Tag Archive | suspense

Review: Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Series: Ghost Hunters #13

illusion-town-jayne-castleA new adventure begins on Harmony… 
With its opulent casinos and hotels, the desert city of Illusion Town is totally unique—and will take you on a thrill ride you’ll never forget.

Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…

With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.

But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…

4 Drink Me Potions

This was my first book by “Jayne Castle”, although I happened to have crossed her other contemporary AND historical books as well, under her names Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick respectively.

Illusion Town was a little disorienting at first as I quickly had a feeling that this wasn’t a simple standalone book that I had picked up from the library. There seemed to be alluded references to this whole land of Harmony that I did not know about as a completely new reader. And now looking at how vast this whole series is (with the intricate weavings even across Castle’s other genres), I’m quite impressed with the overall world building that’s been crafted here.

First of all (from what I gathered as an amateur reader in this world), this futuristic set of series written under Jayne Castle is on some alien planet colonists from Earth settled ages ago, but through some mishap, were disconnected from Earth quite permanently and the people here had to make do and thrive somehow.

Paranormal activity is like the new norm here, with people genetically passing on these talents and traits like it’s nothing. The kind of tech here also matches the futuristic theme, but also walks hand-in-hand with the paranormal abilities that people have, such as listening to energy with amber crystals.

Then there’s the land itself and how it’s laid out. 8 Zones split up around some epicentre where some unnatural activity caused some of it to be uninhabitable. It was well-written (albeit still a little confusing for a first reader like me), but I got enough of the idea to still be quite engaged with how this society organized itself.

And of course, there’s the creatures. In particular, the dust bunny.

When I first read about Virgil, the resident dust bunny in this story, I was quite astounded to be honest. Who is this thing and why does it have FOUR eyes? Fluffy yet quite ferocious. I loved it! Castle is very imaginative as she laid out even remote childhood fantasies of dust bunnies (such as I had when I was a kid) into a futuristic story where it becomes as simple as asking “why NOT have it featuring dust bunnies as characters?”. I was overall quite impressed with the setting I had randomly landed myself in.

Then there’s the ROMANCE. It wasn’t the centre of the story, though the intriguing plot line where Hannah and Elias found themselves married to each other was fun enough to draw me in. No, their relationship and budding love for each other was icing on top of the excitement (and dangers!) that were brewing all throughout the book.

From exploring the dangerous Rainforest and Underground areas where I gathered were leftover ruins from when Aliens inhabited this planet (surprise! even more intriguing things just THROWN in here) to finding a long-lost treasure and being chased by a gang of pirates on motorbikes. It was like a rollercoaster of heartfelt emotions and running around adrenaline.

For a novel I randomly decided to read on a lazy Saturday, I think it’s opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.

Overall Recommendation:
Illusion Town was brilliantly crafted in its imaginative setting on some futuristic planet where people had paranormal abilities and real live dust bunnies as companions. Although this is technically part of a long lineup of books in a series, it still stood out well enough as a standalone (as I had read it ’cause I sure as heck didn’t read any of the previous ones yet). There was enough sweet romance but the action in the plot had me excitedly flipping through the pages. It seems this book has almost everything. This is the kind of world that is unique and should be visited at least once. Be sure to read the previous books first (maybe).

Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2

the-heart-of-betrayal-mary-e-pearsonHeld captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages.

Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.


3.5 Drink Me Potions

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Heart of Betrayal picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with our brave protagonist stuck in Venda, a kingdom rumoured for its barbaric ways and people.

I thought this book continued strong with Lia as our main character. She demonstrated great restraint in her plans and beautifully crafted lies that would hopefully lead to her eventual escape. She grew to love some of the Vendans, seeing beyond the stereotype she was always taught back in her own kingdom. Lia became the hope for these people that not even the evil ruler, the Komizar, could instill in them.

I was, however, less impressed by the world building. I was a little excited (and intimidated) to see what the notorious kingdom of Venda would be like now that all our main characters are up and personal in this land. It was a little bit of a letdown, to be honest.

The Song of Venda – in short cut-down passages – was seen as glimpses between certain chapters back in The Kiss of Deception. Its mysterious story and how it related to Lia and company in the present day was intriguing, but seeing how some of this unravelled and became more clear didn’t excite me. It was one of the only things that made this world that they lived in different from any other vague fantasy world in the YA genre, although the plot trope of a mostly-devastated kingdom from a time of old when the gods walked the earth has also been seen several times in the last few years (one example would be Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns).

Everything in this book had a familiar feeling to it, like you’ve seen it before. Nothing stood out too greatly, and that’s why I can’t rate this any higher.

However, I did enjoy the romance a bit more and the plot moved faster as Lia and Rafe hatched an escape plan together. The romance can’t really be called a love triangle as it seems Lia explicitly declares she has feelings for Rafe (in the romantic sense) while only “caring” for Kaden. I felt sorry for him a little as we got to learn more about his backstory, this being his home land and all.

The suspense was heavier too as the Komizar played a dangerous game with Lia in a subtle fight for the stronger will and more clever wit. I enjoyed it, while also being immensely relieved that this wasn’t one of those stories where the girl gets taken advantage of (and has to deal with it) because she’s powerless from different things held over her head.

While The Heart of Betrayal wasn’t the best fantasy story I’ve read in the last while, it still has its merits and altogether, I still enjoyed it.

Overall Recommendation:
With an even feistier and stronger Lia than before, The Heart of Betrayal continues her adventures. While a fairly fast read and less emphasis on the darn love triangle (SO grateful), the world building left me less than impressed as we dive more into the stories of Venda and our favourite assassin, Kaden. It balanced out the bits of sweet romance with Rafe and the suspense as they fought for their escape against the tyranny of the Komizar, but there just wasn’t enough here to make me remember this world as altogether special from other fantasy worlds. Overall, a good sequel but may not be the best.

Review: Gamescape: Overworld by Emma Trevayne

Series: The Nova Project #1

gamescape-overworld-emma-trevayneThe planet is dying. Centuries of abuse have damaged the earth beyond repair, and now all the authorities can do is polish the surface, make the landscape look pretty to hide the disease within. Two prominent yet mysterious businessmen couldn’t fix it, either, but they did something even better. Together, they invented Chimera, the most complex and immersive virtual reality video game the world has ever known. The Cubes in which Chimera is played quickly became a fixture of this landscape: part distraction, part hospital, and almost wholly responsible for holding up the failing world economy.

Miguel Anderson is also dying. He isn’t the only one who plays the game–everybody does–but Miguel has more reason than most: When players leave their Cubes for the day, the upgrades and enhancements they’ve earned for their virtual characters leave with them. New lungs to breathe poisoned air, skin that won’t burn under the sun are great and everything… but Miguel, born as broken as the earth, needs a new heart–and soon–if he wants any hope of surviving just a little longer.

Then the two Gamerunners announce a competition, with greater rewards and faster progression than ever before, and Miguel thinks his prayers have been answered. All he needs to do is get picked to lead a team, play the game he’s spent years getting good at, and ask for his prize when he wins. Simple, really.

At first, things seem to go according to plan. Mostly, anyway. Inside his Cube, with his new team–including his best friend–at his back, Miguel begins his quest. He plays recklessly, even dangerously, for someone whose most vital organ could give up at any moment, but his desperation makes him play better than ever. The eyes of the world are on him, watching through status updates and live feeds, betting on his chances. With greater rewards, though, come greater risks, and the Gamerunners seem to delight at surprising the competitors at every turn. As he ventures deeper into a world that blends the virtual and the real to an unsettling degree, Miguel begins to wonder just why the game was invented at all, and whether its stakes could be even higher than life and death. 

4 Drink Me Potions

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**Gamescape: Overworld comes out September 13, 2016**

I’m not an avid fan of gaming like others may be, and not all stories based on virtual gaming works, but Gamescape: Overworld most definitely doesn’t fit in that category and surpassed all of my expectations.

Miguel needs a heart and this game that’s taken over the world seems to present that wondrous prize that just may help him live. And he’s good at it. Of course, everything has its own twists. It took a while for the story to get going as the gamemakers decided on this new team-play competition with the craziest prizes. The slow pacing here bugged me a bit but Trevayne kept me very much entertained with her imaginative descriptions of each level that Miguel fought to beat. The different ways you can die and the tools collected along the way, not to mention the whole idea of gaming in these giant cube-like buildings around the city, her world building was on point.

The storyline continued to be action-packed as Miguel battled his way to team leader and gained a new team to look after. Each individual member on his team was different, with their own fears to face and baggage they carried. I thoroughly enjoyed their interactions, whether it be positive ones or arguments that arose during the stressful game play.

Emotionally, Trevayne was pretty good at bringing out the vulnerabilities in her characters. This isn’t just a story about gaming or high-tech equipment. Miguel obviously dealt with a lot of stress and emotional baggage. At any moment, his heart could stop. But there was this one moment in the first half of the book that made me pause. It was beautifully sad. Our hero wasn’t a shining one on some white horse. He was a broken boy that just wanted to breathe his first breath of LIFE. Without the fear of dying on his back so constantly.

As for romance, it’s not such a huge part of the story. There is a love interest and she was part of Miguel’s new team, but I honestly wasn’t so interested in that whole aspect at all, which is pretty crazy for me to say. The story was so steeped in gaming intrigue, with the crazy “worlds” built for each level and the suspense of being the first team to win it all, that anything as trivial as a budding romance didn’t register as important with me. But if you like a taste of romance in your stories (as I normally do), there’s still a bit of that present.

I will conclude that what brought this whole story a higher rating was how it all tied in with the mystery of who the gamemakers were and why they created Chimera in the first place. What was its purpose? Why build a game when the world was falling apart when there could be a number of better things to do? Who were they working for?

Snippets of conversations in both the gamemakers’ perspectives in between chapters were the highlight of this novel, in my opinion. As the story continued, pieces were dropping into place until everything just CLICKED. This whole thing was so much bigger than you could ever imagine. The whole GAME was more than it just looked on the surface. The ending was absolutely fantastic. It had my heart racing and wondering how they would get out of this mess. I can’t give much more away, but know that it all goes way beyond the clichéd gaming storyline trope that’s more commonly used in a story like this. Trust me on this, you’re in for a surprise.

Overall Recommendation:
Gamescape: Overworld is levels more than what you may expect from a book about gamers. Yes, it’s full of action as Miguel fights his way for the most important prize of all, but it’s also about facing your fears and making the right calls in the heat of the moment. The suspense builds as Trevayne teases us with little bits about the mysterious gamemakers that started it all in between certain chapters. Who are they and what big plans did they have in store for the gamers beyond the surface level of more prizes? Even if you’re not a fan of gaming, this story has something for everyone. At the heart of it, this story is about choices. Follow Miguel and you will find out just what kind of an emotional ride this will take you on.

Review: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

shooter -caroline pignatThe Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin

A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing: the boys’ washroom. They sit in silence, judging each other by what they see, by the stories they’ve heard over the years. Stuck here with them–could anything be worse?

There’s Alice: an introverted writer, trapped in the role of big sister to her older autistic brother, Noah.

Isabelle: the popular, high-achieving, student council president, whose greatest performance is her everyday life.

Hogan: an ex-football player with a troubled past and a hopeless future.

: that socially awkward guy hiding behind the camera, whose candid pictures of school life, especially those of Isabelle, have brought him more trouble than answers.

Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals, and homework assignments, each student reveals pieces of their true story as they wait for the drill to end. But this modern-day Breakfast Club takes a twist when Isabelle gets a text that changes everything: NOT A DRILL!! Shooter in the school!
Suddenly, the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn that one of them knows more about the shooter than they realized…

3.5 Drink Me Potions

Shooter unites four (potentially 5) very unique narrative voices in a story that touches on loss, academic pressures and familial responsibilities. Initially, I thought this was going to be a scary, suspenseful mystery on the school shooter, and yes, it totally is that. But it was also so much more.

I at first came in thinking it would be a similar kinda read like Are You Still There which I read last year. In some ways, it definitely had that kinda vibe. However, there are so many more protagonists in Shooter and their own unique back stories that I’m not sure it’s fair to really compare the two to each other.

Each voice was very distinctive and true to that character. They weren’t simply cliched personalities I’ve read many times over in many other books. Alice can’t be simply narrowed down to “that book-ish Nerd Girl who can’t handle herself in the real world outside of her books”. Likewise, Hogan isn’t just the “jock with no brain and a tragic past to overcome”. Or Isabelle as the “popular It-Girl who cares about herself only” (although it sure seemed like she fit this portrayal very accurately at first).

Trapped in the men’s washroom while on lockdown, these 5 characters got to know each other a little better, maybe in a way that no one ever took the time to know them in this way before, all because of a shooter let loose in school building. So for the first half of the story, it wasn’t so much focused on the mysterious person shooting up the school. It was on these people who really didn’t “know” each other at all, even after so many years of school together. It was learning about what made them tick, what uncertainties they were facing at the end of high school, and just how much they had in common with each other no matter how different they were on the outside.

Alice was probably my favourite voice. This may be due to the fact that I associate myself most with her. I’m not as introverted, but she was also not just a simple cliche. She may love her book facts (that no one else cared about) and could care less about social media or school spirit but she had courage when it came to protecting her autistic brother Noah.

The way the other characters saw each other made them seem more real, like we as readers get the full glimpse of who they were because we can see the subjective (and biased view) they have of themselves and also the objective one from the others as they’re practically strangers at the beginning of the story.

Xander, strangely enough, was also another POV I enjoyed immensely. The way he saw the world was very straightforward. He didn’t understand social cues very well. He just saw the world through his lens and tried to capture not the good and “positive” aspects of life, but also the negatives which make life all the more real. He captured the honest moments we have that sometimes are easier to deny than to deal with. The way the author described his photographed pictures of each of the characters trapped in the washroom with him truly captivated me, probably making it my favourite part of the whole story.

Through learning to understanding each other, these 5 protagonists captured my heart. I gobbled the story in one sitting. It was deep in certain ways. They all had something they were dealing with, something pressing on their hearts. Their lives weren’t perfect, weren’t simple. I couldn’t believe the supposed time span of the whole novel was only an hour. There was so much grit, so much heartfelt conversations that took place in that time period. They laid down their masks to show each other what was truly on the inside so that maybe, just maybe, true healing could take place.

And then the next half of the book came learning about who was attacking their school. It wasn’t as much of a mystery as I thought it would be. The name of the perp was literally given right in the middle, but it was learning who the person was and why they were doing this that made the story more exciting. Locked away in one of these characters’ minds and back stories was the key to figuring out how this day was going to end.

Continuing with the honest voices of each of these characters, Pignat made this novel more than just another bullying story that ended in violence. It was a story that really made these teenagers real and showed the brutal honesty of what high school life can be like. I am so glad that there is such a great Canadian author like her, and I can’t wait to see what else she may write in the future.

Overall Recommendation:
Told in 5 very unique and distinctive voices, Pignat made Shooter both a suspenseful story about a shooter let loose in a high school but also one that explored the lives of teenagers that were very different on the outside yet had so much in common once they learned more about each other. I enjoyed the different POVs, but most of all, I loved the way I got to see how such unique people lived with their day-to-day problems. It felt very real, like I could find an Alice or a Xander in my own life. At the end of the day, this novel brought out the honest moments of life as a teenager in high school, something I can still remember pretty clearly. This is one story I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Review: Dangerous Reunion by Sandra Robbins

Series: Ocracoke Island #1

dangerous reunion -sandra robbinsA murderer on tiny, safe Ocracoke Island?

Deputy Sheriff Kate Michaels doesn’t want to believe it—until someone at the crime scene starts shooting at her. Then Nashville detective Brock Gentry shows up.

Brock broke her heart years ago when he called off their engagement. Now, torn apart by a case, Brock seeks sanctuary on the island. Yet as the threats against Kate escalate—and Kate’s sisters are targeted—she turns to the man she’s never stopped loving.

Even if their reunion is more dangerous than it ever was before.


3.5 Drink Me Potion

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a Love Inspired Suspense book, but I think it was fortuitous that I picked up a Sandra Robbins book as my first. In Dangerous Reunion, we get to see and experience Ocracoke Island off the shores of North Carolina. I’ve never been there, but from the beautiful descriptions of this place, it makes me wish that I could someday visit it.

There’s someone out to make life difficult for Deputy Kate Michaels. On such a beautiful little island that mainly attracts tourists in the summer season, they don’t expect to have a murder, let alone multiple incidents, in the span of several days. To make things worse, the culprit seems to be targeting Kate, leaving messages for her specifically at the scene of different crimes. With many red herrings thrown our way, it took me a while to try to guess who may be the antagonist. But when the identity finally came out, Robbins wrote it in such a way that this reveal made sense to me and that there were enough hints that justified choosing this character.

The romance wasn’t very strong in this one. I think the highlight of the relationship between Kate and Brock was that they wanted to rebuild a strong foundational friendship first before it can ever amount to more. I appreciated this. As such, the focus wasn’t on the potential romance between them but on how Brock could find peace on this lovely stretch of land called Ocracoke Island. Personally, I think this book came at the right moment. Finding peace isn’t easy; life gets way too busy and noisy for most to sit still enough to hear God’s voice. Sometimes His message doesn’t come flashing on crashing thunder. Sometimes, it’s written in the soft brush of the wind or the cries of a bird in the silence. I want to thank Sandra Robbins for inputting such a sweet message in the midst of a fun mystery.

All in all, this is a great taste of what the Love Inspired Suspense line brings. I suggest you give this book and others a try.

Overall Recommendation:
Dangerous Reunion is set in the beautiful island of Ocracoke, a place that feels so real to me although I’ve never stepped foot in North Carolina. The mystery was en par as the actions of the culprit escalates, all the while targeting Deputy Kate as she tries to keep everyone on her island safe. With the additional stress of seeing her ex-fiance, this story revolves around friendship, forgiveness and finding that peace that only comes from God. I can’t wait to come back to Ocracoke Island with more from Sandra Robbins.

Review: Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts

blue smoke -nora robertsReena Hale grew up with an intimate knowledge of the destructive power of fire. When she was a child, her family’s restaurant was burned to the ground, and the man responsible was sent to jail. The Hale family banded together to rebuild, and Reena found her life’s calling.She trained as a firefighter and then as a cop, always with the end goal in sight: to become an arson investigator.

Now, as part of the arson unit, she is called in on a series of suspicious fires that seem to be connected-not just to each other, but to her. And as danger ignites all around her, Reena must rely on experience and instinct to catch a dangerous madman who will not stop until everything she loves has gone up in smoke.

1 Drink Me Potion

DNF’d at ~25%

I was itching for a good mystery with a sprinkling of romance, and I thought, Hey I really adored some of Nora Robert’s mysteries before. Let’s give another one a try. Unfortunately, Blue Smoke may have sounded interesting in the synopsis but it’s really such a bore to get through.

The synopsis states in a concise manner how our protagonist Reena first encountered a fire and thus, set her on the path in becoming an arson investigator. But oh no! The prologue in this novel isn’t like, one chapter long like you may think. It stays in the good ol’ past for several chapters when Reena was 11. And then, when there’s finally a flash forward (thank heavens!), it only moves 7 years to when she’s 18 and in college and experimenting with things.

The pacing is way too slow in my opinion. Yes, the mystery and the fires revolving around her start in her past but I swear Roberts could have written it in a more concise manner. Descriptions of everything , from the food laid out (’cause they’re Italian so there’s gotta be a lot of food) to wedding decorations and planning, it just gets overwhelming. Not to mention, the names of different people coming in and out of the story in just the first several chapters.

Honestly, I think this plot had a lot going for it, but I just can’t make myself go through 20 more years of Reena’s life in this slow cadence of things. I hate giving up on books, but this one really deserves my DNF shelf.

And by the way, I could already tell who the culprit of all these mysterious fires was even from where I stopped.

Overall Recommendation:
With plenty of intrigue that has become one of Nora Roberts’ signatures, Blue Smoke seemed to have a lot of potential. However, with the slow progression in plot, moving in increments by the years through Reena’s life since she was a child, I just couldn’t make myself follow along with the intensity I wanted. It just became so boring, especially with the ridiculously in-depth descriptions of the tiniest details. I’m a little disappointed as I’ve loved some of her mysteries in the past, but if you’re okay with a slow pace and detailed paragraphs, then this might be an okay book for you. As for me? Hasta la vista.

Review: It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

it wasn't always like this -joy prebleIn 1916, Emma O’Neill is frozen in time. After sampling an experimental polio vaccine brewed on a remote island off St. Augustine, Florida, she and her family stop aging—as do the Ryans, her family’s business partners. In a way, this suits Emma fine because she’s in love with Charlie Ryan. Being seventeen forever with him is a dream. But soon a group of religious fanatics, the Church of Light, takes note. Drinking the elixir has made the O’Neills and Ryans impervious to aging, but not to murder—Emma and Charlie are the only ones who escape with their lives.

On the run, Emma is tragically separated from Charlie. For the next hundred years, she plays a cat-and-mouse game with the founding members of the Church of Light and their descendants. Over the years, a series of murders—whose victims all bear more than a passing resemblance to her—indicate that her enemies are closing in. Yet as the danger grows, so does Emma’s hope for finding the boy she’s certain is still out there . . .

1.5 Drink Me Potions

**It Wasn’t Always Like This comes out May 17, 2016**

Thank you Edelweiss and Soho Press for this copy in exchange for an honest review

DNF’d at 58%

I honestly thought I would enjoy this book. At first, I thought my discontent was from the writing style. This is my first book from Joy Preble, although I was very intrigued with her previous novel, Finding Paris. I laid that aside and just kept going.

I thought it’d be more romantic. Two protagonists who loved each other. No matter how long their separation was (like, seriously a 100 years?), they’d somehow find their way back to each other and try to get rid of the threat from some lunatic religious organization hell-bent on destroying them, unperturbed by killing other innocents whom they’d mistaken for her.

Unfortunately, it just fell flat. The boy never really makes an appearance in her life for the most of the story that I reached. Just the occasional flashback of what happened in their lives that changed everything (i.e. how they practically became immortal). He wasn’t physically present in her current and modern life. Kinda hard to appreciate that aspect of the story if he was all but just a fond memory.

I told myself to keep on reading. It’ll just get better, ya know? Right? But once I stopped for a break (at 58%), I just couldn’t continue and pick it up again. I was just so tired of the constant fear from some crazed church group who could be hiding in plain sight and re-branded from their original name. So with huge regret, I’m sorry to say that It Wasn’t Always Like This just didn’t end up working for me. I gave it my best shot.

I just hope that at the end of it, they find each other and get their second chance, after everything.

Overall Recommendation:
Well, I couldn’t really finish this book, stopping at 58%. However, it could’ve just been something that personally didn’t click with me. There was suspense from being chased by religious fanatics – who were also killers, by the way. The romance didn’t work for me because, well, they hadn’t seen each other in like 100 years. It’s not that I hated this novel, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finishing it, try as I may. Maybe it’d be a better read for others.

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Study #4

shadow study -maria v. snyderOnce, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.

As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

4 Drink Me Potions

Oh, Yelena, I didn’t think it was possible, but I had forgotten just how much I adore your adventures.

Shadow Study was the novel that fans like me have been waiting for since the conclusion of Fire Study several years ago. With the crazy antics Yelena and her friends just seem to be drawn into, this novel is both reminiscent of her old adventures as well as introduces some new ones.

First off, it’s not totally necessary to have read the previous Study books or Glass books by Maria. However, with the huge amount of characters from both those series showing up in all sorts of roles in this book, it’s definitely a bigger treat for you to read if you knew who they were. It still makes sense even without that context as Snyder worked hard to make it understandable for first time readers, so no worries if you don’t wanna read all of that in one go.

Written with 3 POVs (I know, what a treat, right?), the story quickly develops from all different angles. Yelena is just a magnet for trouble, which starts literally from the first page. Her adventures in Sitia are constantly threaded with suspense as some unknown danger is out stalking her (once again cause honestly, when is she NOT in danger?).

Her and Valek, oh dear Valek, are separated (that’s not a surprise there, either, huh?), but it doesn’t feel so bad as with Magic Study or Fire Study because we get to see what he’s up to in his own POV. Back in Ixia, something iffy is going on up there with the Commander. There are just subtle hints but you can totally tell something bad is brewing up in this country. Meanwhile, we finally get more than a glimpse into Valek’s backstory. Oh my, how he became an assassin and how’d he met Ambrose. Oh, and how’d he fulfilled his duty as the King Killer. Fangirling here.

With all this intensity from both those POVs, good ol’ Janco gets his own POV as well. I suppose out of the power twins, Janco is the funnier friend and so he makes for great comic relief. Snyder’s characteristic sarcastic humour was at its highest with him, although the others also had their own moments.

Favourite cameos and secondary characters pop up throughout. My personal favourites were Yelena’s brother Leif (he surprisingly has a very similar humour going for him as Janco) and the Sandseed Story Weavers. Those who loved the Glass series (unfortunately, not me) would appreciate the appearance of major characters like Opal and Devlen.

So with a fulfilling adventure in both Sitia and Ixia (back in Valek’s memories), as-expected crazy action scenes, loveable characters and a sense of nostalgia, Shadow Study provided a great start to a new line of danger Yelena the Soulfinder has to face. It’s no wonder I can’t help but use Maria V. Snyder’s works as my gold standard for fantasy adventures. They suck you in until you never quite want to leave it, and for good reason too. I’d say this made for a wonderful installment in the series, especially after so many years.

Overall Recommendation:
Shadow Study is the book that all you diehard Study fans are wishing for. It lives up to this claim, as even I, a long time fan, can’t help but relive the wonders of being in the land of Ixia and Sitia. Yelena’s adventures are just as crazy and dangerous, but good thing her good friends are always around to have her back. The characters still leap to life and the world building is familiar and well-developed. For first time fans, it’s not completely necessary to read other books before it, but it definitely amplifies the experience by a lot. I definitely recommend you read this, especially if you loved the first three Study books. It’s worth the wait after all these years.

Review: Legacy of Lies & Don’t Tell by Elizabeth Chandler

Series: Dark Secrets #1-2

dark secrets 1 -elizabeth chandlerTwo girls haunted by the past… and destined to relive it

In Legacy of Lies, Megan has to stay with the uptight grandmother she wants nothing to do with. She’s determined to get through the visit without any drama, but when she falls into a twisted love triangle with potentially fatal consequences, Megan may be caught up in her family’s legacy in more ways than she realizes.

In Don’t Tell, Lauren knows that by returning to the town where her mother drowned seven years ago, she’ll be reliving one of her most haunting memories. When she arrives, she is propelled into a series of mysterious events that mimic the days leading up to her mother’s death. Maybe her mother’s drowning wasn’t an accident after all…and maybe Lauren is next.

2 Drink Me Potions

It has been a long time since I’ve read Dark Secrets Volume 1, and can I just say? Time has NOT been nice to it.

As a younger person, such fast-paced attractions and supernatural occurrences would have been a fun and intriguing read at night. Now? Not so much. Let me explain why.

In Legacy of Lies, having our protagonist fall for her cousin (even though they’re NOT actually blood-related) was a little weird for my tastes. Did they have to be related? Was that TRULY necessary for the plot line to have worked out? I would say no, but I guess people can argue if they must.

As for the actual plot in that story – where the heck should I even begin? It had suspense, I will admit. And by suspense, I mean the feeling of what the hell is going on and why are such freaky dreams/sleep walks happening to Megan? It was entertaining in the paranormal sense. Obviously there’s something not quite logical or real occurring in this old house of her grandmother’s. That’s not what I’m bashing.

It was the absolute horrifying and confusing conclusion/rationale to all the craziness that was occurring. Even for a paranormal explanation, some things just never added up. The synopsis talks about a potentially fatal love triangle. Well, the grandmother was part of it (I know right? That’s just weird) in the past as a young girl, but now that she’s old and the love triangle is stirring again, WHERE THE HECK DOES SHE FIT INTO THIS PRESENT DAY TRIANGLE WITH HER GRANDDAUGHTER AND HER GRANDSON? I never quite understood the whole frenzy that was brought on Megan upon her arrival at the old house. And now that I re-read this again, the killer was surprising enough but the motive wasn’t fleshed out enough. The red herrings weren’t fully cleared either, in my opinion. So they might not have actually committed the final blow, but there was intent? Doesn’t that still make them a “bad guy”?

I’m just confused. Period. It left a very bitter after taste in my mouth.

As for Don’t Tell, don’t you worry. It’ll get its turn in bashing.

Likewise, there was suspense in it as well. And also similar to the previous story, the conclusion was just unsatisfying and too vague of an explanation . That’s me being generous. Actually, a villain disappears and no reader will ever know what’s to come of that person. The rest of the explanation for why the mother drowned made enough sense, but one of the girls just freaked the crap out of me. Of course, Chandler threw in the odd paranormal activity (HA, had to put that phrase into this review) that really was never fully fleshed out, and left only with the poor explanation of “oh, these things happen ’cause it’s a paranormal kinda world where people have such things occurring to them – big whoof”.

Anyway, time has most definitely not made it any better. Which leaves to me to wonder….


Overall Recommendation:
For a younger audience in the YA category, Dark Secrets 1 does have its merits (albeit very, VERY few). With a setting of suspense and dark secrets (of course – ’cause that’s the title) woven into either an old mystery/unsolved murder, it initially draws you in with intrigue. However, don’t be fooled, young ones! The conclusions, even coming from the perspective of a paranormal book, are hardly thought-out, riddled with holes and things that just don’t settle well. They were sloppy and could’ve been a whole lot better.
For a quick read ’cause there’s nothing better to do? Sure, go ahead and skim through it. But don’t expect it to be one of those masterful pieces with grand plots. They’re simply stories with dark pasts that ultimately come back to haunt the present, mixed in with a bunch of paranormal activities to “make sense” of the scary things that happen.

Review: Are You Still There by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

are you still there -sarah lynn scheergerEvery year it takes the teachers until winter break
To learn my name. That’s why I call myself 
I am a stranger. To everyone.

no one knows me.
Or notices me. Just wait.

They will notice me soon.

After her high school is rocked by an anonymous bomb threat, “perfect student” Gabriella Mallory is recruited to work on a secret crisis helpline that may help uncover the would-be bomber’s identity.

Gabriella Mallory, AP student and perfect-daughter-in-training, stands barefoot on a public toilet for three hours while her school is on lockdown. Someone has planted a bomb and she is hiding. The bomb is defused but the would-be-bomber is still at large. And everyone at Central High School is a suspect. The school starts a top-secret crisis help line and Gabi is invited to join. When she does, she is drawn into a suspenseful game of cat and mouse with the bomber, who has unfinished business. He leaves threatening notes on campus. He makes threatening calls to the help line. And then he begins targeting Gabi directly. Is it because her father is the lead police detective on the case? Is the bomber one of her new friends. Could it be her new boyfriend with his complicated past? As the story unfolds, Gabi knows she is somehow connected to the bomber. Even worse she is part of his plan. Can Gabi reach out and stop him? Or will she be too late?

4 Drink Me Potions

Thank you Netgalley and Albert Whitman & Company for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

**Are You Still There comes out on September 1, 2015**

Are You Still There dived into the psyche of a disturbed individual who dubbed themselves as Stranger. We get the chance to glimpse at written entries of the Stranger’s Manifesto alternating with our protagonist Gabi’s POV as the school year progressed after the initial bombing attempt at the beginning of the book.

Although I would never side with what Stranger did, I have to admit that the Manifesto entries were one of my favourite parts of this book. They were written in poetic prose that was both beautiful and haunting at the same time. Why? Because it spoke so much of hurt and pain. Going unnoticed. Being a speck of dust that forever floats. Here was a kid who had nothing left to live for, and just wanted someone to notice for only a single moment.

This book was a thriller and a mystery, but seeing Stranger’s thoughts definitely upped my rating. Maybe I’m a little weird, and I do happen to have a huge fascination for the show Criminal Minds, so that might explain why I liked seeing the “bad guy’s” perspective. Sometimes people do stupid and awful things for no reason, but Are You Still There heavily reflects the central of theme of – you guessed it – high school bullying and resulting suicides .

It’s a deep topic. Normally I shy away from books that do because I just feel so SAD after reading them. Bullying is an awful thing that happens in every day life. I wish I could do more but it’s definitely more effective when it’s a group effort. Anyway, here’s a book that touched up on suicides as well, with Gabi and group of select students in her school chosen to be part of the Helpline, a peer hotline for kids to call in and talk after the events of the almost-bombing. I loved that it definitely highlighted the seriousness of bullying and its consequences, without letting it be so consuming that I just want to punch a few kids’ self-righteous noses.

Gabi was an okay protagonist. She was initially the perfect girl who does everything her micromanaging mother makes her do. A grades, never parties or gets into trouble, extra volunteering opportunities, and amazing university prospects in sight. With becoming a part of the Helpline, she meets people from all sorts of cliques around the school and really has to learn to broaden her horizons when it comes to people. Her newfound friendships (and even a relationship with a hot Latino boy!) were the catalysts for great changes that allowed her to understand her rebellious younger sister Chloe.

Gabi wasn’t always great though. Once the “bomber” seemed to have placed her into the Plan, she seemed to have developed some kind of God complex herself. Trying to contact Stranger on her own without letting her cop dad know too many details. Not letting her boyfriend, Miguel, try to protect her. She wasn’t all that nice to him at times, honestly. I don’t know why he stuck with her in those moments.

I had a minor problem in reading the book as it came in ebook format. Paragraphs were not indented properly, which made figuring out who was saying what in a conversation a little harder to interpret at times. Also, text messages were difficult to separate from actual words that described Gabi’s life, and they too were not indented so I had to slowly figure out the sender of each. I think this may only be a problem for those receiving an arc. Or at least, I sure hope so.

I guess I’m saying that this book was good in most aspects, minus certain Gabi moments (and the malfunction in formatting in the ebook format). However, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and at guessing who Stranger was. There were definitely red herring moments and culprits that I sadly fell astray with. I thought the identity of Stranger was satisfying. It was not too obvious, but it wasn’t someone that Gabi never had in contact with either. The overall change and growth in Gabi’s character, along with insights into Stranger’s goals in getting the Helpline people to understand the bullying that went on in their school each day, were icing on top of the cake. I feel like hugging the next kid I see sitting alone at school. Are You Still There definitely touched a chord in my heart.

Overall Recommendation:
Intriguing and mysterious, Stranger is playing a game with the kids in at Central High. After an almost-bombing attempt at the beginning of the school year, Gabi and a few other students from varying cliques come together as part of the new Helpline for students to talk about anything bothering them anonymously. It was a touching book about understanding others and showcases the deadly consequences of bullying. With a satisfying conclusion and identity to Stranger, Are You Still There had me guessing till the end. Plus, the poetic entries in Stranger’s Manifesto about the Game of Life were haunting words that resonates more deeply than anything else this book had to offer.