Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

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A stunning and seductive story about love, betrayal, and sacrifice, The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh will leave readers gutted and begging for more.

wrath and the dawnEvery dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Let’s start with the wonderful characters. It is easy to see why Khalid is so intrigued by Shahrzad — as readers, we are as pulled into her charisma and verve as the Caliph is. Likewise, we are intrigued by this “monster boy-king” and the mysterious torment that plagues him; clearly there is more to his story than he lets his people believe — and, like Shahrzad, we are drawn to him and to the desire to know why he has done these monstrous things.

And while Shahrzad and Khalid are at the center of the story, Ahdieh has filled The Wrath & the Dawn with a bevy of supporting characters who really bring the story into vivid detail. This book would not be so richly rewarding to read were it not for ALL of these characters; Jalal and Despina and Tariq and the Rajput and the General and more. These are the characters that give meaning and purpose to everything that Shahrzad and Khalid must face.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that The Wrath & the Dawn is just beautifully written. Each description is so sumptuous, readers will be transported to Khorasan — and will see this fictional world come to life before them. (And if you’re anything like me, you’ll also be craving some delicious Middle Eastern feasts — the FOOD in this book! I was so hungry while reading this!!!)

But what really clinched my love of this book is the chapter titled, “Oblivion.” It falls on page 342 in the hardcover, and it’s the point where The Wrath & the Dawn becomes a truly extraordinary book; where every expectation you might have had about where things were going will be shattered. I literally cried out, out loud (sorry, sleeping husband!) at one point — and fought back tears as I continued reading. This chapter changes everything. And the book was already fantastic to begin with — but this is the major turning point, where in any other writer’s hands, the book could have gone one of several predictable routes and become mundane, even ruining what had already been written to this point. But no, Ahdieh shifts her players and her characters in unlikely ways, and the result is a gut-wrenching and achingly beautiful portrayal of what true love really means.

This book — and this chapter in particular — left me gutted in the best possible way, and I’m still not over it (nor do I wish to be). The Wrath & the Dawn is in stores now.

Book Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

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The highly-anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson will leave readers anxious for the next installment in Lia’s epic story.

heart of betrayalIntrigue abounds in this hotly anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception!

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia’s erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there’s Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.

The Heart of Betrayal  was not as easily captivating to me as The Kiss of Deception (perhaps because there was no big mystery reveal to anticipate?) — and the story was slow for much of the book. (It also probably didn’t help that the book does very little to jog the reader’s mind about things that took place in Book 1. Having been a year since reading Kiss of Deception — and being old — I had a hard time remember a lot that happened.) That being said, I’m still eager for the third book in The Remnant Chronicles.

Despite a relatively slow pace, the book reveals many new layers to Lia’s world — including a secret conspiracy that will change everything to come next. And when it comes to a climactic ending, The Heart of Betrayal does not disappoint. The action really culminates in the book’s final scenes — and BOY HOWDY, is it intense … right up to a very cruel cliffhanger of an ending.

The Heart of Betrayal is in stores July 7th.

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

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A story about what courage really means, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White is the heartfelt story of two sisters facing tragedy upon tragedy — and the strength they must find to persist in the face of overwhelming odds.

survival strategies of the almost braveAfter their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is a beautiful story about the unique bond between sisters — and the lengths they will go to protect each other. Liberty and Billie’s situation is heartbreaking, but it is empowering to see the girls come together against the odds and continue fighting to find their way home.

The girls’ circumstances make the story difficult to read at times, but those hardships make the book’s ultimately uplifting ending all the more powerful and empowering. Because this truly is a story about being brave, and finding the inner strength you didn’t know you had. It’s also about how you can find love and family and hope in the most unlikely of places.

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is in stores now.

Book Review: The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson

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A fantasy adventure filled with heart and humor, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson introduces a charming cast of characters and sets the stage for many more hijinks to come.

Dungeoneers cThe world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler’s earnings, Colm can’t help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It’s just a question of how far you’re willing to go to get it.

In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery, or he can become a member of Thwodin’s Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in their quest for endless treasure. But not all families are perfect, and even as Colm hones his skills with fellow recruits, it becomes clear that something from outside threatens the dungeoneers–and perhaps something from inside as well.

Indeed, Thwodin’s Castle is reminiscent of a more criminally-minded Hogwarts — wherein students learn “dungeoneering” — that is, how to raid dungeons for gold and other assorted treasure. And while Colm focuses his lessons on being a “rogue,” his fellow students study the likes of magic, hunting, and more. Not so noble as the school for witchcraft and wizardry, but certainly filled with colorful teachers and dangerous situations.

The story is quite slow to unfold — and this is, perhaps, I think where my adult taste kept me from fully enjoying this book as much as a younger reader would — with lots of time spent developing characters, establishing the world, and following Colm and his friends as they learn the ropes at Thowdin’s Castle.

That said, the action really does pick up towards the end — and shows promise for more adventures for Colm and his friends in possible future books in the series. And these characters are what really make The Dunegoneers so delightful — they give the story meaning, purpose, and heart.

Look for The Dungeoneers in stores June 23rd.

Book Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

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The perfect summer book, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler is a story about life, love, family, and courage. It’s about finding your voice, and the strength to use it. And it’s also a shining example of what makes the Oregon coast so spectacularly magical.

summer of chasing mermaidsThe youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them . . .

I’ll be honest — though I was already intrigued by the premise of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, when I found out it was set on the Oregon coast (one of my favorite places on earth), I HAD to read it immediately. And I’m so glad I did. The book is like a manifesto about why the Oregon coast is such a magnificent place, and Ockler’s descriptions brings the sometimes-sunny, sometimes-overcast seaside setting to life in brilliant technicolor. I was actually on the Oregon coast just recently, and it made me want to read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids all over again.

Of course, beyond its seductive setting, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is filled with everything you’d expect from Sarah Ockler, and the perfect summer reading experience: romance, drama, and beautifully written characters. It’s not just Elyse and Christian who are so captivating; a very strong cast of supporting characters really heighten the story and bring it to life. They are fully realized, and brilliantly written — and I’d happily spend time reading about their stories, as well. (Hint, hint.)

Whether you can hit the beach or not, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids should be the one summer-themed book you read this year. It’s magical, romantic, and honestly raw. It’s in stores now.

Book Review: Blood Will Tell by April Henry

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The latest crime-thriller from April Henry, Blood Will Tell will leave her fans delighted by its twists and turns.

blood will tellWhen a woman’s body is found in a Portland park, suspicion falls on an awkward kid who lives only a hundred feet away, a teen who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and obsessively doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks. Nick Walker goes from being a member of Portland’s Search and Rescue team to the prime suspect in a murder, his very interest in SAR seen as proof of his fascination with violence. How is this even possible? And can Alexis and Ruby find a way to help clear Nick’s name before it’s too late?

April Henry weaves another page-turning, high stakes mystery in Book 2 of the Point Last Seen series.

Based on the real teen volunteers in Portland, Oregon’s Multnomah County Search and Rescue (SAR), Henry’s fictional version is injected with loads of real-life inspiration. Part of the appeal reading Blood Will Tell is finding the nuggets of fact within the fictional story.

Henry also has a knack for keeping readers on their toes, and she does so expertly within the pages of Blood Will Tell, which sees the return of her young search & rescue volunteers first introduced in The Body in the Woods. With the second book in her Point Last Seen series, we get to learn more about Nick, Alexis, and Ruby — as they work together to solve the crime, clear Nick’s name, and become stronger friends.

And of course, Blood Will Tell is filled with mystery, tension, and high-stakes — with a killer on the loose, and one of the teen’s falsely accused of the brutal crime.

Blood Will Tell hits store shelves on June 16th.

Book Review: Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

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A dream vacation turns hilariously — and then seriously — dangerous when a miraculous weight-loss supplement turns out to possess deadly side effects in Sweet by Emmy Laybourne.

sweet*People would kill to be thin.*

Solu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Forelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

*But will they die for it, too?*

Tom Forelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

Emmy Laybourne, author of the Monument 14 trilogy, takes readers on a dream vacation that goes first comically, then tragically, then horrifyingly, wrong.

Laybourne’s story takes some interesting turns. It starts out as a fun cruise ship adventure, with two teen girls rubbing elbows with famous celebrities — and even a blossoming romance. But then, things take a scary, but humorous turn, when the weight-loss drug turns out to have some … interesting … side effects.

But what starts out comical soon turns dark and deadly, and Laybourne’s story turns from sweet and humorous, to intensely action-packed and horrifying.

Sweet is a captivating story from start to finish — but what is really engaging is the frightening realistic aspect of the book. The idea that some people — a lot of people, perhaps — will go to extreme lengths to be thin. And quietly protesting the desire to be skinny, skinnier, and skinniest, Laybourne gives both her main characters a decidedly healthy, body-positive attitude. (Thank goodness!)

Sweet is unlike anything on store shelves now: humor, horror, and social commentary rolled into one, with a dash of romance. Look for it in stores now.

Book Review: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

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A sexy and captivating thriller, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller is an edge-of-your-seat page-turner filled with romance, danger, and breathless action.

devil you knowEighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

The Devil You Know is a captivating thriller, with a thread of tension on every page that keeps readers on-edge and eagerly turning the pages. Despite a mostly light-hearted start, and a seductive romance, readers know that the book will soon take a dark turn — and it’s only a matter of when, and how, that is unknown.

But that’s enough to keep readers feeling nervous for Arcadia, as her spur-of-the-moment summer adventure turns more dangerous, and more deadly. Utterly captivating, I could not put down this book — and as the climax peaked, I found myself actually holding my breath. (Note to self: BREATHE.)

Filled with lush settings, enchanting characters, and a dangerously seductive plot, The Devil You Know is in stores June 2nd.

Book Review: Joyride by Anna Banks

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Featuring a sweet romance, Joyride by Anna Banks is a charming, funny and touching story about finding your inner strength and standing up for yourself and what you want.

joyrideA popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

If you’ve read Banks’ Syrena Legacy books, you know she has a knack for writing realistic characters and injecting levity and humor into even the most dramatic and serious stories. Here, her skills shine brightly — because despite a light-hearted premise, Joyride features plenty of serious topics that Banks handles deftly.

Joyride is the perfect balance of dramatic and humorous, with a healthy dose of romance tossed in for good measure. Carly and Arden’s love story is so charming — but its their own individual struggles that show that this book is more than just an unlikely pairing. It’s about each character learning to prioritize their wants and dreams, stand up for themselves to their friends and family, and fighting for the things that really matter most.

Joyride was a delight to read. It is in stores June 2nd.

Book Review: The Cage by Megan Shepherd

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A science fiction thriller, The Cage by Megan Shepherd will keep readers guessing with its twists and turns, and unexpected romance.

cage, theThe Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in this gripping new series about teens held captive in a human zoo by an otherworldly race. From Megan Shepherd, the acclaimed author of The Madman’s Daughter trilogy.

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

Forbidden romance gets a whole new spin, as Shepherd crafts a story of an unlikely love between a teen girl and the alien who has imprisoned her (along with four others) in a bizarre human zoo. Mysteries abound within the pages of The Cage: who imprisoned the teens, why were they taken, what lies beyond their prison walls, and what do their captors really want with the teens. These are just a few of the questions that pop up as Shepherd’s story unfolds.

And while we find some of the (supposed) answers by the end of The Cage, a whole host of new mysteries unfold — which will leave readers wanting more. (The Cage is the first in a new series — so more is certainly coming.)

The Cage is a thrilling new entry in teen science fiction, with a fresh new twist on the classic genre. It perhaps leaves a few too many unanswered questions by the book’s end, but there is certainly plenty of room for more to be resolved as the series progresses.

The Cage is in stores May 26th.