Four Found Dead by Natalie D. Richards #bookreview #YA #thriller #suspense

At the movie theater where Jo works, the last show has ended. But the nightmare is just beginning.

Tonight, Tempest Theaters is closing forever, the last remaining business in a defunct shopping mall. The moviegoers have left, and Jo and her six coworkers have the final shift, cleaning up popcorn and mopping floors for the last time.

But after an unexpected altercation puts everyone on edge, the power goes out. Their manager disappears, along with the keys to the lobby doors and the theater safe, where the crew’s phones are locked each shift. Then, the crew’s tension turns to terror when Jo discovers the dead body of one of her co-workers.

Now their only chance to escape the murderer in their midst is through the dark, shuttered mall. With its boarded-up exits and disabled fire alarms, the complex is filled with hiding places for both pursuer and pursued. In order to survive this night, Jo and her friends must trust one another, navigate the sprawling ruins of the mall, and outwit a killer before he kills again.

I read another compelling thriller by this author set in a library a few years ago, so when this popped up on NetGalley I immediately requested it.

The setting of a movie theater closing for the last time and a dark shopping mall that’s already shuttered provides so many opportunities. I was excited to see what the author did with it. You may wonder why these teens didn’t just call for help or leave. It wasn’t that easy. As employees, their phones are locked in a safe during their shift, they don’t have keys to the theater doors, breaking reinforced windows isn’t an option, and mall exit doors are boarded up. It’s essentially a locked room murder, which is one of my favorite types of mystery. Except the identity of the murderer is known almost immediately. For me, that took away from my enjoyment because trying to figure out who did it is part of the fun. The motive also isn’t crystal clear.

Jo experienced a horrifying trauma as a child and tries to protect her co-workers as she did her younger sister at that time. Because of that tragedy, her survival instincts are better than most of her friends. With her cast of friends, other than Naomi and Rebecca I had a difficult time distinguishing between them in their dialogue. The action begins almost immediately, and the first body drops pretty early in the story. After that, it’s a game of cat and mouse as the killer stalks them in the abandoned mall.

I liked the addition of the epilogue at the end. It’s set three months later and lets the reader see how the survivors are coping. If knowing the identity of the murderer early (it’s really not a secret at all) isn’t a deterrent, this may be an enjoyable thriller/suspense novel for you.

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

The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro and The Witch and the Vampire by Francesca Flores #horror #paranormal #fantasy

Another double review to get caught up before vacation!

A woman is haunted by the Mexican folk demon La Llorona as she unravels the dark secrets of her family history in this ravishing and provocative horror novel.

Alejandra no longer knows who she is. To her husband, she is a wife, and to her children, a mother. To her own adoptive mother, she is a daughter. But they cannot see who Alejandra has become: a woman struggling with a darkness that threatens to consume her.

Nor can they see what Alejandra sees. In times of despair, a ghostly vision appears to her, the apparition of a crying woman in a ragged white gown.

When Alejandra visits a therapist, she begins exploring her family’s history, starting with the biological mother she never knew. As she goes deeper into the lives of the women in her family, she learns that heartbreak and tragedy are not the only things she has in common with her ancestors.

Because the crying woman was with them, too. She is La Llorona, the vengeful and murderous mother of Mexican legend. And she will not leave until Alejandra follows her mother, her grandmother, and all the women who came before her into the darkness.

But Alejandra has inherited more than just pain. She has inherited the strength and the courage of her foremothers—and she will have to summon everything they have given her to banish La Llorona forever. 

I’ll read just about anything with “haunting” in the title, and the mention of a Mexican folk demon immediately intrigued me.

Alejandra is struggling, and despite being surrounded by a husband and three children, she feels alone and depressed. Her husband doesn’t understand why she’s unhappy , but he doesn’t make an effort to understand or really listen to her. Alejandra also misses her birth mother who she’d just started to build a relationship with before having to relocate for her husband’s job. Then she begins seeing ghostly visions of a woman in a white gown. Even as Alejandra seeks help from a therapist and explores her family history, the apparition goes after her children.

I had my ups and downs with this one. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Mexican folk demon La Llorona and chapters from Alejandra’s ancestors explaining the curse on her family. It’s certainly a dark origin story. There are chilling moments that may send tingles up your spine, but some of the imagery is particularly gruesome, which I didn’t mind, but as a warning it may be disturbing for some readers. While I admired Alejandra for her determination to learn more about her family history, free herself from the demon, and protect her children, I didn’t like her very much and found it difficult to connect with her. Although it’s a short novel at less than three hundred pages, it moved at a slow pace, and my attention drifted in some parts of the novel.

The story has a fascinating premise and while part of the ending is horrific, it’s also satisfying, empowering, and hopeful.

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

Francesca Flores’s The Witch and the Vampire is a queer Rapunzel retelling where a witch and a vampire who trust no one but themselves must journey together through a cursed forest with danger at every turn.

Ava and Kaye used to be best friends. Until one night two years ago, vampires broke through the magical barrier protecting their town, and in the ensuing attack, Kaye’s mother was killed, and Ava was turned into a vampire. Since then, Ava has been trapped in her house. Her mother Eugenia needs her: Ava still has her witch powers, and Eugenia must take them in order to hide that she’s a vampire as well. Desperate to escape her confinement and stop her mother’s plans to destroy the town, Ava must break out, flee to the forest, and seek help from the vampires who live there. When there is another attack, she sees her opportunity and escapes.

Kaye, now at the end of her training as a Flame witch, is ready to fulfill her duty of killing any vampires that threaten the town, including Ava. On the night that Ava escapes, Kaye follows her and convinces her to travel together into the forest, while secretly planning to turn her in. Ava agrees, hoping to rekindle their old friendship, and the romantic feelings she’d started to have for Kaye before that terrible night.

But with monstrous trees that devour humans whole, vampires who attack from above, and Ava’s stepfather tracking her, the woods are full of danger. As they travel deeper into the forest, Kaye questions everything she thought she knew. The two are each other’s greatest threat—and also their only hope, if they want to make it through the forest unscathed.

The title alone should appeal to masses of paranormal fans. And what a stunning cover.

Ava and Kaye were best friends and witches in training until Ava disappeared. She was supposedly sent to another school. In reality, her horribly abusive mother imprisoned her, gave her just enough blood to survive, and stole her power. All this after she turned her own daughter into a vampire. Added to these horrors is every time her mother goes out of town, Ava’s stepfather experiments on/tortures her, testing her limits as a vampire. Seriously, you just want this poor girl to experience some happiness in her life.

After Kaye’s mother passes away and Ava disappears without saying goodbye, Kaye understandably has abandonment issues. She throws all her hurt and anger into her training and discovering which vampire killed her mother. She suspects it might have been Ava. That’s some serious conflict right there.

Romance isn’t my favorite focus in books, but for a friends to enemies to lovers angle, I wasn’t feeling strong vibes between these two characters. Plenty of other reviewers saw it differently, so maybe it’s just me. Pacing was a little uneven, but it picked up toward the end. With the battle between witches and vampires, I like the story’s message – the world(and people) isn’t black or white, but made up of shades of gray.

The ending leaves the possibility for a sequel, but I’m not sure if one is in the works. Although I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as another duology by this author, it wouldn’t prevent me from reading her future releases.

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

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin #bookreview #postapocalyptic #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Passage comes a riveting standalone novel about a group of survivors on a hidden island utopia–where the truth isn’t what it seems.

Founded by a mysterious genius, the archipelago of Prospera lies hidden from the horrors of a deteriorating outside world. In this island paradise, Prospera’s lucky citizens enjoy long, fulfilling lives until the monitors embedded in their forearms, meant to measure their physical health and psychological well-being, fall below 10 percent. Then they retire themselves, embarking on a ferry ride to the island known as the Nursery, where their failing bodies are renewed, their memories are wiped clean, and they are readied to restart life afresh.

Proctor Bennett, of the Department of Social Contracts, has a satisfying career as a ferryman, gently shepherding people through the retirement process–and, when necessary, enforcing it. But all is not well with Proctor. For one thing, he’s been dreaming–which is supposed to be impossible in Prospera. For another, his monitor percentage has begun to drop alarmingly fast. And then comes the day he is summoned to retire his own father, who gives him a disturbing and cryptic message before being wrestled onto the ferry.

Meanwhile, something is stirring. The Support Staff, ordinary men and women who provide the labor to keep Prospera running, have begun to question their place in the social order. Unrest is building, and there are rumors spreading of a resistance group–known as “Arrivalists”–who may be fomenting revolution.

Soon Proctor finds himself questioning everything he once believed, entangled with a much bigger cause than he realized–and on a desperate mission to uncover the truth.

I’m a big fan of The Passage series (I’m still bitter over the TV show cancellation), so I was absolutely giddy when I saw Cronin had a new release on NetGalley. This is one of those reviews where the less said about the plot the better. I wouldn’t dare spoil anything for other readers. I’ll just say it’s complex, mind-bending, mysterious, twisty and sure to leave your head spinning.

Prospera is an idyllic place, but there’s a big class divide between the haves and have nots. The have nots, or support staff for the wealthy, live in the Annex – a much less than idyllic place. The wealthy live advantageous lives until the numbers on monitors embedded in their forearms drop below ideal levels. They’re then retired and transported to the Nursery where their bodies are renewed, memories wiped clean, and given a new life. Proctor has enjoyed a satisfying career as a ferryman, someone who helps citizens through the retirement process, until everything goes off the rails. He’s a flawed character and never claims otherwise, but he knows something isn’t right and does his best to figure out what’s going on in Prospera. You’ll root for him at every turn.

Although this novel is over five hundred pages, it didn’t feel that long to me. I finished the bulk of it in two days. With outstanding world-building and an ending that’s heart-wrenching but nothing short of perfection, it’s a novel I highly recommend. You’ll still be thinking about it days after finishing.

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

Memorial Day, Cooking Class, and #AmWatching

Happy Memorial Day! Hope my American friends are having a nice long weekend. A big thank you to all the veterans for their service.

A friend gave me and another friend a Christmas gift that we just “opened”. It was a cooking class for the three of us at a local olive oil/balsamic vinegar shop. What a fantastic time we had! It was four courses, but with approximately twenty-four participants we were paired in groups of two and cooked only one course. At the end, all the dishes were served buffet style, and we all reaped the rewards. So much laughter, tasty recipes, new acquaintances, and free wine – woohoo! Our menu consisted of Thai Basil Chicken (that’s what my friend and I cooked), Jackfruit Curry, Vegetarian Pad Thai, and Red Apple Balsamic Crepe Cake (my favorite). Every course could be prepared in one pan, and all the ingredients were premeasured/chopped/cut to make it easy. The menu for June looked amazing, but the classes were already sold out. We definitely plan on doing it again. Maybe even bring our hubbies.

If you’re a regular here, you know I’m a devout Marvel fan. Son #2 and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 3 a few weeks ago, and we both give it a huge thumbs up. That’s not always the case with the third movie in a series, and if this is the last one (the bonus scenes at the end kind of hint it isn’t) it went out with style. We took advantage of the Tuesday afternoon deal at Regal (a rare Tuesday off for him) – discounted tickets and half price popcorn.

Have a great week!

Damsel by Evelyn Skye #bookreview #YA #fantasy #dragons and Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

For the next couple weeks I may double up on some reviews in an effort to get everything posted before vacation.

A damsel in distress takes on the dragon herself in this epic twist on classic fantasy—a groundbreaking collaboration between New York Times bestselling author Evelyn Skye and the team behind the upcoming Netflix film Damsel, starring Millie Bobby Brown.

Elodie never dreamed of a lavish palace or a handsome prince. Growing up in the famine-stricken realm of Inophe, her deepest wish was to help her people survive each winter. So when a representative from a rich, reclusive kingdom offers her family enough wealth to save Inophe in exchange for Elodie’s hand in marriage, she accepts without hesitation. Swept away to the glistening kingdom of Aurea, Elodie is quickly taken in by the beauty of the realm—and of her betrothed, Prince Henry.

But as Elodie undertakes the rituals to become an Aurean princess, doubts prick at her mind as cracks in the kingdom’s perfect veneer begin to show: A young woman who appears and vanishes from the castle tower. A parade of torches weaving through the mountains. Markings left behind in a mysterious “V.” Too late, she discovers that Aurea’s prosperity has been purchased at a heavy cost—each harvest season, the kingdom sacrifices its princesses to a hungry dragon. And Elodie is the next sacrifice.

This ancient arrangement has persisted for centuries, leading hundreds of women to their deaths. But the women who came before Elodie did not go quietly. Their blood pulses with power and memory, and their experiences hold the key to Elodie’s survival. Forced to fight for her life, this damsel must use her wits to defeat a dragon, uncover Aurea’s past, and save not only herself, but the future of her new kingdom as well. 

When I received the ARC of this book from NetGalley I somehow missed that it will soon be a Netflix movie starring Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things).

Elodie cares deeply for the people of her drought and famine stricken Inophe, so when her father arranges a marriage with a prince whose family wealth can save her realm, she’s happy to accept the proposal. Prince Henry’s home of Aurea is beautiful, and Elodie is surrounded by luxury. She soon learns that the beauty and luxury come with a price – princesses are sacrificed to a dragon to maintain the idyllic land. She certainly didn’t sign up for that.

Elodie is plucky and clever. She doesn’t curl up in a corner of the dragon’s lair and wait to die – she’s determined to fight until the end. Eight centuries of sacrifices equals the population of a small town, and I liked that previously deceived princesses left messages in the caves for those that came after them. Elodie’s relationship with her younger sister is also a positive. It’s nice to read a novel where women aren’t pitted against each other.

What I missed was getting to know Elodie before she was tossed into the dragon’s lair. I felt like I knew very little about her until the middle of the story, although I eventually grew to like her. Pacing slowed a bit in the initial cave scenes, but it soon got back on track.

I’m a dragon fan and thought the dragon language was pretty cool. Even more so when the author’s note revealed her thirteen-year-old daughter created it. And kudos to the designer for a gorgeous cover that perfectly complements the story.

I’m a fan of Millie Bobby Brown, and I’ll definitely be watching this when it drops on Netflix. I’d recommend it to fans of dragons and fairy tales with a twist.

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

In this haunting, lyrical fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she’s pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought. 

With mixed reviews for this novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did go into this fully aware of the slower pace.

Most reviewers compare this story to Beauty and the Beast, Phantom of the Opera, and Hades and Persephone. I agree with those comparisons. It’s dark and atmospheric, and 1930s Chicago is a perfect setting. Grace is no stranger to loss after her brother is gunned down in the streets and her mother passes away, leaving Grace an orphan when she’s barely a teenager. After raising enough money for ballet shoes by playing violin on the streets, she shows up unannounced at a ballet company. With help from fellow ballerina Emilia (their friendship is a strong point), Grace works hard and pushes herself to catch up with her peers. Years later she finally achieves her dream after landing the prima spot.

Soon after Grace moves into the home of her mysterious patron, Master La Rosa, things became muddled for me. The lyrical and haunting prose is beautiful, and many lines are meant to be savored. But when I closed the book, I still wasn’t exactly sure what happened. Looking at other reviews, most fell into three camps – some readers were enchanted by the story, others didn’t get it at all, and then there are the rest of us who appreciated the writing, but were left confused. A few reviewers used the term “fever dream”, and I’d say that’s an apt description.

If you’re a fan of any of the comp titles, appreciate a slower pace, and savor lyrical writing, this may be the book for you.

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

The Song of Wrath (Bones of Ruin #2) by Sarah Raughley #bookreview #fantasy

Penny Dreadful meets The Gilded Wolves in this captivating sequel to young adult historical fantasy The Bones of Ruin that follows immortal Iris as she desperately tries to thwart her destructive destiny.

Iris Marlow can’t die. For years, she was tormented by her missing memories and desperate to learn her real identity. So when the mysterious Adam Temple offered to reveal the truth of who she was in exchange for her joining his team in the Tournament of Freaks, a gruesome magical competition, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. But the truth would have been better left buried.

Because Adam is a member of the Enlightenment Committee, an elite secret society built upon one fundamental idea: that the apocalypse known as Hiva had destroyed the world before and would do it again, and soon. But what the Committee—and Iris—never guessed is that Hiva is not an event. Hiva is a person—Iris.

Now, no matter how hard Iris fights for a normal life, the newly awakened power inside her keeps drawing her toward the path of global annihilation. Adam, perversely obsessed with Iris, will stop at nothing to force her to unlock her true potential, while a terrifying newcomer with ties to Hiva’s past is on the hunt for Iris.

All Iris wants is the freedom to choose her own future, but the cost might be everything Iris holds dear—including the world itself. 

The first book in this series featured a deadly competition (think Hunger Games). In this sequel Iris struggles to deal with her true identity. She’s Hiva, an immortal who destroyed the world before and is meant to do it again.

I struggled to keep up with such a large cast of characters in the first book, but since not all of them made it out of the tournament the list has been trimmed. As Hiva, Iris doesn’t want to repeat history and destroy the world again. She has the power to kill someone with just a look, but she wants to make good choices and not be a murderer. That’s easier said than done, and her instincts take over in certain situations. She fights her urges, but I didn’t like the direction she was headed.

Adam was full of secrets in the first book, but now that they’re revealed – he’s just a greedy and power hungry guy. He’s still obsessed with Iris and wants her to realize the full potential of her powers. But he’s not the only one trying to find her. Someone else is tracking her, and this person is a game changer.

With plenty of action and deaths, X-Men-like powers, and the fate of the world at stake, The Song of Wrath is tension-filled. The huge cliffhanger ending sets up book three perfectly.

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

#WWWWednesdays: 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?

A YA dystopia with The Handmaiden’s Tale vibes, a locked room mystery on a ship, and a YA gothic romance with a dark family lineage make up this week’s list.

I just started The Chaperone. Right before COVID, I was in a local SCBWI group with this author. That group is now obsolete (the closest is Nashville), but I’m thrilled for M. Hendrix and the release of her debut novel.

Like every young woman in New America, Stella knows the rules:

Deflect attention.
Abstain from sin.
Navigate the world with care.
Give obedience.
Embrace purity.
Respect your chaperone.

Stella can’t go out by herself, or spend time with boys except at Visitations. Girls in New America must have chaperones at all times until they marry, so Stella’s lucky that Sister Helen is like a friend to her. When Sister Helen dies suddenly, she’s devastated, especially when the Constables assign Stella a new chaperone just days later.

Sister Laura is… different. She leaves Stella alone at the library (isn’t that illegal?) and knows how to get into the “Hush Hush” parties where all kinds of forbidden things happen. As Stella spends more time with Sister Laura, she begins to question everything she’s been taught. What if the Constables’ rules don’t actually protect girls? What if they were never meant to keep them safe?

Once Stella glimpses both real freedom and the dark truths behind New America, she has no choice but to fight back against the world she knows. She sets out on a dangerous journey across what was once the United States, risking everything. 

Over the weekend I finished Lying in the Deep. I love a good locked room mystery, and this one on a Semester at Sea ship sounded like a fantastic setting. If you can get past the teen angst-heavy first half, the second is full of tension and turns into a novel that keeps you guessing.

A juicy mystery of jealousy, love, and betrayal set on a Semester at Sea-inspired cruise ship, with a diverse cast of delightfully suspicious characters who’ll leave you guessing with every jaw-dropping twist.

After being jilted by her ex-boyfriend and best friend, Jade couldn’t be more ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime—11 countries in 4 months, all from the luxurious Campus on Board ship—and to wedge an entire globe between her and the people who broke her heart.

But when Jade discovers the backstabbing couple are also setting sail, her obsession with them grows and festers, leading to a shocking murder. And as their friends begin to drop like flies, Jade and her new crush must race to clear her name and find the killer they’re trapped at sea with….before anyone else winds up in body bags.

With comp titles of The Haunting of Bly Manor and House of Salt and Sorrows, there’s no way I could pass up All the Dead Lie Down. Mention gothic, and I’m there.

The Haunting of Bly Manor meets House of Salt and Sorrows in award-winning author Kyrie McCauley’s contemporary YA gothic romance about a dark family lineage, the ghosts of grief, and the lines we’ll cross for love.

The Sleeping House was very much awake . . .

Days after a tragedy leaves Marin Blythe alone in the world, she receives a surprising invitation from Alice Lovelace—an acclaimed horror writer and childhood friend of Marin’s mother. Alice offers her a nanny position at Lovelace House, the family’s coastal Maine estate.

Marin accepts and soon finds herself minding Alice’s peculiar girls. Thea buries her dolls one by one, hosting a series of funerals, while Wren does everything in her power to drive Marin away. Then Alice’s eldest daughter returns home unexpectedly. Evie Hallowell is every bit as strange as her younger sisters, and yet Marin is quickly drawn in by Evie’s compelling behavior and ethereal grace.

But as Marin settles in, she can’t escape the anxiety that follows her like a shadow. Dead birds appear in Marin’s room. The children’s pranks escalate. Something dangerous lurks in the woods, leaving mutilated animals in its wake. All is not well at Lovelace House, and Marin must unravel its secrets before they consume her. 

I Like Me Better by Robby Weber #bookreview #YA #romcom #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

This is not how soccer-star Zack Martin thought his summer would go. When the captain’s prank means trouble for the whole squad, Zack’s left with no choice but to take one for the team and cover for him.

Now he’s trading parties and beach days for community service at a seaside conservation center—fair enough. But thanks to his new reputation, the cute intern, Chip, won’t even give him a shot. Still, Zack finds himself falling for Chip between dolphin encounters and shark costume disasters, which means he suddenly has way more on the line than he ever expected.

Zack may be good at winning on the field, but can he keep up the lie without losing himself? 

I’d just finished reading a couple of lengthy, heavy fantasies when I came across this book. It was the perfect light-hearted, romcom book I needed.

Zack is a soccer player ending his junior year and is up for captain of the team. Things are looking good for him until he takes the blame for a prank he didn’t commit and is assigned community service over the summer. But his punishment turns out to have a silver lining. When he’s assigned to a seaside conservation center, he discovers interests he never realized he had. He also meets Chip, a cute intern who supervises the volunteers. It turns into a summer of learned lessons from bad choices, taking responsibility for mistakes, pining over Chip, and epiphanies about the future.

I loved the focus on the environment in this novel – always a good thing in my opinion. I also enjoyed the setting of the aquarium and marine institute. Zack’s scenes with the young students and his unfortunate experience in a shark costume gave me plenty of laughs. His strong friendships with Beckett and Meyers are also a high point, and I liked how no one blinked twice that Zack was crushing on another guy. His relationships with his divorced parents and how they still remained a family unit is also a plus and written well. Shout out to Zack’s dog Odin – he’s a perfect wing man.

This is partially a coming of age story, and Zack certainly undergoes some character growth. If you’re looking for a summer read with a charming cast of characters and a little romance, add I Like Me Better to your list.

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

ComicCon and Not Watching Anymore

Last Monday I mentioned I’d be attending my first ComicCon as an author, and I’d give a report today. I had an absolute blast! On Saturday I went to Son #1’s room, stole his Punisher t-shirt (anything they leave here is fair game), and headed to the Corvette Museum with my books. The minute I stepped inside I was surrounded by fellow nerds and immediately received three compliments on my borrowed shirt, lol. There were so many amazing costumes – I was entertained all day just watching people pass by. You could tell some really put a lot of effort into theirs. A table across from me was manned by a whole family of Ghostbusters – the youngest was around three years old. Plenty of Mandalorians walked among us, and light sabers were a common sight. Below are some pics.

But what about the book sales? They were happening, and I was very pleased. Even if attendees didn’t buy anything after stopping at my table, they were genuinely interested in hearing about my books. And I’ll talk to people all day about books. I plan on scheduling another one about ninety minutes away in July. A big thanks to Sue Rovens for suggesting I give Cons a try!

A couple months ago I mentioned I was watching The Company You Keep, a new show on ABC starring Milo Ventimiglia. As with a high percentage of shows I watch, it was canceled. No season two will be coming. Did you hear that news, Staci? Staci Troilo and I have a theory that we’re the death of new shows if they’re on both of our watchlists. This is just further confirmation.

Have a great week!

He Who Breaks the Earth (Gods-Touched #2) by Caitlin Sangster #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy

Wicked Saints meets There Will Come a Darkness in this sequel to the atmospheric, “tightly woven”(Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author) She Who Rides the Storm that follows the four thieves turned unlikely allies as one of their own decides where their loyalties lie.

Mateo spent years believing he suffered from a strange wasting sickness, but he’s finally learned the much darker truth. Now he will do whatever it takes to save himself, even if it means betraying Lia, the one girl who’s ever made him care about something more than his research.

It doesn’t help that his father kidnapped the last living member of Lia’s family, and though it means Mateo will get to see her again, it’s only because Lia is already hunting them.

Anwei’s rage can’t be contained after the disaster at the tomb that ended with Knox almost dying. Worse, she learned that the brother she’d been desperate to avenge has been living a life of luxury, raised by the monster of her nightmares. With the power of an ancient, nameless god running in her veins, Anwei vows to end the shapeshifter once and for all.

But the members of her crew each have their own motivations—and their own gods whispering in their ears. Anwei has never put much stock in the divine, but as she gets closer to the shapeshifter she’s chased for so long, she realizes that the gods’ plan and her own might diverge. But Anwei has only one goal: revenge, and she’ll destroy anyone standing in her way.

This is the second book in a duology. The first book, She Who Rides the Storm, is basically a heist story with unlikely allies (I’m a sucker for those) that goes horribly awry.

It’s been about a year and a half since I read the first book, but it didn’t take long to become reacquainted with these characters I enjoyed so much (especially Mateo). Each is struggling with the cards they were dealt at the end of book one – Anwei is still on a revenge quest after shocking revelations, Mateo has a new voice in his head, Knox is slowly recovering and a little fuzzy on what happened in the tomb, and Lia is determined to find her kidnapped sister. I was eager to see how each characters’ story played out – especially when Mateo and Lia meet up – but Anwei frustrated me. Yes, she’s dealing with a lot, but I wanted her to quit complaining and do something about it.

The tone of this sequel is darker, and the theology of this world is delved into more so than in the first book. But it’s not all gloom and doom – humorous moments are still sprinkled throughout, and there’s no shortage of twists and surprises. The ending is fast-paced, but also very satisfying, and I think readers will be pleased.

At nearly one thousand pages this duology requires a time investment, but with complex world-building, high stakes, and strong characterization, it’s an engaging read I’d recommend to fantasy fans.

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