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Blog Tour (Review): The Voyage to Magical North

The Voyage to Magical North
by Claire Fayers
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Release Date: July 5th 2016
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Magic, Childrens, Pirates, Fiction
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Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.
When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship theOnion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she may find out who her parents are. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.
I live in South Wales, birthplace of the famous pirate, Henry Morgan. I used to work at Cardiff University, first in health and safety (you will notice that my pirates fight VERY safely) and then in the university science library. Now I write full-time at home with my husband and my two cats, usually stopped every chapter or two to let them in or out of the door. (My cats, not my husband: he can already open doors.)
In my free time, I like skiing, flying kites, and music – I can play the cello a bit and I’m learning the piano. I enjoy gardening and grow a lot of fruit and veg so if I come to visit you don’t be surprised if I bring a jar of jam.

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4Penguins
Quick Reasons: well first and most importantly, there are magical zombie flesh-eating penguins in this book!; awesome action/adventure story mixed with oral narratives and sea folklore; terrifying, creatively unique world-building; spine-chilling villains; great coming-of-age narrative with some heart-bending, wise moments; this was such a fun read!

HUGE thanks to Claire Fayers, Henry Holt and Co Publishing, Netgalley and The Fantastic Flying Book Club for setting me up with an advanced 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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First things first: THAT COVER! Penguins, is that cover gorgeous! I mean seriously, just LOOK at it–you get the gist of this story without even having to crack open the cover, and I just adore when book designers manage to do that so beautifully. I knew, before I even read the synopsis, that I needed to read this book–and I am so so pleased to say I wasn’t wrong.

This mid-grade novel is at turns darkly humorous and incredibly terrifying. There’s so much snark being flung between the pages, I feared I might drown in it if I weren’t careful–and yet each character, in turn, is brought into a darker, scarier light…before finding that middle ground I so love in character development. That moment where the lightbulb blinks on, and I realize I know them exactly as I should. Basically, these characters are hilarious, and witty, and SO full of vibrant life I found myself wanting to be them throughout the read–or, at the very least, to know them.

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This book is also filled with realistic relationships and wholly natural, completely HUMAN doubts/fears. Each character is 3D–crafted and molded with the story, instead of feeling like paper dolls shoved in for entertainment purposes. No character is “just” anything–each is individualized, equally important, and entertaining or terrifying in their own rights. Each character is COMPLEX…and I appreciated that so, so much. In a book such as this, sometimes character development falls to the wayside to give emphasis to the adventure. Claire Fayers, instead, made each equally weighted and important, giving readers a well-rounded, awesomely enthralling book!

The plot is not lacking on the action/adventure front. This book begins with a bang, and doesn’t let up until the very end. Claire Fayers took well-known sea folklore and molded it with (and around!) the magic of this world. Her narrative is both convincingly real and utterly fantastic, leaving little room for readers to question the story or become lost in the details. The world is both very similar to our own…and yet, somehow, still vastly different. Well-known animals (I mentioned the flesh-eating penguins above!) are both very easy to “see” as their realistic counterparts…and terrifyingly, drastically changed to suit the story.

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This was, overall, a fantastically magical and entertaining read, and I cannot WAIT for you guys to pick it up! Not only is the cover beautiful–the story, the characters, the snark and the wisdom all come together to make a cohesive, enthralling journey. I definitely recommend this book to lovers of magical realism, sea voyages, and coming-of-age narratives. If those things appeal to you, or if this review sounds like your type of book, PICK IT UP!

6

Sunbolt: How do You Kill the Big Bad Vampire? Lightning, of Course!

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Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles, #1)

Goodreads Rating: 4.24 Stars
142 Pages
Purple Monkey Press Publishing
Get a copy here!

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.


4.25Penguins
Quick Reasons: unique world-building; this read had me snared from the start; intriguing, complex, strong characters; just a few confusing plot points; vampires of a different, unique calibre; the story is easy to sink into; I meant to only read 50% of this today, but finished it without realizing!; entertaining, snarky, and full of awesome

Goodness, guys. I meant to only read a small portion of this today…and found myself flipping frantically through the pages until the very end!

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This was a wild, enthralling read from start to finish—and it’s a short read, so you KNOW I was dying for more even as the end was fast approaching! The prose is gorgeous; melodic, atmospheric, with just a hint of the poetic to set the tone and carry the mood throughout. There are a number of confusing moments, mostly surrounding certain plot points. For instance, near the end of the novel, our MC loses her memories…but I wasn’t aware of this until it had been pointed out by another character. I feel that in these moments, the abstract writing was a bit heavier than it should have been—it complicated what might have easily been explained by the narrator, instead of relying upon dialogue to get the point across.

There are also, obviously, a LOT of huge questions concerning the world-building. While we get a fair amount, not everything is explained at surface-level; instead, readers are left to figure things out on their own or from reading between the lines. Certain answers we, as readers, might expect to come easily are not revealed until much later in the read than expected. There are a bunch of different creatures contained in these pages, though it’s not explained clearly WHY they exist or how they all get along. We are told (only after the first half has gone by!) that this takes place in an “Elven Kingdom” of sorts, and that there are other worlds/portals…but we’re not told much more than that. There are obviously pretty high tensions between the different races/species…but again, we don’t exactly know why, or what these tensions are, unless a character goes out of their way to explain it.

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However—don’t let this stop you from picking up the read! This story ensnares you from the start, and keeps you churning pages until the very end. The action scenes are fast-paced and entertaining. The characters LEAP to life before your eyes. The snark is on-point: full of flair, drama, and awesome. I found myself smirking each time our MC got herself into a pickle, knowing the snark would be clever and cutting despite the danger of her situation. Also, a few of the characters surprised me. One, in particular, took an unexpectedly gentle turn…and left me wondering just what his role will be in book two.

This novella was a fun, quick read, and I can’t wait to dive into the second book to find out what fates await our cast of characters. Does Hitomi find her memories? Learn just what sort of magic she possesses? Find her way home to family and friends? I don’t know—but I’m anxious to find out! I highly recommend this to lovers of fantasy, action/adventure, and vibrant, colorful world-building. Also: vampires! Because they exist in this world, but…not quite in the ways you might expect.

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Ivy Pocket: Heroine of Snark

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Anyone but Ivy Pocket

Goodreads Rating: 3.74 Stars
387 Pages
HarperCollins Publishing
Get a copy here!

Ivy Pocket is a twelve-year-old maid of no importance, with a very lofty opinion of herself. Dumped in Paris by the Countess Carbunkle, who would rather run away to South America than continue in Ivy’s companionship, our young heroine (of sorts) finds herself with no money and no home to go to … until she is summoned to the bedside of the dying Duchess of Trinity.

For the princely sum of £500 (enough to buy a carriage, and possibly a monkey), Ivy agrees to courier the Duchess’s most precious possession – the Clock Diamond – to England, and to put it around the neck of the revolting Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. It’s not long before Ivy finds herself at the heart of a conspiracy involving mischief, mayhem and murder.

Illustrated in humorous gothic detail by Barbara Cantini,Anyone But Ivy Pocket is just the beginning of one girl’s deadly comic journey to discover who she really is …

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: quirky, snarky, awesome characters; this story kept me on my toes; Ivy Pocket ALWAYS does the unexpected!; I laughed out loud way too many times; the illustrations are both gorgeous and entertaining; the prose is witty, full of attitude, and ever surprising

Huge thanks to Caleb Krisp and HarperCollins Publishers for sending me a hardcover copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review! This in no way altered my read of or opinions on this book.

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THIS BOOK! This book is absolutely adorable and dark and quirky and filled with attitude and…if I don’t stop listing off the things I like about it, I’ll never actually write my review, so let’s jump into this! First and foremost: the illustrations. The illustrations are absolutely GORGEOUS, yet also filled with personality. I really enjoyed that the illustration at the beginning of this book (“I have all the natural instincts of…” followed by a word or phrase) plays into each and every chapter in some way—because Ivy Pocket is nothing but confident in herself and her “abilities!” I really enjoyed that the chapter header images, also, played a huge role in the read—namely, they gave me a small glimpse into whatever chaos or shenanigans were about to befall our MC.

Ivy Pocket is a character I never knew I needed SO BADLY to read about. She’s a confident, snarky, imaginative 12 year old orphan, working as a maid. I mean, let’s just start there, okay? She’s 12! But her attitude? Her attitude is bigger than MINE, and I absolutely loved every single moment. I basked in her self assurance. I bathed in her snark. I need to take a lesson from Miss Pocket; she could teach me a thing or fifty about loving myself. I just think she is exactly the type of wonderful character little girls need to be reading—for her confidence. For her love in herself.

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Of course, the other characters are just as brilliantly written, though as this is from Ivy’s perspective, I think readers get rather a…caricature image of most of them. While the snark is on point, I feel like perhaps Ivy is a bit jaded where other people are concerned—and very quick to jump to judgments, at least at the beginning of this read. BUT—she’s 12! I remember being just as cynical and presumptous at that age, so it’s realistic.

This story overall is playful, dark, sometimes disturbing (think Neil Gaiman’s Coraline), full of witty snark, and positively entertaining—I laughed out loud for a good majority of the read, which doesn’t happen often! The characters (especially Miss Pocket) never do exactly what you think they’re going to; the prose keeps you on your toes (HAH, rhyme-win!). I was engrossed from beginning to end, and cannot wait to dive into the second book in this series!

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The only downside? This is meant to be a four-novel set. Which means a bit of waiting is in my future, I’m afraid. I’m more than willing to take this journey, though—Ivy Pocket is a fascinating, awesome character, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for her! I recommend this book to lovers of mid-grade, Neil Gaiman, and Lemony Snicket. You’ll SOB from laughing so hard during this read! This is definitely a book you don’t want to miss!

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A Review of Not If I See You First, by Eric Lindstrom

Not If I See You First

Goodreads Rating: 3.96 Stars
310 Pages
Poppy Publishing
Get a copy here!

The Rules:

Don’t deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.

Don’t help me unless I ask. Otherwise you’re just getting in my way or bothering me.

Don’t be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I’m just like you only smarter.

Parker Grant doesn’t need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That’s why she created the Rules: Don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there’s only one way to react—shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that’s right, her eyes don’t work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened—both with Scott, and her dad—the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, debut author Erid Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First illuminates those blind spots that we all have in life, whether visually impaired or not.

– – – – –

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: snarky, confident, headstrong, AWESOME main character; also, a bit of an unreliable narrator, which I love; diverse read; interesting, illuminating exploration of living without sight; just a TOUCH of romance; a ton of self-discovery and personal growth; well-rounded, complex characters throughout; readers are bound to grow WITH Parker

“He still looks at you like he used to, even before you got together, like you’re the most important thing in the word. Like if you were trapped on railroad tracks he’d break every finger to get you free without even noticing…and if he couldn’t, he’d sit on the tracks and hold your hand and watch you instead of the train.”

Oh. Oh, my heart. Okay, guys—just bear with me, yes? I promise I’ll get through it…Maybe.

So. First things first. This book? Absolutely freaking gorgeous. Especially the characters and their relationships. There is an interesting, complex, completely realistic thing happening in the pages of this read—where characters are connecting, reconnecting, snap-judging and then owning up to their mistakes… Parker, our main protagonist, is especially bad throughout about snap-judgments. I mean, I don’t think anyone can BLAME her—she’s standing with one less sense than the rest of us, and therefore can’t read those around her with her eyes the way the rest of us do every single day.

On the other hand, my experience of sitting with Marissa consisted almost entirely of hearing everything her mouth and nose were capable of in sticky detail. That’s what unrequited love sounds like to me. Disgusting.

The writing throughout is gorgeous, and takes care to pull in as many of the other senses as it can to keep readers semi-grounded and connected to the surroundings. We don’t have to SEE what’s going on in this book to relate to Parker or her struggles—and she is certainly dealing with a lot of them. As a character, she’s spot on: snarky, confident (perhaps a bit too much in some instances), but quick to own up to her own shortcomings and mistakes (at least, when they’ve been brought to her attention). It wasn’t hard to connect with her immediately—she literally leaps off the page as you’re reading. Her personality is bad-ass, quirky, and just right. I adored her immediately. I also love that she’s a bit of an unreliable narrator—not on purpose, mind you, but because she doesn’t always get/have the entire story before jumping to conclusions. This made her so much more realistic for me.

There is a TON of personal growth and self-discovery occuring for each and every character throughout. Going in to this read, I expected there to be at least one superbly annoying, immature “antagonist”…but there wasn’t? I was surprised, when I reached the end of the book, that every single character is, in some way, given the chance to redeem themselves/be redeemable. There were no true bullies—just people being people, in all their awkward and realistic glory. Also, just reading about the world from Parker’s POV was an illuminating experience for me—and I loved “seeing” how she went about tackling every obstacle she found in her path. Her journey toward greater self-actualization helped ME, along the way, which is something I think all great books ought to do.

Every night I pulled gold stars out of that stupid bottle it never occurred to me how morbid that was. I thought it was part of remembering but it was slow poison, like if I kept water to drink on my nightstand in the wine bottle Mom polished off that night. It’s amazing how people can be so blind to what’s good for them and what isn’t, what’s truth and what’s not, or the difference between secrets and things just not yet known.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and cannot WAIT to see what’s in store for Eric Lindstrom in the future. He took care to craft this book and its characters with sensitivity, realism, and respect; it’s easy to tell he was passionate about the messages being portrayed here. I definitely recommend to lovers of contemporary lit, diverse reads, and books that make you question yourself throughout. This is one I don’t think you want to miss; if you haven’t picked it up yet, you should!

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A Review of Epitaphs (Echoes #2), by Therin Knite

Epitaphs (Echoes, #2)

Goodreads Rating: 4.36 Stars
352 Pages
Knite and Day Publishing
Get a copy here!

Adem Adamend still has it rough. His name is still ludicrous. His friends are still few. And his new boss likes to break his nose twice a week in combat training.

But when a local college senior is brutally murdered by the dream of a sandstorm brought to life–and the monsters hiding within–Adem finds himself swiftly ripped from his boring training curriculum and tossed into a web of secrets and lies in the heart of the city he calls home.

With threads pointing to the ruthless Columbian mob, a cyber-attack threat against multiple federal agencies, and the shadow of the man who sponsored Adem’s corrupt ex-mentor, the IBI-turned-EDPA agent knows he has little time before the body count rises exponentially.

But in order for Adem to solve the case, he’ll have to contend with old wounds still raw, a new team he doesn’t think he can trust, and his own developing echo powers…

…the last of which may pose the most dangerous threat of all.

– – – – –

4Penguins
Quick Reasons: Adem is still a quirky, arrogant genius; we get to see more of his “human” side in this sequel; the rest of the cast also are more vibrant, more rounded-out; the writing is still action-packed and humor-laced; there was some confusion on Adem’s name near the 60% mark—which annoyed me

Huge thanks to Therin Knite for, once again, providing me with an ecopy of this read in exchange for an honest review! This in no way changed my opinions or enjoyment of this book.

I’m holding an eight-pound turkey like a newborn in my arms when a flying bag of yams breaks a man’s jaw.

And then someone is murdered by a dream.

(Because this is my life we’re talking about.)

Warning for sensitive readers: there is graphic language and detailed violence in this book. There is a good amount of blood and gore, and several dozen murders. If you are triggered by or uncomfortable with this, please be sure to really think about picking this book up.

So…first off, I’m not sure I enjoyed this one QUITE as much as I did the first book in this series. I don’t know why this is, exactly—there’s still a TON of action, drama, and genius involved. Adem is still a snarky, arrogant, quirky character; Jin is still the strange, overly-attached sidekick. There are still plenty of dream sequences, violent life-or-death battles, and AHA! moments. But for some reason, I wasn’t as INTO this book as I was Echoes. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for this sort of read this time around; that’s what I’m hoping, at least, because I LOVE Therin Knite’s writing.

And that’s when I realize I’m sitting next to my body.

It’s lying on the floor, face down. Blood creeps out from around a gaping wound on my skull (and seeps from my nose). With the orange haze, I can’t be sure, but I swear I spot a flash of white bone beneath the bloody pulp and tangled, matted patch of hair. My body doesn’t move, doesn’t even twitch, and for years in seconds I don’t think it’s breathing, this thing with my face and my shape and my clothes and my recently acquired injuries.

I’m a ghost.

That’s the first thought that pops into my head.

I was killed by a f*cking statue, and now I’m a ghost.

That being said, this was still an entertaining, enjoyable read. The action kicks off right from the beginning; Therin Knite continues to astound me with her awesome writing and on-point plot. Perhaps the biggest thing I found lacking in this book were the plot twists—there didn’t seem to be as many as in Echoes. Instead, most of the answers were clear from the get-go (at least, to me) which made the “reveal” feel less authentic.

There were also some…spelling? inconsistencies in regards to Adem’s name near the 60% mark. I became confused pretty quickly, because suddenly (for at least one chapter) he began calling himself ADAM, instead of Adem. It caught me off guard, and sort of annoyed me overall—I actually took a second to wonder if I’d perhaps just been reading his name wrong this entire time. But no, it reverts back after that chapter. I’m not sure what happened there, but… Eh.

It’s a requirement for people in positions like theirs, breaking your heart until it heals calloused. Because they must be immovable rocks, reliable always, for their men and women to stand upon when the rest of the world shifts like sand beneath unsteady feet.

Overall, this was just the sort of quirky, adventurous read I’ve come to expect of Therin Knite’s novels, and I can’t WAIT for the concluding novel to come out this year…mostly because this book ends on a pretty spectacular cliff-hanger. I recommend this book to lovers of Inception, adventure-packed novels, and lots of life-or-death battle scenes. For the second book in a series, this held up pretty well; I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Adem in the future!

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A Review of Croak, by Gina Damico

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Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape.

But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice – or is it vengeance? – whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again.

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

– – – – –

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: funky timing in some places; sort of slow plot/action; quasi “mystery”; predictable/obvious plot twists; interesting, complex but also annoying (???) characters

I decided to listen to this one on audiobook (because why not).

“The list of scars my students have sustained at the hand of your daughter grows longer each week. Poor Logan Hochspring’s arm will forever carry an imprint of her dental records!”

“You bit him?” Lex’s father said.

“He called me a wannabe vampire. What was I supposed to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know–maybe not bite him?”

So, first things first—the level of sheer snark in this book was awesome. The characters (particularly Lex and Driggs) have witty banter and sassy comebacks down to a SCIENCE, and it was both entertaining and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny hearing them interact and react to each other/the world. The dialogue is well-written, realistic, and entirely believable (in my opinion) and hearing it as opposed to reading it brought it to a completely different level in my book.

I liked the IDEA of this read. Death has, in recent years, been a character I’m intrigued by and obsessed with (Terry Pratchett’s version is my favorite so far, if I’m being honest, though I’ve read a good many other books with Death as a character or a generalized theme). I was excited, going into this read, for that theme specifically: the play on words (Uncle MORT, the town called CROAK, etc.) piqued my interest and drew me in even quicker. But somehow, the book still fell a bit flat for me.

“I wouldn’t go around telling people about these shocks of yours.”

“Why not?” Lex asked.

“It’s like announcing to the would you have crabs. It’s embarrassing, and no one’ll ever shake your hand again.”

Despite liking the characters, I found some of their obsessions to border a BIT on the annoying side. (I mean really, Lex, how creepy is it for you to want to kill people who are killing people?! That doesn’t spell good news at ALL?!?!?!) Their focuses seemed a bit…one dimensional, most of the time. And some of their reactions to situations, other people, or themselves fell flat overall.

There was also a case of “funky timing 101” going on. At the beginning of the book, when Lex calls home, the dialogue takes about five seconds…but we’re told it actually lasted something like TORTUROUS painful minutes? So what did Lex do in all that time, space out? Sing pop songs silently to herself? Try to build floppy toast castles? Why couldn’t we be in the moment with her, by hearing the supposedly painful dialogue as it happened? Why couldn’t we see her actually react TO her family, instead of it being skipped over? Things like this made the timing awkward and almost hard to follow.

Then something happened in the next two seconds, but neither Lex nor Driggs would be able to recall exactly what. All they knew was that after it was over, their eyes met once again, this time in horror.

“Why did you just kiss my ear?” Lex asked nervously.

Driggs winced. “Because you turned your head.”

“I thought that tree . . . moved.”

“Oh.”

Another moment of silence.

Driggs bit his lip. “Do you mind if I try again?”

She swallowed. “Okay.”

Then something else happened, and this time both Lex and Driggs would remember exactly what it was.

Of course, I had a major case of the zone-outs and feel I probably missed some MAJOR important plot things… I’m not sure if this is due to my uninterest in this story, or to the audiobook’s narrator. Regardless, I MIGHT have to go back and actually read the book sometime in the future to see if that helps change my opinions on things. I’d still recommend to lovers of snarky characters, interesting world-building, and Reapers!