Saturday, March 31, 2018

Heartfelt Southern Romance Authentically Messy and Satisfying

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Living with her mother has been a blessing for 21-year-old Shandi Pierce as she tries to finish college and raise her young son on her own.  As reluctant as she is to leave the only home she's ever known, Shandi knows it's time.  She needs to be closer to the GSU campus in Atlanta and her brilliant boy needs the kind of education that can't be had in the small town where they now live.  While she tries to stay out of her parents' bitter post-divorce battles, this time Shandi's father has made her an offer she can't refuse—a condo in the city.  It's far enough away to allow her and her 3-year-old some independence, but also close enough for little Nathan to visit both of his maternal grandparents often.  As much as she will miss her mother, Shandi knows making this move is the right thing to do.

She doesn't get very far away, however, before disaster strike.  A gas station robbery turns ugly, trapping Shandi, Nathan, and several others inside the mini-mart with a very agitated gunman.  It's a strange place for romance, but Shandi can't help but fall hard for the handsome stranger who bravely steps between Nathan and a loaded gun.  The alarming incident may be over, but Shandi's relationship with William Ashe is just beginning.  Although the 33-year-old geneticist is haunted by an aching loss and watched like a hawk by his disapproving bulldog of a best friend, Shandi's determined to make him hers.  She's willing to fight for her unexpected hero, even if it means embracing someone else's love story instead of her own.

I've enjoyed several of Joshilyn Jackson's heartfelt Southern novels and this one, Someone Else's Love Story, is no exception.  It's not my favorite of those I've read, but I still found the story authentic, touching, and realistically messy.  The characters are sympathetic, their challenges compelling.  While none of them get neat, perfect endings, the novel still feels satisfying.  Yes, I could have done with a less sexed-up, more PG-13 version, but all in all, I liked this one.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Joshilyn Jackson novels, especially The Almost Sisters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Before I Let You Go Heartbreaking And Compelling

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Lexie Vidler will never forgive herself for leaving her younger sister behind the night she escaped from the Exclusive Brethren's enclave.  The cult had ensnared their mother, its leader becoming the girls' stepfather.  Tired of the strict, oppressive lifestyle that threatened to take away the educational opportunities she craved, Lexie fled at 16.  Unable to take 12-year-old Annie with her, Lexie abandoned her sister.  It was a monstrous crime, one Lexie has tried everything to make up for over the last two decades.  

At 34, Lexie works as a general practice physician.  Engaged to Sam—a kind, handsome surgeon— she's poised to finally achieve the safe, stable life she's been seeking since childhood.  Annie's life has gone in the opposite direction.  Despite constantly bailing her out, sheltering her, and paying for rehab, Lexie can't force Annie to ditch the drugs to which she's addicted and get her life together.  In order to save her own sanity, she's had to step back, keeping her distance from the train wreck that is her baby sister.

In spite of everything, when Lexie receives a frantic middle-of-the-night phone call from Annie, she and Sam rush to her side. Although she's skeletal and still jittery from her last hit, Annie's also pregnant and in danger of going into pre-term labor.  Knowing she could be arrested for chemical endangerment and that her baby will no doubt be taken from her, she begs Lexie and Sam not to hospitalize her.  With little choice in the matter, the two doctors set in motion a chain of events that will change all of their lives forever. 

Available April 3, 2018, Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer is an intimate, heartbreaking novel about a family in crisis.  The characters at its center are complex, flawed, and very human.  I felt for all the Vidler women, each of whom is sympathetic in her own way.  Learning more about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) made me feel most keenly for the fictional baby in this story who represents all the real children born to drug-addicted mothers.  While Rimmer's portrayal of this crisis is realistic, it's also compassionate and hopeful.  Even still, Before I Let You Go is not a happy novel.  It's a tough, depressing read, one that will touch your heart as surely as it breaks it.  Overall, I found it to be absorbing and affecting, an important book that calls attention to a devastating problem that affects an alarming number of innocent children and their families. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, depictions of drug abuse, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Before I Let You Go from the generous folks at Graydon House via those at Little Bird Publicity.  Thank you!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hawaiian Home Front Comes to Life in New WWII Novel

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A Minnesota farm girl raised by stern, emotionless parents, Violet Iverson never dreamed she would someday end up living on the lush, exotic island of Hawaii.  When a whirlwind romance leads to a one-way ticket to the Big Island and a marriage proposal, she takes a chance and goes.  A decade later, warm, gentle Hawaii feels more like home than cold, grim Minnesota ever did.  Violet's been happy in Honoka'a, where she teaches at the high school and lives on its campus among friends who feel like family.  Recently, however, war has brought unwelcome change to the small town, including rationing, air-raid drills, and the unexplained disappearance of Violet's husband, Herman.  Although it's been a year since he vanished, no one can say whether Honoka'a High's former principal is alive or dead.  Violet thinks her daughter, 10-year-old Ella, knows something about her father's disappearance, but the girl won't admit to it no matter how hard Violet prods.   

When Honoka'a suddenly becomes overrun with soldiers training for a special mission, Violet and her friends decide to earn some extra cash by opening a pie stand near the military base.  With suspicion swirling in the sultry island air, the women soon find themselves accused of spying for the enemy.  Their Japanese friends are also being targeted.  Desperate to clear all of their good names, Violet relies on a handsome Marine to help her find out what really happened to her husband.  Exposing secrets is dangerous business, as she soon discovers.  With danger all around, can Violet solve a mystery, save her friends, and keep her daughter safe?  

I haven't read many World War II novels set entirely on American soil, so I was immediately interested when I heard about Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.  Inspired by the experiences of the author's grandparents—who lived in Honoka'a during World War II and hosted many soldiers in their home while the men were at Camp Tarawa before shipping out for Iwo Jima and Saipan—the novel offers a vivid setting and an intriguing story.  Ackerman's prose isn't quite as dynamic, as it's a bit stiff and more tell than show.  Her characters aren't all that memorable either, although they're likable enough.  Overall, though, I ended up liking Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers.  I didn't love it like I wanted to, but I enjoyed the read overall.

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dual-Timeline Southern Ghost Story An Enjoyable, Moving Read

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Nothing could take a devoted desert conservationist away from her beloved Arizona—except for true love.  Marielle never intended to fall for someone who doesn't live locally, but that's what happened when she accidentally met Carson Bishop online.  Despite their quick courtship, she's thrilled to be marrying the 40-year-old widower and becoming stepmom to his two young children.  She's not quite as pumped about moving into Holly Oak, Carson's first wife's ancestral mansion in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It's a beautiful, stately home steeped in history, and the only one the kids have ever known.  Hudson and Brette will inherit Holly Oak when its current owner dies.  Until then, the children will continue living there with Carson and his new wife.  Undaunted by the salacious Civil War ghost stories that surround the old estate, Marielle's a little more concerned about its living relic—Carson's 89-year-old grandmother-in-law, Adelaide McClane.  Marielle and her new family will be the intimidating old lady's house guests until she passes. 

With little else to occupy her mind while her husband works in D.C. and her stepchildren are at school, Marielle decides to investigate Holly Oak's (alleged) resident ghost.  Sullied by rumors that she worked as a spy for the North, Susannah Page was branded a traitor to her Southern roots.  Does the old apparition seek vengeance by cursing her female ancestors?  Considering the fates of all the women connected to Holly Oak, a place which seems "stuck in a strange limbo of regret" (24), it certainly seems so.  Good thing the mansion's newest resident doesn't believe in ghosts.  Or does she?

A Sound Among the Trees (2011) is one of Susan Meissner's older novels, but one whose premise especially appeals to me.  Give me a mysterious old home brimming with tragedy, ghosts and family secrets and I'm one happy reader!  While this one didn't turn out to be my favorite of this type of novel (Kate Morton is the queen of this genre, in my [not so] humble opinion), I still enjoyed it.  With a rich, atmospheric setting and a compelling plot, it was easy to get absorbed in the tale.  True, the characters are a little blah, but their problems still interested me.  Overall, A Sound Among the Trees tells a beautiful story about redemption, resilience, and making peace with the past.  It's a clean, moving read that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys dual-timeline novels set in the American South.

(Readalikes:  The structure/style remind me of other dual-timeline novels by Susan Meissner as well as books by Kate Morton)

Grade:

      
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and brief, non-graphic references to sex and rape

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, March 23, 2018

Force of Nature A Riveting Follow-Up in An Increasingly Intriguing New Series

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Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Force of Nature, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Dry.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

No one at BaileyTennants is excited about spending the weekend team-building in the backwoods of the Giralang Ranges.  Too bad they don't have a choice.  If they want to keep their jobs, they'll have to suck it up and suffer through it without complaint.  

Separated from the men's team, five female co-workers enter the forest with little guidance as to how to rough it out in the wild.  With provisions spaced between camping spots that are miles apart and no cell phone service, the women soon realize they're way out of their depth.  Already simmering with pent-up tension, the group's emotions boil over when they find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods.  When they finally find their way back, only four remain.  What has happened to 45-year-old Alice Russell?  Did she stumble off a path somewhere in the wilderness?  Or has something much more sinister happened?

Aaron Falk, an agent with the Federal Police in Melbourne, presumes the latter.  Not because he's cynical but because he received a garbled S.O.S. message from Alice just before she disappeared.  He can't be sure exactly what he heard, only that it's sinister enough for Falk to join the investigation.  Along with his new partner, 38-year-old Carmen Cooper, he travels to the Giralang Ranges to help search for Alice and question the women with whom she was hiking.  What he uncovers is a chilling web of secrets that gives every one of Alice's co-workers a motive for killing her.  Did one of them ensure she would never make it out of the woods alive?  In a case that's growing more complicated by the second, Falk may never know ...

I really enjoyed The DryJane Harper's atmospheric debut—so naturally I was excited to read the next book in the series, Force of Nature.  Like its predecessor, the novel offers a rich setting, complex characters, and a twisty mystery.  Falk continues to be an understated hero who's likable because of his compassion and commitment to his job.  His partner is also an intriguing character, who will no doubt blossom in forthcoming books.  While I appreciated Force of Nature's tautly-constructed plot, I—like other readers—found it a little implausible that a group of inexperienced hikers/campers would be sent off into a forbidding forest without any kind of emergency equipment.  Other than that, though, I found myself completely convinced and absorbed by this compelling novel about the secrets we keep even from the people we see every day.

(Readalikes:  The Dry by Jane Harper)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Force of Nature from the generous folks at Macmillan via those at NetGalley.  Thank you! 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Eerie, Atmospheric Literary Thriller a Shivery Gothic Tale

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"They were trapped here at Idlewild.  But Idlewild wasn't everything.  It wasn't the world" (168).

Idlewild Hall—"the boarding school of last resort ... where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls" (16)—is made for teens like Cece Frank, Roberta Greene, and Sonia Gallipeau.  Each hiding their own dark secret, the three become roommates in 1950 at the cold, isolated institution.  Although none of them are thrilled about being stuck in such a grim place, they find comfort in their newfound friendship.  Like hundreds of Idlewild girls before them, they swap shivery stories about Mary Hand, the veiled ghost whose unsettled spirit haunts the school garden where her baby is rumored to be buried.  None of them doubt her existence—they've all felt her dark, menacing presence.  When one of the roommates disappears without a trace, the others can't help but wonder if she's been a victim of an apparition hungry for revenge.

Forty-four years later, the body of 20-year-old Deb Sheridan is discovered on Idlewild's long-abandoned campus.  Her death by strangulation is clearly the work of human hands, most likely those of her boyfriend, who's convicted and imprisoned for the crime.  Despite getting closure, the tragedy breaks the Sheridan family.  Two decades later, Fiona still can't shake the feeling that something wasn't right about her sister's case.  When she learns that an anonymous benefactor is restoring Idlewild Hall, it stirs up her old feelings of unease.  Desperate to find out what really happened to Deb, Fiona launches her own investigation under the guise of writing a magazine article about the reopening of Idlewild Hall.  To find answers, she'll have to confront the school's many ghosts and battle the sinister forces that haunt not just Idlewild, but her own tortured past.

I have a long-standing rule about not reading creepy books while my husband is out of town.  So, even though I made the mistake of starting The Broken Girls by Simone St. James right before a planned trip, I promised myself I'd read something else until his return.  As much as I tried to distract myself with a lighter, less nightmare-inducing novel, though, I couldn't do it!  Scary dreams be darned, I could not look away from this gripping story about ghosts and girls and their ghoulish secrets.  Atmospheric and eerie, The Broken Girls is a tense, absorbing novel that will keep you guessing throughout.  Even though the ending felt a little rushed and anticlimactic to me, overall, I enjoyed this haunting—but ultimately hopeful—story about righting past wrongs.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Carol Goodman, especially The Ghost Orchid and Arcadia Falls)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Broken Girls from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Historical Hollywood Novel Gripping and Glamorous

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When Christine McAllister, owner of a chic vintage clothing shop in Hollywood, receives a donated movie prop, she's stunned.  How did Scarlet O'Hara's iconic hat end up in her hands instead of in a film museum?  There has to be a story there.  As Christine hunts for answers, she uncovers a tale as rich and intriguing as any she's seen on the big screen ...

It's 1938 and employees of Selznick International Pictures are scurrying to produce a film of epic proportions.  Sure to be a major hit, Gone With the Wind must be perfect, with every detail flawlessly executed.  Desperate to escape her debutante life in Alabama, 22-year-old Violet Mayfield accepts a secretarial position at the studio and is thrown right into the intoxicating whirlwind of Hollywood glitz and glam.  Her roommate, Audrey Duvall, is a promising but aging actress who, at 30, is desperate to land a significant part in a real movie.  In the meantime, the entrancing beauty appoints herself Violet's mentor, teaching the newcomer the ins and outs of life in Tinseltown.  

While Violet's aims are different from Audrey's ambitions, they're just as encompassing.  As the years pass and their dreams seem in danger of dying, both women will do things of which they're not proud in order to get what they want.  The consequences of those decisions will echo throughout their lives, changing their focus, their friendship, and their futures.  

I enjoy Susan Meissner's quiet, compelling novels and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is no exception.  Since I always seem to prefer the past sections in a dual timeline story, this one especially appeals because only about 10% of it takes place in the present.  With its magical setting and complex characters, the 1938 tale is absorbing enough on its own.  Meissner's vivid storytelling brings the hustle and bustle of a Hollywood studio to life, with fascinating historical details to make it even more intriguing.  I found myself easily wrapped up in the setting, the characters, and the plot in this engrossing novel about the lengths to which we'll go to get what we want.

(Readalikes:  I haven't read many novels about Hollywood/the film industry, so I'm not sure what to compare Stars Over Sunset Boulevard to plot-wise.  Stylistically, of course, it's similar to Susan Meissner's other dual timeline novels.)

Grade:

      
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

TTT: Spring Has Sprung On Mt. TBR


Considering that March 20th is the official first day of Spring, it makes sense that today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is:  Top Ten Books on my Spring TBR List.  These seasonal lists are my favorite as I always get tons of great reading recommendations from my fellow bloggers.  Not that I actually need any more books on ole Mt. TBR ... 

If you want to play along (and you really should), head on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read a few simple instructions, create your own list, and spend some happy hours clicking all over the book blogosphere.  It's a great way to discover new blogs to love, revisit favorites, build up your TBR pile, and have a good ole time talking books.  What could be more fun? 

Alright, here we go with my Top Ten Books on my Spring TBR List:   


1.  Dread Nation by Justina Ireland—This zombie/alternate history YA novel is one of my most anticipated releases of 2018.  I was lucky enough to win an ARC of the book from the fabulous and always generous Mindy McGinnis.  It showed up yesterday and I can't wait to dig in!  If you don't read McGinnis' blog or follow her on social media, you really should.  The YA writer is always hosting low-entry giveaways for great books.


2.  The Lost Family by Jenna Blum (available June 5, 2018)—Although Blum's newest doesn't come out until summer, there's an ARC on its way to me as we speak.  I loved the author's previous two novels and can't wait to read her newest, which concerns an Auschwitz survivor's battle to banish the ghosts of his past.


3.  Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon (available May 8, 2018)—This YA novel about a teen who is sent to live with her park ranger sister at Yosemite and the adventures she has when she falls in with a group of rock climbers, sounds interesting.


4.  Along the Indigo by Elsie Chapman—Out today, this one is about a teen's desire to escape the grim life for which she feels destined.  It sounds gritty and compelling.  


5.  Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany Schmidt (available May 1, 2018)—This YA novel about a girl whose bookish crushes start coming to life just sounds fun.


6.  Beyond the Green by Sharlee Glenn (available October 2, 2018)—Although this MG novel doesn't come out until Fall, I'm really, really looking forward to reading it.  It's about a girl whose big Mormon family fosters a baby from the Ute tribe—and what happens when the child's birth mother decides she wants her back.  


7.  The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati—I find the Gilded Age a fascinating time period, so I bought this family saga recently because it sounds intriguing.


8.  A Batter of Life and Death by Ellie Alexander—I've been trying to find lighter novels that satisfy my constant craving for mysteries without giving me nightmares.  I think this series is going to fit the bill nicely.  I just finished the first, Meet Your Baker, and am looking forward to this one, the second.


9.  Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson—After loving Almost Sisters, I've been wanting to read more of this author's heartfelt Southern novels.


10.  The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White (available March 27, 2018)—White's books are similar in setting and theme to Joshilyn Jackson's, but they're more gentle and less R-rated.  This one, about a divorce√© whose new start in Georgia isn't going so well, sounds interesting.    

What do you think?  Do we have any books in common?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think of them?  What will you be reading this Spring?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor.      

Happy TTT!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Cyrano de Bergerac-ish Romance a Swoony Tale About Never Judging a Book By Its Cover

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Although she's yet to be swept up in a whirlwind romance with the Mr. Darcy of her fondest dreams, Greta Elliott still lives a life that's pretty darn idyllic.  The 24-year-old loves her job as an assistant librarian at the old library where she's worked since she was a teen.  She adores Will Marshall, her thoughtful, generous BFF.  And, despite her mother's constant wheedling, the woman is always there when Greta needs her.  

When Greta meets a gorgeous man in the poetry section, she thinks her life is finally complete.  Mackay "Mac" Sanders might be a lowly coffee shop manager, but he's got the face of a cover model and the soul of a poet.  His romantic texts make her heart thrum.  So what if he's less eloquent in person?  Who cares if his conversational skills are a bit ... lacking?  The guy can kiss and craft text-poems that rival the Bard's.  Mac's so pretty to look at that Greta can overlook a few character flaws.  Can't she?

It's only when Greta's world starts to crumble that she realizes it's Will and not Mac who's keeping her afloat.  Is is possible there's more there than just an old friendship?  She's always found Will's heart attractive.  His over-sized body?  Not so much.  Can she finally learn to look past her best friend's physical imperfections or will she lose her chance at true love forever?  For a librarian, Greta's still got a whole lot to learn about judging a book by its cover ...

I've enjoyed Becca Wilhite's previous two novels, so I've been anxious to read her newest, Check Me Out.  The fact that it features a library setting and the cutest bookish cover art ever?  Icing on the cake, baby.  Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed this contemporary romance about learning to appreciate someone for their inner gifts in spite of what they look like on the outside.  Given the novel's premise, there's no way its heroine could come off as anything but superficial and Greta definitely does.  While she proves herself capable in many ways, she's still self-centered and immature.  Kind, self-deprecating Will lacks a backbone but is otherwise a perfect, non-traditional hero.  While he's much easier to like than Greta, their love story remains swoony and sweet.  It's predictable, of course, but Wilhite does throw in a compelling subplot that adds a little more depth and interest to the tale.  On the whole, I ended up liking this fun, upbeat novel.  If you fancy light, clean romances that are engaging and enjoyable, definitely check this one out (pun intended).

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other girl-swoons-for-hot-egomaniac-boy-only-to-realize-he's-a-jerk-and-her-ordinary-but-awesome-BFF-is-the-one-she-really-loves stories, although no specific titles are coming to mind.  Also reminds me of novels by Melanie Jacobson and Jenny Proctor)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Check Me Out from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Friday, March 16, 2018

MG Memory Novel Unexpectedly Unsettling and Thought-Provoking

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Irritated with their parents, who can't even visit the county fair without making a scene, Benji and Kelly Lewis sneak off to explore the event by themselves.  When bullies drive the twins apart, 12-year-old Benji takes refuge inside a circus tent at the edge of the fairgrounds.  A sign identifies it as The Memory Emporium, a place where memories are bought and sold.  The proprietor, a strange old man named Louis, offers Benji a taste of his wares.  Benji's awestruck by the experience, which plants him in a vivid, exhilarating memory of parachuting out of a WWII fighter plane.  In exchange, all he has to give up is a tiny, inconsequential memory of his own.

The more Benji thinks about The Memory Emporium, the more he realizes that Louis holds the key to solving the problem of his parents' impending divorce.  When Benji begs the old man to teach him to be a memory thief, Benji receives just enough instruction to start messing with people's memories.  And to create a giant mess for himself and everyone he loves.  Can he fix what he's done before his mistakes become permanent?  Or will he be stuck forever with a family that doesn't remember him?
I'm not gonna lie.  

Despite its intriguing premise, I didn't hold out a lot of hope for The Memory Thief by Bryce Moore.  I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that it's an atmospheric, imaginative novel that's unexpectedly thought-provoking.  Yes, the story has a lot more potential than its execution indicates, but overall, it tells an intriguing tale.  The characters aren't anything special, the prose is more tell-y than show-y, and I didn't feel a lot of emotion between the characters.  Still, I ended up liking this unsettling little tale about the importance of remembering—and learning from—everything that happens to us, both the good and the bad.      

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Knowing series [The Forgetting; The Knowing] by Sharon Cameron)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Memory Thief from the generous folks at Adaptive Books.  Thank you!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Series Review: Mark of the Thief Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Do you have certain time periods or places that you avoid in your reading?  Settings that, for whatever reason, just don't really appeal to you?  I for sure do.  Ancient Rome being one of them, I was naturally reluctant to give Jennifer A. Nielsen's middle grade Mark of the Thief series a go.  If it hadn't been for a book award gig I'm involved in, I probably would not have bothered.  In an effort to do a thorough judging job, however, I read not just the latest and greatest book in the trilogy, but also the first two.  And you know what?  Overall, I enjoyed them.

The first installment, Mark of the Thief, introduces Nicolas "Nic" Cava, a slave who works in the mines south of Rome.  With his fevered desire for freedom, he's never been a favorite of the cruel overseer.  Thus, Nic is chosen to risk his life by entering a cursed cavern in search of a vast treasure rumored to belong to Julius Caesar.  What he discovers is wealth beyond his wildest imagination.  Despite a warning not to remove anything, Nic takes a bulla—an amulet that's been infused with the power of the gods.  With its magic thrumming through his veins, Nic finally has the power to free himself as well as his mother and sister.

Escape won't be that easy, however.  The bulla's powers are so unimaginably strong that every Roman wants them for himself.  With a rebellion brewing in the city, the amulet could be used to save Rome—or destroy it.  With traitors and villains on both sides, Nic doesn't know who to trust.  He only knows he must keep the bulla out of the wrong hands.  The more destruction he causes while trying to harness the object's power, however, the more Nic wonders if his hands are the most wrong of all ...  

With lots of action to keep readers immersed, Mark of the Thief offers an exciting story that moves along at a fast clip.  Plot twists are fairly predictable as are the characters, who definitely need more development.  Still, Nic is an admirable hero whose loyalty, honor, and compassion keep him root-worthy.  While I didn't love the novel, I liked it enough to want to know what would happen in the next book.

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Nic Calva is no longer a slave, but he's still very much trapped.  With the power of the gods running through his veins, he's become a pawn in the war over Rome.  The Praetors, a secretive group determined to possess Nic's magical amulet, won't leave him alone.  With his mother in their possession, Nic can't afford to ignore their threats.  Finally, he makes them an offer they can't refuse—Nic will enter a chariot race, competing against the area's best riders and using no magic.  If he wins, the Praetors release his mother and let Nic go free.  If he loses, he will give up the powerful amulet so tenaciously sought after by the Praetors.  With very little experience driving a chariot, Nic has everything to lose.  Even with loyal friends by his side, it's a race that can't be won, especially since he insists on playing fair, a vow his competitors certainly won't honor.  Does Nic have even a sliver of a chance?  Or will he lose everything on a foolish gamble he never should have taken?

As in its predecessor, Rise of the Wolf races along with plenty of life-or-death action and adventure to keep readers turning pages.  With non-stop derring-do, this installment is by far my favorite of the three.  It still lacks in character development, but the story kept me enraptured.  I cared about the race's outcome, even though I knew how it would end.  By the end of the book, I wanted more and was more than ready to see what would happen in the series finale.

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Rome's major players are salivating over three mystical objects—Julius Caesar's bulla, the Malice of Mars, and the Jupiter Stone.  With only certain people able to harness the items' power, Nic continues to be a pawn, pulled this way and that by a host of dangerous enemies.  Not all of which are human.  Exhausted by the constant battle that has become his life, Nic wants only to end it.  He'll do what he must to save the Empire, keep those he loves safe, and secure his own freedom.  Even if it means sacrificing his own life.  
After binge-reading the first two books in the series, I wanted to know what would happen in Wrath of the Storm, the final installment.  Despite the story having lots of action, though, I found myself growing bored as the tale just seemed redundant with the same ole capture, escape, threats to loved ones, surrender patterns.  With nothing really original happening, I just wanted to get to the end.  Would I have felt this way if I hadn't read the series so fast?  Maybe not.  Still.  
Overall, I liked this trilogy more than I thought I would, but I didn't love it.  It boasts lots of action, which will keep readers engrossed.  While the characters are engaging enough, they definitely need more development as, in the end, they remain pretty clich√© and personality-less.  None of them experiences much growth.  The story also felt repetitious toward the end, which made it seem dull when it should have been most exciting.  In the end, I enjoyed the trilogy, but didn't find it overly rave-worthy. 

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Wrath of the Storm from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!
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