Friday, January 20, 2017

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

City of Saints and Thieves
By Natalie C. Anderson
Read: December 10 - 13, 2016
Published: January 24, 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young 
Source: Galley from publisher (TY Penguin!)
Category: YA, Thriller, Africa, Congo
Series:  Standalone as far as I know

Book Description: In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn't exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill's personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.


From the first page of City of Saints and Thieves, I was taken with Tina: h
er life as a thief, the gritty descriptions of Sangui City, and her love for her sister. This girl is fierce. She has survived the past 5 years living on the streets as part of the Goondas gang, and every part of her is focused on her plan to take down the man who killed her mother. 

Tina is good at what she does. She is quiet. She is careful. She is quick. She is determined. She gets in and out without being seen...until she breaks into the house of her mother's former employer, and is caught in the the same room where her mom was found dead. It is at this point in the book where I was HOOKED, and the story just got more and more addicting from here. City of Saints and Thieves is a mystery and a thriller, and the danger increases as Tina and Co. get closer to discovering the truth about her mother's death. Some of the revelations surprised me, some did not, but still the story was fast paced and exciting all the way through.

I'm not going to tell you who catches Tina, but this book has lots of interesting and complex characters - many I'd want to stay far, far away from. However, my favorites, besides Tina, are Boyboy and Michael. This story does have a sprinkling of romance. It is not the focus at all, and not necessary to the plot, but a nice compliment. It fits the story well in the way it's messy and a little complicated, but is also clear cut and makes perfect sense for the characters.

In many ways, Tina's mother is the catalyst for this story, and as it continues, Tina discovers a lot of truths about her mother and their past in the Congo. But it is Tina who is at the center of this tale, and as Tina finds out more about her own history, she is shaped into the person she wants to be in the future. This is a girl who has lived the past five years on her own, and the more internal revelations that she makes about the value of friendship and not having to be alone, affected me more than many of the overall plot revelations. 

However, I think the most compelling element, and what set apart 
City of Saints and Thieves for me, is the setting. Especially when Tina travels back to the Congo - from where she and her mother escaped when she was a young child. Although this story is fiction, the Congo is a real place and so is the turmoil its people have faced for hundreds of years (look up King Leopold's role there for a start). This country has been - is being - torn apart by war and violence, but beauty still abounds, and the author depicts the contrasts in the extreme darkness and light - as well as the grey areas in the middle - in a powerful and thought provoking way. 

Highly recommended. 

Love Triangle Factor: none
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone, as far as I know. (Threads could open for a sequel, but this ending is strong if it stays)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

By Elle Katharine White 
Read: January 12 - 15, 2017
Published: January 17, 2017 by Harper Voyager
Source: EW - (TY Haper!)
Category: Adult, Retelling, Pride & Prejudice

Book Description: A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

I love retellings, and I'm always up for one based on Pride & Prejudice. But despite that, I've come to realize how rarely they meet my expectations. I've also discovered that my favorite kind of retellings are those that take the flavor of an original tale and blend it into something new, instead of trying to hit all the same plot points of the first story. Despite taking place in a world of dragons and hobgoblins and making "Darcy" a fierce warrior Rider and Aliza a Herbmaster, this story is pretty much exactly the original tale of Darcy and Elizabeth. We do have some characterization shifts, and names have been changed - Daired and Aliza are our main characters here - but it wasn't enough to excite me into loving this book more. 

To me, the faithful retelling felt constraining and frankly a little boring. Partially this is my fault. I didn't read the description closely enough, and my expectations of what this book would entail were off. However, that doesn't change the fact that instead of excitement for what came next, I mostly felt like I was waiting for the next box to be checked on what was supposed to happen. I also didn't like the Bingley (here Brysney) character nearly as much as the original, and that made me sad. 

I did however, like Aliza's sister Anjey more than I ever did sweet Jane. Anjey has a lot more spunk, and is clearer about her feelings. I like Daired's dragon Akkara a lot, and I appreciated that though Daired is a warrior, Aliza is not and has no desire to become one. Although she does prove herself to be brave and capable too. The world itself with dragons and other mythical creatures living and fighting among humans was interesting and had a lot of potential, though I didn't feel like I got to explore enough of it. I am also so happy this author didn't try to make the story triangle-y at all with the introduction of the Wickham character. But those things, and the few places the story managed to add it's own plot directions - mostly at the end - did not add enough new for me. 

Basically, if you want a more or less straight retelling, set in a Regency like fantasy world, this is the book for you! And knowing that ahead of time (or even not), you may love it. I wish I'd paid more attention to what I was getting into before starting this. If you are looking for a story that takes the flavor of Pride and Prejudice and turns it into something all its own, you will not find it here. 

Also, note, this is an adult fantasy book (Aliza is in her early 20s), but it is as clean as the original text, and would be great for a crossover to YA. 
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone (as far as I know?) I could see more stories set in this world, however. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

By Alexandra Bracken
Read: December 23, 2016 - January 5, 2017
Published: January 3, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Hardback from publisher
Category: YA, Time Travel
Series:  Duet Book 2/2 

Book Description: All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.

Wayfarer is the sequel to Passengerand it is a well-written and worthy conclusion to a gripping time travel duet. See my thoughts on the first book, Passenger, HERE, and don't miss this series! 

I read Passenger over a year ago, and though the whole series is told in dual perspective, it is Etta's narrative that I remember most from the first installment. Her entire life changed in an instant when she discovered she was a traveler. I mean, imagine standing in contemporary NYC one moment and then all of a sudden waking up and you're on a ship in the middle of an ocean at the end of 18th century? I'd be more than a little freaked out! I was swept along with Etta's emotions through the entire journey, and just amazed at how well she worked to adapt and keep going forward. However, Nicholas - the pirate privateer Etta meets on said ship - and his POV were very much present, and goodness, I love him too, but it was Etta's voice that spoke to me the most in the first book. 

However, the exact opposite was true for me in Wayfarer. This story fully belongs to Nicholas. It is his journey - emotional and physical - that has affected me the strongest, and it's the one I'll remember the clearest in the future. Nicholas goes through a lot in this book, as he and companions make increasingly dangerous choices that have rather destructive consequences. Etta faces much as well, and I don't want to discount her experience in this sequel either, but it is Nick who spoke to me the most - and for whom I ached - as I read this story. His strong sense of honor is one of his defining characteristics, and I was on the edge of my seat as it is repeatedly tested against his life and those he cares about. Nothing in this story is easy for Nicholas, but I love him all the more for how he handles himself through it all. I know I wouldn't have held it together, or been nearly as clear thinking as he is.

As a lover of history, I love time travel books, because I can relate to the idea of watching characters go back in time and try to blend in while navigating a foreign place that has completely different rules. I don't think I'd do half as well as these characters do. Both Etta and Nicholas crisscross the world through time in Wayfarer as they work to make their way back to each other and find the astrolabe before Ironwood gets his hands on it. However as they go, they realize 1) that they're fighting against something much bigger than they ever thought, and 2) their journey back to each other is increasingly less clear or certain as it becomes more dangerous and complicated. I love that the stakes are even higher in this book, and the world is even more complex than it was before. 

Of course Wayfarer has other characters in it besides Nicholas and Etta, as each spends time traveling with different companions. Sophie was definitely not my favorite person in the first book, but she grows on me throughout this story, as she travels with Nick. She also gets her own romance with Lin Min, whom I wasn't sure about through most of Wayfarer. But they are definitely well matched and I can totally understand that they were drawn to each other. Etta, on the other hand, gets to know Henry Hemlock and Julian Ironwood better. I really liked seeing Etta's relationship with the former, while the latter character managed to be both infuriating and endearing. I enjoyed seeing the ways Julian grew up and changed through the story, and I love that Etta won't put up with his nonsense. Although it's partly the point, I never felt like I was able to pin down Rose in this story, and in the end, I wish we could have seen more of a conversation between her and Etta.

My only complaint is that Etta and Nicholas spend the majority of the novel apart. However, though the promise of a happy and long lasting reunion grows increasingly more dim as the stakes get higher, they are always dedicated to and thinking about each other. Although new characters and old return, there is absolutely no waffling or petty drama about their feelings for each other, or their understanding that they are the best partners for each other. Even when others try to deceive or misdirect them, they trust in each other. They want to find each other again, but both have big roads and world changing choices ahead of him. As I said, nothing is certain, but I'll say that I ended this book very satisfied.

I definitely recommend this duet. Don't miss Wayfarer if you haven't yet read Passenger, and if you've yet to read either, this is the perfect time to experience the entire series together.

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: Series conclusion

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Frostblood by Elly Blake

By Elly Blake
Read: December 14 - 16, 2016
Published: January 10, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Edelweiss (TY LBBYR!)
Category: YA, Fantasy
Series:  Yes 1/2? (Not sure if this is a duet or trilogy)

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby's powers are unpredictable, and she's not sure she's willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon.

All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king's tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Fast-paced and compelling, Frostblood is the first in a page-turning new young adult three-book series about a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies—but together create a power that could change everything.

Frostblood is a fairly typical "MC doesn't know yet, but she has great and unique powers that will save the world, if only she can control them (spoiler alert: she figures it out at the right moment!)" BUT still I liked this book as a whole, and I don't mind this storyline set-up. 

What I loved - I loved the Fire vs Frostblood gifts and the way the character traits of each person matches their abilities. Ruby, our MC and a Fireblood, is much more prone to a fiery temper and not afraid to express her emotions. She needs to learn focus and control. Arcus, her love interest and a Frostblood, freezes his emotions under layers of ice, and it takes work to know know what he's feeling sometimes. I loved the contrast and tension between these two, and especially their banter. Their dialogue was delicious and snappy and just so so good. I could have read a whole book of their interactions. 

Questions I have - This world has a fairly complex mythology of gods and goddesses fighting and granting different gifts to humans that has led to later chaos. I wish there was a glossary of who each of them is, though, because I felt a bit lost about it all. I also still have many questions about the world building. I'm not at all sure how Ruby got her abilities - maybe it's not hereditary? It doesn't seem to have come from her mother, but not once was any father mentioned. Did he die? Was he a one night stand? It was a strange omission to me that Ruby never thinks about that figure at all. Also, (Spoiler: Why is Ruby the child of darkness? I was a little confused about what that meant and how that happened.) I'm hoping a lot of this is answered as the story goes forward. I think Ruby has a lot more to discover about herself and her history. I'd also love to see a map of this land, as a bunch of different places were mentioned, and I'd like to visualize all the different surrounding kingdoms and where the Fire vs Frostbloods came from. 

What I didn't love - It's hard to talk about this without mentioning spoilers, but I didn't love how all of the conflict plays out in the second half of the book. I LOVED the story in the first half, and the action was strong and kept me reading in the second half, but some of the direction it took wasn't my favorite. Though, take that with a grain of salt because I know there are certain things that bother me, that most people will not bat an eye at. I'll talk more about it under a spoiler tag: I know it's not a true love triangle, but the way Ruby is almost seduced by King Rasmus while she's being courted by the darkness, creeped me out, and made me really uncomfortable. Although she's being taken over by the power of a corrupted darkness that's pulling at her, this is never a storyline that I like. That said, things are sorted in a way that I don't fear any sort of triangle coming from this direction in the future, so that's good.

Anyway, I liked this book as a whole, and I see where it's getting a lot of buzz. I just hope that as the story goes forward, the author won't throw in any unnecessary love triangles, especially because my favorite part is Ruby + Arcus. 

Love Triangle Factor: Essentially none, but see the second spoiler above for more information. I think I need a new category called, "It's not really a love triangle." 
Cliffhanger Scale: Low. Part of a series. Not sure how many books, but this one wraps itself well. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Favorite books of 2016

My library in snow 

Hellooooooo everyone! It's been forever since I've written anything on here. It was so nice to take a break. But I've also been evaluating what I want to do here in the future. I'm just not feeling as relevant or present in this community anymore, so I'm thinking a lot about what that means for me and this blog. However,  do love you allll! And still want to read and talk about and promote books. I've just found that direct communication with people is often a better fit for me, personally. Though I don't know how that translates with my blog. So for now, I'm going to be posting still but more slowly.

Whew. Anyway, enough of all of that. I wanted to give a brief recap of my reading in 2016. I don't think this will be as long as some years, but I wanted to tell you my top most read books of the year out of the 104 I read (aka, on average 2 books a week, though some were less and some were more). Mostly, this post is for my own benefit, so I have a record of what I've read and loved in different years.

My Top Books of 2016 (In no particular order)
I've also included a little note at the end of each book as to whether it's Middle Grade, YA or Adult.

1) Arcadia Bell series by Jenn Bennett - 

Ok so right off I'm cheating, because this is not even one book, it's four. But I read this Urban Fantasy series all together and consider it one unit.

When I started this series, I hadn't binge read anything in ages, and I'd forgotten how much I love the fog of reading through a series in one go. This is an entire series where a couple works together without crazy misunderstandings or separations, from when they get together in the first book until the end of the fourth one. Once I got over Lon's mustache (it was a little traumatic LOL), I LOVED every minute of it. The mysteries and danger kept me glued to the pages as well as the secondary characters. Especially Jupe, Lon's son. I adore him so so much. I'm going to miss being inside of Cady's head and tagging along with all her crazy adventures. I read these books in September, and I just can't get over how much I love them. All of Bennett's books are great, but this series is for sure my favorite. (Adult)

2) The Hating Game by Sally Thorne - 

This book was amazing! I am a huge sucker for hate to love romances, and am finding it to be one of my favorite romance tropes. This is one of the best I've experienced. I rarely reread, but I read this book twice in a row, almost back to back. One time in print and the other on audiobook. I could watch Lucy and Josh banter forever. I love that this story feels like a mix between chick-lit and romance. It's fun and swoony, without the angst and drama. For me, the hype was 100% true for this book. I cannot wait to find out what Sally Thorne writes next. (Adult)

3) The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron - 

With this book, and reading Cameron's Dark Unwinding duet this year, she's cemented herself as one of my go to authors. Whatever she publishes, I want to read it! You can check my full review of this book, HERE. But basically, this story is impossible to talk about without giving much away, and it's more fun to go into it blind. The book has a cool sci-fi element to it that I wasn't expecting. I loved the MC Nadia, a quiet fighter who will do anything to protect her family, and the love interest Gray, who is not what he seems either. Such a good story and not to be missed! (YA)

4) This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills - 

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this one, and didn't have super high expectations. But right away I was hooked. I COULD NOT STOP reading! I would have read this book all the way through from start to finish in one sitting if I'd had the time. It is for sure one of my favorite contemporaries of the year. I love how This Adventure Ends is a light and fun and quickly read on the surface, but it packs a deeper punch that is there all along, though you have to get to know to see. In many ways this parallels Sloane's character and her journey through the book. I enjoyed the sweet and subtle romance with a Darcy like hero, but it's the friendships that stole the show with this one. (YA)

My favorite blog tour post ever was also for this book, where I interviewed the cast. Find it, HERE

5) The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski - 

This book, this series, are going on my all time favorites shelf. What an incredible ending to a story that began when a girl purchased a boy in a slave market. I - and they - had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But from the first page, I was hooked, and I knew it would be something special. The language alone is so incredible it makes me ache. And the story of Kestrel and Arin - one of tenuous hope, intense heartbreak, and a love that heals the most broken places - has stolen my heart once and for all. Highly, highly recommended. This is another book that I read multiple times this year. I've gotten to dread series conclusions a little bit, but this one does not disappoint in any way. (YA)

6) The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - 

I'm so glad I finally picked up a Susanna Kearsley book this year. I was long overdue, and ended up reading three of them, because they were so good. But this one, which I read first, remains my favorite. Kearsley is incredible at blending historical with contemporary stories, which she does here by exploring women living around the Scottish castle at Slains in both the the early 21st and 18th centuries - the earlier time being during the attempted Jacobite rebellion from England. There is a bit of a mystical quality to the connection between the time periods, but without taking away a sense of true history, and what life was really like in Scotland in the early 1700s. This is a duet, and The Firebird follows up and concludes this tale nicely. (Adult)

7) The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid -

At first The Diabolic seems like a typical dystopian - where the kick butt heroine inhabits a Roman Empire influenced space setting. And the book is those things, but it is also something different than that in a way that is intense and riveting. Maybe it was the way the author pushed the scheming and twists and everything else. But I was hooked from the start, and the story just got more and more exciting the crazier everything became. Of course this book book has a romance. And it is another favorite part. Tyrus and Nemesis are perfect for each other. They both have sharp edges and have had to learn to adapt to survive. That is why they are a great match, but it makes some things harder for them too. I was fascinated by this story ended. It is solid but also a little bit unsettling in a way that made the story more powerful. The book was sold as a standalone, but now will have sequels, and I'm so curious to see what happens next. (YA)

8) The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brusker Bradley - 

This book was amazing! Ada's voice and emotions were so real. I was completely wrapped up in her life and her words and hooked on her story from start to finish. What surprised me the most about this story is how layered it is, as well as the depth of the emotions of these characters. We see the world through Ada's limited viewpoint, while also understanding a much bigger picture of what was happening around and to her. Alongside Ada's personal journey was a fascinating - and sometimes frightening - look at Britain at the start of World War II. What a harrowing time in history. I am dying for the sequel to this book, which I've been assured is being written. I cannot wait to find out what Ada does next and catch up with all of her friends! (Middle Grade)

9) The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry - 

The Passion of Dolssa is one of those stories with a quiet impact that slowly builds as you read it, until you're eventually and unexpectedly slapped with how amazing it is. I enjoyed the story all along, finding it to be addicting, despite taking a while to read it. But months later, I am still l thinking about the vibrant characters, the fascinating - if terrifying - time period, and the the way the author constructed her story as if she'd found a series of historical documents. 

I love well researched historical fiction and this was exactly that. I felt like I had a real glimpse into thirteenth century provincial France, especially what life was like for women at that time. Don't let the length of this book or its seemingly slow start or heavy subject deter you in picking this up. The Passion of Dolssa is a beautifully crafted tale filled with characters and a story that you will not soon forget. Although it takes place in the past, this book has many parallels to today. Don't miss this one! (YA)

10) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - 

I know very little about video games and only a tiny bit more of 80s culture (tho I was alive for almost all of that decade), but I was totally hooked on this story. I cannot believe it took me so long to pick this one up, but I'm so glad I finally did. I was rooting for Wade from the start and wanted all the things for him and his friends! My husband read this book as well, and he enjoyed it just as much as I did. I can't wait to see what becomes of the movie that's supposed to come out about this story. (YA) 

10.5) The Grift of the Magi by Ally Carter - 
I LOVE the Heist Society series and Ally Carter surprised fans (or maybe just me!) with a new holiday novella right before Christmas. It was the best surprise ever! Kat + Hale and co forever. They are never better than when they're outsmarting a smart con, plus lots of swooooonnnnnn. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I hope Ally Carter never stops writing about these thieves. (YA)

BONUS: Two books I read in 2015 but published in 2016, both amazing. 

11) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 

I love the way Ruta Sepetys carefully and powerfully gives a voice to little known history, and how she infuses them with strength and hope, despite the heavy subject matter. Without her words I would not have known anything about the Wilhelm Gustloff, or the events surrounding this story. 

12) Passenger by Alex Bracken 

This is a strong and solid time travel book that completely swept me away in its magic. This story is timely despite taking place in the past, I loved Etta and Nicholas' dual narration and of course the swoon. Plus, anytime I can 'visit' history is a winner for me. I've now read the conclusion of this duet and it is a wonderful and worthy conclusion! 


Okay, so actually, I decided to be super wordy above. HA! Although these were my most favorite books of the year, I enjoyed so many others that I feel sad I'm not including more. But I have to cut myself off somewhere. You can see my full list of 2016 titles on Goodreads HERE.

We spent Christmas in Florida and I want to be warm againnn

What were your favorite books of last year?

Happy 2017 and Be well!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Problem with Forever
by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Read: May 29 - June 1, 2016
Published: May 17, 2016 by Harlequin Teen
Source: Kindle Purchase 
Category: YA, Contemporary, trauma, reunited friends
Series:  Companion

Book Description: For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.

The more I think about this book, the more it makes me angry. I think maybe it's because I really wanted to love it a lot. And I didn't. It also bothers me so much when I seem to be the only person to have a specific issue with a story. I just need to move on now.

The Good: I really liked Mallory. I especially loved her journey from crippling social anxiety and not liking herself to confidence and taking action in her life. And I enjoyed seeing JLA write a YA heroine who is not snarky or 'badass' in the traditional sense. I loved the connection to The Velveteen Rabbit. I also appreciated the way this book shows the value of therapy and support from others, but ultimately each person has to make their own choices and do their own work to change.

The Bad: I STRUGGLED with the romance. Rider has a girlfriend through the first half of the book (we don't find out they broke up until after 50%), and I did not like anything about how that situation was handled. That's usually dealbreaker for me anyway, but I pushed through. Sadly, it was not a good choice for me. I thought the story was getting better in the second half. But nope. While I liked Mallory a lot - minus her romantic choices - I ended up mostly disliking Rider. 

I have a LOT more thoughts on this, which you can read on my Goodreads review.

Love Triangle Factor: (Possible Spoilers) I don't know what to say here. Most people would just say none, and from Mallory's POV there isn't. Though honestly, I wish she'd gone out with someone to wake up Rider a bit out of his idiocy. But Rider has a girlfriend for half the book, and to me that becomes a triangle, I'd also say his behavior towards Mallory skated over the line of cheating. So I'd say medium for the first half. But again, for most people, this will not be an issue at all. Look at other reviews as an example. 

Cliffhanger Scale: standalone/companion series (I think). This book seems to be setting up a future couple. I liked both of them, but not sure I could invest in more if this were a series.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quick Thoughts: The Secret of Heart Note by Stacey Lee

The Secret of Heart Note
by Stacey Lee
Read: June 17 - 19, 2016
Published: December 27, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: EW (Thank You, Sourcebooks!)
Category: YA, Contemporary, plants, aromas

Book Description: An evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs

Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.

At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.

I quite liked this one! I loved the idea of aromateurs and found Mimosa and her mom's lives fascinating. The whole way they use their heightened sense of smell and plants from around the world to help people fall in love was enchanting. The vivid setting made me want to see their garden filled home for myself, and visit Northern California in general. 

I found Mim to be endearing and relatable, though I wanted to shake her a few times. She tries her best to do the right thing but it gets her into a bit of trouble in this book. However, I enjoyed watching her grow up throughout the process and realize she's not as alone in the world as she once thought. 

I enjoyed Mim's sweet romance with Court, though I wanted more out of it (highlight for spoiler) and I definitely needed more of an explanation for the cheeseburger scene near the end. Also, I wanted to see him actually ask her to homecoming -  i.e. I like seeing things spelled out. I could have done without the mean girl plot (I'm just over those), and I wish we'd seen more scenes between Mim and her friend Kali. There were a lot of different characters in this story, but I liked how the pieces came together in the end, even though I could already see where many of them were going to fit. 

Overall this is a great story with a unique set up, and endearing heroine and a sweet romance. Plus family and friend themes too. I was already a fan of Stacey Lee from her historical fiction Under a Painted Sky, and I can't wait to find out what she writes next. 

A note on the E-ARC I read: I was very confused as to why Mim was only 15 in this book - the description in Goodreads says she's 16, which makes much more sense as she's a junior in high school. However, it's said multiple times that Mim is 15, and the book made it sound like she wouldn't be 16 for another year. Unless she skipped some grades (which wasn't mentioned), should be 16/17 as a junior! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

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