Review: Waters of Salt and Sin by Alisha Klapheke

Waters of Salt and Sin (Uncommon World, #1)Waters of Salt and Sin by Alisha Klapheke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to love this book. (C’mon, who doesn’t adore that cover?!?) Unfortunately, this book wasn’t all I hoped it was going to be. (Perhaps it’s partly my fault in the first place for having such high expectations.)

The plot wasn’t what I was expecting: I was hoping for more of a swash-buckling, piratey adventure. Instead, this was more of a (slightly spoilery) let’s-try-to-survive-while-planning-a-jailbreak kind of book. Like another reviewer mentioned, they find the island about halfway through the book, and then it becomes a minor background element. The story is pretty much them escaping from whatever’s trying to kill them at the moment, while attempting to rescue Kinneret’s sister. (end of tiny spoiler) I did enjoy the salt magic and salt wraiths (I thought they were the most believable of the fantasy elements), but I could have used a little more explanation on some other things, like the Fire religion, how salt magic works, and more about Kinneret’s aunt’s magic.

The characters themselves were meh. I liked Kinneret–but that was about it. I felt like the author just scratched the surface of the characters, and I didn’t get a chance to get to know any of them except for Kinneret. I only cared about the other characters because Kinneret cared. Also, some of the characters just fell flat. They didn’t react realistically to situations. The story was told in 1st person narration, when 3rd person might have suited the story better. There was also a lot of characters introduced, right from the beginning, and that may have added to my struggle to connect with them.

The world-building was pretty good: it felt unique, and I was interested in learning more about its history and customs. I liked how the setting wasn’t your generic medieval European fantasy setting, but instead a Mediterranean-type culture. However, the author again could have delved a lot deeper into the world-building. It was a little confusing because the characters jumped around so much, and there wasn’t a whole lot of description about the places they went to, or the cultures they visited.

Overall, I just couldn’t get into this one. While I did finish out the book, I just as easily could have left it. If it had had deeper characters, more world-building, and a little more suspense, I probably would have loved it.

Rating: 3 stars.

Recommended: No.

Age Rating: For Ages 14 and up.

Content guide:
Language: 3/10 (characters start to curse, but are cut off. a lot of inappropriate innuendo bandied about.)
Sexual content: 6/10 (passionate kissing, once while half-clothed, some touching. lots of thinly-veiled innuendo. characters’ relationship seems at times more lust than love.)
Violence: 8/10 (characters are killed and injured, sometimes graphically described. some characters place very little value on human life. a demon attacks the ship, killing several characters.)

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review!*

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Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Beautiful OnesThe Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a happy story. It is more melancholy than anything; in truth, it would be better titled The Broken Ones. But it is beautiful. It brought to mind the characters and atmosphere of The Night Circus, one of my all-time favorite books.

This book is literary fiction at its finest. Stirring, with incredible depth, and impossibly real characters. I was blown away again and again by themes in this book:

Love, both lost and found

These are only a few of the themes it explores. In fact, if I had to pick just one overarching theme, it would be “human nature.” This book bares the human soul, in all of its grittiness. It shows people as they truly are, and reveals how that differs from who they think they are. It shows life–real, true life.

Since this is literary fiction, the characters are the driving force.

Antonina, better known as Nina, is a young woman who is on the brink of learning hard truths about society, life, and true love. She is being stretched thin between her innocent childhood, and an adulthood that she did not envision.

Valérie is faced with someone she never thought she’d see again. She was denied her chance at a happy ending, and she’s determined to ruin everyone else’s. No one stands in the way of what she wants.

Hector, whose whole life has been consumed by one driving passion, has to come to terms with the death of his dreams. Everything he’d hoped for and counted on, was nothing but a vapor.

It was amazing how much I connected with each and every one of the characters, good and bad. The good characters were not as pure or innocent as they first seemed. None of them is without fault. Likewise, none of the evil characters were unsympathetic. No one is born completely evil–rather, it’s their choices (the ones they’re forced to, and the ones they willfully make) that lead to such an outcome. It’s a broken world these characters live in, and their lives reflect that.

A small comment on setting: yes, the setting is fantasy. Yes, there is an element of magic. But neither of these factors I felt to be main element of the plot. They contributed to it a small bit, but it was primarily the characters that won the day. The book could have just as easily been set in England at the beginning of the 19th century (without magic, of course).

As for plot, there isn’t much to discuss. Since this is literary fiction, the characters and the exploration of human nature take center stage. The plot is driven by the characters, and without this specific cast, there wouldn’t have been any plot to speak of.

Like I mentioned above, these characters live in a broken, sinful world. Their lives are a product of that, and their choices contribute to it. They are by no means models of how to live. But they do teach us important lessons. The one that stood out the most to me was “Do not put your hope and trust in a fallible human.” I would even go a step further than that: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” (Psalm 118:8)

With that being said, I’d like to leave you with one more passage of Scripture that I feel expresses my feelings about this book:

Micah 7:5-8
“Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house. But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

Rating: 4 stars–5 stars, minus 1 star for content issues

Recommended: Yes. 17 and up, due to mature content.

Content guide:
Violence: 2/10 (some minor injuries, not overly detailed.)
Sexual Content: 9/10 (kisses, embracing, touching, thinly veiled references to adultery, marital duties, and fornification. it is clear that characters have sex several times (before marriage), sometimes on page, though very few details are given.)
Language: 6/10 (several obscene words scattered through the pages. references to fornification and suggestions of adultery)

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy to review*

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Review: The Fate of Arcrea by Nicole Sager

The Fate of Arcrea (The Arcrean Conquest, #2)The Fate of Arcrea by Nicole Sager

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bad: Less amazing creatures in this one. Only dragons.
The Good: DRAGONS.

Okay, so like the first book, it was a little slow-going until you got into the story. But holy cow–that ending! Sager can seriously write battle scenes. I’ll give you a brief summary of setting, characters, and plot before diving into some critique.

The setting: We got to see more of Mizgalia and Dragon Coast (two locations touched on in the first that I was very curious about), but I would have enjoyed a little more information about life in Mizgalia. It brings to mind the Blades of Acktar series, so I was very interested in learning more about that land. (How cool would a crossover between these two series be?) Also, I like how the village for the deposed lords and their families was set up. It was neat that we got to see how they had adjusted to their new lives, instead of them disappearing altogether.

The characters: Trenton is the main character in this one, though we still see quite a bit of Nathaniel, Drew, Falconer, and a few of the original gang. Trenton was probably the most fleshed out of all of them, and was my favorite. (Drew still felt too perfect, and Nathaniel’s near-constant “Ho mate” got on my nerves.) I liked watching him develop as a character, but I have some caveats, which I’ll get to later. I’m very curious about Falconer–we got to see a lot more of him in this book, but he still maintains a shroud of mystery. I have questions. 😉

The plot: I’m sorry, but it was very predictable. A few surprises added a spark here and there, but for the most part I knew what was going to happen to the characters before they did. I loved the how the plot zeroed in on dragons though–it was really cool to see more interactions with them. I thought it was very unique how Sager portrayed them as more of a pest, or scourge on the land, then as a noble beast. I feel like many YA and middle grade novels lately are trying to de-vilify (is that a word?) dragons, and turn them into pets, or friends, or what have you. It was refreshing to read a good, old-fashioned, dragons-are-bad fantasy.

Some of the critiques I have for this book:
-Nathaniel’s constant “Ho there, mate.” This really annoyed me. I know it was for characterization, but it would have been better if he had said it less frequently and added some other unique phrases to his vocabulary.
-The faith elements: now, I’m all for introducing faith into books, but I think one has to be very careful about how they do it. The character’s faith needs to seem real, and not preachy. (view spoiler)
-About halfway through, the town of Dornay became Dormay with no explanation. Typo?
-I think the characters could use more depth overall.

Okay, so that was my critiques. Now let me tell you what I loved about this one:
-The action/battle scenes. These were fantastically written–especially the one towards the end. It doesn’t get much more epic than this, folks.
-The dragons. Again, good old evil dragons. And the Death Chalk was brilliant as well–very unique. Sager’s best talents are action scenes and unique flora and fauna, so I loved reading about her spin on dragons.
-Sager is also excellent at adding a touch of mystery to each book. Such as Falconer. And the cliffhanger ending.
-CLEAN CONTENT. Seriously people, this is a huge issue these days. Just look up the content in the bestsellers on the New York Times list for both YA and middle grade, and you’ll see what I mean. Or take a look at this study done by a professor at BYU:…

That wraps up my thoughts on The Fate of Arcrea. Highly recommended as a read-aloud for families, or for kids 8 and up. Thanks for reading!

Content guide:
Language 2/10 (mild name-calling)
Violence 4/10 (several injuries, some serious, but handled well. Not gory or overly graphic)
Sexual Content 1/10 (relationship between couples–again, very cleanly represented)

Rating: 4 stars
Recommended for 8 and up.

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review!*

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Review: Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

Duels and DeceptionDuels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father’s choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won’t hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert’s help, Lydia strives to keep her family’s good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…”–from Goodreads

Delightful. Absolutely delightful. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think about this book. The whole story was just one rollicking, playful adventure from start to finish, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s not quite ‘fluff,’ not quite serious romance, but all fun. One of the best parts was how the whole narrative kept up a tongue-in-cheek style of humor. I highly recommend this one, preferably with a glass of lemonade on a nice spring day.

Plot: Start with two dashes of witty characters, add in a scoop of mystery, and stir with a healthy dose of comedy. Voila! You have Duels and Deception, fresh and original. The mystery part was alright (I was in it for the characters), intriguing enough to keep me reading, but not nail-bitingly exciting. I did guess who might have perpetrated the kidnapping before the characters found out, but I wasn’t for sure. It was interesting to see how everything worked out. However, I was more interested in the blossoming relationship between Lydia and Robert. Oh, those two. They are absolutely adorable together. All those grins. The ending, while predictable, wrapped things up in a neat bow.

Characters: I’m sure you’ve realized I adore these characters. Lydia and Robert. Robert and Lydia. The sensible, practical young lady who loves her estate and irritating family gets kidnapped along with the equally sensible but slightly more impulsive apprentice-in-waiting. Oh, the fun that ensues. Their relationship is most definitely giggle inducing, as both are in love almost immediately, but it takes them most of the book to realize it. Plenty of swoon worthy moments keep the fire burning between them, even though it seems like anyone and everyone (including themselves) are conspiring to keep them apart.

Setting: I’m a Janeite, and as such, I whole-heartedly approve of the English setting. Particularly since it takes place in Bath. (Too bad we didn’t see any cameos from Jane Austen’s characters!) It was well written: clearly, the author had done her research, and it came through. It seemed authentic and believable, and was the perfect setting for the plot.

Overall, I give this book 4 stars. While not terribly life-altering (it leans more to the ‘fluff’ side than the profound), it was a delicious read, and as such, merits my approval. Fellow Janeites looking for a quick, easy read will enjoy this one.

Age Rating: 14 and up

Content guide:
Language: 3/10 (name-calling–appropriate and archaic in type)
Sexual Content: 4/10 (mentions of ruining a woman’s honor–how and why is not alluded to, hugs, touches, and embraces, along with a few kisses–slightly detailed)
Violence: 4/10 (threats of duels, peril, kidnapping, being knocked unconscious, etc)

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy to review*

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Review: Swim Season by Marianne Sciuccio

Swim Season

by Marianne Sciucco (Goodreads Author)
“Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin’s determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She’s got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She’s swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?”–from Goodreads

Swim Season is a contemporary novel set in Two Rivers, New York. It covers the swim season of Aerin Keane’s senior year, detailing from start to finish her wins, losses, and struggles with the team. A long haul (clocking in around 600 pages), it was interesting, but not thoroughly engrossing. It was a bit of a push to get this one finished–some of which was the length, and some of which was problems or errors within the book itself.

I used to be on a club swim team myself, so some of what this book covered was not totally unfamiliar to me. However, that was a long time ago, and club swimming is quite different from competitively swimming for a high school. There was quite a few things in this book I had trouble following, such as the seeding at meets, what’s a good time/bad time for a race, etc. For someone completely unfamiliar with competitive swimming, this book would throw them headfirst in the deep end. (See what I did there?) I have a feeling it would be difficult to follow the plot and hard to relate with the characters unless the reader already had a background in competitive swimming. So readers, you are forewarned: this book is for a very selective audience, so I suggest you know your swim stuff before diving into this one. (Sorry–love the swim puns. 😉 )

The characters were fairly good, but I didn’t feel like I got to know any of them super well. While they weren’t flat per say, they weren’t exactly rounded out either. Even Aerin (the main character–it’s 1st person POV) I didn’t really understand. I didn’t totally sympathize with or understand her decision to hide her talents in the first place, so that made it a struggle to get through the first part of the book. And she just felt a little–bland, I guess. She didn’t seem to desperately want/need much in the book, and seemed like more of a passive character than an active one. Another character I had a problem with was Justin–sure, he’s great, and has a fantastic personality and everything, but that’s just it–he’s too perfect. Especially for a high school boy. Give the guy some flaws, okay? He didn’t seem real, because he was too perfect.

We didn’t get to see much of the setting in this one–it was mostly confined to the pools that the meets and practices were held at. Though there was a bit of description, I didn’t get a good feel for what Two Rivers looked like or what was in the town, or such. The descriptions of Two Rivers was pretty much limited to what the characters said Two Rivers was like. The girl’s trip into the city was better–we got more description, and got to look around the place where Aerin used to live.

The plot was a bit predictable, to be honest. There was never a moment when I felt like Aerin wasn’t going to eventually show her competitive streak and win the Singer scholarship, so I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of high stakes here. Some of it was just plain unbelievable: for example, (minor spoiler ahead) Aerin is immediately breaking records and beating everyone as soon as she reveals she’s fast? In fact, she even states “My intentional slacking had done no damage.” Any athlete knows that this is simply not true–you can’t slack off and compete at a lower level of exertion than you’re used to for an extended period of time and then return to record-breaking type exertions. That’s a good way to seriously hurt yourself, if it’s even possible. I also found some other misc. errors in the text as well:
–Aerin makes a lot of references to her step-sisters being spoiled brats. But when we finally get to meet them, they seems so sweet! They are excited to have Aerin around, and want to do things with her. It seems like Aerin is closer to acting the spoiled brat than her step-sisters are.
–I like details in my fiction. I really do. But in this case, do I really need to know every single fact about each match? It got old quick, and I found myself skipping over the details often. Especially towards the beginning, when at least two meets were summarized in a dry, newspaper-style sort of record.
–Another thing that bothered me was when Mel freaked out as soon as Aerin started swimming up to her potential. For Pete’s sake, Mel was pushing for it and insinuating it the whole time! And now she’s angry because she was right all along?
–While the book has a small element of faith–Aerin and a few of her friends attend Mass and plan on going on a missions trip together, their faith didn’t seem personal, and Aerin’s relationship with God was hardly even mentioned till end–then, it seemed more on the mystical side of things. She prayed before her big meet, and “soon a calming peace spread through me, and I knew I had connected.” I was not comfortable with this representation of faith, and was honestly disappointed on how the author handled it throughout. It seemed thrown in ‘just because.’

Overall, I can only give this book 3 stars. I liked it, and read the whole thing, but I don’t have any strong feelings about it–other than wanting to go join a swim team. It was just kinda ‘meh.’

Rating: 3 stars

Content guide:
Violence: 2/10 (vague threats, cyberbullying, etc)
Sexual Content: 2/10 (one kiss, some cuddling)
Language: 2/10 (only mild name-calling that I can recall)

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review!*

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Review: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen, #2)A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.”–from Goodreads

I wasn’t totally sure how to review this book when I had finished it. So, I gave it three stars–not bad, but not great. Three stars is my “undecided” rating. Since I’m not totally coherent on how I feel, my review of this book is going to look a little bit different from my usual review. Here’s some of my thoughts on the book:

What I liked:
–One Thousand and One Nights atmosphere.
–The world-building: seriously, it was amazing. I loved the locations that the author created. They were very well fleshed out, and full of magic and mystery.
–Gauri. Because who doesn’t love a break-your-heart-or-maybe-your-arm type of heroine?
–Aasha. The sweet, poor, poisonous little darling.
–Magic. I like magical fairytales, so this is no surprise.

What I didn’t like:
–Creepiness. Like the whole undead monster valley thing.
–The intensity of the love/lust relationship. (They didn’t get beyond kissing/cuddling, but it got pretty heated. And it was brought up. Overall, it made me uncomfortable.)
–All the violence.

What I wasn’t sure about:
–Vikram. I haven’t decided whether I like him or not.
–The Lord of Wealth. I wasn’t sure whether he was a good guy, or a bad guy–maybe that was the point?
–All the deep, philosophical points made. For example, “Desires are dangerous” was repeated almost ad nauseam. Yes, I like my books to have a theme. One or two is good. Maybe even three. But the book was liberally sprinkled with insight, and a lot of it becomes lost when there is that much.

That sums up most of the things I’ve been thinking about. I know it’s not super clear, but I hope it helps you a little bit in deciding whether or not to read this one.

*Many thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy to review!*

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Review: Shadow & Thorn by Kenley Davidson

Shadow and Thorn (The Andari Chronicles)

by Kenley Davidson (Goodreads Author)
I really liked it 4.0/5

A spellbinding romantic fantasy inspired by Beauty and the Beast…

“An exiled king.
An elusive thief.
And the treasure they would give their lives to possess…

Alexei is returning to his homeland after more than twenty years in hiding. His kingdom is destroyed, his people dead or enslaved. His only hope to provide sanctuary for those few who remain is the uncertain word of a traitor, a broken man who claims to know the hiding place of Erath’s greatest treasure. To find it, Alexei will have to return to the place where Erath fell, and brave the shadowed halls of a castle that echoes with the ghosts of his past.

Zara is a woman without a future—a treasure hunter, and a thief who hates to steal. Trapped by fate in an abandoned castle, she encounters a destiny she could never have predicted, and uncovers a treasure far greater than she ever imagined.

When their paths collide, Alexei and Zara may both have a chance to atone for past mistakes… unless they kill each other first. Brought together by enemies both expected and unexpected, they will plumb the depths of an unimaginable betrayal and forge the foundations of a love they would risk anything to keep.

A gripping tale of adventure, betrayal and romance, Shadow and Thorn is the fourth book of the Andari Chronicles, a series of interconnected but stand-alone fairy tale retellings.”-summary from Goodreads


An unconventional beauty. A handsome, despicable beast. One who happens to be very familiar—hello, Rowan. We were all waiting for you to show up again. *sharpens guillotine* And a malicious, sentient castle. Intrigued yet? You should be.

Shadow & Thorn is the fourth book in the Andari Chronicles, my favorite fairytale series. Each book is a standalone, with a complete story to tell by itself. However, some elements intertwine throughout them all: a few familiar characters, the same world, and the same time period. I highly recommend reading them in chronological order, just to get familiar with where everything is and what’s going on.

Let’s start with plot, shall we? Kenley Davidson has officially mastered Murphy’s Law in her writing: just about anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Be still, my aching heart. This author is not a fan of sparing her characters any complicated situations. Oh no—why let them get a break when you could paint them into a corner instead? Oh well. At least it makes for a very nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat novel!

The characters, as always, sparkled with wit, vivacity, and life-likeness. We got to see the return of some familiar faces—Alexei, I’m looking at you—and also the introduction of some new ones. Zara was a real treat. She was so fun to read about! And I couldn’t help grinning with glee when Rowan finally met the one woman who wasn’t ready to fall at his feet! By the way, I am SO glad he finally got what was coming to him. Although I am curious to see what the next book will be about with the way things turned out in this one. I love how Davidson does such a good job of getting inside her character’s heads, and letting us live as them for a little while. Silvay, Wilder, Gulver, and Malichai were great as well, and I really hope they show up in future books, as I would hate for this to be goodbye!

The setting was very well done in this one as well. I loved reading about Erath—or rather, what’s left of it—and the culture the people of Erath embody. I had been very curious about this mythical country since it was mentioned in Traitor’s Masque. The atmosphere Davidson created of ancient magic around the benevolent, though introverted, society worked perfectly for this fairytale. The one caveat is that it wasn’t totally clear how their magic system worked, and I would have liked to learn more about it, but it wasn’t strictly necessary to the plot.

And now for the malicious sentient castle. I couldn’t decide whether this belonged under setting or characters, so I decided to make it its own section. Athven Nar, where most of the plot takes place, is a centuries-old castle that has had magic, hope, and patriotism poured into it for all of its existence. I have only come across this concept maybe twice in all of my reading, and I was very pleased to see how Davidson spun it into the story. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it all. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.

Shadow & Thorn is a little bit of Diana Wynne Jones, and a little bit of Robin Mckinley, but entirely of Kenley Davidson. Magic, mystery, and love all make this Beauty & the Beast retelling very much worth the read. Bonus points: there was a lot less profanity in this one! Kudos to you, Davidson, for cutting it down. Your readers appreciate it.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended: 14 and up

Content guide (may contain minor spoilers):

Language: 3/10 (one bad word used 3-5 times)
Violence: 5/10 (some fights and injuries—non-graphic. one character almost dies)
Sexual Content: 2/10 (a few non-detailed kisses)

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review!*


Review: Out of the Shadows by Emma Carrie

Out of the Shadows (The Tacket Secret, #1)Out of the Shadows by Emma Carrie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“A genetically enhanced teen assassin on the run. A rogue general on the hunt. And a relationally damaged detective sucked into the chase.

Three years ago, Emily Brelin escaped the general who trained her. She fled across the globe to Golden City, New York, where she sought anonymity and redemption.

But now her murky past is about to catch up with her.

When the professor who protected Emily’s secrets dies, the will names Detective Victoria Tacket as her new guardian. The detective botches the adoption process, leaking Emily’s location. Emily fears the general will kill anyone to recapture her, so rather than risk the detective’s life, she plans to run away.

Detective Vick Tacket is shocked when she learns her best friend has died. Furthermore, her friend had a hidden dependent and named Vick—a single woman with no maternal interest—as the girl’s guardian. Convinced she’d be a terrible mother, Vick plans to decline guardianship, until the teen disappears.

Vick scours the streets of Golden City, searching for Emily—but what she discovers threatens not only her own life and Emily’s, but others’ lives as well.”–Goodreads

“Out of the Shadows” by Emma Carrie is a mystery-soaked suspense novel that left me wanting more. A lot more. Only a minor story arc was resolved in this novella, while the main plot was left hanging. It only barely scratches the surface of the story waiting to be told, and feels incomplete. Perhaps this would be better as “Part One” of a full-length novel than a stand-alone novella. However, the writing itself is good, with a few rocky spots. It was tight, and fairly well-crafted for a beginning author. You can tell there was a lot of thought and effort put into writing and revising this work. I’m eager to see how Carrie develops with her writing in coming works.
The characters were vivid, and full of personality. However, I feel like the author was a little hit-and-miss with this aspect. For example, while the protagonist (a fourteen-year old girl) was supposed to be very smart and mature for her age, at times she felt a little too smart and mature, almost to where she felt robotic. The other protagonist had the opposite problem–even though she was supposed to be an experienced homicide detective, she got carried away by her emotions several times, and was led into bad decisions. I think with a little more work, the characters would be spot on—but as of now, they fell a bit flat.
I was very curious about the setting. It takes place in Golden City, New York. It was unclear whether this was set in the present or the future—I lean towards present—and if it was even a real city. I think some more details to round out the setting would have been good.
Overall, I’m afraid I can only give this book 2.5 stars. The story and characters were good, but had some iffy elements, while the world-building was almost non-existent. It did a good job of holding my interest, but ended far too quickly and left many things unresolved. You can tell the author has a lot of talent— it just needs some developing. I do look forward to reading more of her writing in the future, however, and have high hopes for coming books.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Recommended: Yes. 12 and up.

Content guide:
Language: 0/10
Sexual Content: 0/10
Violence: 5/10 (characters are attacked and injured)

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review!*

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Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

The Illusionist's ApprenticeThe Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I immensely enjoyed Krisy Cambron’s book The Ringmaster’s Wife, so it was with great pleasure that I received a copy of The Illusionist’s Apprentice from Netgalley to review. (My first ever Netgalley!)

This book is a story of trust, healing, and renewal. We meet Wren Lockhart, former apprentice to the great Harry Houdini and illusionist extraordinaire in her own right–her best trick, however, happens to be the concealment of her feelings. We meet Agent Elliot Matthews, a jaded FBI man with a talent for finding out the truth–but can he find love? When their paths cross, get ready for sparks to ignite–and not all of them friendly.

Again, Cambron blew me away with the characters she created. Wren, Elliot, & Co. were all developed with extraordinary complexity. There was so much to each character, and so much depth in each of their interactions, that I couldn’t help but love this book. I also enjoyed seeing more of how Cambron developed the male characters in this book, as I didn’t get a good feel for that in the last.

The plot was much stronger in this one as well. The mystery was so intriguing, I couldn’t wait to see what happened next! It was a dangerous tightrope that these characters walked. Suspense around every corner, and secrets lying in wait in the shadows. When the dirty past of the characters is unearthed–along with a dead/not-dead/dead-again man, prepare for your heart to stop. These poor people have been through a lot, and it’s not over yet!

The story was set in 1920s America, full of Prohibition-era crimes, hired guns, and death-defying acts from the world of vaudeville. It was the perfect setting for all that happened. I loved reading about the culture at that time, and especially the historical figures nestled in the book like easter eggs. (Bonus points for the references to Sherlock Holmes and his author!)

Also, the flow of this book was much smoother than the last. I didn’t notice any of the awkward POV switches or misplaced dialogue tags that had bugged me in The Ringmaster’s Wife, but perhaps that is because I have become acclimated to Cambron’s writing style.

My one quibble is a spoiler, so read at your own risk. (view spoiler)

Wrap-up: I loved The Illusionist’s Apprentice. While I had hoped to see more of Harry Houdini and his shows, I quickly fell in love with Wren and Elliot and the mystery they chased. This book is chock-full of great characters, and will entice fans of suspense with its shrouded mystery.

Rating: 5 stars

Recommended: Yes. 14 and up. (Some scary situations, and references to abuse)

Content guide:
Language: 0/10
Sexual Content: 1/10 (light kisses)
Violence: 7/10 (characters are attacked, abused–eventually leading to death, and they get into scrapes–semi-detailed)
Other notes: one character has a drinking problem, and abuses his family,

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Review: The Dressmaker’s Secret by Kellyn Roth

The Dressmaker's Secret (The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy, #1)The Dressmaker’s Secret by Kellyn Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“London, England, 1870

It comes to the attention of curious eight-year-old Alice Chattoway that her father is seemingly nonexistent. After realizing that his absence is making her mother unhappy, Alice becomes determined to find him and pull her family together. But Miss Chattoway’s answers to her daughter’s questions are vague at best and Alice begins to wonder if she will ever discover her mother’s secret.”–Goodreads summary

This book reminded me quite a bit of the Lamplighter books. It had the same feel and time period as a lot of them, but unfortunately was sub-par in writing quality. I did make it through the entire book, and some of it was enjoyable, so I gave it two stars for that. However, I had multiple issues with it, which I will get to in a minute.

The Good:
-The characterization was strong, and I felt like I came to know the characters well.
-The Dressmaker’s Secret had a classic feel to it, and held to the strong moral integrity of bygone ages, while still feeling like a new story.
-I liked the premise of the story and the intriguing mystery that was wound through it.

The Bad:
-While I liked most of the characters, there was an overabundance of them, and the author tried too hard to make each of them an integral part of the story. Also, I felt like telling the story through the eyes of an eight-year-old wasn’t a wise decision, and it led to several problems (such as the character making poor decisions, but no consequences resulting, and the story was limited to what the character could know/comprehend).
-Plot issues. For the first half or so, the plot was pretty good. Not strong, but good. Then after about the halfway mark, it plummeted. It skipped around in time to explain things which lead to confusion. The worst part however, is a spoiler. (view spoiler)

Overall, I would say pass on this one. The talent is there, it just needs time to develop and grow.

Rating: 2 stars

Recommended: No

Content guide:
Violence: 3/10 (injuries, death)
Language: 0/10 (that I can recall)
Sexual Content: 2/10 (rumors of children out of wedlock, man sleeping with another woman before his wife, etc)

*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy to review*

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