Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
Release date: September 20th 2016
Publisher: Random House
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. 
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces Henrietta Howel, a powerful, unforgettable heroine, and an entertaining world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem.

*Received physical ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This story was definitely intriguing and will keep you interested from start to finish. However, if you're looking for lots of action you'll find that it's a slow build and doesn't come often. But as mentioned in the blurb, it's an introduction to the main character and her abilities, as well as all the other individuals that become part of her magical world.

Henrietta Howel isn't your average sixteen-year-old. Working as a young teacher at a school where the headmaster could get quite brutal, she had to fight hard to not only survive her unfortunate situation, but she also had to hide the fact that she could burst into flames. With the help of her dear childhood friend, Rook, who had severe issues of his own, they're able to keep her secret while envisioning a better life away from their current. Then all of a sudden some dark forces spring out of nowhere and Henrietta's power is discovered. And so her journey to being recognized as a so-called chosen young girl who could destroy the monsters once and for all began. Henrietta is introduced to counterparts, as young as she was, and all shared the same goal: to be commended by the queen. Most of the story is about Henrietta's training and the confusion as to why she was unable to perform certain things a sorcerer would easily. We later discover the reason why, along with the mystery surrounding her parents. 

It was quite interesting, learning about the Ancients and how they came to be. But I was mostly fascinated with Henrietta's dilemma and wanted to know how it would all play out. She knew the truth yet she kept it from the other sorcerers, fearing they wouldn't accept her. And after the way people like her were dealt with in the past, I didn't blame her. 

Other interesting aspects of the story involved Rook's battle with the dark side. He seemed like a true friend to Henrietta and his deep feelings for her were obvious, but for some reason I just didn't want them to be anything more than friends. I really felt for him and all his anguish, and at some point I wanted them to put him out of his misery because it was obvious what would happen later on. It'll be interesting to see how his character develops in the next book.

Henrietta is a strong female character. In a time where women were definitely told to hold their tongues, she was headstrong and unafraid to stand up for what she believed in. I loved those traits of her character. And when it came to her heart, I rooted for her and Magnus. Their connection was evident throughout the pages and I hope they find a way to be together soon. Hopefully Magnus will sort out his situation and fight to be with her. 

In conclusion, A Shadow Bright and Burning is a wonderful, alluring story with great writing. Love the historical setting with dark and magical elements. Can't wait to read the sequel and see where the author takes us next.

Jessica CluessAbout the Author
JESSICA CLUESS is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. 

When she's not writing books, she's an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories. 

Visit her at 
Follow her on Twitter at @JessCluess.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: One Night by Melanie Florence

Release date: August 1st 2016
Publisher: Lorimer
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Luna Begay is as studious and serious about her Aboriginal heritage as her sister, Issy, is outgoing and fun. When Issy convinces Luna to go with her to a party full of rich kids, Luna is surprised to end up talking with Jon, who is charming, sophisticated, and very good-looking. But the night turns bad when Jon drugs and rapes Luna.

Feeling guilty and ashamed that she will be perceived as an "Indian slut," Luna doesn't tell anyone and remains in denial until Issy figures out that Luna is pregnant. Knowing that her decisions will affect her parents and Issy as much as her own future, Luna has to work out how to deal with the consequences of that one night, and she has to do it fast.

*Publisher approved request via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One Night is a good story, but I feel like it could have gone deeper. In regards to what happened to Luna, I'm well aware that many girls don't speak out with the way they are often dealt with by the public, but I wish that this story had gone a different way and that Luna had fought for justice. I agree with her decision about her baby though, she showed strength in that sense.

Other things that warmed my heart was the thick bond between the siblings, which is not often portrayed in YA books. I also liked the parents, how hard they worked to give their children opportunities, and the healthy family environment they had. The easy writing and the fact that the main character is diverse was also a wonderful thing and I'd love to read more books with characters having Aboriginal heritage. But I did have an issue with the pace. It was too fast for a story depicting such topics. Would have loved for the author to slow down a bit and give more. Like I said, this is a good story with some serious and very much realistic topics, but they weren't truly delved into and that would have pulled me in a lot more. 

Melanie FlorenceAbout the Author
Melanie Florence is a Canadian author of Cree and Scottish heritage. She is a recent winner of the Second Story Press Aboriginal Writing Contest for her picture book Stolen Words (Second Story Press, Spring 2016) and her first book, Jordin Tootoo: The Highs and Lows of the First Inuit to Play in the NHL was chosen as an Honor Book by the American Indian Library Association. One Night is Melanie's first Young Adult novel and is part of Lorimer’s Sidestreets series.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Smash & Grab by Amy Christine Parker

Release date: July 19th 2016
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Ocean’s Eleven meets the star-crossed lovers of West Side Story.Grab some popcorn and get ready for an adrenaline-filled heist!

LEXI is a rich girl who loves a good rush. Whether it’s motorcycle racing or BASE jumping off a building in downtown Los Angeles, the only times she feels alive are when she and her friends are executing one of their dares. After her father’s arrest, Lexi doesn’t think twice about going undercover at his bank to steal the evidence that might clear his name. She enlists her hacker brother and her daredevil friends to plan a clever heist.

CHRISTIAN is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The local gang has blackmailed him and his friends into robbing banks, and he is desperate for a way out. When the boss promises that one really big job will be the last he ever has to do, Christian jumps at the chance for freedom. In fact, he’s just met a girl at the bank who might even prove useful. . . .

Two heists. One score. The only thing standing in their way is each other.

Told in alternating points of view, this caper is full of romance and fast-paced fun. Hand to fans of Perfect Chemistry, The Conspiracy of Us, and Heist Society.

*Publisher provided physical copy in exchange for an honest review.

I fell in love with Amy's writing in the Gated series. I really enjoyed those two books and was utterly lost in the world of cults and how tough it was for members to move on from that life. Smash & Grab is a stretch from Gated, and I do like that the author doesn't restrict herself and is writing in other genres. But even though it's lighter in a sense and has an interesting premise, I just wasn't in love with Smash & Grab as I would have liked to be.

In regards to the characters, I did like the fact that it alternated between Christian's and Lexi's POV, but I didn't really connect with them as much, especially with Lexi. There was just something about her character that prevented me from really warming up to her. And I did sympathize with the fact that her father got in serious trouble and her family was in disarray because of it, but when it came to Christian's situation, I was more empathetic for him.

The blurb gave me the impression that there would be lots of exciting scenes, but there wasn't much, in my opinion, and I felt like some parts could have moved along while others, in particularly the ending, could have slowed down a tad. Still, it's an interesting story. There were funny moments and scenes where Christian and Lexi experienced a romantic connection, but when it was serious it was serious. Like with Christian's situation; the way gangs impact communities and how desperation from wanting to help your family can lead to terrible decisions and land you into bigger trouble. I thought the author did a good job in touching on that issue and the depiction of how the gang operated came off realistic. 

Overall, Smash & Grab is a good story but with some issues that held me back from fully enjoying it. I did like how things worked out for the characters and that their lives started to change for the better. Again, I'm happy that Amy isn't limiting herself to one genre and is branching out, and I look forward to reading her next release. 

Amy Christine Parker
About the Author
AMY CHRISTINE PARKER earned her degree in elementary education at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and then proceeded to try out many different jobs, including collectible doll maker, fondue waitress, and inner-city schoolteacher. It wasn’t until she became a mom and began making up bedtime stories for her children that she finally realized what she was meant to do. Now Amy writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

CAN'T WAIT TO READ: Unscripted Joss Byrd by Lygia Day Peñaflor

Release date: August 23rd 2016
Publisher: Roaring Brook
Purchase: Amazon

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Hollywood critics agree. Joss Byrd is "fiercely emotional," a young actress with "complete conviction," and a "powerhouse."

Joss Byrd is America's most celebrated young actress, but on the set of her latest project, a gritty indie film called The Locals, Joss's life is far from glamorous. 

While struggling with her mother's expectations, a crush on her movie brother, and a secret that could end her career, Joss must pull off a performance worthy of a star. 

When her renowned, charismatic director demands more than she is ready to deliver, Joss must go off-script to stay true to herself.

About the Author
Lygia is a private academic teacher for young Hollywood stars. Her students have included the young casts of Gossip Girl and Boardwalk Empire, as well as I Am Legend. She enjoys writing about teens and has kept true to her teenage self by marrying her high school sweetheart and remembering her locker combination. She lives on Long Island where she is an avid equestrian and old-school roller skater. Unscripted Joss Byrd is her debut novel.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Review & Giveaway: Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino

Release date: August 9th 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Purchase: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis via Goodreads:
When a bestselling debut novel from mysterious author J.Colby becomes the literary event of the year, Emiline reads it reluctantly. As an adjunct writing instructor at UC San Diego with her own stalled literary career and a bumpy long-term relationship, Emiline isn’t thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of a young and gifted writer.

Yet from the very first page, Emiline is entranced by the story of Emerson and Jackson, two childhood best friends who fall in love and dream of a better life beyond the long dirt road that winds through their impoverished town in rural Ohio.

That’s because the novel is patterned on Emiline’s own dark and desperate childhood, which means that “J. Colby” must be Jase: the best friend and first love she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Far from being flattered that he wrote the novel from her perspective, Emiline is furious that he co-opted her painful past and took some dramatic creative liberties with the ending.

The only way she can put her mind at ease is to find and confront “J. Colby,” but is she prepared to learn the truth behind the fiction?

*Publisher provided ecopy in exchange for an honest review.

Renee Carlino is one of my favs and this book is a reminder why: she's a wonderful writer that always delivers gripping, emotional stories and vibrant characters. 

From the very first page I was pulled in and wanted to know more about Emiline. She seemed to have a nice boyfriend and supportive best friend, but something was off about her. She was guarded, harboring something in her heart. Then she starts reading J. Colby's book and that tightly sealed damn literally erupted. 

I found it interesting that while Emiline was reading Jase's book and having her bottled up emotions pour out, my heart was being tugged at along with hers. Her childhood story, even though some parts were changed by Jase, was so heart-wrenching. It was no wonder she tried so hard to lock it a way, no matter how her current boyfriend, Trevor would want her to open up. And I could understand her initial anger over Jase writing about her story. They hadn't spoken in years and she felt neglected by her first, and most intense, love, especially after what happened the last time they were together as teens.

At first Emi believed Jase was writing about her from her perspective, and he certainly seemed to have it locked down when it came to describing her emotions in various parts. But once she got to the made up scenes and finally met him again after so long, Jase tried to get her to understand that the book was "for" her and not "about" her. Like Emi, I didn't really comprehend what Jase's intentions were. But over time, Emiline finally got it in her head that the book was meant to help her heal, because after all those years she still had all that pent up hurt and wasn't letting it go. And it was nice to see that Jase's book encouraged her to return to her childhood town, not to mention she decided to reconnect with one of the people who hurt her badly. Yeah, Emi's dad was quite the monster and not many would want to reach out to such a person after what he did to his daughter. But I understood why Emi met up with him again as an adult. She needed closure in order to move forward, not for him but for herself. Her mother was totally the opposite. I honestly didn't know what to expect from Emi's mom, but damn, what a piece of work.

There's a lot I could write in my review to show how much I loved this story. I mean, it had messages throughout that I could take and apply to my own life, even if I hadn't experienced a past like Emiline's or Jason's. Their history together was just intense. In spite of all the pain they had endured, they managed to find this beautiful thing called love and it got them through. Emiline often doubted her strength and self-worth, and that was understandable, but Jason was there to love and support her even when he wasn't physically by her side. And although they got separated as teens and Emiline tried to block it out and pretend her way through life, the love they had was too real to continue denying. It was a sure thing that they would eventually meet again, no matter if it took a book for that to happen.  

Again, beautiful writing, engrossing story, and authentic characters. What more could I ask for? Swear on This Life served up a great mix and left me emotionally messed up. Thank you, Ms. Carlino, I'm still recovering from your previous and now I have to add this to it. But no matter what, I'm always looking forward to your next :)

Renee CarlinoAbout the Author
Renée Carlino is a screenwriter and bestselling author of romantic women's novels and new adult fiction. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons. When she’s not at the beach with her boys or working on her next project, she likes to spend her time reading, going to concerts, and eating dark chocolate.


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