First Lines: She panted into the chilled air.  Snowflakes fluttered around her like ashen butterflies, clinging to her lashes and to the hood of her thick cloak.  Champ, her warhorse, tore through the night’s darkness with clouds of warm breath, and his flanks heaved after the rush of the ride.

I was contacted by the author/publicist to read this book.  They gave me a real physical copy of this, so I kinda geeked out a little.  I love it when I can add new books to my shelves.

She doesn’t have a name.  Her silver skin and white hair terrify the people of Sago, the capital of Pevorocco.  She’s sent to live with the cruel but rich Ma Dane when her mother disappeared the instant of their birth.  Cruelly, she’s given the name Beauty.  When violent uprisings of Magics work their way to Sago, Beauty flees to the furthest part of the country.  But Beauty can’t hide there forever.  When State officials find her and threaten to take her back to Sago, she knows death awaits her there.  She escapes, heading into the dark forest where a Beast awaits to bargain for her life.  But can Beauty accept Beast for who he is?

This was definitely an interesting read.  I wasn’t completely sure what I was getting when I started this.  It turned out to mostly be a fantasy novel with a few dashes of fairy tale-retelling thrown in.  Which was an interesting and different take on the story, I thought.

I thought this book did a lot of things well, but there were a few things that needed a little improvement.  I thought the characters were great.  Once I got to know Beauty, I really liked following her.  The story’s told from a third person narrator, so you also get to see the characters outside of what Beauty thinks of them.  That added another layer to the characters, one that I knew wasn’t tainted by what Beauty thought of them.  Beast was great too, once we finally got to meet him.

Also with the characters, there was plenty of time to get to know them.  There are lots of characters in the story, but you really got to know most of them before you met new ones.  For example, Beauty is set in Sago for about a fifth of the book.  That meant we got to know everyone important in Sago before she fled the city.  So I did like that.

This is definitely a fantasy novel.  It has characters that are Magic Bloods and Magic Beings.  Beauty’s appearance is really different from, you know, normal people.  Silver skin kind of makes you a “freak” in Sago.  It didn’t have as much of the “Beauty and the Beast” retelling as I would have liked, but it was still interesting.

Which leads me into my next point.  We don’t even meet the Beast until over halfway through the book.  No matter how interesting I thought the first half was, I kept waiting for the Beast to come in.  In this fairy tale, the Beast is one of my favorite characters.  (Granted, he’s usually only one of two consistent characters.)  So I was disappointed when he only had a small part in the story.

I felt that the last fifth of the book was rushed.  The Beast’s part felt rushed.  The ending felt rushed.  (The most pivotal part of the ending took less than the last 10 pages to occur.)  It’s the best part of the story, and it was barely there.

Overall, though, I felt it was a lovely fantasy retelling of my favorite story.  I just wished some things had been done differently.

Screenshot 2013-12-19 09.27.57

(My tweet from the author about this review.)

Effortless With You

First Lines: I can’t resist the water’s temptation after a sticky hour of tanning under the scorching sun.  I slip into the empty pool and sink to its bottom.  The water’s cool thrill rolls through my hair.

I was contacted by the author about reading this book.  At the time, I was still on a Katie McGarry high, so I absolutely said yes.  I was so in the mood for a realistic fiction romance between two unlikely leads.

Lucy is so looking forward to her summer of tanning, hanging out, parties, and dates with her gorgeous boyfriend.  But when she lands herself in serious hot water with her parents, her summer changes for the worse.  Lucy has to get a summer job.  And this job happens to be painting houses with the most obnoxious boy in school, popular and egotistical Justin.  He may be most other girls’ dream guy, but he’s so not Lucy’s.  Gag.  Justin’s cocky, annoying, and a complete jerk.  So what if he’s good looking and he has a way of making Lucy forget her other problems?  But maybe there’s more to Justin than Lucy realizes.  It may not be the summer she wanted, but it may be the summer she needed.

Where should I begin with this?  I guess I should say that I’ve been on this romance kick for a few weeks now.  I just want a good love story.

And this delivered in spades.  This book is about so much more than just the romance, though.  It’s about finding out who your friends are.  It’s about bullying.  It’s about standing up for yourself.  It’s about discovering who you are and what you want.  I loved that it dealt with so many different aspects of life for teens.  (I’m not a teenager anymore, and this was still incredibly applicable to me.)  Some reviewers thought these topics weren’t fully explored because there were so many of them, but I didn’t think that was an issue.  This book doesn’t set out to solve all of these problems, but merely show how they impact life.

I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to like this book.  I didn’t really like Lucy.  She wasn’t a role model by any means.  But the more I got to know her, the more I understood why she was the way she was.  Not even a third of the way through the book, I was crying when she did.

What I thought was most spectacular about this book was that it really felt like real life most of the time.  I could relate to what Lucy and her friends were going through.  In some cases, I’d BEEN through those.  I definitely found a few places where it felt like Lucy overreacted to something or the action felt just a smidgen fake, but those were pretty rare.  For the most part, I could pick any part in the book and be able to tell you about when that happened to me in high school.

I also found this story less predictable than other stories.  Of course, there were parts that were predictable, but it didn’t play out exactly how I thought it would.  Like real life, there were points that were full of surprises for the reader and for Lucy.

The writing was really amazing.  I thought it was very descriptive not only with scenery and things like that, but with feelings and emotions.  That’s why I was crying 1/3 of the way through the book.  That does not happen every day.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  I thought it was fairly amazing.  And I’m absolutely not saying this because the author contacted me.  I sincerely thought this was an amazing book.

Bang (Visions, #2)

First Lines: It’s been over a week since Sawyer kissed me and told me he was seeing a vision now, and it’s all I can think about.

It’s always nice to throw a short, quick read into the mix when I get my books.  Normally I’m drawn to the monsters that are over 500 pages.  But Lisa McMann’s books are always shorter and very easy to read.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Jules has saved a bunch of lives and landed the boy of her dreams, Sawyer.  So why isn’t she happier?  The nightmare she thought was over has somehow been transferred to Sawyer and she’s knows it’s her fault.  Sawyer’s vision is so bad that he can barely tell Jules about it.  All he can tell is there’s a gun and eleven shots that he keeps hearing over and over.  As the vision gets worse, Jules knows that they have to figure out the clues quickly.  Because if they don’t do anything, eleven people are going to die…and they may be among the dead.

While I really liked this book, I just didn’t like it as much as I liked the first book in this series.  Part of it, I think, is because Sawyer and Jules are together now.  (And I was absolutely rooting for them to get together, but there’s just something about that tension of “will they or won’t they get together”.)  The other part is because we can’t see the vision.  Only Sawyer can, and it was frustrating getting clues from him.  He didn’t know what to look for in the same way Jules did.  It made the suspense feel slightly out of place then, because I didn’t exactly know what it was leading up to.

Like I said, I still liked this book.  I really liked seeing the characters grow.  Jules is learning how to stand on her own two feet, which is great.  And I always love seeing her siblings in the book.  However, I do think that some important characters still feel sort of flat.  Jules’s parents, for example, still seem pretty one-dimensional.  Partly, I think that’s because it’s how Jules sees them.  She focuses on a few aspects of them and really doesn’t see her dad as a person much.  Still, I would really like to see some development on that front.

The story was really entertaining and fairly fast-paced.  (Some parts dragged on a little, but that was rare.)  I really liked how the voice came through with this.  It’s always fun to hear voice shine through a text.

The Naturals

First Lines: The hours were bad.  The tips were worse, and the majority of my coworkers definitely left something to be desired, but c’est la vie, que sera sera, insert foreign language cliche of your choice here.

It was definitely time for a stand-alone novel.  I love my series, don’t get me wrong, but when I have the chance to read what I suspect will be a very good stand-alone, I jump at it.

Cassie is a natural at reading people.  She can take the tiniest detail and learn everything she could possibly want to know about them.  She can tell you who you are and what you want.  But she’s never taken her talent seriously, until the FBI shows up.  They have a program for exceptional teenagers to solve cold cases.  Other teens, like Michael the emotions reader and Dean the other profiler who keeps Cassie at an arm’s length, are also part of the group.  Quickly, Cassie realizes there’s more to the program than she knows.  And the danger is very real.  When they get caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, the Naturals will have to use their abilities to survive.

With this, I was expecting a really good mystery.  Some reviews I had seen previously had described this as “Criminal Minds for Kids”.  Since I’ve never really watched Criminal Minds, I can’t really say whether that’s accurate, but I understand the sentiment behind it.

What I got was a gripping, creepy mystery.  The story is nearly always told from Cassie’s POV, but there are also short snippets every few chapters from the perspective of the killer.  Those were interesting and creepy at the same time.  I’m not kidding when I said this was a creepy read.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes has a degree in psychology, so she knows how to do this right.  I spent forever trying to figure out who the killer was and I got it so wrong.  That’s not something that happens to me very often.

The beginning moves a little briskly, quickly going over how her life was before the program before focusing most of its attention on her time in the Naturals program.  Which was fine.  I mean, the story doesn’t really do much with her time before the program.

I also want to say that Cassie’s profiling ability reminded me a lot of Sherlock.  She would look at a person’s watch or the way they dressed and make all these grand conclusions about the person in the same way Sherlock tends to do (especially in the BBC series).  That was something I rather enjoyed because I like Sherlock, but at the same time, it sort of irritated me that she assumed she knew all about a person based on just a couple of clues.

In all, I found this to be a fantastically creepy read that moved along at a good pace with good characters.  I don’t normally get creeped out by books, especially since I grew up on mystery novels, but this stuff just gets scarier the older I get.  Still, I really enjoyed it and I look forward to more novels from Barnes.

Looking for a FREE book?

I was recently alerted about a book that was becoming free today for an amount of time I am unaware of.  All I know is that for at least today (December 14, 2013), this book is free.

If you’re a fan of Jack the Ripper mysteries, Ripped, a Jack the Ripper Time-Travel Thriller by Shelly Dickson Carr is free on Amazon.  Here’s the summary and cover:

attachmentRIPPED is a winner in 3 IBPA Ben Franklin Awards:
GOLD: Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book, Fiction
SILVER: Best Mystery/Suspense Book
SILVER: Best New Voice (Children/Young Adult)

Can an American teen leave her i-Phone and Starbucks behind, travel back to 1888 London, and unmask the man who got away with murder again and again?

Jack the Ripper eviscerated his victims and sent body parts to Scotland Yard to taunt the inspectors. Katie has read about the Ripper. Visiting a Jack the Ripper exhibit, she learns the names of his victims and where they were killed. She’s watched her fair share of CSI; surely she knows enough to stop this maniac.

And, luckily, handsome nineteenth-century Toby agrees to help her. Can gutsy Katie and Toby do what Scotland Yard’s finest could not? If she intervenes and changes history, how will that affect her life and those around her? And when it’s time to go back to her own century, can Katie really leave Toby—the one who believed in her, helped her, and really understood her?

With 60 illustrations by Chris Gall. (In color on color devices)

I haven’t read this, but if you’re interested in it, I encourage you to check it out.  It sounds really good to me.


Spotlight Friday (91)

Hey guys!  So I just want to say that I’m seriously hoping to be a better blogger now that I’m done with my fall semester of college.  I’m on break, and that means I have a lot more time than I did over the last few weeks.  I know it’s been…*ahem* 1.5 months…since I’ve last posted one of these, so enjoy!  Spend your holiday gift cards wisely!

The Offering (The Pledge, #3) by Kimberly Derting

Release Date: December 31, 2013

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads)True love—and world war—is at stake in the conclusion to The Pledge trilogy, a dark and romantic blend of dystopia and fantasy.
Charlie, otherwise known as Queen Charlaina of Ludania, has become comfortable as a leader and a ruler. She’s done admirable work to restore Ludania’s broken communications systems with other Queendoms, and she’s mastered the art of ignoring Sabara, the evil former queen whose Essence is alive within Charlie. Or so she thinks.

When the negotiation of a peace agreement with the Queendom of Astonia goes awry, Charlie receives a brutal message that threatens Ludania, and it seems her only option is to sacrifice herself in exchange for Ludanian freedom.

But things aren’t always as they seem. Charlie is walking into a trap—one set by Sabara, who is determined to reclaim the Queendoms at any cost.

What’s To Like: I just really enjoy Derting’s writing style.  She writes engaging stories that are different in a paranormal (or fantasy, in this case) way.  They’re just really interesting stories, and I’m really excited to see how she wraps up this series.  Then I can cross another off my list.

My review of The Offering

Unhinged (Splintered, #2) by A. G. Howard

Release Date: January 7, 2014

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads)Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she’s always dreamed of.

That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.

As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.

If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she’ll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.

What’s To Like: I really have a thing for re-imaginings of old stories.  And Alice was always one that I kind of liked because it was so out there.  And I can tell you from having read the first book in this series, this one is really out there too.  It’s almost too crazy to believe, which is actually quite appropriate for an Alice spin-off.  I feel like this book, though, is going to come into its own even more than the last book though because it will rely more on the author’s imagination that the original source.

My review of Unhinged.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Release Date: January 7, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads): For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

What’s To Like: For whatever reason, my latest fascination in books is with soldiers and the psychology that accompanies their tour of duty or their return to normal life.  Weird of me, right?  But this just looks amazing.  Who doesn’t love Laurie Halse Anderson?  Obviously, for that reason alone, this is going to be amazing.