Thank you NetGalley and Tor Teen for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: 1938. The Golden Age of Hollywood. Palm trees and movie stars. Film studios pumping out musicals and gangster films at a furious pace. Everyone wants to be a star―except society girl and aspiring astronomer Kate Hildebrand. She’s already famous after a childhood tragedy turned her into a newspaper headline. What she craves now is stability.
But when Kate has to move to Hollywood to live with her washed-up silent film star grandfather, she walks into a murder scene and finds herself on the front page again. She suspects one of the young men boarding in her grandfather’s run-down mansion is the killer―or maybe even her grandfather.
Now, Kate must discover the killer while working on the set of a musical―and falling in love. Will her stars align so she can catch the murderer and live the dream in Old Hollywood? Or will she find that she’s just chasing starlight? (AMAZON)
For fans of classical Hollywood cinema, Chasing Starlight will be a fun ride. While it took me a few chapters to get lost into the story, as soon as it picked up I found the tone of it incredibly reminiscent of the same feeling I get whenever I see a film from the 30s or 40s. It was delightfully authentic.
The plot, centered around the death of one of lead Kate's grandfather's house boarders, takes us through the story from one exciting event to the next without much of a break. As the novel progresses, and despite the constant action, the author takes advantage of moments between the characters to not just connect but to grow into themselves and outwardly alongside others. The friendships and bonds between Kate, Ollie and Hugo are especially pronounced. And the romance between the latter and Kate is sweet, with enough of a discreet spark to belong in the big screen during the Golden Age of films.
Kate herself, as the character driving the plot, is fairly easy to get to know and connect with. While her back and forth belief/disbelief/accusations of Hugo as the killer and antagonist in the story comes across as rash, it's not difficult to understand why she has such a tough time believing in others given her traumatic past. Nonetheless, she's fierce in her attempts to protect and help others, and seeing her save the day was rather satisfying alongside her grandfather—Ollie's—help. Ollie himself is a dear, and one of the most precious grandpas that I've had the opportunity to read in a tale with his own struggles to face.
Every character in this story has something that they're dealing with, whether physically or emotionally, and none do so easily. They're all a believable cast, helping the reader become further immersed. And borrowing from historical facts from the day, the author makes mention of not just movies that threw Hollywood into stronger popularity with the masses, but she also touches on political points, gender equality/inequality and racial beliefs that were as unpleasant as they were (sadly) factual back in the day.
While I figured out who the culprit truly was fairly soon after Kate finds the dead body in Ollie's kitchen, it was still an entertaining trail to follow. Teri Bailey Black keeps you on the edge of your seat and pulls you in faster and faster as the race reaches the finish line during the last few chapters. Chasing Starlight is a feel good cozy mystery with enough heart to become a choice read.
Thank you NetGalley and Avon for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.
After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez.
Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy.
After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had.
Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.
With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret. (AMAZON)
I grew up watching telenovelas. In a Hispanic household, they were a huge staple of weeknights in my younger days, and gathering around the TV to partake in the entertainment was just the thing to do. I remember bits and pieces of titles such as Maria La Del Barrio, Esmeralda, Pasión de Gavilanes, and La Mentira. These stories were often over the top, but also rather entertaining. To this day, I'm fond of Portuguese telenovelas—such as O Clone—even though it has been years since I've dedicated the time to watching them. But as soon as I caught a peek of the synopsis in You Had Me at Hola, I knew that reading it would be my chance to enjoy a little bit of that history.
This novel is one of those books that I consider a guilty pleasure, with which you can sit back, relax, and just spend a day enjoying without another care in the world.
The story splits its time between the real lives of telenovela and soap opera stars Ashton Suárez and Jasmine Lin. Jasmine is a rising star in soap operas with a rather messy recent breakup splashed all over the tabloids. And Ashton has made acting in telenovelas his bread and butter for years, while he supports his family in Puerto Rico—which he prefers and struggles to keep very private from his public image—and tries to make his current new project alongside Jasmine successful enough that it will hopefully give him the boost he needs to get to Hollywood.
First of all, author Alexis Daria did a fantastic job of portraying families of Hispanic roots. The close relationships that both leads have with their own, the small nitpicking fights that break out, and the fact that there are no such things as secrets because your business is shared throughout whether you like it or not (it's all in the name of familial love, don't you worry), is such a typical thing to experience in this environment. As a Cuban born and raised, I've had my share of these moments. You love them, you sometimes hate them, but in the end it's family and that's the closest thing that you keep to your heart. The representation was spot on.
Since Ashton and Jasmine first meet, and work together, because they're both actors in the remake of a Venezuelan telenovela, it stands to reason that parts of this story would take place on set while they film. What I did not expect—but was delighted by—was to actually be able to follow along with the script. It was very immersive to feel like I was behind the camera while Victor and Carmen—the two characters that Ashton and Jasmine portray—flourish in their own stories. And through them, our own novel's protagonists start to grow closer to each other. It was a great addition to the book, and made it that much more unique.
The romance that wraps around said protagonists was not without its own diverting moments. What starts off as a disastrous first meeting of spilled coffee and mumbling apologies, finishes in a sweet and warm connection and happily-ever-after for these two individuals. Ashton has his baggage, which is not easy for him to get rid of in order to let Jasmine in. And while Jasmine's own seems to weigh her down, she still has the type of disposition that doesn't allow her to turn her back on love. She's a very open and warm person, and inadvertently, she's what pulls Ashton out of his comfort zone and his shell, helping him learn to live again.
While I generally enjoyed these two—and the heat between them was absolutely undeniable—I will say that when things got a little rough near the end between them and secrets were revealed, what could have been solved with a calm conversation was tossed out the window and replaced with misunderstandings and misplaced blame. Granted, considering the indulgently diverting dramatics of telenovelas, it fit. And Ashton's show of trust toward Jasmine at the end came into effect smoothly because of this. But there was still a nagging little feeling that they didn't need to suffer quite as much as they did to reach that ending.
Paired with this, there were instances when characters would sit down to have a conversation, and rather than follow a dialogue, the author would just tell us what was said, what the reactions and resolutions were, and continue with the narrative. This was not the rule, and there's plenty of growth between the characters on their own, but these moments almost felt rushed. It was as if we, as the reader, were being hurried along to the rest of the novel.
These points aside, You Had Me at Hola does not disappoint. If you want to read a romance that will keep you glued to the pages from the beginning, will make you melt a few times, and will pack on the sexiness, this is the one for you.
Thank you NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.
Only...there were no aliens.
Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon's obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever? (AMAZON)
Reading this novel made me realize that I did not have nearly as much fun as I could have had when I was a teenager. Would it have bitten me in the end and made me regret a few things? Oh, sure. But what entertainment would I have had in the meantime!
Whenever an introverted character makes its debut among the pages of a book, I instantly feel a draw toward them. I think that's the case for quite a few of us. Gideon is quite happy with his world revolving around science and his experiments, with his lack of a desire to be among most of humanity, and being forced by family and friends to step out of that comfort zone is physically painful for him. But the beautiful thing about this type of person is that when they decide to be vulnerable before others, and push themselves so that they can experience more of life, they flourish. The moment that Gideon agrees with his brother Ishmael to prank the rest of the town into believing that aliens have made contact, he begins that journey.
It Came From the Sky is not just the tale of two brothers starting mayhem and watching the world around them go wild. It's at times heartwarming as Gideon learns more about himself; it's about emotional and mental growth; it's about family and friendships; and it's about learning that no matter what path you have set out for yourself, things don't always work out according to plan and you need to not just adapt, but find and fight for new goals.
While there are a few different stories developing at the same time along with the main plot, they all come together cohesively in the end to present a full picture for the reader. And the diary entries, private messages and interviews that accompany the regular storytelling are a nice addition. It's not just about the aliens—they're merely what sets off into motion a case of incidents that increase in drama and devilry. By the close of this tale, I don't think that Ishmael and Gideon missed pushing any buttons that they may have been able to push. And despite how different the two of them are, it was great to see how well their personalities complement each other. They have no idea at the start of things, but they eventually realize how much they care for one another and how willing they are to stand by each other through the downfall of their actions. Relationships are the core of It Came From the Sky, and they're what truly make the novel so special.
What begins as an amusing and slightly dangerous sociology experiment, turns into a young man learning who he is and what he is capable of, despite his imagined shortcomings.
Thank you NetGalley and The Parliament House Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat? (AMAZON)
Folklore is such a beautiful addition to any fantasy story. When properly used, you don't just have a tale with fantastical elements—now you have a tale that revolves around a people and their culture, their beliefs and practices, their fears and attempts to vanquish and conquer that fear, as well as the history of the lore itself and how it matured into the world of that story. That's what The Hollow Gods delivered.
First of all, A. J. Vrana has an ease to her writing style that made me get sucked into the book within a couple of chapters. Before I knew what hit me, I was fascinated and needed to know more. When given the time and attention that it deserves, The Hollow Gods flies by, and before you know it, you're done. There's more to this tale, there has to be, and I need to know it—that's how I find myself, abandoned after having finished.
With three POVs, we're given Kai, Emiliya and Mason to follow. Out of the three, Mason was the one that I had the most difficulty connecting to. There's a back and forth to his personality that got on my nerves sometimes, and I couldn't always pinpoint what he wanted. He clearly believes, despite what he says to himself, or he wouldn't be chasing around the town as he does. However, even when truth smacks him in the face he continues to deny that he should continue on the path that he's started traveling. Putting myself in his shoes, I would be slightly terrified, sure. But given the opportunity to delve into an in-depth world, curse, and myth, how could I not jump at the chance to follow that road and know more?
Kai and Miya are so much easier to become acquainted with. Kai has the sort of personality that I sometimes wish I owned in certain situations: he doesn't give a damn about appearances, could not care less about what people have to say or think about him, and he doesn't mince words. He's just absolutely brutal about it all, and for that I give him props. He doesn't live in a world in which he would survive were he any different. There is never an ounce of doubt on where Kai stands or how I felt about him. And Miya is rather similar. There's a slight ambivalence to her at the start, while dreams plague her and the Dreamwalker stalks, until she comes to terms with the fact that she simply does not belong where she is and needs to explore that. Taking Kai's hand and following him into the forest begins her and our awareness into who she is and where she should stand.
There seems to be an insta-love between these two, but that's smoke and mirrors (and that's not simply due to their past in other lives). Miya isn't so much blindly trusting of Kai as she is curious, and that curiosity leads her to see past his facade and into someone who slowly unfolds to accepting her back. There are two meetings between them before she moves fully into his domain, but they're well developed enough that I didn't feel them rushing into anything. From the get-go there's an obvious attraction, and if anything, I'm thankful for the fact that it's not surrendered to right away. Vrana portrays the warmth and heat in their relationship without making it the sole focus of the book. Thank you.
Where the meat really rests in this novel, however, is the legend surrounding Black Hollow.
Please be aware that things are not always going to be clear to the reader, and I don't think that they're meant to be. This is a fable that unfolds in the subconscious for a good portion of it, and as such, it is written to be full of meanings that do not easily pinpoint to answers unless we go further. This is, I think, my favorite part of this book: how real the mind of a person is written. The complexity and hesitancy that wraps around us in dreams—and for some, visions—only makes sense when we are willing to dig deeper. And the deeper you dig, oxymoronically, the more lost you become even as you find yourself in the end. That's the weaving of the story of the Dreamwalker and the plague that has owned Black Hollow and its people for years.
The Hollow Gods isn't “scary” or “horrific” in the common sense of the word. There are monsters, sure. And there are moments of terror, yes. But these are things that exist within the self a lot more so than outside of it. It's a theoretical sort of horror that deals with who one is and becomes very relatable a lot of the time. It's something that Emiliya has to experience for herself, and a quest on which we follow her from the start of the book.
Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
SYNOPSIS: The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It's losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn's--her brother's--magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong--the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it's too late--for her and for her entire kingdom. (AMAZON)
Now and again I enjoy a book despite the flaws that I see. Shielded is, in general, a passable read, but there's not a lot of depth to it. If you're looking for a novel with riveting characters, an absorbing story and immense growth throughout, then this is not the one for you. Most, if not all, remains at surface level.
The book's lead, Jennesara, is likable enough. I'm not sure why, exactly, her court in Hálendi had such a problem with her and found her to be so odd for a princess other than her penchant for doing her hair as simple as possible to hide her abilities (maybe because not a lot of time is spent in Hálendi before the story moves on), but this outright explanation for setting her apart from the “norm” of other girls, fell short. She can wield a sword well enough, and has been doing so since a young age, so that was fairly believable. She certainly gets knocked around and wounded enough times that I never thought her to be the Mary Sue of the brave fantasy female swashbuckler. But she certainly picks up fast on how to use a magic that's remained fairly sedate her whole life (magic, which, is a bit murky on its workings), and develops a few tricks along the way that come out of nowhere. She can be amusing, she's warm and brave, fairly intelligent, but at the end of the day she exhibits the typical signs of a character that can do almost anything put before her with minimal struggle or learning.
As we follow Jennesara along the world of Shielded after the initial incident in the novel that sets her life upside down, the setting began to evolve nicely. I was glad to see more of her surroundings, enjoyed getting to know the Wild and how it worked. Unfortunately, once Jennesara arrives in Turia—the land where her betrothed hails from, and the kingdom of the people supposedly causing war against Hálendi—she's shut up in the palace and other than the basic rooms that she visits, I never got to know more of the land. Whatever exploration the reader was lucky enough to embark upon, was abruptly cut off.
Her life in the palace moves from a suspicious outsider to a trusted guard in fast and less than credible circumstances. That's a theme, however. The ease with which people trust in this book baffles me. To the point where we're supposed to believe that the king of Turia—who we are told from the moment we meet him, is keen, and intelligent, and sees through lies—would allow someone from a nearby kingdom with whom relations are shaky, to meet with people plotting an obvious downfall in Turia, simply to not cause offense. That makes absolute sense. Let's allow people to plot right under our noses just so that we don't anger them, even though they're going to try to kill us anyway.
The romance featured was sweet, warm and at least did not develop so fast that it was instant. I am not a fan of romances that come to pass at the speed of light, but that's a very personal preference. Sometimes, I admit, it works in a story. Regardless, Teren/Enzo is what I would expect from a Prince Charming personality in a romantic relationship. He's brave, handsome, funny, strong and dependable, and from the moment that Jennesara sets eyes on him she's practically swept off her feet. You can't help but notice that this is the man that she will fall in love with, because the girl is absolutely smitten before we even know his name. It's “nice,” but it never set the pages aflame nor is it an epic tale to write home about.
That's the thing about the book as a whole: it's okay. There are evil mages who want to take over this world, and they go on a rampage of murder and hatred wherever they are, but there was no excitement to it. And though we're given quite a bit of background on how these mages came to be—sometimes background that became muddy and slightly confusing—the mages themselves, aside from the evil genius Graymere, are one-dimensional. Even Graymere remains outside of his core personality, aside from being the one to lead the others and thus have the obvious stronger role. That aside, the story is adequate, but it won't be a memorable read for me this year.