Prelude for Lost Souls by Helene Dunbar #bookreview #YA #paranormal

In the town of St. Hilaire, most make their living by talking to the dead. In the summer, the town gates open to tourists seeking answers while all activity is controlled by The Guild, a sinister ruling body that sees everything.

Dec Hampton has lived there his entire life, but ever since his parents died, he’s been done with it. He knows he has to leave before anyone has a chance to stop him.

His best friend Russ won’t be surprised when Dec leaves—but he will be heartbroken. Russ is a good medium, maybe even a great one. He’s made sacrifices for his gift and will do whatever he can to gain entry to The Guild, even embracing dark forces and contacting the most elusive ghost in town.

But when the train of Annie Krylova, the piano prodigy whose music has been Dec’s main source of solace, breaks down outside of town, it sets off an unexpected chain of events. And in St. Hilaire, there are no such things as coincidences.

Honestly, after I read the first line about most people in St. Hilaire making their living by talking to the dead, I didn’t need to read any further.  Attention secured.

One of my favorite things about this book is the friendship between Dec and Russ.  Both have suffered tragic losses in their lives, but know they can count on each other no matter what.  Everyone needs a friendship like that in their life, although at some points it seems as if the balance shifts with Dec taking more than he gives.  Each is at a crossroads where the decisions they make will significantly impact not only their lives, but also their loved ones – especially Dec.  Russ is struggling with some personal demons (not literal ones – but he does struggle with literal ghosts) that may prevent him from achieving his goals.

While Dec and Russ had to maneuver through hurdles and obstacles, Anna didn’t seem to have as much agency.  She shares POVs with Dec and Russ, but primarily exists to support other story lines.  I’d love to see her play a bigger role in the second book.

Something I never had a firm grasp on was The Guild.  Their presence looms like a dark cloud over the story, and they control many activities of citizens in the town, but exactly how they obtained that power and how they used the money brought in from tourists and other sources was never clear to me.

I’d describe this book as a quiet paranormal that reads like a contemporary.  It may lack heartstopping reveals or shocking twists, but the story takes you by the hand and leads you on a pleasant supernatural journey.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick #bookreview #YA #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

If you’re looking for a compelling beach read, I got you covered.  I Killed Zoe Spanos will keep you in that beach chair for hours.

This is my first time reading this author, but it absolutely won’t be my last.  I was glued to this book from the beginning and conjured up tons of theories about what was happening during the course of the story.  Even then, only part of one of them turned out to be correct by the end.

Martina’s podcast is a clever way to introduce backstory – what happened with Zoe, who the suspects were, what the police did or didn’t do, etc., and it gives the reader a peek into her head since her POV is shared along with Anna’s.  The alternating chapters between past and present made me even more curious to learn how the characters got from point A to point B, and it’s one of my favorite storytelling techniques.  With such an intricate plot, I can just imagine the story boards the author must have created.

Although it works well with the story, I had to suspend my disbelief a tad with the way the investigators handled Zoe’s case.  Still, I devoured this book in two days.  Pay close attention near the end – things move fast and a lot of questions are answered.

With a heavy dose of red herrings and twists to keep you guessing, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a must read for mystery/thriller fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#AuthorLife, Moving, and #WritingGoals

Not much going on around here.  Last week was a blur of unpacking from vacation, washing clothes, apartment hunting (more on that below) and trying to sneak in some reading and writing time.  With all of my scheduled author events cancelled, I’ve been working on some new Canva and Bookbrush images to try and sell some books.  The good thing is that my fall writing retreat is still on – yay!

Looks like hubby and I have two moves coming up later in July.  The oldest son is moving into a different apartment along with starting his new job.  This one includes a small office, which will be perfect since he’ll be working remotely.  His cat, Sora, will be thrilled with all the windows and a balcony where she can go outside – assuming she’s smart enough not to try jumping.  The youngest son and two friends have been searching for a new apartment before the fall semester, but they haven’t had much luck.  His current lease expires at the end of July, so time is running out.  We’re just hoping the new apartment isn’t on the third floor (like his current one) and it’s not a thousand degrees outside with 100% humidity the day we move him (like it was last summer).  Good times.

An author friend has inspired me to make some weekly writing goals (thanks, Staci!).  My goal this week is to add at least 3K words to my WIP.  I think that’s pretty doable and I’m hoping to exceed that number.  I have about four scenes planned out in my head – I’ll update you next Monday.

Have a great week and stay healthy!

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin #bookreview #paranormal

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Several friends recommended this book, and I’d seen reviewers raving about it.  When I won a copy, it seemed like fate meant for me to read it.

As a confirmed fantasy fan, the description intrigued me – a witch hunter unknowingly married to a witch.  I’m not much for strong romantic elements in my reading, and this book contains more than I expected, but I was so enamored with Lou and Reid that I was willing to set those preferences aside.  They’re polar opposites – Lou having no filter and stating whatever is on her mind and Reed more reserved with strong convictions – and I enjoyed watching them get to know each other.  And learning how wrong their preconceived notions were.

The world-building is rich and detailed, and there are quite a few surprises and twists I didn’t see coming.  All the supporting characters are well done, but my favorites are loyal friend Coco and young, determined Ansel.  He has the potential to be a scene stealer.

Witty banter, enemies to lovers, strong heroes and heroines, and lovable supporting characters all made Serpent & Dove well worth the read.  It’s a series I plan on continuing.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ve had this ARC for months, but was just now able to get to it.  I’ve missed these characters so much!  If you enjoy heists, found family, and characters that worm their way into your hearts, I highly recommend this series.

They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumoured to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.

The first book in this series was an easy 5 stars for me, and I was saving the second to read on vacation.  Another easy 5 stars.  But with the perilous situations these authors left some of my favorite characters in,  I don’t know how my heart will survive waiting another year for the next book!

Our heroes are back… kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.

It Came From the Sky has some awesome reviews, and I’m interested to see how these brothers pull off the hoax.

From the author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett and As You Wish comes the unforgettable story of the one small town’s biggest hoax and the two brothers who started it all.

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?

Told in a report format and comprised of interviews, blog posts, text conversations, found documents, and so much more, It Came from the Sky is a hysterical and resonant novel about what it means to be human in the face of the unknown.

Signalz (Adversary Cycle) by F. Paul Wilson #bookreview #supernatural #horror #TuesdayBookBlog

Twilight has come. Night will follow.

It will begin in the heavens and end in the Earth

But before that…the rules will be broken

The Change is coming and the world as we know it is ending. Sixteen-year-old Ellie has changed. She looks the same but her mother detects someone else looking out through her blue eyes. Ellie builds a “shelter” in her room with an entrance that leads…elsewhere.

And what of the convoy of tractor trailers Hari Tate watches drive up a mountain road and return without the trailers…leaving nothing on the mountain. What are they shipping?

And the writer who finds a hole in the floor of his NYC apartment and tumbles through into… elsewhere.

They will all find each other and find their answers in the electromagnetic pulses piercing the Earth from Out There, pulses that no one should hear, but some do. But they are not simply pulses. They are SIGNALZ.

I’m a loyal fan of the Repairman Jack series, and even though Jack doesn’t make an appearance in this book, I jumped at the chance to be in his world again.

It’s been years since I read Nightworld, but I went back and scanned the last couple chapters to reacquaint myself with what was happening – and that made me miss Jack, Abe, and Gia even more.  Still, I enjoyed meeting these new characters, joining them on their dangerous, unpredictable journeys, and seeing how their stories intertwined.  This is a short novel, but the length didn’t hinder character development – they’re all well-drawn.  And I adored the play on the author’s name with one of the characters.

This is a fast-paced, action-filled read with some horrific moments, but I wouldn’t recommend diving into this book if you haven’t read the series.  If Wilson turns this into a series, I’m fully on board and will read every book – but I’d sure love it if Jack made an appearance!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Vacation and the Griswolds

I’m back from vacation!  Polen family vacations have a semi-disastrous history.  Trust me – you don’t want to travel with us.  The first cruise we took resulted in a hurricane.  Then there was the time we were stuck in an airport for hours because as near as the airline could tell, someone from California cancelled our flight reservations – we didn’t even know anyone from CA.  But what about that memorable week we spent in Hawaii for our honeymoon with temps in the low 50s and nearly constant rain which, of course, led to the roads flooding on the day we were headed to the airport to leave.  Those are just the highlights that come to mind right now.  We’ve concluded we must be related to the Griswold family.  After years of just talking about it, we’d finally made a decision to go to Italy in the fall and had just received a tentative itinerary from our travel agent in early March, so we’re halfway convinced we might have had something to do with the coronavirus.

So why should last week be any different?  While it was wonderful to spend time with our family and have both sons with us, the beach was cold and rainy every day except one – the last one.  We were able to get on the beach for a couple hours one day, but the last day was mostly sunny at least.  It was also the only day I even put on a swimsuit.  Other days, we played board games, went to an escape room, and I read two books.  We’ve also had our share of vacations with glorious weather, along with wearing heavy coats and gloves in Florida, but the important thing is that we spent time together, and that’s always a plus.  Here’s a pic of a gorgeous sunrise – the morning we were leaving.

As far as restaurants, with the exception of one, all staff wore masks and gloves and tables were spaced far apart.  Folks on the beach also kept their distance for the most part, but the majority of people we encountered at grocery stores and tourist attractions didn’t wear masks.  Here in KY, our numbers are going down, so I’m hoping people don’t get too comfortable and let guidelines fall to the wayside.

Update time – several weeks back, I mentioned my oldest son had been interviewing for new jobs after losing his due to COVID.  I’m thrilled to say he accepted one last week which doesn’t require him to move and is completely remote.  Thanks so much for all your positive thoughts, vibes, and encouragement sent his way!

Have a great week and stay healthy!

 

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power #bookreview #YA #mystery

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. 

This is my first reading experience with this author.  I’d heard good things about her first book, Wilder Girls, so I jumped at the opportunity to read her newest release.

The reader is immediately thrust into Margot’s life – neglected and emotionally abused by her mother and without a support system.  She’s basically on her own, and it’s easy to sympathize with her.  The author’s writing style is descriptive without overloading the reader with details – which is always a plus for me.  She paints a bleak picture of the small town setting where Margot finds her family, and the moment she arrives, you know something’s off kilter.

Other than one very odd discovery and Margot’s increasing feelings of unease, not much happens in the first half of the book.  Once things get going, the pace picks up and things become very….bizarre.  I’d picked up on several hints, but hoped the story would take a different direction.

This is an original plot, and although I’m usually a fan of the weird and strange, this grim story was mostly a miss for me.  Looking at other reviews, I’m in the minority on this one, and it won’t keep me from reading future books by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

 

TRUEL1F3 (LIF3L1KE #3) by Jay Kristoff #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Best friends have become enemies. Lovers have become strangers. And deciding whose side you’re on could be the difference between life and death. For Eve and Lemon, discovering the truth about themselves–and each other–was too much for their friendship to take. But with the country on the brink of a new world war–this time between the BioMaas swarm at CityHive and Daedalus’s army at Megopolis, loyalties will be pushed to the brink, unlikely alliances will form and with them, betrayals. But the threat doesn’t stop there, because the lifelikes are determined to access the program that will set every robot free, a task requiring both Eve and Ana, the girl she was created to replace. In the end, violent clashes and heartbreaking choices reveal the true heroes . . . and they may not be who you think they are.

With it’s gritty, Mad Max-like world and highly charismatic characters (Lemon Fresh is so brilliful!), this has become one of my favorite YA sci-fi series.  In this final book, I was excited, yet hesitant to read it because I was afraid of what Kristoff might do to some of my favorite characters.  In several scenes, I nearly halfway covered my eyes.

Since it’s been about a year between books, I really appreciated the recap at the beginning of this novel.  It’s kind of hard to review the final book of a series without spoilers, so this will be brief.  Emotions were all over the map with this one – heart-gushing moments followed by roller coaster plunges into wildly intense action for pages.  Epic battles, cruel blindsides, devious villains with world-ending plans – I wondered if my heart could take it.  The ending satisfied me, with the exception of the fate of one character.  My feelings for this character remained conflicted for most of the series, and I’m not sure they got what they deserved.  So I guess it makes sense that I’ll probably remain undecided.

Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this intense, complex series with fabulous characters.  It’s one I’d highly recommend to sci-fi fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger. 

I saw Les Miserables on Broadway years ago, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it.  Musicals aren’t really my thing, but I was outvoted on our show choice that night.  The biggest reason I requested this book was the comparison to Six of Crows.

Knowing little to nothing about Les Mis, I probably missed most of the same character names, plot points, etc., but I don’t think lack of knowledge of that story should hinder anyone reading this novel.  The descriptions of the nine guilds at the beginning were a little overwhelming at first, but they quickly became one of my favorite parts of the story.  Nina’s world is dark, gritty, and dangerous – starvation, sex slavery, and death are common; consequently, she has to learn to adapt and survive at an early age.  Strong, fierce, and clever, she’s an easy character to root for.  Pacing is brisk and tense heists are plenty, but a couple of time jumps may leave you struggling for a few pages to find your footing.

I did question how a nine-year-old Nina in one night transforms into a talented thief who evades highly-trained royal guards.  Maybe some backstory woven in to explain her skills would have helped.  Something I didn’t connect with at all was her strong bond with Ettie and willingness to sacrifice nearly everything for her.  After a several years time jump, Ettie is suddenly there, and the reader is given no history of their relationship.  Initially, Nina is planning to sell Ettie into sex slavery to save her own sister, but then changes her mind.  Nearly everything that happens from that point on is due to their sisterly relationship, and the lack of connection on my part made it difficult to understand Nina’s choices.

Don’t get me wrong – I definitely enjoyed this story.  It’s a wonderful debut with charismatic characters and some suprisingly humorous moments.  Prior knowledge of Les Mis isn’t required, but you may get more from the story if you’re familiar with it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.