Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Sketch: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

By: Kristen Ciccarelli
Published By: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 2, 2017
Series: Iskari (#1)
Pages: 421
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

First Thought After Finishing: What a great debut!

Dragons are some of my favorite mythical creatures, so any time that there is a book about them, that book is automatically on my TBR! Admittedly, this book sat on my shelf for a bit before I read it, but it turned out to be great to binge-read the trilogy. Here there be dragons, but there is so much more.

Asha is the Iskari, the death bringer, but also the one keeping her people safe from dragons. After nearly dying in an attack by Kozu, the first dragon, Asha lets her scars serve as a constant reminder of what can happen to her and her people if she fails in her mission. But being the daughter of the king also comes at a price. She has an arranged engagement to a man she doesn’t love, and her actions and words are always under scrutiny. When Asha is offered a deal to break her engagement, she jumps at the chance. But that isn’t the only deal that Asha receives, and secret deals bring hidden stories to light. Soon, Asha has to choose between her duty and her heart.

I love mythology, and one of my favorite aspects of this book was reading stories and lore from the world interwoven with the present-day narrative. This brought another level to the story, and Asha’s love and knowledge of the folklore made her more likeable. These stories also give hope that dragons and humans can coexist rather than the current practice of slaying them to keep cities safe. Thank goodness for the old tales! I hope to see even more of them in future books.

In many respects, Asha was a formidable character. Physically strong and confident despite an early accident, she faces her fears on a daily basis to protect her home. As a royal, she had to follow certain rules, though she never quite felt passionate about them. Asha could have been embittered and entitled, the perfect protégé for her father. Instead, when a slave named Torwin showed her kindness and flouted the rules, risking his life, Asha’s worldview began to change. Together, they formed a terrific team, especially when you add her cousin Safire, who Asha protects at all costs. Asha’s other family members are more enigmatic, and I longed for multiple POVs to have the full picture. However, it was the feeling that something was not quite right that kept me turning pages.

This story has many familiar elements of fantasy, including an evolving knowledge for the reader of what is true, high-stakes battles, familial and political drama, shifting loyalties, and young love managing to bloom against all odds. If you are a fan of the genre, you will definitely find something to love in this book.

Most Memorable Aspect: The folklore and the dragons.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Book Sketch: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

By: Marie Rutkoskir
Published By: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Library Audio
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

First Thoughts After Finishing: I should have read this trilogy years ago!

A few years ago, I took a break from reading YA books. During that time, The Winner’s Curse was published. As it turns out, I missed out on some good books in those years. However, with Marie Rutkoski’s new book set in the same world, as well as the love for this trilogy, I knew that I needed to catch up on my reading, and I am so glad I did!

As the daughter of the Valorian general, Kestrel has two choices: Join the military or be married. Not ready to settle for either fate, she spends her time practicing her music or visiting her friend Jess. When the friends are out together and happen through the Herrani slave market, Kestrel finds herself making a purchase she never anticipated—a young male slave named Arin—for an exorbitant sum. Once Arin begins working at Kestrel’s house, she cannot seem to avoid him. He becomes her escort, her shadow of sorts—and yet he is a Herrani, and she a Valorian. Nothing could happen between them. But the winds of unrest are gathering, bringing change on the breeze, and neither Kestrel nor Arin could be prepared for what will happen.

This book has elements of several genres—fantasy, historical fiction, and dystopian. The world is complete with carriages, fancy dresses, and land battles and class warfare that left Herrani enslaved to the Valorians. Into this complex, tumultuous world are placed Kestrel and Arin, who must navigate a nearly-impossible situation. Kestrel quickly became one of my favorite females in fantasy. She has to train as a fighter, but unlike most females, her fiercest weapon is her mind. Kestrel is constantly strategizing, whether it is at the game Bite and Sting to outwit her opponents or devising military maneuvers for conquering lands or saving her own. Add to that her brilliant talent for music, and I was sold.

Arin was harder to get to know, despite the third-person point of view that allowed us to see his actions. It was difficult to determine my feelings about him until partway through the book, and even then the constantly-shifting events and loyalties made me question those feelings more than once. However, there was no denying the romantic tension between Arin and Kestrel—it practically radiated off the page into something palpable. The tender moments they shared were certainly swoon-worthy, and I cannot wait to see what will develop between them in the next book.

This book was a quick read despite all of the events taking place in what seemed like a few short pages. The writing was lyric and beautiful, and the cast of supporting characters brought vibrancy and life to the story. The story may have been written years ago, but it can still very much stand beside the fantasy stories of today in all aspects. If you have not started this trilogy, add it to your TBR today!

Most Memorable Aspect: Kestrel’s wit and cunning, and certain musical and pier scenes.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Sketch: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

By: Tricia Levenseller
Published By: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King
Pages: 311
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought (OwlCrate)
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship. More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

First Thought After Finishing: Why did I wait so long to read this book?

Not long after I joined Bookstagram, there was a fair amount of hype about Daughter of the Pirate King. Sometimes that makes me nervous to start a book, but in this case, there was nothing to worry about. I flew through this novel in one day, and it was every bit as enjoyable as the hype had promised it to be.

Brave, fearless pirate Alosa has been sent on a mission by her father to retrieve a map that will lead to untold riches for the pirates. So Alosa devises the perfect scheme—fall into enemy hands, search their ship undetected, and prove herself as the best of the best. Alosa has no reason to doubt her skills or her success, and she is fully devoted to her mission. Only Alosa never bargained for Riden, the first mate of the enemy ship. The more time she spends with him, the harder it is to separate the prisoner role she is playing from her own feelings about Riden. But as a pirate, she should know that schemes always abound, and this mission may prove to be one too many for the pirate princess.

“Oh, the ridiculous things one has to do when one is a pirate.”

Alosa is everything one could want in a heroine—fierce, witty, and cunning. Her confidence in herself and her skills is a refreshing change of pace from main characters who are convinced they are “nothing special.” Alosa doesn’t need anyone to validate her, and yet, she desperately wants the approval of her father. This vulnerability, along with her humor, makes her quite likeable. Then enter Riden, the charming yet sly love interest. He is wonderful in his own way, and the banter between him and Alosa is very entertaining.

“Everyone has something dark in their past. I suppose it’s our job to overcome it. And if we can’t overcome it, then all we can do is make the most of it.”

Moreso than the budding romance, this book is nonstop adventure—escape attempts and capture, working against the clock on dangerous searches, and twists that might be predictable but also keep the story engaging. With the high stakes on the high seas, the schemes, and the romantic tension, there is never a dull moment. Both of the main characters also have their secrets, and those revelations have set the stage for a sequel that I can’t wait to read.

This was Tricia Levenseller’s debut book, and if all of her other books weren’t already on my TBR, they would be after reading this one. If you are looking for the perfect book to escape reality for a few hours, look no further than Daughter of the Pirate King!

Most Memorable Aspect: Alosa’s confidence and witty humor.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Feature: Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Witches of Ash and Ruin
By: E. Latimer
Published By: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer's motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don't stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that's impossible to put down.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Night Spinner by Addie Thorley

Night Spinner
By: Addie Thorley
Published By: Page Street Kids
Release Date: February 11, 2020
Series: Night Spinner #1
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: A must-read for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, transforming The Hunchback of Notre Dame into a powerful tundra-inspired epic.

Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

FTAF: I need the next book now, please!

Addie Thorley’s An Affair of Poisons was very popular around Bookstagram. So when I saw that she had a new fantasy book coming out, I knew it had to be on my TBR list.

Enebish used to be a great warrior. Now, she is reduced to a shell of her former self, banished to a monastery to atone for her crimes. When her adopted sister, Ghoa, the commander of the Sky King’s army, arrives at the monastery unexpectedly, Enebish learns that she will finally have a chance to redeem herself and get her old life back. Only the mission does not turn out to be as simple as she expects. She should have been eager to turn over traitors to her sister and restore her name, but she finds herself conflicted. The deeper undercover she goes, the more imperative it is that she decide where her loyalty lies—with her family or with her country.

From the beginning of this book, I was completely enamored with the beautiful prose. In this retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the original story is gender-swapped and subtly woven into a lush fantasy narrative. Although Enebish is disfigured, it is a result of her crimes, and that is also why she is hidden away. Still, she wants to do right by her family and even her jailers. Throughout the book, she is constantly at war with herself, truly wanting to follow the right course of action but almost always unsure of what that is. It is this debate that also makes the book so engaging for the reader. Should Enebish trust Ghoa? Serik? Temujin? Or only herself? Half-truths and secrets are rampant in this story.

The world-building is so rich, and yet I found myself wanting even more. Kalima powers are bestowed upon the lucky individuals, and they can control different elements like ice, the sun, the wind, and the night. I’d love to know more about this system in the second book. Beyond this, the scenery is so well-described that I was transported to each setting, from the beautiful to the appalling squalor. Everything about the writing is captivating and had me wanting to read faster yet savor the story at the same time.

The ideas of religious freedom and unity despite cultural and ethnic differences also play heavily into this book despite the fantasy setting. Warriors and rebels come from all countries, families are (forcibly) broken and (by choice) reformed, and almost everyone is accepting of this. The love of friendship and family is tangibly felt in every chapter, and it made the villains and the struggles that much more complicated. In many ways, this book showcased the triumph of the human spirit and showed how resilient and powerful people can be.

Although I haven’t read Addie Thorley’s first book, I will definitely be moving it up on my TBR. I’ll also be waiting impatiently for the sequel to find out how this story concludes!

Most Memorable Aspect: The detailed yet elegant writing style.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Addie Thorley is the author of An Affair of Poisons, a YA historical fantasy, which was chosen as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee. Her forthcoming novel, Night Spinner, will be released on February 11, 2020.

She spent her childhood playing soccer, riding horses, and scribbling stories. After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in journalism, Addie decided “hard news” didn’t contain enough magic and kissing, so she flung herself into the land of fiction and never looked back. She now lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and wolf dog. When she’s not writing she can be found gallivanting in the woods or galloping around the barn where she works as a horse trainer and exercise rider.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Monday, February 10, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal

Ink in the Blood
By: Kim Smejkal
Published By: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 11, 2020
Series: Ink in the Blood #1
Pages: 448
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

First Thought After Finishing: *insert stammering then* Well then!

A fantasy book with tatoo magic? Yes please! Add in a traveling theater troupe, a hint of romance, and a dash or religious debate, and I was hooked.

Celia is an Inkling—a child specially chosen by the Divine to share her will and messages through tattoos. From the time she was six, she knew what the rest of her life would be. She and her best friend, Anya, passed every test and followed every Divine bidding. Only they don’t quite believe in the Divine, despite growing up in the temple. When an opportunity to escape presents itself, Celia and Anya know they must take it. But life outside the temple might prove to be just as dangerous as life on the inside. Celia and Anya soon discover that they must give the performance of a lifetime if they have any hope of staying alive—or changing the world.

Most books about revolution show the protagonist trying to dethrone an evil despot, but Ink in the Blood takes it one step further. Instead of a corrupt ruler, an entire religion has become corrupt, but it will take extraordinary means to expose the corruption and pave a pathway forward. I am fascinated by all things religion, particularly the similarities and differences between denominations, so I enjoyed this twist on YA fantasy. The religious system comes complete with its own myths and lore, which made the world feel that much more possible and real.

It’s rare to see a book that highlights friends as soulmates, but this story does just that. The bond between Celia and Anya was unbreakable, and with Galentine’s day fast approaching, I couldn’t help but love this aspect of the story. Celia and Anya may have their flaws—some real, some created by the powers that be—but their devotion to each other was never in question, even in the darkest times.

The side characters, particularly those of the Rabble Mob, are no less important. One couldn’t help but love the little children who looked to Celia as a pseudo-mother. But the real stars of the show were Kitty Kay and the Plague Doctor. Both of these characters are shrouded in mystery, particularly the Plague Doctor. Over time, Kitty Kay becomes the mother that the Inklings never have, but the Plague Doctor remains an enigma to understand. The chemistry between him and Celia sizzled off the page, and though their romance was not the main facet of the story, it made for a delightful diversion in the midst of so much tension.

I will admit that it took some time for me to get into this story. As much as I support queer representation, within the first fifty pages of this book, the pains to show inclusivity took me out of the story rather than being integrated naturally. This lessened as the book went on, however, and once the story picked up, it was nearly impossible to put down. The last fifty pages definitely made up for the first fifty, as twist after twist kept me guessing until the end. I thought that this was a standalone, but there will be a sequel forthcoming. Although many loose ends are tied up, I look forward to seeing how Celia’s story continues in the next book! Ink in the Blood is a debut that is not to be missed!

Most Memorable Aspect: The tattoo magic system.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Kim Smejkal lives with her family on muse-satiating Vancouver Island, which means she’s often lost in the woods or wandering a beach. She writes dark fantasy for young adults and not-so-young adults, always with a touch of magic. Her debut novel, INK IN THE BLOOD, will release from HMH in early 2020, with a sequel to follow in 2021. She is represented by Daniel Lazar of Writers House.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

By: Isabel Ibañez
Published By: Page Street Books
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

First Thought After Finishing: I know this is a standalone, but I’d love to read a sequel!

I love cultural books, particularly ones that transport you beyond your current walls and to a rich, new setting that you have never seen before. Fantasy is also my favorite genre. Combining them into a Bolivian-inspired world full of secrets, revolution, and forbidden love had me very excited to read this book.

Ximena can never truly be Ximena. From the time she was eight years old, she has been the decoy for Catalina, the Illustrian Condesa. When the enemy Llacsan king demands the Condesa’s hand in marriage, Ximena has no choice but to journey to the castillo to accept his proposal or risk the lives of her people. Ximena is eager for the opportunity, hoping she will find a way to end the king’s reign—permanently. Only she never expected people in enemy territory to be kind, or to find that perhaps history did not happen the way she had always been told. All too soon, Ximena must decide where her loyalties lie, but in doing so, she will risk losing the only life she has ever known—or losing herself.

Woven in Moonlight may be a story of royalty and revolution, but it is also a story of growth and change. Due to the Llacsan rebellion, Ximena lost her parents and found herself serving as the Condesa’s decoy. After spending so much time sublimating her own thoughts and feelings for the greater good, her deepest desire is to simply be herself. As much as she dreads travelling to the castillo and essentially being a hostage in enemy territory, it was this uncomfortable experience that allowed her to grow and have a more expansive worldview. The message felt a bit heavy-handed at times, but in today’s radically charged political climate, it is important to remember that there are always two sides to every story and that the best way forward may not always be the same way that it has always been before.

Although the plot was a bit predictable, the rich setting, the bits of Bolivian culture sprinkled throughout the novel, and the slow-burn romance kept the story engaging. More than once my mouth was watering for the Bolivian dishes described, and I loved the bits of Spanish woven into the story! I also enjoyed the details of Ximena and Tamaya’s weaving—I could easily envision the beauty of the tapestries, particularly with the vibrant colors, animals and scenery included.

Woven in Moonlight is Isabel Ibanez’s debut novel, but when visiting Goodreads, I discovered that she has already said that there will be a sequel set in the same world! I will be eagerly anticipating this next book, Written in Starlight, and look forward to journeying back to this Bolivian-inspired world for the characters to build a better future!

Most Memorable Aspect: Ximena’s animal companions—I wish that I could have them!

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Isabel Ibañez was born in Boca Raton, Florida, and is the proud daughter of two Bolivian immigrants. A true word nerd, she received her degree in creative writing and has been a Pitch Wars mentor for three years. Isabel is an avid movie goer and loves hosting family and friends around the dinner table. She currently lives in Winter Park, Florida, with her husband, their adorable dog, and a serious collection of books. Say hi on social media at @IsabelWriter09.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
1/6/20 - BookHounds YA - Excerpt
1/6/20 - Nay's Pink Bookshelf - Review
1/7/20 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
1/7/20 - Ramblings of a Book Nerd - Review
1/8/20 - Kait Plus Books - Excerpt
1/8/20 - Cuz I'm A Nerd - Review
1/9/20 - Life Within the Pages - Review
1/9/20 - Smada's Book Smack - Review
10/10/20 - Fictitious Wonderland - Review
10/10/20 - Fictitious Fox - Review

Week Two:
1/13/20 - Eli to the Nth - Review
1/13/20 - Lifestyle of Me - Review
1/14/20 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review
1/14/20 - Not in Jersey - Review
1/15/20 - Fire and Ice - Review
1/15/20 - Pop the Butterfly Reads - Review
1/16/20 - History from a Woman's Perspective - Review
1/16/20 - Portrait of a Book - Review
1/17/20 - Two Points of Interest - Review
1/17/20 - D Wants to Read - Review


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Throw Like a Girl by Sarah Henning

Throw Like a Girl
By: Sarah Henning
Published By: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Friday Night Lights meets Morgan Matson's The Unexpected Everything in this contemporary debut where swoonworthy romance meets underdog sports story.

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws one ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she'll have to convince their coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex and the teammates of the girl she punched... Every. Single. Day.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he'll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the Spring. But it will take more than the perfect spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland's halls, and behind that charming smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all.

With well-drawn characters and a charming quarterback love interest who's got brains as well as brawn, Throw Like a Girl will have readers swooning from the very first page.

First Thought After Finishing: The YA genre needs more sports romances!

Although I’m not an athlete myself, I enjoy reading stories that feature sports. I always admire the dedication that these teenage athletes display as they pursue their dreams. Throw Like a Girl showcased not only athletic talent but also the challenge of balancing family pressure, romance, and normal teenage life.

Liv has it all—a sports family, the perfect boyfriend, a great group of friends, and the star spot on her private school’s softball team. But all of that vanishes with one punch during a tournament game. Much to her dismay, Liv will have to attend the rival public school, which is home to the softball team of the girl she punched. Liv expected talent to carry her through, but her new coach wants to see something more—teamwork. When the starting quarterback approaches her with an offer to help if she joins the football team, Liv knows she has to take the opportunity. Only she never expected to like football so much, or to pass her heart to the quarterback. And when secrets come to light, only Liv can decide what play to call and hope it results in a touchdown.

As a teenager, I stopped playing soccer because playing on a team against boys several years older than me made me nervous. Liv, however, is almost fearless, earning her place on a male team in a male sport and earning not their contempt but their admiration. This is not only because of her athleticism but also because of her work ethic, strong character, and determination to be the best that she can. I appreciated her reminders of all the lessons she had been taught by her father and sister, and they made me want to redouble my efforts in my own passions.

This book was pitched as a sports romance, and it does not disappoint on either count. The vivid description of all of the games—softball, football, and even volleyball—transported me to the bleachers and left me cheering for Liv and her team. And the romance between Liv and Grey, though not without its problems, was often incredibly sweet. True, they both made mistakes, but what girl doesn’t want to discover that the handsome, unattainable quarterback is actually a devoted friend and boyfriend? And no review would be complete without mentioning Addie, Liv’s sassy softball friend. Addie is the loyal, unconditional friend that everyone needs, and she is the voice of reason in the midst of Liv’s tempest. If there was ever a spinoff about her, I would most definitely read it.

At its heart, Throw Like a Girl centers around standing up for oneself in the right way, whether it is with family, in relationships, or against enemies. But with this message woven into a book that is by turns humorous and touching but always engaging, the story never feels like a sermon. I was sad to see the end of Liv’s journey, and I can only hope that a companion novel might offer a glimpse of these wonderful characters. This book is perfect for fans of Miranda Kenneally's novels. I will be eagerly awaiting Sarah Henning’s next book!

Most Memorable Aspect: The detailed descriptions of all of the sports games.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Sarah Henning is a recovering journalist who has worked for the Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. While in South Florida, Sarah lived and worked through five hurricanes, which gave her an extreme respect for the ocean. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, which, despite being extremely far from the beach, happens to be pretty cool.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

By: Erin Stewart
Published By: Delacorte
Release Date: October 3, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn't need a mirror to know what she looks like--she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be "normal" again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends--no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn't have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn't afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she's going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

First Thought After Finishing: I was not expecting that to be so emotional!

There is something fascinating in stories of survival and rebuilding. Perhaps it is because we are grateful that those experiences are not our own, or it is simply human nature to puzzle out that which we do not understand. I had heard this book mentioned several times, and the synopsis intrigued me. I found myself glued to the pages, fascinated with this new approach to navigating high school life.

One night—that’s all it took to change Ava’s life forever. Before, she was a theater junkie, center stage in every performance. After, burns covered 60% of her body, and she was a patchwork quilt of skin grafts, though not even the grafts could fix the shape of her nose or her missing ear—or the fact that her parents and cousin perished in the fire. Now, she is only a specter of her former self, haunting her cousin’s house as though she could replace the daughter her aunt and uncle lost. When the “Committee on Ava’s Life” decides she needs to reintegrate to high school, Ava balks at the idea. But it’s only ten days. She can survive that long—she’s a survivor, after all. Ava is prepared to keep her head down, her headphones on, and drown out the world. But she didn’t count on Piper, Asad, or the fact that perhaps she too could be a phoenix.

“She moves her fingers to her chest. ‘You decide how your scars change you /here/. You decide how much love you let in. You chose to live that night in the fire, and you need to keep choosing it.”’

I rarely read contemporary YA unless I am in the mood for a quick, beach-read-vibes romance or the story deals with heavier issues. As an adult, the general teen drama and pettiness so often found in contemporary stories does not interest me, and as a high school teacher, I see quite enough of it. Scars Like Wings, though in a high school setting, has so much more than that. To be sure, part of the story deals with navigating high school with a face that looks like Freddie Krueger at best, Phantom of the Opera at worst. But as Piper tells her from the first day at Crossroads High, nobody survives high school alone. The initial stares will eventually fade, but it is the support network that must be in place to escape the crushing loneliness.

“‘I’m not gonna sit here and pretend to know why God lets things happen to good people like you and your folks, but I know this: God puts people in our path, and my path crossed yours that night,’ she says. ‘Your story is part of mine now, and I know that’s how he wants it—our hearts all jumbled together.’”

Enter Piper, another burn survivor who flaunts her status. Unlike Ava, who wants to fade into the background, Piper makes a statement of standing out. Her infectious positivity and refusal to be ignored slowly but surely help Ava emerge from her self-imposed cocoon. Piper is exactly the kind of cheerleader friend that everyone needs, but that hardly means that her life is a bed of roses. She becomes a main character in her own right, and when we are finally given a glimpse into her psyche, you cannot help but want to envelop her in a hug as tight as her compression garments and not let go. As for her other friend, Asad—I still have mixed feelings about him. However, I appreciate that the story does not shy away from gritty reality simply because Ava is a burn survivor. As the vice principal often says, she gets no special treatment, and that was refreshing.

“She lost a daughter. I lost a mother. But as we sit there side by side, the differences don’t matter. Pain is pain.”

Piper and Ava’s friendship reflected nuances present in everyday life, and that was often a roller-coaster journey on its own. But for me, the true emotional power of this book came from the familial conversations, the ones exploring the impact of being a child without a mother (and what she could do to make her adoptive mother happy) and of being a mother without a child. Ava’s aunt and uncle are, without a doubt, some of the best parents I have read in YA novels. Their family has a seemingly impossible road to navigate, and yet with time, they are able to live into a new normal. The depths of their love and sacrifice in the face of loss will tug at your heartstrings and not let go. Even reflecting on their conversations now is bittersweet—their pain is still tangible, but so is their love. As someone lucky enough to still have her mother, it makes me want to be a better daughter while I still have the chance.

“‘There’s always beauty in the ashes. Sometimes we just can’t see it yet.’”

We all have scars—some are just easier to see. We all have doubts, loss, and heartache to some degree. But after reading this book, you start to believe that you too can rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Powerful, poignant, thought-provoking, and dare I say inspiring, this debut novel from Erin Stewart is not to be missed.

Most Memorable Aspect: Learning to love again as a family. (Also all of the Broadway references and quotes.)

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Erin Stewart is the author of SCARS LIKE WINGS, her debut novel. Erin is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and a BYU undergraduate who works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City.

Erin lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She is represented by the amazing Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
10/1/19 - Feed Your Fiction Addiction - Review
10/2/19 - BookHounds YA - Review
10/3/19 - Lifestyle of Me - Review
10/4/19 - Fictitious Fox - Review

Week Two:
10/7/19 - Fire and Ice - Review
10/8/19 - Moonlight Rendezvous - Review
10/9/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/10/19 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers - Review
10/11/19 - Here's to Happy Endings - Review

Week Three:
10/14/19 - Treestand Book Reviews - Review
10/15/19 - Smada's Book Smack - Review
10/16/19 - Riddle's Reviews - Review
10/17/19 - Jena Brown Writes - Review
10/18/19 - Book-Keeping - Review

Week Four:
10/21/19 - A Bookish Dream - Review
10/22/19 - Life Within the Pages - Review
10/23/19 - Portrait of a Book - Review
10/24/19 - The Pages In-Between - Review
10/25/19 - Paper Readers - Review

Week Five:
10/28/19 - Southern Girl Bookaholic - Review
10/29/19 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
10/30/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/31/19 - Two Points of Interest - Review


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Friday, October 18, 2019

Blog Tour & Book Sketch: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

By: Julia Drake
Published By: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Series: None
Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: The Larkin family isn't just lucky—they persevere. At least that's what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn't drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can't stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family's missing piece - the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

First Thoughts After Finishing: I want adventure in the great wide somewhere...and I miss the beach!

I am (almost) always a fan of retellings, so when I saw that this was inspired by Twelfth Night and set in a coastal town of Maine, I knew that I needed to read this book. In many ways, this book mirrored the ocean—the story stayed in the shallows until, in moments when you were not expecting it, the continental shelf dropped away and the depths were open for exploration.

Violet is descended from a shipwreck survivor who helped found the town of Lyric, Maine. She is convinced that she has the “shipwreck gene,” that her life is destined to be dashed into pieces on rocks and leave her floundering to recover. And in fact, that hardly seems far-fetched. A teenager at loose in New York City, she makes more than questionable decisions that leave her as emotionally frozen as if she had been the one thrown from safety into icy water rather than her great-great-great-grandmother. While her brother Sam struggles to cope with a mental disorder, Violet turns to the numbness of sex and drugs. After Sam’s suicide attempt, he is sent to treatment in Vermont, and Violet is sent to spend the summer with her uncle in Lyric. The city holds many memories for her, but a return to the past might be exactly what she needs for her family’s future. With the help of friends that she never expected to make, Violet embarks on a quest to uncover the long-lost shipwreck of Lyric and of her family.

“Survival was its own quest: we needed to choose to survive over and over again. We had to wash up on shore, and we had to choose to keep washing up every single day.”

Many contemporary stories are character-driven, and The Last True Poets of the Sea is no exception. The book followed the pace of a small coastal town, particularly one that is not overrun by tourists despite the summer season. The plot itself could have been distilled into a fourth of the pages, but the depth of the character development ensured that the book never felt slow. Violet is by turns fascinating and frustrating. I kept hoping for a revelation that would explain her self-destructive path, but one never came. However, this is not to say that her past was not explored. Certain stories were gradually revealed that made me sympathize all the more with Violet’s internal battle to be a better friend, daughter, and sister. She gave words to those feelings that are all too easy to creep in, particularly in an age of disconnectedness. Her brother might be the one with a diagnosis, but the exploration of Violet’s mind highlights how not all struggles come with a name. Throughout the book, her gradual realizations are important reminders for all readers, whether they are teenagers or adults.

One of the highlights of this book is a slow-burn romance with emotions ebbing and flowing like waves lapping the shore. The relationships did not unfold in quite the way I was expecting; in fact, this book probably has one of the best uses of a love triangle that I have seen. For a long time, there were only small eddies of romantic current, but once Violet and Liv were able to admit to themselves and each other how they felt, it was like a tidal wave unleashed—so much feeling but almost over before it seemed like anything had happened. However, I loved the fact that even though there was queer representation, it was not the sole focus of the story. Being attracted to both sexes was only one facet of Violet’s character and hardly the one that defined her, which I appreciated.

Friendships also played an important part in this book, particularly the idea of friendships as an anchor. I loved Violet’s diverse friend group, especially Orion, and I would have enjoyed seeing all of them interact more. Familial relationships also shared the spotlight. The Larkin family dynamic is one that is all too familiar—nothing is necessarily wrong, but at the same time, they are not the happy family they wish to be. I appreciated that there was a process to rebuild relationships; the family was not fixed by a single day or single conversation. Also, Toby may be the best uncle ever—I would like to sign up for his puzzles and pastries!

Despite the engrossing nature of the character development, I do wish a bit more time had been spent uncovering the family genealogy and the shipwreck history rather than reading the unifying thread at the end of the book. Overall, however, this book was a quick read that drew me into the minds of new characters and left me with much to think about. I will look forward to seeing what Julia Drake writes next!

Most Memorable Aspect: Exploring so many timely issues without over-labeling everything.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Julia Drake grew up outside Philadelphia. As a teenager, she played some of Shakespeare's best heroines in her high school theater program and their stories would stay with her forever. She received her BA in Spanish from Williams College, and her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She currently works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that fosters love of writing in young adults. She lives in San Francisco with her partner and their rescue rabbit, Ned.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Week One:
10/1/19 - Twirling Book Princess - Excerpt
10/2/19 - BookHounds YA - Excerpt
10/3/19 - Wonder Struck - Review
10/4/19 - Dazzled by Books - Review

Week Two:
10/7/19 - The Layaway Dragon - Review
10/8/19 - PopTheButterfly Reads - Review
10/9/19 - Novel Novice - Excerpt
10/10/19 - Southern Girl Bookaholic - Review
10/11/19 - Fyrekatz Blog - Review

Week Three:
10/14/19 - Jena Brown Writes - Review
10/15/19 - Fire and Ice - Review
10/16/19 - Moonlight Rendezvous - Review
10/17/19 - A Bookish Dream - Review
10/18/19 - Portrait of a Book - Review

Week Four:
10/21/19 - The Pages In-Between - Review
10/22/19 - Lisa Loves Literature - Excerpt
10/23/19 - Two Points of Interest - Review
10/24/19 - Do You Dog-Ear? - Review
10/25/19 - Nerdophiles - Review

Week Five:
10/28/19 - Novel Nerd Fiction - Review
10/29/19 - Book Keeping - Review
10/30/19 - Eli to the Nth - Review
10/31/19 - That Georgia Gypsy - Review


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