Off the Shelf: A Review of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

There are two things out of the ordinary about this review:
1) It’s not a Young Adult book.
2) It’s not a new or upcoming release.

So why would I write a review about a thriller that was released in 2006? Because I’m late to the party, and I simply can’t stop recommending it to everyone I come in contact with.

Let me start by saying this – I have always assumed Gillian Flynn was a hack. I tend to avoid books or authors that get a lot of hype because too often they end up being a disappointment. I watched the movie of Gone Girl and wasn’t impressed; however, I do remember thinking “this probably made a better book”. Even if it did make a better book, I still didn’t plan on reading it. Didn’t seem like the sort of book I’d be into. Then, my best friend (who also expected Flynn to be some over-hyped hack) picked up Sharp Objects on a whim and immediately had to recommend it, saying that it was a must read and that the author’s writing was vastly better than what she had imagined. She was so surprised by how much she liked it, that she actually wanted to read all of Flynn’s other works as well. “Meh,” I thought, “Maybe I’ll read it if I get some time.” Knowing full well that my to-be-read list was and is getting a little out of hand. Then, by chance, I stopped by a warehouse book sale while out of town, and Sharp Objects became one of several books purchased that day. It looked fairly short, and we had a long drive home, so I figured why not?

I was pages away from finishing the book by the time we got home.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

 

Things I Liked:
At the most recent meeting of my writing group, I recommended this book as one of the best books I’ve read recently in regards to characterization. I was almost worried at how easy it was to slip into the mind of Camille Preaker, which is a rather dark and unsettling place to be. She will leave you feeling raw, having experienced the unravelling of both the mysteries behind the murders and Camille’s own secrets. And it’s not just Camille that is a crystal clear character. This was one of the books where you can easily see it play out like a movie (and I believe it is starting filming for a tv series this year), and I couldn’t help but cast a few of the characters in my head. My personal cast would have included Ellie Kemper as Camille, Jessica Walter as her mother, and Dakota Fanning as Amma (Camille’s sister). While two of the three mostly do comedic roles, for some reason they just fit the image of what I wanted the characters to look like. I’d love to hear who you think fits each role!

You might be waiting for me to tell you about some positive, uplifting thread to this story.  Instead, I’ll caution you that, if you’re looking for something happy, look elsewhere. There’s really no place for it in this book, and I think if the author had tried to add anything positive it would have felt forced and out of place. For example, a lot of mysteries and thrillers might include a romance to lighten things up. While there is a little bit of flirtation and sex in Sharp Objects, through Camille’s eyes it feels more like she’s using the other person – whether it’s for information or just a momentary bit of comfort. If you’re like me and enjoy a truly dark and disturbing read, this book will definitely live up to that.

Things I Didn’t Like:
The only thing that I disliked is that there’s a bit of a time jump at the end that feels disjointed from the rest of the story. The big reveal comes in two parts, and it’s obvious that time needed to pass between the two events. Unfortunately, once the author makes the time jump, her writing becomes a bit choppy, as if she’s racing through the ending, tossing out details, and trying to make the big reveal come full circle. I enjoyed the ending immensely, but this is one part of the story where I found the author’s writing to be a bit lacking.

Overall Rating:
5/5 I finished this book a month ago, and I have a million reviews I need to be writing right now for ARCs I’ve received. Instead, I HAD to tell you about this one. That’s how you’re going to feel when you close the final page – like you need to talk to someone about this book. I find myself still thinking about all of the complexities to the story and just how much I truly enjoyed Flynn’s writing style. I would go so far as to say that this is the best book that I’ve read so far this year, and having already read a couple other Gillian Flynn titles in the month after reading Sharp Objects, I’d be willing to say that Sharp Objects is her best work overall.

Add Sharp Objects to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

When I scroll through ARCs that are available to request, I often find myself getting into the bad habit of looking specifically for authors that I have already read. I like the familiar territory, especially if I really enjoyed a previous book by that author. The unfortunate part of that is that I often overlook some rather stunning reads because I didn’t give them a chance. I am so thankful that when it came to Wild Beauty, I didn’t pass it by. I’ve never read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, which caused a brief hesitation, but there’s something about covers with whimsical silhouettes that tends to catch my eye. See how stunning the cover for Wild Beauty is? Take a look at the covers for some of her other work, such as The Weight of Feathers and When the Moon was Ours. They might say not to judge a book by its cover, but I believe that a beautiful cover can spark your curiosity. Without a doubt, Wild Beauty is certainly the kind of book that you are going to want to know more about.

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RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
Summary (via Goodreads)
Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Things I Liked:
I have a confession – I don’t know the first thing about flowers, other than how NOT to keep them alive. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, and to be honest, I’m shocked that the petunias and marigolds I planted at the beginning of summer haven’t shriveled up and died yet. Within the first few pages of Wild Beauty, you will realize that Anna-Marie McLemore takes flowers very seriously – this chick knows her stuff! Of course, my first reaction to this was Uh-Oh…I’m in trouble. If I can’t get a clear picture of what is happening, then I start to lose interest. Didn’t happen here though! The author’s writing is so rich in description even flowers that I’d never heard of were blooming in my mind. The gardens of La Pradera are the primary setting, and they provide a vivid landscape on which the lives of the Nomeolvides women depend.

Another plus to this book is its representation of diverse sexualities. It seems like the Young Adult genre has been especially lacking in regards to LGBT characters. Wait, that’s not entirely true…what I mean is that it has lacked LGBT characters who aren’t just stereotypes.  Or ones that only serve as a plot device and ultimately just end up getting killed off. Annoying, right? It’s also a real problem when you’ve got LGBT youth looking for representations of themselves in what they are reading, only to find themselves hidden in the background, never out front. Wild Beauty delivers a cast of characters which are mostly all bisexual. The five cousins are all bisexual, some of the mothers and grandmothers are bisexual, and there’s also a genderqueer character that quickly became one of my favorite characters of the entire book. If you’re looking for more of this kind of representation in YA, Wild Beauty is the book for you, and I applaud McLemore’s dedication to researching and providing accurate representations.

Wild Beauty is a mix of Latino folklore and magical realism, but the aspect I enjoyed most was how the threads of each family’s history were all braided together in the most unexpected ways. I found myself being more and more drawn to Fel and the mysteries behind his sudden appearance in the garden. As his past started to come to light, I felt my heart breaking for him. He considered himself undeserving of the kindness and affection he received from the Nomeolvides women, especially that of Estrella. I adored this pairing, from getting to see Estrella’s conflicting emotions towards Fel and another character, to just how much Fel truly adored her. I’m not normally one for a whole lot of romance, and the author isn’t very heavy handed with it in this regard, but I did find myself racing through the pages to see how this relationship would play out.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve probably said it a million times before, but what really gets me hooked on any book are the characters. I need fully-formed, flesh and blood characters that simply feel REAL. Unfortunately, with such a large cast of characters (the five cousins, their five mothers, their five grandmothers, Fel, Bay and her family, and many others), characterization falls a little short. Sure, some of those characters are meant to hang in the background and not all of them really have a part to play in the story, and I get that. I had a pretty decent mental portrait of Estrella, Fel, and Bay (and I totally adored all three). What I found to be especially tough though was keeping all of the cousins straight in regards to their names and ages. Maybe it’s just me, but mostly they all just started to blur together in my mind, which could get pretty confusing at times.

Overall Rating:

If the characters (other than Estrella, Fel, and Bay) had been a little more distinguishable, this book would have been a home run for me. I’m giving it a 4/5, and might even go so far as a 4.5/5. I find myself still reflecting on this beautiful story even weeks after I have finished reading it. I look forward to its publication so that I can start getting it into the hands of other readers who I know will be just as drawn in by the magic of the Nomeolvides women. This book definitely has me considering picking up some of the author’s other books, and if I ever get a chance to review another Anna-Marie McLemore title, I won’t even hesitate!

Add Wild Beauty to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places.” 
― Anna-Marie McLemore, Wild Beauty

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 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: 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 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.”

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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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