Off the Shelf: A Review of Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell

First and foremost, I just want to thank the readers who have stuck around during my hiatus. It was really something to log in and see that there were so many visitors each day checking out my reviews even without me posting regularly. It was due to that confidence booster that I decided to upgrade a few things around the site, and I hope you like the new look! Once things calm down a bit, I’ll get back to posting regularly and more importantly READING regularly (*sigh* I can’t wait…). Now – on to the review!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately between work, my last semester of grad school, and planning a wedding, so I’ve been trying to sneak in a little stress-relief reading whenever possible. What’s my kind of stress-relief reading? Anxiety-ridden, high intensity thrillers, of course. I’ve read so many lately that I wish I had time to review them all. Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant kicked off my new year and my thriller-spree on a positive note with a creepy, dark suspense story set in my home state. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn provided the pulse-pounding rollercoaster ride I’d been looking for and quickly became one of my most recommended titles to friends and fellow Rear Window fans (seriously, read it – NOW). The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor was an impressive debut that turned the creepiness dial up to eleven. All of these were worthwhile reads in my book.

And then we have Silent Victim

A psychological thriller from former police detective Caroline Mitchell, Silent Victim was offered on KindleFirst as one of the February selections. With a summary that sounded right up my alley, I couldn’t wait till the March 1st release date, and so I jumped on getting to read it early. But did it live up to the other thrillers in my recent reading spree?

 

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Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell
Release Date: March 1, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

Emma’s darkest secrets are buried in the past. But the truth can’t stay hidden for long.

Emma is a loving wife, a devoted mother…and an involuntary killer. For years she’s been hiding the dead body of the teacher who seduced her as a teen.

It’s a secret that might have stayed buried if only her life had been less perfect. A promotion for Emma’s husband, Alex, means they can finally move to a bigger home with their young son. But with a buyer lined up for their old house, Emma can’t leave without destroying every last trace of her final revenge…

Returning to the shallow grave in the garden, she finds it empty. The body is gone.

Panicked, Emma confesses to her husband. But this is only the beginning. Soon, Alex will discover things about her he’ll wish he’d learned sooner. And others he’ll long to forget.

 

Things I Liked:

The summary sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? I won’t lie, I got giddy the first time I read it. Dark Secrets? Dead bodies? Correction: MISSING dead bodies? I’m all about this, and I want to know MORE. Enter: Emma. It doesn’t take long to figure out that we are probably working with an unreliable narrator here. Is she actually crazy or is someone just making it look like she is? I LOVE unreliable narrators, so I should probably love Emma, but I just never made the connection with her. To be completely honest, she actually annoyed me. BUT – she’s only ONE of the three POVs that this story is told from. We also journey inside the head of her husband, Alex (he had potential, but I ended up not caring for him either…he comes across a little too self serving and just as secretive as his wife) and Luke, the teacher that seduced Emma when she was a teenager. To be honest, Luke kept me reading. His chapters were creepy and uncomfortable to read, but being able to see inside such a sick mind was like a train wreck – you just couldn’t look away. Probably not the best promotion of a book to say that the best chapters are from a pedo’s POV, but I will say that it kept things interesting, especially seeing the same scenes depicted from both Emma and Luke’s POVs.

I typically try to find a few things (however small they may be) that I like in books that don’t win me over. Maybe it’s just that it has been a couple weeks since finishing this book, but I can’t quite remember much that stood out as redeeming. I at least finished the book…that’s something, right?

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

Looking through some other reviews, I feel like there’s an elephant in the room. Anyone going to talk about it? Anyone? Ok, just me then.

*SPOILER ALERT*
I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one out there who has problems with that particularly rape-y scene. So, get this… Emma is cornered by her abuser who offers to leave her alone forever, if only she will just have sex with him one more time. She even says she knows she should run, grab her phone, and call for help. But wait! An idea occurs to her – the sex will last only minutes, and it’s not like she loves Luke, so maybe some good can come of this situation! She could use her attacker as a means of impregnating herself with the child that she and her husband can’t conceive….wait….what??? Yep. You read that right. This chick is justifying her own rape. “Perhaps something good could be salvaged out of all this mess. It was not like I was being unfaithful. I loved my husband. A baby would make our marriage complete, and with Luke out of my life for good there would be nothing to threaten our happiness.”  How can you read that and NOT find it problematic? It still makes me cringe.

There were several times I wanted to just put this book down and give up. That moment in particular was almost enough to seal the deal, but at that point I had to wonder if it could get any worse (ehhh, the ending is pretty contrived, but this is the part that stands out to me as I-Want-to-Throw-this-Book-Across-the-Room-Level-Bad).  

I will also issue a word of caution for anyone who feels triggered by depictions of eating disorders. I was not prepared for that subject to come up and play such a prevalent role in Emma’s life throughout the story, and perhaps if I had known that, I would have selected a different Kindle First book. I won’t comment on how it’s portrayed, but it was a struggle for me to read those parts. Fair warning.

Overall Rating:

I guess I’m just the odd man out on this one, because as popular as it seems to be, Silent Victim was not a winner for me. I’d give it 1.5 stars, and that’s mostly because there was at least enough of a story to keep me wondering how it all would end (and boy, did I keep wishing for it to end). Spoiler alert, even the ending is disappointing. I’m sorry, folks. I just don’t get the appeal to this one. I didn’t care about any of the characters, the “twists” were eyeroll inducing, and it just really missed the mark of being suspenseful to me. The only thing killed by this book was my thriller reading spree. Oh well, guess it’s time to switch to something different…

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Off the Shelf: A Review of By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Although my reading list has stayed consistently full, Among the Authors has been on a bit of a hiatus while I finish up with grad school (the end is in sight! Come on, May!). However, an enticing email from Entangled Teen recently popped up in my inbox and promised a dark carnival story full of mystery and mayhem. Even with a growing to-do list (major life update since my last post: I’m engaged and getting married this year!), I couldn’t resist the call of the carnival. You all know how much I loved Caraval, and while I went into this thinking that By a Charm and a Curse would be similar, I found it to be nothing like Caraval, yet still a uniquely fun read.

I received an eARC from Entangled Teen in exchange for an honest review.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

 

Things I Liked:

By a Charm and a Curse is a very, VERY quick read. I picked it up and didn’t sit it back down until I was finished, only a couple of hours later. The 300 pages seemed more like half that. It’s a great book for an after-work-wind-down, when you really need something light and easy to escape the stress of the day. What better way to do that than by visiting a mysterious carnival?

The setting is a major strength to this book. It is well-written, and even though the closest thing I had to a carnival growing up was the county fair, I could clearly imagine this whimsical, enchanting circus. Speaking of circus, you might see this book compared to The Night Circus as well as Carnaval, but let me reiterate that all of these books have very different stories. They merely share a similar setting. The setting is vibrant and makes an interesting playing field for a diverse cast of performers.

Telling the story in dual points of view between the two main characters, Emma and Benjamin, was a wise choice on the part of the author. Emma was an interesting enough character, and I thought her struggles with the marionette-like transformation were uniquely creepy. Between the two of them though, I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from Benjamin’s perspective because I feel like he had a bit more depth. However, Sidney, the former Boy in the Box, easily stole the show for me. He was fun, engaging, and I wanted so much more from his character. Had the book been a little bit longer, that might have been possible.

 
Things I Didn’t Like:

There’s not much that’s surprising about By a Charm and a Curse. I think you’re meant to be shocked by the true nature of the curse, but most readers will see it coming from very early in the story. I actually was surprised by a dark and deadly moment towards the end, but unfortunately, I feel that it was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to further the plot. While the story can get predictable, there are other parts that get rather confusing, like how certain characters don’t react to things the way people normally would or they don’t ask questions that should have been obvious.


To be completely honest, after the first few pages, I was a little concerned that this was not the book that I expected it to be and that I was going to completely dislike Emma. She complains a lot about having to stay with her dad and brothers while her mother is out of the country. She’s stuck in this place that is just soooo awful and the only thing her one friend in town wants to talk about is setting her up with boys. Then, she meets a complete stranger who, after only a few moments, Emma believes completely gets her, and all she wants to do is hold hands with him and maybe kiss him (her first kiss! *gag*). It’s all a little bit eyeroll-inducing. But stick with it! I promise the story does get better from here, although even the real romance portion of the book does feel pretty rushed and without any real conflict (other than an overprotective mother).

 
Overall Rating:

I’d give By a Charm and a Curse a solid three stars. This book is a fun escape, and one that can be easily read in one afternoon or evening. The premise is intriguing and the setting full of whimsy. The cast of characters, while sometimes lacking in depth, are memorable and add to the mystery of the carnival itself. Although it will leave you wishing it was a little longer, it’s a fairly impressive debut for Jaime Questell, and it makes me look forward to the possibilities of what she may write in the future.

Off the Shelf: A Review of Ash & Quill by Rachel Caine

First off, let me tell you how much I NEEDED this book. In May, I finished what can only be called The Worst Semester of Grad School in all of Time and Space. I would have never thought it possible for one semester, or even just one class for that matter, to break my spirit so severely… but it happened. I reached a point in these last several months that not only did I (1) not have time to read for pleasure, BUT (2) on the rare occasions when there was time to read, I was too tired to even pick up a book. I was a mess, and I needed a little time off to recover. So, I am THRILLED to make my return to reviewing with such a stellar book from a series that happens to rank among my all-time favorites.  I received an advance copy of Ash & Quill from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, and I honestly can’t tell you enough that you need to pick up the rest of the Great Library series before book three hits the shelves!

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RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

My Reviews of the Rest of the Series
Book 1 – Ink & Bone
Book 2 – Paper & Fire

THINGS I LIKED:
If, like me, you are obsessed with all things Great Library, you probably already know that the series has been expanded to be five books instead of three. I found this out shortly before beginning to read Ash & Quill, so it definitely changed some of my expectations. The ending is one that you will never see coming, and one that gives me very high hopes for the rest of the series.

One of the things I loved most about this book? KHALILA. I said in my review of Paper & Fire that Glain and Khalila were quickly becoming my favorite characters, and they definitely didn’t disappoint this go around. Khalila especially. She is so strong, resilient, and level headed. Jess makes for an interesting enough main character, but part of me would really love to see some of this story through Khalila’s eyes. Fingers crossed that maybe one day Rachel Caine will write a short story on Wattpad from Khalila’s POV…

The characters are what really make this series come alive (a close second is the vivid alternate reality established by such richly detailed settings), and I think this book really builds on who each of them are and how they respond to having no safe place left to run.  This book really reminded me why I’d initially liked Thomas, caused me to reconsider how I felt about Dario, and gave me further reason to celebrate Santi and Wolfe. Oh, and Brendan! I mentioned in my review of the second book how much I was really starting to enjoy his character and how I hoped to see more of him in the next book, and I’m thrilled at the role he played in this part of the story.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
Ever find it hard to pick out the things you didn’t like when it’s a series that you really love? I feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but at the end of Paper & Fire, I was so stoked that our little band of rebels would be heading to America in book three. We get an excellent look into the lifestyle of the Burners in Philadelphia and how the Great Library treats them, but I almost wish our crew had been able to spend a little more time in America, perhaps outside of Philadelphia, just so we could see more of what America would be like under the rule of the Great Library.

You do also have to keep in mind that this book now marks the midpoint of the series, not the conclusion like you may have originally thought. With it being the midpoint, there’s a lot of setup going on. While I feel like a lot DID happen in this book and there’s certainly moments with a LOT of action, I didn’t feel like I was on the edge of my seat as much as with the other books in the series so far. That is, until the ending… The fourth book is sure to drop us headfirst into the heart of danger, and I simply cannot wait.

OVERALL RATING:

5/5 It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get around to writing this review, but the story itself has remained stuck in my head. There are now only a few short days until its arrival on shelves (and there’s still time to preorder!). Ash & Quill really expands on the world of the Great Library and the characters we have come to love (or hate!). At times, I feel like it lost the pacing I had loved about the first two books, but it ultimately redeems that by setting up the rest of the series for unimaginable twists and turns. It’s a great continuation that has me truly dreading the wait for the next book.

 

Add Ash & Quill to your To Be Read shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order from Fleur Fine Books for a signed copy!

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The signed poster Rachel Caine sent to me for my new office (after one of the coolest Twitter interactions I’ve ever had, thus, reaffirming to me why Twitter is the best place on the web to interact with authors). I like to hang all sorts of memorabilia from authors that inspire me in my office. Advertising The Great Library within a library – Libraryception? XD

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.

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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
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Off the Shelf: A Review of We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash

I picked up a copy of BookPage this week at the library, and in it, someone had reviewed We Know it was You. You could tell from the review that the author wasn’t such a fan but was trying to spin the review on a positive note. The part that stuck out to me most was that, when reading We Know it was You, you may find that “the satire may not resonate with all readers”. I’m not sure if that was meant to be an understatement, but I can tell you one thing, nothing about this book actually resonated with me, and that’s including the satire.

I received an ARC of We Know it was You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I emphasize “honest” here because as much as I WANTED to like this book, I just didn’t, and I think it’s important to discuss why.

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Release Date: October 4, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.

Things I Liked:
It’s a fast read. Something moderately lighthearted that you can read quickly in a matter of hours. I had a night where I couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked this one up and had it finished well before my alarm for work went off. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, I can say that you will want to follow through to the end, just to solve the mystery.

Things I Didn’t Like:
First off, I didn’t like ANY of the characters. They are so offensively stereotypical that it was just painful to read about them. You’ve got your gossip, your socially awkward Jew, your jocks, your cheerleaders, your strange foreigners, etc. And guess what? None of their actions make any sense whatsoever. Was there a real motivation for any of them? If there was, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it was buried somewhere under all of the irritatingly pointless plot lines. I really thought at first that I was just irked because they sounded like annoying high schoolers. I thought, well, I sounded pretty annoying when I was in high school. But NO. It’s just that the author is forcing so many cliched tropes down your throat that the whole story is hard to digest.

Second, and this is the part we really need to talk about – I am so grossly offended by the way the topic of rape is treated in this story. If you’re looking for a book that spreads an unhealthy message about rape and sexual assault, well, you’ve found it. I won’t spoil all of the details, but I was actually intrigued that a book finally tackled the subject of a female rapist. That intrigue didn’t last long. Whenever it’s discovered that a character is essentially being raped, it’s like everyone just brushes it off as no big deal. No, we shouldn’t report that to authorities. No, the abuser shouldn’t be punished – she’s so pretty and rich! Let’s just keep her victim in the dark and do nothing about it. I’m sure that will work out just fine. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! No. Just no.

Speaking of problematic sexual scenes, I think I almost lost my cool over one scene in particular. *SPOILER WARNING*
At one point, a secondary character…someone who really doesn’t do much in the story overall…sits in his car with a bayonet in one hand and is masturbating with his other hand. Yes, it’s graphic from start to ‘finish’. No, it did not add ANYTHING to the story. I’m still clueless as to why it was included. What purpose did it serve to the story? I don’t think it had one. I feel like the author included it solely for the shock value, thinking that sexually frustrated teenagers are going to think this story is automatically ‘cool’ because it included some detailed masturbation. Trust me though, the descriptions are cringe-worthy at best.

My biggest problem with this book though? Nothing gets resolved. The killer rides off into the sunset, never to be punished. Another victim will never see justice for being raped. Law enforcement is never informed – actually, no, worse than that. Law enforcement is INTENTIONALLY not informed. Not even when one of the main characters sits in a cop’s car just shortly after uncovering a child pornography ring. Does she tell the police about it? Nope! That might somehow impede the work of her teen detective club. I’m sorry, but that was just ridiculous.

Overall Rating:
According to Goodreads, this is going to be a series. I somehow doubt it though, because although nothing was resolved at the end, it had a certain sense of finality to it.  Either way, if there is a sequel, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.
Some books can make you uncomfortable and challenge you in an exceptionally good way. This is not one of those books. It just leaves you uncomfortable, and that’s it. I’m giving it a 1.5 on the sole fact that I actually wanted to finish it and see how it all turned out. Disappointing as it was, it was a quick (although not painless) distraction.
I’m still not sure if it was really meant to be satire, or if that’s just what people are going to say to defend it. Me? I love satire. I did not love this.

Add We Know it was You to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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Off the Shelf: A Review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I just could not finish this book. That’s not something I say often. It’s very rare that I can’t even force myself through to the end, but that was absolutely the case with one of my most anticipated books of 2016, Three Dark Crowns. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I began reading that ARC July 2, and it’s now the end of September. I’ve lost count of how many times I tried to start over and give the book another chance, but it’s just not working for me, so instead of doing my usual kind of review (things I liked, things I didn’t like, overall rating), I’m going to talk about why exactly this book was such a struggle for me.

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Release Date: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

 

Why it Didn’t Work:

I think my biggest problem with this text was the point of view. It’s told in present tense but the POV is third person omniscient. There’s a lot of head hopping, and I don’t just mean between the three sisters. In any given scene, you’re getting insights into the minds of all the secondary characters as well, and trust me, there are a LOT of secondary characters. From a writer’s standpoint, it was all “telling” and not enough “showing”. It’s unfortunate, but I often found myself far more interested in some of the secondary characters rather than any of the sisters. I never really got a true sense of the characters, and they all sort of became interchangeable to me. I worried that the point of view was just something that confusing to only me, but I let a fellow librarian take a look at a small excerpt to see how she’d react, and I believe the exact words were, “How are you even supposed to read that?!” It’s difficult to keep track of where the story is going. I’m sure for some there will be no problem at all, but now that I’ve given up and looked at the reviews from fellow bloggers, I can see I’m not alone in my confusion. I anticipate this being a big reason other readers will have to mark this one DNF.

The premise gives us promises of a bloody battle and deceit between sisters, but really, there’s not much of anything going on. The story bounces around from one training session to the next, which isn’t exactly the dark game of life or death that I had been so looking forward to. Mostly we just get two sisters lamenting about the fact that their powers are nonexistant and the other sister just sitting around making some nasty weather. That’s about it. No real excitement. Nobody getting their hands dirty. Nobody really making me care whether they live or die.

I made it over a quarter of the way through this book before I absolutely had to give up and just mark it as “did not finish”. It’s disappointing, to say the least, because when a book is really, really good, I finish it in a matter of hours. Three months and multiple attempts later, I just couldn’t make this one happen. I think that speaks volumes.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-by-jessica-cluess
RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

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