Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes

First Lines: Spontaneity is overrated. Movies and television shows would like us to believe that life is better for partygoers who dare to jump into pools with their clothes on. But behind the scenes, it’s all carefully scripted. The water is the right temperature. Lighting and angles are carefully considered. Dialogue is memorized. And that’s why it looks so appealing–because someone carefully planned it all.

I really enjoy Jenn Bennett’s books, but for some reason this one slipped past me. Like, I normally get hold of them pretty soon after they come out. But I didn’t hear anything about this one until it was already out for a year or two. Still, it looked like fun.

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends Lennon and Zorie have become friends-turned-enemies. They have perfected avoiding each other, despite the fact that they live across the street from each other. It also doesn’t help that their families are the modern equivalent of the Capulets and Montagues. But when a group camping trip goes incredibly wrong, Lennon and Zorie are left stranded, alone, in the woods. With no one but each other for company, they are forced to hash out some of their issues while trying to make it to safety. But fighting off the elements and each other makes it less likely they’ll make it to safety in one piece. The longer they stay together, the more the secrets and hidden feelings rise to the surface. But can their rekindled friendship survive in the real world, or only under the magic of twinkling stars?

 I really love Jenn Bennett. This story was cute and real and funny and touching. It was everything I enjoy from her.

Lennon and Zorie used to be best friends, until they tried dating and something went terribly wrong. Now they’re enemies, but Zorie doesn’t actually want to hate Lennon. She just doesn’t know how to be around the guy who broke her heart. Both of them are sweet in their own ways (Lennon has a dark sense of humor but a heart of gold) and they both have their quirks. I loved the quirks the most.

It’s the kind of premise that seems simple–and it is–but that allows the characters to really shine. Zorie’s friend has arranged a glamping trip that Lennon also happens to be invited on, setting off most of the chain of events in this story. When they get stranded, Lennon and Zorie have to spend a lot of time together finding their way home. It’s simple but cute.

And the love story was just adorable. They’re a good pair and you can really see how they fit together. I like it when I find characters who do genuinely fit together, have chemistry. But as usual with Bennett, there are more subplots than just the romance, subplots that feel real and matter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a lot Zorie’s dealing with at the moment, more than just the stuff with Lennon.

Oh, and before I forget, due to some of the content (like how some characters work at an adult toy store) and plain-speaking nature of Lennon, this book probably isn’t “appropriate” for younger tweens and teens. For as much as I enjoyed it, there’s no way I’m recommending it to my students, who are 14. Just throwing that out there.

This was a sweet read and I can’t wait to see more from Bennett.

Torrent (River of Time, #3)

Torrent (River of Time, #3)

First Lines: We’d shaken the dust from the gowns the guys had left the three of us and slipped on our “medieval disguises,” as I called them, but there wasn’t a whole lot we could do for Dad.

This is a series I discovered a few months back and just absolutely fell in love with. And after reading the second book, I desperately needed to know what happened in this book.

*Series Spoilers Ahead. For real.*

Gabi and Lia were just two normal American teenagers until the day they accidentally found themselves in 14th century Italy. They returned to the present with their mother to try to save their father from a tragic death, and now the family needs to head back to the 14th century, where the girls have left their hearts behind with some gallant, chivalrous knights. But remaining in that time puts them at risk as battles wage over territory and the Black Plague looms over them. Will the family really be willing to put themselves at so much risk? Or will they discover how life is truly supposed to be lived?

I love this series, I do. I think Gabi and Lia are stellar characters and I think this story is well written with other interesting characters and a ton of action.

I just didn’t love this book as much as I did the previous two.

I think part of the reason is that it’s starting to feel the same. Like, every book is about how somebody wants to kill Gabi and Lia and then there are battles. I love the action of it all, don’t get me wrong, and the way it unfolds is always different, but it is kind of formulaic. And also, I just didn’t feel as gripped by this book as the others. I’ve always had this weird feeling about Gabi and Marcello together (I’ve never felt the chemistry), but this book really reinforced that.

That said, I thought Gabi was a MUCH more interesting character than ever in this book. She’s always been physically strong and this total warrior queen, but this book threw curveballs at her that she wasn’t always strong enough to fight off. And that struggle made her so much more interesting. I really liked seeing her try to deal with it all. It made her a more conflicted, intriguing character.

The plot of this still includes a ton of action. We still have battles and fight scenes, which always rock. We still have constant action in one respect or another so the story keeps moving forward. I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much as before is all. Still a good book though.

When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)

When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)

First Lines: In every life there is a turning point. A moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one’s been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt that one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

As many of you who have been following me know, I have really enjoyed the Bridgerton series. But this book was the one I was probably least looking forward to for the simple reason that I didn’t really know anything about Francesca. She’s just not really in any of the other books, so I didn’t know what to expect.

Michael Stirling, a rake with a long line of heartbroken women in his wake, loves the chase as women flock to him. But never once has he actually fallen for anyone. That changes when he meets Francesca Bridgerton. He falls so hard and so fast at first sight that he knows this is the woman for him. Unfortunately, he’s meeting Francesca as they celebrate her upcoming wedding in thirty-six hours–to his cousin. But now, Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, though she still views Michael as nothing more than her friend and confidante. Michael doesn’t want to express his love for her and ruin things between them…until one night when she innocently steps into his arms and passion takes over between them…

I rather liked this one, which was a little surprising given how little we’ve seen of Francesca so far in the series.

Francesca married at 20, only to become a widow two years later. Broken, she tries to rely on her husband’s cousin-and-best-friend Michael, who also happens to be the new Earl of Kilmartin. However, Michael has been in love with Francesca for years, since the moment he first laid eyes on her. And being around her while grieving for his cousin is too much. He travels to India for a few years, thinking perhaps that when he returns, he’ll be over Francesca. He’s not.

I thought the darkness in this story due to their joint grief and the conflicted feelings they have toward each other really brought something special to this book. It gave it depth and it made them feel more like real people. I liked seeing them struggle and find each other. It meant more because of the struggle.

I also really liked both of them as characters. Francesca has always felt somewhat separate from her family, which she both likes and hates. But she loves them and they support her, of course. She’s strong and independent and she’s got a good sense of humor. Michael is a charmer, able to flirt with anything that moves. But he’s utterly devoted to Francesca and he’s a bit of a hero. They’re good together.

It was a tad confusing at first, but this story takes place at literally the same time as the previous two books. Once I figured that out, I was good, but it did throw me at first.

While this wasn’t my favorite book in this series, it’s probably top 3.

Her Night with the Duke (Clandestine Affairs, #1)

Her Night with the Duke (Clandestine Affairs, #1)

First Lines: Elliot Townsend, the Duke of Huntington, led such an organized existence that he failed to recognize disaster. Until it was far too late to save himself.

I’m always on the lookout for a new romance series to try out, especially because once I find one, I usually binge-read pretty much the whole thing, so I often need a new series to try. This one looked promising (and contains a biracial heroine). Seemed fun.

When Lady Delilah Chambers finds herself rain-soaked in a coaching inn on a dark night, well, things seem pretty miserable. It’s only with the help of a handsome stranger that she’s able to fend off ruffians and get a room for the night. Inexplicably drawn to each other, Leela and the stranger spend one night in each other’s arms before going their separate ways. Imagine her surprise when she finally meets the duke her stepdaughter is set to wed. Elliot cannot believe his good fortune when he gets to spend the evening with a fiery, passionate woman. But when he discovers she’s to be his mother-in-law, everything gets messy. As two responsible, respectable adults, they try to stay away from each other. But passion cannot always be ignored…

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this book, but I was definitely looking forward to the awkwardness of Leela and Elliot’s situation. I wanted to see how it unfolded and how they moved past it.

I quite liked Leela for a few reasons. Leela, a widow, has extensively traveled the Middle East, where her family is originally from. (Her grandfather is a Middle-Eastern merchant in Manchester and her mother married an English marquess, so she’s biracial.) I loved that she was powerful and independent. She knew what she wanted and she went for it. Elliot was…well, not a bad character, but he did seem a little whiney at times. He knows his responsibilities and he doesn’t want to be the scandal his brother was. So when he feels a bit out of control around Leela, he reacts kind of badly. Like, I know that’s who he is as a character and I get that that was his character flaw, but it wasn’t exactly endearing either.

The plot was somewhat interesting, though there were a lot of villains out to get Leela. It became a little melodramatic in that respect. But it was entertaining.

Part of the reason this got a lower rating is because I just didn’t have enough time to get into a good flow with this book. I couldn’t connect with the characters as well. And that’s probably not totally fair when it comes to rating it, but it did impact my enjoyment of it.

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #2)

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #2)

First Lines: You think you’d know what a killer sounds like. That their lies would have a different texture, some barely perceptible shift. A voice that thickens, grows sharp and uneven as the truth slips between the jagged edges. You’d think that, wouldn’t you?

I was very excited to get my hands on this book, to say the least. After how much I enjoyed the first book, I thought this would be amazing, especially as more and different challenges get thrown Pip’s way. So I just couldn’t wait to dive in.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Pip’s investigative days are over. After solving the town’s cold case with the help of Ravi Singh, Pip is content to post what happened as a true crime podcast and move on with her life. But when Jamie Reynolds, the older brother of one of her best friends, goes missing on the same night as the memorial for Andrea Bell and Sal Singh, Pip has to dive back in and break the promises she made to her family to never do this again. The police won’t look for Jamie, so Pip will. But this time, everyone’s listening to what Pip has to say…and watching her every move. Can Pip find Jamie before it’s too late?

First of all, this book was a delight. There’s no doubt about that. It’s as twisty and awesome as the first in terms of the mystery. I didn’t have it pegged down until near the end. I adored that it could keep me on my toes and keep me invested in it until I got to the very end.

I still adore Pip and I think it’s cool that this time around, people are listening to her and helping her. It was cool to see a new side of her and a new side of the town through that and the aftermath of her podcast, revealing everything that happened in the previous mystery.

However. Here’s where my 4 stars comes from. What I loved so much about the last book was the danger, the murder maps, the struggle, the getting-to-know Ravi. This time around, Pip saves all her stuff online and…it’s just not the same as reading all these police transcripts, discovering journals, making maps, etc. Also, the first book surprised me with how good it was, so I was expecting things this time around. And the book did live up to my expectations–it just didn’t exceed them.

It’s still a fabulous book, don’t get me wrong. I know things were changed to keep this book fresh, but this book just kind of lacked the stuff that I thought sparkled about the previous book. 

Brightly Woven

Brightly Woven

(sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s so old it’s apparently not available on Kindle…)

This book, Alexandra Bracken’s debut novel, has been on my Goodreads to-read shelf since 2009. That’s a crazy long time, I know. But every time I went through and tried to get rid of books I thought I’d never actually read, this one always hung on. The premise just sounded so interesting. And after really getting into some of Bracken’s other books last year, I thought this would be worth a try, to see how it all started.

Ten years of drought is a long time for any community, so Sydelle is thrilled when the rains finally come. Except the rains bring with them Wayland North, a young wizard in need of an assistant. He’s got his eye on Sydelle for the job. Sydelle agrees because she wants to see the country and because war will inevitably destroy her village if she doesn’t tell someone what she saw in the valley. But it soon becomes clear North is keeping his own secrets…like why he chose Sydelle and his real reasons for making this journey.

I thought it was pretty obvious this was a debut novel and that Bracken’s writing has gotten better since. There’s just something about the writing style that is just not up to par, you know? It’s not practiced enough.

This is a fantasy story with very little exposition. We’re almost immediately thrown into some kind of war with no idea why, no idea what makes Sydelle’s town of Clifton unique, or really even who Sydelle is. The story unravels very matter-of-factly, in a way felt a little condescending. Like, oh, you didn’t realize Sydelle’s dad was the town’s leader? Well, you should have even though we didn’t tell you that. There were a lot of moments like that where I just really wanted to know where that came from…and why now, all of a sudden.

The story is heavily reliant on its action and plotting, less so on characters. As I already mentioned, I really had no idea how Sydelle was as a character. Even after reading the book, I still don’t really feel like I have a good grasp on her. There was very little realistic character development. For example, Sydelle hates North at the very beginning, but then magically she’s cool with him at some point? It was weird. It didn’t make sense. Sure, there were little moments when she was softening toward him, but that’s totally different than “I hate him and now I love him.” I felt no emotions whatsoever coming from either of them.

The worldbuilding is….actually decent. I mean, I wish there were more explanations about the wizards and stuff, but the worldbuilding actually did a pretty good job of showing us the landscape and letting us know how serious this war was. She even gave cities and countries their own customs and goddesses and things like that. So it worked. I think that’s probably what caught someone’s eye and got this published.

Definitely not Bracken’s strongest work, but it was kind of cool to see where she got her start.