Never Saw You Coming

Never Saw You Coming

First Lines: I was four the first time I accepted Jesus into my heart. I say first time because I did it at least twelve times before I turned sixteen. Better to be absolutely sure, you know?

I know she’s a fairly new author, but I have yet to find an Erin Hahn book I haven’t liked. She’s a fun, unique voice in YA, with her books focusing on music and family and love in ways that I feel like are different that most things on the market. So I was excited to get to this one.

Meg has just learned her entire life has been a lie. At 18, she truly thought she had her life figured out, but with one conversation, her world is thrown off axis. Instead of taking her gap year to work and find herself, she’s now heading to meet what’s left of the family she never knew existed. While there, she meets Micah, the son of a former pastor who ended up in prison. Micah has his own complicated feelings around the church and, with his father’s parole hearing coming up, Micah has to decide if he’s willing to forgive–because he certainly can’t forget. As Meg and Micah grow closer, they’ll have to navigate the complicated process of growing up and cutting ties with childhood beliefs while also discovering what it means to fall in love.

It was…not exactly what I was expecting. But that’s also not necessarily a bad thing.

Hahn’s books so far have been heavy on their musical influences. And I was kind of expecting that to continue. At first, it did. Meg and Micah have musical talents that they lean on to help them through rough patches. But that really didn’t carry on past the beginning of the story too much. And you know, that’s fine. This is a new book with new characters who have different interests.

But wow, was it a left turn when this book turned into a heavily religious-focused book instead. I mean, I kind of got that from the blurb, but it was a lot. However, this isn’t your typical Christian lit or anything. They question. They get angry with the church. They struggle with following their hearts and following the scripture, but more of like, “Is this actually how we’re supposed to live?” And I’m not going to lie, I related a lot to Meg. I had a similar (but much less rigid) upbringing. I’ve been in her shoes and, as someone who felt so alone through that process, it was a bit like finding a piece of myself in Meg. A recognition that I’m not the only one who feels/felt like this. And if I’m out here feeling that, I know there have to be others.

Ok, now let’s actually talk about the story. The characters are adorbs. Meg has learned some serious secrets her mom has been keeping from her and she doesn’t really know who she is anymore. Meg’s courage and her journey to make a new home in Marquette was really cool because the girl is fierce in a really understated here. Micah’s life fell apart six years ago when his pastor father got caught and went to prison. It broke Micah’s faith in…well, a lot of things. Now he’s finally getting to a place where he can feel normal when his father’s parole meeting comes up and all of this crap is thrown back in his face again. So Meg’s fresh face and faith in him is the much needed anchor in the storm to help get him through it. It was cute to see both of them together.

There’s something about Hahn’s writing that just pulls me in. From the second or third chapter, I knew I was into this story and I could feel myself there with the characters. I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes her writing so good, but it’s there.

The only thing I could maybe say that’s slightly negative about this was that I felt like the romance was a bit…I don’t know what to call it. Easy isn’t quite the right word, but predictable isn’t exactly it either. But I definitely felt like we were watching a Hallmark movie version of a relationship. And I say that as someone who really enjoys Hallmark movies, but it was something I noticed.

Anyway, this was a really good read, but it could be off-putting for people who don’t like the way religion is depicted in this book.

Sky Breaker (Night Spinner, #2)

Sky Breaker (Night Spinner, #2)

First Lines: Darkness rises around me like a shield–girding me with armor, enfolding me in steel, deflecting the whispers that climb the cavern walls like goblin spiders.

The first book in his duology caught my attention because it was a sort of gender-bend fantasy retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and if that isn’t quite the description, I don’t know what is. And after really enjoying the first book’s innovation and creativity, I was very excited to read the second book.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Enebish has been betrayed over and over again. On the run across the tundra, her only allies are her best friend Serik and a group of ill-tempered shepherds who threaten to leave her at every turn. Her only hope of bringing peace to Ashkar is to bring together the Protected Territories against the might of the Zemyans and the tyrannical Askarian Sky King. But as supplies dwindle for their little group, she might start losing allies faster than she gains them. Meanwhile, Zemyan forces have stormed the Ashkarian capital and Imperial Army Commander Ghoa throws all of her power into stopping them, only to be abandoned by the warriors she leads. Held captive in a magic prison and tortured by the sorcerer Kartok, Ghoa learns his true ambitions don’t rest on just ruling the surrounding countries–he wants to take on the gods themselves. The war between Ashkar and Zemya has been raging for centuries, but it might take the two most hated people on the continent–Enebish and Ghoa–to bring it to an end before Kartok sends the sky falling down around them.

This was just as good as the first book in a lot of ways, but also a little bit…lacking in others.

The world building is still really good. I liked seeing the different cultures and groups of people introduced. I liked understanding the difference between the Ashkarians and the Zemyans, the way their philosophies and powers differ.

The characters are equally fascinating because they’re all incredibly flawed. And I don’t just mean in the “oh, I’m so clumsy” way. Enebish’s inability to trust is a legitimate fault that gets her into life-threatening trouble so many times. Ghoa’s pride is her downfall in so many ways. These are horribly flawed people who sometimes are good people and sometimes are terrible. But we still end up rooting for them. It’s actually quite fun because I don’t think I’ve ever read characters quite like these before.

I did think the plot dragged a bit, though. It meant well, but when you spend most of the story (the part told from Enebish’s POV anyway) traveling across a large country/continent, well, there’s just a lot of monotony. Even when you dress it up with occasional fights or stops in new places. It’s still a road trip. (I know I made this reference like 3-4 books ago, but Deathly Hallows again, anyone?)

I really didn’t remember much of Ghoa’s personality when I started this book, so I had a hard time slipping into her perspective. But actually, in the midst of all the traveling Enebish was doing, Ghoa’s story line helped quite a lot. She was actually in danger, trying to figure out the best way to survive and get her revenge. While I did start off the story thinking she was a truly terrible person (I did remember what she did to Enebish in the previous book), she grew on me a lot. And that’s a sign of good writing right there, when you don’t even realize the change is happening.

This is well-written, different, and just interesting. Even for a fantasy, it manages to do things I’ve never seen before and stand out in its own ways.

Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3)

Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3)

First Lines: New Year’s afternoon aboard the Etruria began like a fairy tale, which was the first indication a nightmare lurked on the horizon, waiting, as most villains do, for an opportunity to strike.

It’s been a bit since I read the first two books in this series, but apparently I’m on a bit of a murder mystery kick right now (what can I say? They’re entertaining.). So it sounded like fun to read this and make a little progress getting closer to the end of this series.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are journeying to New York via a week-long trip aboard the luxury liner Etruria. It’s supposed to be delightful and diverting, especially since a circus troupe full of acrobats, fortune tellers, fire eaters, and more are their nightly entertainment. But then, first class young women start going missing and a series of brutal slayings shock the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival isn’t helping matters, and passengers soon realize there’s no escape–unless you want to jump into the sea. It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to solve the mystery before more women turn up dead. And with the clues beginning to point to the next victim being someone Audrey Rose loves, time is running out…

Maybe it’s just how much time has passed since I read the other books, but I feel like maybe I liked this one the best so far?

In this book, we’re immediately thrown into a mystery aboard a luxury transatlantic ship. And I do mean immediately. We have a dead body before the end of chapter one. Audrey Rose, Thomas, and her uncle are on their way to America when suddenly women begin turning up murdered. And brutally. Like, a couple of times when I happened to be reading while eating, I was like, “Well, that just made my food taste bad.” It does not back away from some of the gore and violence, going into details of the autopsies and murders. You’ve been warned.

I remember not exactly loving the previous book because it felt like too much of a copy of the first book and it got boring. This one was different. Audrey Rose is different in this one. She’s…I guess the best way to say it is swept away by the carnival. Despite her intelligence, she ends up finding herself captivated by the idea of sleight of hand and finding freedom on the stage. It’s an interesting twist for her character, not because it was too crazy but because it felt a lot like a young woman who doesn’t really know who she is quite yet and wants to explore other avenues. I really liked that, actually. The fact that she ended up butting heads with those closest to her over it also felt equally real.

I will admit that the mystery did get a bit old after a while because it was just so repetitive. There were, admittedly, different ways that people died and different ways people found them, but it was also just the same thing over and over. Find a body, look at the clues, get stumped, find another body. Rinse and repeat. But having said that, I didn’t have the mystery figured out until the end. So there’s that.

This was fun. I liked going along with Audrey Rose to see what horrors this ship could hold behind the silken mask of luxury.

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious, #4)

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious, #4)

First Lines: Sabrina Abbott was doing something illegal. Impossible. Sabrina had never done anything illegal. She was Barlow Corners’ paragon of virtue. The valedictorian. The library volunteer who read to children.

You know, I was very intrigued by this book when it was announced. Truly Devious ended…how could there be another book? (Not that I wasn’t thrilled by the idea.) I was even more curious when I found out it wasn’t going to spoil the original series mystery. How was Maureen Johnson going to pull this off while still giving us a new mystery?

Stevie Bell hates that she’s about to have a normal summer. She’s just caught the killer at her school and now, what, she’s just expected to hold down a job at the local grocery store for the summer? So when Stevie gets a message from the owner of Summer Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls, it’s like a dream come true. Camp Wonder Falls is famous for the Box in the Woods murders–in 1978, four camp counselors were murdered and their bodies left in a grisly display. The owner wants Stevie to come help him solve the case and work on a podcast about it with him. Even better, Stevie gets to bring her friends along too. But something evil still lurks in Barton Corners and when Stevie begins stirring things up, she’s going to find that danger still lurks in these woods…

Man, did this work. It was incredible, which I shouldn’t be surprised by. I devoured this. The mystery was incredible and nuanced, the clues were so subtle it was hard to catch them even if I had suspicions, and it was just fun. It flew.

Stevie and her friends are back together to investigate a mystery known as The Box in the Woods, a murder that took place at a summer camp in 1978. It’s a pretty gruesome murder of four people and it unfolds in the novel by jumping between 1978 and the present. So it goes back and forth for a while until we know the details of the case and then it sticks to the present. I liked that, since we had no backstory on this particular murder before beginning this story. I felt like I was all caught up by the time we were maybe halfway through the story.

I was definitely into this story more for the mystery and Stevie than her friends, I admit, but I do feel like the storylines kept progressing from where we left off. Nate is just hilarious in his “I hate people, keep me away from everyone at this summer camp” mentality. And Janelle is great with her crafting euphoria at a camp where there are so many little kids ready to take part in her crafts. And David has his own growth, but I don’t want to spoil too much of that.

Suffice it to say this story has a great mystery, a sense of humor, and some summer camp fun. If murder mysteries are your idea of “fun”, anyway.

Send Me Their Souls (Bring Me Their Hearts, #3)

Send Me Their Souls (Bring Me Their Hearts, #3)

First Lines: Prince Lucien d’Malvane looks at me with the steady gaze of a wolf across a meadow. Waiting.

As I mentioned in the previous review, I just had to know how this series continued. I was very charmed by Zera and her group of friends and I just had to see how this trilogy ended. So it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick up the final book pretty much right after I finished the 2nd. (It’s rare that I actually read a series this quickly, but it’s fun when I can.)

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Reunited with her friends, Zera finds she needs them now more than ever. War rages all around them, and the army of valkerax partaking in the destruction means the death toll is astronomical. It also means Zera needs the immortality of Heartlessness now more than ever, even if now she actually truly can regain her humanity. But saving the world has to come before personal desires, right? The bigger question for Zera and her friends, though, is…is there even a world left to save anymore?

This book, the last in the trilogy, was obviously the darkest of them all. But I love that it still managed to hold onto its heart (hehe) and its sense of humor. Zera is just so irreverent, even after all the destruction they’re witnessing and all the death. I love that nothing is sacred with them, except the love and friendship this group has for each other. It really managed to lighten the story while still showing just how awful everything was around them.

It was fun to see so many different parts of the Mist Continent in this book, cities that we’d heard of but hadn’t seen. At times, it did kind of remind me of Deathly Hallows, in that the characters were on a constant march and danger followed them at every turn. So that sometimes got a little slow, but the character development usually helped because if one character isn’t growing and changing, someone else probably is and that kept things somewhat fresh.

There is still a ton of action in this book, which was fun. It was nice to be kept on my toes as I read, always wanting to find out what happened next. And with battles happening all around them, it was pretty much guaranteed that something special to them was going to get destroyed or someone was going to get hurt. It was just a matter of seeing what it happened to be this time.

I feel like this was a good conclusion to this series. I’m very impressed by this series, how tight everything is and how much fun it was to read. I haven’t read a fantasy series that has pulled me in in this way in quite some time. I’m thrilled.

Find Me Their Bones (Bring Me Their Hearts, #2)

Find Me Their Bones (Bring Me Their Hearts, #2)

First Lines: (I actually can’t share the first lines from this book because it’s a major spoiler to the previous book. Sorry. I really wish I could.)

I was really taken with the first book in this series. I thought it was magnificent. So amazing, in fact, that I had to go out and get the next two books in the series so I could find out what happened next while everything was fresh in my head.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

In order to save Prince Lucien d’Malvane’s heart, Zera had to betray him. Now Lucien can’t even look at her and Zera’s at the mercy of the king, awaiting the moment the magical bond keeping her alive breaks and her life finally ends. But fate has other plans for Zera. With freedom coming from an unlikely source, Zera is given a second chance at life–with a terrible cost. As the king strengthens his arm to march against the witches, Zera is assigned the task of training the deadly valkerax trapped in the tunnels beneath the city if she ever wants her humanity back. It’s hard enough training the valkerax and getting it to trust her, but regaining the trust of her friends? That’s just shy of impossible. And winning back Lucien’s heart? Forget about it…even if it’s the only thing Zera truly wants.

It was…pretty good. I don’t think I loved it as much as I did the first book, but it was still really good and really fun.

Zera is back with her brand of irreverent humor and martyr complex. It’s an interesting blend, really, because she always pretends she’s as heartless as she’s supposed to be, but she can’t help but try to protect those around her. And I really love it. It’s kind of the same with Lucien. He’s definitely got a mask on to cover his emotions and thoughts, but whenever you do crack that veneer a bit, it’s so cool to see.

The action in this one is a little less what I enjoy about fantasy. I don’t care about the creatures as much or some of the backstabbing, but there was enough still about Lucien and Zera and the core group of friends that I like so much that I was willing to overlook some of that. The action does move, and there’s always something interesting happening, it’s just that it wasn’t always what I enjoyed.

I will say there are some interesting character arcs in this book. I certainly love seeing characters develop and there was one character I wasn’t expecting it from that we got to see go through a pretty big change by the end and I liked that. But it’s also really cool just to see Zera constantly evolve.

I won’t say this is the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, but it’s really compelling.