Book Review and Blog Tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like, by Kate McLaughlin

unbreakable blog tour

what unbreakable looks like
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin  
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Lex was taken – trafficked – and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again. 

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

 But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

 This book was an incredible read! There isn’t much that’s actually set while Lex is trafficked, as it opens with the cops showing up—but there are many flashbacks to that time. McLaughlin paints a clear, evocative picture, but she doesn’t attempt to wring a response from the reader with the horror of Lex’s situation. The horror just comes naturally, as you see how Lex has been scarred by her past.

The kids at the high school where Lex ends up are awful. AWFUL. But, sadly, completely believable. Zack and Elsa were wonderful secondary characters, and I loved them and Lex’s aunt and uncle. But those other kids…This novel was so well-done, I can’t think of anything bad to say…except its subject matter is horrific and so unbearably sad.

Kate McLaughlin is from Novia Scotia but now lives in Connecticut. What Unbreakable Looks Like is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Dilemma, by B.A. Parish

the dilemma
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Dilemma
Author:   B.A. Paris
Genre:   Mystery/thriller
Rating:   3.2 out of 5

It’s Livia’s fortieth birthday and tonight she’s having a party, a party she’s been planning for a long time. The only person missing will be her daughter, Marnie.

But Livia has a secret, a secret she’s been keeping from Adam, her husband, until the party is over. Because how can she tell him that although she loves Marnie, she’s glad their daughter won’t be there to celebrate with her?

Adam is determined everything will be just right for Livia and the party is going to be perfect… until he learns something that will leave him facing an unbearable decision.

I loved the cover of this book. But that’s all I loved. I found Livia to be almost completely unlikable. She is such a self-centered person and all she’s focused on is herself and her fortieth birthday party…which she knows is over the top. But she does it anyway, ignoring the little voice in the back of her head that tries to point out how selfish she’s being. I never did like her, and her attack on Adam at the end was it for me.

Adam was a much more sympathetic character, although I think him keeping Livia in the dark was a bad call. He must have been an awful person at the beginning of their marriage/parenthood, but at least he’s now aware of that and trying to change it. The writing was solid and vivid, but my dislike of Livia completely ruined this book for me.

B.A. Paris is a bestselling author. The Dilemma is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #75

It’s been a fairly productive writing week:  I worked on the snippets for the new story and discovered some interesting things about my MC and my world. I wrote five book reviews. And I started working my way through the Writing with Maggie Stiefvater seminar, which is fascinating so far.

Book Review: Birth of the Fae: Locked Out of Heaven, by Danielle Orsino

birth of the fae
Image belongs to author.

Title:   Birth of the Fae: Locked Out of Heaven
Author: Danielle Orsino  
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   3.2 out of 5

The Fae have been abandoned by their Creator. Queen Aurora is crowned Queen of the Court of Light. King Jarvok is the King of the Court of Dark. Throughout the novel, We see Aurora and Jarvok each speaking with their councilmen about the abandonment of their Creator and what will result because of it.

King Jarvok proposes that Queen Aurora either stay in her palace, denounce the humans, and live, or meet him in battle and join Arceria in Oblivion. If she chooses the first option, the humans will no longer worship any member of the Court of Light, leaving all worshipping rituals for King Jarvok and the Court of Dark. She chooses war. During the war, the Weepers (fighters from the Court of Dark) have backed up the Light Fae to the banks of the Red Sea. There is nowhere left to go. Aurora hovers in a tornado made of water. She is giving the Fae a chance to escape. The water begins rising where the Weepers are standing. The Weepers are given an order to retreat. They march into their portal.

For the next few weeks, Aurora watches a group of Egyptian slaves from afar. One day, she sees Him, the Creator. She is upset that He answered to these humans, but not to the Fae. He had abandoned them and ignored Aurora even after she demanded His attention. It seems that He wants to be the humans’ one true God, taking away her livelihood and her kin’s mode of existence. Aurora channels all of her rage and hurt onto King Jarvok and the Court of Dark. She makes it her mission to destroy Jarvok and the Court of Dark.

I was intrigued by the synopsis of this novel. The fae were originally angels? I haven’t read that before, so I was interested to read this. However, I found the execution to be a bit erratic. There’s frequently no sense of time passing in the novel, yet in reality, thousands of years have passed. That’s jarring for the reader. To make that more pronounced, we’re thousands of years in the past–before Noah—but the characters use modern phrasings (“hired muscle”) and flip people off. This took me completely out of the story and made it impossible for me to believe in what was happening.

There are also frequent introductions of things/people, like the Illuminasqua, who appeared at convenient points without prior mention, as if the author either thought of a cool idea and randomly threw it in, or if she wrote herself into a corner and had to invent something to solve her dilemma. And the four bishops, who were barely mentioned before, are suddenly against the queen and doing things that don’t even makes sense. If the reader keeps tripping over mechanical issues in the writing, the story itself fares poorly. While I appreciate the unique premise of this story, it felt more like rough draft than a finished, polished novel.

Danielle Orsino is a nurse and a martial artist. Birth of the Fae: Locked Out of Heaven is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of the author/publicist in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Mountains Wild, by Sarah Stewart Taylor

the mountains wild
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.

Title:   The Mountains Wild
Author:   Sarah Stewart Taylor
Genre:   Thriller
Rating:   4 out of 5

Twenty-three years ago, Maggie D’arcy’s family received a call from the Dublin police. Her cousin Erin has been missing for several days. Maggie herself spent weeks in Ireland, trying to track Erin’s movements, working beside the police. But it was to no avail: no trace of her was ever found. 

The experience inspired Maggie to become a cop. Now, back on Long Island, more than 20 years have passed. Maggie is a detective and a divorced mother of a teenager. When the Gardaí call to say that Erin’s scarf has been found and another young woman has gone missing, Maggie returns to Ireland, awakening all the complicated feelings from the first trip. The despair and frustration of not knowing what happened to Erin. Her attraction to Erin’s coworker, now a professor, who never fully explained their relationship. And her determination to solve the case, once and for all.

I was engrossed in this novel from the very beginning. I loved that most of it was set in Ireland, and the author managed to capture the unique beauty and charm of the country. The parts set in Maggie’s past were a bit frustrating, as she kept poking her nose into all sorts of things when she shouldn’t, but her determination to find her cousin was strong.

Excellent and evocative writing, with Ireland itself coming to life on the page, as well as the characters. I never did figure out who was behind it all, so I was just as surprised as Maggie with how it played out. Definitely a solid and thrilling read.

Sarah Stewart Taylor grew up on Long Island. The Mountains Wild is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, by Daven McQueen

juniper jones
Image belongs to Wattpad Books.

Title:   The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones
Author Daven McQueen
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

It’s the summer of 1955. For Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, race has always been a distant conversation. When he’s sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in small-town Alabama, his Blackness is suddenly front and center, and no one is shy about making it known he’s not welcome there. Except for Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t—open, kind, and full of acceptance.

Armed with two bikes and an unlimited supply of root beer floats, Ethan and Juniper set out to find their place in a town that’s bent on rejecting them. As Ethan is confronted for the first time by what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him see the beauty in even the ugliest reality, and that even the darkest days can give rise to an invincible summer.

This is an excellent read! I was by turns horrified (by people’s treatment of Ethan) and enchanted (by Juniper and her personality) throughout the entire book. I’m sure the portrayal of life in small-town Alabama in 1955 is accurate. Sadly. But it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come as a society—and how far we still have to go.

Juniper is such a quirky, spirited character, and I enjoyed her antics so much! It was sad seeing Ethan’s realization of how life in Alabama was different from what he’d known. I loved this read!

Daven McQueen lives in Boston. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Wattpad Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Woman in the Green Dress, by Tea Cooper

the woman in the green dress
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:   The Woman in the Green Dress
Author:   Tea Cooper
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.0 out of 5

1853 Mogo Creek, NSW

Della Atterton, bereft at the loss of her parents, is holed up in the place she loves best: the beautiful Hawkesbury in New South Wales. Happiest following the trade her father taught her, taxidermy, Della has no wish to return to Sydney. But the unexpected arrival of Captain Stefan von Richter on a quest to retrieve what could be Australia’s first opal, precipitates Della’s return to Sydney and her Curio Shop of Wonders, where she discovers her enigmatic aunt, Cordelia, is selling more than curiosities to collectors. Strange things are afoot and Della, a fly in a spider’s web, is caught up in events with unimaginable consequences…

1919 Sydney, NSW

When London teashop waitress Fleur Richards inherits land and wealth in Australia from her husband, Hugh, killed in the war, she wants nothing to do with it. After all, accepting it will mean Hugh really is dead. But Hugh’s lawyer is insistent, and so she finds herself ensconced in the Berkeley Hotel on Hunter St, Sydney, the reluctant owner of a Hawkesbury property and an old curio shop, now desolate and boarded up.

As the real story of her inheritance unravels, Fleur finds herself in the company of a damaged returned soldier Kip, holding a thread that takes her deep into the past, a thread that could unravel a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress; a green that is the colour of envy, the colour buried deep within an opal, the colour of poison… 

Usually I have a preference for one timeline over the other in a dual novel like this one, but this time I didn’t. I enjoyed both thoroughly! I will say, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a taxidermist, much less a female one, so that was an interesting twist.

Della was quite an intriguing character and I enjoyed how her story intertwined with Fleur’s.  I have to confess, I enjoyed the secondary characters the most, and I loved their character development as well. I did not like finding out what happened to the characters in the earlier timeline from Fleur’s viewpoint, but that’s my own preference. This was an enjoyable read, although it started off a bit slow.

Tea Cooper is an award-winning author. The Woman in the Green Dress is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: A Royal Kiss and Tell, by Julia London

a royal kiss and tell
Image belongs to Harlequin/HQN.

Title:   A Royal Kiss and Tell
AuthorJulia London
Genre:   Romance
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

Every prince has his secrets. And she’s determined to unravel his…

Every young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember Caroline’s name, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure Leo never again forgets: sees that scandalous morsels about his reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it is ruining him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of British government. Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

This is probably a case of this not being the right book for me, but I had a hard time finishing this. Caroline and Leo annoyed me quite a bit, making what would otherwise have been an enjoyable read a bit of a chore. The writing was solid, and I liked the premise, but the characters were a tough sell.

Caroline came across as vapid, interested only in gossip and scandal, and getting attention—at least until the last 15% or so of the book. Then she started to mature a bit and became much more likable. Leo…well, he was pretty close to useless for the majority of the book, then he became more interesting when he started to step up some.

Julia London is a bestselling author. A Royal Kiss and Tell is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/HQN in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Grim Reader, by Kate Carlisle

the grim reader
Image belongs to Berkley.

Title:   The Grim Reader
Author:   Kate Carlisle
Genre:   Cozy Mystery
Rating:   4 out of 5

Brooklyn and her new hunky husband, Derek, are excited to be guests at Dharma’s first annual Book Festival. The entire town is involved and Brooklyn’s mom Rebecca is taking charge. In addition to all of her other event related duties, she’s got Brooklyn doing rare book appraisals and is also staging Little Women, the musical to delight the festival goers. If that wasn’t enough, she and Meg—Derek’s mom—will have a booth where they read palms and tarot cards.

Brooklyn couldn’t be prouder of her mom’s do-it-all attitude so when a greedy local businessman who seems intent on destroying Dharma starts harassing Rebecca, Brooklyn is ready to take him down. Rebecca is able to hold her own with the nasty jerk until one of her fellow festival committee members is brutally murdered and the money for the festival seems to have vanished into thin air.

Things get even more personal when one of Brooklyn’s nearest and dearest is nearly run down in cold blood. Brooklyn and Derek go into attack mode and the pressure is on to catch a spineless killer before they find themselves skipping the festival for a funeral.

This was a fun cozy mystery read. I haven’t read a single one of the Bibliophile Mystery series, which might have given this a little more depth for me, but this was a light, quick read. I never figured out who the murderer was, and I enjoyed the discovery process. And the books.

I did find everything a little too fluffy bunny/sweetness and light for my taste, though. I mean, no one thinks to report the town bully—or his cohorts—to the cops, even though he makes all sorts of explicit threats, including murder. This wasn’t believable to me, so it proved to be a bit of a stumbling block, but this was an enjoyable read.

Kate Carlisle is a bestselling author. The Grim Reader is her newest novel, #14 in the Bibliophile Mystery series.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #74

I feel like I got a lot accomplished this week, writing-wise. I wrote some more snippets for character development in the new story. I wrote five book reviews, plus  a post about what I read in May (33 books) and another post on the top three books I read in May. I’ll take it.

Did anyone else get any writing done this week?