Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mask and Shadows

Masks and Shadows I have wanted to read Stephanie Burgis' Masks and Shadows ever since I found Stephanie was working on a novel set at Eszterhaza, in Hungary (a pivotal setting in my debut!). That might have been even before the book was announced. In any case, I've loved Stephanie's Kat, Incorrigible books, and was hoping for more of the same with this.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though considerably darker than the Kat books (not surprisingly, since this is adult and those were middle grade), Stephanie shows her same deftness with character and setting. Though this book rotates through several POVs to convey the complex political and magical conspiracies, it remains grounded around two POVs, those of Charlotte, widowed sister to Prince Nikolaus's mistress, and Carlo, the Italian castrato invited to attend the grand estate. For those unfamiliar with Eszterhaza, it was known as the Hungarian Versailles--the fabulously wealthy Eszterhazy family (here, Anglicized to Esterhazy) built the estate on what was essentially swampland. For years, Haydn lived her while he composed operas exclusively for the family. In the 19th century, the estate was later abandoned, and while it has been restored and you can visit it, it's not exactly on the beaten path. But even today it's a gorgeous estate with a fascinating history.

But I digress. Charlotte was my favorite of the characters--I loved that she was subdued and understated and just beginning to find herself as an adult, having spent most of her adult life caring for an ailing (and significantly older spouse). Life at the estate is not at all what Charlotte envisioned, as the estate fills with a variety of characters, all visiting with ulterior motives: a Prussian spy; dangerous alchemists with questionable allegiances; the Princess Eszterhazy, who takes a liking to Charlotte despite Charlotte's relationship to her husband's mistress; young lieutenants making rash promises, and much more. Though it took me a while to untangle the different allegiances, the plot builds to a fast-paced, dark climax.

Worth reading for the setting alone--a criminally neglected place and time--but more so for the fascinating cast of characters, a stirring romance, and heart-pounding excitement.

Last spring, I was sitting at an outdoor table across the street from Eszterhaza when I saw Stephanie tweet something about her book. I responded saying I was currently *at* Eszterhaza, which led to a further exchange and eventually, to me emailing the pictures we'd taken at the estate. I was happy enough to do that--it was fun talking to an author I admired, and I like being useful. But I was touched to find my name in the acknowledgments for those pictures, and having read the book, am even happier to think I contributed (in a very small way!) to a story I loved.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane I was thrilled to get an advanced review of My Lady Jane at the RT Booklover's convention. I grew up on the Princess Bride (movie and book) and have always loved the pathos of Lady Jane's story--the nine-days queen, a sixteen-year old girl caught up in the wrong politics at the wrong time. How could I resist a story that promised the spirit of the Princess Bride while rewriting Lady Jane's tragic history? My only worry going in was that the story wouldn't live up to the hype.

Luckily, it did so. This is not a short book (three fully fleshed out POVs will do that), but it read like one. And the three main characters are each distinct and adorable. Jane, of course, who would rather read books than get married--particularly not to a handsome, aloof lord with a secret (and the rather dreadful name of Gifford). King Edward, who signs the decree ordering his cousin Jane to marry, to protect the succession since he is clearly dying and his sister Mary, next in line, is equally clearly an unthinkable candidate, given the growing tension between the Verities (who advocate blood purity) and the Ethians (a d with a cross through it), who transform into animal shape. King Henry was a notorious Ethian, known to transform into a lion and the original source of "don't eat the messenger" (because the king, of course, did). And Gifford, better known as G, who is an Ethian himself, unable to control his ability, and spends his days as a horse. When the course of history brings the three of them together, they'll have to use all the wits and skills at their command to outfight Mary--or history may repeat itself, after all, and the story will end with their deaths.

I loved each of the three characters (though I related to Jane the most). The story has a light-hearted historical touch--enough to know the authors have done their research, but the novel mixes historical settings and customs with occasional contemporary lingo in a way that shouldn't work, but totally does.

Fun, funny, adventurous and romantic, this story has something in it for nearly everyone. 

Monday, May 2, 2016


Summerlost Ally Condie's middle-grade debut is a distinct departure from her Matched trilogy and Atlantia--no dystopian world here, though Cedar Lee feels as though her life has cracked wide after the accidental death of her father and brother. On a visit to her mother's childhood home, her mom falls in love with a house and buys it for the summer. As the summer goes on, Cedar falls "in like" with a new friend and takes a job working for a Shakespeare festival (and giving unauthorized tours in the early mornings about one of the festival's most famous actresses).

The story is driven by the characters, particularly by Cedar, who is still coming to terms with her loss and her tangled relationship with her brother Ben, who died (Ben has autism, like one of Condie's sons, though this is never spelled out in the book). I thought it was a lovely meditation on family, friendship, and grief. I loved Cedar's relationship with her surviving brother and her new friendship, and the resolution of the story made me cry (in a good, cathartic kind of way).

Mostly, though, the story reads as a love letter to the town where Condie grew up (and the town where I now live), and for that alone I would have loved the book. The house Condie describes is a real house, some four houses down the street from me, and the university campus where the festival takes place is the same campus where I teach, where my husband teaches.

A sweet, tender, must-read middle grade. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies

Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies I was lucky enough to get an early review of Laura Stampler's debut, and it's just the kind of fun, light-hearted contemporary YA that I love. Harper Anderson is dying to escape life in her quiet California suburb, where she knows exactly what to expect from her summer. So when she wins a coveted spot at a trendy teen magazine, she jumps at it. She doesn't mind that she's the second choice pick (the first got pregnant)--she's in. So what if she doesn't exactly have the experience to cover the dating beat she's assigned (there's the small matter that her application essay was based entirely on her best friend's experience, not her own)? Harper's pretty sure she can do this.

That is, until some unfortunate run-ins with a neighborhood dog walker, encounters with her crazy boss and stand-offish/super-competitive colleagues make Harper question what it is she really wants--and what it will take to succeed at her dream.

The story read a bit like a teen version of The Devil Wears Prada, in some of the best ways. Harper is smart, determined, and her story is fast and funny.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Love that Split the World

The Love That Split the WorldThis book broke my brain--in a good way. Pitched as Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler's wife, the story follows Natalie as her senior year winds up and heads into a last, long summer. On the football field where everyone she knows is celebrating, something happens. Time blinks out, and she sees Beau, a boy she's never met before, but who she feels drawn to in a way she can't explain. But Natalie's working against a ticking clock: a mysterious figure she calls "Grandmother" tells her she has only three months to save "him"--and if Natalie can't figure out what's wrong or why she keeps things that don't exist, her world may come undone.

Natalie is a smart, warm, character that I liked immediately--and I loved how Henry didn't shy away from tricky questions, as Natalie is Native American, adopted by a white family. Interwoven through the book are beautiful stories, told to Natalie by Grandmother as a way of learning about her heritage, but also of explaining the world around her. Her relationship with Beau is intriguing, and her friendships are quintessential teen friendships: that is, strong, loyal, heart-breaking, infuriating, and very human.

I'll admit that I didn't always follow the theoretical explanations of what was happening to Natalie--but it didn't matter, because the end of this book is so powerful and mind-bending that it transformed everything about this book into something astonishing.

Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes Wade Albert White's debut, THE ADVENTURER'S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES, is the perfect new series for fans of Christopher Healy's League of Princes and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. Blending madcap adventure with a delightful sense of humor, this is the kind of adventure story kids of all ages will adore.

The Adventurer's Guide stars Anvil (known more commonly as Anne) in a futuristic world where the round globe of our world no longer exists and everyone lives on island-like levels suspended in the sky. Anne is eager for the ticket that will release her from a miserable life in an orphanage for adventure in the world--except her ticket never arrives, and she seems fated to live the rest of her life in a narrow, confined existence. Until, that is, she finds a book (The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes) that conveniently changes to fit the situation, encounters a dragon, and lands herself in a middle of a quest that will take all of her smarts, savvy, and courage to fill--and that of her friends as well.

The story was a fun, fast-paced, mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy. Best of all, it's funny. The book was chosen as one of five middle grade novels for the BEA buzz panel for this summer, and it's easy to see why--I predict readers will come away wishing they had an adventurer's guide of their own.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen I've wanted to read Roshani Chokshi's THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN since I read one of her short stories online, a story so full of magic and whimsy and jaw-dropping prose that I couldn't wait to read her book.

And the novel didn't disappoint: a Persephone and Hades story inflected by Indian folklore, the story follows Maya, outcast among her father's many daughters because of a dark horoscope fortelling a marriage to death. Maya doesn't mind (much): she's happy to pursue her studies and eavesdrop on her father's court. But then her father arranges a marriage to settle outside rebellions--the betrothal goes terribly wrong--and Maya finds herself fleeing with Amar, as his wife, to a world she's only heard of in stories.

I loved Maya from the beginning: for her honesty, her clear-eyed voice. And then I fell in love with the world Roshani creates here--so vivid and dream-like and beautiful and deadly all at once, like the very best fairy-tales. My heart ached for Maya and for Amar and for the betrayals that plague them. This is the kind of book that deserves to be savored, no less for the characters than for the prose, which rivals some of my favorite YA writers (Laini Taylor, Maggie Steifvater).

Friday, March 25, 2016


Gemini I devoured Sonya Mukherjee's debut, GEMINI, in an afternoon--it's a compulsively readable book that made me laugh, made me cry, and ultimately, made me glad to live in a beautiful, complicated world full of possibilities.

The story follows the dual POVs of Clara and Hailey--twins who share almost everything but their own interior world, thanks to a posterior conjoinment. Their shared lower nervous system means they can even feel through the other's legs. Despite their closeness, the twins are distinct: Clara is quiet and reserved, saving her enthusiasm for her close friends and the stars she loves (and her secret, impossible dream of seeing the earth from space). Hailey is blunter, with an in-your-face style of vivid clothes, heavy make-up and pink hair. The twins have been raised in a small, close community where their conjoined state is no longer a wonder--everyone knows them. And they've mostly been happy, until the arrival of a new boy serves to disrupt their world and make them question all the things they thought they wanted.

There were so many things I loved about this story. First, I loved the sensitive portrayal of the twins: the book made the challenges of conjoinment clear, but it also presented some of the beauties of it, like a life where you are never lonely because someone you love is always by your side. Clara and Hailey were each so distinct, but lovable in their own way. Sometimes dual POVs suffer from one overpowering voice, but these were so perfectly balanced, trading off insights and pivotal moments and emotional highlights. The story consistently surprised me, alternating moments of transcendence with moments of tragedy in a way that felt very real.

A definite must-read--not only for the subject matter, but because Mukherjee has a gift for creating characters and a story that will stay with you long after you've closed the book.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Has to be Love

Has to Be Love I've been trying to put together my thoughts on Jolene Perry's Has to be Love for over a week now and I'm still not sure I've arrived at a good articulation of them. But first: the story. Years before, Clara survived a bear attack near her Alaskan home that left her with unsightly scars across her face and torso--and left her mother dead. Clara continues to deal with the fall-out from that, missing her mother and also struggling with public reactions to her scars, sure that somehow they prevent people from really seeing her, though she has a lovely and supportive boyfriend.

Enter the end of Clara's senior year. Clara's been accepted to Columbia--her dream school nearly a continent away--and she's waiting on an appointment with a plastic surgeon that will, she hopes, cure her scars. In the meantime, she's in limbo, not sure if she wants the risk Columbia represents, or if she wants the safety and security of a college near home, a life with her long-time boyfriend. When a new substitute teacher (a Columbia student himself, on leave) arrives in her life, representing all the things Clara secretly longs for, her plans for the future become tangled and uncertain.

Things I loved about the book: the setting. There aren't a lot of YA books set in Alaska, and I found the way Clara navigated her world fascinating. Clara's religion: she's Mormon, which you also don't often find in mainstream YA novels. And while her religion isn't a pivotal plot point, it informs who Clara is--particularly her very-real struggles between what her body wants and what she believes she ought to do. I loved too that the plot surprised me several times, particularly in terms of Clara's relationships. It wasn't at all what I expected. Mostly, I found the story so real: Clara is flawed and makes some dumb decisions, but she's also a teenager and human and Perry does such a great job at capturing that messiness and uncertainty.

I do think some readers (particularly if they go in knowing Clara is Mormon) might be surprised at how explicit some of the physical scenes are--and while I think those scenes are important to Clara and to her story, it's not necessarily a story I would recommend for younger YA readers, though for older or more experienced readers it's a wonderful story on so many levels.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Cover Reveal for Charlie Holmberg's MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET

I adored Charlie's Paper Magician series--particularly her charming characters and inventive magic system. I'm thrilled to participate in her cover reveal for her newest fantasy: MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET.


The peculiar tale of an enchanted baker who creates fairy tales’ darkest and most magical confections.

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of the Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is available for preorder on Amazon and B&N. Ebook, audiobook, and paperback release from 47North June 28th!

You can also preview the novel on Goodreads.


About the Author

Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie N. Holmberg was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. She graduated from BYU, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and hopes to one day own a dog.

Holding Court

Holding Court I knew just a few pages into KC Held's debut, HOLDING COURT, that I was going to enjoy the book--particularly after discovering that Held and I have a mutual adoration of Elizabeth Peters' wonderfully madcap mysteries, and those were part of her inspiration behind this book.

This book was fun, breezy, and witty with just the right touch of romance. Juliet ("Jules") Verity was a delightful main character--smart, loyal, and just self-deprecating enough to be relatable. Part of this, of course, comes from her "PTS"--or self-diagnosed psychic Tourette's syndrome, where she feels an inexplicable compulsion to blurt random things that turn out to be true. (Jules is aware that this isn't real Tourette's syndrome, and even comments on the fact that corprolalia, or the blurting tendency most commonly associated with Tourette's syndrome, only happens in 10 % of the cases). Whatever the cause, her blurts are a source of annoyance and embarrassment to Jules.

As the story begins, Jules is looking for a summer job--and finds the perfect one at a local Medieval dinner theater, where, she believes, she'll get to wear an attractive dress and discretely ogle her long-time crush from a distance. But life, of course, rarely works the way you planned (especially in novels!) and Jules finds herself cast as a mad, fortune-telling nun, of all things, and that her crush's girlfriend is also part of the staff. When Jules stumbles across a dead body (that disappears while she's trying to summon help), things only get worse, particularly as Jules tries to uncover information that could clear herself from suspicion.

Held does a wonderful job with this--it's compulsively readable, quick, and the characters run the gamut from funny to downright creepy. Despite the potential darkness of the murder, Held keeps the tone light even as the tension picks up (a perfect combination for me: there's a reason I read cozy mysteries!). Recommended for readers looking for a light-hearted, escapist read.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Serpent King

The Serpent King Jeff Zentner's debut, THE SERPENT KING, is a little out of my usual wheelhouse--a more serious contemporary YA. But there's no doubt that this is a remarkable book: characters that stay with you long after the story has ended, a bitter-sweet exploration of friendship and small town life and the indelible affects both past and place have.

Dill Early is the infamous son of a preacher (also named Dillard Early) who was recently arrested for possession of pornographic images of a minor. That reputation haunts Dill--as do the rumors circulating about his grandfather, the Serpent King of the book's title. The only thing Dill cares about are his friends, Lydia and Travis, and his music--but as his senior year dawns, even those are threatened, as Lydia can't wait to get out of their small Tennessee town.

Lydia lives for her fashion blog and her dreams of the future, but she's intensely loyal toward her two friends, both outcasts in their small town. The third corner of their trio, Travis, spends his days working at his father's lumberyard, avoiding his father's temper, and his nights reading his favorite epic fantasy series and engaging in debates (and a possible flirtation) on the reader forums.

The plot, as plots go, isn't high concept or super fast paced. But the book has a way of gripping you and not letting go. The prose is gorgeous (probably award-winning), and the characters--in all their flawed, wondrous glory--are heart-breaking and hopeful. I would not be at all surprised to see Zentner go on to astound us.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


I'm thrilled to help share Kelly Siskind's cover for her new romance (one of my friends from Pitch Wars 2014!)

We're so excited to be sharing the cover of Kelly Siskind's MY PERFECT MISTAKE today! Check out the beautiful cover below, read a sneak peek, and enter to win!


What happens in Aspen is definitely not staying in Aspen . . .
A girls' trip to Aspen was exactly what Shay needed to forget about her toxic ex- boyfriend. She's got her girls, pristine slopes for skiing, and hot guys everywhere. Of course, her epic self-rediscovery goes completely to hell when a wild (and deliciously hot) skier knocks Shay on her ass . . . and war is declared. Kolton doesn't know what it is about Shay that makes him lose it. Not just his cool--- although she does have an unholy gift for that---but his restraint. When anger gives way to explosive chemistry, they're both shaken with the intensity of it. But somewhere between lust and hate, Kolton and Shay realize they could have something real . . . if they don't kill each other first.

MY PERFECT MISTAKE releases April 5, 2016 - add it to your Goodreads list here!
Preorder MY PERFECT MISTAKE now: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | Kobo


He tosses me my anti-sexy helmet. “We should take another run before we head down.”

I catch it and shake my head, unsure I heard him right. “Sorry, we? Shouldn’t you be skiing with your buddies? It’s bad enough you hijacked my lunch and I have to sit at a table with you again tonight. Now you want to ski together? Thanks but no thanks.”

He lifts his arms over his head and stretches from side to side. A sliver of skin peeks out below his jacket. “The guys called it quits early. Worried you can’t keep up?”  

As f**ing if. The dude’s obviously egging me on, but he snaps my self- control. Everything between us is action, reaction. Spark and flame. What’s his deal, anyway? Why sit with me and ski with me when we’re worse than cats and dogs? If he thinks firing me up means he’s getting a replay of last night, he’s mistaken. Still, I need to beat his ass on the slopes. “Fine. I’ll take that run. It’s about time I put you in your place. But let’s be clear. We can have lunch and ski together, but there will be no sex.” A teen walking by stops midstride and doubles over in a fit of giggles.

“I didn’t catch that.” Kolton leans forward and cups a hand around his helmeted ear. “Do you mind speaking up?”

 What a total douche.

“Everyone is wise until he speaks,” I mumble, recalling my granddad’s words.

Kolton straightens, a question passing across his face. “Are you Irish? My granddad used to say that all the time. Along with, ‘Shut your mouth and eat your dinner.’”

I laugh, abrupt and maniacal, the sharp sound catching me off guard. The energy shifts between us, like the first time I understood my Spanish teacher—the foreign becoming familiar. I frown, unsure I want Kolton to feel familiar. “Yeah, I am. The first curse I learned was feckin’ arse, and I’d kind of like to use it now.”

He smiles to himself, as though we’re friends who would sit and talk and laugh about our shared upbringing. Ruffled, I cram my helmet on, get geared up, and try to stomp out of the lodge all look out, buddy, but with the boots and Martian head, it’s a fail.

Skis on and goggles down, we race to the lift. He arrives first, making like he’s been waiting forever with a dramatic yawn. I roll my eyes and push past him. The lift line is empty, so it’s just him and me on the four-person chair.

“Mind not doing that?” he says partway up as I swing my skis.

The chair sways in response, and I rock my legs harder. “This?”

His olive skin grays. “Yeah. That.” He leans his elbows on the safety bar and closes his eyes.

If he pukes, I’ll likely toss my cookies, too. When my brother got food poisoning from China House’s all-you-can-eat buffet, it wasn’t pretty. I hadn’t eaten a thing there, but the second he threw up, I proceeded to reenact that pie eating scene from Stand by Me: projectile vomit, solid stream, fire hydrant force.

I still my skis and stop bouncing.

We pass one supporting tower, then another, before he opens his eyes.

“You regretting that lunch?” I ask, smirking.

He flexes his hands, and the poles dangling from his wrists knock around.

“No. I’m regretting getting on this chair with you.” Such a charmer.


Want to win a digital ARC of MY PERFECT MISTAKE? You can enter to win on the Rafflecopter below! a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Kelly Siskind

A small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in Northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—Gummy Bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning. She is represented by Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group. 2015 Golden Heart® Finalist Connect with Kelly Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb I don't read as much middle grade as I should, with a 10 year old reader at home who devours books, but I couldn't pass up a chance to read Patrick Samphire's delightful  middle grade sci-fi (though really, it reads as much fantasy as sci-fi). It's a bit Jules Verne crossed with Regency period pieces: Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan lives with his very British family (including his slightly mad-scientist father and his society-obsessed mother) on a British colony in 1816 Mars. In this alternate universe, Mars has been inhabited for thousands of years, and the oldest inhabitants (much like the ancient Egyptians) left tombs (called "dragon tombs" for their tendency to bury perfectly preserved dragons in them) full of treasure: only in this case, the treasure is technology.

When a deadly and duplicitous explorer thinks Edward's family has clues to the hiding place of a hitherto unlocated dragon tomb, he kidnaps Edward's parents and sister, and it's up to Edward, his two sisters, and a family friend to cross the Martian desert and save them.

This story was, frankly, delightful. It has everything: adventure, humor, strong family relationships, cool gadgets, even cooler invented flora and fauna. And it's all set in a world that makes my 19th-century British loving heart beat faster. Best of all, this is the kind of book that kids and aduls can enjoy equally.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Waiting for Callback

Waiting for Callback I got to interview mother-daughter writing team Perdita and Honor Cargill about their debut, WAITING FOR CALLBACK, for the Swanky Seventeens (MG and YA authors debuting in 2017). The interview was a lot of fun and their book sounded like the perfect fun read: a teen who lands an acting agent and thinks her career is about to start, only to find that life "waiting for callback" is a lot more complicated than she expects.

When I got a copy of the book a couple weeks later, I was thrilled. And the book was just as fun and light-hearted as I had hoped. Elektra (and yes, she's aware that her name is horrible) is smart, spunky, but not as composed as she might like. Her attitude keeps some of the discouraging things that happen to her from being overwhelming, as she navigates first love, friendship, ambition and failure. I read the book in a couple of sittings and left with a fuzzy glow.

Funny, clean, romantic and (at times) poignant, this is a wonderful escapist read.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Hang a Witch

How to Hang a Witch (How to Hang a Witch, #1) Adriana Mather's debut YA, How to Hang a Witch, has a fantastic premise: Samantha Mather, a direct descendant of Cottom Mather, moves to Salem, MA, only to find herself the hated target of the popular (and strangely sinister) Descendants, a clique composed of the progeny of those who died in the witch trials. The fact that the author herself is a direct descendant of Cotton Mather only makes the premise more intriguing.

Happily, the book delivered: this is a fast-paced, sometimes dark exploration of the ways prejudices not only blind us, but can lead us into potentially dangerous mob mentalities (see, the witch hunts). The tension mounts consistently as Sam struggles to find her place in a hostile school and begins to piece together clues of a strange curse linking her to the descendants--and to those long-ago witch trials.

Readers will appreciate both the haunting setting and the more human relationships between Sam and her dad, her new neighbors, and the prickly girls of the Descendants.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Dark Days Club

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1) I've been a fan of regencies since I was a teenager and devouring my mom's extensive collection of Georgette Heyer (it was not until later that I discovered Austen, whom I also adore). When you add magic to the mix, it becomes a sort of perfect genre elixir for me.

Alison Goodman's Dark Days Club was a delightful read: the heroine, Helen, is smart, but her character is still drawn within lines that would be normal for a girl of her era. She's unusually well-educated, but she is no modern miss. When the story opens, Helen is preparing for her presentation to the queen (and it's clear here that Goodman has done her research: the details of the presentation were fascinating). Her biggest concern is what to say if someone broaches the forbidden topic of her mother, who died in a tragic accident years ago--to the family's great relief, as she was considered a traitor and a private scandal.

Enter Lord Carlston, a social black sheep who claims some family connection and seems to know something about her mother--and about her. When Helen asks for his help to find a missing housemaid, she gets more than she bargains for: an introduction to a secret society battling demons all across Europe and a chance--if she dares take it--for a life so much bigger than the one society has allotted for her.

I loved Lady Helen: she's smart, she's stubborn, she's strong, but she's not perfect. Her struggles to decide the course of her life were very real. Goodman captures the Regency era particularly well--her research is impeccable (as far as I can tell!) and though some readers might find the level of detail slows the story down, I loved it. If you're a fan of Heyer and a bit of dark magic, this might just be the perfect blend.

Sweet Unrest

Sweet Unrest Sweet Unrest was a wonderfully detailed Southern gothic story. Lucy Aimes' entire life is uprooted when her father takes over a job managing/curating a large southern plantation. Lucy gets conscripted to take pictures of the estates, but she can't escape unsettling dreams of drowning, or the handsome boy that no one else seems to see. As the story progresses, her dreams of the past and her experience of the present start to dovetail, both haunted by the same ancient evil that still lingers in the estate. Maxwell does a wonderful job fleshing out Lucy's world--the details of 19th century New Orleans and voodoo magic were fascinating and the climax was appropriately heart-pounding and creepy. I enjoyed Lucy's bittersweet romance, but selfishly wanted more of it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Six of Crows

23437156 There's a lot I could say about this book, but I'll settle for just saying that it was just as good as I had hoped. A heist story, in the Grisha-verse, with a variety of damaged characters. The pacing was non-stop, but it wasn't just about plot: the characters all have their own unique backstory and baggage that they bring to the story, complicating the heist arc in interesting ways.

I was a little scared to read this because I admire Bardugo's books (Her Grisha series were one of my comps when I queried and when my book went on submission)--and yes, reading it did make me question everything about my own writing. But only when my brain wasn't actively engaged in the story, which was most of the time, so it's all good.

Really though, a fun, dynamic story.