Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Kiss of Deception - Mary E. Pearson (Review)

The Kiss of Deception book cover
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks Macmillan!) || ARC
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love. (from Goodreads)

Oh, Kiss of Deception, you are a very sly book indeed! I was not particularly enjoying you by the time I had hit 100 pages, which worried me and made me sad. But then, that happened, and you grabbed my attention till the very end. I now need the second book, so I suppose you did a good job of reeling me in, though it took a while. 

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that Kiss of Deception fits my book interests perfectly. It’s a young adult fantasy (!) featuring a princess who takes her destiny into her own hands (!) and two men, a prince (!) and an assassin (!) who happen to want to track her down. Sounds like a pretty good read, doesn’t it? 

Early on into the novel, I was pretty skeptical about everything – the characters, their relationships, and even the story. Lia was pretty smart, and I liked that she wasn’t afraid to work hard in order to escape her past. However, for all her cleverness, there were situations she wound up in that could have potentially revealed her identity and assumptions she made about her escape that nearly cost her everything. 

Then, there’s the prince and the assassin, both men who pretty much have the qualities you’d expect of their roles, but both extremely fascinated with Lia (in an “I think I might like you more than I should” way). I’m sorry to admit it, but I may have rolled my eyes a time or two at their mutual interest in Lia.

For a while, it felt like nothing much was going to happen. Everything seemed suspended in time, where Lia got away and made a new life for herself, pursued by two men who wanted her attention. While I enjoyed the town of Terravin and its occupants (well, mostly just Pauline, Berdi & Gwyneth), it started to feel like the plot wouldn’t be going anywhere. As a reader expecting things to happen, this just didn’t sit well with me. 

But then, something did happen, around 2/3 into the book! It honestly completely caught me off guard, and I had to take a moment to come out of my shock. But my interest was immediately piqued, and I pretty much read the rest of the novel from then to the end nonstop. Things, the things I’d been wishing for, started happening, and the pace definitely picked up. 

By the time the end came, I liked Lia a whole lot more! She really demonstrated her strength and courage in this latter portion of the novel, and easily won me over to her side. I also really liked the arc the plot was taking, even though that ending made me yell my head off at how much of a cliffhanger it was (in a nice way, really)! 

The one thing that really stayed solidly interesting from start to finish? The world-building, specifically the culture. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the traditions and rituals and religion referred to at first, but I’ll admit that it worked for me right away. It felt foundational to what the world in Kiss of Deception was, and I definitely appreciated that. 

Honestly, Kiss of Deception was a book that totally crept up on me! I had reservations initially, especially during the 2/3 that read a little bit slower. But once the pace picked up, and the adventure kicked in, it was easy to get hooked on this story. While I do wish that it had happened sooner, I’m still pleased that I wound up at least liking Kiss of Deception by the end. (And I obviously need book two now!) 

Rachel and I have decided to collaborate on this new feature, since we often end up having a lot of the same ARCs. We've decided to read them around the same time, so we can discuss them, and we're sharing answers to one burning question related to the book, author or series with our reviews!

Our question: If you were going to run away, where would you go and what kind of life would you lead? 

There are so many places I would love to visit, and so many different kinds of lives I would want to lead. But I think, in a way, my dream has always been to live in a big manor in the London countryside. It'd be a quiet life, filled with writing and baking and gardening and writing horses and hosting  house parties and spending lots of time with my husband and children. There would be the occasional trip to the city, for balls and festivals and the like. 

But if we were really going to get wild, I would love to escape to someplace warm, like Hawaii or California or the Bahamas, and would be a surfer girl with skills.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If You Find Me - Emily Murdoch (Review)

If You Find Me book cover
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Publisher: Indigo
Publication Date: March 16, 2013
Source/Format: Gifted by Judith (Thanks!) || Paperback

For almost as long as she can remember, Carey has lived in the heart of the woods with her drug-addicted mother and six-year-old sister, Jenessa.

Their mother routinely disappears for weeks at a time, leaving the girls to cope alone. Survival is Carey's only priority - until strangers arrive and everything changes.. (from Goodreads)

It’s no easy thing to start a book that you know a friend has loved. My wonderful friend Judith had gifted me with a beautiful edition of If You Find Me, one of her favorite books! Despite the slight apprehension, I dove into this novel headfirst. Happily, I can publicly declare that If You Find Me was an incredibly emotional & wonderful reading experience. 

It’s so hard to write about this novel, since it really moved me on a level that feels personal and intimate and wholly unique to me. So instead of a traditional review, I’m just going to list the things I know about If You Find Me, things that you might find relevant and, hopefully, intriguing.

If You Find Me is a story about two sisters, Carey and Jenessa. Carey, the older sister, is the main narrator. It is through her eyes that we experience everything – from their rescue, to their reunion with their father and their adjustment to a life very different from the one they lived in the woods. Carey is a character I could instantly identify with. She basically stood in as a mother for Jenessa (who happens to be a precious, wonderful little girl), accepting all the responsibilities that came with that position. I admired her courage, her tenacity and her willingness to put aside her own concerns in favor of what was best for the sister she loved so well. Their bond was so strong, so true, and so heart-warming – and I immediately identified with that.

If You Find Me is a story about family. It’s not just about these sisters, though I could possibly have been content with just that. No, this story also introduces us to various members of their family. A mother, a woman who loved her children but was riddled with issues and weakness. A father, who learns to adjust to the two children who have suddenly graced his life, who genuinely loves them and wants them to be comfortable, happy… safe. A stepmother, who opened her heart and her home to these two girls without question. A stepsister, who reacts predictably to the phenomenon of going from an only child to a sister overnight. Each member of their family becomes key in shaping Carey and Jenessa’s personalities and lives.

If You Find Me is a story about support. Apart from family, there are other people who become key to Carey and Jenessa readjusting to life in the real world (our world, basically). There’s the social worker, who works with getting the girls up to speed and comfortable with their new lives. There’s also Carey’s friends, with one boy in particular really going the extra mile to be her friend. One of the things I loved best about this novel is how it emphasizes how important it is to have a strong support system when faced with big life changes. There’s a special emphasis on how, even though there’s a lot of bad in the world, there’s also a lot of good to be found too.

If You Find Me is a story with surprising details. I didn’t know going into the novel that Carey played violin, and played it beautifully. I had no idea that Murdoch would take special care to outline this boy who has a special part in Carey’s life. Or how little moments with Melissa (the stepmother) or the social worker could be so profoundly moving and special and feel so essential to this story. Or that there’s a moment in particular where everything shifts for Carey and Jenessa, a “white star” moment that broke my heart.

If You Find Me is a story beautifully told. This is a simple story, and yet it hits the heart with quite a punch. Murdoch certainly knew what she was doing as she crafted her tale! I thought her choice of words, turns of phrase and even the pacing was perfectly executed. It was so easy to fall into Carey’s story, and to grow to care for the people surrounding her who loved her. It might be a contemporary that’s a shade quieter than most, but it’s still so, so beautiful.

Clearly, If You Find Me left a favorable impression on me (in spite of the fact that I cried twice while reading it). It’s one of those stories that snuck up on me right at the start, and immediately made away with my heart in its grasp till the end. I loved reading Carey’s story, even with all the tragedy in it – because there was hope to balance it out in equal measures. It’s a great story, and I can easily endorse it as being worth a read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prisoner of Night and Fog - Anne Blankman (Review)

Prisoner of Night and Fog book cover
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #1
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source/Format: Edelweiss (Thanks Harper Collins!) || e-galley
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed? (from Goodreads)

In the past, I’ve found myself feeling not-so-positive about novels that have characters or situations that scare me. In fact, even real life stories about the world wars and revolutions scare me. And yet, there’s something infinitely fascinating about studying human actions in the past, trying to see how and why these things that are so drastic and terrible occurred in real life. 

What does this have to do with Prisoner of Night and Fog? Well, author Anne Blankman offers a fresh perspective on a historical period both terrifying and fascinating, showing readers what it was like for Nazis and non-Nazis. 

But even more interesting is the portrayal of Hitler, which ranges from a doting uncle & family friend, to a man prone to indulging his whims, to the terrifyingly prejudiced mind behind a whole movement. Even though it scared me, reading about him in this novel was definitely interesting!

Gretchen, the main character, is a great choice to narrate this story. As a teenager, she is caught between the naïve trust of a child and the stubbornness of an adult’s personal opinions. She’s known all her life that her father died to save Hitler, and “Uncle Adolf” has always been kind to their family as a result of that heroism. While she’s not comfortable with some of the things that happen to Jews, she often feels powerless to stop it without risking her family and her life. Putting a person whose mind and beliefs are still being solidified in such a tricky place is definitely a potent mix for a story. Observing her growth, especially as she discovers truths about Hitler, her family and herself, is another compelling part of Prisoner of Night and Fog. 

She teams up with a boy named Daniel, a reporter who is determined to uncover the truth about things (including the death of her father and the other men “for” Hitler). He’s an interesting fellow, with many connections and an attitude that made me like him immediately. Though he often wound up in risky situations (and took Gretchen with him), he genuinely wanted to know the truth and do the right thing by it. 

Prisoner of Night and Fog combines history + a teenager growing up + a bit of a mystery into one pretty neat package. While there were certainly things I found disturbing and scary (well, mostly just Hitler, who happens to be a terrifying human being in my eyes), it was just so absorbing that I couldn’t tear my eyes away. If you’re into historical fiction, this is definitely a prime example of it in YA.


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