A Short History of the Girl Next Door – Review

“I am completely in love with my best friend from childhood, she has absolutely no idea, and now she’s interested in older, more popular guys. This sounds like a bad movie already.”

A Short History of the Girl Next Door starts with Matt Wainwright catching us up on his lifelong friendship with Tabby, the girl next door, and how he went from being her best friend to being in love with her.

The first half of the book is very funny. This is very typical come of age YA, told from the perspective of a teenage boy. The internal observations and dialogue veer from quite insightful to highly inappropriate. To me, this made Matt feel like a very real adolescent boy.

Instead of being in friends with the beautiful popular girl while he himself is an awkward geek, Matt instead is just a normal freshman jock. He plays basketball, and while he is awkward and strange, Reck writes him in that normal freshman awkwardness that most of us probably remember feeling and being. Which I really liked. Because this isn’t a typical unrequited love story. It is something far better.

We meet his younger brother Murray, an adorable four year old that you can’t help but smile at in nearly every scene. His grandparents and his parents. There is nothing dysfunctional or odd, other than normal quirky human personalities. And Tabby. Who is as much a part of this family as anyone.

It is the second half of this novel that we get hit in the gut with tragedy. An accident shifts everything for Matt, and his story changes into one of grief. How powerful and overwhelming it can be. How it shifts your perspective on everything in life. And how it can be so deep, that it changes who you are.

This isn’t a normal come of age tale. This isn’t a story about a boy loving a girl. This really is a novel about the power of family and love. About how growing up can mean facing some of the hardest things, about how out of control life can be, and what we can do in the face of helplessness.

The thing I like about this novel is that while the point of the plot is grief, Reck doesn’t take the easy road. He doesn’t hold back in how he portrays Matt. Matt makes some really strange decisions. And behaves from the moment of the accident rather badly most of the time. As a mother, and someone far outside of adolescence, seeing these decisions is even a bit more heartbreaking, because you can see what’s happening and understand it. But it is an unflinching dive into those emotions that is so stunning. There is no right way to grieve, and there is no easy answer. These are important lessons and Reck writes them so vividly, it’s impossible not to be moved.

Outside of the grief, there are some fantastic lessons about life written in these pages. One observation that struck me was about locker room talk. We see it, and hear it. We get to read Matt’s reaction to it, how he wishes he reacted, how he actually did react. But, Reck takes us even further and discusses the implications of that talk.

“They’re automatically going to see Tabby differently. Even if it’s just a dumb joke. Every time one of them sees her, that though is going to pop into his head. And he’s going to wonder. I’m doing it right now, and I hate myself for it. Meanwhile, the flawless perception of Branson goes unchanged.”

I mean, can we all just take a moment and stop to really examine the profound truth of that excerpt. And not just the truth behind it, but the fact that it’s in a YA novel, from a teenage male perspective? This is such a phenomenal message.

There is more in these pages. Observations on friendship, family, love, growth, competition and forgiveness. This is a book that should be introduced to teenagers and talked about with them. It isn’t a book of cliche moments and happy endings. Rather it is an honest look at what life can hand us at any given moment. It is about how we recover from the bad decisions we make. How we ask for forgiveness when we hurt the people we love, and how we forgive ourselves.

The Short History of a Girl Next Door is a powerful book. It is one worth taking the journey into, especially if you know or are an adolescent facing grief in any capacity. It is a book that can help you grow and can help you learn. Highly, highly recommend it. Just make sure you have a box if tissues nearby.

Thank you Blogging for Books and Knopf books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Ready Player One – Review

“Going outside is highly overrated.”

Virtual Reality has been the stuff of science fiction for a long time. Simulated worlds, offering everything that real life simply can’t. And as a society that is closer to achieving the immersion into these worlds than ever before, I think the idea of exploring these virtual worlds is more important than ever.

 

Not only do I find the idea behind virtual reality so fascinating, but honestly, I am slightly in love with anything that is fully dystopian ready. And virtual reality screams dystopia. An entire system that appears on the surface to be utopia, exploited or manipulated by one or the many to be turned into a nightmare. I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is why there isn’t MORE virtual reality dystopias in the world!

Ready Player One shows us a grim future. A world where resources have dwindled, forcing people to build gigantic towers of haphazard homes near cities for the hope of power, food and water. It’s a dismal world, where reality is unpleasant. The only thing most people look forward to, the only thing that makes life bearable, is the alternate world of the OASIS.

“For me, growing up as a human being on the plant Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.”

The OASIS is an entire virtual world, or worlds, where people work, go to school, vacation, and live their best lives. People don’t choose to spend time in reality. They choose to spend their time in the OASIS.

“You don’t live in the real world, Z. From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you ever have. You’re like me. You live inside this illusion.”

The world building alone in this virtual reality system is something I easily could have spent hours reading about. The level of detail and imagination that went into the systems, and these worlds was incredible. This is an example of writing that could have become bogged down with too much information, but Cline was smart in how he wove in the details of the world to be relevant to the plot. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by details, I was instead transported into a lush landscape that is mind-boggling in scope but sharp in focus.

Wade, our protagonist, is just trying to graduate his virtual high school and find his way in a world where jobs are scarce. His only plan is to find Halliday’s Easter egg, a hidden prize embedded deep within the OASIS world, coded by Halliday himself, and found only by solving a series of clues and puzzles. The person who finds this egg wins the entire fortune of Halliday, which means billions of dollars.

Here’s where the fun of this book begins. Rather than take us through a meandering bombardment of virtual worlds, Cline instead focuses the hunt in a specific way.

“The Hunt, as the contest came to be known, quickly wove its way into global culture. Like winning the lottery, finding Halliday’s Easter egg became a popular fantasy among adults and children alike.”

The creator, Jim Halliday, grew up in the 80’s. A time when he met his best friend and co-creator, Ogden Morrow, and they started a little company that grew into one of the largest corporations in the world. When Halliday died, an email with a video and a link to his website were sent to every player in OASIS. The only clue was an obscure riddle and a link to an Almanac. The Almanac itself was over a thousand pages long and went into Halliday’s thoughts on movies, music, video games and all things pop culture 80’s.

Suddenly, a decade once looked down on for it’s decadence and abundance, one that would have been forgotten, is thrust into back into relevance and popularity. Personally, I thought this twist was pure genius.

The 80’s was not the end all be all for science fiction, or video games, or even technology. So I get why some people may not see the connection between the future we are reading about and that particular decade. But, the 80’s was known for its greed, for its excess. To show it as an obsession in a time that knows only poverty and thin resources was subtle but brilliant.

Beyond that, the main competitor and threat to Wade after he stumbles on the answer to the first clue isn’t other gunters, the name he and fellow egg hunters are known as, but IOI, a giant corporation willing to throw any and all resources at finding the egg and owning OASIS. They want to take something that is very inexpensive and available to the masses, and turn it into a money making machine where only the privileged few can really thrive. Which fits in with 80’s greed. We may see that behavior in corporations now, but that mentality was born in the 80’s.

The writing is full of wonderful dry sarcasm, and there’s a subtle mocking tone to the absurdity of living life in a virtual world woven throughout the plot.

“It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit or armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.”

It also carries a really good analysis of what technology can do to a civilization. Or rather, the possibility of what can happen. The entire plot is carried primarily within a virtual world, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t see the wasteland the unvirtual one has become.

“It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity,” he wrote. “A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect.”

I find that good dystopian shows us both the good and the bad of the world it presents. It may carry a message, or even a warning, but the information is merely presented for us to digest and interpret. We are given characters to embody the arguments and it is then up to us to form our opinions. Ready Player One does this spectacularly.

Ready Player One is fun science fiction. It takes us into a future that on the surface seems to be going backwards, but has the technology to move it forward. While it will appeal to video gamers by its sheer plot subject alone, I think even non-gamers will delight in falling into the virtual world Cline has created. I also cannot wait to see what magic Spielberg gives us on the big screen.

 

Everless – Review

“‘Time is for burning, girl.’

It’s a familiar expression in the village – why hoard time when every day is dully brutal, the same as the one before and the one that will come after? To hear it from a man who’s never known hunger or cold makes my fingers twitch toward a fist.”

Welcome to Sempera. A land where time is bound to a person’s blood. It can be taken out, turned into iron and is used as currency. The wealthy take it from the poor, tax it, use it to live lives hundreds of years long. While the poor are bled, literally bled dry, until their time runs out.

Jules Ember lives a quiet life with her father. They used to live in Everless, the estate of the Gerlings, a family so wealthy they are nearly royalty. Jules’ father was the blacksmith for them and her childhood was a happy one. Until an accident forces them to flee for their lives.

Now, her father is dying, his debts too large for the time he has remaining in his veins, and Jules knows that returning to Everless is the only chance she has to save him.

“I smile at him, wishing I could tell the truth – that the idea of returning to Everless sickens me and fills me with dread, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

But if Everless was dangerous before, it’s even more so now. And Jules quickly finds herself wrapped in temptation, deadly secrets, and violent consequences. Beneath all that terror, though, Jules finds she isn’t as powerless as she believed, and maybe she has the power to change the fate of time.

I seriously don’t know where to begin with this review. This book is amazing. One of the best I’ve read this year. The writing is simply gorgeous. If you are a fan of the beauty and lyrical prose of Laini Taylor, you will fall in love with Sara Holland’s writing.

“A strange feeling flowers in me, like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out to the green and blue sea, which I’ve only ever seen drawn in books, it’s waves sloshing and endless – and from this height, deadly.”

You will highlight passages simply for the beauty of the words written.

“That she prefers to travel at night is a message, tied up in brown paper, desperate to speak.”

Beyond the beautiful writing, the world building is stunning in it’s execution and epic in it’s scope. Holland has created this entire land, where blood is valuable. Time can be taken from or added to a life. And the detail in which she applies this currency is fantastic. You get a sense of the desperation of the poor, and the reckless luxury of the wealthy. How much more personal would wealth be if it was literally your life?

“My hand trembles as I take the coin – the pulse in my own fingers feels as if it’s coming from with the coin, all the life this little thing could give me. Give Papa.”

And Jules Ember. This girl will quickly become one of your favorite female protagonists! She is smart and bold, daring and brave. But she is also stubborn and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. But at her heart, she is good. She tries. And she is willing to make mistakes in order to keep her morals intact. She is willing to do what is right, not what is easy, and you will adore her for her moxie and her bravery.

There is some romance in this book, but like everything in these pages, it is not what you expect. And it isn’t the focal point. Which I loved. I loved that while Jules craved the connection and intimacy romance brings, she isn’t willing to give up her focus to chase it. She also doesn’t let it shape her or change her, she remains true to herself, which I LOVE!!! Especially in a YA! Girls can be strong and fierce and independent without a man helping her or taking the lead, and we definitely need more female leads NOT focused on romance. The romance may take a larger focus in future books, but I absolutely loved that it wasn’t the priority in this one. ESPECIALLY since she has her hands full as things are.

“All of these things are tied together in shifting and complicated ways, yet still nothing is clear.”

Oh the twists! Holland weaves a complicated spell in this world, where nothing is at it seems, even Jules own memories. The more Jules begins to understand what happened when she was a child, the more she learns about who she is, the more danger she finds herself in. Characters you thought you knew and understood change. The ending floored me! There are plenty of surprises packed within these pages.

In all, Everless is a stunning journey. I think it will easily be one of the best books of 2018. Sara Holland has made my auto buy author list, and I will be waiting anxiously for the sequel to be released.

Thank you to BookSparks for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Godsgrave – Review

“Nothing stinks quite like a corpse.”

BAM! The very first words, after a brief reintroduction to the characters, slam us in the face with a reminder of the world we are re-entering. Mia is back, and after the ending from the last book, her list for vengeance has only grown instead of shrunk.

There will be some possible spoilers in this review, not for this book, but for the first, so if you have not read Nevernight, you may want to stop reading. Might I also suggest that you GO PICK UP NEVERNIGHT AND START READING!!!!!

Okay, let’s proceed…

Mia has accomplished her goal of becoming a Blade for the Church, although, not exactly as she imagined when she left Godsgrave the first time. Things have gone a bit awry, and Mia finds herself a Blade, but stuck in some small town in the Republic where she will likely never encounter the people she still intends on slaying.

“Patience, she thought. If Vengeance has a mother, her name is Patience.”

But, as we have gotten to know Mia, we know that following rules isn’t something she’s prone to doing.

Our beloved narrator is back, once again, providing us with snarky little comments and helpful pieces of history as he sees fit. I say he, but who knows who the narrator is really. While there are many, many pieces of this puzzle that I am dying to figure out, the identity of the narrator is in my top three!

Instead of getting pieces of Mia’s past as a little girl, here Kristoff has played with the plotting a little more. We start the book in the midst of Mia’s new scheme and have to snap back to fill in the gaps from where we left her in Nevernight. I actually really like how this is written, because we feel immediately drawn into action rather than a slow build.

“Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

And talk about action. If Nevernight has hints of a Roman empire in some far away world, Godsgrave throws us into a Gladiator Arena. Literally. Or the Godsgrave equivalent.

Kristoff has given us the introductory course to brutality in Nevernight. It’s a perfect sort of poetry that Mia is introduced to the violence of her new world as a student of the Church, and in the same way we were too. Now, we are unleashed and thrown deep into the world where we find slaves fighting for glory and the one chance for freedom. Except, Mia has other plans. She always does.

But as we discovered in Nevernight, Mia hasn’t quite lost her heart. Even though it’s been battered, and bloodied, and bruised, it’s still intact. The problem is, to accomplish her goals, to really exact the revenge she craves, she might have to lose her heart entirely.

“Little kindnesses that spoke of the biggest hearts. Mia wondered where her own might be.”

For all the harshness that this world shows us, there is such humanity in it. There’s hope, fear, love, determination, stubbornness. Everything that raises us to our best and drags us down to our worst. I love how the ideas of good and evil aren’t cookie cutter or even clear as you read. There are villains, but they aren’t always who you expect them to be. Neither are the heroes.

If you’re wondering whether this book is as violent or gory as Nevernight, I can only quote another writer who drinks the tears of his readers (Pierce Brown, Red Rising) and say, “Shit escalates.” Kristoff has raised the bar on everything in Godsgrave, and that includes the savage nature of the world. The fights are jaw dropping, heart pounding, simply stunning in their elegance and detail. You know what it is to fight in an Arena. You feel it, you hear it, you smell it.

“Dark delight in her belly. Warm blood on her hands. Mia closed her eyes. Raised her blade.”

As we race towards the end of the book, all I kept repeating in my head was no, no, no. Because there was no way I was going to get any sort of satisfaction with the pages remaining. If cliffhangers rip your heart out while it’s beating, you may want to hold off on this book. Kristoff holds your bleeding heart in his hands and laughs.

This world and these characters will crawl deep under your skin and take root. You feel as if you’ve lived in this world your entire life, and that you’ve known these characters all that time as well. These books are where book obsessions grow. And if you’re like me, you’ll ache when the book ends, and miss them as the days pass.

I am counting the days until the third (and I think final) book is released. Murder and magic may not be a combo that everyone falls in love with. But for those of you who revel in the darker side of fiction, where good and evil are a bit murkier than normal, this is a world I think you’ll fall in love with! I know I have.

 

Turtles All The Way Down – Review

“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”

There are about a million different thoughts rushing through my brain about this book, but there’s really only one that’s important. If you’ve ever known someone to struggle with mental illness, this book helps open a window into understanding. And if you’ve ever struggled yourself, read this to know that you are not alone.

Aza has OCD. She can’t help but think of the billions upon billions of bacteria that reside in her body and how any one of them can hijack the system, completely taking over and possibly ending in her death. One thought can lead to another, and before she can stop, she’s being pulled into a thought spiral, which she calls invasives.

“It’s just an invasive. Everyone has them. But you can’t shut yours up. Since you’ve had a reasonable amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, you tell yourself, I am not my thoughts, even though deep down you’re not sure exactly what that makes you.”

When we first meet Aza, we meet her best friend Daisy along with all of their lunch table friends along with her disorder, all at the same time. It’s an amazing introduction. We are seamlessly submersed into the world of Aza and her friends. We also learn that there’s a billionaire fugitive on the loose with a sizable reward for information leading to his capture. Which would be simple lunchroom gossip, except, as Daisy is insistent to point out, Aza once knew his son.

This novel is a stunning coming of age, both vivid and breathtaking. But what sets it apart isn’t the raw honesty regarding living with mental illness. It’s that Green explores issues of substance, that anyone of any age can relate to in some fashion. This novel is wonderfully complex. It isn’t only when we are teenagers that we question the nature of our existence, or the meaning of love in all it’s beauty and consequence. But there is a certain poignancy in framing these questions not just in an adolescent perspective, but also in the specific view of mental illness.

“But I also had a life, a normal-ish life, which continued. For hours or days, the thoughts would leave me be, and I could remember something my mom told me once: Your now is not your forever.”

I don’t have OCD. But, I do have my own struggles, and everything Aza thinks and goes through is so relatable. The parts that aren’t relatable, are presented in such a raw way that they are easily understandable. I don’t know if others with anxiety or depression have them, but I really relate to thought spirals, things that invade my mind and paralyze me for moments, hours or even days at a time. They aren’t about bacteria or germs, but they are there nonetheless. It’s hard to explain them sometimes, and Green brings them to life, in all of their weird intensity.

More than that, Green is unflinching in his portrayal of the guilt, the loneliness, the fear and the uncertainty, and all the complex emotions that go along with mental illness.

“I know you’re not trying to make me feel pressure, but it feels like I’m hurting you, like I’m committing assault or something, and it makes me feel ten thousand times worse. I’m doing my best, but I can’t stay sane for you, okay?”

This is something that I rarely come across in books about mental illness. The way you feel like you have to be okay, even when you’re not, because people around you are worried about you. The pressure to make everything seem fine. It isn’t that they’re asking you to lie, necessarily, but the worry and the fear are palpable to you. It’s hard to explain why you can’t just be better. Why you can’t just be normal. So sometimes it becomes easier to just try and cover it all up. They don’t mean to add pressure, and you feel terrible for even suggesting that they’re making it worse. But they do, and sometimes they are.

This isn’t a book where we get a superficial look at the relationships in Aza’s life either. The relationship with Daisy was one of the best, in my opinion. Being best friends with someone is an intimate relationship. In some ways, even more intimate than a romantic one. I adored Daisy. She’s fun, sassy, funny, loyal and driven. But she’s complicated and struggles to understand Aza. Even more important than understanding her, is simply loving her and accepting her.

“What I want to say to you, Holmesy, is that yes, you are exhausting, and yes, being your friend is work. But you are the most fascinating person I have ever known.”

This struggle felt so real, because living with mental illness is exhausting sometimes, and loving someone with mental illness can be just as exhausting. It doesn’t need to be excused or justified or apologized for. And the honesty it took to examine this aspect of their relationship is heartbreaking and amazing.

We fight with our moms, our friends, people we know, sometimes people we don’t. Yet, when people know you struggle with mental illness in any facet, this fight tends to be held back. Your actions are excused, or justified, or worse, relationships get distant and fragile. So when you find people that will confront you, and fight with you, and make you feel normal (even when it makes you feel awful) it can feel monumental. Green gets that, and captures it beautifully.

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

I still feel that there is so much more to say about this book, but honestly, I don’t think I can capture everything in one blog post. This book made me feel so many things. I laughed, and cried, and flagged quote after quote. It is beautiful and necessary and such an important contribution to the conversation about mental health.

It isn’t easy to admit to mental illness. It’s even harder to describe that struggle. To open yourself up exposes you to the world in an intimate vulnerability that is difficult no matter who you are. John Green opens a piece of himself up to us by writing this gorgeous book. Aza is fictional, yes, but the truths written within her character are very real. So to him, I say thank you. Thank you, for writing a book that made me feel seen. That made me feel understood. That just made me feel.

I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

 

Daughter4254 – Review + GIVEAWAY

Daughter4254 used to think life in a community where art, music and names are outlawed would suffocate her creative spirit. Now that she’s rotting in a prison cell, she’s not sure her dying mother made the right choice when she entrusted her with the secrets of rebellion. Prison has given her plenty of time to relive every mistake and lose all hope.

Then she meets Thomas, a fellow inmate, who tells her stories of the mythical mountain colonies where people have names and the arts thrive. Together they plot an escape, knowing if they fail, they will die. Or worse, their consciousness will be taken by the MindWipe, leaving their bodies free for the government to use. When nothing goes as planned, Daughter4254 must choose between using her mother’s secret to better the world she hates, or following Thomas to the quiet life of freedom she has always craved.

DAUGHTER 4254

Welcome to November! I am so thrilled to be kicking off November with this book! thank you Rockstar Book Tours for letting me part of this awesome tour. Click the photo above or click HERE for more information about them and upcoming tours. And be sure to check out the links below for the rest of the tour for Daughter 4254.

“My mother’s words come back to me: “Beware of beauty in this life, child. It will break your heart.”

Daughter 4254 is a haunting dystopian set in a world far in the future. A world where only things deemed “useful” are legal. Beauty, art, love, color, compassion, laughter. These are not useful. They do not feed the population or help them fight illness, or live. so they are illegal. Forbidden. Names aren’t useful, so citizens are given numbers instead.

We meet Daughter 4254 as she struggles in a prison. We don’t know her crime, only that she fears having her mind wiped. Her very essence wiped from her brain, leaving her useful (and compliant) body in return. The days progress miserably, and we see that while positive emotion is frowned upon, absence of it doesn’t make people kind or tolerant. It leaves them harsh and sterile instead.

“Our civilization cannot survive if we don’t all comply. We have limited resources and must make the best use of everything, including our time.”

Statham alternates each chapter to be a Before and an After. Before prison and after. The tension in seeing what life is like between these two timeframes is incredible. Each reality holds its own horror, and the entire time you are wondering what could she have done to have landed in prison. And, even more importantly, what will happen next. In this way we get a lot of backstory for this society without losing the tension or fast pacing of the plot. It is quite remarkable to write a story where I want to know both what happened, what’s happening and what’s going to happen all at the same time!

Life for 4254 gets interesting when for reasons unknown to her, she is moved to a new cell block. One where she can hear and see other prisoners, though she is ordered to not speak to them. One prisoner in particular, Thomas, with a name not a number doesn’t listen to rules though.

“He smiles at me, an irresistible grin filled with mischief and mayhem.”

I loved this book! Dystopian novels always hold a special place in my heart, especially when they examine the dark underside of humanity. I found this society fascinating. Every detail that emerged made complete sense in the construct of their logic, and yet was just as horrifying to imagine. Even worse, (or better, for dystopian sake), was that it was easy to see how a society like this could emerge. There are some very famous psychological experiments that this society felt very similar to. It was chilling how similar they felt.

Daughter 4254 ends with the possibility of more to come, and I do hope this story continues! I need to know more, and am looking forward to exploring this world outside of the confines of a prison or strict community structure. More exists, and I can’t wait to unravel it. I am especially excited to see the development of 4254 herself. She was already pushing boundaries within herself, but was still stuck within the logic of how she was raised. It will be interesting to see how freedom truly helps her evolve into a more developed person.

Even the nature of the rebellion itself felt like there was more to them than we initially saw. Are they actually good, or not? Its an interesting question that I’m dying to learn more about! I also hope we see more of 4254’s roommate, 0203. She was a fascinating character, curious and smart, and I really hope she plays a larger role in upcoming books.

This is my first novel by Statham but I am already a fan! I will be dying to read the next book and will be looking up her other books in the meantime.

Anyone who loves good dystopian fiction needs to read this book! It is a fast read that will simply leave you breathless in it’s pages. You’ll love getting to know these characters while reviling the society they live in. Dystopian at it’s best, if you ask me. Daughter 4254 comes out November 7, and the links for purchase can be found below (none are affiliate links).

Be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY for your chance to win a finished copy or a $25 Amazon gift card! AMAZING!!!

Once again, thank you Rockstar book Tours for sending me a copy to read and review for this tour!

 

D4254-CoverTitle: DAUGHTER 4254

Author: Leigh Statham

Pub. Date: December 5, 2017

Publisher: Owl Hollow Press

Pages: 286

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Find it: AmazoniBooksThe Kings English (exclusive signed copies)Goodreads

ohp-LeighStathamLeigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer.

She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, eight chickens, a fluffy dog, and two suspected serial killer cats.

Leigh is currently working on an MFA, has written countless short stories, and is the author of lots of mediocre poetry. She is also the winner of the 2016 Southeast Review Narrative Nonfiction Prize for her short story “The Ditch Bank and the Fenceline.”

Website |Twitter |Instagram | Facebook | WattpadGoodreads

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card, US Only.

2 winners will receive a finished copy of DAUGHTER 4254, US only.

Click below to enter!

Giveaway3

 

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/25/2017- BookHounds YA– Interview

10/25/2017- Fan-Girl-Tabulous– Review

10/26/2017- Reese’s Reviews– Excerpt

10/26/2017- Caffeine and Composition– Review

10/27/2017- Hooked To Books– Guest Post

10/27/2017- YA Obsessed– Review

Week Two:

10/30/2017- Maddie.TV– Interview

10/30/2017- The Desert Bibliophile– Review

10/31/2017- Wandering Bark Books– Excerpt

10/31/2017- Kindle and Me– Review

11/1/2017- Wishful Endings– Interview

11/1/2017- Jena Brown Writes– Review

11/2/2017- Stuffed Shelves– Review

11/2/2017- Life of A Simple Reader– Review

11/3/2017- Books, Vertigo and Tea– Excerpt

11/3/2017- Savings in Seconds– Review

Week Three:

11/6/2017- Two Chicks on Books– Interview

11/6/2017- Cindy’s Love of Books– Review

11/7/2017- Captivated Reading– Review

11/7/2017- Bookalicious– Review

Traitor’s Hope – Review + GIVEAWAY

TRAITOR'S HOPE

Traitors lurk around every bend. Mishi’s mind is betraying her, and she fears her kisō and katana will betray her next. Taka’s heart abandons her for a person she cannot possibly trust. Now that the two friends are obliged to help re-establish peace in the land of Gensokai, the only question is where the next betrayal will come from and if Mishi and Taka will have the strength to survive it. 

I was thrilled to be able to dive right into Traitor’s Hope after finishing Blade’s Edge earlier this week! You can find my review HERE. A huge thank you to Rockstar Book Tours for hosting this tour and including me as a tour stop! Click the picture above to find more tours and be sure to check out all the blog stops on this tour, by clicking the links below!

First, I loved the first book. LOVED! The world building! The characters! The magic! I loved it all! I even loved the darkness that the world presented. Traitor’s Hope kept the same pacing and tone from Blade’s Edge and leveled up!

We still get narration from Taka and Mishi, both grown and traumatized in their own ways from the war fought. Instead of hearing from Tsuko this time, we get the perspective of Kusuko instead.

Assassin turned ally, Kusoko was one of the most interesting characters in the book. Her story of how she came to be a hishi assassin highlights the cruelty and brutality of the crumbled regime. But we get so much more than a heartbreaking story from Kusoko. We get an interesting look at the psychology of lifelong abuse and brainwashing. The depth we get from her is quite astounding, and made her not just an integral part of the story, but really brought to life what the New Council was fighting against.

The themes in this book are no less severe than in Blade’s Edge. We are still in the aftermath of war, with factions attempting to start a new one. The island of Gensokai is no less violent than before, and it still holds on to it’s negative views on anyone other than male Kisoshi. The war may be over, but the old regime is not going to be easily reformed.

“The illusion of power can make men blind to many things.”

And there is a lot to love in this sequel! First, I adore that even though this is the second in a series, and the story is obviously building on the first book, the story isn’t reliant on the first book. You could easily read this on its own, and while the experience won’t be quite as deep or rich, it would be enjoyable still. The second thing is that we get a glimpse of what a society looks like after a war. Often in a series, we get the ending of the series at the end of the conflict. So we don’t get to explore what the next steps in that rebuilding of society looks like. Here we do, and folks, it isn’t as easy as we would hope.

“I hadn’t considered that there would be men evil enough to keep harming innocents even once they knew the truth of their own actions.”

As the society is dismantled and rebuilt, we also get more information about the elemental magic kiso. Learning more about how the elements work, and even how they can combine both within an individual and with Kisoshi working together was fantasy at it’s best! I wish we could have gotten a bit more with my favorite Dragon and Tree Kami, but I get it, rebuilding a society isn’t about training, so we didn’t see quite as much of them.

And talk about plots! Plots with plots, schemes within schemes! The brilliance of the title is that you go in suspecting someone of being treacherous. What you don’t expect is how many people that could possibly be! I gave up trying to figure out who was going to betray who, because the double crosses on the double crosses became impossible to guess. I really liked that each character presented, both old and new, were as vividly complex as before. And this complexity made predicting treachery nearly impossible. But it isn’t simply treachery between characters. McClain shows us the danger in betraying our true selves.

In keeping with the first book and taking an unflinching look at tough themes, this book dives deep into exploring PTSD. The emotional wreckage that violence leaves is real. And even if you’ve been training for war, the reality of it is often very traumatic. I loved that McClain really let us see how deep these wounds can be in a character. How patience and time and understanding can help heal those wounds.

“She was very afraid of what lay beneath the visions that haunted her dreams, both waking and sleeping.”

Finally, we get to see a budding same sex romance. It’s fantastic to see an author seamlessly introduce the budding sexuality of her characters and include diversity in that development. The romances are slow, and sweet, written more from the emotional development rather than focusing on the physical. That was refreshing and added to the emotional growth of each character.

This is a world I am deeply in love with. I love the characters, and want to know what happens next. I love how McClain isn’t afraid to explore some really intense topics, and she does them justice. Whether it’s revisiting old characters, or getting to know new ones, the dialogue and personalities are such  joy to read! This is a series that I will be continuing as long as she writes them!

Thank you Rockstar Book Tours for the opportunity to participate on this tour; as well as the chance to read and review these books! They are phenomenal!

New Cover

Title: TRAITOR’S HOPE (Blade’s Edge #2)

Author: Virginia McClain

Pub. Date: October 14, 2017

Publisher: Artemis Dingo Productions

Pages: 284

Formats: Paperback eBook

Find it: AmazonBuy The Paperback, Goodreads

 

V and Artemis

About Virginia: 

Virginia thinks dangling from the tops of hundred foot cliffs is a good time. She also enjoys hauling a fifty pound backpack all over the Grand Canyon and sleeping under the stars. Sometimes she likes running for miles through the desert, mountains, or wooded flatlands, and she always loves getting lost in new places where she may or may not speak the language.

From surviving earthquakes in Japan, to putting out a small forest fire in Montana, Virginia has been collecting stories from a very young age. She works hard to make her fiction as adventurous as her life and her life as adventurous as her fiction. Both take a lot of imagination.

She recently moved to Winnipeg with her husband (a Manitoba native) and their dog.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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1 winner will receive a signed paperback set of BLADE’S EDGE & TRAITOR’S HOPE, US Only.

3 winners will receive eBook sets of BLADE’S EDGE & TRAITOR’S HOPE, International.

CLICK THE SAMURI SWORD TO ENTER
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Be sure to follow the rest of the blog tour, and visit the previous stops too!

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

10/9/2017- Two Chicks on Books Interview

10/9/2017- Blushing Bibliophile– Review

10/10/2017- Arvenig.it– Guest Post

10/10/2017- Bibliobakes– Review

10/11/2017- Kati’s Bookaholic Rambling Reviews– Excerpt

10/11/2017- Ashley M. Delgado– Review

10/12/2017- A Dream Within A Dream– Excerpt

10/12/2017- Don’t Judge, Read– Spotlight

10/13/2017- BookHounds YA– Guest Post

10/13/2017- Adventures Thru Wonderland– Review

Week Two:

10/16/2017- Novel Novice– Excerpt

10/16/2017- Nick Bryan Dot Com– Review

10/17/2017- Books at Dawn– Guest Post

10/17/2017- YA and Wine– Excerpt

10/18/2017- Fire and Ice– Spotlight

10/18/2017- A Gingerly Review– Review

10/19/2017- My Nook, Books & More– Excerpt

10/19/2017- Jena Brown Writes– Review

10/20/2017- Seeing Double In Neverland– Interview

10/20/2017- Ramblings From An Alternate Reality– Review

Berserker – Review

“She was a Berserker, cursed to fly into action whenever anyone she loved was in danger. A killer who would be compelled to murder elegantly, viciously, and without remorse.”

Berserker is the story of a family blessed with the Nytte. Or cursed with it. It depends on who you ask.

The story is told through the alternating narration of Hanne, Owen and Rolf. Hanne is the oldest daughter in her family. Her older brother Stieg, and her younger brother Knut all have a variation of the Nytte. The youngest, Sissel, shows no sign of the Nytte. Owen is a cowboy in America trying to find his way in the wild frontier; with plenty of his own demons to fight along the way.

After an incident forces the siblings to pack up and flee their home in Norway. They head to America, where they have family living in Montana. They hope to be able to find someone with the Berserker gift to help Hanne keep her gift under control.

“Embrace the Nytte,” Aud said, as Hanne scrambled backward in the pine needles and dried leaves. “Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. And your siblings, too.”

Rolf is an interesting character, and I won’t say much about him though to avoid spoilers. His is mission finding the Nytte in children and ensuring that the gifts do not die out. The role he plays with Hanne and her siblings brings a richer understanding of the legend of the Nytte, and it keeps some of the mythical elements entwined in the plot.

“Rolf kept his eyes trained on the faces of the crowd. Despite the hectic and daunting landscape that presented itself, what Rolf saw again and again, on all manner of faces, was hope.”

Once the family gets to America, they manage to make it through immigration and onto the train that will take them to Wolf Creek where their uncle lives. But they have been pursued from Norway and fleeing the men who chase them causes their path to collide with Owen’s. Literally. Owen agrees to take them the rest of the way.

“It was a strange spell that had been cast. Disaster had been so narrowly averted, and by such sudden heroics. No one could think of quite what to do next.”

The relationships between the siblings was written well. Sissel goes from being a bratty younger sister, jealous of her older siblings, to quite loving and doting when necessary. There were a few times when her tantrums felt a little shallow, but overall, it felt natural. Tantrums and jealousy aside, it was nice to read how they all worked together as a team and really only wanted the best for each other.

Owen and Daisy, his dog, were great characters. It is through them that we get a real sense of the frontier, and how hard life could be back then. In his agreeing to be their guide, we also get to read details about what travel was like then too. He is teaching them at the same time he is teaching us. I thought that was really well done.

“Perhaps even the most friendly town might seem hostile when you were on the lookout for it.”

This book is a mix of western folklore and mythology. The blend was unique and refreshing to read. It was a very fast read, at only 288 pages, and they all flew by. Laybourne does a really good job mixing enough information to really submerse us deep into both the reality of the frontier with the legend of ancient mythology, all while driving the plot forward.

What I rally liked was how each of the characters all struggled with acceptance in some way. Owen, to accept that he was good enough, even if his family thought he wasn’t. Hanne’s struggle for acceptance is a little more complicated. Her impulse to kill when her loved ones are in danger must be controlled, so she isn’t necessarily looking to ‘accept’ that aspect of herself. Sissel and Rolf both struggle with acceptance as well, though I don’t want to give anything away. And acceptance means different things for each of the characters, some leading to tragedy and others to triumph. I really enjoyed the complexity of each of these characters and how their journeys were both internal and external.

“Feelings didn’t seem to care if they made sense.”

We read books to get lost in a story, but the best stories teach us something as well. Legends and folklore often had morals to them. Endings to help us see a bigger truth either about ourselves or the world at large. So, it felt right that a book based on legend and folklore would have a moral wrapped up in it as well.

Overall, this was a fun read with a good story. It did feel a touch on the younger side of YA to me, so some of the conversations and plot pacing felt a little simplistic to me. But, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Thank you NetGalley and MacMillan for approving my request to read and review this book!

Blade’s Edge – Review

“Was it impossible to hide who you really were forever?”

What an incredible book! Blade’s Edge is such a phenomenal story. A fantasy world built with similarities to feudal Japan, but written with such intensity that it mirrors a dystopian novel. I was immediately swept into the enormity of this world and immersed in the beauty and horror of these characters lives.

To be a woman in Gensokai, the island that this story takes place on, is a terrible fate. We don’t know the details, but learn that the actions of one powerful female Kisoshi have damned the future of all females for the past one thousand cycles. It is dangerous to be a girl. Even more dangerous to be born a girl with any detectable kiso.

“Fear can be a powerful destructive force.”

Kiso is the ability to manipulate energy. People have various levels of kiso and some are stronger than others. Once trained, they test to become kisoshi and can move up to higher ranks. At the beginning of the book, we get a glossary of terms and even a forward by the author ensuring that while this may feel and sounds like pieces of Japanese history and culture, this is entirely fantasy.

I will say that this is an instance when having the physical copy would have been enormously helpful. I find it a pain to toggle to an index with a kindle, and would have preferred to simply be able to turn the pages.

That said, the terms and their uses are so thorough that I didn’t feel lost while reading, or really feel that I needed to flip to know the terms. You learn them quickly as you read and by the end, they are as much a part of the story as if you had known the definition all along. That is quite an accomplishment in writing!

The story is written entirely from two main characters, Taka and Mishi, both female. We do get a third perspective thrown in from a woman we are introduced to who plays a larger role later in the book. Given how dreary this world is from a female perspective, it was a nice touch to only show us the viewpoint of female characters. It really focuses on how awful and male driven this society is. It isn’t just the power that the men hold. It is the way they look down on women, dismissing them as not being worthy of any respect or worth the air they breathe.

“It was clever work really, the work that the instructors put into making the girls fearful, then timid… wouldn’t that timidity eventually lead to self doubt?”

This book reads a bit like The Last Airbender blended with The Handmaid’s Tale. The fantasy portion of this book is incredible. Amazing world building with such vivid descriptions of the sweeping landscapes that you practically smell the forest and feel the mountain breezes. The elemental magic and magical beings are very creative and come to life on the page. But the portions that depict life as a woman, are so bleak, it’s nauseating. The contrast between the beauty of the land and the horror of life as a girl is stark and severe.

While there aren’t any graphic scenes, this book tackles incredibly brutal topics. Abuse, rape, murder, slavery, war. These are the horrifying realities of this world. With each new truth revealed as the girls grow into their own powers, the more you are chilled to the core at how this society functions.

“She hadn’t understood it very well when she was still living under Haha-san’s roof, but over the cycles since then she had come to understand the cruel fate that produced the girls with the empty eyes.”

Regardless of the brutality and dark nature of their surroundings, the girls Taka and Mishi are incredible characters. Both strong in their own unique ways, the journeys their lives have taken them on give us a broad view of this country and society. Even though Mishi’s journey seems easier than Taka’s in some aspects, they both have an incredibly difficult road in their futures. Regardless of the difficulty in their paths, though, they are smart, strong, funny, resilient women.

Even though we see only from the perspective of Mishi and Taka, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a good idea of the people in their lives. We are introduced to a wide array of men and women, some good, some evil. They are all complex and unique. The side stories are well developed and even though we don’t know their thoughts, we get a really good sense of who they are based on dialogue and the girls’ observations. Again, this is solid writing.

The main accomplishment of this novel, (outside of the brilliant character development and fantastic world building, is that throughout the very dark and brutal topics woven into this society), these girls never lose hope. This is such an amazing novel of the strength of finding yourself and resiliency. No matter what is thrown at them, they never lose faith that they are fighting for a better future. And it made the book an amazing read!

“How can anything about me surprise you, when you know absolutely nothing about me?”

In addition to creating this divine landscape and these incredible characters, the book itself is gorgeous. Each section has a haiku written for it, and the chapters have Japanese characters depicting the timeframes they take place in. It just feels balanced and beautiful. The physical layout of the book is as poetic as the writing.

I haven’t been as enthralled in a world like this in a long time. This novel is simply phenomenal. As both a fan of fantasy and dystopian, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves either genre. The themes and topics are difficult but eerily relevant to not just history, but our present as well. This book would be fantastic for a book club. There are so many detailed and complex topics to explore. I cannot wait to dive into the second book, and will be looking for this author in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Rockstar Book Tours to read in preparation for for m participating in their tour of the sequel, Traitor’s Hope. I was not required to review it.

 

A Dangerous Year – Review

“Grades aren’t always good enough,” he said. “Right now, the only extracurriculars you can list on a college application are street fighting and instigating international incidents.”

It is with this sentence that Riley Collins finds herself heading away from her life as a diplomats daughter and into the illustrious halls of Harrington Academy. She wonders which is more dangerous: the streets of Pakistan where a price is on her head, or the halls of a school filled with spoiled rich kids who would rather eat her alive than befriend her.

“They may not kill you here, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to eat you.”

Her attendance is a little more complicated than just attending her Senior Year and getting some talking points for her college resume. She has been tasked with an actual mission from the State Department. Official oath and everything.

Once she agrees, it takes little time to whisk her to New York. There she is groomed to within an inch of her life, thrown into a shopping spree most girls only dream of and given an “emergency” American Express. Maybe this year won’t be quite so bad after all.

“They had to perform an extraction. In my world, that meant a black ops team going into dangerous territory to recover a lost man. Here it involved squeezing every pore on my face until I would have willingly confessed to anything.”

Why does there always have to be an ‘except’?

Her reception to Harrington is less than warm and fuzzy. The head mistress makes it clear she is actively looking for a way to throw her out. Her roommate, Hayden, ignores that she even exists. This is sort of a problem though, since Hayden is the mission. Well, protecting her is the mission. Riley finds it difficult to make sure she’s okay when you have no idea where she is throughout the day. Or acting like a stalker.

Even worse, she finds out that the reason for Hayden’s chilly reception is that Riley is taking the place of her former roommate and best friend Rose. Who was killed a week before the term began.

“There was a reason Harrington didn’t admit seniors; they had to wait for one of them to die to make room! What else was out there waiting to ambush me?”

This was such a fun read! I loved it! Riley is a delight. She has an incredibly fun sarcastic humor to her. I loved that she used growing up as a diplomat’s daughter to her advantage by applying the lessons her dad would teach her. Very useful in negotiating angry head mistresses and demanding teachers. She also comes fully equipped with all the lessons her bodyguard and second father, Benson, taught her. Mainly fighting and military tactics. The combination is entertaining and extremely amusing!

In addition to Riley and Hayden, who does eventually thaw to Riley, we get an ensemble of characters, each just as enjoyable as Riley. Von, the cute boy who she meets her first day. He is helpful in showing her around the school, but also in helping her get near Hayden. Quinn, Hayden’s new sidekick and BFF. She starts off nice to Riley, but as Hayden warms to her, Quinn takes a jealous turn for the worse. Stef, who is probably my absolute favorite character outside of Riley. Gorgeous and charming with a lovely penchant for the dramatic, Stef is delightful to read. And then there’s, Sam. The insanely hot head of the MMA club who makes Riley’s insides melt when he looks at her. Too bad he’s Hayden’s ex, which equals very off-limits. It’s also too bad he doesn’t agree with that assessment.

The adults in this book are excellent too. There is nothing worse than reading a YA book with great teenagers and all the adults are duds. This is not the case here!

I adored her dad and Benson. Her dad teaches her diplomatic skills and parents her the best way he can. And Benson sends her a footlocker full of tasers, tactical equipment and spyware. Which is how he helps and loves her the best way he can. It’s awesome! I smiled at every interaction they had.

“My dad would probable be appalled at what I was considering, but Benson would cheer me on from the sidelines.”

Mr. Bracken is also a treat! Described as “Bracken the Kracken” by other students and known for being extremely tough in his classroom, he was far more well-rounded than just another hard-ass teacher. Yes, he takes student expectations to a whole new level, but there is a lot of substance to him and he was very enjoyable to get to know.

“I’m thinking I should send you on your way. I wouldn’t want to lose the most entertaining TA I’ve had in years.”

This novel sounds like a spy novel for kids, but it’s so much more. It’s James Bond meets Mean Girls. How does that NOT sound like an amazing combination? Every obstacle Riley encounters feel real. She has to balance trying to be a bodyguard and navigate the treacherous waters of High School. Sometimes she makes mistakes, or does the wrong thing. Which you would expect. I didn’t find the adults to be flat or annoying, or the kids to be uber-adult. They all felt exceptionally well balanced and well rounded.

Using her dad as an international diplomat, along with Benson training her with military tactics and skills, the way Riley problem-solves various situations make a lot of sense. And again, she doesn’t know everything. She asks for help. She makes mistakes. She just uses what she knows to try and problem solve.

This is the first book in an expected series and I cannot wait for book 2! I will absolutely be continuing to read future books. This is a story I could easily see becoming a movie or a TV show, although I really hope they do the writing justice. If you’re a fan of spy novels, or military type novels, and you also love YA, this book is definitely for you! Less explosions, but no less entertaining.

Thank you BookSparks and Curiosity Quills Press for sending a copy to read and review!