Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sin Eater's Daughter

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is a YA fantasy novel by Melinda Salisbury.

Seventeen year-old Twylla is the Goddess embodied. This means she is impervious to poison but by simply touching another, she kills them.

When she was brought to the castle as a young girl, at the time an apprentice to her mother, the Sin Eater, she did not realize that being the Goddess embodied meant being the royal executioner.

She knows now.

Under constant guard to protect others from her divine, lethal touch, Twylla is avoided as much as she is tentatively revered. Even the royal family, including the prince she is betrothed to, shuns her company despite being the only ones immune to her poison.

Her loneliness is permeated only by her guard who has been with her since the beginning. It’s a professional relationship, but she feels that he actually cares for her.

But when he falls ill, Twylla is given a new, young guard. He throws her off balance with easy smiles, a lack of understanding of the boundaries meant to be established with them and a desire to be sociable. Somehow, he sees her as a girl – not a goddess. Not a blunt instrument of death.

It’s intoxicating.

Yet, Twylla knows that entertaining such ideas as friendship breach into treasonous activity in the eyes of the queen. The queen is not one to be trifled with – as someone who not only uses Twylla’s poisonous gift for execution but even crueler, nauseating means.

Is Twylla still up to doing what she must for the kingdom? Or is she falling into a doomed, hopeless love?

This cannot end well…

Wow – I *loved* The Sin Eater’s Daughter.

I mean - I really, really did.

Swiftly, the author creates a world that is twisted, disturbing and fascinating – with the worrying madness of royalty rivaling that of Game of Thrones.

Twylla is in the midst of it, whether she wants to be or not. And her situation is one that is terribly sad – yet she is wonderfully stoic about it. She doesn’t sit around and cry. She knows what she is and has accepted it as much as she can.

Yet she doesn’t like killing. She doesn’t like to be the weapon.

With a good deal of character development, Twylla’s first person narration is absorbing and compelling. I loved her and I loved where the plot went.

And the plot goes crazy!

I won’t say much here because I want it to all be a surprise for you. But I will say this: The Sin Eater’s Daughter is one of the most breathless, suspenseful, intriguing, romantic novels I have read this year.

It weaves together classic fairytales such as The Magic Flute, The Pied Piper and The White Bride and the Black Bride to create an entirely new tale that is epic in emotional scope.

It sounds like there is to be another book – and I am so very relieved!

Truly memorable.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Cake House

The Cake House is a contemporary novel by Latifah Salom.

When Rosaura Douglas’s father shoots himself, her entire life changes.

Suddenly she is living in “The Cake House”, a monstrously pink manor that is nothing like the small apartment she was recently calling home.

She has a step-father that wants to shower money on her with no clear explanation as to where the wealth comes from, and a new step-brother that keeps just as mum.

Soon Rosaura begins to see her father’s ghost – and he always seems to be warning her that her step-father is not to be trusted… That, perhaps, his death was not a suicide…

The Cake House
was odd.

Rosaura was very difficult to try and relate to. First, trying to pin down her age was very difficult – the way she reacts to her father’s death made me initially think she was very young. Once it was revealed that she was thirteen/fourteen I found it a little bizarre. I know people deal with grief differently – but her reaction gave me an impression of definite instability… Her ongoing personality traits did not change my opinion of her.

Also, it was very difficult to try to determine what time period we are in – there are so many references to 80s and 90s music and very little reference to 21st century technology. I am still not absolutely certain, but I do think we’re supposed to be in modern times. Strange.

Anywho! With suspicions regarding the circumstances of her father’s death, a mysterious step-father and step-brother and a seemingly terribly unhappy mother – there was some interesting aspects to the plot. Yet… it never really latched on. It just felt disconnected to me. Not absorbing, not page-turning.

Plus, the ghost aspect was never really elaborated on. Was there a ghost? Was it Rosaura’s consciousness? Does this mean she is suffering from a mental illness? I read the whole book and I cannot really tell you.

Sadly, for me, The Cake House was not satisfying and overall just hard for me to invest in. In fact, it was kind of boring and felt pointless…

But – you know what I am going to say!!! Every book has a fan – and it could be you! Read The Cake House for yourself!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Moon and More

The Moon and More is a YA contemporary novel by the beloved bestselling author Sarah Dessen.

Emaline is at a precipice – she is going to college once this summer in her beachside small hometown of Colby is over.

This is the time to savor every moment with her parents, sisters, best friends and longtime high school boyfriend, Luke. He’s handsome, nice and there’s a comfortable understanding of each other that comes with being together so many years.

Yet comfortable is losing its appeal.

When one of her family’s rental properties is inhabited by a two-person documentary crew, Emaline meets Theo – a driven, wide-eyed New Yorker that is so very different than anyone she’s ever known in Colby. Theo makes it clear that he thinks Emaline is meant for bigger things than tiny Colby.

Then Emaline’s biological father is also in town with her little brother – and an event that occurred earlier in the year between them is straining their already less than close relationship. But, like Theo, has a vision for Emaline – a vison of Ivy League and getting out of the beachside town.

Both enticed by their ideas of a bigger future for her and the comfortable contentment of the status quo, Emaline finds herself looking for a balance…

My favorite thing about Sarah Dessen is how she takes regular, believable people and portrays regular, believable life events. It’s the quiet elegance of depicting family life, love and friendship that brings me back to her every time.

Here, yet again, we get that in spades.

A fractured relationship with her father, Dessen perfectly shows the mixture of hope, and frustration with that same hope, that wars within Emaline. We see her question the familiarity of her life, while also clinging to it. It’s a subtle, dramatic anguish that is leveled by a character that is not too over the top, self-pitying or immature.

I wouldn’t say The Moon and More sucker punched me quite as much emotionally as some of Dessen’s other novels have – but I am still a huge fan of this book. It’s a slice of life that offers wisdom, seemingly without trying.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was very pleased the way it all turned out by the end – and felt it was a refreshing, smart conclusion.

There’s nothing quite like taking a break from the ghosts, werewolves and vampires to dive into something altogether quite similar to our own lives and thoughts – something that breaks our heart but also inspires us – something that faces reality and shows us everything is not Happily Ever After, but everything is not bad either.

That is what The Moon and More is.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mark of the Thief

Mark of the Thief is a YA historical fantasy adventure novel by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

A slave in the mines of ancient Rome, Nic dreams of freedom for himself and his sister.

Yet, instead, he faces certain death as he is forced to enter the recently located cavern allegedly containing the hidden treasures of Julius Caesar.

Amidst the jewels and gold is an artifact, a bulla, which has extraordinary magical power – something that some Romans would kill for.

Managing to survive the dangerous cavern, Nic is now armed with this bulla and his determination is freedom – however, his possession of this powerful object places him in a conspiracy to overthrow the emperor.

To save Rome, Nic must learn how to use his new powers and figure out who he can trust…

The beginning of Mark of the Thief reminded me of a Roman version of Aladdin. Felt a little familiar, though adding in a griffin to protect the treasure was a bit more fantastical.

I loved Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, but for whatever sad reason Mark of the Thief did not connect with me. Whereas I always felt in a state of suspense in the Ascendance Trilogy and very invested in the main character, I did not feel the same way with Mark of the Thief.

There’s a lot of action, a lot of running around from place to place and a period of time in a gladiator arena that certainly sparks of excitement – but I just never really felt strongly about any of it.

I wish I could say something different, but Mark of the Thief was, oddly enough, a little boring for me. Nic wasn’t developed enough to be all that likable, nor were the secondary characters, in my opinion.

Hopefully you will have a different experience! I am sure Mark of the Thief will be enjoyed by many!!

For me, I do not think I will read book two.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Lying Out Loud

Lying Out Loud is a YA contemporary novel and a companion to The Duff by Kody Keplinger.

I have not read The Duff and was able to enjoy Lying Out Loud as it focuses on different characters. It does, however, glimpse into where the characters of The Duff are now – so reading The Duff first would probably be most rewarding. No spoilers in this review, though!

Sonny Ardmore has become an excellent liar.

From why she’s late to work and school to where her father is – to why she needs to stay at her best friend Amy’s house every night.

Sometimes it almost seems like lying is second nature to her at this point.

Amy may be the only person who sees through her lies and knows the truth – yet even that is beginning to get foggy. There are some things Sonny does not want to share even with her…

Then enters new guy at school: Ryder. Constantly whining about how his pretentious school in D.C. is better than their small-town education and being essentially impossible to befriend – his ridiculous crush on Amy makes both the girls cringe.

But when one night Sonny is using Amy’s laptop and ends up having an implausibly enjoyable online conversation with Ryder – she does not realize until the end that he thought he was talking to Amy the whole time.

Now she might actually like Ryder – but he thinks he’s making a connection with Amy.

Being a master of lies, Sonny comes up with a plan to fix everything – but will her plan, soaked in more lies, just make things worse?

Wow – I have to say that I did not expect Lying Out Loud to be as fantastic as it was. But it was! Fantastic, that is.

With modern narration from our protagonist Sonny, we get an opportunity to see behind the lies as well as peek into the lies she tells herself also.

Kody Keplinger has penned a novel that can be funny, painful and oh-so-realistic. This is a girl who makes some very, very poor decisions – yet even as I knew everything would have to eventually fall to pieces, I felt for her deeply.

It’s heartbreaking and anguishing from the family difficulties and disappointments, destruction of close friendship and desperate attempts to create and hold onto first love.

Truly, I raced through Lying Out Loud – enamored with the characters that are lovable and likable. I had to know what would happen next – and was scared of how sad the end would be.

You won’t hear from me how it all turns out, though. You’ll have to suffer to the end, spoiler-free, like I did and find out yourself!

And… wow. I literally had misty eyes a few times during Lying Out Loud.

I officially want to read The Duff now!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Across a Star-Swept Sea

Across a Star-Swept Sea is a YA sci-fi, dystopian retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Diana Peterfreund.

Though this story stands on its own, it brings back characters from Peterfreund’s wonderful For Darkness Shows the Stars – so I personally would recommend reading that first. You can read my review of For Darkness Shows the Stars here – but there will be no spoilers for it in this review, no worries!

New Pacifica’s two separate islands are all remaining of the world after centuries of war and destruction. Even the prior horror of the Reduction – a brain disorder that caused many of the wars and left much of the population without fully-functioning minds – is a thing of the past.

After all, there is now a cure.

Yet on the island of Galatea, there has been a revolution – a revolution against the aristocracy that has morphed into the ultimate revenge. A drug has been created to cause Reduction – and the revolutionaries are forcing anyone who disagrees with them to take it.

However, the enigmatic spy known as the Wild Poppy is determined to stop this.

On the neighboring island of Albion, their political issues are fiery but they have not slipped into rebellion. Their brightly colored fashions and partying court do their best to blind themselves to the threat Galatea’s revolution poses to their island – and the true terror their invented Reduction drug could bring.

No one would guess that gorgeous, airheaded, party girl Persis Blake is the Wild Poppy – and that’s exactly how she wants it. Sometimes it is difficult to hide her clever mind and deep concerns with a superficial, silly socialite façade – but she knows it is the best way to continue her secretive work to save Galateans.

Meanwhile, Justen Helo has sought refuge in Albion – wanting to distance himself with the work he has done with the revolution in Galatea, and the direct impact he has had. To protect his reasons for leaving his island, he is tasked with pretending to be head-over-heels with Persis – which is difficult due to her ardent idiocy, though she is obviously attractive.

But when their respective secrets clash, they could cause New Pacifica to plunge into another dark age.

Perhaps one they could never recover from…

Diana Peterfreund has a marvelous mind. She has created here an expansive, believable, detailed futuristic world that is vibrant and vivid to the reader. Our characters, both the main characters and supporting, are well-constructed with full-fledged personalities and a grounded sense of realism.

Here we have a spy story, a war story and a story of love. Happily the romance is slow-building, based on knowing someone rather than being simply attracted to them, and is NOT the primary focus of this story.

No, the main plotline here is the suspenseful revolution and Reduction – the results of the drug that cured it and the drug that is returning it. It’s such a terrible, horrifying way to punish people – yet has an unsettling feeling of being all too plausible of the vengeful human race.

This is futuristic sci-fi at some its best with a cohesive, imaginative plot and great characterizations. I, myself, have not read or seen The Scarlet Pimpernel – but I am certainly more intrigued now.

And I will be waiting for more from Diana Peterfreund – who never ceases to amaze me with her absorbing, rewarding writing!

Monday, June 8, 2015

All Fall Down

All Fall Down is the first book in Ally Carter’s YA Embassy Row series.

Returning to embassy row in the small, but powerful, European country her mother grew up in does not change the three truths Grace knows to her core:

1. She’s not crazy
2. Her mother was murdered
3. Someday she WILL find the murderer

But no one believes her – not her ambassador grandfather, nor his formidable secretary – just like no one at home believed her. So why should her new friends?

There’s Alexei, the Russian boy next door who wants to watch over her per her brother’s instructions, her appointed best friend, Israeli Noah, and a couple others who Grace finds herself surprisingly drawn to being friends with – an oddity for her.

Yet knowing that there’s no way they would understand her determination to find her mother’s murderer over the last three years – after witnessing it at thirteen years old – keeps her at a lonely distance. So she puts on her smile that says she’s normal and tries to control her impulses.

But no one’s ever been able to control Grace – not even herself – and once she believes she’s come closer to the truth, she has the potential to cause international incidents with ramifications beyond her imagination…

All Fall Down was really quite a good read!

Grace is a damaged girl, yet very intriguing also. As we get first-person narration, we get to know the inner workings of her mind – which can seem both completely sane and also a bit unhinged. I was absorbed in learning the truth – beyond what Grace’s understanding of it was. And that curiosity was rewarded!

An embassy row is an interesting setting for a novel with political intrigue, etiquette and tensions beyond the normal teenage drama.

There are plenty of male prospects, some mystery and a psychological suspense that, in my opinion, is the strongest point of All Fall Down. The novel has its dramatic, suspenseful moments – but also is often funny.

This is helped by some great, likable, fun secondary characters – making for an entertaining, fast read. I became more and more in the books grips and was pleased with a very, very good meaty twist.

I can honestly say I look forward to the next book in the series!!

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter is a YA fantasy novel by debut author Virginia Boecker.

Elizabeth Grey has worked hard, training her slender frame into one of the king’s best witch hunters – meant to locate those practicing witchcraft and bring them to justice.

So, when Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself – she knows the future that lies ahead of her. Fire and death.

Clinging to the fact that she is innocent, she grows increasingly ill as she waits in her cell – sure that one of her fellow witch hunters will free her.

Instead the very last person she ever expected to show up arrives: Nicholas Perevil, one of the most wanted, most powerful wizards in the kingdom. He offers her freedom in exchange for her help to break a curse that has been placed upon him – a curse that is killing him.

Suddenly thrust into the other side of the world she has been living in, Elizabeth finds herself among witches, ghosts, pirates and an uncomfortably attractive healer. Everything she is meant to hunt, to despise, to bring to their death.

But which side saved her?

The Witch Hunter was a GREAT read!

Immersing us in an alternate medieval era, Elizabeth is a character to root for. She’s gone through a lot but she doesn’t throw herself a pity party. She doesn’t haphazardly abandon her beliefs and loyalties, but does allow herself to think about them. I feel like that makes a good character.

On top of mystery, magic, political intrigue and action, we also get a little bit of romance. I personally loved that it was important but subtle – a minor, secondary plot line. But a delicious one!

Our secondary characters are colorful, likable and have a great dialogue – making for a few moments of laughter during a rather dark novel.

Some of the twists were rather surprising and The Witch Hunter went in a direction with one character that I did not expect! Really a fun, entertaining read – and I will be looking forward to the sequel when it becomes available!

*I received an early copy of The Witch Hunter by NOVL. This is an honest review.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Those Girls

Those Girls is a YA contemporary novel by debut author Lauren Saft.

Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls – the ones that are attached at the hip and the ultimate party girls.

But in their junior year in their Philadelphia suburb – things are about to change.

Everyone knows of them, but does anyone actually know them?

Alex is crushing on her next door neighbor and has decided to join a band - without clueing her friends in first.

Mollie is dealing with her first exclusive relationship with a popular jock boyfriend – who isn’t the nicest person.

Veronica fulfills her bad reputation superbly – but does she want to explore something more? Is she even able to?

This is a year that could change their bond forever…

Every once in a while I run across a book that totally and completely does not work for me – and I am sorry to say that Those Girls is one of those books.

I’ll preface by saying there are readers out there, of course, that will enjoy Those Girls – and I applaud the writer for releasing her debut novel and do not mean to be insensitive…

I did NOT like Those Girls.

In fact, I kind of hated it…

I know – I really don’t like saying that. And I still encourage everyone to read it for themselves! Unfortunately this book did NOT work for me.

Why?

Not one of the three main characters is even slightly redeemable. Each one is crass, completely lacking in class or any sort of empathy – they are the epitome of a mean girl with more than their share of cruelty, judgment, jealousy and backstabbing of their “friends”.

They are truly despicable and selfish. Veronica probably is the least horrible of the three but she is still not likable – and her loose, drunken, lascivious ways are cliché to the extreme of trashy reality shows today.

I did not find anything in Those Girls to be realistic, relatable or likable – we are simply reading about horrible characters doing horrible things. And worse? We are given a first-person narration from these girls and therefore subjected to their repetitive, poisonous thoughts. Not to mention their excessive swearing and trysts.

Ugh.

Where I thought a book with this description may depict the inner struggles of three girls that may put on an outward show and perhaps deal with sad lives or deep loneliness or something – NOPE.

Fairly quickly (75 pages) I had to begin skimming Those Girls – but what happens at the end is shockingly appalling and lacks a satisfying conclusion in any way.

Definitely not a book for me!

*I received Those Girls as part of NOVL’s galley giveaway. This is an honest review.