Personal Thoughts: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard was one of my favorite books of 2015 (I was lucky enough to read it early thanks to sprinting to the Tor booth on the first day of BEA) so obviously, I was feeling super hyped about reading Windwitch which is the second book in the Witchlands series. It was one of my most anticipated releases for 2017 (I feel like I might say this a lot but I swear it’s true! I just get really excited about new books, OKAY) and I love the autumnal cover and the prospect of getting Prince Merik’s perspective. The stars seemed to be aligned until I started reading and everything I loved about Truthwitch was just… missing. Talk about a major disappointment. I’m still interested in finding out where the story is going so I will most definitely be picking up Bloodwitch but this was just not the second installment I was looking for.
Plot Summary: The events in Windwitch are a continuation of the story we got in Truthwitch. I’ll be totally honest, it’s really difficult to come up with a coherent plot summary for this book because the story completely changed from the first book. We’ve got Prince Merik who is on a crusade against his sister Princess Vivia. He’s determined to prove that she has bad intentions and he’s traveling around under a false identity as everyone believes he died when his ship exploded. Then we’ve got Safi, traveling around with Empress Vaness after also surviving a shipwreck. Lastly, we’ve got Iseult and Aeduan (the Threadwitch and the Bloodwitch) on a mission to find Safi but getting into antics of their own.
Critique: Where to start? As an overall critique, I have to say that Windwitch was missing just about everything that I loved about Truthwitch. One of the reasons I was so drawn to the series and why I became so invested to begin with is because of the friendship between Safi and Iseult. In Truthwitch, we get to see all of these amazing best friend moments between two powerful ladies and then they’re separated for the entirety of book two. Next, the story is completely sidelined in Windwitch. There was so much set up for this epic tale in Truthwitch and not a single story line was continued or explored enough in book two. This is my main issue. Book two, it really felt like Book one, take two. There was so much groundwork laid in Truthwitch that I was expecting a lot more action this time around. While it wasn’t completely unenjoyable to learn about these new situations, the pacing was much slower than in it’s predecessor and I found myself getting bored. There are also A LOT of narratives to follow. Windwitch increases to five separate POVs so if there was a particular story line you aren’t as interested in, it feels like it takes forever to get back to the one where your heart is (cough *Iseult and Aeduan* cough). There were some important strides made during the course of the story and there was a ton of character growth with the exception of Safi. I also really wish the relationship between Threadbrothers and Threadsisters would’ve been explored further but I’m expecting that’ll be coming in future installments. So overall, I liked Windwitch (despite all of the complaining I just did), but I just was expecting so much more out of it. There’s now a TON of buildup between books one and two and I’m just hoping the payoff in the final two books will live up to my expectations.
Do I Recommend?: If you enjoyed Truthwitch as much I did, I would definitely recommend continuing on with the series but I would warn you that the entire feel of the story changes and to not go into it with high expectations. Hopefully this will have been a necessary addition to what will be an epic fantasy story.
Personal Thoughts: I had been wanting to read Girl Against the Universe since it’s debut, largely due to the gorgeous cover. I’m not really a fan of the color orange but this beautifully illustrated tennis court just works for me. And I love that Maguire is strewn across the corner, looking like she’s given up on everyone and everything. I knew going into it that Maguire believes she’s bad luck, but I was never expecting to find a character that I personally relate to as much as I do to her. Maguire suffers from anxiety (with a slightly different thought process than mine manifests in) and “listening” in on her therapy sessions with Dr. Leed was an added bonus for my own personal mental health.
Plot Summary: In Girl Against the Universe, our main character Maguire believes she’s bad luck. She would rather just stay home and far away from other people because she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to them on her account. She is the survivor of several accidents which is where her fear stems from and after her most recent mishap, she moves with her mom, stepdad and step-siblings to a new town in California for a fresh start. Her mom pays for a preset amount of therapy sessions with Dr. Leed and it’s there that Maguire meets Jordy, another one of Dr. Leed’s patients with his own set of issues.
Critique: I can’t even pick a favorite thing about this book because I loved the entire thing so deeply so I’ll just start explaining why. Girl Against the Universe is not a girl with mental illness meets boy and then suddenly everything is better story. Maguire and Jordy are each dealing with their own set of very unique issues and the book shows the two of them working through things on their own and with each other. Maguire never lets Jordy push her into anything she’s not ready for. With Dr. Leed’s help, she comes up with a list of challenges to try to push herself into being more social and experiencing the world instead of sitting home while life happens around her. As it turns out, Jordy is something of a niche celebrity. He’s by no means super famous but he’s well known enough that he’s used to girls using him for his notoriety and access to fancy parties. His parents have a one track mind when it comes to his future and until now, Jordy has been on board even though it’s not necessarily what he really wants out of life. The friendship that he and Maguire form is incredibly adorable and I like that they’re able to find strength within themselves as a result of their relationship. Also notable are the amazing and unlikely friends Maguire makes along the way. They’re supportive and helpful and I just want to give them a big hug. I also loved the family aspect of the story. Maguire has a complicated relationship with her stepfather and she hasn’t told her mother all the details of her mental illness. As the story progresses, there are some pretty heartwarming family moments and your heart is sure to melt.
Do I Recommend?: Yes! Girl Against the Universe is a new favorite for me, particularly for the relatability factor when it comes to anxiety. This book means so much to me. To see something that I’ve experienced portrayed so accurately and without any negative connotations, is more than I ever could’ve wished for. I’m so happy there is a substantial backlist of Paula Stokes books that I have to look forward to reading!
Personal Thoughts: I read Catching Jordan, the first book in the Hundred Oaks series last year but I had been hesitant going into it because in my own personal life, I could not care less about sports. As it turns out, I love sports anime and contemporary romances where sports play a part. I think what I’ve learned here is that if real life sports games had more monologues and less play time, I would probably enjoy those as well. I was excited to start Stealing Parker because one of my reading goals for the year is to catch up on the Hundred Oaks series and because this book focuses on softball. I played softball from third grade through my junior year of high school (when I wanted to spend more time with my friends so I purposely threw the tryouts since my parents forced me into them despite my disinterest). There ended up being a lot more baseball than softball but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I even loved it more than Catching Jordan!
Plot Summary: Stealing Parker is about a girl name Parker who has a very complicated life. Her mother came out and left her family and she hasn’t been handling the fallout well ever since. Parker is shunned by her best friend, the people at her church turn on her and in order to dispel rumors that she’s like her mother, she ends up kissing a few more boys than she cares to. Things get even more complicated when she becomes the manager for the boys baseball team and starts taking an interest in her very adult coach.
Critique: I really enjoyed this one! Stealing Parker was not at all what I had been expecting, I’ve never read a YA contemporary romance where religion plays such a huge role. I love that Parker begins to question everything she’s been taught once the people at her church turn their back on her and her family over the “scandal” involving her mom. It’s not just a coming of age novel in the general sense but it also focuses on finding yourself spiritually. Each person in Parker’s family is handling everything differently so this is in no way, a cute fluffy contemporary. It covers everything from underage relationships to slut shaming to drug abuse to eating disorders to best friend break ups and more. Parker ends up making a slew of bad decisions while going through her depression and as I’m sure you can imagine, things continue to spiral downward into even more of a mess before a resolution is reached. I absolutely adored the romance in this book (and no, not the sleazy teacher / student relationship). My only complaint is about Parker’s best friend Drew. His piece of the puzzle was a little ridiculous to me because of certain circumstances but overall, that didn’t hinder my opinion at all.
Do I Recommend?: Yes! Stealing Parker is the second book in the Hundred Oaks series but it’s not at all necessary to read these books in order. There are cameos of characters from the first book, but they wouldn’t be noticeable if you aren’t familiar with their story and you don’t need any background information on them to enjoy what’s currently going on.
Personal Thoughts: Boom! It only took an entire year but I finally read A Gathering of Shadows right in time to catch up with V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series before it’s final installment, A Conjuring of Light debuts at the end of February. I have no idea how I waited this long to dive back in but I do know that I never would’ve been able to wait another 12 months for the rest of this story after the unreal cliffhanger at the end of book two. V.E. Schwab has NEVER done that to us readers before so it was completely unexpected (and I loved every minute of it!)! I ended up loving A Gathering of Shadows even more than it’s predecessor, A Darker Shade of Magic but I’ll get more into the why of things below!
Plot Summary: A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy so if you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, proceed with caution because there will be spoilers ahead. The second book picks up four months after the events in A Darker Shade of Magic. Having purged the obsidian stone through a rift into Black London along with Holland’s dead body, you would think things in Red London would begin to improve. Think again! Kell and Rhy are dealing with the consequences of their actions but only Kell is being punished for them. For someone who craves freedom, Kell seems to be less in control of his own life than ever before. Meanwhile, Lila Bard is off gallivanting with pirates aboard a ship called the Night Spire. As fate would have it, our two heroes become involved in the Essen Tach, or game of elements where folks compete using their magic to battle each other.
Critique: I’m a huge fan of elaborate competitions so A Gathering of Shadows was destined to secure a place in my heart. But it had me even earlier because following Lila’s adventures was my favorite element of this second book (okay, one of them but it’s just so hard to choose because I loved so much about this book!). The imagery that Schwab conveys about life aboard a pirate ship is the ultimate in appealing alternative lifestyles. Normally, life for a woman aboard a pirate ship might be a bit of a challenge but as you’ll remember from A Darker Shade of Magic, Lila Bard will give any man a run for his money using her plethora of weapons and a bit of her charm. Early on, I was living for those Lila scenes. Then we have Kell and Rhy, irrevocably bound to one another after the events of the first book. I am so glad that we got to see more of Rhy in this book because while he was charming and funny in book one, his added perspective uncovered an extra layer of depth that we weren’t privy to until now. I’m pretty sure everyone saw one specific thing involving Black London coming but I’m not going to say anything about it here just in case. Except to say THAT ENDING THOUGH. While we spent most of the story in Red London, we did find out some important information about the state of things in Grey, White and Black London so I’m really excited for the final book. So overall, the world VE Schwab built continues to be intriguing, the allure of the games kept everything exciting, the character relationships became stronger and the unexpected cliffhanger had me shaking my fist and screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Do I Recommend?: YES YES YES. There a bunch of people who have said that this series isn’t their favorite of VE’s works but I would still recommend continuing even if you didn’t love the first book. A Gathering of Shadows is a game changer and the antics of Kell, Lila and Rhy are sure to keep you hooked until the very end.
Personal Thoughts: For my second read of 2017, I wanted to consume something quick paced and exciting so I landed on The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I remember seeing a bunch of positive reviews from trusted blogger friends when it first debuted and I had been meaning to check it out ever since. In recent reading years, I’ve noticed that I’m really interested in fictional politics. I never thought I would be, but it’s always what I end up loving most about stories with any type of political element so when I read the synopsis of The Fixer and found out that it’s a political thriller, I was so in!
Plot Summary: The Fixer is about a sixteen year old girl named Tess Kendrick who is forced to move from her grandfather’s ranch to Washington D.C. to live with her estranged older sister Ivy. It turns out that Ivy has quite the reputation around Washington which she uses to secure Tess a spot at Harwicke Academy, a prestigious school attended by basically every rich politicians offspring. Tess gets completely thrown into this new life that she never asked for but since she’s a bit outspoken she quickly acclimates and becomes her classmates go-to for fixing their issues, big or small. She gets involved in investigating a potential conspiracy theory involving her classmates family and it’s not long until lie after lie surfaces.
Critique: I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Fixer! If I could give an initial warning, it would be that you’ll need to suspend all disbelief that a sixteen year old could be so instrumental in solving a national scandal (I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, I’m just saying it’s a stretch that she had so much access to top politicians including the President and his wife). Tess is a sarcastic and bossy character with a heart of gold. She doesn’t take no for an answer and when the well-being of people she cares about is at risk, she’ll stop at nothing to help them. The secondary characters in the story were also wonderful! I really enjoyed the possibility of a Tess / Asher romance without it actually happening. It’s so rare to find a YA book without a romance plot and it was refreshing to have Tess be completely focused on solving the mystery at hand instead of fawning over a high school crush. I also really loved Ivy’s chauffeur / bodyguard Bodie. He was quite entertaining and his relationship with Tess was adorable from start to finish. The pacing was incredibly quick and I felt like there was never a dull moment. The last third of the book was impossible to put down and I was surprised several times by the outcomes. I cannot wait to read book 2!
Do I Recommend?: Yes! This fun political thriller will keep you entertained the whole way through. Another plus is that it has short chapters (I always read quicker when that’s the case!).
Personal Thoughts: I’ve told this story on my BookTube channel but I had been offered an ARC of The Female of the Species at BEA in 2016 and after seeing the awful cover, I put it down without a second glance. Little did I know that The Female of the Species is pitched as a YA female version of Dexter, one of my favorite television shows ever (minus the horrible decline in the plot after season 4 and the worst series ending of all time) and it wasn’t until I got home to NY and started seeing rave reviews from trusted friends that I realized my huge mistake in letting this ARC go. So you can bet that upon it’s release date, I headed over to my local B&N and picked up at copy! I loved this book hundreds of thousands of times more than I was ever expecting to (even with the Dexter comparison) and I love that Mindy McGinnis wrote this important story for a YA audience.
Plot Summary: Alex Craft’s older sister Anna is murdered three years prior to the events of The Female of the Species but the killer in her small town goes unpunished, by legal means anyway. Alex, deeply affected by her sister’s murder takes justice into her own hands and avenges her sister’s death but is also not caught by local law enforcement. Alex always stays away from her classmates until her senior year when she forges a friendship at work with Peekay, the Preacher’s Kid and her high school’s golden boy, Jack Fisher, shows a romantic interest in her. The three end up at a party together where lots of alcohol and sexual abuse begin occurring and it trigger’s Alex’s dark side that she’s always kept hidden until now.
Critique: WOW. The Female of the Species is such an important story. Mindy McGinnis covers rape-culture, drugs, underage drinking, feminism and so very much more. The fact that this book was written for a YA audience speaks volumes about Mindy McGinnis and the lessons she’s trying to teach young women. I was completely blown away by how these darker issues were handled and what a realistic portrayal Mindy was able to conjure up for this small town. Each character was completely dynamic, believable and multi-layered. The Female of the Species is narrated by each of the three aforementioned characters (Alex, Peekay and Jack) and each person brings an interesting perspective to the table. Even the secondary characters like Branley were just written so perfectly. Despite all of the darkness, there are some heartwarming moments involving the animals Alex and Peekay care for at their job, and the attitude Peekay’s parents have toward what they experienced as teenagers. Despite being a Preacher, Peekay’s dad doesn’t turn a blind eye or forbade Peekay from partaking in any social events. He and her mom both give her one of the memorable parent-daughter talks I’ve ever read. Seriously, my heart was melting. If you can handle a very gritty and real contemporary story that delves into important social issues, The Female of the Species is 100% worth the read but there are major triggers for anyone sensitive to abuse.
Do I Recommend?: Yes! This is by no means an easy read in the sense that it deals with some HEAVY topics but I have no doubt you’ll fall in love with Alex’s morally grey character and her drive for justice in a society that’s otherwise apathetic to the things women experience.
Personal Thoughts: I love all things Jack the Ripper! I’ve always found his case to be mysterious and intriguing so pretty much anytime a book wants to further explore the possibilities surrounding his murders, I count myself in. Add to that a female main character pushing the boundaries of societal norms in Victorian London and I am even more enthused.
Plot Summary: Audrey Rose is an atypical seventeen year old who’s the daughter of a lord, but is way more interested in solving crimes and performing autopsies as an apprentice to her uncle than she is in acting proper and finding a husband. She assumes a faux male identity in the evening and sneaks to her uncle’s where she learns about anatomy and how to make incisions on corpses. When Jack the Ripper starts wreaking havoc in London, she’s eager to help solve the case no matter how improper it may be but suddenly things seem to be hitting much closer to home than she expected.
Critique: I thoroughly enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. Audrey is an intelligent protagonist and it’s a pleasure to read the story through her eyes. The lengths she is willing to go to follow her passion and break free of societal norms is so refreshing. She does display a certain amount of give and take in her interactions (never thinking her treatment is fair or not worth fighting for) and it makes her drive and tactics that much more plausible. Then there’s Thomas Creswell who is undeniably awkward in a savant-like way and he’s also incredibly charming. He and Audrey become close in their pursuit of Jack the Ripper and the romance between them is adorable. Thomas never assumes she can’t do something because of her gender and he’s very supportive of her extracurricular activities. Another thing I loved about Stalking Jack the Ripper is that despite taking place in the late 1800’s, the writing is very accessible. There are certain nods to the time period that are slipped in, but it’s never a challenge to follow and the communication between characters reads crystal clear. Be warned that if you’re a bit squeamish, all of the medical terms during the autopsies may get to you.
Do I Recommend?: Definitely! I really enjoyed this story despite being able to predict the ending and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Hunting Prince Dracula!
Personal Thoughts: After listening to an extensive number of reviews about Sally Thorne’s debut novel, The Hating Game, I knew it would be a book I would love. I even heard several people compare the writing to that of Rainbow Rowell’s which caused me to move it up to the very top of my TBR. While I did enjoy The Hating Game, it was lacking that special wow factor for me which makes me sad since I was so ready to love it and count it as a new favorite. Maybe my expectations were just too high and I’ll forever be wary of anyone comparing anything to Rainbow Rowell.
Plot Summary: The Hating Game follows Lucy Hutton and Josh Templeton, executive assistants to the co-CEO’s of their newly combined companies. And they hate each other. So as if tensions between them weren’t running high enough, they’re informed that their company will be creating a new position directly above Lucy and Josh and they’re the top two contenders for the job (which translates to Lucy or Josh will become the other person’s boss). But as we all know, there’s a very thin line between love and hate.
Critique: My favorite part of The Hating Game is all the witty banter between Lucy and Josh. Josh is your typical stick in the mud kind of numbers guy. He has a weekly schedule for which days of the week he wears which shirt, he’s ruthless toward coworkers who aren’t pulling their weight, and he wouldn’t dream of touching anything with sugar in it. Meanwhile, Lucy is colorful and fun. She’s a people person and she would rather work overtime killing herself and her social life than endure a confrontation with anyone no matter how much they’re walking all over her. She comes from a humble background, her parents own a strawberry farm and she’s struggling with her new life in a big city. I love hate to love relationships and this one is no exception but I was somehow just expecting more from it. Both Josh and Lucy have more going on than meets that eye and as they finally start to open up to each other between feuds, a small flame starts burning brighter. The Hating Game came enormously hyped and overall, I didn’t feel like it totally delivered. It was a quick, fun and enjoyable read but it didn’t resonate with me the way it seems to have with so many others. I can absolutely see The Hating Game being made into a rom-com and I would definitely go and see it once it hits theaters.
Do I Recommend?: I do! I seem to be the black sheep when it comes to The Hating Game so if you enjoy contemporary romances I would recommend checking it out!
This month Cassie and I met to discuss Windwitch by Susan Dennard for the Spines With Wines book club! It was a really fun one because we had opposite opinions on a lot of the story so you’ll get both points of view. You can view the full video below:
February Book Club Pick
Personal Thoughts: After finishing and loving P.S. I Like You by Kasie West, I decided I was on a contemporary kick and jumped right into one of my most anticipated of 2017. Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse is a book that I got an ARC of at BEA and I’d been meaning to read it before it’s March release date so I could review it here on the blog. What initially peaked my interest in Seven Days of You is the fact that it’s set in Tokyo. I love all things Japan so my heart felt ready to dive in and run around Tokyo in my head while ignoring the Nor’easter weather conditions here in NYC.
Plot Summary: Seven Days of You is the story of a girl named Sophia who has only one week left in Tokyo. She’s lived there with her mother and her sister for more combined years than any other location and she’s not ready to leave her best friends, her school and everything familiar in her life behind and head to New Jersey right before she begins her senior year of high school. As Sophia is getting ready to leave, Jamie, the boy she’s harbored a huge grudge against for the past couple of years, arrives back in Tokyo and their relationship dynamic begins to change when he helps her pick up the pieces of everything falling apart around her. But despite the change of heart, Sophia and Jamie are dealing with an impending deadline of Sophia’s inevitable departure.
Critique: I’m sad to say that Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse did not live up to my expectations. My initial interest in the Tokyo setting ended up being the only thing that kept me going throughout the whole story. I loved anytime the characters would meet up at a tourist destination in Tokyo, would go to karaoke, or would indulge in Japanese snacks. It was really fun to pick out some favorites and wish I were there eating with them! There was also a mention in the beginning of the book that reminded me of one of my favorite manga series (Nana by Ai Yazawa) so I was very hyped. Unfortunately, my love of the book ended there. I didn’t completely dislike the book but none of the characters were very memorable, and I struggled with the plot. Sophia and her friends Mika and David are immature. David treats Sophia horribly yet she spends a good portion of the story harboring a crush on him anyway. I really disliked the way the situation between the three of them was handled from beginning to end. Then there’s the love interest Jamie who seemed like such a good guy. He’s way too good for everything that Sophia puts him through and it was sad to see him hang around her. Mika seemed like she had potential to be an interesting character but it was difficult to ever fully understand her or the motivation behind her actions and David is just awful. Another thing I found strange is that Japanese words would be in italics the first time they were used. I’m unsure if this is because I read an ARC version or if it was an intentional way to show readers that an object is Japanese. I’ll be very curious to see if that’s the same in the finished version. One thing I did like is that each chapter has a countdown in the chapter header showing us how many more days, hours, minutes and seconds Sophia has left before she leaves Tokyo. Seven Days of You is an enjoyable read for the Japanese references but it’s not something I would re-read and I know the story isn’t one that will stick with me.