Tag: family

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust

girl, serpent, thorn
Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title:   Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author Melissa Bashardoust
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

I liked the premise of this:  a princess who has never had human contact because her skin is poisonous makes a terrible mistake, endangering her family and her kingdom and putting them at the mercy of evil…but a sort of charming evil.

It was cool to see a fantasy culture like this—I thought it was very well-done—and I enjoyed the layers of details, like the stories from the past and the legends from Soraya family. Deception and secrets are threads running throughout the entire novel, and sometimes the reader is deceived just as much as Soraya is.

Melissa Bashardoust lives in California. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: What We Do for Truth, by C.L. Mannarino

what we do for truth
Image belongs to C.L. Mannarino

Title:   What We Do for Truth
Author:   C.L. Mannarino
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

In Northam, Massachusetts, the world is falling apart. 17-year-old Zara de Jaager’s lost one of her moms to a vampire. The other is struggling to make things seem as normal as possible. And Scott Whitney, the only person who knows the truth about her mom’s death, has gone missing.

Zara’s read the notes. She’s studied the lore. She’s even made a connection between Scott’s story and a job her mom was working on. Except no one wants to talk about it. And when she finds out that there might even be an entire village of vampires existing under their noses, her family shuts her down. So Zara pushes back, hard. But when she realizes what’s at stake, she’s left wondering:  is taking up her mom’s job really worth it?

It’s been a while since I’ve read in this world, so it took me a bit to get up to speed. Honestly, Zara and her attitude were a stumbling block for me. I understand she’s grieving in the beginning and trying to find an explanation, but she was pretty hateful to everyone around her, and that made it very difficult for me to continue reading about her.

Lots of secrets in this book. Secrets are a given in books like this—well, a requirement, if the supernatural isn’t an open fact—so that wasn’t a problem. As I said, Zara was a stumbling block to me, and I think my mood/outlook on society when I was reading this really affected how I felt about the book.

C.L. Mannarino has been writing books since high school. What We Do for Truth is the third book in the Almost Human series.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: That Summer in Maine, by Brianna Wolfson

She's Faking It Blog Tour

that summer in maine
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   That Summer in Maine
Author:   Brianna Wolfson
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

Years ago, during a certain summer in Maine, two young women, unaware of each other, met a charismatic man at a craft fair and each had a brief affair with him. For Jane it was a chance to bury her recent pain in raw passion and redirect her life. For Susie it was a fling that gave her troubled marriage a way forward.

Now, sixteen years later, the family lives these women have made are suddenly upended when their teenage girls meet as strangers on social media. They concoct a plan to spend the summer in Maine with the man who is their biological father. Their determination puts them on a collision course with their mothers, who must finally meet and acknowledge their shared past and join forces as they risk losing their only daughters to a man they barely know.

This novel is a case of me just not liking the characters. Any of the characters. Well, Hazel was alright. I can’t imagine how she feels, struggling to find her place with her mom, stepdad, and new brothers and feeling adrift and ignored—and then she gets a message out of the blue she has a sister. And Eve, well, I definitely didn’t like her in the slightest. Lying, manipulative, selfish, superficial…Just no.

Frankly, both the girls’ mothers were annoying as well. And I have a bit of trouble believing they’d let their daughters go off to spend time in Maine with a father who never even acknowledged their existence…and who they don’t really know. To a place with no cell phone service. Really? How likely is that? Between that and the unlikable characters, well, I would have been better off passing on this one, despite the enjoyable writing style.

Brianna Wolfson lives in San Francisco. That Summer in Maine is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Death of a Wandering Wolf, by Julia Buckley

death of a wandering wolf
Image belongs to Berkley.

Title:   Death of a Wandering Wolf
Author Julia Buckley
Genre:   Mystery
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Hana Keller is enjoying a day off from serving up tea and delicious pastries at her family’s Hungarian Tea House when her downtime turns deadly….

The only thing Hana loves more than a good cuppa is finding a delicate porcelain treasure to add to her collection. She’s usually on the hunt for teacups but when she spots a rare wolf figurine at a local yard sale, she knows it’s her lucky day. Hana also knows the wolf is valuable and tells the seller that he’s charging too little for it. His reaction is peculiar–he says he received the wolf from someone he doesn’t trust and he just wants it out of his life.

Hana is inspecting her new prize when she finds a tiny microchip attached to the bottom of the porcelain wolf. When she shows the figure to her police detective boyfriend, Erik, Hana is shocked to learn that the chip is actually a tracking device. They decide to confront the seller about the sneaky sale but when they arrive at his house, they find him dead. Erik and Hana now must hunt a calculating killer who has no intentions of crying wolf when it comes to murder…

I haven’t read the first book in this series—but I will! I thoroughly enjoyed this from the very first page. I relished the look at Hungarian culture here, as I haven’t read much within that context. Hana’s family is fantastic, and Eric’s is a bit scary, but I loved the whole three-ring circus.

I loved the feel of this novel so much. The voice is casual and friendly and draws you right into the action, and Hana’s personality was so much fun to read. This is a perfect read to take your mind of a bad day—or a bad year.

Julia Buckley is a writer and a teacher. Death of a Wandering Wolf is her newest novel, the second in the A Hungarian Tea House Mystery series.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley 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.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Sister Dear, by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sister Dear Banner

sister dear
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:  Sister Dear
AuthorHannah Mary McKinnon
Genre:  Suspense
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Beauty. Wealth. Success.

She’s got it all.

And it all should’ve been mine.

When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.

Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.

This wasn’t a good choice for me to read. Despite the excellent writing, I did not like any of the characters. Eleanor was creepy and obsessive and kind of crazy. Her family was awful. She makes horrible choices and doesn’t care about anyone but herself. Self-destructive is her life story, along with feeling sorry for herself. This didn’t end like I expected, which was nice, but it didn’t make up for my dislike of the characters.

Hannah Mary McKinnor was born in the U.K. and now lives in Canada. Sister Dear is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Private Lessons, by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Title:   Private Lessons
Author:   Cynthia Salaysay
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

I really loved the premise of this novel. But Claire was a really unlikable character for me. I thought her struggles with her Filipino heritage (and people’s reactions to her appearance) were well-done and vivid, but for the most part, Claire was a selfish, unpleasant person who let life happen to her.

The assault was beyond her control, but in every other part of her life, she just goes along, emotionally distant, without taking ownership of her life and actions. She’s horrible to her best friend. She’s selfish and greedy with her mother—and outright rude and hurtful. She’s oblivious of what everyone else around her wants, focusing instead on her own wants. She lackadaisical towards her music, so it made that—the vast majority of the book—not believable to me.

Claire just made this book not a good fit for me.

Cynthia Salaysay is a registered nurse. Private Lessons is her debut novel.

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

Book Review: Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter

carolina breeze
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Carolina Breeze
AuthorDenise Hunter
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina–the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn–a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk–or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

This is another wonderful read in the Bluebell Inn Romance series! I really like the setting, and the characters are so well-done I just want to hang out with them and chat. Poor Mia has been dealt a pretty raw hand, but she handles it with grace and aplomb, despite her frustrations. She demonstrates the good side of Hollywood.

Levi is kind of overbearing towards his sisters, but he’s able to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. It’s nice to see his self-awareness, as he and Mia learn to trust as they expand their horizons. This is a sweet and easy read.

Denise Hunter is a bestselling author. Carolina Breeze is her newest novel, the second Bluebell Inn Romance.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, by Phaedra Patrick

the secrets of love story bridge
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:  The Secrets of Love Story Bridge
AuthorPhaedra Patrick
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

 Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

This seems like a simple story, but there’s a lot going on here. The pacing is slow and steady, which just works for this story. There’s a bit of mystery with the missing woman and her story, sadness and grief over Mitchell’s lost love, and also hope for the future. Not every story needs a fast pace to keep a reader engrossed. Sometimes, savoring a novel like this one is just as enthralling.

Phaedra Patrick studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son. The Secrets of Love Story Bridge is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Seven Endless Forests, by April Genevieve Tucholke

seven endless forests
Image belongs to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

Title:  Seven Endless Forests
AuthorApril Genevieve Tucholke
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword. 

On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death. 

Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined.

I thought The Boneless Mercies—Tucholke’s previous book set in this world—was phenomenal, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. The story opens with tragedy…and tragedy shadows the entire story. Parts of this are magical and enchanting, parts are inspiring, sad, evocative; basically the whole gamut of emotion lives here. The ending felt a bit rushed to me, but that was because it was more of a summary of events instead of actually telling the story (and to set things up for the next book, I imagine). Nevertheless, I highly recommend this!

April Genevieve Tucholke lives in Oregon. Seven Endless Forests is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in exchange for an honest review.)