Monday, March 18, 2019

Amber and Dusk by Lyra Selene

Amber and Dusk 
by Lyra Selene 
Read: January 6 - 12, 2019
November 27, 2018 by Scholastic Press
Source: OwlCrate

Category: YA, Fantasy, Orphans, Court Intrigue, Magic 
Series: 1/2? 

Book Description: Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it gives her a place in Coeur d'Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies.

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to assume what should be her rightful place, she'll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

I came out of Amber & Dusk with some mixed feelings. I liked some aspects a lot, and did not care for others. However, this book kept me interested and reading until the end, and for that, it was a win. Also, barring certain factors, I will definitely read the sequel. 

My main issue was connecting to the heroine. For me to enjoy pretty much any book, I need to be able to connect to an MC, and Sylvie/Mirage was tough for me. Unfortunately, she just read as whiny and entitled, and for most of the book had a Marie Antoinette complex - ‘I am a legacy so I deserve better. I don’t care what is happening in the real world.’ I mean I get her deep desire to belong, but the way she approached it, didn’t sit well with me. Eventually Mirage wakes up and (spoiler: then is all of a sudden planning a revolution /end spoiler). I just didn’t buy the transition well, and really struggled to understand her character as a whole. 

I found Sunder to be the most interesting character. I liked his moral greyness and actually, Mirage became a lot more interesting to me at the end when she acquired a little bit of that. But I really enjoyed Sunder and he for sure kept me reading. Figuring out who he was ended up being one of my favorite parts of the story. I also enjoyed Thibo and Lullaby, tho with such a big court, this story doesn’t have a big cast, and I wanted even more from them. 

I liked the direction of the romance a lot, and I am hoping that it continues along those lines in future books. There is a second possible direction that peters out into friendship and I’m hoping it stays that way (if it doesn’t, I won’t be reading more of this series. I’ve not got time for that). But I never trust expectations for sequels, so we shall see. 

Besides not connecting to the MC my biggest issue with this book was the world-building. I never quite grasped the - the sun hasn’t gone down for many years thing. At least why it mattered to the story, besides just being part of the world. I hope that’s explored more in the future. But overall I liked this debut, and barring any potential love triangles, I’d definitely read the next installment.

Love Triangle Factor: I'm going to say none (or low) - but there is a progression, so be aware of that. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Low - There are unanswered questions and another book - Diamond & Dawn - to come. I think this is a duet, but I'm not certain.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Doll Hearts by Colleen Clayton

Doll Hearts 
by Colleen Clayton 
Read: November 23 - 25, 2018
Published: April 24, 2018 by Muse Contemporary
Source: Kindle purchase

Category: YA, Contemporary, Summer, Amusement Parks, Diabetes, Family Drama, Hoarders
Find: Goodreads | Amazon 

Book Description: 17-year-old Julianne Bell’s life is caving in on her. Literally. Her mother is a hoarder and shopping addict whose retail drug of choice is collectible dolls. She also dabbles in lesser fixations like snow globes, commemorative plates, kitchen gadgets, and never-to-be-used exercise equipment. Their house is not a home but more a bizarro game of Garage Sale Tetris in which flea market finds, Amazon boxes, and QVC shipments are puzzled together in a labyrinth of consumer excess and looming bankruptcy. It’s a situation Julianne has grown adept at hiding. That is, until the day her school cafeteria account slips into the red. Meal-skipping is not an option for someone with Type 1 Diabetes, so when Julianne has a seizure in class, her father claims custody. Living with her dad and annoyingly perfect step-mom is not how Julianne planned to spend her summer, let alone her senior year. Needing fast cash to help her mom avoid foreclosure, Julianne takes a job at an amusement park, and as luck would have it, her former classmate—heartthrob Brandon Wright—also works there. Between sweeping up cigarette butts at the park, racing to solve her mom's personal and financial disasters, a medical condition that needs constant monitoring, and a budding romance, Julianne Bell’s messy life just got a whole lot messier. 

Set against a summery backdrop of roller coasters, pool parties, and cute boys, DOLL HEARTS explores issues of obsessive-compulsive hoarding, family bonds, and first love.

I loved Colleen Clayton's first book What Happens Next. It is a contemporary gem, and I definitely recommend that you read it if you haven't already. Because of that I was excited to read her new book Doll Hearts. Unfortunately, I have very mixed feelings about this book. 

What I liked: The story of Julianne dealing with her mom’s hoarding and OCD, as well as her relationship with her dad and Melody, was raw and felt realistic. And I really appreciated how the story ended with all of that. It wasn’t perfect, but Julianne grew up a lot and ended up in a good place for herself. I don’t know a lot about type 1 diabetes, or how accurate is this portrayal of it, but found that part of the book to be interesting and eye opening. Though I wanted to shake Julianne every time she got mad at her friends for their care and concern. I also liked Julianne’s new friendship with Dana and also with Lindsey, and her job at Cedar Point. 

What I loathed: However, I hated the romance. It was a complete miss for me, and that pretty much ruined my enjoyment of the story. I didn’t like Brandon much throughout the story, and I completely lost all trust in him after that end party. WHAT?! I didn’t buy his explanation at all. The whole Adriana situation made me very angry. He shouldn’t have been hanging out with Adriana at all after he started dating Julianne. Full stop. For me, there was nothing swoony about this storyline or this guy. You’re not going to convince me that Brandon wasn’t still playing around, and I hated that in the end he never really realized why Julianne was upset - or apologized. And while Julianne acted tough at first, I can’t believe she just fell for his explanation at the end like it was nothing. Yeah right. No thank you, buddy. 

I cannot recommend this book, because I hated the romance, and that's a very important factor in my enjoyment of any story. However, I did like Julianne and a lot of the other elements in Doll Hearts, and I'd be interested in another story by this author - assuming the romance was different than this. 

Love Triangle Factor: None from Julianne's perspective. There's definitely a reverse love triangle happening from Brandon's perspective though. You're not going to convince me that there isn't. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Wild Country by Anne Bishop

Wild Country
by Anne Bishop
Read: December 15 - 29, 2018
Published: March 5, 2019 by Ace
Source: Galley from publisher (TY PRH!)

Category: YA, Fantasy, Adult, Shape Shifters,
Series: The World of the Others #2 

Book Description: In this powerful and exciting fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, humans and the shape-shifting Others will see whether they can live side by side...without destroying one another.

There are ghost towns in the world—places where the humans were annihilated in retaliation for the slaughter of the shape-shifting Others.

One of those places is Bennett, a town at the northern end of the Elder Hills—a town surrounded by the wild country. Now efforts are being made to resettle Bennett as a community where humans and Others live and work together. A young female police officer has been hired as the deputy to a Wolfgard sheriff. A deadly type of Other wants to run a human-style saloon. And a couple with four foster children—one of whom is a blood prophet—hope to find acceptance.
But as they reopen the stores and the professional offices and start to make lives for themselves, the town of Bennett attracts the attention of other humans looking for profit. And the arrival of the Blackstone Clan, outlaws and gamblers all, will uncover secrets…or bury them.

NOTE: Wild Country is the second book in The World of the Others series, following Lake Silence. This series is a companion to the previous five Others books, which start with Written in Red and focus on Meg and Simon and the Lakeside Courtyard. This book is a little bit more tied to the Others books than Lake Silence was. It connects into the last one, Etched in Bone, and I don't know why you'd want to miss out on everything that came before this, because it is amazing. 

What I loved: I cannot tell you enough how much I love this Others world that Anne Bishop has created. I have devoured every previous book, and look forward with much anticipation, to each new one written. The first five books of the series remain my favorites, but I've enjoyed exploring outside of the bounds of the Lakeside Courtyard. I was especially excited to visit Bennett, because we get some brief glimpses of this town from the end of Meg and Simon's series. I wanted to get to know Tolya Sanguinati and Barbara Debany better, as we'd met both of them before. Of course, this story introduces several new characters that I enjoyed meeting. But my favorite new faces in this book were definitely Virgil, the Wolfguard Sheriff and his new human deputy Jana. 

After the Elders wiped out much of Bennett, (this was done because of the decisions of some terrible humans), the terra indigene are working to resettle the community and begin to bring in creatures, inuits, and humans to work together in the town. This process brings in some wonderful people, but also danger in the form of the Blackstone Clan. 

This book has so many of the elements I've come to know and adore about this series, the characters, the intense world-building on a macro and micro scale, real danger and action, and the good guys trying to stay steps ahead of the bad. I especially love when the terre indigene begin to work with the inuits and humans and we see camaraderie and bonding between them in the face of the bad people. This book has all of that. 

What I didn't love: However, I've got to admit that this is my least favorite book in this series. I'm struggling to pinpoint why this is exactly. Some of the reasons are small  like I personally did not care for the Tolya - Jesse Walker situation. I liked both of them a lot individually  but (spoiler) don't care for the "friends with benefits" situation that isn't going anywhere (end spoiler)

My disappointment was also largely due to the way the story ended. As Wild Country is the last book in this world that the author has scheduled (for now), I expected it to end differently than it does, with a little more hope and a more positive, or at least more clear bigger picture direction. Honestly, I was depressed when I ended this book. The action comes so quickly right up until the end an there's very little decompression when it's over and the book stops. I ended it feeling sad and let down about the state of the town and its residents. It all just felt unfinished to me, and maybe that's a lot to do with my expectations, but I just wanted a lot more from this story if it's the last one in the world. And with all that this town has faced, I wanted more for these charters at the end. 

That said, I still enjoyed so much about this book and I would be thrilled if Anne Bishop writes more in this world. (crossing my fingers!!). 

Love Triangle Factor: None, there are a few side romantic situations, but none of them drew me in like previous pairings. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone/companion. I don't know when/if the author will write more in this world - but, hopefully she will!

See this and other bookish inspiration shots on my instagram @loveisnotatriangle

Monday, March 4, 2019

Famous in a Small Town and Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Famous in a Small Town 
by Emma Mills
Read: November 19 - 23, 2018
Published: January 15, 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: Andi @AndiABCs - TY!

Category: YA, Contemporary, Friends, Small Towns, Celebrities, Secrets

Book Description: For Sophie, small town life has never felt small. With her four best friends—loving, infuriating, and all she could ever ask for—she can weather any storm. But when Sophie’s beloved Acadia High School marching band is selected to march in the upcoming Rose Parade, it’s her job to get them all the way to LA. Her plan? To persuade country singer Megan Pleasant, their Midwestern town’s only claim to fame, to come back to Acadia to headline a fundraising festival.

The only problem is that Megan has very publicly sworn never to return.

What ensues is a journey filled with long-kept secrets, hidden heartbreaks, and revelations that could change everything—along with a possible fifth best friend: a new guy with a magnetic smile and secrets of his own.

My Thoughts: I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA these days, but Emma Mills is an auto-buy author for me, and once again, this book proves why. She is the best at depicting friendships in all their real, messy glory. The dialogue and banter between her characters is so good. I loved Sophie and her group of friends and their love of band. Then August moves in two houses down, and I adored watching them, and, especially, Sophie, get to know him. This book has another slow burn, sweet romance. And (bonus!) more kissing than her previous stories. I always want to give these books a big squeeze when I’m done — and text all my friends. The only thing that bugged me was an over use of T names. I couldn’t keep them all straight. Terrance, Troy, Tegan, Tanner - it was too much!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

**Thank you Andi for lending me a copy of this book!


Foolish Hearts
 by Emma Mills
Read: November 23 - 24, 2018
Published: December 5, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: Hardback - gift from my sister!

Category: YA, Contemporary, Plays, Romance, Friendships

Book Description: A contemporary young adult novel by Emma Mills about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dreamleads her to new friends--and maybe even new love.

When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Foolish Hearts, a YA novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting--and loving--people for who they really are.

My Thoughts: It’s been so long since I binge read a book from start to finish, but I couldn’t stop reading this one! I read 75% last night and then finished the rest this morning after realizing it was super late, and I really needed to sleep. This one doesn’t have such a solid friend group as Famous in a Small Town, but I love Claudia and her friendship with Zoe and the friends she makes through this book - Especially with Iris - and how that leads to a larger group. The romance with Gideon Prewitt was sweet and adorable. Previous heroes have been more Darcy like, but not Gideon. He’s hilarious, and the life of the party, and it’s so obvious how much he likes Claudia. It just takes her some time to realize it. I will read anything this author writes!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

In Conclusion: Emma Mills is an auto-buy author for me! Her contemporary YA is filled with great friendships, swoony slow-burn romances, and so much fun. Don't miss these books or this author's other stories. This Adventure Ends is still my favorite! And I cannot wait for what she writes next. 

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