Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn

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Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Audible

Two women’s lives collide when a priceless Russian artifact comes to light. 

Tanya Kagan, a rising specialist in Russian art at a top New York auction house, is trying to entice Russia’s wealthy oligarchs to bid on the biggest sale of her career, The Order of Saint Catherine, while making sense of the sudden and unexplained departure of her husband. 

As questions arise over the provenance of the Order and auction fever kicks in, Reyn takes us into the world of Catherine the Great, the infamous 18th-century empress who may have owned the priceless artifact, and who it turns out faced many of the same issues Tanya wrestles with in her own life. 

Suspenseful and beautifully written, The Imperial Wife asks whether we view female ambition any differently today than we did in the past. Can a contemporary marriage withstand an “Imperial Wife”? 

MY RATING: 📚📚📚📚

 

True Rating: 3.5 Stars

Classic Russian literature is one of my newfound loves, but other than the bits of Napoleonic trivia I gleaned from War and Peace and the period surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution, I know shockingly little about Russian history. I’ve heard of Catherine the Great, of course, but the details of her life and the reason she was considered great was an unanswered question. I was excited to pick this book, hoping it would at least temporarily sate my ever-growing curiosity about the magical mystery that is Russia.

Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the current day story of Tanya much more than the historical aspect. Perhaps this stems from Sophie/Catherine’s sections being written in third-person compared to the first-person of Tanya’s story. The high-end nature of Tanya’s career juxtaposed with her own humdrum living situation and the unexplained tension between her and her husband Carl provided a much more intriguing mixture of conflict than the politics of 18th-century royal matchmaking. I also appreciated the post-Soviet attitudes and ideas that inundated Tanya’s story.
The writing is overall beautiful, although the frequent use of sentence fragments made the editor inside me twitch at times. Reyn is clearly a skilled writer and painted a delicate, detailed picture of both intersecting plotlines.

The reason for the 1.5 star deduction–The pacing was slow, especially in the beginning, and I did not feel connected or sympathetic to either of the main characters. I can understand why Catherine acted as she did, given her own situation and the time, but Tanya’s actions revealed at the end–SPOILER rewriting her husband’s entire manuscript without his permission and then presenting it to him as a present END SPOILER–are unthinkably selfish. It was an intriguing story, but I wished there was some positive emotional connection made with at least one of the main characters.

If you enjoy historical and women’s fiction, intersecting plotlines, and Russian influences, I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book. Despite the issues I had with it, it’s a beautifully written story and definitely on my list of top 10 reads of 2016.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Just a Girl by Ellie Cahill

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Genre: New Adult & College, Romance
Publisher: Loveswept
Publication Date: June 21, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle

After getting kicked out of her own band—by her own boyfriend—Presley Mason finds herself back in Wisconsin, helping her parents run their renowned music store. Instead of belting out powerhouse vocals to sold-out crowds in L.A., she’s stocking shelves and inspecting rental violins. But the shop isn’t all bad: When she’s vacuuming up late one night, she bumps into the guitar teacher with the smoldering amber eyes and the killer tattoo. And that’s when things take an interesting turn.

Presley soon finds that Paul Kellerman is as good in bed as he is on guitar. So why isn’t he stoked to share his band, Jukebox Bleu, with her? Turns out Paul has crippling stage fright, which he’s been self-medicating without much success. But when Jukebox Bleu’s lead singer gets called for military service, the other members beg Presley to front them. Even though she swore never to mix men with music again, the temptation to perform is almost as intense as her chemistry with Paul. Now Presley must decide what’s more important: a second chance at love . . . or rock stardom.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

This is my second brush with Ellie Cahill, having read Call Me, Maybe last December. I have to say, I enjoyed Just a Girl much more. Placing the story in the music industry, rather than the world of shy bookish bloggers, provided more of an escape for me. The writing here is excellent, which didn’t surprise me a bit since the writing was one of my favorite parts of Call Me, Maybe. The characters are quirky, well-developed, and unique, which is not always the case for a cute new adult romance these days.

Ms. Cahill handles pretty serious issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, with a careful hand. Speaking as a female who has an anxiety disorder, it was refreshing to see a male character struggling with panic attacks. I understand why anxiety is usually foisted on female characters, since significantly more women are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, but it was nice to show that we’re not the only ones who struggle.

The only reason I’m deducting a star is personal preference with regards to sex and language. Ms. Cahill tends to write romances that go from zero to “let’s take off our clothes” pretty quickly, and that’s just not something I find realistic or fulfilling as a reader. I did enjoy the relationship aspect of this story more than that of Call Me, Maybe, but I’d rather get to know the characters a bit more before things get physical. It’s hard for me to root for two people to be together if I don’t know them yet. As far as language goes, cursing doesn’t bother me, but there were parts in the story where it felt like the author chose strong language for shock value rather than actually enhancing the story. Moments like that don’t offend me, but they do tend to pull me out of the reading experience, which is the reason for the one-star deduction.

Despite the issues I’ve had with both books of hers I’ve read, I am eagerly anticipating new reads from Ellie Cahill. Star deductions aside, her books are always a quick and heartwarming experience.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed. 

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other–and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

A book told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour, the award-winning author of Hold Still and The Disenchantments, and David Levithan, the best-selling author of Every Day and co-author of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green), You Know Me Well is a deeply honest story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

True Rating: 3.5 Stars

Your poor teenage heart. It isn’t equipped for decisions like this. Except maybe. Maybe it is.

Wow. What an emotional roller coaster this book is. This is my first experience with both Nina LaCour and David Levithan, and while I’m not sure what I was expecting, this book definitely exceeded those expectations.

I don’t usually read books with LGBT+ characters, not because their existence offends me, but more because as a heterosexual woman who has always felt and behaved as such, I assumed it was doubtful I could relate. But this book made me hyper aware of, not my differences with these characters, but our similarities. Tear away those labels of sexuality and gender identity for just a minute, and beneath it you find what you knew was there all along: a beating heart. A human being. As it turns out, there aren’t many differences after all.

I knocked my rating down 1.5 stars because of a few minor issues. It was difficult for me to accept that the events of this book happened over one week–the quickness and depth of Mark and Katie’s new friendship, especially, seemed a little far-fetched. The alternating first person narratives was a good idea, but even though Mark’s chapters were written by Levithan and Katie’s by LaCour, the voices weren’t distinctive enough. There were several times I caught myself flipping back and forth, trying to figure out who was speaking, since (at least in the digital ARC I was given) there were no chapter headings to clue you in on who the speaker was. Lastly, I would’ve enjoyed more backstory on Mark and Katie, especially regarding their family lives. I thought both of them had great parents, and I would have liked to learn more about them.

Ultimately, You Know Me Well is about things we all know well–heartbreak, friendship, and struggling to find acceptance. If the synopsis interests you, I suggest you give it a try.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

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Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover

Blue Riley has wrestled with her own demons ever since the loss of her mother to cancer. But when she encounters a beautiful devil at her town crossroads, it’s her runaway sister’s soul she fights to save. The devil steals Blue’s voice–inherited from her musically gifted mother–in exchange for a single shot at finding Cass. 

Armed with her mother’s guitar, a knapsack of cherished mementoes, and a pair of magical boots, Blue journeys west in search of her sister. When the devil changes the terms of their deal, Blue must reevaluate her understanding of good and evil and open herself up to finding family in unexpected places. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

This book’s description, along with the lovely cover, stole my attention almost immediately. I loved the idea of a modern approach to the devil at the crossroads myth and the soul selling motif, although I was a little worried about the execution. I shouldn’t have been. Jennifer Mason-Black’s writing is strong and soulful, and even though readers know nothing about Blue when the book opens, it’s difficult not to connect with her in the very first chapter.

There is an episodic nature to this story that some will not like, but I rather enjoyed. Blue is forced to trust strangers on her cross-country odyssey, and is exposed to both the kindness and cruelty human beings are capable of. I hope this is part of a series, because I’m definitely interested in learning more about some of the minor characters in Devil and the Bluebird, particularly Steve and Dill.

While this book is listed as a YA novel, it’s rather dark in places and I probably wouldn’t personally recommend this to readers under 16. If strong language is an issue for you there is some present, although fairly infrequent.

As a note for interested readers, there are LGBT elements in this book. There are a few trans characters, as well as mention of a lesbian/bisexual relationship. These don’t really play into the main plot much, but I know some people like to list books with LGBT characters, so I wanted to mention that.

The only reason I deducted a star was that the pacing was a little slower than I would have liked. Overall though, this is a fantastic read and I hope to see more from this author soon.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider

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Genre: YA, Contemporary
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover

Warm Hawaiian sun. Lazy beach days. Flirty texts with her boyfriend back in Seattle.

These are the things seventeen-year-old Sloane McIntyre pictured when she imagined the summer she’d be spending at her mom’s home in Hawaii with her twin brother, Penn. Instead, after learning an unthinkable secret about her boyfriend, Tyler, and her best friend, Mick, all she has is a fractured hand a completely shattered heart.

Once she arrives in Honolulu, though, Sloane hopes that Hawaii might just be the escape she needs. With beach bonfires, old friends, exotic food, and the wonders of a waterproof cast, there’s no reason Sloane shouldn’t enjoy her summer. And when she meets Finn McAllister, the handsome son of a hotel magnate who doesn’t always play by the rules, she knows he’s the perfect distraction from everything that’s so wrong back home.

But it turns out a measly ocean isn’t nearly enough to stop all the emails, texts, and voicemails from her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, desperate to explain away their betrayal. And as her casual connection with Finn grows deeper, Sloane’s carefree summer might not be as easy to come by as she’d hoped. Weighing years of history with Mick and Tyler against their deception, and the delicate possibility of new love, Sloane must decide when to forgive, and when to live for herself.

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

True rating: 3.5 Stars

If there’s one aspect of Summer of Sloane I can gush about without reservation, it’s that it is a quick and fun read. I wasn’t even trying to finish it quickly, and I still managed to read it in less than twelve hours. I was hooked from the very first chapter and couldn’t wait to see what happened to Sloane McIntyre after she learns about her boyfriend (and best friend) betraying her in the worst possible way.

I took away a star and a half from my rating because I found a lot of the characters one-dimensional and unrealistic. Mick was so incredibly selfish and whiny, and her little speech at the end made me wonder if she’d ever really been Sloane’s friend. The fact that she and Tyler both were practically harassing Sloane and trying to blame her for their mistakes was completely unbelievable. Sloane’s mom was the stereotypical “cool” mom, the kind who buys her teenaged kids everything in sight, including alcohol, and lives in an extravagant mansion on the beach. I didn’t understand why Finn’s dad was such a jerk. The ending also didn’t really resolve a good deal of the plot. If this is part of a series, that’s fine, but if it’s meant to be a standalone that’s a problem.

That being said, this book is the perfect summer read. Most of the book takes place in Hawaii, which gives this heartrending story a beautiful exotic setting, and despite the issues I mentioned above, I really did connect with Sloane and care about what happened to her. I’ll be interested to read more of Ms. Schneider’s work, for sure.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Dreaming of Antigone by Robin Bridges

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Genre: Young Adult
Publisher:
Kensington
Publication Date:
March 29, 2016
Formats Available:
Kindle, Paperback

“I can’t ever be the blazing star that Iris was. I’m still just a cold, dark satellite orbiting a star that went supernova.” 

Andria’s twin sister, Iris, had adoring friends, a cool boyfriend, a wicked car, and a shelf full of soccer trophies. She had everything, in fact–including a drug problem. Six months after Iris’s death, Andria is trying to keep her grades, her friends, and her family from falling apart. But stargazing and books aren’t enough to ward off her guilt that she–the freak with the scary illness and all-black wardrobe–is still here when Iris isn’t. And then there’s Alex Hammond. The boy Andria blames for Iris’s death. The boy she’s unwittingly started swapping lines of poetry and secrets with, even as she tries to keep hating him. 

Heartwrenching, smart, and bold, Dreaming of Antigone is a story about the jagged pieces that lie beneath the surface of the most seemingly perfect life . . . and how they can fit together to make something wholly unexpected. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

One of my favorite aspects of young adult books is that the protagonists within them are more likely than adult characters to have quirky personalities and interests. This is definitely the case in Dreaming for Antigone. Andria feels more like a real person than a fictional character. She’s a smart goth amateur astronomer afflicted with epilepsy. She likes fried pickles and practically subsists on Diet Coke. She misses her sister. Less than halfway through the book, I felt like we were intimate friends.

Perhaps it was Ms. Bridges’ stellar (if you’ll pardon the pun) development of Andria that left me feeling unconnected to the other characters in this book. I had a hard time keeping Natalie and Trista straight–their personalities seemed pretty much identical, except for the fact that Trista had been more Iris’s friend than Andria’s. I liked Alex, but at the same time, I didn’t really feel like I knew much about him at book’s end.

That is the only reason for the one-star deduction. I have no complaints with the writing, plot, or pacing. The romantic elements are sweet and don’t detract from the main point, which is Andria healing from her sister’s death and the horrible circumstances surrounding it.

This was my first Robin Bridges book, but I doubt it will be my last, especially since I just learned that Natalie’s story will be told in a companion book–The Form of Things Unknown–scheduled for publication in August. I’m very interested to read that!

I will note that while this book is not graphic, it does delve into some very serious topics that some may find upsetting. If seizures, drug use, and/or sexual abuse are particularly difficult for you, I would consider skipping this one.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Posted in 4 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: Fairest by Marissa Meyer

 

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Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fairy Tale Retelling
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: 
January 27, 2015
Formats Available: 
Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, Audio

Summary:

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fals of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story–a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚 📚

True Rating: 3.5 

I wasn’t aware of Fairest when I initially read The Lunar Chronicles, so instead of reading it between Cress and Winteras suggested, I read it a few months after I finished the series. This novella is well-written, as is everything that Marissa Meyer puts out, and it did a great job of filling in the story gaps I’d noticed between the third and fourth main novels, but I can’t help but wonder if it was really necessary. There isn’t a lot of new information presented here, mostly just details of events strongly hinted at in the other books.

I am impressed, however, with how Meyer is able to handle such a complex character. Given our current cultural tendency to create sympathetic villains, I was pleased to see that while we do see Levana’s vulnerabilities and doubts inFairest, we don’t for one second forget how crazy evil she is. Has she been through Hell? Yes, absolutely–but that doesn’t justify any of the Hell she creates for other people.

Through this novella, Meyer sets up a juxtaposition between Levana and Cinder, which is very similar to what J.K. Rowling did with Voldemort and Harry in the later Harry Potter books. Both characters have suffered greatly at the hands of family (and stepfamily), and they share the same bloodline known for harshness and cruelty. Fairest shows more clearly that it is the characters’ choices, not what happens to them, that defines who they are. Levana chooses to embrace bitterness and hate. Cinder fights back. This is an important distinction that makes the end of Winter that much more meaningful.


Check out my reviews of the other Lunar Chronicles books!

Cinder

Scarlet

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