Friday, July 31, 2015

Oblivion by Kelly Creagh Review

Title: Oblivion
Author: Kelly Creagh
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror/Gothic Fiction
Series: Nevermore, book three
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

The final book in Kelly Creagh's smash gothic hit, the Nevermore trilogy, is like walking through a dangerous, seductive nightmare of the most terrible proportions.

As I've said before, I'm a person who happens to be very iffy about my sequels. They make me nervous, especially if I love a book that came before it. More often than not, they let me down, and for a few days, I feel a sense of crushing, immediate depression and disappointment. (Sometimes, I really feel like I need to get a life..)

And then there are the gems, the jewels in the crown, the hidden diamonds in the rough, that ratchet up the action and the emotional pain, and I'm so happy to report that I'm so glad I finally finished this series. Picking up where Enshadowed lives off, Isobel is yet still determined to return Varen to her side, to help him escape the dreamworld that Lilith has imprisoned him in, to keep her promise and save him.

Unfortunately, though, there are other things in the way: her worried parents and brother, her friends at school, and, consumed with thoughts of saving Varen, everything around Isobel, gray and colorless and empty though it is without him, watches the entirety of her life fall apart, unable to move on despite the deepening sense that it might all be for nothing anyway.

One of the things I loved this series so much is for its characters. Despite most of them being quite unlikable, or in some more extreme cases, evil, they still made a lasting impression upon my heart, and for that, Creagh will always and forever have my admiration. How does one write a good book if you don't care about the characters that populate it? There's Varen, scarred, broken, and alone in a world of his own making, but yet is empty and yearning for Isobel. And then there's Isobel herself, determined to find Varen and put a stop to the dark forces that took him away from her. I loved Varen's character development; it was so real and raw and painful. Heartbreaking? Perhaps. And then there's the constant foil of Isobel drifting in and out of the real world, tied to Varen and yet not.

And then there's the pacing--it was completely breakneck, I couldn't flick through the pages of my Kindle fast enough. I was immediately sucked in from the first page, and all my doubts about the dreaded slump quickly fled my mind. The worldbuilding Creagh creates is so wonderful, rich and dark and as powerful as any drug, especially toward Varen.

It also didn't help that my heart was constantly in my throat. I was worried constantly that the characters I'd loved and grown so much to care for were going to die--and there are more than the fair share of close shaves, people!

And let's not forget, of course, the villain, the demon that stole Varen's mind and soul when she offered him the most seductive, enticing escape possible: A door into his own mind, his stories coming to life by mere thought. And I'll be honest, as a reader and writer myself: I was just as tempted as he was.

Oh, this book. This series. Heartbreaking, terrible, and dark though it was, it was a beautifully raw journey through the mind of a terribly scarred of a boy, bits and pieces of his psyche exposed to the reader's eye, but it is also a resounding, powerful testament to the power of true love. A wild, dark, heartbreaking ride well worth the time! The bottom line: A gorgeously plotted and written conclusion to the success of the Nevermore series, Oblivion was the perfect way to end one of my favorite trilogies to date! Next on deck: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh Review

Title: Enshadowed
Author: Kelly Creagh
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: Nevermore, book two
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

sequel syndrome: n. definition: the second book in a series that breaks up a relationship the reader cares about.

This book made my heart hurt, I'll start this on that horrible note. God. I feel like Kelly Creagh just ripped my heart out of my chest and curb-stomped it. (I know, I know, I'm so dramatic, but that's how I feel.) Picking up where Nevermore left off, Enshadowed begins with Isobel, a mere shadow of her former, bubbly self, haunted by Varen and her desperate desire to return him to their world, and to his place by her side.

I don't want to reveal too much, as it is a sequel, so I'll try to be scarce about the spoilers. Even the synopsis is vague because I'd rather not reveal anything. But I'm so happy to say that my anxiety about this book was unwarranted. I'm sure you guys know what I'm talking about: the dreaded sophomore slump, the sequel syndrome, where you love a book, but when the second one comes out, the characters you love so much are ripped apart over some petty differences.

And while this book has some elements of that, it didn't bog down the story. I was completely, utterly riveted. Isobel journeys to Baltimore, trying desperately to find a portal into the world through which Varen escaped his (mostly) miserable existence.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is for its heroine: Isobel. Determined, hellbent, on returning Varen home to her, she nearly throws her life away in the process. I'm such a sucker for "love conquers all" books. It gives me so much hope for humanity. But it's also the originality that gets Creagh points from me. I've seen a lot of inspiration from the dark works of Poe, but this has to be one of my very favorites.

And then there are the puzzles that Isobel, as well as the reader, have to solve: How to get to Varen? How to help him? How to conquer the dark forces inhibiting his natural thoughts? I loved it. And then there's Varen himself, a character I sympathized with even more than Isobel, who hides in books and stories to stave off the pain of judgmental parents, teachers, and peers.

I loved this book. In fact, and honestly, I can't believe I'm typing this, it was even better than Nevermore. The pacing was breakneck, the tantalizing riddles kept me guessing at every turn, and the beautiful, poetic prose was enough to keep me flipping pages, almost fast enough to earn quite a few paper cuts. Almost. The bottom line: A sequel that more than stands up to the success of its predecessor, I absolutely adored Enshadowed, and I can't wait for Oblivion! Next on deck: Oblivion by Kelly Creagh!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Title: Nevermore
Author: Kelly Creagh
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: Nevermore, book one
Star Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I bought a copy of this book and reviewed it.

It's no secret that even from the time I was a child, Edgar Allen Poe fascinated me. I read The Raven for the first time at twelve years old, and I thought to myself, "This is supposed to a be a poem? But it's huge!" Putting my protests aside, I began to read. Once I was finished, all the way to the end, I immediately sought out a volume of his tales, and The Raven is but one of my personal favorites.

And so began my love affair (*cough cough* obsession, more like) with Poe. Ever since, I've always been a huge fan of Poe, and people who use his work as inspiration. I bought Nevermore a few years ago, flushed with the two-day shipping that Amazon Prime offers, and tore through it in a good three or four days.

Where do I start with this? This book started out fairly typical. You guys know the trope. Boy and girl meet, girl thinks that boy is a freak until *gasp* she sees the light and they fall in love and it's all happily ever after, right?


When Isobel and Varen are teamed up for an English project, cheerleader Isobel is obviously less than thrilled. (I kept picturing Quinn Fabray in my head, thanks to Glee, but.) For his part, Varen isn't too happy himself. I mean, who would actually want to be paired in English class with Cheerleader Barbie? Forced into a partnership, the two grudgingly begin to talk, and as Isobel gets to know Varen, she realizes that there is so much more under his steely, dark facade, and as his obsession with Poe goes deeper, and he falls more and more under the spell of his own desires, things begin to get out of control, and maybe even their new love may not be enough to overcome the dark forces in their midst.

I'd first like to say that this book, and the author, get some serious points for creativity as well as originality. I've never had a book take me this deep into Poe's work before, and to use it as a platform for a world full of dark, horrible, half-formed beings, well. Let's just say I was sold.

And I love the way Creagh liberally sprinkled Poe's own prose into the novel to help propel the story. The pacing was breakneck, and even though the whole "I fell in love with my high school English partner" thing seemed a bit cliched, I really enjoyed it. And then there's the contrast between Isobel, blonde and angelic and popular, and Varen, the obvious outcast, the boy with his head stuck in a ratty old sketchbook, adorned with silver rings, piercings, and oddly enough, purple handwriting..

I also enjoyed the way that the characters were interspersed throughout the narrative. I don't want to give too much away, as this book is one of those that is best going into for the most part blind. But the gothic feel of this novel, combined with Poe's dark, often morbid, prose, only builds as the book goes on. Initially, I didn't really like Isobel. At first, she seems like the typical high school cheerleader, popular, above it all, and not afraid to turn away when uncomfortable things, but her character development was really worth reading.

And don't even get me started on the twists and riddles. Holy crap. I couldn't even deal with it. If there wasn't a new, often mysterious, character being thrown into the mix, there was a twist about Varen, or Isobel. And then there's Reynolds, the man that claims to be Varen's friend, when in reality he seems to have a lot to hide..

And that ending! That. Ending. Though. It was amazing, and if I didn't have Enshadowed waiting for me on my nightstand right now, teetering on top of my book pile, I would be livid. There's no way I could wait that long! More, dang it, more! I demand it! The bottom line: A highly original and frightening horror debut, Nevermore captured my imagination, and I'm so excited to see what the rest of the series has to offer me! Next on deck: Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic, book one
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I'd like to start this review off by saying that *cringe* (Don't kill me, people! Lol.) this is my first work by V.E. Schwab, also known as Victoria Schwab, author of Vicious. Which, by the way, is immediately going on my emergency library loan list. And I'm so happy to let you guys know that I've found a new favorite author!

When this first came out, I was ecstatic. Multiverses? Steampunk elements? A dreamy, ginger-haired magic worker with a silver tongue and a sharp smile? An amazing, foul-mouthed adventurer thief, sharp-witted and clever and hardened by tough times? What's that, you say? She's also a girl? I felt like I'd just found a new friend.

As I sit here typing, I'm contemplating where to start with this. You guys, I was seduced by this book entirely from the first line: 'Kell wore a very peculiar coat.'. The worldbuilding was excellent, almost flawless, in truth: There are other Londons. Red London, opulent and prosperous, Gray London, a near-colorless version of the city, in which magic is hard to come by, and life, to say the least, is hard, and then there's White London, ruled by a pair of power-hungry, mad twins. And last but definitely not least, Black London, the one so consumed by power that it ate up the city, and its people, literally.

The pacing of this novel was breakneck--I couldn't bear to pull myself away from it, no matter what it was that was pulling me away. I even dreamed about it, my mind and heart were so utterly consumed by it. But my favorite part of this novel, by far, was the characters. There's Kell, the sexy, utterly dreamy magician of sorts, spoiled prince, carefree flirt and some other unsavory things as well, who goes away from home and gets mixed up in a plot that could destroy everything. And there's his foil, Lila, hard as nails, clever, and awfully coarse, who hates her life and wants adventure, and with it, the freedom to live her own life.

And I haven't even gotten into the side characters yet. I probably shouldn't mention them, I don't want to give anything away, so actually, on second thought, I won't. It's probably better anyway to go into this tale a little bit blind. This book completely captured my heart and soul. (A Gathering of Shadows doesn't come out until February of next year! I can't wait that long! *sobs pathetically*) The bottom line: A beautiful classic of fantasy, A Darker Shade of Magic is now one of my favorite books, and I really do hope that more of Schwab's excellent work is in my future!) Next on deck: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Title: The Kiss of Deception
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Series: The Remnant Chronicles, book one
Star Rating: 1 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Sigh. Where do I began with this book? I'm so sad, as I'm writing this review. But to be honest, I kind of expected this. I tried to read Pearson's debut series, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and that didn't work for me either. I just think it's a little ironic, considering that I was eying this book like a kid in a candy store for my birthday last year. I wanted to love it, but I just couldn't finish it. I got to a hundred seventy pages and couldn't do it anymore. It was so slow. And that, unfortunately, is only the beginning of this novel's shortcomings.

This book had everything I wanted in a high fantasy novel: a runaway princess, magic, deeply steeped mythology, hot boys with not-so-legal professions. Sigh. I was in love, and when I saw this on the shelf at my local library, I snatched it up immediately. One of the first books I'd loaned from my library in a very long time, in over a year as a matter of fact. But God. Again, so, so, so slow! It felt like it was dragging, and it just couldn't hold my attention.

I did love certain parts of it: the world-building was excellent, the end papers of the novel, which was a gorgeously sketched map, the idea of a princess in flight from an arranged, loveless marriage, made more out of necessity and politics than anything else. I also loved the writing, which was beautiful, even exquisite, and the food porn. If a book has food porn in it, chances are good I'm going to love it, but it just fell short.

And I haven't even started on the characters yet. Lia, the runaway princess, determined to make her own way despite her parents' political climbing, and Kaden, the assassin sent to kill Lia in the night, but--shocker!--he becomes fascinated by his quarry. And then there's Rafe, the handsome, mysterious, swoon-worthy prince, who chases Lia despite having never met her, jaded and sad and instantly in love with the gorgeous Lia, despite her only just meeting him. Sigh. I get that teenagers are teenagers, but if there simply must be a love triangle, why can't it be done well? Without a ton of flowery prose, daydreaming, and flip-flopping?! Ugh! The bottom line: I had high expectations for this novel, but having read it not even halfway through, it just was a huge disappointment and a waste of time. Next on deck: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes Review

Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

'Crime is never preventable because the mind is always bored..."

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a debut novel that cut to the heart of me. It was deeply intense, poignant, and personal. I've been looking forward to this book since before it got a cover, so when I saw that it was available through my local library system, I just had to order it.

I don't know if I've ever told you guys this, but a little personal tidbit before I get into my review: I was in a cult for a good three years of my life, and reading this darkly lovely, frightening little book scared the hell out of me, to be honest. It brought back a lot of memories, and my family was one of the ones that was nearly ruined in the crossfire of it all. Our family is still run through with many brutal scars, despite having escaped the cult six years ago. But this book is one that needs to be read. It is shocking, ripped straight from the headlines, bloody and gory and nothing short of terrifying. I felt like I was watching a horror movie in my head while I was reading this book.

Minnow Bly's parents found the Kevinian cult when she was but five years old. Ripped from life as she knows it, she is forced into a cult, her deluded faithful parents devoted to a sick man who calls himself--wait for it!--'The Prophet'. What he says goes, and Minnow, despite being a devoted Kevinian, has her doubts. But the straw that breaks the camel's back is when the Prophet announces that seventeen year old Minnow must be his wife.

And when she tries to run away, the Prophet takes away her hands, too. (One of the most painful, and one of my favorite, parts of the book.)

After the cult burns down in a mysterious act of arson, Minnow is imprisoned, waiting to pay for a grave crime she may have not even committed. Handless, friendless, alone, she is offered a deal in exchange for her words, for her testimony: She could go free when her eighteenth birthday comes around. Faced with an impossible choice, her world shattered, Minnow discovers that starting over and thinking for herself might require more courage than even she possesses.

I'd like to start by saying that this book was nothing else than beautiful. I loved it. It was like a love letter to anyone who thought they might not have the strength to move on, to become powerful in their own right, to change their fate. The prose of this novel was gorgeous: dark, meaty, gory, and yet lovely in description--I was completely spellbound by the end of the chapter.

But what really sold this novel for me, as I said before, was the cult. The Community, with the terrifying, often lustful Prophet at the helm, and its members, brainwashed and meek, caring in one turn and bloodthirsty the next. The pacing was breakneck, from the prison scenes to the terrifying flashbacks of Minnow's life at the Community, riddled with questions and more than a little abuse.

Minnow herself was what made me love this book, too, and because of her, I will absolutely love it forever. A young woman trying desperately to find her way through a minefield of doubt, faith, and what it means to really think for yourself, even if it is your first time at just seventeen years old. I loved all sides of her: the good, the bad, and the dark and ugly, because regardless, she's strong enough to make it through everything life seems to throw at her. I loved her, related to her, cheered for her. She's my hero, and one of my favorite young adult protagonists to date. And then there's Angel, Minnow's murderous bunkmate, Dr. Wilson, the psychologist who wants to help her, and find a killer, and finally, Jude, and his father, Waylon, Jude being Minnow's first love. The bottom line: A darkly beautiful, yet ultimately hopeful, debut about what it means to stand on your own two feet and start over, and to really think for yourself! Highly recommended to readers of all ages! Next on deck: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Venom by Fiona Paul Review

Title: Venom
Author: Fiona Paul
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Secrets of the Eternal Rose, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Ah, Venice! Italy in general has always fascinated me, from the time I was a child. (Renaissance history and art, anyone?) Throughout the years, it has been a place of prosperity, of commerce and art and beauty. Well, Venom paints a very different picture of this beloved, historic city, one where no one can be trusted, not-so-well behaved young women sneak out into graveyards, and dead bodies of lovely women wash up in the dirty, brackish waters of the canals..

For the most part, this novel was just what I wanted: a dark, frightening, but thrilling romp through the dark, winding streets of Venice, where dead bodies are stolen, beautiful dresses are being made, and seductive, romantic trysts are formed in the dead of night. And then there's Cassandra, the privileged young woman who wants nothing more than to escape her gilded cage. Only thing is, she didn't exactly expect to get wrapped up in the plot of a sadistic serial killer, nor did she expect to find a sexy, bohemian-chic artist to sweep her off her feet, despite the teensy little snag of her having a fiance already..

The pacing of this novel was breakneck--for the most part, I really couldn't it down. But the setting was what really sold me on Paul's seductive debut: I'd really love to go see Venice for myself now. Another factor I loved about this novel, perhaps the series in general, was the intrigue. I couldn't figure out what was going on behind the scenes, the skeletons in the wealthy Venetians' closets. That was what really hooked me.

What got me to stay, to really dive into Cass's world, were the characters themselves. Cassandra, the headstrong daughter of a wealthy pair of late nobles, longing to spread her wings and flee the stifling privilege she was born to. And Falco. Oh, my God. If Cass wasn't about to jump into his arms, I certainly would! Seductive, full of fun, sweet and gentle and just a little bit crude? Yes, please! Molto bene! And then there's Luca, Cass's secretive fiance, who is clearly hiding something from Cass.. But what?

It ended beautifully, with all the loose ends tied neatly together, as if knotted carefully by hand, and I cannot wait for the next two books in the series--what a fun ride through historical, waterlogged Venice! Unfortunately, I couldn't give this quite five stars: Falco annoyed me in the beginning, and for the most part, I didn't really like Cass's Aunt Agnese. The bottom line: A deliciously dark and creepy tale taking place in gorgeous Venice, Venom sparkles with the beauty of the island itself--a wonderful debut, even if it got dragged down a bit by a few minor quibbles. Next on deck: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black Review

Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Remember when you were young? When some of us (yours truly, included!) were obsessed with tales of the wildly beautiful, feral, treacherous fey? When I was younger, I gobbled up fairy stories--and pretty much any other fairy material I could get my hands on. I was like a junkie, prowling around the shelves of bookstores and libraries, sniffing out the newest tale of magic and forests, darkness and mischief and mystery..

I've had high expectations for The Darkest Part of the Forest, and for a while, I was a little apprehensive. It's been hit or miss with me and Miss Holly Black--either I've loved her books or hated them, there's been no in between. One of the first books I ever read by her was Tithe, and I'm sorry to say that I couldn't get through more than twenty pages of it. And I'm so happy to report that The Darkest Part of the Forest was far from a disappointment!

I'm not quite sure even where to begin with my thoughts on this blockbuster hit of this year, I really don't. Where do I start? Welcome to the tiny town of Fairfold, where the people live in an uneasy alliance with the fey, most of which live in the forest just outside of town. In the middle of the forest, a casket, straight out of a fairy tale, rests in a clearing, with a horned boy, with sharply pointed ears and a face like a prince, sleeping peacefully inside.

Hazel and her twin brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, and there's no better friend of theirs in their childhood years than the horned boy. Hazel and Ben, Ben and Hazel, partners in crime, saviors of their tiny, magical (dangerous?) town, are both madly in love with the horned boy. Though they've both grown out of their childhood dreams, nonetheless they are both alarmed by the sudden realization that riles their peaceful town: the boy is gone, the casket broken, and a mysterious sickness is afflicting the townspeople.

This book was nothing less than a shot of literary cocaine straight to my heart and brain. The Darkest Part of the Forest really took me back to the classic fairy stories of my childhood: the seductive call of the wild and beautiful fey, promising freedom and everything else your heart could want, but with such a wicked twist that you'll regret ever wanting it in the first place. It really captured the spirit of the old fey stories: be cautious, be enamored, be respectful. Never say thank you, never eat fairy food, and never, ever, ever make a bargain with them. Fairfold and its townspeople were all really real to me, especially as the later half of the book went on.

I also loved the characters of this book: brave, reckless, unlucky in love, iron forged Hazel, sweet, vulnerable Ben, who loves music more than he does anything else, her partner in crime and her best friend, her other half. And then there's the fey themselves: the horned boy, gorgeous and deadly and mysterious, and the monsters and the fey, wild or no, that lurk in the forest just outside tiny Fairfold.

The pacing of this novel was absolutely breakneck, and I loved the way the fear escalated as the novel went on. The ending was perfect, everything I wanted it to be, and I was fully happy and satisfied. The bottom line: A dark offering reminiscent of the fairy series that launched her career, Holly Black's latest novel is a seductive, glittering confection of a book as irresistible as the call of the fey themselves--one of my favorite novels of the year, and quite possibly of all time!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older Review

Title: Shadowshaper
Author: Daniel Jose Older
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Series: Shadowshaper, book one
Star Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel by the publisher, Scholastic, in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Did you enjoy The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare? Do you enjoy art, action, tattoos,  horror, kick butt heroines with a diverse background? Unique, unusual worldbuilding and mythology?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, you need to go to the store or the library and get this book, immediately.

When I was first approved for this novel, I was so excited. An artist with a Puerto Rican background, having to deal with ancient spirits and magic, and a professor gone power mad? Yes, yes please! And I enjoyed this novel, for the most part, but I didn't love it like I expected I would. Don't kill me, you guys, but this book just reminded me way, way too much of The Mortal Instruments series. In fact, it felt almost too similar to it. And Sierra, the main character, felt a little too much like Clary Fray for me.

This book is a good one, don't get me wrong: great pacing, a strong heroine with a diverse background to boot, unique mythology and the great connection to art, as well as the villains and the secrets in Sierra Santiago's own past. I really, really wanted to love it, but it was just too close to The Mortal Instruments. (And by the way, for those of you who want to ask, it also takes place in Brooklyn.)

The characters are solid, particularly Sierra and her friend Robbie, who bond over their shared love of their art, and Sierra's family, particularly her mother, Maria, and her brother, Juan, really form the foundation of Sierra's strong familial bonds, and I really liked the way that family was portrayed, but Sierra's grandfather really irritated me, with his sexism. There's also Nydia, the curious, irrepressible librarian at Columbia, whose curiosity forces her to help Sierra. And Sierra and Robbie's relationship, though very sweet and one of the parts that I really liked, felt kind of forced, and it turned me off.

What really saved this book for me was the unique mythology, and the crazy, breakneck pacing--once I got into the later half of Shadowshaper, I couldn't put it down, and I loved the way Sierra's own family tied into the magic of shadowshaping, a dark legacy that most family members are forbidden to speak of, especially the women of the family. (Yay sexism!) I loved the ending, and I hope to read more of Daniel Jose Older's work. The bottom line: Though it is a solid debut, Shadowshaper rang a little too closely of Cassandra Clare's work for me, and it turned me off. Next on deck: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Second Life by S.J. Watson Review

Title: Second Life
Author: S.J. Watson
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Harper, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

'We show a different face depending on who we're with and what they expect of us. Even when we're alone, it's just another mask, the versions of ourselves we'd prefer to be..'

Second Life begins to tell the story of Julia, a woman bereft at her younger sister, Kate's, gruesome, gory and brutal murder. Unable to stop grieving, nor think about her sister's assailant, she turns to Kate's electronic devices for a trail of clues; most notably, her laptop. She is drawn into a seductive lifestyle full of scandalous sex affairs, and meets Lukas, a man who makes her feel more desirable than she has in years, despite being happily married to her loving, if a little vanilla, surgeon husband, Hugh. Embarking on a torrid, clandestine game of cat and mouse with this mysterious, sexy stranger, Julia begins to see the lies between her personal secrets and her family life begin to blur. And as she draws closer to finding out the truth, she realizes that her secret second life may not be as secret as she tries to believe..

Where do I begin when I try to review Second Life? S.J. Watson is a household name, and has made his fame on his thrillers. But this one was especially thrilling and unique not just because of the intriguing plotline--a grieving sister using the Internet to find her younger sister's killer--but because, mainly, of Julia.

Julia lives a happy, contented life... On the surface, anyway. Secretly worrying that her adopted son, Connor, may want to be with his birth mother, which just so happens to be Julia's own younger sister, and that her marriage may not be as perfect as she and Hugh like to pretend. Hungry for answers and the truth about Kate's death, she goes online, on Kate's personal sex site accounts, and pretends to be her. At first, it starts out as a secret, a little bit of temporary fun before she returns to her humdrum, everyday life.

But as her cravings become darker and begin to bubble toward the surface, she realizes that her desires and fantasies cannot be kept under wraps, and soon, even with the giddy secret of a dark and torrid affair, Julia's lives (she goes online calling herself by the alias, Jayne) begin to run parallel to one another, and try as she might to end the fun, the mysterious stranger in her bed, Lukas, isn't exactly down with that. Soon Julia begins to fear Lukas, even as he satisfies her in hotel bedrooms and dark, dim restaurant bathrooms, and she begins to dig deeper for the secrets of her sister's killer. I loved Julia as a character--she was flawed, complex, and honestly, a great main character. She wants something to herself, some secret desire she can look back on, until it all begins to spiral out of control for her.

The supporting characters: namely, the dark, seductive Lukas, the wild ride Julia soon ends up regretting, Anna, Kate's grieving best friend, Hugh, sweet and supportive but longing to be emotionally close to his wife once again. Those are the bricks that really held up the story. The pacing was breakneck--I couldn't put the book down, especially in the later half when things really started picking up, and I loved this novel. This definitely won't be the last I read of S.J. Watson! The bottom line: A dark, gritty, yet emotional thriller with elements of Gone Girl and Dark Places, Second Life was a wild, dark and crazy ride I won't soon forget--Stupendous! Next on deck: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older!

*All quotes are taken from the ARC I received from the publisher and are subject to change.