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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando #bookreview #YA #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Eden, Eli, Marwan, and Ilanka barely know each other beyond having a class or two together. But when they are all summoned via messaging app to an empty classroom after school, they find a small cube sitting on a desk. Its sides light up with rules for them:

Do not tell anyone about the device. Never leave the device unattended.
And then, Take me with you . . . or else.

At first they think it’s some kind of prank or a social experiment orchestrated by the school administration. Still, they follow its instructions until the newly-formed group starts to splinter. Nobody has time for these games–their lives are complicated enough. But the device seems increasingly invested in the private details of their lives. And disobeying its rules has scary–even life-threatening–consequences . . . 

This is my third book by this author, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

Several reviewers mentioned they were under the impression this was more of a mystery/thriller, but it’s absolutely a sci-fi/thriller – totally my kind of book.  I flew through it in two days.  These four, very relatable teen characters have distinctive personalities, and each is coping with their own complicated problems.  They come from diverse backgrounds and situations, so why they’re thrown together is a mystery to them.  The way they learn in such a short time to depend on each other and offer support was a strong point for me.

And the device!  It’s multi-faceted, and over the course of the story is mysterious, helpful, intrusive, and insidious.  I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, but my need to know what was going on made it a struggle to close this book.  Although the reveal is satisfying and even jarring, I did feel as if the problems the characters faced in their personal lives were wrapped up with a pretty large bow at the end, but I seem to be in the minority on that opinion.

This is a completely engaging read with unnerving sci-fi aspects and one I recommend.  I’ll be looking for more books by this author in the future.

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

 

Far From You by Tess Sharpe #bookreview #YA #mystery #LGBT

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared. 

I read this for my book club.  For that month’s selection, we had to read books recommended by other members – which is scary for me.  I’m always afraid I’ll wind up with a romance.  This one contains some romance, but it’s not the primary focus.  And I’m okay with that.

My heart went out to Sophie.  No one believes she’s still clean, and her parents force her back into rehab.  All the while, she’s grieving deeply for her nearly lifelong best friend and counting the days until she’s released so she can find the killer.  Her frustration is palpable, and she has few friends to lean on for help.

Most chapters rotate between the present and earlier in Sophie’s life, but it wasn’t difficult to keep up – and I listened to the audiobook (which is narrated by the author, who does a wonderful job).  The shifts allow the gradual reveal of backstory and secrets that bring to light multiple suspects.  I guessed who the culprit was, but there’s another component to the story that came as a suprise.

This isn’t my usual genre, but it’s a gripping read and emotional at times.  If you’re looking for a YA mystery, this is one I recommend.

The Traitor Prince by C.J. Redwine #bookreview #fairytale #retelling #TuesdayBookBlog

Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious imposter takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.

After barely escaping the imposter’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king — and reveal Javan’s identity — is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than acing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena, but also a band of prisoners allied against him, and even the warden herself.

The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive — but she has dangerous secrets.

Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight the deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.

The category for my book club this month was to read a re-telling.  I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for two years, so this was a perfect opportunity to bump it to the top.

This is the third book I’ve read in the Ravenspire series.  Each has taken me on exciting adventures, introduced me to both loveable and loathsome characters, and occasionally ripped my heart out.  Redwine is known for killing off some of her more popular characters.  The Traitor Prince is based on an Arabian tale entitled The False Prince.  I’m not familiar with that story, but this one grabbed me from the first page.  I was so angry at the injustice of Javan’s and Sajda’s situations – his at being thrown into prison while someone else takes his place on the throne, and hers at being enslaved from a young age and discriminated against for a reason I won’t reveal (no spoilers).  By the end of the book, I was so anxious for them to have their revenge and set things right.  And speaking of the ending – it was perfect.

Although part of the same series, each of these books can be read as a standalone.  I also have to comment on the stunning maps included in each novel – beautiful!  The Traitor Prince is a story about fighting against inequity even when things look grim, endearing friendships, undying loyalty, and selfless sacrifice.