Off the Shelf: A Review of Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I officially kicked off 2017 by reading a book that I think will be a heavy contender for my favorite book of the year – Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I’m very picky about what book I read first in a new year, so I was very thankful to have the ARC for this one waiting on me. It delivered exactly what I was hoping for – an enchanting getaway to someplace magical. Garber’s debut is a truly immersive experience into the world of Caraval, a treacherous, dark adventure disguised as a game.

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RELEASE DATE: January 31, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

 

Things I Liked:
I was absolutely lost in the world of Caraval, probably as much so as Scarlett. You won’t know who to trust, what to believe, what’s real and what isn’t…and then it all gets tied together so perfectly that you have to wonder why you didn’t just trust your instincts in the first place. I LOVE when a book can make you question yourself, and when you learn things at the same time as the character whose head you’ve been living inside of for 400-or-so pages.

I’m also really drawn to the relationship between Scarlett and her sister, and the horrors that they’ve faced at the hand of their father. There’s a really deep bond established between them. Having a sister myself, whom I love more than anything, made Scarlett’s desperation to recover her sister all the more real. The sisters are also uniquely different in their personalities. I enjoyed Tella’s impulsiveness, determination, and craftiness, and I really liked how selfless Scarlett is throughout the story. The abuse they’ve faced together shapes their motivations in different ways which impacts each of their decisions.

There’s a slow building romance that I appreciated for the fact that (a) it wasn’t an instant love interest (b) there’s no stupid love triangle (c) you can’t be for sure that you can trust this relationship. The question of whether or not you can trust that they both have feelings for each other or whether this is part of the game hooked me and delivered many surprises.

Things I Didn’t Like:

At this moment, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of anything that I wouldn’t have liked about the book. What don’t I like? I don’t like that I don’t already have the next one…

Overall Rating:
5/5 
This was a perfectly magical way to begin the new year. I love the adventure, the characters, and the topsy-turvy twists, turns, and thrills. This is one of those books that you will feel compelled to read all at once, and you should! I couldn’t put it down, and so I went cover to cover in just a few hours. After finishing, I was stoked to read that Caraval has already been optioned for a movie. I have a feeling that the book is going to be a big hit among readers, and I look forward to seeing the magic of Caraval play out on the big screen one day.

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While supplies last, Flatiron Books is doing this wonderful preorder promotional giveaway. All you have to do is fill out the short form at the link below and attach a photo of your preorder receipt before January 31! Check it out here:

http://us.macmillan.com/flatironbooks/promo/caravalpreordergiveaway

Off the Shelf: RoseBlood Review & GIVEAWAY

When I was around seven years old, my parents took me to see a touring production of Phantom of the Opera. It might not be something you would expect a seven year old to enjoy, but I was captivated by it. I still remember the thrill of seeing the Phantom appear inside Christine’s mirror and the heart-stopping moment when the chandeleir crashes to the stage. My mother and I listened to the soundtrack (on cassette, no less, until the cd came out) any time we were in the car, and I can recall trying to mimic Christine on the high notes (unsuccessfully).

When I told my mother that I was reviewing a retelling of Phantom of the Opera, she was immediately taken aback. “Oh no, there’s nothing that can beat the original.” And I agree. There’s nothing better than the original story. BUT A.G. Howard doesn’t try to retell the original story. She plays off the characters and what might have happened if Erik’s story had continued. There’s no doubt that A.G. Howard has thoroughly researched the story and the lines that blur between fact and fiction of its history, and in turn she crafts a mysterious tale of love, obsession, and fate that answers the question – what would happen if the Phantom’s story continued into the modern day?

rosebloodRoseBlood by A.G. Howard
RELEASE DATE: January 10th, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known

Things I Liked:

I adored A. G. Howard’s Splintered series, an Alice in Wonderland retelling. She always has a unique perspective, and she writes in such a way that she makes the story her own. The beautiful, gothic settings that she builds in RoseBlood are totally immersive and almost as haunting as the characters themselves.

Rune and Thorn are both tortured souls that find each other in a most unique twist of fate. There are so many complexities behind their characters that will draw you in, and I found myself really enjoying the romantic elements in their story. The story was a bit slow to start, but once these two characters found each other, I couldn’t put the book down. Their story will seduce you, and it’s entrancing to watch as all of the layers finally come together.

There are fantasy/paranormal elements to this story that I can’t reveal to you, but I have to say that these are the factors that I believe really set this story apart. At first, I was a little unsure that I would enjoy the story going this route, but I can honestly say it brought in an entirely new perspective on the history of the Phantom.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Like I said, the story is a bit slow to start. I found myself more than a little confused at what exactly would happen to Rune when she would sing and about what secrets she was trying to hide from. It takes some time before you start to see the bigger picture, but I think the slow unveiling helps to build the story. I would have liked a little faster pacing at the beginning, but I also get that Rune had to get established at her new school and we had other characters we needed to meet to make this story work.

Overall, there wasn’t much that I disliked about this book. I still have some reservations about the ending, particularly with what becomes of Erik and his relationship with Thorn. Things are almost too neat and tidy in that regard; however, when it comes to the ending for Thorn and Rune, neat and tidy is exactly what I was wanting and it was delivered. The Phantom, while I would consider him a main character in the story, isn’t seen very much, and I found myself wishing for more of that. There’s a lot of his history, but I’d have liked a little bigger glimpse at the modern Phantom.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I adore the original story of the Phantom of the Opera, but this book is really stunning in its own regard. The history is so entwined in this story that it truly feels like an extension of the original. You can feel feel the music coming from within the pages, and the spellbinding romance will seduce you till the final page. A. G. Howard can truly WRITE – and I highly recommend that you check out not only RoseBlood, but her other books as well!

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GIVEAWAY DETAILS
RoseBlood Prize Pack Includes
– one hardback copy of RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
– RoseBlood bookplate SIGNED by A.G. Howard
– RoseBlood bookmark
– Phantom of the Opera necklace
CLICK HERE TO ENTER – RoseBlood Giveaway
No purchase necessary, but the contest is only open to US residents (no P.O. box addresses, please!). You can enter once per day until 12AM on 1/11. Good luck!
Wordpress won’t allow java widgets, so you’ll have to click the link to get to the giveaway, but once you do, you can earn entries by (1) just showing up – easy entry once per day! (2) leaving a comment on this blog post (3) Subscribing to this blog! (4) Following @amongtheauthors on Twitter (5) Tweeting about the giveaway.
CLICK HERE TO ENTER – RoseBlood Giveaway

Off the Shelf: Lumberjanes, Paper Girls, & The Wicked + The Divine

We’ve almost reached the end of 2016, a rough year in general for most everyone. I don’t know about you, but by the time the holidays roll around, I usually don’t have much time to just sit, relax, and read, especially this year. Sometimes, you just have to take a break from the holiday stressors and indulge in something light. For me, that means binge-reading graphic novels in my pajamas on the weekend.

I was recently approved for my first ARC of a graphic novel but since the publisher has put an embargo out on reviews until release day, you’ll just have to wait for that review! Spoiler alert – I’m really excited about it! So since I can’t tell you about that graphic just yet, I’ve decided to tell you about three others that I spent a cozy morning marathon reading.

lumberjanes_coverLumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy

By Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson

Summary (via Goodreads)
At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

Overall Rating

I’ll keep it short and sweet since we’re trying to get through three reviews here… Lumberjanes is a great, light, funny read. You’ve got a group of girls seeking action and adventure while at this camp, and what they find is all sorts of supernatural weirdness. There’s an educational element (the girls solve anagrams, work out the Fibonacci sequence, etc.), but also lots of hilarity and funny references (the one that got me was April saying, “I could teach you, but I’d have to charge”….which immediately had me sending a picture of the panel to my BFF that I always share  “Milkshake” by Kelis jokes with). While the art in this graphic was more cartoon-y than what I normally prefer, I was more impressed with the fact that the cast of characters are representative of all body types, skin colors, and sexualities. It’s a really empowering read for young females, and I highly recommend it! 4.5/5

Add Lumberjanes to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

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Paper Girls

By Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Summary (via Goodreads)
In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Overall Rating

Paper Girls has A LOT going on. Sometimes that works to its advantage, sometimes it doesn’t. The artwork is phenomenal, and the premise is ripe with 80’s references, time travel, and strange monsters – oh my! The characters, however, left a lot to be desired. Out of the group, I can only really remember Mac’s name because there wasn’t a whole lot about them that stood out as memorable. I kept waiting for more backstory, more interesting dialogue, and a better grasp of what exactly is going on. I will probably give it another chance and try out the second volume to see if it delivers what I’m looking for, but right now my rating is standing at 3.5/5.

Add Paper Girls to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

thewickedanddivine_vol1-1

The Wicked  + The Divine: The Faust Act
By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Summary (via Goodreads)

 Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Overall Rating

Oh my gods… THIS BOOK. Instantly addictive. You won’t want to put it down, and if you’re like me, the moment you finish, you’ll immediately have to find the next one. Lucky for me, our library just recently went live with Hoopla (a free streaming service for movies, tv, ebooks, audio, and graphic novels!), and it happens to have every available issue of The Wicked + The Divine. THIS is the kind of graphic novel I’ve been looking for. Beautiful, stunning artwork. Fascinating characters. And a story line that will keep you hooked. It kept me guessing the whole way through, and it actually makes it difficult to pick a favorite character because they’re all so captivating (ok, ok…I pick Luci. Who can resist that charisma?) The mixed mythologies are a nice touch, and I can say with certainty that the rest of the series so far is just as good as the first. I can’t praise it enough. 5/5

Add The Wicked + The Divine to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

So, now that I’ve discovered the endless possibilities on Hoopla (as well as the fact that Hoopla has the rest of each of these series at my fingertips for free), you likely won’t see me around the interwebs for the rest of this year. I’ll be too busy hibernating in my blanket cave, reading as much as possible before spring…well, at least before the spring semester starts.

I’ll see you all in January with a review of a highly anticipated retelling, as well as a ‘hauntingly’ cool giveaway!

Off the Shelf: A Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

“There’s a very old expression,” Scythe Goddard told him. “To be painless is to be gainless.” He gripped Rowan warmly on the shoulder. “And I wish for you to gain much.”

Lately, life has been a little hectic, and I couldn’t be more relieved to have finally taken a relaxing little vacation. As with any vacation though, I needed something to read, and Shusterman’s Scythe definitely fit the bill. I know I’m a little behind on getting this ARC review out before the publication date (Nov. 22 – today!), but I spread it out over my trip and let myself get lost in the pages rather than racing through it to meet a deadline. Neal Shusterman writes in a way that you don’t want to miss even the smallest of details.

I have to say, I was absolutely giddy to get to review an ARC of Scythe. I discovered Neal Shusterman a few years back when I became totally engrossed by his Unwind series and the controversial themes that played out in such a dystopian setting. Shusterman is a master at crafting dystopias. Now, before you start getting all “Ugh. Dystopias are SO overdone!” – let me tell you this. These aren’t your typical post-apocalyptic YA stories about a character fighting for survival in a frightening environment created by a totalitarian government. Nope. That’s just not his style. In fact, the worlds Shusterman builds are almost ideal societies with just a small twist that make them somewhat unfavorable to the main characters. For instance, the world in which Scythe takes place, human beings have eliminated disease and freed ourselves from our own mortality, letting a virtual Cloud-on-steroids maintain our progression as a species. Scythes control overpopulation, a necessary job in this world, and a job which neither Citra nor Rowan had ever dreamed of wanting. Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? But when the act of taking two apprentices is seen as a major controversy, particularly because of their affinity towards protecting each other, it is decided that only one will be named a scythe, and the other will meet his/her end at the new scythe’s hand.

scythe

Summary (via Goodreads)
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives

Things I Liked:

I won’t lie, when I first found out that Citra and Rowan were to be forced to compete against each other for scythedom and that one of these star-crossed lovers would have to die, part of me wondered if the ending was going to be something along the lines of Hunger Games (Spoiler alert for all three of you who may not have read it), and that they’d both just end up threatening to glean themselves or something of the like. And sure, throughout the story and through both of their perspectives, they both entertain this thought. But the glorious part? That’s not what happens. I flew through the last quarter of the book, and I did not see the ending coming. Fair warning – the last line is going to be one that sticks with you well after you close the cover.

As a female reader, I generally find more in common with female main characters, but with Scythe, I somewhat flip-flopped. In the beginning, I really enjoyed Citra’s perspective and didn’t really give much thought to Rowan, or “the lettuce” as he describes himself, the unremarkable one. When they separated for training, they both face unique challenges, but Rowan truly has to confront his own beliefs and the beliefs of his mentor. Rowan became more and more intriguing to me, to the point I actually started to root for him to be the victor. The character I enjoyed most of all though was neither Citra nor Rowan. It was Scythe Curie. Why? Because that woman gave off a total Professor McGonagall vibe, and I loved every second of it. Honestly, I’d be happy to see Shusterman write an entire book devoted to her story.

It’s brutal. Really brutal. Don’t go into this expecting something light and fluffy, because you won’t find it. The gleanings are gruesome, with death being administered in a wide variety of ways, from sword to flamethrower. One thing the gleanings are NOT though is just there for shock value. These killings/gleanings stir inner ethical debates for the readers, which may have them taking sides among the scythes.

Things I Didn’t Like:

There was a big chunk in the beginning/middle where I lost my interest in the story. I persevered, because I knew Shusterman would make it worth my while, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was just a rut where not much was happening other than the apprentices being trained, which of course gave a lot more insight into their characters and some of the secondary characters, but really, not much was happening overall. The journal entries at the end of each chapter from various scythes sort of bogged down the story for me because, if they contained any pertinent information to the story line at all, the information was often revealed to the characters in other scenes anyways.

I did enjoy that the characters seemed to come from all sides of the moral spectrum, but Scythe Goddard got particularly annoying in a lot of ways. He’s obviously the “big bad”, and at times, you can see the reasoning behind his beliefs. But in a lot of ways he’s just like what The Walking Dead tv show has done to the character of Negan – made him too over the top to where he’s constantly flaunting just how much of a jerk he is. That’s Goddard, and he earned plenty of eye-rolls as I read.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I originally believed Scythe to be a standalone novel, but then about halfway through the book, I took to Goodreads to update my progress – and it turns out, I was wrong! Scythe is the first book in the Arc of a Scythe series. My curiosity is already bubbling! Will the rest of the series be about the same characters? Or will it focus on entirely new scythes? Either way, I hope to get my hands on an early copy of book two, whenever it becomes available. I feel like this is going to be another exciting series from Shusterman that everyone should keep their eyes on. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out some of his other books, particularly my favorite – Unwind.

Add Scythe to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Order via Amazon
Order via Barnes & Noble

Off the Shelf: A Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I never really had a favorite Disney princess growing up. If you ask now, I suppose I like Jasmine the most, but I just wasn’t big on princesses like most little girls. The stories that always stood out to me were ones where extraordinary things happened to ordinary people. I suppose you could say that the same is still true today.

I adore most everything Alice in Wonderland. I collect Alice coffee mugs, Alice figurines and stuffed animals, different editions of Alice, etc. I even have an Alice – Our Lady of Perpetual Wonder prayer candle made by my lovely and talented author friend Tominda Adkins, purchased by one of my best friends as an epic surprise gift for my birthday. I’m considering that design for a tattoo one day. I think it’s safe to say, I’m an Alice fan.

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Anyone who knows me, or even just anyone who reads my reviews, also happen to know that I’m a major fan of retellings. That’s why, when I heard that there would be a new Alice retelling that told the story of the Queen of Hearts, and it would be written by Marissa Meyer, I knew we’d be in for a treat. I know I can trust Marissa Meyer for a quality retelling, one that will deviate from the original and create its own rich plot. The Lunar Chronicles series is a prime example of her talents. Plus, Meyer isn’t retelling Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she’s merely borrowing this strange world and its even stranger characters and making it all her own. She takes us back to a time before Alice, before the Queen wore her crown, and gives us a look at what can truly turn a heart evil.

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RELEASE DATE: November 8, 2016
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Summary (via Goodreads)

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.
Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Things I Liked:

One of the most satisfying moments for me was a thought I had near the end of the book. I reached a certain heart-wrenching scene, and all I could think is, “Man, this is really starting to remind me of Wicked.” I mean that in the best way possible. I picked up Wicked sometime around high school and was utterly mesmerized. I remember thinking it was something so unique and wondering why there weren’t more stories that delved into the pasts of famous characters, particularly the villains. They weren’t always bad, were they? Something had to make them that way. Heartless and Wicked both show readers the depths that love and loss can affect a person’s heart, how someone innocent can easily become someone wicked, evil, or mad.

There are plenty of characters and references from the original that will delight fans, but you could also pick this book up without ever having heard of Alice or her adventures in Wonderland. Meyer presents every character in a new way. For instance, the Mad Hatter is one of my favorite characters in the original. In Heartless, he’s known as Hatta, and yes, he still makes hats, but hats with special characteristics. He’s also a character that I’m torn about my feelings for, mainly because I never knew if I could trust him or not. I thoroughly enjoyed that though, getting to see the Mad Hatter/Hatta through a new light. You’ll still get to meet sly Chesh, the bumbling King of Hearts, the nervous White Rabbit, and more, but Meyer has created a unique spin on classic characters.

Jest was the best part of this story for me. I liked Cath well enough, especially as the story went on and you see all of the expectations put on her a) for being a woman and b) for being the daughter of a Marquess. All she wants to do is open a bakery with her best friend, a dream which repeatedly gets dashed due to the sexist society she’s a part of, and you really start to feel her anxiety about her obligations to her family. Enter Jest – clever, handsome, and fun – another character that you’re not sure if you can trust, but you really don’t care because of how much you (and Cath) enjoy his presence. The part he plays in this story is beautiful, tragic, and so captivating that he’ll be on your mind long after you close the cover. Trust me, I still haven’t stopped thinking about Jest and his fellow Rook, Raven.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Cath has a really interesting ability to dream things into reality. When we very first meet Cath, she’s baking lemon tarts made with lemons from a tree which sprouted in her bedroom while she was dreaming. Incredible, right? You’d think this would be more of a major plot point, but it isn’t. Other than Cath wondering if perhaps she dreamed Jest into existence, this special talent doesn’t get much of a mention. I feel like the story could have either done completely without it or it should have played a bigger role.

Overall Rating:
4.5/5   It’s a little slow to start, but once Jest is introduced, you’ll be looking forward to him in each scene almost as much as Cath does. I think the allusions to Wicked and to Poe’s The Raven bring this tale from Wonderland to a new level. That being said, this story is going to break your heart. It will leave your emotions shattered, and at the end, you’re just going to want to curl up into a ball and curse Marissa Meyer for doing this to you. But you NEED to read this story, and part of you will feel thankful that you did – while the other part of you is bawling your eyes out in the BEST. WAY. POSSIBLE.

“I cannot tell you how I look forward to a lifetime at your side, and all the impossible things I’ll have you believing in.”

Add Heartless to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Order Heartless via Amazon
Order Heartless via Barnes & Noble

Off the Shelf: A Review of Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

Almost a year ago, I was receiving Wolf by Wolf as my first book of my Uppercase YA lit subscription box. The book really opened my eyes to something I thought I hated – alternate historical fiction. It gave me Yael, a bloodthirsty, skinshifting survivor of the death camps, and a heroine that really kept me entranced in her story. I read her story in a matter of hours one day, and I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently to find out what happens to her. Luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and by the time you read this review, you’ll hardly have to wait for the book at all! Blood for Blood will hit shelves November 1st, and here’s why you need to pick it up:

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Release date: November 1, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
There would be blood.
Blood for blood.
Blood to pay.
An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

Things I Liked:

At the end of Wolf by Wolf, we know that the whole world believes that Yael has succeeded in killing Hitler. Only the reader and Yael know that isn’t true. She’s killed a skinshifter pretending to be Hitler, rather than the man himself. So, in Blood for Blood, we are launched immediately into the heat of the action. Sprinkled in, you’ll also find flashbacks that reveal pieces of Luka and Felix’s pasts this time, showing how all of the characters had very different yet torturous upbringings that helped shape who they are in the present and gives light to their motivations. I remember being so wrapped up in Yael during Wolf by Wolf that I didn’t quite give the other characters a whole lot of thought. Now, I’m especially smitten with Luka. He’s reckless, dangerous, too ridiculously charismatic to ignore, but we also see a softer side that’s going to make the fangirls swoon.

You might recall that in my review of Wolf by Wolf, I said that I enjoyed that it wasn’t a love story. That changes in this book, and I’m actually quite happy about it. Love can be a powerful motivator, and I enjoyed watching it develop slowly at all of the right moments.

There’s one moment in particular that Yael witnesses that will stop you in your tracks. Literally. I like to walk the library stacks on my lunch hour whenever I’m in one of those crazy Fitbit challenges, so I’m usually pacing back and forth between the books carrying my Kindle out in front of me. I was reading Blood for Blood, reached the moment in the story I’m referring to, and I just had to stop. I didn’t cry, but it was like a wave of emotion washed over me. I understood why that moment needed to happen, but I can tell you one thing – I was not prepared for it. Brace yourself. This book will grab you out of nowhere and crush you…crush you like a certain character’s fingers. Just you wait and see.

I think the best way to describe Blood for Blood is INTENSE. The action never stops.  At some points, I was reminded of V for Vendetta (in a very, very good way), and I’d love it if one day we could see this story play out either in graphic or film form.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Just like with Wolf by Wolf, I’m going to struggle to find something wrong with this book because I enjoyed it so thoroughly. If I have to pick something, I’d say that some parts were somewhat predictable. I had Hitler and the skinshifters figured out pretty early and a few other small parts, but I failed to put all of the pieces together before the big reveal. That’s not even a bad thing because the choices Graudin made in telling this story made it exactly the story that I wanted to read. I think the only thing I really missed were the post its from Uppercase that gave readers access to bonus materials that helped illustrate certain plot points. I would have loved to have had those for this book, and probably for every book that I read.

Oh – I know one thing I didn’t like! It doesn’t have any bearing on the book, but it needs mentioned just in case there’s some other person out there who has this in their mind the way I did. This series will not be a trilogy! Correct me if I’m just crazy, but I distinctly remember checking Goodreads after finishing the first book and seeing that there were three books planned in the series. I had this in mind while reading Blood for Blood, and as things started to wrap up and the loose ends became tied up, all I wanted to do was scream, “No! There has to be more!”I’ve since checked Goodreads and found that Wolf by Wolf #3 no longer exists. Now, there’s just Wolf by Wolf, Blood for Blood, and Iron to Iron (a small novella that is meant to be read between the two). Am I crazy? Was I imagining a trilogy all along? Maybe so. Either way, I’m so sad that this series has come to an end. I’ll definitely be reading more from Ryan Graudin in the future.

Overall Rating:

This book deserves a solid 5/5. I gave Wolf by Wolf a 4.5/5, and this book definitely surpassed the first. Pick this series up, you won’t be sorry. It’s ready and waiting to take you on one of the most intense adventures you can experience in between the pages of a book. Don’t miss out!

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Dream Big: My Thoughts on Meeting Cat Winters

Somewhere in the depths of my drafts folder is my original review of The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. It’s nothing like the review I wrote that was printed in the local newspaper, which detailed many of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but did not discuss the plethora of personal reasons behind those feelings. My original review delved into the severe depression I’d been stuck in for some time and how I’d lost sight of myself and my passions, including reading. It was deeply personal, raw, and in the end, too uncomfortable for me to share with the world. I talked about why I found hope in Olivia Mead’s strength and resilience, her desire to be herself despite the backlash from others. I took in every word of The Cure for Dreaming slowly, carefully, as if it could help piece me back together, and in a way, I believe it did. Reading The Cure for Dreaming was the first time in a long while that I felt like a little piece of myself was restored, and I was able to block out all of the chaos happening in my life at that time and just enjoy reading. It spoke to me, told me not to let the monsters overpower my sense of self worth, and for that reason, it will always remain one of my favorite books. It took some time to put myself back together, but I treasure The Cure for Dreaming as one of the catalysts to that recovery.

The Cure for Dreaming wasn’t my first book read from Cat Winters. I discovered her thanks to her debut young adult novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I fell in love with her haunting and mysterious takes on historical fiction. Her work was inspiring, a style so fresh and unique that my most common remark was that I wished more than anything that I could write like her.

Every two years, my library hosts the Ohio River Festival of Books. When they started planning the 2016 festival, my boss asked for suggestions of authors we might want to try to contact about speaking at the festival. I don’t think she even got to finish her sentence before I was throwing out Cat Winters’s name. In all honesty, I never thought it would happen. I knew Cat lived all the way in Portland, and I didn’t think she’d want to make the trip all the way to little ol’ Huntington, West Virginia, but I thought it was worth a shot. Dreams can come true sometimes, right?

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It happened. It really, REALLY happened. October 1st, I had the pleasure of meeting Cat Winters at the Ohio River Festival of Books. I had already sort of built up in my head what she would be like just from our brief interactions on Twitter and such, but I can tell you this – She is everything I thought she would be, and so much more!

Cat talked at length about how she’d spent her entire life writing, and the struggles she faced in her journey towards publication. She’d fortunately always had the support of her family, and to further illustrate that, she introduced the audience to her parents. They had driven several hours from northern Ohio to be able to see her speak at our book festival. Her mom and dad were just as sweet and kind as their daughter, even asking for a photo of Cat and me together. Her mother was especially beaming with pride as she watched the presentation and when she later spoke with the local news about the festival. Seeing them all together made me very thankful that my family has never discouraged my interest in writing…now, if only I could stop discouraging myself!

Cat read from each of her books, discussed the history behind them, and even bribed some audience members (myself included) with chocolate from Oregon to act out two parallel scenes from Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way.

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Photo credit goes to my lovely cousin, Traci, who was in attendance to make sure I didn’t pass out from fangirling too hard.

After her presentation, Cat did a signing. I consider myself a pretty lucky girl because my boyfriend had taken the reviews I wrote for the local paper for The Cure for Dreaming and The Steep and Thorny Way and had them matted and framed. I love that I was able to have Cat sign this, as well as my copy of The Cure for Dreaming, where she wrote, “Dream big”. That phrase has been in my mind since meeting her, which was a big dream of mine in the first place, but now I’m consumed by other big dreams. Mostly, I dream of actually publishing a book of my own, to finally have my name on the cover of something I have created, to have a space on the bookshelf where anyone can find it. These are big dreams, and to make them come true, first I will actually have to finish a project. I know that my life is beyond hectic this year (see the note at the end of this post), but it will also be my fifth year as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my local region. I love National Novel Writing Month and the motivation and urge to create it sparks. While I know the likelihood of me actually busting out 50,000 words in probably my busiest month so far this year isn’t very high, I currently have two young adult projects that I’ve been going back and forth between. Hopefully, with the extra motivation from all of my local Wrimos, I’ll be able to make a considerable dent in working towards my dream.

Julie Kagawa tweeted last month saying, “Tell a writer whose book you loved that you loved it. A kind word means the world to us. #EncourageAwriter”. There was an outpouring of author-love all over Twitter, and I took this time to tell a few of my favorites what an inspiration they’ve been to me. Cat Winters was one author who I felt truly needed recognized. Open any of her books and you’ll find a wealth of research, genuine talent, and truly immersive stories. I really encourage anyone and everyone to read her books. It just might change your life. 🙂

You can find out more about Cat Winters by visiting her website: www.catwinters.com

One last thing…

You may have noticed that there’s been a pretty long stretch of time between me getting to meet Cat Winters and finally posting this (not to mention, a long time between this and my last blog post). I promise, there’s a real reason behind it, and it’s not that I’ve just been lazy.
I am incredibly thrilled to say that I’ve accepted a new job as a branch manager for one of the libraries in our system! It’s very exciting and, at the same time, very bittersweet, since I’ll be leaving behind my incredible work family in Youth Services. BUT this is definitely something I’ve dreamed of since beginning my career in libraries, and I will still be working with all of the same wonderful people, just in a different capacity! I’ve been pretty busy transitioning between the two locations and also balancing my life at home, in grad school, and my writing time, so I promise I’ll be getting back to posting regularly. I’ve been granted early access to some popular upcoming YA titles, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them! Until then, dream big!