People Like Us – Review

“I was determined to redesign myself completely into a Bates girl, and as soon as I took that dive, I knew exactly what kind of girl I would be. The kind who jumps first and stays under ten seconds too long.”

Kay Donovan has more than a few things she doesn’t want people to know about her past. She’s worked hard to ensure that the girls at the exclusive and private school she attends have no reason to pry. She’s a soccer star and friends with the prettiest, most powerful girls in the school. Who she was doesn’t matter. It’s who she is now that counts.

When Kay and her friends find a dead body in the school lake, she begins to fear that her past may be haunting her. But it’s when she gets an email from the dead girl herself that Kay really panics. Being blackmailed from the grave isn’t exactly what Kay had planned for her Senior year.

The scavenger hunt/revenge blog pushes Kay to the limits; alienating her from her friends while threatening to expose all the secrets Kay is desperate to keep. It will take everything she has to ensure she isn’t exposed. After all, the truth is what you make it.

“A sharp edge of doubt creeps into my mind. There are consequences to not believing your friends.”

People like us is an intense ride. Part murder mystery, part thriller, this YA unravels secrets and lies at nearly every turn. High School is generally unpleasant for everyone involved. Unless you’re the part of the small percentage that rules the school. Take that general division of social hierarchies and popularity, and add exclusive, private, and wealthy to the mix. That gives you a good idea of the toxic levels of hell that Bates Academy is.

There are some fantastic issues examined in this book. Bullying, power, wealth, popularity to name a few. But further than that Mele shows us what it’s like to have your first love and heartbreak, how confusing coming out can be, the general confusion of growing up.

“I know that look. I’ve worn it a thousand nights alone in my room, staring into the darkness, trying to will myself into another person or place or thing.”

Of course, wrapped into this typical High School story are much darker issues as well. Death, murder, lies, and betrayal. It isn’t just the murder that Kay ends up investigating to save her own name. It’s the things she has to do to keep the revenge blog satisfied. Each task like a cut to the cloak of confidence and invincibility she has woven around herself. Each cut revealing more of her darkest secrets to us.

Mele weaves an intoxicating blend of psychological suspense in this incredible YA thriller. While I guessed at who was behind the entire thing, the reasons why they did it and what tied it all together blew me away. There isn’t anything predictable about this book when pieced together. Even the more obvious plot points are painted to life in shocking ways.

It’s a difficult thing to paint the mean girls of any school in a sympathetic light. And while Mele isn’t trying to make us see Kay or her friends as victims necessarily, she does expose their humanity. We all have things we want to keep hidden. Some more than others. Some more damaging or damaged than others.

“Sometimes you can be in the middle of everything and still be completely alone.”

There is a tragic heartbreak in Kay. In how she fails to see her own role in the parts of her life that hurt the most, until it’s too late. How she blames herself for things she is blameless in. Mostly, in how sometimes things spin so far out of our control, so quickly, so devastatingly, that there isn’t anything to do but bear the weight of the consequences.

People Like Us will resonate at some point with nearly every reader. We’ve all been alone, or lost. We’ve all made choices we regret, felt overwhelmed with the way life has unfolded. Especially as teenagers.

Beyond the plot, the writing is sharp, with dark humor lightening some seriously dark passages. It’s scandalous and devious, and will have you unsure of who to even root for. It’s Mean Girls but with a much deeper bite. It calls out wealth and power and privilege, while also reminding us that revenge isn’t always as satisfying as we think.

If you enjoy YA, especially YA thrillers, and want a dark but delicious experience into the elusive world of boarding schools, this book is seriously for you. I loved every single scandalous moment!

A million thank you’s to Penguin Teen and Putnam Books for sending me a copy!!!


The Echo Killing – Review

“She could trace her career, her life, and her obsessive interest in crime and criminals back to that single day, fifteen years ago.”

Harper McClain is a crime journalist. A good one, making a living in Savannah, going places normal journalists can’t due to her closer relationship with the police. That relationship developed from the sense of duty and responsibility Lieutenant Smith feels over never solving her mother’s murder. She lost her mother, but gained a large police family in return.

When Harper watches a young girl being escorted out of a house with the same lost expression she once wore, she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. Everything is too similar, but everywhere she turns, she gets told to stop investigating.

But she can’t. When your world is turned upside down, and the chance to finally find the answer is offered, you can’t stop. She won’t. Risking everything she has gained, Harper plunges deeper into unraveling the murder, looking for answers the police refuse to find.

“This scene was torn from her own tormented childhood. She’d been that little girl once, standing in front of her house with Smith holding her hand.”

The Echo Killing is an enthralling read. Harper is a solid main character. She feels very real. I like that when she makes bad decisions, there were actually consequences, rather than a snappy character who manages to talk her way out of everything. It makes it feel more grounded in reality, rather than an obvious work of fiction. Plus, when she has to figure out how to proceed without her normal resources, it gives the plot unexpected paths to follow.

I also really like that when she makes her bad decisions, you still feel like her motivations are easily understood, even when you don’t agree with them. The fact that no one else seems to see the connection makes it even more maddening for her. To everyone else, this is just another case. To Harper, this is potentially life altering. Which makes understanding where she’s coming from, even when you’re screaming at her to knock it off, much easier.

Daugherty writes such vivid descriptions of Savannah, that it becomes less scenery and more a character in its own right. They aren’t overdone, but you get a sense of the landscape and scenery in a way that gives the entire book a certain feel. It’s lush and three dimensional. I also loved how she was able to highlight the differences of the city at night, Harper’s domain, and the city during the day.

“On the street, the warm, humid air smelled of exhaust and something else — something metallic and hard to define. Like fear.”

One of my favorite things about this novel is the banter. You get the sense when reading that you’re eavesdropping on real people. That’s not an easy trick for any writer to pull off. I also really enjoyed that the side characters didn’t feel created in a slew of stereotypes. They really did feel as complex and detailed as anyone you’d meet on the street.

Beyond getting a view of life as a crime reporter, we see the different faces of the people who work all aspects of these cases. As we go along to various crime scenes, we see different journalists, ambulance personnel, and witnesses. You get a feel for all the different pieces that are in play during an investigation. This realistic flair is probably due to Daugherty’s own experience. Which gives the entire novel a more gritty, realistic feel than typical crime fiction.

“In murder cases, there are two ways things tend to go — either everything happens very quickly and the killer’s locked up with twenty-four hours, or the process slows to a crawl.”

My one complaint is that I figured out who the killer was almost from the beginning. It felt very obvious to me. I’m also not sure how I feel about this plot point, which for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get into. While I did enjoy the book and the characters, I would have liked to have been surprised by the big reveal. So, watching it unfold the way I thought was a touch disappointing.

However, I did like how Daugherty planted clues leading into the next book’s plot, which I am curious about. In all, this book is quite a fun ride, and was very enjoyable to read. I loved the characters and would be quite interested in reading more of Harper’s journey in crime reporting.

The Echo Killing is available now. This book is perfect for taking on vacation, so add it to your Spring Break reading list.

Thank you Minotaur Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

To Kill A Kingdom – Review

“Technically, I’m a murderer, but I like to think that’s one of my better qualities.”

When I said that 2018 was going to be the year of epic books, I’ll admit, I had no idea how accurate that statement was. To Kill A Kingdom is one of those epic books, that swam into my unassuming hands. I had no idea what I held. Had no idea that I was about to seriously fall in love.

To Kill A Kingdom is on the very surface a Little Mermaid retelling. Except that’s far too simplistic a description. The sea lore, along with other clever insertions make this book a complex web of myth and legend spun into something new. And oh so dark. All the delicious darkness! All the murderous, devious, absolute delightful darkness!!!

The book gives us the perspectives of Lira, a siren who is unapologetically cruel, and Elian, the charming rogue prince turned pirate. First, let’s check all the boxes that this book gives us:

Pirates – ✅

Sirens – ✅

Mermaids – ✅

Kingdoms – ✅

Legends – ✅

Magic – ✅

Then there’s the story packed full of treachery and betrayal, complete with a plethora of delightful sidekicks with all their sarcastic banter, who are, in Elian’s words, “insane and wonderful”. And as if ALL THAT wasn’t enough, Christo gives us an oh-so-slow burn forbidden romance that will melt the blackest of hearts!

Lira is such a captivating character. Not quite the villain, though she is vicious and homicidal, as we get to know her we realize she is her mother’s creation through a lifetime of cruelty and abuse. One of the things I love about her is how unapologetic she is. She isn’t warm and gooey on the inside, but fierce and determined and strong. Even though she kills princes for the power their hearts provide, it is what her kind does. She doesn’t question it, doesn’t try to find a way around it. The Sea Queen demands it, and she obeys.

“It’s the princes who hold the allure. In their youth. In the allegiance of their people. In the promise of the leader they could one day become. They are the next generation of rulers, and by killing them, I kill the future. Just as my mother taught me.”

Elian isn’t quite Lira’s opposite, as he is her alternate reality. A Prince who shirks the idea of ruling. That desires adventure and freedom more than power. He is a warrior, but does so out of a sense of duty and honor than the impulse to kill. While that may sound too Prince Charming to be likable, there’s something quite charming about Elian. He isn’t evil, he isn’t malicious, but he is also fierce in his own way. A pirate with a golden heart, who does bad things but for a good cause. He’s complex in his own right.

“There’s royalty in me, but stronger than that there is adventure.”

Lira is known as The Princes’ Bane, as she only preys on prince hearts for her annual trophy. Elian, a Prince, but also a notorious Siren Hunter carries the heart that is the ultimate trophy. Lira wants his heart, and Elian wants hers in return.

“There’s nothing in the world but pain and the rare moments that exist in between.”

Except Lira, though she wants to be the fierce, obedient warrior her mother demands her to be, she is much too independent to comply fully all the time. One misstep brings the wrath of the Sea Queen down on Lira’s head, and she suddenly finds herself given an ultimatum. Turned human, Lira can only return if she brings Elian’s heart to her mother.

Elian, following rumor that there’s a crystal that can destroy the Sea Queen hidden deep within an icy mountain, finds a girl, drowning in the middle of the ocean. But when they save her, she is something far from the damsel in distress that they expect her to be.

“She spits it like a weapon and her face twists. A sudden change from the innocent girl to something far crueler. Almost murderous.”

The way Elian and Lira snipe at each other is such fun. They are both sharp, acerbic, but never venture into the realm of being unlikable. They aren’t swooning for each other, but rather find a respect by recognizing the strength they each have. For all their flaws, you won’t be able to quite help finding yourself liking both of them. If you’re looking for a book where you need to root for one against the other, you won’t find it here. In fact, knowing the impossibility of the entire situation has nothing but tragedy and foreboding woven into every word.

Christo’s writing is something to fall in love with outside of plot. She uses words like daggers, some sharp, some blunt, each one aimed to cut. It is stunning, and bears the confidence of a far more tenured author rather than a debut.

“I feel maddened by the Midasan on my tongue. Its smooth sounds are too quaint to display my anger. I itch to spit the knives of my own language at him.”

This story is an examination of nature versus nurture. Are we who we are by choice? Or do things shape us? Whether that shape is something pleasing to the world, or something more violent and explosive, both Elian and Lira struggle with this question. Underneath everything they say and do, is the uncertainty of who they are at the core of themselves.

To Kill A Kingdom is, from beginning to end, stunning and spectacular. It is dark, devious, and murderous in its beauty. As soon as you finish, you’ll find yourself yearning to pick it up and read it again. To relish the writing. To revisit the characters. To simply submerse yourself in the dark world that somehow fills you with light.

Alexandra Christo has launched herself into an author I will follow with obsessive devotion. To Kill A Kingdom wooed me, but when you go to Goodreads, her next Untitled book set for release in 2019 simply has two words: Gangster Fantasy. Um, can I get a HELL YES???

If you love Christina Henry, Leigh Bardugo, or Pierce Brown, I highly recommend this book! It was released yesterday, March 6, and I will be screaming and fangirling about this one for a long time. Do yourself a favor and go grab a copy now!

Thank you NetGalley, Fierce Reads, and Feiwel and Friends for approving a copy to read and review!!!

The Midnights – Review

“Even as time passed, as my fingertips hardened into calluses, as I slipped into those awkward early teenage years, my father’s studio remained the sole place where I felt the most extraordinary, and most alive.”

Susannah Hayes wants to follow in her musician father’s footsteps more than anything. She writes song lyrics in her spare time and spends countless late night hours with her father in his studio. They live and breathe music the way other people breathe air. When the unthinkable happens, and her father dies in a sudden car crash, her world is torn from beneath her.

In a tidal wave of grief, her mother uproots them both and moves to a new city. Leaving behind the house that holds the ghost of her father, Susannah is determined to hold on to him by diving into his past. She follows the stories and memories told to her a thousand times, desperate to find a glimpse of him one more time.

“While my father proudly built his mysteries into an aura, put them on display and let them define him, my mother buried hers like evidence of a crime.”

The one upside to moving is finding Lynn. Susannah quickly realizes that in this new school, she can be anyone she wants, including someone who is best friends with cool-girl Lynn and her friends. Who also happen to be in a band. She clings to the idea that holding onto her father means chasing the dream that would make him proud of her. Music. But the more Susannah tries to be the musician her father would cheer for, and the harder she chases down his past, the more she uncovers secrets meant to stay buried.

Like any good coming of age tale, The Midnights is a profound look at how to find your own voice before you know who you are. Smetana writes teenagers that feel very real. Susannah is lost in her grief. She doesn’t know who she is without her father guiding her. Even harder is when her mother uproots them, making the ground feel as if it’s continually shifting beneath her feet.

“We had really shared something special here, my father and I. But no one else would ever know about it.”

The hardest part for Susannah isn’t that her father is dead. It’s the thing we all face as we grow up. Learning that there are things about our parents that we don’t understand. Complicated facets of their marriage, pieces of their personality hidden from us. Susannah has to face all of that in addition to her grief, and her reaction is to rebel against it all. Which feels very raw and very real.

In addition to discovering things about her parents that are difficult to face, Susannah also has to find herself. She wants to be the musician that would make her father proud. But in chasing his dream, she loses her own. And being far away from her childhood home pulls her farther from the people who ground her. She wants to redefine herself, become a new person shrouded in the same mystery her father built. Except, in doing that, she changes and hides the person she was. The person her father knew.

“No one tells you how to keep living.”

Smetana uses music to weave the world Susannah lives in, where the wind creates melodies and harmony can be found everywhere. The way Smetana chose to illustrate finding her voice in terms of music gives this book an extra dimension that I loved. We all struggle at various points in our lives to figure out how to say what we need, to be who we are. Showing that externally, through music, highlighted that struggle in a clear and beautiful way.

Smetana doesn’t give us an apologetic teenager. There is vivid pain as we read this book. Susannah makes bad choices, and she does and says things she regrets. While she frequently texts her childhood crush, Nick, song lyrics telling him how much she misses him; she blatantly pursues Cameron, among others.

“I knew that I had made horrible accusations; my behavior sickened me, and I was guilt-ridden and sorry, but I didn’t know how to say this to my mother. So instead, I hid from her, tried not to engage in any conversation, and moved forward in the only way I knew how: through distraction.”

This is a book on the more mature spectrum of YA, and has more mature content as a result. There isn’t anything graphic, but there is underage drinking and sex, among other rebellious acts like ditching school, smoking pot, and sneaking out. All of these make sense in the world Susannah lives. Smetana doesn’t exploit these topics, using them cheaply for an edgy character. Instead, because it feels so real, your heart breaks as Susannah goes through these difficult life lessons.

What I really liked about this journey with Susannah, is how lost she gets before she finds herself. This isn’t a story with a neat ending. It isn’t tidy. It’s messy. Being a grieving teenager is messy. Susannah finds the answers she searches for, but like most things in life, they aren’t what she expected them to be. This book is about the journey of self-discovery and finding who you are. And, like in life, this is a never-ending process.

“Maybe it’s less that you find your true self, and more that you feel okay allowing others to see it.”

The writing in this debut is gorgeous. There are stunning sentences that grab your heart and pierce your soul. As a woman who once struggled through my own painful adolescence, this book struck a chord deep within. Smetana perfectly captures the pain that accompany growing up. The way regret can be bitter, and sometimes the things you need the most, are the things right in front of you the entire time.

The Midnights is a beautiful debut, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys more contemporary, mature Young Adult books. You won’t regret it!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review for your pop up blog tour!

The Wife – Review

“In an instant, I became the woman they assumed I’d been all along: the wife who lied to protect her husband.”

The Wife asks us: how far should a wife go to protect those she loves? A question we all think we know the answer to. A question we all think we can answer ourselves. This assumption, the arrogance we have thinking we know simple answers to complex questions, is precisely where Alafair Burke wants us.

From the very beginning we know a few things. We know that there’s a detective on Angela’s doorstep. One who has been involved with their family before. We know her husband is under some sort of suspicion, that the detective wants to know where he was the previous night. We know Angela lies. We know a woman’s missing.

“I should have slammed the door, but she was baiting me with the threat of incoming shrapnel. I’d rather take it in the face than wait for it to strike me in the back.”

As the story unfolds, we find out that the innocent encounter with an intern that Jason told Angela about, may be closer to harassment than he portrayed. We see how quickly Jason falls out of favor from the University he works at, and with the news stations he is a reoccurring guest on. How fast he is condemned in the world before charges are even brought.

When a new woman brings harsher allegations, sexual assault, with evidence, a simple misunderstanding becomes harder to explain. As Jason works with his lawyer to defend himself, pieces of Angela’s past start rising to the surface. Pieces that she desperately wants to keep hidden.

“I’ve told him it has nothing to do with the past. It’s rational for me to be more afraid than he is.”

To make things even more complicated for Angela, she desperately wants to protect their son Spencer from all the rumor, gossip, and speculation. Private school in New York is nothing if not deadly in the court of public opinion. Spencer is one of my favorite characters in this book. Though he loves Jason and calls him dad, he is loyal to his mother in a way that single mothers will recognize. He lives for her, and she for him. It isn’t just her own secrets that she is so determined to protect.

Burke writes sharp characters with a sharper commentary on society at large woven into the plot. Even though we don’t know exactly what happened, as the story unfolds we are given a scrap of information at a time. Burke gives us emails, news reports, clips from police reports, along with the perspectives of the detective, Corrine, and Angela. With each new piece of information we have to shift, examine what we thought we knew, and form new opinions.

The way Burke leads us down the path to assumptions is brilliant. She gives us the characters own biases and opinions when presenting the new fact, or perspective. This all helps build the narrative. The one where we think we’re being unbiased. Where we think we know where the information is leading. Each bias, each new piece of information, builds the doubt, and yet somehow, you still think you know where we are heading.

“To know something, he argued, was not the same as to be certain beyond all doubt. And to believe something was definitely not the same as to know it.”

In a world of viral news, The Wife is a stellar examination of the reality we live in. When does an allegation become fact? When should it? Beyond just the ideas of what we think our opinions are, Burke constantly knocks us off balance by presenting a different side to the same piece of information. How drastically can one side vary from another, and both feel true? In a world of twisting perceptions, how can we ever really know the truth?

We go through the court of public opinion and end up in an actual courtroom. Throughout it all we get the details as the investigation uncovers them. But, it isn’t just the pieces of information in regards to Jason that Burke presents to us and uses against us. It’s also the secrets of Angela’s past. Just like she presents the facts in regards to Jason, we get a slow unveil of her past.

The Wife is a more subtle exploration of what it is to be a victim. To be victimized. Is Angela the victim? The accusers? The accused? Burke shows us every side, shifting and changing the second we feel confident of our answers. This is an exercise in judgement. How we find it. How we wield it. It asks the question: can we ever hope to find it.

I loved this book! It isn’t just the nuance of thriller or mystery that makes it excellent. The ending blind sides you. We don’t ever get complete answers to some of the questions we’re presented with, but we discover, that doesn’t really matter. It’s a reality check that we can’t ever really know the truth of a person. We never really know who they are. What they’re capable of. No matter how many angles we look from.

Tracy from @thepagesinbetween and I are hosting a #wickedreadalong this month for this book! We hope you can join us!

March 16: pages 1 – 171 on my Instagram page @jenabrownwrites

March 30: pages 172-338 on Tracy’s Instagram page @thepagesinbetween

And please! Check out our very first #blogsquad joint review on The Obscurist, the new blog for the subscription box Paper Obscura. Go give us some love! And if you end up joining, (which you totally should), use my code WICKEDJENA for a wicked discount!


Renegades – Review

“We were all villains in the beginning.”

Renegades, though made to feel as if ripped from the pages of comics, is actually far from the typical comic-book style story. While we deal with heroes and villains, the more you read, the more you realize that the lines between those two aren’t quite as clear as we’d like them to be. It’s this exploration of what it means to be good, what it means to be evil, and if the two are perhaps closer to each other than we realize, that makes Renegades such a spectacular novel.

We land in a world where some people are known as ‘prodigies’. Whether they are born with their abilities or develop them, to everyone without powers, they are simply a threat. Persecuted. Hunted. Tormented. The prodigies found themselves oppressed, terrified and often at the mercy of a mob. All that changed when one prodigy, Ace Anarchy, rose up and destroyed the foundation of that society.

“Sometimes the weak much be sacrificed so that the strong may flourish.”

Vicious gangs rose in the chaos, bringing their own tidal wave of terror and fear in their wake. Until a group of prodigies decided that the world needed heroes. The Renegades challenged the gangs, fought the villains, ultimately winning the battle for power and restoring peace and structure to the city. Fast forward and The Renegades are still in power, training prodigies from all over the world. All in the name of heroism. All to help other countries establish the peace they’ve built.

Nova believed in The Renegades once. She believed they would come and save her family when the gangs came. She believed they would make her safe. Except they didn’t. Her uncle, Ace himself, is the one who did that. Raised with the remaining villains, segregated to the abandoned subway tunnels and at the mercy of Renegade harassment, Nova doesn’t believe in The Renegades. When the chance to undo the system under Renegade control, to free everyone from the grasp of superheroes emerges, Nova jumps to seize it.

“They were not superheroes. They were frauds, and this whole system that was meant to protect and serve was nothing more than a failed social experiment.”

Adrian was adopted by to of the original Renegades. Raised by superheroes, it’s only natural that he becomes one. He believes in everything they stand for. Doesn’t he? As Nova’s mission brings her closer to Adrian, and his own search for the truth brings him closer to buried secrets, they’ll discover that the line between vengeance and justice is thinner than they ever thought possible.

I am a huge fan of books that explore that dingy gray areas that force the reader to question everything they think they believe in. The line between good and evil in not clear cut, or neatly defined in this story. As we learn more about The Renegades, and even The Villains, we realize that they both have valid reasons for their beliefs. To make things more complicated, as Nova discovers new information on programs The Renegades are planning, the line between good and evil blurs even more.

“Now, they weren’t so much vigilantes as celebrities. Celebrities who had an important job to do, but celebrities nonetheless.”

Secret identities, betrayal, action filled fight scenes, and even superhero tryouts, Renegades has it all! It’s fun, and complex, and just enough of a slow-burn romance that even the blackest of villain hearts will melt just a little.

If you stay on the surface of Renegades, you’ll have a good time. You’ll be entertained and shocked in equal measure. The themes of good and evil are obvious and predominant. However, it’s the more subtle study of power that make Renegades far more than just an addition to the good versus evil trope. The Renegades were founded on a mountain of good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always translate to good public policies. We see multiple examples of this sprinkled throughout the pages.

More interesting than that, is Meyer’s discussion on the reliance of power. How ordinary people stopped believing they could make a difference, that they could be part of the power structure because of their lack of abilities. That is a fascinating analysis of how people can give up their own individual power. While this is in a universe where the powerful have actual powers, the correlation that we can draw to actual events is frightening. How often have large portions of the public given up their power with detrimental and atrocious results? Too many.

“How long before all of humanity gave up on personal freedom and responsibility? How long before they forgot what that felt like at all?”

I also loved how Nova is presented throughout the book. Raised by the villains means she isn’t quite as enamored with the Renegades as the rest of society. So she comes across as bold, when really she’s simply the only one questioning what she sees. We don’t always need people rebelling in a society. A little active participation and asking questions rather than trusting good intentions is always the better course of action in terms of citizenry.

By the end of the book, who is good and who is evil is nearly impossible to decipher. Meyer forces the reader to really sit back and examine the information presented and form your own opinion. But she doesn’t make it easy. No one is entirely good, and while there are a few characters easily classified as proper villains, they aren’t all as simple to categorize. Even if they ally themselves with the villains.

“Heroism wasn’t about what you could do, it was about what you did.”

Renegades is the first in a Duology, with the sequel due out this fall. The title was also just announced: Arch Enemies. If you’ve read this and know how it ends, you’ll die screaming a thousand deaths at all the promise held in those two words! If not, you’ll know what sweet agony is promised as soon as you finish the final page.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Meyer’s, and am once again enthralled with her writing. She handles diversity and inclusiveness like no one’s business. I’m dying for November!

I read this as part of Mary Weber’s Facebook Book Club. The book was a gift from the best #bookfairy I’ve ever known, Tracy @thepagesinbetween. She’s an awesome blogger and is Queen of Thrillers! Go check her out!

Red Clocks – Review

“Two years ago the United States Congress ratified the Personhood Amendment, which gives the constitutional right to life, liberty, and property to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception.”

Red Clocks introduces us to a chilling future. Unlike most dystopians, though, this future is closer to modern day. As you read, you become aware that this potential future isn’t hundreds of years in the making, but perhaps, only two. The relevancy we find ourselves in almost makes this book feel more contemporary than a dystopian should feel. We like to imagine a future gone horribly wrong, but Zumas doesn’t let us stay safe in the illusion that this won’t impact us. Instead, she forces us to consider what happens when that future is now. What happens when we see actual possibilities take over?

“Naively ascribing common decency to people in power, as she did before the Personhood Amendment showed all of its teeth.”

Told from the perspective of five distinct women, we see the actual consequences of legislation that gives all consideration to an embryo and none to the women carrying them. Each women is introduced to us, not with their names, but with a description of their role in society. That is a clever detail that I’ll get back to.

Ro, The Biographer, is a teacher. A single woman trying to conceive a baby. This act is much tricker now that adoption is only allowed to married couples, and in vitro fertilization is illegal. She is also writing the biography of Eivor, The Explorer, a 19th century female explorer, unknown to most people.

Susan, The Wife, a married mother of two, who struggles with the monotony of being a stay at home mom. Her marriage is crumbling, and she faces growing unhappiness even though she has what every woman should want.

Mattie, The Daughter, one of the top students in Ro’s class, who puts all her potential at risk with an unplanned pregnancy. Trapped in a losing situation, she becomes desperate for options knowing that there aren’t any.

Gin, The Mender, a solitary woman living in the woods providing natural healing for any willing to seek her out. Looked down on and ridiculed, she prefers living life away from the rest of the town. Except she’s also an easy target for a modern day witch hunt, as she’s arrested and put on trial for breaking these new laws.

The most obvious perspectives that deal directly with the political climate of this society are The Biographer, The Daughter, and The Mender. Each of them is a victim of these new laws in different ways. What I really loved about breaking down the book into these different points of view is that it gives a much richer examination of what the consequences of these laws actually ends up being.

“She knew — it was her job as history teacher to know — how many horrors are legitimated in public daylight, against the will of most of the people.”

This glimpse into all these different women also forces us to really look at how these lives have been impacted. It’s sometimes easy to dismiss someone like The Biographer as a rarity or an anomaly when viewing large sweeping changes like The Personhood Amendment is. However, by getting to know them, it becomes impossible to ignore them. To write them off as unimportant. Giving us their lives forces the reader to get messy with the characters.

The Wife and The Explorer are not directly impacted, one because she’s married with children, and the other because she’s not currently living. But they are relevant to understanding the novel in the scope of women and their roles. The Wife has everything that the legislators think she should want. Indeed, she has what Ro is desperate to have. But, she finds herself increasingly unhappy. Floating in a fog of losing who she is as a separate entity. Not as a mother or a wife. But as herself.

“The wife made persons. No need to otherwise justify what she is doing on the planet.”

Which, is where the brilliance of using these descriptors at the beginning of each narration and not giving the reader their names except through other characters. It reduces the women to their roles, and it’s alarming how quickly and easy it is to simply think of them as those roles. It brings to light how often we do this in society without realizing it.

This also highlights how when we strip people of their names, of the things that make them human, it also becomes easy to dismiss their rights, their hopes, their dreams, their needs. In the form of legislation, for example.

Setting this novel in a small town was a nice touch. Watching as each narrative became entwined with another made sense in that small town setting. How we know people but really have no idea who they are. It highlighted this struggle that we face today. We see the intimate view as we read their perspective, but we also see the assumptions they make, the assumptions that are made against them. It’s an accurate and sad commentary on our current society.

Leni Zumas has created a new type of dystopian. One that isn’t far fetched. Where we can imagine it happening now instead of in the future. It’s one that is modern, but written in such a way that it doesn’t risk becoming dated or irrelevant. This is the type of thought provoking book that should be examined, dissected, and discussed. This is the book that serves as potential warning for complacency. For what happens when we let people govern us without empathy. What happens when we ourselves lose our empathy.

I was incredibly lucky to read this in a book club and even luckier to have the author herself jump into our chats. Grab your friends and put this book in their hands. It’s perfect for book clubs, discussion groups, and classrooms.

Thank you in advance to Leni Zumas for agreeing to participate in an interview, which will be posted here. Thank you for participating in our chats. You made the experience all the more memorable and enriching!

Thank you to Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read, promote and review!


Pride & Prometheus – Review

“It showed that people could convince themselves of things that, in a sober moment, they would recognize were not true.”

Pride and Prometheus is the delightful combination of two beloved classics: Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While it may seem difficult to imagine how the two stories could merge, John Kessel makes the marriage between the two merge seamlessly. The transition happens so easily that it isn’t difficult to imagine this is the natural progression in both stories.

We pick up ten years after Pride & Prejudice ends, with the two youngest sisters, Mary and Kitty Bennett, still unmarried. Victor Frankenstein, still running from the creature he created and his, as yet, unfulfilled promise to create a Bride, runs into the sisters at a party in London. Having fled Europe under the false belief that the creature couldn’t follow him.

“As a girl Mary had believed that the notion of following the heart was foolishness, but could one find happiness without following the heart?”

There’s something delightful in the way both of these classic stories focus on marriage, the expectations of society, and the nature of love. Which makes their merging all the more natural. The Creature wants only companionship and longs for a mate, much in the way the Bennett sisters do. Once you start to see these themes emerge, it becomes obvious how these novels fit together.

Kessel nails the language and feel from both of the novels. He pulls from them to weave little details into the narration, which made Pride and Prometheus quite an authentic and enriching experience. I was thrilled to see Mr. Bennett once again, and loved that the characterization of how he would age stayed true to the Mr. Bennett we all know and love. Of course, we also see Mr. Darcy and Lizzie, though they aren’t featured very prominently in this story. However, even though their inclusion was brief, the essence of their character was held true.

“Two weeks later Darcy arrived to once again save Mary from herself. He had become accustomed to this role with regard to his wife’s sisters over the years, and though he was weary of it, he did not reprove Mary any more than she did herself.”

For anyone worried, this novel somehow blends the gothic horror of Frankenstein perfectly with the regency romance of Pride & Prejudice. The themes of companionship, love, the search for the truth of who we are are in both the original novels and work to create this new extension of the stories. The heart of the characters are maintained while giving them a plot line we wouldn’t have imagined.

Two hundred years later, and these books are once again given new life. As I was reading I found myself wanting to revisit them, to read them and imagine this new future for the characters. Seriously, how fun is it to imagine the gentlemanly duty that Darcy would embody while cleaning up the messes of the Bennett girls?! It reminds us that while Lizzie may have gotten her happily ever after, her sisters and family wouldn’t just disappear from her life.

In the same aspect, we see the future that Victor set his path on. Running, hiding, trying to deny the horror he feels of the consequences of creating life. And seeing how the Creature himself has evolved. They are still grappling with the questions we were left with: what does it mean to be human?

What really makes these two stories blend so well, is the focus of society. Women in Austin’s world had to focus on what society thought of them. They couldn’t be unchaperoned, or behave in ways that could tarnish their reputations without fear of repercussions. In the same way, the Creature shows us that darker side of humanity. How people can judge, and react, sometimes violently. In many ways the Bennett sisters and the Creature share the same plight, the same frustrations, and the same journey.

“For the Creature was right: she had no power to change what the world would think and do. But that was the nature of love: one did not offer it with any assurance that it would change the world, even if in the end it was the only thing that could.”

I realize I am not really giving much in the way of plot. That’s on purpose. This novel is a journey that should be taken a bit by surprise. Part of the joy is in discovering how these characters come to be introduced and then intertwined. It’s a novel full of surprising twists, each one encapsulating the heart and soul of Shelley and Austin.

If you enjoy taking classic novels and adding quirky twists to them, this novel is seriously screaming your name. It’s been a while since I’ve read either novel, but I was quickly drawn in and reminded of both stories. I wanted to reread them, imagining the future that lies in store for them. Kessel creates a new book, but he does so by paying proper respect and homage to these classic works. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it!

Thank you Wunderkind PR for sending me a review copy!

Pride and Prometheus hi res coverPride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

For Sale Now! Get it at your favorite retailer using the links below:

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About the Author:

Kessel author photo_final_(C) 2016 John Pagliuca

Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel’s most recent book is the new novel Pride and Prometheus.  He is the author of the earlier novels The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space and Corrupting Dr. Nice and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence.

Kessel’s stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Poll, and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. His play “Faustfeathers’” won the Paul Green Playwright’s Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction. In 2009 his story “Pride and Prometheus” received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sf, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.

Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He and his wife, the novelist Therese Anne Fowler, live and work in Raleigh, NC.

Things To Do When It’s Raining – Review

“Some things are better kept secret. And some things are not: life’s most difficult task is to know which is which.”

Things To Do When It’s Raining is a novel full of all the deep feelings. Prepare yourself for a novel full of tragedy and heartbreaking beauty. Marissa Stapley takes you into the reality of near misses, misunderstandings, and the weight of secrets.

Mae Summers is content with her life. She has an incredible fiancé, a secure job at the growing company he owns, and is well on her way to making her dreams come true. It’s a bit of a blow when she wakes up one morning to realize it was all built on lies.

After Peter disappears revealing the scam his company, and his life were, Mae is forced to return home. Life in Alexandria Bay, the sleepy tourist town she grew up in, is far different from life in New York City. While a change of pace might be good for Mae, she comes home to ghosts of her past.

Her grandfather isn’t living at home, her grandmother is acting strangely, and Gabe, her childhood love, has returned. As Mae sorts through her emotions and tries to make sense of her new life, the answers to these questions may demand more forgiveness than she can manage.

“She starts to run, forgetting the fear of the ice and focusing instead on her fear of the truth.”

I really liked how this novel was set up. In between each chapter, there’s an item from the list Mae’s mother, Virginia, posted on the wall of their family Inn, appropriately titled: Things To Do When It’s Raining. One of the more subtle tragic twists is this list, the focus on rain, and Mae’s parents. When you put that one together, it just hurts your heart!

We also get multiple perspectives, not just Mae. Gabe, Lilly and George, all have their own secrets and struggles to work through. Changing the narration to give a more personal look at each storyline made the novel feel more realistic. Mae couldn’t possibly uncover these secrets on her own, and the novel would have felt more murder mystery if she had. Instead, we get a very rich and complex set of tangled lives. Which is generally how secrets end up. Tangled and woven into our lives in ways we never really expect, or sometimes even understand.

“She had told him she loved him then, and she had cried, and he had known that there were too many things he was never going to be able to say to her.”

The one storyline I struggled with the most was Lilly. I didn’t really understand her motives for doing some of the things she did. I mean, logically I understand the information presented. But, there were a couple of things that felt so cruel, it was hard to feel like she justified doing them.

Beyond Lilly’s secrets and actions though, the core of the novel really is about how we perceive ourselves and how we let others determine that perception. Of all of the narrations, Gabe’s is the most heartbreaking. The secrets he keeps are more from the burdens others placed on him as a child. For Gabe, while he seeks the forgiveness of others, he really needs to forgive himself. That’s the hardest thing, and leads to such heartbreak for him. There are many times you want to reach through the book and hug him. And smack the adults around him.

“He loved her because he understood what it meant to be wounded, and to inflict wounds in return.”

Stapley takes us into some deep emotions, the type that take a minute to sort out. I’m still undecided on how I feel about Lilly for example. But she also gives us redemption and hope. We get a novel that shows us life at it’s messiest. At how good intentions can quickly turn poisonous, and how difficult it can be to untangle ourselves from the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others tell us.

We get to see people at their best and also at their worst. It makes it difficult to love or hate them in a black and white spectrum, and I really enjoy that in a cast of characters. You’ll want to react but will also hold yourself back, and possible change your mind. There are times you want to strangle them or scream at them, but then you’ll be exposed to their own flawed humanity and your heart will break for them. It is an accomplishment to take you through the spectrum of reactions to multiple characters.

“People change their minds about things. It just happens. You can’t stay sure about everything your whole life.”

People change. They make mistakes. They live in regret. Forgiveness is a journey that we all go through at some stage and to some degree. Whether we seek it from others, or search from it within ourselves. Stapley does a beautiful job writing a story full of mistakes, misconceptions, secrets, lies, and at the heart of it all is forgiveness and the power of love.

Things To Do When It’s Raining is a beautifully complex novel that would be perfect for a book club, or book discussion. There’s so many facets to explore. I think the conversation would be fascinating!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review for #WRC2018!!!

Bone Music – Review

“They didn’t plan to kill my mother.”

Charlotte Rowe has never led a normal life. Her mother killed in a tragic twist of fate by two serial killers. Taken by the killers and raised as their own until the FBI finally caught up to them. Reunited with a father who was far more interested in profiting off of her than raising her, or healing her. Every time she gets her feet under her, fate seems determined to rip them from beneath her.

Right when it seems she’s actually gotten her life back, she finds herself in the midst of a new nightmare. Tricked into taking a new experimental drugs, she finds herself with surprising new powers. Unsure of what to do or where to go, Charlotte decides she needs to take control of the situation before a ruthless corporation takes control of her. And what better way to regain control, than by exerting a little revenge?

“All she feels is the bone music and the sense that she has become not darkness but a great fire, bringing a sudden, blazing end to it.”

Bone Music is part thriller, part science fiction, and is 100% an exhilarating ride. From the very beginning, where we hear Charlie talking about what it was like being raised by two serial killers, we know that this book is going to go down some very dark roads.

There is a ton of subtle psychology written into Charlie, and throughout the entire book. This shouldn’t be a surprise, any book based on serial killers tends to include some psychological elements. But Rice goes beyond standard or superficial observations and dives into the complexity of the human psyche. There is some deep conversation on PTSD, the nature of violence, the effects of abuse, and addiction to name a few that stood out to me.

Charlie has been through a lot. As a result, she is incredibly complex. Rice doesn’t make her feel superficial, or cliche at any point throughout the book. She is traumatized and struggling to sort through her tapestry of emotions. But she isn’t fragile. And I really liked that about her. She is also not convinced that her time with killers didn’t change her in fundamental ways. She wants to be a better person, but deep down is afraid that she isn’t.

“When we hurt people just to punish them, Luane used to say, we create a darkness that will live on long after our reasons for giving birth to it have faded.”

She hangs on to her grandmothers words, using them as a guiding force. Rather than having Charlie veer too much into the realm of good, Rice makes sure to show that she is conflicted at the core of her being. She relishes the power she is given at times, and is seduced by her ability to punish those who deserve it. What makes her so interesting is that it is because of her early years, and her fear that she would have gone to a much darker path had the FBI not intervened, that keeps the desire for revenge from taking over.

Rather than giving us definitive good versus evil, we get evil versus lesser evil most of the time. Bone Music sits firmly in the realm of moral gray. Even though we can agree serial killers are bad, it’s less clear what to make of Charlie and the forces surrounding her. She wants to be good, that much is clear. However, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. And that theme is very much woven into this plot.

I also really enjoyed the strength Charlie shows in even who she chooses as her allies. While Luke is obviously a love interest, Charlie doesn’t swoon, or even rely on him to help. She wants his help, but doesn’t need it. She wants to let her defensives down, but she isn’t willing to pander to him, or defer to him. She has a plan, is confident in what needs to happen and isn’t afraid to go it alone. This portrayal of strength in a female protagonist made me very happy!

“I want your help. But I don’t want your agenda. And I want you to listen to what I’m thinking and not tell me what I’m thinking.”

Not to mention how accurately Rice captures the infuriating notion of ‘mansplaining’. I loved reading Luke realize what he was doing and how it was coming across to Charlie. And then actually acknowledge it and work on not doing it! While I want to fist pump in honor of girl power everywhere, the fact is Rice writes characters that are believable because of these types of interactions.

What I loved is that the self aware characters are closer to the side of good than evil, even if their behavior is firmly in the gray. And the characters closer to the side of evil tend towards a blindness of the self, to the point of delusional. It’s a subtle and compelling look at human nature and psychology.

“It’s the truth, as much as she’s capable of telling the truth about the possibility that no longer exists, an opportunity that was stolen from her by a man who’s only just now realizing that his belief in whats best for others can bring him close to committing the kind of violent acts that destroyed his life.”

Rice fully captures the tragedy and trauma that would be present given the circumstances these characters go through. He isn’t afraid to get dark, and he doesn’t back away from difficult themes. The plot is intense, and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved the science fiction twists. They give this thriller added dimensions that keep it original and unpredictable all the way to the end. I highly recommend this book and cannot wait until the next in the series comes out!

Huge thank you to Little Bird Publicity, Thomas & Mercer, and Amazon Publishing for sending me an early copy to read and review!