2.5 star, adult

Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

The can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

I must say that I was quite disappointed with this thriller. Not that it was particularly badly written or anything, but for my usual expectations for this kind of story, it just fell short for me, personally. Having said that though, perhaps this could be considered a lighter type of thriller, and is maybe more suitable for readers new to thrillers, since I didn’t find it neither particularly chilling nor scary – again, all personal opinions of course.

This story follows a couple of POVs, the main one being Libby Jones, who finds out she is a the sole inheritor of a large estate. This estate has a twisted history though, and was left abandoned for a reason. Simultaneous to the story line of Libby investigating her mysterious past, another voice begins narrating the “chilling” events of the past leading up to the house being left to Libby.

The past involves the downfall of Libby’s birth parents (from riches to rags, if you will), and the following families who come to live with them to share the cost of the large house. However, not all is as it seems with these families who arrive, as the family slowly discovers. The twisting and perversion of this household is the “scary” thing that happens in the book, though I did not personally find it to be that convincing. While I could understand perhaps how it may have come about, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the way things transpired, and as such, did not find the book too enjoyable. Or perhaps this is a sign that I have read too many thrillers and have certain expectations set for the level of drama that I want to see happen. Either way, unfortunately, this book was just not for me.

Overall Recommendations:

If you are looking for truly haunting and chilling thrillers, I would recommend looking elsewhere. The Family Upstairs follows the unveiling of the secrets of the past, of what happened at Libby’s birth home to cause it to be abandoned until she was of age. If you are new to thrillers, and may not want huge scares or major anxiety-inducing plots, this may be the book for you! I would say that it has many elements of a classic thriller, but they are all fairly tame – so if that is what you are looking for, this may be right up your alley.

2.5 star, YA

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist #2

smoke in the sun -renee ahdiehFor weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.

2.5 Drink Me Potions

Set in feudal Japan with samurais and codes of honour, Smoke in the Sun continues the story of a girl trying to save the life of a boy she loves at any cost to her own life.

The novel picks up pretty closely to where book 1 ended. With the newly unveiled identity of Okami and his capture by Mariko’s brother and her betrothed’s soldiers. Jumping straight back into this Japanese inspired realm, the world and sense of magic and mystery enveloped me again like an old friend.

Most of the book was spent trying to figure out how to release Okami from capture. Through the eyes of Mariko, the wonders of the palatial life – on the surface – and the hidden secrets and gossip among its upper class were revealed in manner. I liked the lush setting and descriptions, yet at times, this really slowed down the pace of the book. A lot.

Meanwhile, other elements of intrigue unfolded as people in the land started falling into some deep sickness that inhibited the control of their own body and mind. Was this linked to Mariko’s attempted murder? Maybe something exciting was finally happening.

But as some things are, it was kind of a letdown. It was in no way a mystery (we literally see from the POV of the bad guy why this was happening – and mind you, the why wasn’t very exciting either), and how it was revealed to our main characters was neither clever nor surprising. The climax that was being set up took a swift turn for a happy ending that left me wondering if any of it was that bad before at all.

I wanted to desperately love the only element of intrigue this book seemed to have. While I fell in love with the Black Clan initially in book 1 out in the wilds, the relationship between Mariko and Okami felt more real there than it did now. Here, it’s just the aftermath of strong love but I didn’t really feel it. Maybe I forgot a lot of what it was like in the time since I read Flame in the Mist but I couldn’t care as much as I wanted.

Not all of it was a downer though. Secondary characters like Raiden made things more interesting. He wasn’t the typical person you’d necessarily cheer for (at first) or a wounded soul to save, but there’s something redeemable in some way about him that intrigued me. I don’t know about you, but I could totally wish for a book about him. Maybe with a certain someone’s sister guiding him away from less noble influences? You with me?

While I still enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of a time of old in Japan, I can’t help but overlay and compare it with the recent book by Julie Kagawa, Shadow of the Fox. In my heart I know they’re different in their own way, but I can’t help but see this series in a new light – and where it could do better.

Some action, dramatic romantic overtures, and a land falling to chaos, Smoke in the Sun was lovely on its cover but digging deep into its story left me somewhat disappointed at the potential it could’ve been. I love Renee Ahdieh but maybe I came at this book with my expectations a little too high.

Overall Recommendation:

Smoke in the Sun delightfully drops us back into the world of Japanese samurais and magic. On a grand scale, it’s about a rescue mission for the love of Mariko’s life, with other elements swept to the side in the plot. While it set itself up for potentially exciting action scenes and an explosive conclusion with a battle for the empire, it all gets wrapped up too quickly in a nice bow to ever really feel tense about the situation at all. A decent wrap up if you enjoyed Flame in the Mist, but I suggest you read this before any other similar story set in feudal Japan.

2.5 star, YA

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Series: The Folk of the Air #1

the cruel prince -holly blackOf course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

2.5 Drink Me Potions

Faerie might be beautiful, but its beauty is like a golden stag’s carcass, crawling with maggots beneath his hide, ready to burst.

Back into the land of the fae. While I’m acquainted with faeries from various authors (see Julie Kagawa, Lesley Livingston, recent Cassandra Clare), this is my first real romp with Holly Black’s version of these mythical creatures.

And it’s definitely the crueler side highlighted.

Twins Jude and Taryn have lived with the faeries since they were young after being kidnapped by their parents’ killer. But they’ve been treated fairly well, to the status of Gentry, which explains the extreme Stockholm syndrome present in these girls.

Yet this land is no place for mortals. Or at least, not if they want to be treated well and with respect.

I struggled with Jude as the main character for most of the book. While the high class faeries mocked them and tormented them, I get wanting to hurt them back and to feel less powerless. But Jude pushed back sometimes too hard and it led to consequences that I don’t think she really thought through. And consequences that fell on other people, namely Taryn.

At the same time, it’s this deep anger and willingness to do anything to gain power and control over her own situation that made Jude real. And over time, she became someone stronger – with maybe less scrupulous morals (in some ways).

And yet none of [land, knighthood, love] seems all that valuable anymore. None of those are true power. True power isn’t granted. True power can’t be taken away.

The romance, likewise, got better with time. Prince Cardan is not nice. In fact, that’s a pure understatement.

I couldn’t get a good read on him and I’m not really sure what his attraction to Jude is based on. It’s definitely a slow burn kinda romance so I appreciate that more than insta-love. But I withhold judgment on how it’ll go from there.

The pacing was excruciatingly slow in the beginning. Nothing really got exciting until maybe two-thirds or more into the book. The beginning is basically Jude being angry (instead of having to deal with just being scared) all the time while everyone is cruel to her. I can see why everyone loves this novel overall, yet you really gotta pat yourself on the back for getting to the point where it gets exciting.

With that twisted ending that almost felt like it was left mid-sentence, I do look forward to seeing what’s next in store in this faerie court. The intrigue is afoot!

Overall Recommendation:

The Cruel Prince fell a little flat after all the hype that surrounded it upon release. Slow in its execution and featuring a romance where I couldn’t exactly say I was rooting for the guy for most of the book, the only highlight was the imaginative land of faeries crafted by Holly Black and the twisted ending that I didn’t see coming. Having an irritating but realistic protagonist such as Jude made the journey more interesting, that’s for sure. With book 1 setting the stage in the last 1/3 of the story, I find myself extremely intrigued as to what will come next!