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Review: RECURSION by Blake Crouch

Review:  RECURSION by Blake CrouchRecursion by Blake Crouch
Also by this author: Dark Matter
four-half-stars
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on June 11, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
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.

 

 

 

 
 

RECURSION Review

 

Wow, Blake Crouch has done it again! I didn’t think there was any way he could top the mind blowing reading experience of Dark Matter, but man, was I wrong…He really outdoes himself with his latest novel, Recursion, a gripping sci-fi read that explores what happens when memory storing technology designed to potentially help Alzheimer’s patients retain some of their memories ends up in the wrong hands.

The story follows Barry Sutton, a NYC police detective, and Helena Smith, a gifted neuroscientist.  Barry is sent to an address in New York where a woman is threatening to kill herself.  She has False Memory Syndrome, or FMS, a somewhat new phenomenon that keeps popping up more and more frequently. People who contract FMS suddenly develop a complete set of memories of a life that they haven’t actually lived.  The false memories are so vivid and detailed that they seem real, which causes those who have the condition to become completely confused about what is real and what isn’t.  The woman Barry has been sent to talk down from the roof suddenly started believing that she was happily married to a man that she really wasn’t.  The memories were so convincing that she sought out the man and discovered that he was happily married to someone else and had a family of his own.  Devastated by this discovery and armed with the knowledge that she’s really all alone in the world, she decides she doesn’t want to live.  Barry gets a taste of just how closely our memories dictate our reality and how it can all fall apart if we can’t trust those memories.

Eleven years prior to our meeting Barry, Helena Smith is hard at work trying to develop a technology that she hopes will help Alzheimer’s patients, including her own mother, retain some of their memories.  When a wealthy benefactor offers her nearly unlimited funding to fast track her research, Helena can’t resist.  All goes fantastically until she and her benefactor start testing the technology on live subjects and see all of its possibilities, both good and bad.  Fast forward eleven years and we can see firsthand the bad that can come of it and we see Helena’s and Barry’s journeys intertwine as they come together to try to stop what Helena has inadvertently set into motion.

What made Recursion such a phenomenal read for me was how Crouch manages to take this fictional memory storing technology, which, at first, sounds outrageous and completely impossible, and he transforms it into a scenario that seems completely plausible.  And because it actually does seem plausible, it starts to feel a little less like science fiction and a little more like a glimpse into our future.  The fact that there are potentially catastrophic consequences lends the story a real sense of urgency and ratchets up the tension and suspense.  The emotional and sometimes desperate reactions of those who are impacted by all of this mucking around with memories felt completely authentic too.  I sympathized with them so much and found myself wondering how I would react if I was in their shoes.  I loved that added emotional layer.

Crouch had me so caught up in this story that I was up until nearly 2a.m.one night because I just couldn’t go to sleep until I knew how the story was going to end.  I kind of hated myself the next day, but it was so worth it.  Plus, the writing is so crisp and smooth that it just naturally lends itself to binge-reading it.

Recursion is a powerful and mind blowing read that I just know I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.  Aside from being a riveting page turner, it’s also a book that left me with some pretty major food for thought, namely the question of whether technology that has the potential to do an incredible amount of good is worth having if it also has the potential to do a devastating amount of bad if placed in the wrong hands.  If you enjoyed Dark Matter, you’re going to love Recursion.  And if you’re a science fiction fan, I highly recommend both novels.  They made Blake Crouch an auto-buy author for me.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

four-half-stars

About Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015’s #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado.

The best way to stay apprised of new releases is to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review & Giveaway: ALL EYES ON US by Kit Frick

Book Review & Giveaway:  ALL EYES ON US by Kit FrickAll Eyes on Us by Kit Frick
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 4, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
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 Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for All Eyes on Us.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this compelling read today.

Kit Frick’s latest novel All Eyes on Us is a riveting thriller that kept me guessing from start to finish. It follows Amanda Kelly and Rosalie Bell.  Amanda comes from a family of social climbers.  The Kellys have gotten themselves into some financial difficulties and are secretly hoping that an alliance with the wealthiest family in town, the Shaws, will put them in better standing.  That alliance would of course come about by having Amanda marry the Shaw’s son, Carter.  When the story opens, these two have been dating for years and practically have their lives together mapped out, although all is not perfect as Carter is a known cheater.  Rosalie is a lesbian in a fake relationship with a boy because she’s trying to fool her family into thinking she’s straight.  The deception is wearing her out though and she knows it’s not fair to the boy since he has no idea she’s gay either.  The boy of course is our cheater, Carter.

Amanda and Rosalie find their lives unexpectedly intertwined when an anonymous texter, known only to them as “Private,” goes after them both with an ultimatum – either help take Carter down or the texter will take them down.  For Amanda, that would mean exposing her family’s financial woes, while for Rosalie, it would of course mean outing her to her family.

Who is this person and what do have they have against Carter that they’re willing to make Amanda and Rosalie collateral damage in their effort to bring Carter down?

 

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY ALL EYES ON US SHOULD BE ON YOUR MUST-READ LIST

 

All Eyes on Us sounds pretty cool, right?  Now I want to dive just a little deeper and share some of the highlights of the story for me.  If you love these qualities as much as I do, then All Eyes on Us is a must-read for you!

 

  1. A Suspenseful Read Filled with Twists and Turns.  The synopsis on Goodreads compares All Eyes on Us to Pretty Little Liars and I think this comparison is spot on.  The story definitely has a Pretty Little Liars (or maybe even a Gossip Girl) vibe to it with the anonymous texter and the taunting threats he or she kept making.  Just like I was with Pretty Little Liars and A’s identity, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who Private was and was suspicious of pretty much every character in the book.   The writing is also fast-paced, which makes this book very easy to binge read.  Always a good thing when you’re dying to get to the big reveal!
  1. Is it a religion or is it a cult?  I found the religious group in the story to be extremely disturbing. Every time I read about something they had done to a person in the name of “saving” them, I just wanted to scream.  Frick’s presentation of the power of this radical group had me mesmerized though. I spent much of the book fascinated by them and how they managed to indoctrinate so many people to their extreme conservative ways.  It felt more like a cult than it did a religion and if someone didn’t follow along with every one of their beliefs, they would be told they’re going to burn in hell.
  1. Messy, Complicated Characters. Amanda and Rosalie both really drew me into the story because even though they come from completely different backgrounds and on the surface have nothing in common, they ultimately have one thing in common – their parents are trying to run their lives and dictate who they should and shouldn’t be with.  Amanda’s parents have her life planned out to the extent that it’s little short of an arranged marriage with her childhood sweetheart, Carter, even though they are all aware that Carter has cheated on her at least once already.  Rosalie’s parents, on the other hand, refuse to accept that Rosalie is a lesbian and are determined to “fix” her.  The only time she’s allowed out socially is to date boys.  Amanda is desperate to hold on to Carter so as not to disappoint her parents, while Rosalie is equally desperate not to let her parents control her.  Their predicaments lead both girls to make some questionable, potentially hurtful, choices along the way, but I understood where their hearts were so I was sympathetic to both of them.  They are both definitely living in dysfunctional family environments.
  1. The Dangers of Conversion Therapy. I loved that Frick wasn’t afraid to tackle tough topics in this story.  In addition to it being a riveting thriller, All Eyes on Us also goes a step further and exposes how truly harmful conversion therapy is and that it can have lasting negative psychological effects. It was heartbreaking to read Rosalie’s painful flashbacks to when her parents and their minister did everything in their power to try to get rid of her homosexuality.
  1.  A Message That Resonates. The overriding message All Eyes On Us conveys, that you can’t force a person to be someone they’re not, is so important.  People are who they are, and if you want them in your life, you have to accept them that way.  Trying to force them to be otherwise is just so psychologically damaging.

 

If suspenseful stories like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl are your thing, then you should definitely give All Eyes on Us a try.  It will keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound

 

 SYNOPSIS:

PRIVATE NUMBER: Wouldn’t you look better without a cheater on your arm?
AMANDA: Who is this?

The daughter of small town social climbers, Amanda Kelly is deeply invested in her boyfriend, real estate heir Carter Shaw. He’s kind, ambitious, the town golden boy—but he’s far from perfect. Because behind Amanda’s back, Carter is also dating Rosalie.

PRIVATE NUMBER: I’m watching you, Sweetheart.
ROSALIE: Who IS this?

Rosalie Bell is fighting to remain true to herself and her girlfriend—while concealing her identity from her Christian fundamentalist parents. After years spent in and out of conversion “therapy,” her own safety is her top priority. But maintaining a fake, straight relationship is killing her from the inside.

When an anonymous texter ropes Amanda and Rosalie into a bid to take Carter down, the girls become collateral damage—and unlikely allies in a fight to unmask their stalker before Private uproots their lives.

PRIVATE NUMBER: You shouldn’t have ignored me. Now look what you made me do…

 

GIVEAWAY

One winner will receive a finished copy of Kit Frick’s All Eyes on Us.  The giveaway runs from June 10-June 17th and I will email the winner to get their mailing address.  Sorry, U.S. only per tour guidelines. Also, no giveaway accounts.  Please note:  There are several giveaways taking place during this blog tour.  If you enter more than one of them and happen to win multiple copies, FFBC requires that you decline the second book won or face disqualification.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

 

June 10th

Hauntedbybooks– Review & Favorite Quotes

June 11th

Morgan Vega– Review

June 12th

Utopia State of Mind– Review/Creative Post

June 13th

onemused– Bookstagram Review
Snark & Squee– Review

June 14th

Bookishly Nerdy– Review & Favorite Quotes
Cinnamon Summers– Bookstagram
four-stars

About Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us (2019), and Windermere (2020), all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, and the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press). Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

Review: MRS. EVERYTHING by Jennifer Weiner

Review:  MRS. EVERYTHING by Jennifer WeinerMrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
four-half-stars
Published by Atria Books on June 11, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
Pages: 480
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.

 

 

 

MRS. EVERYTHING Review

I’ve always considered Jennifer Weiner to be the unofficial queen of “Chick Lit,” so when I requested her latest novel, Mrs. Everything, I was expecting a fun, sexy read. What I got, however, was so much more than I anticipated, and I mean that in the best possible way.  I honestly cannot remember the last time a book resonated with me as much as Mrs. Everything did.  It packs an emotional punch on many levels – it made me smile at times, but it also made me shed a few tears, and sometimes it even just made me angry and frustrated.  Why?  Because it accurately, vividly, and sometimes painfully explores how hard it can be to grow up as a woman, especially during the time period when the book is set.  The whole time you’re trying to figure out who you are and what your place in the world is, someone is looking over your shoulder trying to pigeon-hole you into some pre-determined notion of what makes an ideal woman, telling you your life will be best if you just do what you’re “supposed” to do.

Mrs. Everything captured my attention right away because it’s actually more of a historical fiction in that it follows two sisters, Jo and Bethie, from their childhood in the 1950’s through the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll era of the 60’s and 70’s, all the way up to their senior years, including Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the U.S. Presidency in 2016.  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and Weiner does an incredible job of capturing each decade in terms of fashion, hair, pop culture references, etc. I truly felt transported back in time.

Weiner also captured my heart with Jo and Bethie.  When we first meet Jo as a child in the 1950’s, she’s a rebellious tomboy who would much rather wear jeans and read books than do anything her mother considers “ladylike.”  In contrast, Bethie is Mommy’s little princess, the epitome of beauty and femininity.  In their mom’s eyes, Bethie is doing everything just right in order to secure herself a husband who will take care of her when she’s an adult, while who knows what will happen to Jo since she’s clearly on the “wrong” path.  At first Jo had the bulk of my sympathy because her mother was so awful to her, always making her feel like she’s a disappointment, but later, when Bethie’s life doesn’t go as expected and her journey takes a darker turn, she earned my sympathy as well.

In following Jo and Bethie from childhood up into their senior years, Weiner fully explores what it was like to be a woman back in the latter 20th century all the way up to what it’s like now.  She takes us through the highs and lows, the successes and the failures, and most especially, how hard it can be to stand up and be brave when the easier path is often to let fear win out.  Even though the story takes a few dark turns through addiction and abuse, it’s ultimately a very uplifting story that shows how much has changed over time and proves women can be whoever they want to be: sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, wives, friends, lovers, teachers, role models, and yes, even Presidential candidates (and hopefully Presidents someday!).

I feel like I just don’t have the words to convey just how powerful and moving a read this is, so I’m just going to close by saying this is one of my favorite reads of the year so far and that I highly recommend it to everyone!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes, comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history—and herstory—as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.

Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

four-half-stars

About Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of sixteen books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and, coming this June, Mrs. Everything. A graduate of Princeton University and contributor to the New York Times Opinion section, she lives with her family in Philadelphia. Visit her online at JenniferWeiner.com.

Mini Reviews: VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKED

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

How bad can one little virtual lie be?

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

three-half-stars

About Leah Thomas

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

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

About Sarvenaz Tash

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

Review: NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina June

Review:  NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina JuneNo Place Like Here by Christina June
four-stars
Published by Blink on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
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.

NO PLACE LIKE HERE Review

 

Christina June’s No Place Like Here is an engaging YA contemporary story about Ashlyn Zanotti, a young woman who lives in the shadow of an overbearing father who criticizes everything she does and tries to control every aspect of her life.  When the story opens, Ashlyn has just returned home from boarding school for the summer and is immediately hit with a bombshell – her father has been found guilty of tax evasion and is going to prison, and her mother, who suffers from depression, has checked herself into a treatment facility.  True to form, however, before being carted off to prison, Ashlyn’s father has dictated how Ashlyn will spend her entire summer.  Instead of spending it poolside with her friends, Ashlyn is being shipped off to live with family she hasn’t seen in over a decade and will work at a remote wilderness retreat. Ashlyn is furious and frustrated, but as always, feels she has no say in the matter and passively accepts her father’s orders.

My favorite part of No Place Like Here is how much Ashlyn grows throughout the story.  I think Ashlyn’s situation is one that will resonate with many readers – low self-esteem, overbearing parents, not feeling like you have any control over your life, etc. I just felt so bad for Ashlyn at the beginning because she seems almost beaten down by her father’s constant berating. She’s quiet and reserved, not really wanting to draw any attention to herself.  I really loved the transformation that she undergoes once she is able to get out from under her father’s shadow.  She makes friends, gains self-confidence, and finds her voice, even taking on leadership roles at the retreat.  For the first time, she actually feels proud of herself and the work she’s doing.

I felt like a proud parent watching Ashlyn discover her own potential. While working at the retreat, for example, an inquiry from one of the guests inspires her to organize offsite tours for guests who would like to explore the surrounding area while staying at the retreat.  She really takes ownership of the idea too, doing all the research and coordinating with local businesses to bring the project to life.  In addition to that, she also stands up to the incredibly unqualified woman who has been hired to manage the retreat.  When she realizes the woman is consistently being negligible in ways that could endanger guests, Ashlyn starts gathering evidence to take to the owners to help get the situation under control before someone gets hurt.  Ashlyn’s growth and her determination to stand up for what’s right had me really cheering her on and hoping that when she and her father finally meet again, she will stand up to him as well.

I also really loved the way the author handled Ashlyn’s mom and her depression.  It was done in a very positive way to show there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help when you’re struggling.  I think that’s such an important message, so I was glad it was presented in such a way.  I especially liked the conversations between Ashlyn and her mom where her mom discusses effective strategies she’s being taught to better help her cope once she has returned home.

The one thing about No Place Like Here that had me scratching my head was that I went into it thinking it was a Hansel and Gretel retelling based on something I had read about the book.  I kept trying to bend the story in my mind to make it work as a retelling and just didn’t see it.  After I finished, I saw a comment from the author where she describes No Place Like Here as loosely inspired by Hansel and Gretel and that’s a more apt description. I wish I had seen her comment prior to reading the book. It would have saved me some head scratching, haha.

Even with my misinformed belief that this was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, I still really enjoyed No Place Like Here overall.  It’s a wonderful coming of age story, and with its wilderness retreat and summertime setting, it’s also the perfect beach read.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” a.k.a. depression, her life is turned upside down.

The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.

With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.

four-stars

About Christina June

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor. She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland. She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.

Christina is the author of IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, and NO PLACE LIKE HERE.

Review: THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy Walker

Review:  THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy WalkerThe Night Before by Wendy Walker
Also by this author: Emma in the Night
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 14, 2019
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.

THE NIGHT BEFORE Review

Wendy Walker’s The Night Before is a riveting and unique thriller about a woman, Laura Lochner, who goes out on a date with someone she met on the internet and doesn’t return home.  When Laura’s family realizes she is missing, they frantically begin searching for her.  They of course wanted to make sure Laura hasn’t been harmed by this random stranger from the internet. Interestingly enough, however, they are also concerned for the safety of the random stranger and worried that Laura may have harmed him.  The family’s unexpected thoughts about Laura and her potential for violence grabbed my attention right away and kept me turning the pages and what starts out as a seemingly straightforward missing person’s tale turns into a gripping exploration of how this family’s lives have been shaped by childhood trauma and long-buried family secrets.

One of the things I loved most about The Night Before is the way Walker uses multiple timelines and a dual point of view to gradually unfold the details of the story.  We follow Laura’s sister, Rosie, in the aftermath of the internet date gone wrong, as she, her husband, and a close family friend try to retrace Laura’s steps.  They’re trying to find her without involving the police if at all possible because of whatever has happened in Laura’s past to make her so volatile.

In addition to following Rosie, we also follow Laura the night before while she is on her date so that we are able to see what direction the date took and why she didn’t come home.  To further flesh out the story and offer insight into Laura’s past and what has the family so concerned, we also get to sit in on some of Laura’s earlier sessions with her therapist.  I thought this technique was very effective. It felt like watching the pieces of a puzzle start to fill in over time as the story alternated between the different timelines and povs.

I was also a big fan of the novel’s pacing.  You can easily read it in a couple of sittings because it’s quite fast-paced.  It starts out with the tense situation of Laura being missing and the tension only builds from there as everyone races to try to find her.  The suspense also ratchets up the closer and closer we get to finding out what happened in Laura’s past that continues to haunt both her and her family.  The story was filled with enough believable twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.

The only reason I didn’t rate this 5 stars was because even though I was concerned for the well-being of Laura, I just didn’t feel as much of a connection to her as I would normally like to feel when it comes to main characters.  I think it was because I was constantly torn between wondering if she was a victim or a perpetrator and therefore I didn’t entirely trust her account of events.  In that sense, the book had almost a Gone Girl vibe.

Even with that lack of connection, however, I still think The Night Before is an exciting read that mystery/thriller fans are sure to love.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control.

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…

four-stars

About Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure. She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

Review: THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren

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

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNHONEYMOONERS Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Christina Lauren

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

Review: MIDDLEGAME

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

 

 

 

 

 

MIDDLEGAME Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

three-stars

About Seanan McGuire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Review: THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang

Early Review:  THE BRIDE TEST by Helen HoangThe Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Also by this author: The Kiss Quotient
five-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #2
Published by BERKLEY on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Also in this series: The Kiss Quotient
Source: a Blog Giveaway
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE BRIDE TEST Review

 

After falling in love with Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest book, The Bride Test.  I was fortunate enough to win a copy of an ARC in a giveaway at jennifertarheelreader.com and dove into the book this past weekend.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous that The Bride Test wouldn’t be able to live up to my very high expectations, but I’m happy to report that I loved it.  So much so that I devoured the book in less than 24 hours!  In addition to being a really sweet and sexy romance, The Bride Test also features so much more.  It’s also a powerful and heartfelt read that takes on important topics such as grief and mourning, what it’s like to live with autism, and also what it’s like to be an immigrant who comes to America looking for a better way of life.

I adored the main characters, Khai Diep and Esme Tran, from the first moment I met them.  Khai is just precious.  He is autistic and doesn’t think that he is capable of feeling emotions.  He feels nothing while attending the funeral of one of his best friends and just shies away from most relationships because he thinks everyone deserves better than what he can offer them.  Khai’s mother isn’t buying it though.  She  wants grandbabies and makes it her mission in life to find the perfect girl for Khai.  When she has a chance encounter with Esme, a single mom living in Vietnam, she knows Esme is the right girl and makes her a surprising and somewhat shocking offer – she will pay for Esme to come to America if Esme is willing to do whatever it takes to win Khai’s heart.  Esme sees this as her best chance to secure a better life for herself and for her daughter, so she accepts the offer.  Esme won my heart right away because she’s incredibly brave and resourceful, working on a backup plan for herself so that even if things don’t go well with Khai, she has the skills and education she needs to be able to stay in America and bring her daughter over as well.

There’s just so much to love about The Bride Test.  The romance was just so well written.  Esme and Khai are adorably awkward together but still manage to have intense chemistry. I loved how realistic the relationship felt with all of its ups and downs. At the same time, however, Hoang also weaves some wonderful family moments into her story.  Khai’s siblings, Quan and Vy, are wonderful secondary characters and I just loved watching them educate Khai on all matters of the heart.  The family dynamic was so sweet, as they were all so devoted to making sure Khai has every chance at love and happiness.  Hoang’s depiction of autism also felt very authentic, as did her portrayal of what it’s like to be an immigrant in search of the “American Dream.”  Overall, The Bride Test is a very satisfying read in every way and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons

five-stars

About Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars