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.
Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Ever since Margot was born, it's been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot's questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.
But that's not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it's not what she bargained for.
Margot's mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what's still there?
The only thing Margot knows for sure is there's poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she's there, she might never escape. (Amazon)
A book lover often has a difficult time reading the books that they're interested in. Just when the opportunity arrives to finally dive into that story you've been wanting to read for months, about five other books release and you once again fall behind. That's why, despite the popularity of Wilder Girls last year, I never had the chance to enjoy it. Seeing a new and upcoming release from Rory Power seemed like the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with her imagination.
The writing itself is very good. There are no hiccups, no floundering about, and it flows smoothly. Rory Power gets to the point that she wants to make without beating around the bush. I really wanted to enjoy this story, however, and sometimes we want something so strongly that it slips away.
While the writing is straightforward, the pace was not. The novel took so long getting to the meat of the plot that I got slightly bored along the way. I didn't really connect with any characters except our lead, something that is at times the case often when a book is written in first-person. I felt for Margot and her plight. That's one thing that can be said for this book: you feel the desperation, frustration, and need coming off this young woman to have the love and family that she has wanted her whole life. It screams out through the pages.
Was the true horror and mystery of it all worth it when it finally arrived, however? Yes, it absolutely was. There is something sickening, twisted and disturbing about the history behind the horror of Margot's family. And for that, this book is well worth the read. That something so seemingly small would make me feel as uncomfortable as it did, speaks well for the way that the author unfolds it into the rest of the writing. But it arrived quite late, and developed far too fast for me to properly enjoy.
Burn Our Bodies Down has a Stephen King-esque vibe that hit me more than once, and I've noticed that other readers have felt the same. It's this nagging little thing at the back of your head that you notice here and there and can't let go of. I appreciated it, even if the whole of it fell a little more off the mark than I'd hoped. There's merit to this novel, I just wish that more of those daunting details which pop up near the end and made me uneasy—while making everything charged and fraught with terrible possibility—had been delivered a little more starkly from the start.
Thank you to Ana Huang for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: One year, two opposites, and a love that will blindside and, ultimately, shatter them.
She’s an aspiring interior designer who dreams of falling in love.
He’s an ex-football star who thinks love is a con.
She’s a virgin, and he doesn’t do virgins.
He’s cocky, infuriating, and not her type.
She wants the fairytale.
He wants freedom.
Blake and Farrah shouldn’t have fallen for each other the way they did: totally, completely, and irrevocably.
Because they’re studying abroad in Shanghai, and they only have one year.
Because forces at home threaten to rip them apart, even if they don’t know it yet.
And because, eventually, they must face the most heartbreaking lesson they’ll ever learn: sometimes, even the greatest love can’t conquer all. (Amazon)
If We Ever Meet Again is the story of what happens when life surprises us and we open ourselves up to something different from what we thought we wanted.
This story was sweet and heartwarming, with two very likable characters. Though I found Farrah and Blake's first meeting a little fast in happening and ever so slightly hurried, it was still charming. Their quick zings and ability to take each other lightly despite their attraction for one another was very relatable and drew me in as a reader. If nothing else, they made me smile. Though their story does not come to a (temporary) close in the best of terms, it's bittersweet, and does hold hope.
One of my favorite parts about the book were the rich descriptions of its setting. The scene between our two leads at the Great Wall of China was breathtaking, and though it had to do about their connection more so than the place, it was so easy to picture them there with history surrounding them. That scene, by the way, was the first time that this novel made me feel truly emotional—it was great to see two people who, up to this point were mostly bickering and bantering with one another, show vulnerability.
Between Farrah and Blake's friends, the cozy bond that they all have formed together, and the adventures that they take, If We Ever Meet Again was endearing. It's very much about not just the romantic relationships, but those in general.
It's the perfect time to do this Book Tag, and I wasn't expecting how some of these turned out, but that is one of the reasons why I enjoy these types of posts so much. I borrowed these questions from BookswithEmilyFox's YouTube video >HERE< and enjoyed learning her own answers as much as I did discovering mine.
Best book you’ve read so far in 2020. Maggie Stiefvater's Call Down the Hawk. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, it did not disappoint, and I am eager to get my hands on the second book. I need more Ronan and Adam in my life!
Best sequel you've read so far in 2020. One of Us Is Next by Karen McManus. Karen McManus writes books that, to me, feel like comfort reads from the moment that I pick them up until the second that I finish. That's a treasured sensation to experience in relation to a story.
New release you haven't read yet, but want to. Most of the books that I still desperately want to still read in 2020 haven't released yet. However, more and more, I find myself intrigued to read The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. There's one to look forward to.
Most anticipated release for the second half of the year. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. I found out about this book when the year had already begun, which is different from my other eagerly awaited books of 2020 since I knew about those since last year. But the moment that I learned about it, I knew it was a story for me.
Biggest disappointment. The Sisters Grimm by Menna Van Praag. The premise for this book promised everything that I would usually enjoy in a retelling, especially since it dealt with fairytales. But it was dull and lengthier than it needed to be, lacking the magic I hoped it'd have.
Biggest surprise. The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant. The audience seems divided on this one, but I absolutely adored it. Kester Grant took me on a dark and deep tunnel along the tale of Les Miserables all the while shaping the world that she'd created around this classic. To say that I am curious to find out how she continues from where this first book in the series left off is an understatement.
Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you) This is a difficult one to answer, because I've enjoyed quite a few books by new authors for me this year. But, among them, Kate McLaughlin stands out with her debut of What Unbreakable Looks Like. This emotional, heartbreaking story is written in such a simple yet powerful way that it can't help but stick with you. Even months after I read it, I still think about it from time to time.
Newest fictional crush. Declan from Stiefvater's Call Down the Hawk did something to me this year. Which shocked me, because he's such a sanctimonious ass in previous books from this world. But the true crush came in the form of Sarah J. Maas' Hunt from House of Earth and Blood. That was certainly a tasty morsel, even if I get the beginnings of anxiety thinking of what might potentially happen to him.
Newest favourite character. I'm tempted to name Stevie Bell, even though I met her previous to this year from the Truly Devious trilogy. However, though the book is not as well known (yet), I adored Anne Bonny from Meg Caddy's Devil's Ballast. Yes, I know she was a real person and not a fictional character, but she was fictionalized in order to be part of this novel. So, she'll do. That is one strong woman I would've looked up to, pirate or not.
Book that made you cry. Again, Kate McLaughlin's What Unbreakable Looks Like. The tears flowed silently but truthfully.
Book that made you happy. You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. I don't usually read romances lately unless there's a side-story to them (or unless the romance is the side-story), but this book was a delight to read. It brought more smiles and laughs to me than most other novels have lately.
Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year (or received) The UK tour edition of Sarah J. Maas' House of Earth and Blood. Which, infuriatingly, never made it to me. My delivery service canceled the order and returned the book to Waterstones because they couldn't “find my residence.” So, I had the pleasure of buying the book, but never had it in my hands. It still stings.
What books do you need to read by the end of the year? Sooooo many that it makes me want to hide under the bed and not come out unless food beckons. Honestly, I have over 20 ARCs waiting to be read, more are on the way, and I'm not even taking into account the other many books that I wait to see released. That's the joy of reading, though: you never run out of material to explore.
Thank you Edelweiss and HarperTeen for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing. (Amazon)
I came across Ghost Wood Song and I was soon lost. I am absolutely and easily smitten by a pretty cover, it will turn my head every single time, and this is one gorgeous cover. How could I resist finding out more about the book?
But then... Wait now, this is a Gothic story with a Southern twist? Well, I'm sold.
Only a few chapters into this novel, and I was hooked. At the center of this tale is Shady Grove (a name I adored from the get-go), whose father has died a few years prior; she now seeks his special fiddle after her brother gets into enough trouble to warrant her need to become involved. This fiddle, she believes, holds the answer to helping her older sibling, especially since it raised ghosts for her daddy until the day he himself passed from this world.
That alone should be interesting, but what I most loved about this book—and what drew me in time and time again—was how well Erica Waters allows the reader to become lost in the haunting and rural setting. With its surrounding forests, lakes and old houses, creeping vegetation and nearby whispers, you see ghosts at every corner. It was so easy to sink into the story and follow along with Shady and her friends while she raised ghosts and fought to keep herself alive.
Unfortunately, I think it's those same characters who made my love at first sight falter a few times. It's not that they're a weak cast. They're charming. Shady is smart and kind, protective and easy of manner unless you speak ill or go after someone she loves. But the rest kept mostly to the surface. It was as if, lest they were needed to make a point to the story, they were tucked away in the background. Even during scenes in which there were more than two characters present, it was not rare to notice that besides the two who were mainly in conversation, the others would be forgotten in narrative. It's not a huge detriment to the story, and alongside Shady, Frank and Jesse are intriguing because they're part of the big mystery behind everything going on. But I wanted the others to have a pull from me as well.
The pacing is fast, and you don't have much time to become bored with any goings on. There were some scenes that lacked the nostalgia and eerie notes that echoed throughout, which pulled away from total immersion on and off. Don't get me wrong, not every single instance needed to be full of spirits, and cold spots, and scary footsteps in the middle of the night. Yet, now and again, the dreary atmosphere with which the novel began, would slip before catching itself right before going over completely. Once that happened, it wasn't difficult to get sucked back in.
Ghost Wood Song is a charming story despite the sadness of its premise. The family bond portrayed is strong, and hopeful—it's inspiring. There are a few darkly atmospheric moments that are no less meaningful for being expected, and the inclusion of music added a layer that was as gripping as I expected it to be. It certainly prompted me to learn some new music that I likely wouldn't have come across on my own.
That's always a great day: when a book offers you a novel thing to enjoy in life.
Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: It's 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl's display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella's mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all--and in the process, they learn that there's more to Cinderella's story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they've been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. (Amazon)
I've never been a fan of the Cinderella fairytale. It's a lovely fairytale, don't get me wrong. And I certainly appreciate it. But it's not one of my favorites. “Why then would you read this book?” I too would ask. Well, it's a retelling, right? Retellings build upon the skeleton of the original and from there, the writer can go anywhere, do anything—create something new on that foundation. It's why I enjoy reading retellings. Cinderella Is Dead went past the early stages of the story we all know, and gave us a picture of the setting 200 years after Cinderella dies.
My biggest disappointment with this novel is how shallow it is as far as development. There is not enough depth to the world-building, or to characters, or to their actions. We know the bare minimum so that we can follow along with the storytelling. After Cinderella dies, Prince Charming angrily decides that women will stop having any rights because Cinderella did not love him as he saw fit, men will control them, and he gets his pick of the lot whenever he wants. These rules follow every king hereafter. In short, he's a spoiled brat and that's his drive. And by his decrees (because in this world it seems that most men are shaped with the same cloth that shaped Prince Charming) almost every male that our lead comes across (with the exception of just three of them) are all horrible human beings who just want to inflict pain on women, use them, and discard them as they see fit.
That line never sits right with me whenever an author uses it in a story.
Sophia, our lead... Well, I still don't know her. I know that she doesn't want to marry a man just because her king demands it (which is valid) and that she wants to get out of this situation. She's headstrong, and stubborn, and most of the time does whatever she wants without regard for anyone else, or much thought to her actions. That's all that I know about her. I neither liked her, nor disliked her, except to find her instant lust/love towards Constance to be one-dimensional and unbelievable. Sophia swears that she's in love with Erin, her sweetheart, and yet after just one night in Constance's presence, she starts thinking to herself
Her body, backlit by the flames, is like a vision. She is tall and strong. She's got her sleeves pushed up; a wide, jagged scar runs over the muscles of her upper arm. They flex as she stokes the flames. I imagine how they might feel wrapped around me, and I wonder if she can tell how enthralled I am with her.
You just met this girl. How can you be enthralled by someone that you know nothing about? Sophia's feelings towards Constance's and Constance's immediate reciprocation and constant flirting (see what I did there?) was hammered into me from their first meeting. And during moments when I wanted to be focused on the story, it would rear its awkward head up again and detract from the bit of plot that I wanted to follow.
It felt forced.
After a few chapters that dragged, and some planning by the characters to figure out how to beat the backwards system in the world of this novel, we finally come to the end of the story. It involved a lot of Sophia (who has run away from the “kingdom” so that she's not killed) waltzing right back into the palace, without any guard recognizing that this is the girl they're chasing after. Once that's done, and the king most obviously sees her among the other girls, the two engage in fairly poor comebacks against each other until she gets locked in a pantry-sized room to await his evil deeds against her.
I wanted to like the ending, because it was to be the saving grace at this point. But it was as bland as I found most of the rest of the story and ended in a predicable manner. King Manford doesn't really have a reason to be the way that he is, there's no point to his villainous nature, and I felt like the author kept pulling twists and turns and reveals from her sleeve at random to help make sense of things but they didn't add up. Sure, Sophia and Constance get what they want at the close, but we expect it. Nothing that came before it left a lasting impression.
Despite everything that I didn't enjoy, the twist given to Amina's role—our “fairy godmother”—was great. No, she does not have much development either, but I'm glad that her character was different from what we expected. I like that it drew from a darker source and gave her a slightly more sinister veneer. Who she is to Manford came out of nowhere, but I suppose it works. And while the king's history before Cinderella is flimsy at best, the way that he keeps himself going was intriguing, and definitely fits his role of antagonist, even if it's something that has been done many times past.
The writing touched the mere surface of the story and a lot more life could have been imbued into every aspect of it. It unfortunately fell very short from my expectations.