Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava DellairaLove Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 1, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 327
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven?

It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that's as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl's journey through life's challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

Book Review:

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD isn’t my typical sort of book, but I had read a couple of reviews praising it, and I had also checked out the first few letters and thought I might enjoy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the book, and usually I have to finish books. I made it to page 74 before I said no more.

Here’s why I couldn’t get into the book:

–The idea of the “love letters.” I didn’t really see any point for Laurel to be writing love letters to famous dead people. Yes, it’s a neat idea at first, and probably what attracted a lot of people, myself included, to the book. But 99% of the letters are identical. Laurel starts off with “Dear _____,” then launches into a boring monologue about her day, complete with dialogue and misplaced purple prose descriptions. Most of the time, I forgot I was reading a letter. The epistolary format just didn’t work for me, especially when Laurel educated the dead person about their own life. She actually told Judy Garland and Janis Joplin what their childhoods were like. And the subjects of the letters? I can’t see a lot of teens knowing who many of these people are, such as Mister Ed or River Phoenix.

–Laurel had no personality for me. I didn’t care about her at all, and I couldn’t connect with her. In LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD, she’s just starting high school, but at times, I could have sworn she was 10 because of her innocence and naivety. Laurel is mourning her dead sister, May, but instead of showing us how broken up she is, the author just tells us. I am aware that people mourn in different ways, but I never felt any grief from Laurel.

–Within the 74 pages I read, Laurel smokes, drinks, flashes people, sneaks out, and watches her friends steal alcohol. I’m no prude, and I like when teens exhibit realistic behavior in young adult books, but I thought this was a bit much.

–I had no idea where LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD was going. Usually I get a good sense of where a book is headed, but here, I had no idea, and I like to know the plot’s general direction. I acknowledge that I didn’t finish the book and maybe a better story showed up later, but I shouldn’t have to wait until the middle or end for something to happen. A book needs to keep my interest, and LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD did not.

–The writing. I cannot imagine a freshman writing something like this: “I liked everything about it. I liked waiting in line with everyone. I liked that the girl in front of me had red curls on the back of her head that you could tell she curled herself. And I liked the thin crinkle of the plastic when I opened the wrapper. I liked how every bite made a falling-apart kind of crunch (p. 8).” That quote is about buying a Nutter Butter. A NUTTER BUTTER, people.

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is a book that just didn’t work for me. I wanted to like it, and I tried to read it, but I could not get into it.

Socialize with the author:

Ava Dellaira:
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– leeanna

Book Review: I Become Shadow by Joe Shine

Book Review: I Become Shadow by Joe ShineI Become Shadow by Joe Shine
Published by Soho Teen on June 10, 2014
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.

Ren survives four years of training, torture, and misery, in large part thanks to Junie, a fellow F.A.T.E. abductee who started out as lost and confused as she did. She wouldn’t admit it was possible to find love in a prison beyond imagining, but what she feels for Junie may just be the closest thing to it.

At eighteen they part ways when Ren receives her assignment: find and protect college science student Gareth Young, or die trying. Life following a college nerd is uneventful, until an attack on Gareth forces Ren to track down the only person she can trust. When she and Junie discover that the F.A.T.E. itself might be behind the attacks, even certain knowledge of the future may not be enough to save their kidnappers from the killing machines they created.

Book Review:

You know how most fourteen-year-olds stress about high school? Ren doesn’t have to worry about that for long, because she’s abducted by F.A.T.E., a secret organization that protects the world’s future important people. Instead of worrying about boys, popularity, grades, etc., Ren’s worried about making it through training alive. Most kids taken by F.A.T.E. don’t make it, which is no shock, considering the classes include weapons training with live rounds, beating the stuffing out of each other, and a nightly injection that kills all the nerves in your body.

I BECOME SHADOW starts off slowly and with some backpedaling, because Ren fills the reader in on her normal life before being taken. If you’re confused at the start, keep going and things will eventually make sense. Ren has a unique voice, one I think readers will either like or dislike. She’s sarcastic, mouthy, no-nonsense, and cocky, but sometimes she’s also “woe is me.” Most of the time I liked her narration, but once in a while it did feel like the author was trying too hard.

After Ren starts training and then once she gets her assignment, the book is full of action. I thought the author did a good job writing the action scenes; sometimes I skim them because they’re boring or hard to picture. That wasn’t the case here.

I BECOME SHADOW was almost a really good book for me. There are some great ideas, including F.A.T.E. and its mission. When Ren graduates training, she’s linked to the person she’ll spend the rest of her life protecting. The process makes it almost painful for her to be away from him, and if he’s in danger? Forget about it. She’s supposed to stay in the shadows, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying she breaks the rules.

Then we get into the parts of the book that didn’t work out so well for me. Ren starts to have feelings for Gareth, the kid she protects, but are they real or a byproduct of the link? At the same time, she’s pining for Junie, a guy she went through training with. I believed in Ren and Junie’s friendship, but not their romantic feelings for each other. I really wish the author would have kept it as a friendship rather than try to add romance. Because apparently all YA books need romance. Not.

The end of I BECOME SHADOW also felt rushed. A lot of the book is spent on training time, and then some with Ren on the job protecting Gareth. Then the big climax, and boom, the book’s over. When I finished I BECOME SHADOW, I had quite a few questions about F.A.T.E. and Shadows and other things. I’m guessing there will be a sequel or two to flesh things out? I don’t know for sure.

Overall, I BECOME SHADOW is strong in the action and sarcastic heroine departments, but lacking in the romance and storytelling.

Socialize with the author:

Joe Shine:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Rise of the King (Companions Codex #2) by R.A. Salvatore

Book Review: Rise of the King (Companions Codex #2) by R.A. SalvatoreRise of the King by R.A. Salvatore
Series: Companions Codex, Forgotten Realms
Published by Wizards of the Coast on September 30, 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
In the second book of the Companions Codex, the latest series in the New York Times best-selling saga of dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, R.A. Salvatore picks up with the fan-favorite storyline of dwarf king Bruenor Battlehammer and his bloody feud with the orc kingdom of Many Arrows.

Book Review:

RISE OF THE KING is the second book in the Companions Codex, which features the reincarnated Bruenor, Regis, Catti-brie, and Wulfgar rejoining Drizzt Do’Urden. It is also the 26th book in the Legend of Drizzt saga.

RISE OF THE KING picks up right after NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. There’s not a lot of recap from the first book, so I was a bit lost at first since I couldn’t remember a lot of what happened. Essentially, the drow are bringing about war in the Silver Marches, using the orcs of Many Arrows to do their dirty work.

THE GOOD:

–R.A. Salvatore writes some great action scenes, and there are lots of them in this book, both small and large scale. The gang fights groups of orcs and goblins, and they also help the besieged town of Nesmé.

–The book doesn’t just follow the Companions, which helps show the impact of war on the entire area. There are scenes from others, including Afafrenfere, Jarlaxle, Kimmuriel, and “common” people. I was personally hoping for more from the drow, especially Quenthel Baenre, but she wasn’t very present in this book.

THE BAD:

–The first third or so of RISE OF THE KING is a real slog to get through. I typically read about 400-450 words per minute, and I was down to 200 for the beginning of this book. What I’m trying to point out here is the writing is so … obfuscated. I can’t remember how many times I had to reread sentences and paragraphs to figure out what the author was trying to say. Sometimes it felt like I was reading fanfic. After battles started, the writing became clearer, as if Salvatore found his stride (or maybe I just got used to it).

–Yes, there are a lot of battles in RISE OF THE KING, but overall, the book mostly moves characters around, putting them into place for a showdown in the final book. When I finally finished reading, I wasn’t left with the impression that a whole lot had happened.

Overall, RISE OF THE KING is very much a middle book, functioning as more evidence for “all orcs are evil” and furthering the war in Luruar. I’ve skipped a lot of the middle books in the Legend of Drizzt saga, but I get the feeling this book is going back on a lot of what happened. Oh well. Even though I wasn’t blown away by RISE OF THE KING, I’m still looking forward to seeing how everything ends.

Socialize with the author:

R.A. Salvatore:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White

Book Review: The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. WhiteThe Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White
Series: The Thickety #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 6, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
Hand in hand, the witch's children walked down the empty road.

When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic . . . except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr's Realm. But mostly it's called the Thickety.

The black-leaved trees swayed toward Kara and then away, as though beckoning her.

The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother.

And that is just the beginning of the story.

The Thickety: A Path Begins is the start of a thrilling and spellbinding tale about a girl, the Thickety, and the power of magic.

Book Review:

THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS is intended as a middle grade book: ages 10 and up, grades 5 and up. I know my younger self could have handled this book — there’s a lot of horror and some graphic imagery — but it might not be suitable for all younger readers. If in doubt, read the Prologue as that should give a hint as to some of the content of the book.

After her mother is killed on suspicions of witchcraft, Kara, her brother, and her father are the village’s outcasts. Everyone talks about Kara behind her back. The ruler’s daughter, Grace, makes it her special mission to torment Kara while making it look like Kara is the one bullying her. Kara’s father lives in a depressed stupor, unable to take care of his children the way a father should. Kara’s brother, Taff, is sickly. It’s up to Kara to support the family, and that’s a lot for a twelve-year-old to deal with.

That’s where I had trouble with THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS. I can suspend disbelief about all sorts of things, but I had a really hard time believing Kara was only twelve. Yes, everything she went through made her old for her years, but still. She read like sixteen or seventeen to me, not twelve. In fact, I forgot how old she was until the author reminded me, and I sat there for a moment, kinda stunned.

The things I liked most about THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS are the magic system and the author’s writing style. I thought using grimoires to power a witch’s magic was neat, and it fit into the world. The author’s writing style sucked me into the story, keeping me reading until I finished the book. At almost 500 pages, I do think THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS is a bit too long, but it does read quickly. I also liked the chapter heading illustrations; I normally don’t notice artwork, but I did here. They helped me get into Kara’s world.

The ending of THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS, oh that ending! It’s one that will make you want the sequel now. There’s a twist didn’t see it coming, which I always like. However, I do wish that Kara had actually spent more time in the Thickety. Based on the title of the book, and the way the villagers avoid the Thickety, I assumed that it would play a bigger role. The glimpses of the Thickety made me want more. Kara’s village is interesting too, a sort of utopia that’s determined to prove witchcraft is wrong. Again, something I wished there had been more of.

Overall, THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS was okay for me. I think it might be a bit dark for the intended age group, but I’m not the best person to judge that. It’s a good start to a series, enough to make me want more, but it just wasn’t an amazing book for me.

Socialize with the author:

J.A. White:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Book Review: Memory of Water by Emmi ItärantaMemory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Published by Harper Voyager on June 10, 2014
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
Global warming has changed the world's geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria's father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.

But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father's death the army starts watching their town-and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.

Imaginative and engaging, lyrical and poignant, Memory of Water is an indelible novel that portrays a future that is all too possible.

Book Review:

“But I knew that was what the best stories were like: you could believe in them, even if you knew they were just imagination (p. 65).”

For me, the above quote perfectly sums up MEMORY OF WATER. This book feels like it could come true. Sometime in the future, we could live in a world where there’s very little fresh water. In a world where the army controls all sources of water, there’s water rationing, and water crimes result in death.

The progress of MEMORY OF WATER is a lot like water. The book moves along slowly but surely, sometimes circling obstacles, but always coming back to the main story. I will warn you that this book doesn’t have a neat ending or resolution, which is usually something that bugs the heck out of me, because I like concrete endings, but it didn’t bother me here.

I did have some trouble getting into the book when I started it. But once I read a few chapters and got used to Noria’s narration, the author’s writing style, and the world, I didn’t want to put the book down. I finished it in one day, and a week later, I’m still thinking about MEMORY OF WATER.

Noria is a tea master, perhaps an odd profession in a world where water is so scarce. But tea masters preserve traditions, and Noria’s family also guards a secret spring, one of the last free springs. The secret spring lets the author explore lots of questions: Can water be controlled by the army? Should free water be kept a secret when families are suffering, even dying because they don’t have enough water? Should one take the easy way out, or stand up for what one believes in?

There’s not a lot of action in MEMORY OF WATER, which is a-okay. The book doesn’t need it. I’m just pointing that out because this book is different (in a good way) from a lot of the popular dystopian/post-apocalyptic YA fiction out there. MEMORY OF WATER is a book to make you think, a book that laps at the edges of your brain as you read. And the writing is just gorgeous, descriptive and evocative without falling into the usual cliches.

There is one thing about MEMORY OF WATER I didn’t like, which made it a 4 star book instead of a 5 star book. In order to explain what that one thing is, I have to do some plot spoiling, so don’t keep reading if you don’t want to know what happens. I will say it relates to worldbuilding, and while the author paints an excellent portrait of the world now, daily life and politics included, she doesn’t go into too much detail of how it became that way.

Otherwise, an amazing debut. Simple in some ways, but so complex in others. A real thought provoking book, putting the speculative in speculative fiction. I will definitely be on the lookout for more from Emmi Itäranta.

 

 

 

Last spoiler warning!

 

 

 

Okay. One of my big peeves is when authors withhold information from the reader. Noria and her best friend discover the truth about how the world changed, but the author does not tell the reader. That information stays a secret between Noria and Sanja, which is a shame, because I really wanted to know what happened. If they hadn’t found out the truth, I wouldn’t have been as disappointed, but they did, and so I was irked over that.

Socialize with the author:

Emmi Itäranta:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Prisoner of the Queen (Tales From the Tudor Court #2) by E. Knight

Book Review: Prisoner of the Queen (Tales From the Tudor Court #2) by E. KnightPrisoner of the Queen by E. Knight
Series: Tales From the Tudor Court #2
Published by Knight Media on July 30, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 342
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
4 Stars
I have served three queens in my life. One was my sister, one was my savior, and one my bitterest enemy.

Knowing she was seen as a threat to the Queen she served, Lady Katherine Grey, legitimate heir to the throne, longs only for the comfort of a loving marriage and a quiet life far from the intrigue of the Tudor court. After seeing her sister become the pawn of their parents and others seeking royal power and then lose their lives for it, she is determined to avoid the vicious struggles over power and religion that dominate Queen Elizabeth’s court. Until she finds love—then Kat is willing to risk it all, even life in prison.

prisoner of the queen by e. knight blog tour

I’m on a historical fiction kick lately, so it’s appropriate that I have a tour stop for PRISONER OF THE QUEEN by E. Knight. The book is the second in her Tales From the Tudor Court series, but you don’t need to read the books in order. The tour is hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

Book Review:

Most people know the tale of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen. I’ve read several books about her, fiction and nonfiction, but PRISONER OF THE QUEEN is the first book I’ve read that tells the story of her sister, Katherine. That’s what attracted me to the book in the first place, and I think E. Knight does a fantastic effort reimagining Katherine’s story.

Katherine’s story is not a happy one: for daring to marry the man she loved behind Queen Elizabeth’s back, she spent the rest of her life imprisoned. But even before her marriage to Edward Seymour, Katherine wasn’t in control of her life. Both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth felt threatened by her presence, for she also had a claim to the throne, although she wanted nothing to do with it.

Katherine is an easy character to root for. She doesn’t want to be a pawn, used for the gains of men. She just wants to be happy, to enjoy life, to have a husband and children. But that isn’t in her stars, because of her royal blood and the political complications of the time. I liked how the author mentioned how pamphlets written by rebellious men impacted Katherine’s life — they were only thinking about their own gain, and never considered that Elizabeth would punish Katherine even more harshly. I didn’t quite agree with the author’s characterization of Elizabeth at first — jealous and fearful of losing power — but as the book went on, I believed it. For once, it was good to see Elizabeth from the view of someone wronged by the queen.

PRISONER OF THE QUEEN is a great book for fans of Tudor historical fiction. I really enjoyed Katherine’s story, and the ending made me tear up a bit. That doesn’t usually happen! I’m not always a fan of romance, but I got behind Katherine and Ned’s relationship, and wanted them to have a happy ending even though I knew they didn’t. The author included letters the two actually wrote to each other, and quotes from a poem written about their star crossed relationship kick off each chapter. PRISONER OF THE QUEEN is a different look into Tudor court life, from the eyes of one who doesn’t really want to be there.

About the author:

author e. knightE. Knight is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America and several RWA affiliate writing chapters: Hearts Through History, Celtic Hearts, Maryland Romance Writers and Washington Romance Writers. Growing up playing in castle ruins and traipsing the halls of Versailles when visiting her grandparents during the summer, instilled in a love of history and royals at an early age. Feeding her love of history, she created the popular historical blog, History Undressed (www.historyundressed.com). Under the pseudonym Eliza Knight, she is a bestselling, award-winning, multi-published author of historical and erotic romance.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Shameless by Nina Lemay

Book Review: Shameless by Nina LemayShameless by Nina Lemay
Published by Self-Published on August 18, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Pages: 277
Format: eARC
Source: Author, Blog Tour
Goodreads
3 Stars
Girls like me don’t get happy endings.

I know what I am. At worst a cliché, at best a cautionary tale. I put an international border between me and my past, only to wind up working in a low-end titty bar. Even my excuse is as lame as it gets: I’m paying for college, getting my art degree from Montreal’s most prestigious school. Although some days it becomes confusing: am I just a student who moonlights as a stripper, or a stripper who masquerades as a student?

But the inevitable happens and my two lives collide. And now there’s one other person who knows both the quiet, antisocial Hannah and the sensual, shameless Alicia. One person who keeps my secret.

He’s beautiful, he’s sophisticated. He comes from the other side of life, the one where I’m not wanted or accepted. But he calls me la petite Américaine, and his hot, hot hands on my skin promise me things I long ago gave up on.

The problem? He teaches my Classic Photography class.

shameless by nina lemay blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for SHAMELESS by Nina Lemay. The tour is hosted by Itching For Books and you can visit all the stops here. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway.

Book Review:

The summary for SHAMELESS drew me in. A pessimist stripping to pay her way through college? A girl who gets the shock of her life when a guy she gave a lap dance to shows up as her photography professor? Yum! I like some “forbidden” relationships, and this one has two. I also liked the cover, since I could see Hannah as the girl on the cover. Photography plays a big role in SHAMELESS, so I think the cover style was a great choice.

For the most part, I enjoyed SHAMELESS. I liked Hannah. She always sees the worst in things, expects bad things to happen, and doesn’t glamorize her life as a stripper. It’s just something she’s doing to pay for school, and yeah, she recognizes that’s a huge cliche. Too bad. She likes financial independence. I liked that she wanted to take advantage of men looking at her, and that she was shameless about her job choice.

Hannah’s not in a great place in her life. I would say it’s possible she’s depressed, just going through the motions. Until Emmanuel shows up, in the club and then at school. The two are drawn together, and while Hannah is at first worried Emmanuel will spill her secret, he shows her otherwise when he rescues her from a bad clubbing night. I did think their relationship progressed very quickly. Emmanuel is an incredibly sweet guy, and I could tell he wanted the best for Hannah. I could see why she liked him, but I wasn’t sure why Emmanuel was drawn to Hannah. I mean, Emmanuel offers to do some crazy things so they can date without it causing trouble, but I’m still not sure why. A bit more development for both Hannah and Emmanuel would have really helped me believe in their relationship, but once I got past that, I did enjoy seeing them together.

Some of the things that happened are maybe a tad unbelievable, but I can’t really go into those without spoiling way too much of the book. So, to be incredibly vague, I could sort of believe what happened, but I would have believed it a lot more if Hannah’s tragic past had been … more tragic. She’s hiding a big secret about why she thinks most guys hate women, but when the reveal came, I expected it to be … bigger.

SHAMELESS is set in Canada, Montreal to be exact. I appreciated a book set outside of the U.S., and enjoyed the author’s descriptions for Montreal and especially Quebec City. I do wish an explanation for a couple French Canadian terms had been provided, but a quick trip to Urban Dictionary helped out.

I think what I liked most about SHAMELESS was that Hannah didn’t let anyone change her. You don’t like that she’s a stripper? Fuck you. I absolutely loved her final photography project, and what it shows about others’ attitudes regarding stripping and women. And thanks to the author’s good descriptions, I could actually “see” each photo.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

author nina lemayNina Lemay is a YA writer by day and author of sinfully twisted New Adult…well, also by day. She loves all things dark and edgy and never tires of tormenting her characters. While Nina is a fan of all things scary, Gothic, and fantastic, she doesn’t shy away from a gritty contemporary romance when the muse strikes. She lives in Montreal, a city that never fails to inspire, with her partner and her dog.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Passion Blue (Passion Blue #1) by Victoria Strauss

Book Review: Passion Blue (Passion Blue #1) by Victoria StraussPassion Blue by Victoria Strauss
Series: Passion Blue #1
Published by Skyscape on November 6, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Author
Goodreads
5 Stars
"Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive."

This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.

But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?

Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues.

Book Review:

I’m not big on art. Famous paintings and sculptures and the like are nice in a historical way, but that’s about it. I prefer words over pictures, always have. Once in a while I’ll read a good biography or historical fiction about a famous painter, but that’s the extent of my interest.

So, if I don’t like art, you might ask why I enjoyed PASSION BLUE so much. The answer is easy: Victoria Strauss made paintings, the process of painting, and color theory come alive in words. Thanks to her vivid and clear descriptions, I could see Giulia’s drawings, see the paintings the nuns created, and see their enjoyment in their work. I could also see the gorgeous uniqueness of Passion blue, the secret blue color the convent’s painting mistress is famous for discovering.

PASSION BLUE is historical fiction with a little supernatural mixed in. When Giulia is sent to the convent of Santa Marta against her will, she asks an astrologer to make a talisman for her. She wants her dream of marriage and children to come true, not to be sentenced to a lonely, barren life behind convent walls. But in the convent, Giulia’s artistic abilities are discovered, and she’s taken under the wing of Maestra Humilità. Giulia is surprised to discover that women have more options inside the convent than outside. Inside, she could be a painter. Outside, she would just be a servant, maybe a wife if she’s lucky.

Anasurymboriel, the spirit inside Giulia’s talisman, will help her achieve her heart’s desire. She just has to figure out what it is.

PASSION BLUE is a book I’ve read twice since its release in 2012. I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future. It’s one of those books about art that makes me see why so many people enjoy artwork. It makes me want to pick up a paintbrush and play with colors, even though I can’t draw a stick figure. That’s how well the author described painting and color and composition. I also found convent life interesting: the differences between common-born and noble-born nuns, and how women sometimes had more freedom locked away from the world.

PASSION BLUE is an engaging historical fiction novel of painting life in Renaissance Italy, one girl’s pursuit to find her true heart’s desire in the place where she might never have expected it.

Upcoming:

Make sure you check back tomorrow, September 19, for my review of PASSION BLUE‘s sequel, COLOR SONG!

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Victoria Strauss:
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– leeanna

Book Review: After the End (After the End #1) by Amy Plum

Book Review: After the End (After the End #1) by Amy PlumAfter the End by Amy Plum
Series: After the End #1
Published by HarperTeen on May 6, 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
She’s searching for answers to her past. They’re hunting her to save their future.

World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness. They've survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.

At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.

When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact. Everything was a lie.

Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she's trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past.

Book Review:

At first, AFTER THE END was a great book for me. At the start, Juneau lives in Alaska, presumably one of the few people left alive after the third world war. She and her clan live close to the land, and believe in the Yara, a current that connects all beings. Juneau is being groomed to be the clan’s next Sage, the one who will read the Yara for news of bad weather, good hunting, and brigands.

But on a routine hunting trip, Juneau sees planes. Planes mean danger, so she rushes home … only to find her entire clan gone. They’ve been taken. Juneau rushes off to rescue them, and rushes right into the modern world. Everything she’s been told, everything she believes, is a lie. There was no WWIII. The world didn’t end.

All of this? Pretty cool. The beginning of the book took me a couple of tries, because I didn’t totally understand the Yara concept, but after that, I was hooked. It was fun to see Juneau try to make sense of the modern world. As odd as it is for her, she also has to deal with the armed guys who are after her, so there’s a lot to figure out at once.

AFTER THE END alternates chapters between Juneau and Miles. On the surface, Miles is a stereotypical rich American teenager. But in an effort to prove himself to his dad, he takes off to Seattle to try and find the girl his dad is looking for — Juneau.

When Juneau and Mike meet up, that’s where AFTER THE END started to lose its shine for me. Basically, they take a long road trip. There’s a lot of self-doubt, learning about the modern world, driving, a cool raven named Poe, lots of driving, crushing on each other, more driving, and then some romance. The last three quarters of the book I had to push myself to keep reading. There were a few exciting parts, but mostly it was a long road trip. Or that’s my impression, anyway. And then after all the road tripping, the book ends on a cliffhanger. I wasn’t pleased.

The beginning of AFTER THE END was different a good, a new twist on the popular post-apocalypse setting. If the whole book had been like that, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. But after Juneau and Mike meet up, it felt way more contemporary, with more focus on romance.

Socialize with the author:

Amy Plum:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de CastellTraitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #1
Published by Jo Fletcher Books, Quercus Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
With swashbuckling action that recall Dumas' Three Musketeers Sebastien de Castell has created a dynamic new fantasy series. In Traitor's Blade a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening.

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

Book Review:

Before starting TRAITOR’S BLADE, I had just finished a nine book epic fantasy series. I was still in the mood for fantasy, but something lighter and not so lengthy. This book fit the bill so perfectly I felt almost as if it had been written just for me. Now, TRAITOR’S BLADE does have plenty of dark stuff in it, from tyrannical dukes to abused peasants to a murdered king, but it’s written with such dark humor that you’re laughing even as you’re watching the main character go into a fight he’s almost certain to lose.

Essentially, TRAITOR’S BLADE is a fantasy book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I loved that.

I was hooked from the very first page, and didn’t stop until I finished TRAITOR’S BLADE in one sitting. I actually read this book twice in two months, because the first time I tried to review it, all I could write was, “READ THIS NOW.” I’m still saying that, because I liked this book even more the second time.

I mean, how can you not love a book that starts off with this?

“You know what I find odd?” Brasti went on.
“Are you going to stop talking at any point in the near future?” I asked.
Brasti ignored me. “I find it odd that the sound of a nobleman rutting is hardly distinguishable from one being tortured.”
“Spent a lot of time torturing noblemen, have you?”
“You know what I mean. It’s all moans and grunts and little squeals, isn’t it? It’s indecent.”
Kest raised an eyebrow. “And what does decent rutting sound like?” (p. 3)

Sebastien de Castell has a great sense of humor, lots of creativity, and skill at telling a story. I got sucked into the plight of Falcio and his fellow Greatcoats. I felt sorry for them and their situation — basically outlaws after the death of their King — but I also couldn’t wait to see how Falcio would get out of each mess he got into. And Falcio is very, very good at getting into messes, so there’s lots of entertainment even while you’re hoping he makes it out alive.

I realize this isn’t a very good review, but you know how sometimes there are books that make you fangirl (or fanboy) endlessly and just make you happy to read them? Books that you want to push on everyone, but are too incoherent to scream anything but “READ THIS” and shove it into their hands? Yeah. TRAITOR’S BLADE is one of those books.

Socialize with the author:

Sebastien de Castell:
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– leeanna