the story would have been a stronger read for me with less focus on boys and more focus on filmmaking.  There were just too many potential love interests floating around – Sahil and Twinkle, or is it Neil and Twinkle, or no, wait, is it the anonymous email-writing secret admirer and Twinkle?  For someone like me who isn’t that much of a romance reader, this was just too much for me.

One final area where I struggled a little is that Twinkle seemed very young and immature at times.  She mentions in the first journal entry that she is sixteen but there were times when I thought she came across as much younger than that, more like 14.  Thankfully she did start to show some growth and maturity as I moved through the book, but it threw me a little in the early goings and made it a little harder to connect with Twinkle than I would have hoped.  I think maybe my expectations were just misplaced because Dimple and Rishi seemed so much older and more mature in Menon’s first book.

From Twinkle, with Love explores a lot of themes that readers are sure to find relatable – love, friendship, family, finding one’s voice, and following one’s dreams. While I didn’t find it quite as captivating a story as I did When Dimple Met Rishi, I still thought it was a solidly entertaining read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Review: BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)

Review:  BRIGHTLY BURNING (a Jane Eyre retelling)Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
three-half-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 1, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 391
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.

MY REVIEW:

When I was in high school, I fell in love with Jane Eyre when I read it.  I just couldn’t resist the tale of a plain young woman from a humble background who falls in love with the wealthy but dark and brooding Mr. Rochester.  The Gothic setting, the secrets and the lies, but underneath it all, an attraction that they just can’t fight – all of it was just so perfect.

Needless to say, when I heard a retelling of Jane Eyre was coming out and that it was set in space (!), I rushed over to Netgalley to request it and was so ecstatic when I was approved.

I dove in and was immediately impressed by what a unique storyline author Alexa Donne had crafted, while at the same time, retaining so many elements from the classic novel.  Donne’s story is actually set in the future where a second Ice Age has made the Earth uninhabitable forcing those from Earth to live aboard a fleet of spaceships.  When the story opens, they have been living aboard these ships for a couple hundred years and some of the aging ships are starting to show signs that they cannot remain in space for much longer.  Resources are becoming scarce, especially aboard the poorer ships and residents know there will come a time when they are forced to return to Earth.  All they can do is hope that the Earth has thawed enough so that they have a chance to survive.

Our Jane Eyre character, seventeen year old Stella Ainsley, is aboard such an aging ship.  Stella works as both a teacher and a part-time engineer on the ship so she knows firsthand how poor their prospects are for remaining in space much longer.  She also knows that her only chance of not being sent to Earth is to secure employment on another ship but jobs are as scarce as resources are so her options are few and far between.  That is, until a privately owned ship called The Rochester, offers her employment as a governess.  Ecstatic at her good luck, Stella accepts the job immediately and leaves for The Rochester.

Stella gets a lot more than she bargained for, however, once she is aboard The Rochester, including handsome 19-year old Hugo Fairfax, who unexpectedly is the Captain of the ship and now Stella’s boss, as Stella will be teaching his younger sister, Jessa..  Although Hugo has a reputation for being moody and a drunk, Stella finds him to be charming and kind, at least around her.  She finds herself immediately attracted to him but becomes weary when she realizes that he is keeping secrets from her.  She has heard rumors that The Rochester is haunted and when strange things start happening aboard the ship, Stella becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. What Stella doesn’t bargain on, however, is that trying to find the answer to one mystery leads her down an even more dangerous path, one that she may not be able to escape from…

Stella.  I really liked Stella right away.  Just like the original Jane Eyre character, Stella is smart, plain, and very outspoken.  She’s also an orphan who happens to be great with kids.  One of my favorite qualities about her is that while she remains respectful at all times, she doesn’t just stand there and let people insult her because they think they’re better than she is.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a sucker for a scrappy underdog and Stella fits the bill. When Stella goes head-to-head with a wealthy young woman named Bianca who perceives Stella as a threat for Hugo’s affections and goes out of her way to belittle Stella in front of Hugo, I was cheering Stella on every step of the way. Aside from her outspokenness, I also admired Stella’s sense of self-sacrifice.  She has a very strong moral compass and will sacrifice herself at any moment to save the lives of others.  It was an impressive quality to see in someone so young.

Hugo.  My love for Hugo stems from my love for complicated characters and they don’t get much more complicated than Hugo Fairfax.  One moment he’s fun, flirty, and charming, and being the best big brother Jessa could ever wish for, but then the next moment, he’s broody, secretive, and constantly drinking.  It’s clear that he’s hiding something.  It’s just not clear what that something is, or whether anyone else on his crew knows what it is either.  I loved that his character had all of these layers, and like Stella, I wanted to get through all of them and figure out who the real Hugo is.

Romance.  I really liked that Donne crafted a romance between Stella and Hugo that was very reminiscent of what we got with Jane and Mr. Rochester in the original tale.  The chemistry between Stella and Hugo is believable and I liked that even though the attraction was almost immediate, the relationship itself still takes time to develop and is fraught with obstacles, including not only Bianca but also whatever Hugo is hiding from Stella regarding the happenings aboard The Rochester.

Secrets, Mysteries, and Danger.  Even though the setting is in space, the story still has a Gothic feel to it because of all of the secrets that seem to be lurking in the shadows aboard The Rochester.  As Stella begins to investigate, the suspense and tension really starts to ratchet up and I found myself getting more and more into the story because I wanted to know what was really going on aboard the ship once it became clear it was not just Stella’s imagination getting the better of her.

Made Up Words.  This will probably be one of those things that bothers me but no one else, but it was driving me crazy that the characters in Brightly Burning kept using the word FREX as a curse.   I mean, seriously – Set in the future or not, most of the characters we encounter on the ships are descended from Americans and even if they aren’t, the ‘F’ word they are clearly trying to use is universal enough that it made no sense to me how they got from the familiar ‘F’ word to frex.  Frex this, frex that, frexxing etc.  Like I said, it’s probably just me but I just cringed every time the word came up.

Rushed Ending.  I don’t want to say that the pacing was slow throughout the rest of the novel because it wasn’t, but it felt like we really kicked it into high gear as the end drew near.  I’m being vague here because I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that it felt like a few important details were just glossed over in favor of wrapping things up quickly.  For that reason, while I did love the ending overall, I just would have liked a little more from it.

Brightly Burning is a fun and unique retelling of the classic novel, Jane Eyre.  The author does a remarkable job of updating the story to a believable and entertaining science fiction tale set in space, while retaining all of the memorable details from the original novel.  I think Brightly Burning would appeal to readers, even if they’ve never read Jane Eyre, as long as they enjoy science fiction with a side of swoony romance, dark secrets, and even a conspiracy or two.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

three-half-stars

About Alexa Donne

Alexa Donne is a Ravenclaw who wears many hats, including fan convention organizing, teen mentoring, college admissions essay consulting, YouTube-ing and podcasting. When she’s not writing science fiction and fantasy for teens, Alexa works in international television marketing. A proud Boston University Terrier, she lives in Los Angeles with two fluffy ginger cats named after YA literature characters. Brightly Burning is her debut novel.

Alexa is represented by Elana Roth-Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency.

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.

REVIEW: YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT

REVIEW:  YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY ITYou Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Also by this author: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
four-stars
Published by Transworld Digital on May 3, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 256
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.

MY REVIEW:

I’m normally not the biggest fan of short stories.  Whenever I read one, I always think of it as a teaser for a full-fledged novel that I’d rather be reading.  Just when I’m starting to get to know and become invested in character, boom, the story’s over.  I’m a big fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, however, so when I heard she had written You Think It, I’ll Say It, a collection of ten short stories, I decided to give them a try, figuring that if any writer out there could change my mind about short stories, it would be Sittenfeld.

 

What appealed to me the most as I was reading each of these stories is the same thing that always appeals to me when I read anything from Curtis Sittenfeld and that’s the way she is able to get inside of a character’s head and convey everything they’re thinking in such a way that I then can’t get her characters out of my head.  They just always leave me with so much to think about, and all 10 main characters in this collection did exactly that.  Sittenfeld presents each of these characters’ stories from their individual perspectives so that we’re getting an ongoing internal dialogue from each main character as we’re watching the events of the stories play out.  In doing so, Sittenfeld is able to weave several important messages and themes throughout all ten stories so as to make it a cohesive collection.

These themes, in addition to the characters themselves, are what truly kept me engaged.  The central theme of the collection is basically that we’re all human and we all mess up, especially when it comes to our relationships with other equally fallible humans.  All of Sittenfeld’s characters tend to make assumptions about people, maybe based on how they look or how they act, and more often than not, their assumptions end up being not only wrong, but also flat-out unfair.  Her characters are also prone to misinterpreting signals they think other people are giving off, which leads to awkward and embarrassing situations.  There were times when I found myself judging them as well, but then a few pages later, I’d think “I could see myself doing the same thing this character has done, so maybe I’ll just shut up and not judge them.”  In that sense, even though Sittenfeld soundly criticizes these characters for their erroneous snap judgments, she also makes them sympathetic and relatable.  I liked that balance, which she is able to successfully strike with each story.

I also liked that the stories all felt very modern and timely and were filled with Sittenfeld’s trademark insightful social commentary and satire.  There’s mention of the Trump administration in at least one of them, gender inequality factors in at times, there is at least one story that focuses on LGBTQ issues, and one that focuses on the challenges of being a working mother.

I won’t go through all ten stories in detail, but I will say that I don’t think there’s a weak story in the entire collection.  I definitely had my favorites though, including ‘The Prairie Wife,” where an unhappy housewife, Kirsten, is obsessed with Lucy, a popular celebrity.  Kirsten recognizes Lucy, a Martha Stewart-type who is now married with two children and living a conservative lifestyle, as someone she worked with, and had a sexual relationship with, at a summer camp many years ago.  Everything about Lucy’s life infuriates Kirsten because she thinks Lucy  is now living a lie and Kirsten dreams of using the knowledge she has about her to destroy her.  This was such an intense and riveting story  and I absolutely loved the unexpected twist at the end.

Another favorite was “The World Has Many Butterflies,” which contains the title of the actual short story collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It” in it.  It turns out “You Think It, I’ll Say It” is the name of a gossip-driven game that two people – Graham and Julie – play every time they see each other.  Julie misinterprets why Graham has started playing this game with her and all kinds of awkwardness ensues.  I felt secondhand embarrassment for Julie while I was reading this one!

 

My only issue with this collection was exactly what I feared it might be, that I would become invested enough in the main character from each story, that I would want to hear more from them.  Each story is well-crafted and conveys an interesting and relevant theme, but I couldn’t help but think by the end that I would rather have 10 novels from Sittenfeld about these characters than these brief, although beautiful, snippets.  I’m going to classify that as a “me” problem though. It has nothing to do with the stories themselves or with Sittenfeld’s writing.  She is just such a gifted storyteller that I’ll always want more.

 

While I can’t say that Curtis Sittenfeld has completely changed my mind about short stories overall, I would still highly recommend this very solid collection of stories to anyone who is interested in reading stories filled with messy and unforgettable characters as well as insightful social commentary about how people read and misread each other.  I’d recommend this collection both to those who are new to Curtis Sittenfeld and to those who are long-time fans.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie. A high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. A shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life.

Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. Now, with this first collection of short fiction, her “astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads” (The Washington Post) is showcased like never before. Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided.

With moving insight and uncanny precision, Curtis Sittenfeld pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life. Indeed, she writes what we’re all thinking—if only we could express it with the wit of a master satirist, the storytelling gifts of an old-fashioned raconteur, and the vision of an American original.

four-stars

About Curtis Sittenfeld

CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.

Review: GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring Blake

Review:  GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring BlakeGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: How to Make a Wish
five-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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.

MY REVIEW:

Ashley Herring Blake is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She has such a gift for handling very difficult topics with sensitivity and grace.  I didn’t think she could top How to Make a Wish, which was one of my favorite reads last year, but she has outdone herself with her beautifully written and heartbreaking latest, Girl Made of Stars. 

It’s not just a well-crafted story either. Girl Made of Stars is also an incredibly relevant and timely story, hitting the shelves in the midst of the #MeToo movement on social media that is calling out sexual predators and finally holding them accountable for their actions.

Girl Made of Stars follows the journey of Mara, high school student and founder of the feminist school publication, Empower.  Mara has very strong convictions about giving a voice to those who wouldn’t normally have one, but when she finds herself caught in the middle of an impossible situation, her whole belief system is turned on its head and she doesn’t know what to do.

Her twin brother Owen is accused of rape by his girlfriend, Hannah, who also happens to be one of Mara’s best friends.  Mara doesn’t want to believe that her beloved brother could be capable of such a heinous act, but Mara also doesn’t believe that Hannah would lie about such a thing so she just feels so lost and confused.

It also doesn’t help Mara’s state of mind that her own personal life feels like such a mess.  She and Charlie, her best friend since they were kids, tried to take their relationship in a romantic direction and things didn’t go well.  Now everything is awkward between them and Mara doesn’t know what to do about that either.

Girl Made of Stars follows Mara as she tries to make sense of all of the things that are happening in her life and as she tries to confront demons from her own past that are holding her back.

 

This is one of those books where I feel like I’m going to ramble and ramble and never quite do justice to just what a gorgeous and well-crafted story it really is.

One of the standout moments of the book is how the author sets the stage.  The book opens with Mara and her twin brother Owen lying outside on a flat roof, gazing up at the stars, and reciting a story they made up when they were kids about some of the constellations.  It’s this perfect portrait of innocence and because it seems so innocent and pure, it’s all the more shocking and hard to believe that just a few pages later, Mara’s brother will be accused of rape.  Those two images are just so jarring and hard to reconcile.

I also loved that the story comes to us from Mara’s perspective.  That way we don’t actually see the rape but instead, we learn of it the same way Mara does and have to make up our minds using the same evidence Mara does.

Speaking of Mara, I thought she was just such a loveable main character.  I love that she founded a feminist publication and used it to stand up for what she believed in.  I also spent those early pages ooh’ing and ahh’ing about how sweet her relationship with her sibling was so I became super invested in her once I read what her brother was being accused of because I knew it would tear her up inside.  Mara has to face some tough facts in this story and I was right there with her every step of the way as she begins to watch her brother more closely at school and with his friends.  She begins to see the possibility that just because he’s her brother and she loves him more than life, there is still the possibility that he could be guilty of what he’s accused of doing.

And then to complicate what Mara is feeling even further, there’s Hannah to consider.  Hannah is precious and I loved her just as much as I loved Mara. Hannah is this kind, free-spirited, hippie type and she is absolutely adorable.  That and she’s also head over heels in love with Owen.  When we first meet them at a party, it’s almost nauseating how cute they are with each other.  Her obvious love for Owen makes it all the more shocking that she later accuses him of forcing himself on her.  At the same time, though, it lends that much more credibility to her story.  If she loves him so much, what would be her motivation to accuse him of something so awful?   It becomes so easy to see why Mara is so lost and confused and it made me all the more sympathetic to her as she tries to decide where her loyalties should lie.

In addition to the story of Hannah and Owen, which dominates much of the book, I also really liked the Mara/Charlie storyline that threaded its way through the narrative.  I loved Charlie right away.  Charlie is gender queer and is still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but uses music as a way to work through it.  I kind of wanted to knock Mara upside the head for nearly messing up her relationship with Charlie and really wanted her to figure things out so that she could have at least one good thing happening in her life.

Have Your Tissues Handy.  This is a book where I felt so invested in all of the characters that I ended up in tears several times while I was reading.  I shed tears for Hannah, not just because of what happened to her but also because of how she was treated by Owen’s friends and others when she returned to school.  Blake effectively exposes the ugliness and unfairness of victim blaming and Hannah’s experience serves as a stark and heartbreaking reminder of why so few rape victims come forward and report the crimes.

I didn’t just cry for Hannah though.  I also cried for Mara as well.  I cried for the impossible situation that she finds herself in, torn between her best friend and her brother.  Not only is Mara’s whole world torn apart because she’s caught in the middle, but the whole experience serves as a trigger for Mara, reminding her of a traumatic event from her own past that has haunted her for years.

And lastly, I shed tears for the relationship between Mara and her brother.  Bottom line, whether Owen is innocent or guilty, their relationship is forever changed.   Those twins who would lie outside, look up at the stars, and make up stories about them are no more.  The innocence is lost and there’s no way to get it back.  Will they ever be close again?  Where do they go from here?  It’s heartbreaking to see that Mara could lose the person she has been closest to all her life.

 

I love when a book is so good that I have to leave this section blank.

 

I’ve been somewhat stingy with 5 star ratings this year, but I say without hesitation, that Girl Made of Stars is a 5-star read all the way.  It’s a heart-wrenching read that tackles difficult subjects with sensitivity and understanding. I guarantee it will move you.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

five-stars

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels SUFFER LOVE and HOW TO MAKE A WISH.