7

Dark Water: Darkly Atmospheric, Hugely Satisfying

Penguin2.3

Dark Water

224 Pages
Mystery/Psychological Thriller
Nightingale Editions Publishing
Expected Publication Date: October 3rd, 2016
Get a copy here!

Friendship doesn’t die, it waits…

A haunting and lyrical novel, Dark Water is a psychologically intense portrait of adolescent yearning and obsession.

When Helena returns to her childhood home in Orkney, she is forced to face memories that she has spent half a lifetime running from. Her best friend, the charismatic Anastasia, disappeared after a swimming incident. But what really happened that night by the wrecks?

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: that ending changed literally everything!; unreliable 1st person narrator; interesting flip flop/use of 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd POV narrations; love the “Now and Then” feel this has; dark and atmospheric prose; realistic, flawed characters

First: HUGE thanks to Sara Bailey and Nightingale Editions Publishers for granting me early access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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Now, I’m going to do something just a little weird and work my way backwards in this review. Why? Because mystery, intrigue, all things chaotic! No, no, I kid. BUT THAT ENDING! The ending of this book literally changed everything. Don’t get all worked up–I promise to keep things spoiler-free, as always! I will, however, warn you: the first person POV? 100% unreliable. There are hints dropped early on that you won’t realize were even hints until you hit the last few paragraphs. Helena, our main character, will make you question her, will make you doubt her…and then will somehow, someway, sneak her way beneath your skin and force you to trust her at her word. The pieces come together, but they do so in a way you won’t be expecting.

 

That being said, this book is both weird and awesome in its use of perspective. 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd person POV are all used brilliantly. Seriously, I bow down to this author for putting it off and making it gorgeous at the same time–that is SUCH a challenging feat, and Sara Bailey made it seamless. The first few chapters were a bit confusing–it takes a moment to get used to the formatting and the perspective shifts. I also wasn’t entirely sure who the third person POV was until the very end, though this, of course, was the entire POINT of this POV. It all comes down to perspective, and the puzzle pieces dropped in these sections were meant to be jagged, to not all fit together, to throw readers off the trail.

 

The plot is, overall, a bit slower than I was expecting. There’s a sense of “Now and Then” (this is a movie, for those who don’t know it–it’s one of my favorites, go look it up!) in the way the plot jumps from present to past. It is in no way a linear progression, so if you aren’t a fan of cyclical or nonlinear prose, keep this in mind when considering picking this book up–it jumps around. A lot. For this particular book, it worked REALLY well for me personally–it always came back to that one defining moment. It always came back to the instant that changed everything for these characters.

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I am super happy to have been approached with the opportunity to read and review this title! Helena is the PERFECT example of an unreliable narrator, though she manages to fool even the readers through most of this journey. The shifts in perspective are both gorgeously done and, in some instances, unsettling in an enthralling, exciting way. I definitely recommend this to lovers of darkly atmospheric prose, characters with defining secrets, and mysteries that are a little slow in plot but hugely satisfying in answers. I will be keeping my eye out for Sara Bailey in the future. If this is a debut novel from her, I can’t wait to see what she does next!

5

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Book Review: The Tokyo Cover Girls


The Tokyo Cover Girls
Jackie Amsden
(The Tokyo Cover Girls , #1)
Publication date: April 28th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

Goodreads B&N Amazon

New York has Jacobs, Paris has Chanel, Milan has Versace and Tokyo has . . . Hello Kitty toilet plungers? With its cute-obsessed catalogue and magazine market, anyone who is anyone knows that modeling in Japan means being at the bottom of the fashion industry. Blake, Jess, and Hailey are doing their best to survive yet another casting where pigtails and toddler-impressions are a must when they stumble upon the opportunity of a lifetime. The prestigious Satsujin company has selected them to compete for a campaign that will transform the winner from commercial nobody to haute couture superstar faster than you can say Vogue Italia.

Of course, nothing is ever what it seems in the fashion world. Just ask all those dead girls . .

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Amsden worked as a fashion model in China, Japan, and Taiwan before retiring at the age of eighteen after one too many agent threats, nude photo shoot requests, and self-loathing-induced Pocky binges. If you’d like to learn more about her decent into the darker side of Asia’s candy-coated modeling industry sign up for free installments of her upcoming memoir and get updates about the sequel to The Tokyo Cover Girls at http://www.jackieamsden.com.


GIVEAWAY:  CLICK HERE!

 


Penguin2.3

3Penguins

Quick Reasons: intriguing, entertaining plot; GAAAAAH so much girl hate, whyyyy?!; I was expecting…something different?; slightly disappointed, honestly; some weird typos and missing letters/words throughout; kind of a weird, unresolved ending

Huge thanks to Jackie Amsden and Giselle @ Xpresso Book Tours for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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So…this wasn’t QUITE what I was expecting, going into this read, and I’m just slightly disappointed about it. I was expecting models and mayhem and murder and intrigue and…. instead, I feel like I got a few minor blips on an otherwise fairly calm radar. Don’t get me wrong–the plot was intriguing, and entertaining, but… I wasn’t nearly as hooked as I thought I’d be. I also wasn’t nearly as enthralled as I’d hoped. There wasn’t, in the end, a whole lot of modeling. There also wasn’t a whole lot of murder. This was more like…flipping on an episode of America’s Next Top Model and instead realizing you’re watching Say Yes to the Dress. I don’t know if that analogy makes sense to anyone but me, but the point is, I went into this read expecting excitement and mayhem and instead got a lot of whining and complaining and stress-eating.

The ending of this book also felt a bit…incomplete. I mean, I KNOW that this is only the first book in the series, so obviously there are going to be unresolved questions and unexplained foreshadows, BUT. The ending for this? Didn’t really give me any semblance of an “ending.” I don’t know if that makes sense… I got to the ending, and was expecting at least another chapter–we aren’t even sure, at the end, if the “bad guy” is gone or if this is only the beginning. And while I don’t have a problem with cliffhanger endings…this one just felt a bit stiff and awkward to me, I guess.

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BUT! The plot was super intriguing, and while there was a LOT of girl-hate going on throughout this book (man, these girls were catty. I mean, sure, they’re models, but HOLY PENGUINS, women, cool yourselves!), I was also pretty entertained throughout. There are quite a few typos and missing letters/words, which made some of the sentences awkward or difficult to read…and most of the characters, unfortunately, turned out to be pretty 1-dimensional in my mind. I still had a TON of fun reading, though, and will probably pick up book two in the future because I’m curious to see what the girls get up to on their next journey.

Overall, this was a quirky and entertaining read that, while disappointing in the end, kept me turning the pages. I wasn’t a fan of all the girl-hate, but the plot was intriguing, and I’m interested in seeing what happens in book two. I’d recommend this to lovers of dramatic mysteries, high-maintenance characters, and just a hint of an unresolved ending. Jackie Amsden kept me guessing with this book–maybe you should give it a chance, too!

3

Sign of the Green Dragon: Sleuthing doesn’t Always Mean Computer Research and Safety

Penguin2.3

Sign of the Green Dragon

181 Pages
Children’s/Middle Grade
CreateSpace Edition Publishing
Publication Date: August 3rd, 2016
Available on Kindle Unlimited
or get a copy here!

Three plucky sleuths. A crumbling skeleton. A buried treasure.

After six months in a new school, Sam’s finally fitting in. He’s the one kid with enough talent to hit the winning home run and bring the baseball trophy back to Haggarty Elementary. But Sam’s guardian is shipping him off to boarding school before that can happen.

When teammates, Joey and Roger, hear his bad news, they plot to hide him until the big game. Their secret cave is a perfect place until an earthquake shatters a wall and reveals a wooden chest with a red-eyed dragon carved into its top. Inside, a bony hand clutches a map with a note, promising treasure.

With Joey and Roger, Sam sets off to track down the clues and hopefully discover treasure. When some puzzle pieces start to make sense, the boys become lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels, trapped by dangerous thieves and sealed inside an airless tomb.

Sign of the Green Dragon gets a high five for fantasy, fun and some fearsome adventure. If you like intrepid would-be knights on impossible and dangerous quests, you’ll love this story. As one reader says, this book, “has more twists than a dragon’s tail.”

Order now to jump into the adventure.

3Penguins
Quick Reasons: decent action/adventure tale; entertaining; occasional moments of snark and sass; a ‘coming of age’ journey (of sorts); quasi-mystery; perfect for thrill seekers and dragon lovers; some missing words/grammatical inconsistencies; I wish we’d gotten to see more of the magic/dragons aspect

Huge thank you, first and foremost, to C. Lee McKenzie and Createspace Edition Publishing for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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While not necessarily my favorite read of the year, this book was at turns endearing and enchanting. The focus on the boys’ struggles with and attempts at figuring out the “mystery” of this book–what the note they discovered meant, who/what the dragon twins were, and where the treasure was hidden–got somewhat lost in the grand scheme of the ending, particularly when one of the adult characters went missing/was kidnapped and the search for him began. I also felt like, for a book about dragons, I don’t feel like this focused enough on those key aspects–while there ARE dragons, they make sort of an odd, late appearance and do no more than explain that while they’d been “watching over the boys” the whole time, they couldn’t interfere because rules. In the end, I was just a bit let down by the promise of–and then lack of–dragons (but this is because I love books with dragons/dragon lore.)

 

The story, however, was quite a bit of fun. There were tons of humorous, snarky moments–particularly from our main boy, Sam–and I found myself being drawn into this world of mystery and intrigue fairly quickly. The prose is, admittedly, a little blase and young–but given the age this read is targeted for, I didn’t mind this so much. The fact that the characters become wholly consumed by and obsessed with their quest, and therefore don’t really notice the other things happening around them, was also realistic and well-done. I remember being that age and getting the same amount of tunnel-vision, and could easily understand where the boys were coming from throughout the read.

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The plot is fast-paced and action packed, though not weighed down TOO heavily with subjects of import. Sam is, throughout, struggling to figure out his place in the world–recently moved into his uncle’s house, his plight to come to terms with a feeling of helplessness and homelessness was endearing and heart-wrenching. The amount of devotion C. Lee McKenzie put into making and molding dynamic, differing familial relationships was a highlight of this read.

 

Of course, given the rating, you probably already know that this was not necessarily the book for me personally. While I enjoyed the story and the focus on familial relationships, both blood and not, I was disappointed by the seeming lack of actual dragons. There were also quite a few missing words or grammatical inconsistencies that, while not necessarily dragging down my reading progress, did trip me up a time or two throughout. They weren’t big enough to merit much on my radar, but there were enough of them that I started to notice after the first couple chapters.

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Overall, this was a cute coming of age tale with a slight focus on the fantastical. I had a good deal of fun following the boys on their journey–and seeing where Sam’s personal struggles led him at the end. C. Lee McKenzie crafted a read that lovers of mystery, thrill-seeking adventures, and dragons will appreciate–no matter their age! This was a fun read; I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us from this author!

2

Gilt Hollow: What an Apt Name for Such a Corrupt Town

Penguin2.3

Gilt Hollow

304 Pages
Young Adult / Mystery / Contemporary Thriller
Blink Publishing
Expected Publication Date: September 27th, 2016
Preorder a copy here!

Willow Lamott’s best friend is a murderer, and no one in the small town of Gilt Hollow will let her forget it. For four long years, she’s tried to fade into the background—but none of that matters when Ashton Keller comes striding into school, fresh out of juvie and fueled by revenge. The moment their eyes meet, Willow no longer feels invisible. Drawn to the vulnerability behind Ashton’s mask of rage, she sinks deeper into his sinister world and begins to question whether he’s a villain, a savior, or both.

Ashton thought he wanted vengeance, until Willow reminded him what he’d been missing. Now he longs to clear his name and become the person she sees in him. But the closer they get to uncovering the truth, the darker the secrets become, and Ashton fears his return to Gilt Hollow will destroy everyone he loves, especially the girl he left behind.

4Penguins
Quick Reasons: adorable, fluffy romance tinged with just a SLIGHT amount of danger/star-crossed lovers; enthralling, though slightly predictable, mystery/thriller; there’s a bit ofPretty Little Liars feel to this book; Ashton is the most adorable bad boy EVER; fast-paced, spine-tingling plot; lots of drama and action

Huge thanks to Lorie Langdon, Blink Publishing, and Netgalley for granting me early access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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Let me just get this out of the way real quick, yes? Ashton is the most adorable floofball penguin of ever and now I want to scoop him out of this book and hide him in my closet. Of course, he probably wouldn’t be QUITE so adorable as my prisoner…so I suppose I’ll just have to leave him where he is and admire him through Willow’s eyes in the future. Either way, his relationship with Willow is super cute and stomach-churning, and I ADOOOOORED following them through this journey. They have a sort of… best friends, to somewhat enemies, to awkward acquaintances, to friends, to lovers…. thing going on in this book, and it was both frustrating (JUST KISS HER ALREADY!) and 100% exactly as steamy as I like my romances to be. I believed it–and that’s saying something, because most book relationships I find hard to truly “believe.”

That being said–the mystery of this book? Was sort of predictable in the end. While there were a few things that threw me for a loop, in the end I wasn’t overall surprised with how it turned out. Perhaps this is due to the fact we go into this book already knowing Ashton is innocent–he says as much within the first chapter. I think a large part of it, though, was just the fact that the mystery, for me at least, fell a bit flat. Of course, there WERE some harrowing moments. The motorcycle scene, for instance…and the threats being sent to Willow. These lent a level of suspense and gut-churning nerves I didn’t expect, and helped to immerse me more fully in the story being woven around me.

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I feel like the characters also fell a bit flat. We see a LOT of Ashton and Willow, because duh, they’re the main duo… But I feel like certain other characters maybe got a bit lost in the long-run. Key players, especially, felt as if they were just playing their roles. Colin, for instance–we didn’t see hardly ANY of him, and his role is one of the biggest in the events leading to the ending of this book. I think maybe Lorie Langdon put too much focus on the reaffirmation of Ashton and Willow’s relationship, when she should have widened the scope to include some of the other important characters as well. I understand this is from Willow and Ashton’s perspectives, but… I don’t know. I guess I expected them to see at least a few other sides to their classmates, especially being the sleuth detectives they’re meant to be in this read.

I did, however, spend a large portion of this book BEGGING Ashton to get over his reservations and kiss Willow, already! So…eh. I really enjoyed seeing the relationship between Willow and her brother, Rainn, as well–and her mom, though not as much of a focus character, was also fleshed out and made believable. While I’m not entirely certain I believed her sudden change of heart toward Ashton…she at least felt more “human” than some of the other characters. The family dynamics were interesting and juxtaposed, just like Willow and Ashton as characters.

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Overall, I enjoyed this read immensely, even if I had trouble believing certain pieces of it. Willow and Ashton were adorably floofy in their budding romance, though a lot of the other characters felt a bit stiff and 1-dimensional. I recommend this book to lovers of mystery/thrillers, fans ofPretty Little Liars, and star-crossed lovers with a sense of reckless abandonment. I can’t wait to see what Lorie Langdon brings readers next–I’m sure it’s bound to be just as great!

4

Future Shock: Mystery, Mayhem, and Murder

Penguin2.3

Future Shock

Future Shock Book 1
Goodreads Rating: 3.90 Stars
272 Pages
AW Teen Publishing
Publication Date: April 1st, 2016
Get a copy here!

What do you do when the future is too late, and the present is counting down to an inevitable moment?

Elena Martinez has street smarts, the ability for perfect recall, and a deadline: if she doesn’t find a job before she turns eighteen, she’ll be homeless. But then she gets an unexpected offer from Aether Corporation, the powerful Los Angeles tech giant. Along with four other recruits—Adam, Chris, Trent, and Zoe—Elena is being sent on a secret mission to bring back data from the future. All they have to do is get Aether the information they need, and the five of them will be set for life. It’s an offer Elena can’t refuse.

But something goes wrong when the time travelers arrive in the future. And they are forced to break the only rule they were given—not to look into their own fates. Now they have twenty-four hours to get back to the present and find a way to stop a seemingly inevitable future—and a murder—from happening. But changing the timeline has deadly consequences too. Who can Elena trust as she fights to save her life?

The first book in an unforgettable series about rewriting your destiny in the city of dreams.

4.25Penguins
Quick Reasons: very small emphasis on the romance–like, hardly at all, though it’s sort of instalove-esque; awesome mystery/thriller; lots of yummy world-building and twisty-turns; great cast of characters and wide array of “relationships” featured; different science to the time-travel lore we all know

I know it took me a while to get to this one, but HUGE thank yous to Elizabeth Briggs, AW Teen Publishing, and Casey at Media Masters Publicity for sending me an ARC copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this title. My selected quotes are from the ARC copy, so my apologies if they are different from or taken out of the finished version!

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First off: the world-building of this book is DELICIOUS. No tiny details are spared; Elizabeth Briggs put a lot of time and effort into making this story, and this world, coherent, seamless, and believable. I LOVE that every detail is thought out, described just enough to foreshadow…but left just open-ended enough to allow readers to be entertained and enthralled throughout. When I hit the 50% mark, I was almost positive I’d already put the pieces together and knew where the plot was headed…and then I read several chapters more, and found myself utterly confused. The mystery of this read is masterfully done, with just enough push and pull to keep even the most avid mystery readers guessing and leaping to red-herring answers.

The sense of “time running out,” particularly near the end, was also an awesome touch. While the characters have 24 hours in the future to figure things out and “solve” the mystery…in reality, that’s not much time at all. I also really liked that in the present-time, only 12 minutes pass. This was, in my opinion, an interesting way to do this–I’d be interested in knowing the why behind this, actually, as it’s not exactly explained (I mean, it’s not that important a detail, so no biggie either way).

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The characters, though… Especially Elena, our main narrator–she immediately tugged at my heartstrings. I LOVE how realistic and human these characters come off; they don’t feel like words on a page, but instead took up their own space in my head while reading. They lived, breathed, and entrenched themselves in my thoughts. Elena’s struggle, in particular, became my struggle–and I loved that about this book.

Like I said earlier, the plot is fast-paced, well considered, and easy to dive into even for the most-novice science fiction readers. You don’t have to know all the technical aspects of this book (because penguins knows I definitely didn’t, going in!) to be sucked into the world and dragged along for the ride. What little you DO need to understand…is explained quickly and thoroughly, though not in an overwhelming or confusing way. It’s obvious Elizabeth Briggs thought this out and strove to make sure that even people who’ve never read sci fi would understand and be entertained by this story.

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I had a ton of fun reading this book and being transported to, for at least a time, a world very different…and yet vaguely similar…to our own. The characters are realistic and endearing, the plot is full of twists and turns, and the journey is bound to enthrall even the most novice sci fi readers. If you love time travel, sassy characters, and well-written red herrings, you should definitely consider picking this book up!

 

0

Zero: His Unmasking Comes with a Price

Penguin2.3

Zero

Zero Series Book 1
Goodreads Rating: 4.37 Stars

378 Pages
Rubinos, 1860 Publishing
Publication Date (Spanish version): May 4th, 2015
Publication Date (Translated version): June 28th, 2016
Get a copy here!

A baffling robber.

A mystery hidden for years.

And an elite boarding school where no one is who they say they are.

Kyle Bradford is the envy of Drayton College, but everything takes a turn when a dangerous shadow, hidden in the darkness, starts to stalk him. From then on, his life falls apart. Unjustly accused of being the main suspect behind the robberies terrifying high society, he is forced to prove his innocence. And to do so, he has to find the real culprit: Zero, an infallible criminal who keeps his identity hidden under a silver mask. What Kyle does not know is that his enemy is keeping a secret. A secret he would sacrifice everything for.

A dizzying, heart-stopping thriller you won’t be able to put down.

4Penguins
Quick Reasons: mysterious, dramatic, riveting; lots of loop-de-doops and surprises; I was enthralled from the get-go; simple prose with an intricate plot; there was a weird formatting glitch in the (first?) chapter; weirdly complex and contradictory characters

First and foremost: HUGE thanks to Morgan Dark and Rubinos, 1860 Publishing for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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So…let’s just start out with a broad-spectrum comparison, yes? This book? Is sort of like Pretty Little Liars meets Gothammeets Scooby Doo. Which, in my opinion, is pretty epic! There’s a finely tuned air of mystery that kept me always guessing…and running toward the wrong conclusions! I was engaged, but also felt as if I was always ONE small step behind the plot, which is the perfect recipe for a good mystery, I think. Morgan Dark has a way of dropping hints into the middle of a seemingly harmless paragraph…and then making you, as the reader, think it inconsequential.

 

The prose is pretty standard and simple. Because this was originally written in Spanish and translated into English for this special ebook release, there are a few very tiny translation issues–though honestly, these could have easily happened in any book, and they didn’t bother me. There WAS, I believe within the first three chapters, a grammatical glitch that copy/pasted approximately 6 whole paragraphs–a repetition, in other words. This was a bit annoying–it took me a minute to realize the repeated section wasn’t meant to be there, and to click my way through until the end of the chapter. However, it was the only place I really noticed anything weird, and I quickly forgot about it.

 

The characters, on the other hand, are an interesting mess of confusing. After the initial third-person POV prologue, we shift almost seamlessly into first-person — Kyle’s perspective. And Kyle… Well, he’s a mixed bag of contradictions. He spends several paragraphs complaining about the rich kid complex, but turns around and pulls the same ‘tude a few times throughout the narrative. He asks questions and expects to get answers, but he doesn’t actually LISTEN to the answers. Small things, sure, but they stood out–and made me question which Kyle was the true one.

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This was, overall, a sassy, entertaining read–with some shocker plot twists along the way! (71% mark, I’m looking at you!) I promise you, Morgan Dark knows how to red herring with the best of them. You’ll find yourself making the wrong assumptions all over the place, only to turn around and rethink everything! I definitely recommend to lovers of shows like Pretty Little Liars, masked avengers, and snarky mysteries. If that sounds like you, give this a try–you’re bound to be enthralled!

(Also, there’s almost no romance the entire read [save just a little snippet of a hint near the 90% mark], so there’s that!)

5

Valentina: These Plot Twists are Flammable! (GIVEAWAY!)

Penguin2.3

Valentina: a hauntingly intelligent psychological thriller

Goodreads Rating: 4.67 Stars
280 Pages
Blackbird Digital Books Publishing
Expected Publication Date: July 1st, 2016
Preorder a copy here!

When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.

But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane…

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?

As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears…

A hauntingly intelligent, addictive psychological thriller from debut author S. E. Lynes.

4.75Penguins
Quick Reasons: PENGUINS, this book!; I can’t even wrap my brain around the plot twist; I mean, I expected something wild…but not what this book gave me; awesome, complex characters with a ton of secrets; a finely-woven tapestry of drama, mystery, and surprise; this read took a dark and unexpected path…and I ADORED it; diverse setting and characters

Huge thanks, firstly, to S.E. Lynes and Blackbird Digital Books Publishing for granting me access to this book early in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this title.

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First and foremost: Valentina and Shona? Perfect foils. I don’t know how, I’m not sure I can explain why…but these two characters are as alike as they are different, and this made them the perfect compliment to each other. And while yes, they are similar in several ways you might think I mean, trust me when I say their true “foil” status doesn’t reach peak until around the 90% mark, when the entire world explodes.

These characters are vibrant. They scream from the pages, they make a mark on readers almost immediately…they embark on a journey that is unexpectedly dark and entertaining. Shona and Valentina are NOT your average characters, your average wives, or your average moms—there is an element of mystery, of shadows stepping into the light, that I haven’t found in many other books. This shady sense of something “not quite right” will follow readers through this entire read…and far after the final page.

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I had a TON of fun hitching a ride on this wild journey, though if I’m being honest with you, I was expecting a plot twist of a different sort. Now, listen closely: this wasn’t, at all, a bad thing! The author caught me by surprise, threw me for several very long and dizzying loops…and then left me both perplexed and confused at the very end. I loved every second of it!

The writing and setting are both gorgeous and diverse. Because Shona hails from Scotland, the prose is languid, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time. The descriptions are so detailed, you’ll feel as if you’re sitting on the sidelines watching the action play out. This story will literally leap to life for you…and drag you on a journey of discovery and drama so intense, you won’t know what hit you at the end.

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This was an awesome read, and I am so so glad to have been offered the opportunity to dive out of my comfort zone and step foot into these characters’ world for a brief moment. I really enjoyed the mystery, the “dark” atmosphere, and the surprising plot twists. I recommed this read to lovers of thrillers, characters with secrets, and whopper endings. This book surprised me…maybe you should let it surprise YOU.


Interested in winning a digital copy of this book?!

Blackbird Books Publishers are Giving Away THREE! Enter here!

2

The Masterpiecers: A Tapestry of Action, Diversity, and Beautiful Prose

Penguin2.3

The Masterpiecers

Goodreads Rating: 4.17 Stars
352 Pages
Get a copy here!

Nineteen-year-old Ivy Redd’s talent with a needle and thread has earned her a spot on a coveted reality TV art competition set in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The prize: a significant amount of money and instant acceptance into the Masterpiecers, the school that ensures new artists fame and fortune. Her talent has also thrust her and her twin sister, Aster, into the spotlight.

Not that Aster needed help with becoming a media favorite. She managed that on her own by running over a wanted mobster. She told the police it was self-defense, because she couldn’t tell them the truth—the truth would make her sister look bad.

Locked in an Indiana jail to await her trial, Aster watches Ivy on the small TV hanging in the dayroom. It’s the highlight of her day, until she finds out what her sister truly thinks of her. Then, observing her sister becomes a punishment far crueler than imprisonment.

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: sensitively written diversity (and lots of it!); awesome, complex, wholly individualized characters; lots of tension, mystery, and secrets to be uncovered; beautiful, melodic prose; fast-paced, action-packed plot

Huge thanks to Olivia Wildenstein and YA Bound Book Tours for sending me an egalley of this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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I want to start with the most obvious thing first: PENGUINS, that cover is gorgeous! I admit, when I first looked this book up on goodreads, I was only about 80% sure I wanted to read it. I will admit further….the cover? Absolutely swayed me. Something about the red against the dark background is just so subtly beautiful and creepy at the same time. I just ADORE how the cover artist designed this one, too—it’s so perfect and fitting for the story within.

 

Secondly, this book? SO. MUCH. DIVERSITY. There are POC characters; characters with mental illness (schizophrenia and PTSD); LGBTQ+ characters… Diversity SEEPS from the pages, and it’s done so, so beautifully. None of it feels contrived. The mental illnesses are maturely and sensitively written. It all comes together in a beautifully captivating tapestry of humanity—my hats off to Olivia Wildenstein, she wrote this SO gorgeously I can’t even.

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The main characters, while twins, are written in such distinctive, unique voices, I never had trouble telling which was narrating at any given moment (though chapter headings DO specify which twin that section follows, which was helpful at the beginning) The rest of the characters also captured my attention and proved themselves to be individualized, separate cohabitants of this story.

 

There are, of course, secrets—this is a mystery/thriller, after all. Secrets are sort of the main point. So while at the end, I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d learned and how much I only THOUGHT I knew…there’s a second book set to release in the near future that will, hopefully, help to clear up the few confusing things floating around in my head having closed this book. The plot is fast-paced. The ending, especially for one of our sisters, is a tiny bit confusing on certain details…but given her health decline at this point, that’s to be expected.

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Overall, this was an entertaining, perplexing, and gorgeous read. The prose is melodic and atmospheric. The plot is full of action and beautifully detailed. The characters are vibrant and wholly individualized. I am now DROOLING for book two, and whatever adventure awaits our sister duo. I recommend this read to lovers of mystery/thrillers, sensitively-written diversity, and rag-tag motley crews. I cannot wait to find out what happens next!

7

A Review of Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano

Penguin2.3

Holding Smoke

Goodreads Rating: 4.05 Stars
336 Pages
Disney-Hyperion Publishing
Expected Publication: May 3rd, 2016
Preorder it here!

John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves.

But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name.

Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

– – – – –

5Penguins
Quick Reasons: ohmahgosh, I can’t even; this book will MAKE you reconsider the world; there’s no escaping the twist and lure of “good vs. bad” going on in these pages; this will turn you on your head and make you see things upside down…and you’ll let it; gorgeous, melodic prose; hard-hitting story; dramatic, action-packed mystery—a race to the finish line

HUGE thanks to Elle Cosimano, Disney-Hyperion Publishing, and Netgalley for granting my wish for access to this title in exchange for an honest review! This in no way changed my read of or opinions on this book.

I circle the bed as my threads wind tighter, nothing but a length of fraying twine in my hands. I can’t stop thinking about what Pink said. About not being afraid. My head’s wrapped in metal. But that other thing, the part that beats beneath my ribs, feels so damn fragile.

Disney-Hyperion, what are you even doing to my heart these days?! This is the second book from you in a month that’s made me question everything…and literally turned the world topsy-turvy on me. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’m definitely not complaining! But holy penguins, if you keep this up my perspective is going to be all sorts of distorted and confused! (so…keep it up! please?)

So. You’re probably looking at the shelves I put this under and wondering… “Beth, how can a book be both contemporary and paranormal?!” And…you probably have a point. I’m not sure how exactly it works, but somehow, this book manages—and does it beautifully. For the most part, this IS contemporary—set in a juvenile delinquents facility. But…there’s this weird, intriguing play on the paranormal and on out-of-body experiences, as well, that I absolutely adored (because, you know, I’m all about the weird books!)

“You know when you’re sleeping, and you have that dream where you’re falling? My grandmother always said that’s just us, falling back into ourselves. We all drift a little outside ourselves when we dream.” She pauses. Looks back at me. “The rest of us just can’t go as far.”

The characters are vibrant and human: frustrating in their flaws, redeemable in their mistakes, and so easy to connect with you’ll find yourself immediately sucked into the pages. This book takes off from the very start, and doesn’t back down or slow until the last few pages.

And there is, surprisingly, more to be found here than the run-of-the-mill, “I’m innocent and was wrongly accused” story you might expect just reading the blurb. There are more secrets, there are more twists and turns and back-alley deals, than you might ever imagine. And all of this—every secret, every moment, every tiny detail—leads up to a fiery ending I didn’t see coming…and a conclusion both sweet and bitter in its knowledge.

This book WILL force you out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t back down or sugar coat the hard truths. It doesn’t try to make the characters into something they aren’t. What it does, is embrace the limbo between “good” and “bad” we all keep locked within ourselves. It plays upon human nature at its finest…and at its worst, and it leaves readers so floundered at the end—so perplexed with the sudden shift in perspective they’ve been given—that the book is bound to haunt them.

The pull is relentless. It wants me to let go. And for a minute, I think maybe I want that, too. The closer I am to myself, the harder it is to hold on. It hurts to see myself this closely. What if I can’t be fixed? I look to my battered face for an answer, but I can’t even make out my own eyes. I don’t know what I want beneath all these broken pieces. Or how much I’m willing to suffer for the consequences of what I’m about to do. All I know is I’d rather be trapped inside a broken body than face the unknown.

Once again, I stepped outside my comfort zone for a Disney-Hyperion book…and once again, I am LOVING myself for doing it. This book made me think. This book turned the world on its head (or maybe it turned ME on my head) and shuffled everything I thought I knew into a nonsensical order of “gray.” Nothing is ever black and white…and this book proves that. I recommend to readers of mystery, the paranormal, and books that leave you thinking. Take a chance on this one, guys—you won’t regret it!

5

A Review of Unspeakable, by Abbie Rushton

Unspeakable

Goodreads Rating: 3.62 Stars
279 pages
Atom Publishing
Get a copy here!

Megan doesn’t speak. She hasn’t spoken in months.

Pushing away the people she cares about is just a small price to pay. Because there are things locked inside Megan’s head – things that are screaming to be heard – that she cannot, must not, let out.

Then Jasmine starts at school: bubbly, beautiful, talkative Jasmine. And for reasons Megan can’t quite understand, life starts to look a bit brighter.

Megan would love to speak again, and it seems like Jasmine might be the answer. But if she finds her voice, will she lose everything else?

– – – – –

3.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: diverse characters; intriguing mystery with a bit of an easy-to-figure-out ending; interesting cohesion of drama, angst, and clashing emotions; lots of moody and atmospheric prose; an interesting look at selective mutism—and the many ways it touches everyone

Over here, I think. We’re over here.

Thoughts are no good. I need words. They gather inside and claw up my throat like prisoners fighting to escape.

Yeesh, this read! The prose is moody, atmospheric, and enough to make you want to fist your hands in your hair and scream at times—which, for a mystery, is a good thing in my opinion, so BIG WIN there for Abbie Rushton right out of the gate.

I’ve read a couple other novels with selective mutism as a major plot point, so while I had fun sloughing through this and trying to figure out what the big reveal moment was going to be (unfortunately, I figured out the gist pretty early on, which made the actual reveal moment much less anticlimactic than I’d been hoping for. Boo.) I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a unique read. The fact this is in first person narrative helped, enabling readers deeper glimpses into Megan’s mind and thoughts. But…it’s cliché in execution, I think—which was a bit of a let down for me in the end.

I catch a movement in the grass not far away. It’s a bird: skinny and scraggly. I think its wing is injured. I nudge Jasmine and we both watch it try to fly. Every time it manages to lift a few centimeters, it falls back down again. I know how it feels.

The characters were quirky, diverse, and a TON of fun to watch/get to know. I particularly enjoyed watching Megan around Jasmine—they’re complete opposites in so many ways, and yet formed an almost immediate connection I couldn’t help but drool over. The romance was low-key and well-written, not taking over the entire read but still there.

The rest of the characters were well-rounded and played their roles in intriguing, emotionally satisfying ways. I particularly like that Abbie Rushton went so far as to make even the “villain” redeemable at the end. In fact, EVERY character we meet in this book is redeemable and easy to like, once the story comes full-circle and we’re let in on the biggest secrets. This was interesting for me; most of the time, there’s at least one character left villainized. I like that this book was different in that regard.

I’m dreaming. I know I’m dreaming, but it’s more than that. I’m remembering. Reliving. Someone is screaming. Is it me? Is she alive? Is there any way she’s still alive? I can’t see. Too many tears. Can’t move. Too much pain. I didn’t know I’d fallen, but someone hoists me up, their fingers pinching my arms. They’re shaking me, shouting. I can’t hear them. I can’t hear anything but the voice.

This is your fault. You did this.

Overall, this was an interesting and entertaining read, though a bit predictable in the biggest ways. I was just a bit disappointed in it at the end—I didn’t feel the big reveal was nearly as anticlimactic as we were led to believe it would be early on. Perhaps this, though, is more to do with the fact I had the main plot point figured out by the halfway mark. Either way, I’d recommend this to lovers of mystery, emotional reads, and quirky/diverse characters. You’ll be racing to the end with this book—but be careful! It’s a pretty steep drop.