The Key to Fear (The Key #1) by Kristin Cast #bookreview #YA #dystopian

To Health.
To Life.
To the Future.

We are The Key.
‘No touching today for a healthy tomorrow.’

Elodie obeys The Key. Elodie obeys the rules. Elodie trusts in the system. At least, Elodie used to…

Aidan is a rebel. Aidan doesn’t do what he’s told. Aidan just wants to be free. Aidan is on his last chance…

After a pandemic wiped out most of the human race, The Key took power. The Key dictates the rules. They govern in order to keep people safe. But as Elodie and Aidan begin to discover there is another side to The Key, they realise not everything is as it seems.

Rather than playing protector, The Key are playing God.

Reading a book about a pandemic wiping out most of the human race may not be everyone’s cup of tea right now, but the blurb hooked me right away.

What would the world look like if touching was forbidden?  The world-building is impressive, and it’s obvious the author put a lot of time into creating it.  Everything from personal pods to procreation techniques is covered.  Citizens don’t date – they’re matched by The Key based on compatible genetics and given jobs determined by assessment tests.  Everything is sterile and impersonal – free choice is practically nonexistent.  What I missed was more information on how the pandemic came about and when and how The Key came into power.  A little more backstory would have filled in some blanks.

I liked that conformist Elodie and rebellious Aiden are polar opposities – the rule follower and the rule challenger.  Early on, it’s clear that Elodie doesn’t exactly obey all the rules, and I liked that about her.  It didn’t come as such a shock when she began questioning things.  The insta-love between them really wasn’t necessary for the plot – I think the story would have worked fine without it, but that’s just my opinion.

Pacing was an issue for me as not a lot happens in the first half of the story.  Around the 80% mark, things take off to the point that the ending feels rushed, but it’s a good place for the next book to begin.

If you’re in the mood for a dystopian set post-pandemic, The Key to Fear is a timely read with well-developed characters.

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

Grinders by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #cyberpunk #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews of Boyack’s books before, but his imagination is astounding.  Grinders is full of wildly creative world-building and yet, some of the creations aren’t so far-fetched and are entirely plausible in the not-too-distant future (although I could live just fine without the holobarkers – I’m not a fan of commercials/advertisements).

The rotating POVs helped me see this story from all angles, and despite Nootropic’s illegal activities, I felt for the guy.  His heart’s in the right place, but it took me a while to figure out the deal with his rats.  I enjoyed the cast of diverse characters, but my favorite had to be Lou, Jimi’s gruff veteran partner.  I loved their working relationship and how they learned certain ‘lessons’ from each other.  Shout out to AI cat Cole who gave me several laughs.

Grinders is vividly colorful and full of futuristic elements and technology sure to thrill sci-fi/cyberpunk fans.

In Search of McDoogal by Mae Clair #bookreview #shortread #humor

In search of something ugly…

All Brady Conrad wants to do is earn a few merit points with his artist girlfriend, so he volunteers to cover her gallery when she leaves town. What should be an easy day of sales goes belly up when he mistakenly sells a cherished painting.

With the clock ticking toward Vanessa’s return, Brady has less than a day to track McDoogal down. He coerces his friend Declan to tag along for moral support. How difficult can it be for an investigator and the director of a renowned institute to find a single painting in a town the size of a postage stamp?

Neither Brady nor Declan counted on a suspicious sheriff, rival baseball teams with a longstanding grudge, or a clueless kid trying to win his girlfriend with all the wrong gifts.

McDoogal is smack in the middle. But Brady’s biggest dilemma isn’t the disastrous hunt. It’s confessing to Vanessa her painting is the ugliest thing he’s ever seen. 

I’ve read several Mae Clair books now, but this short read is a departure from her supernatural suspense reads.  And boy, was it fun.

Poor Brady.  He’s trying to win the girl, but accidentally sells her beloved painting.  After a stroke of good luck tracking it down, he thinks retrieving it won’t be quite as difficult as he’d thought – guess again.  He and his friend hit one obstacle after another, and from the varying opinions on exactly what kind of animal is featured on this canvas (rat, hamster, cat, etc.), I had fun imagining what this “cherished painting” looked like.  Brady’s and Declan’s entertaining banter had me chuckling, as well as a certain Freddie Mercury-worshipping character.  As a cat lover, I especially enjoyed learning about the real McDoogal in the author’s note at the end.

If you’re looking for a humorous, light-hearted, quick read, In Search of McDoogal checks all those boxes.

Eventide by Sarah Goodman #bookreview #YA #historicalfiction #supernatural #TuesdayBookBlog

MADNESS, SECRETS, AND LIES

Wheeler, Arkansas, 1907

When their father descends into madness after the death of their mother, Verity Pruitt and her little sister Lilah find themselves on an orphan train to rural Arkansas.

In Wheeler, eleven-year-old Lilah is quickly adopted, but seventeen-year-old Verity is not. Desperate to stay close to her sister, Verity indentures herself as a farmhand. But even charming farm boy Abel Atchley can’t completely distract her from the sense that something is not quite right in this little town. Strange local superstitions abound, especially about the eerie old well at the center of the forest. The woods play tricks, unleashing heavy fog and bone-chilling cold…and sometimes visions of things that aren’t there.

But for Verity, perhaps most unsettling of all is the revelation that her own parents have a scandalous history in this very town. And as she tries to unearth the past, sinister secrets come with it—secrets that someone will go to violent lengths to protect….

A haunting tale of long-buried secrets, small-town scandal, and single-minded vengeance by talented debut novelist Sarah Goodman.”

After reading some heavy fantasy books, I was in the mood for something different, and the atmospheric cover and intriguing description of Eventide immediately caught my attention.

With Verity and her sister arriving on an orphan train in Wheeler and then sent to different families, you immediately sympathize with them.  Small towns always seem to hold the biggest secrets, and this one is no exception.  With the locals warning Verity not to venture into the woods, it reminded me of the movie The Village, which excited my supernatural-loving soul.  From the first page, the author does a wonderful job establishing an atmospheric setting, and fans of this genre will be thrilled with several spine-tingling scenes.

The characters are all well-written, and Verity finds some very likeable, supportive friends, but I especially adored Big Tom and Hettie, the couple who take her in to work on their farm.  The found family dynamic between them is so heart-warming, and one of my favorite parts of the story.

All of the long-buried secrets and scandals are revealed by the end, but the author holds back just enough to keep the reader guessing until almost the last page.  With this book releasing in early October, it would be a perfect one to curl up with on a chilly autumn evening.

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

 

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp #bookreview #YA #thriller

Before we get into the book review, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be doing a virtual book signing tonight from 5:45 pm to 6pm CST on the Penned Con Fan Page on Facebook HERE  Authors are scheduled every fifteen minutes throughout the day, so if you’re looking for new books or enjoy games and giveaways, drop by.  Hope to see you there!

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp comes a shocking new thriller about a group of friends tied together by a game and the deadly weekend that tears them apart.

FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.

Are you ready to play?

The description for this book immediately grabbed me.  Another book I read by this author was extremely compelling, so requesting this one was a no-brainer.

LGBTQ representation in this novel is magnificent, along with autism and disability representation.  These characters are brought together by a RPG (role playing game) and spend three years together playing the game.  Throughout that time, their relationships with each other have their ups and downs, and with college on the horizon for some, this will be the last time they’re able to play together.  Soon after reaching the cabin, the craziness begins.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the strong friendships between some of the characters and the unconditional support they offer each other – especially since some don’t have the best home life or have experienced traumatic events.  When they find themselves in the middle of some seriously creepy happenings, none of them abandon each other to save themselves.  Five alternating POVs also allows the reader to learn more about each character.

This will be difficult to say without spoilers, but what I struggled with was the reveal of the person behind everything.  It came as a suprise, but just didn’t ring true for me – it seemed unrealistic, and I felt let down after such a suspenseful buildup.  During tense scenes where I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, occasionally heavy internal monologue took over and went on for several paragraphs, which took me out of the story.

Even If We Break is a thriller, but it’s also very much a coming of age story with some beautiful passages containing thought-provoking concepts.  It’s not my favorite novel by this author, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read her future books.

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

#BlogTour Queen of Volts (The Shadow Game #3) by Amanda Foody #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Return to the City of Sin, where the final game is about to begin…and winning will demand the ultimate sacrifice.

Only days after a corrupt election and brutal street war, one last bloodthirsty game has begun. The players? The twenty-two most powerful, notorious people in New Reynes.

After realizing they have no choice but to play, Enne Scordata and Levi Glaisyer are desperate to forge new alliances and bargain for their safety. But while Levi offers false smiles and an even falser peace to the city’s politicians, Enne must face a world where her true Mizer identity has been revealed…and any misstep could turn deadly.

Meanwhile, a far more dangerous opponent has appeared on the board, one plucked right from the most gruesome legends of New Reynes. As the game takes its final, vicious turn, Levi and Enne must decide once and for all whether to be partners or enemies.

Because in a game for survival, there are only losers…

And monsters. 

Queen of Volts was one of my most anticipated reads this year, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  I’m just sad my time with these characters is over.

The first two books in the series are told from Levi’s and Enne’s POVs, but this time I was delighted to see Harvey, Lola, and Sophia included.  Initially, I didn’t want to hear anything from Harvey for reasons I can’t discuss (spoilers), but as the story progressed, I couldn’t deny his wonderful character arc and the important part he plays in the plot.

Talk about high stakes – they’re pushed to the max.  In this dangerous new game, your life isn’t just in your own hands, it’s also tied to the survival of other players.  The complexity of the author’s story boards connecting everyone and their interwoven stories had to be quite impressive.  So. Much. Happening.

Although the book is lengthy at over four hundred pages, pacing is perfect, and I tore through the last thirty percent because I couldn’t stand to put it down or wait to see what happened to some of my favorite characters.  As with the other novels in the series, be prepared for surprising revelations, heart-stopping moments of panic and grief, and once again, heartbreak, but the ending is everything I’d hoped for.

Dark, gritty, fantastically imagined, and full of power plays and political maneuvering, The Shadow Game is among my favorite YA fantasy series and one I’d highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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

About the author

Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a master’s in accountancy from Villanova University and a bachelor of arts in English literature from the College of William and Mary.

Social Links:

Author website: www.amandafoody.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/amandafoody
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amandafoody/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37545599-queen-of-volts

Fable (Fable #1) by Adrienne Young #bookreview #YA #fantasy #pirates

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

Honestly, I was on the fence about requesting this book from NetGalley, but after reading so many fantastic reviews, I decided to give it a try.  Now, I’m raring to get my hands on the second in the duology.

From the first page, your heart goes out to Fable.  She’s literally abandoned on an island full of criminals by her father – it’s a true sink or swim situation.  Over the course of two years, she struggles to survive and learns some hard lessons along the way.  Considering all she experiences, her trust issues are valid.  Without such a strong, independent, charismatic MC, I’m not sure this book would have gotten such stellar reviews, but for me, Fable and her quest make the story.  With much of the setting on the open sea, it receives bonus points.

Stakes are high, and Fable is in near constant danger.  When the crew of the Marigold reluctantly take her in, she discovers they harbor many secrets of their own.  After a rough getting-to-know-you period, trust and relationships form – I’m a sucker for found family stories.  And if anyone ever needed the support of a family, it’s this group.  With the crew, West’s and Willa’s characters are well-developed, but the remaining three aren’t as clear-cut and seem interchangeable.  The author could have more planned for them in the next book – I’m anxious to learn their stories.

If you’re a fan of pirates, high seas adventure, closely-guarded secrets, and feisty main characters, I highly recommend Fable.  Now I need the second book!

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

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass #bookreview #YA #LGBT #TuesdayBookBlog

Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare.

His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”

But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are— and taking this place down.

With all the buzz I’d seen about this book on Twitter, I was beyond excited to receive an ARC.

This book isn’t for everyone.  It deals with some dark, heavy topics, and parts of it are absolutely gut-wrenching.  The slurs and vitriol spat out by some of these characters is horrific and repulsive – and yet some people in the world still feel this way.  It’s unfathomable to me.

My heart broke for Connor and his friends and the unimaginable circumstances they were forced into.  Despite their grim situations, this group of queer kids stick together and support each other.  The heartfelt bonds, friendships, and romantic relationships they form are one of the best parts of the novel, and I wanted to just hug every one of them.

With tension-filled moments and layers upon layers of secrets, this novel is difficult to put down.  My only critique would be the time frame.  Everything happens on the island in roughly twenty-four hours, and I found that a little tough to swallow.  Trust me – a lot happens.

Although some parts are tough to read, Surrender Your Sons is full of heart and hope and one I highly recommend.

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

#BlogTour Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine #bookreview #dystopian #apocalyptic #TuesdayBookBlog

In an endless winter, she carries seeds of hope

Wylodine comes from a world of paranoia and poverty—her family grows marijuana illegally, and life has always been a battle. Now she’s been left behind to tend the crop alone. Then spring doesn’t return for the second year in a row, bringing unprecedented extreme winter.

With grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, she begins a journey, determined to start over away from Appalachian Ohio. But the icy roads and strangers hidden in the hills are treacherous. After a harrowing encounter with a violent cult, Wylodine and her small group of exiles become a target for its volatile leader. Because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow.

Urgent and poignant, Road Out of Winter is a glimpse of an all-too-possible near future, with a chosen family forged in the face of dystopian collapse. With the gripping suspense of The Road and the lyricism of Station Eleven, Stine’s vision is of a changing world where an unexpected hero searches for a place hope might take root.

Obviously, this is an unusual book description – which is one of the reasons I requested it.  The other is that I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and was curious to see how a story like this would play out in that area.

Wylodine is a wonderful protagonist – strong, determined, scarred, and soft-hearted.  If you find yourself in an apocalyptic-type of event, you could do worse than hooking your wagon to hers.  Mostly shunned by the community because of her family business, then being practically abandoned by her mother, with the exception of one good friend, she’s alone when everything starts to go off the rails in her town.  In order to survive, going it alone isn’t the best option right now, and she soon comes across people she learns to trust and depend on.  Finding your people is a strong theme in this story – like-minded folks who do what they can to form a community and care for each other.  Tragedy can bring out the best in people, but it also draws power-hungry individuals on the wrong side of the morality scale, and Wil and friends run across some of the worst mankind has to offer.

The abrupt ending took me by surprise – I even wondered if pages were missing – so a sequel may be a possibility.

To say I enjoyed such a dark, heart-breaking, grim story sounds odd, but Road Out of Winter is also well-written, compelling, and hopeful – it would be an excellent book club selection.

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

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Buy Links: 

Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links:

Author Website
Twitter: @AlisonStine
Instagram: @AliStineWrites
Goodreads

We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu #bookreview #YA #contemporaryfantasy

From debut author Cole Nagamatsu comes an atmospheric contemporary fantasy about three teens coming of age in the wake of a mysterious death.

Last summer, Link Miller drowned on dry land in the woods, miles away from the nearest body of water. His death was ruled a strange accident, and in the months since, his friends and family have struggled to make sense of it. But Link’s close friend Noemi Amato knows the truth: Link drowned in an impossible lake that only she can find. And what’s more, someone claiming to be Link has been contacting her, warning Noemi to stay out of the forest.

As these secrets become too heavy for Noemi to shoulder on her own, she turns to Jonas, her new housemate, and Amberlyn, Link’s younger sister. All three are trying to find their place—and together, they start to unravel the truth: about themselves, about the world, and about what happened to Link.

Unfolding over a year and told through multiple POVs and a dream journal, We Were Restless Things explores the ways society shapes our reality, how we can learn to love ourselves and others, and the incredible power of our own desires.

The beautiful cover, mention of a drowning on dry land, and the victim contacting his friend from beyond the grave were what drew me to this book.  I’m always intrigued by the supernatural.

It’s not exactly what I expected.  The writing is incredibly lyrical and flows with some beautiful passages and vivid descriptions.  Noemi is quirky, creative, and loyal – all qualities I admire about her – and handles a conversation about asexuality brilliantly.  I’d expected the storyline to lean more heavily on the mystery of Link’s death, the strange texts Noemi receives from someone claiming to be him, and the disappearing lake.  All of that was part of the plot, but another very large portion is made up of the three (four, really) characters in love with Noemi (which seemed a bit excessive) and her feelings about them.  At times, it seemed as if I was reading two different stories.  The POVs primarily rotate between Noemi and Jonah, but the inclusion of Amberlyn’s POV in a few chapters puzzled me since they didn’t add anything to the plot.

Each of these characters experience grief in different ways, and some of their conversations are emotionally heavy and brutally honest.  They’ll make you think.  One character has an especially difficult life that tugs at the heartstrings, and I just wanted to hug him.

With an unusual storyline, poetic writing, and slower pace, there’s much to enjoy about this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to readers looking for an action-packed thriller as it sways more toward contemporary fantasy.

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