Thursday, January 17, 2019

#Review - Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes #YALit #Contemporary

Series: Debutantes # 1
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: November 6, 2018
Publisher: Freeform
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Mysteries & Detective Stories

Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother’s “society” might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life—her father’s identity—she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart
The one thing she doesn’t expect to find is friendship, but as she’s drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn’t the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother’s glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer’s search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning.

Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off.

Little White Lies is the first installment in author Jennifer Lynn Barnes Debutantes series. Gilmore Girls and Pretty Little Liars go Southern in this comedic mystery about a girl raised by a down-on-her-luck single mom who allows her wealthy grandmother to bribe her into becoming a proper Southern debutante—all in the hopes of finding out who her father is. Protag Sawyer Taft grounds this sudsy mystery with her honest approach to relationships and situations, and her very personal mission--to find out where she comes from.

9 months ago, 18-year old Sawyer Taft worked for Big Jim's Garage while living with her irresponsible mother Helen who disappears with different men regularly. Sawyer has never known who her father is thanks to the fact that her mother refuses to talk about her past and why she is estranged from her family. But, when Sawyer’s maternal grandmother Lillian Taft makes a sudden appearance, she promises both answers and a whole lot of money if Sawyer will agree to live with her for nine months and be introduced to Debutante society.

Despite her initial misgivings, Sawyer accepts with her own conditions. The money is a great incentive, but Sawyer’s true motivation lies rooted in the realization that living in her grandmother’s world might mean finally learning the answer to the biggest question of all; Who is her father, and what really happened almost 20 years ago? Aside from the back and forth throughout the 9 month time frame of Sawyer's contract with Lillian, there's the family side of things. 

Sawyer has only had her mother for 18 years. Now, she has her grandmother, an aunt, an uncle, and a cousin along with the baggage that they each carry. Most of the story is told in flashbacks, with little snippets of the present preceding some chapters. The snippets of the present tease readers with the knowledge that something “big” has already happened. The plot gradually unfolds to describe exactly the series of events that take place before this huge bombshell. 

I loved Sawyer. She’s sassy and sarcastic and it was a blast being in her head while all of this unfolded. There’s quite a group of characters here like her mother Ellie, Cousin Lily, Sadie-Grace, as well as Campbell Ames who you really need to have patience with. The beautiful, over-privileged cast of Little White Lies has more secrets than they have money in the bank, filling the novel with the interpersonal twists and turns and aha moments that have made binge reading a thing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

#Review & Excerpt - Slayer by Kiersten White #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Slayer# 1
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date:  January 8th 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Contemporary

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a brand-new series set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that introduces a new Slayer as she grapples with the responsibility of managing her incredible powers that she’s just beginning to understand.

Into every generation a Slayer is born…

 Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.
Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Slayer is the first installment in author Kiersten White's Slayer series. This story takes place in the Buffyverse. If you are a fan, you might have some of the same issues and complaints with this story as I had. If you haven't watched Buffy, you might be a little lost as to the events that are referred to in this book. The unfortunate thing is that I don't believe Netflix carries the series any longer. You might want to check out the graphic novels if that sort of thing interests you.

Slayer takes place after the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the destruction of the Seed of Wonder in the graphic novel series. Basically, 62 days ago the world nearly ended, but Buffy and her allies saved the day. Buffy ended up calling thousands of Potentials to help defeat the evil. Over a thousand apparently died. They are apparently spread out across the world now. Athena (they call her Nina) and her twin sister Artemis are among a few remaining Watchers who have been hiding in a castle in the middle of Ireland.

Nina's father was Buffy's original Watcher. He was killed in cold blood so she carries a heavy hatred towards Buffy without actually getting to meet the girl herself. Buffy is also
blamed for breaking all magic on Earth, for turning her back on the Watchers and for pretty much destroying the organization. Heavy is the head that wears the crown of the Chosen One. But, what Nina doesn't understand is the heavy toll that Buffy suffered from being the so called Chosen One.

Nina has lived her whole life in the shadows of her twin, Artemis. Artemis is the golden twin, the one that can do no wrong. Nina is the weaker twin, the less-loved twin, the twin with no purpose, the twin who was left to die by their own mother. Nina has traveled a different path. She became a medic. She learned how to heal the body instead of destroying it while studying to be a Watcher. She honestly cares about those in the castle like Rhys, Imogen, Jade, Cillian, and the young ones.

Two months ago, coinciding with the destruction of the Seed of Wonder, something was switched on inside of Nina. Something powerful and deadly. After a hellhound attack, Nina surprises everyone by killing it. She's apparently the final Slayer. Ever. This also coincides with the return of Leo and his mother Eve Silvera. Leo the boy that Nina had a crush on several years before. Leo the boy who will become her Watcher over the objections of her own mother who doesn't want to believe Nina is now a Chosen One.

Nina ends up being pulled in different directions. While chasing down answers, and facing an unknown future, she ends up meeting the girl she resents the most, Buffy, and has to choose whether to hold the anger inside, or understand that Buffy wasn't the villain she's made her out to be. The fact that there appears to be evil around her just makes things more interesting. Ten there's the fact that she hasn't been trained as a fighter, or a Slayer. That was laid on the shoulders of her sister Artemis who has pretty much stood by her through most things. 

I am absolutely conflicted over Nina as a heroine. She didn't exactly have an easy life, and she really doesn't understand the reasoning behind her mother's actions nor her sisters who both appear to have kept her out of danger while keeping a huge secret from her for years. At this point, I have finished the book and I still don't know if I trust Nina's mother Helen. There's way too much to uncover for me to just say, okay, she made a mistake and let's move on. 

Plus, there is another unsolved mystery that is going to drive me batty until the sequel is released. I think the author does a swell job of summarizing things that happened in the Buffy series without going overboard on information dumping. I supposed my next reveal should be that Buffy makes an appearance albeit briefly as it should be. This isn't her series. This is Athena/Nina's. It is Nina's future and how she handles what comes next. It is Nina who will have to figure out the mystery that remains that could change everything. 


OF ALL THE AWFUL THINGS demons do, keeping Latin alive when it deserves to be a dead language might be the worst.

To say nothing of ancient Sumerian. And ancient Sumerian translated into Latin? Diabolic. My tongue trips over pronunciation as I painstakingly work through the page in front of me. I used to love my time in the library, surrounded by the work of generations of previous Watchers. But ever since the most recent time the world almost ended—sixty-two days ago, to be exact—I can barely sit still. I fidget. Tap my pencil. Bounce my toes against the floor. I want to go for a run. I don’t know why the anxiety has hit me differently this time, after all the horror and tragedy I’ve seen before. There is one possible reason that tugs at my brain, but . . .

“That can’t be right.” I peer at my own writing. “The shadowed one will rise and the world will tickle before him?”

“I do hate being tickled,” Rhys says, leaning back and stretching. His curly brown hair has once again defied its strict part. It flops over his forehead, softening the hard line of his eyebrows, which are perpetually drawn close to his glasses in thought or concern. After we finish this morning’s lessons, I’ll tidy up my small medical center, and Rhys will train for combat with Artemis.

I shake out my hands, needing to move something. Maybe I really will go for a run. No one would miss me. Or maybe I’ll ask if I can join combat training. They’ve never let me, but I haven’t asked in years. I really want to hit something, and I don’t know why, and it scares me.

It could be the demonic prophecies of doom I’ve been reading all morning, though. I scratch out my botched translation. “As far as apocalypses go, tickling’s not the worst way to die.”

Imogen clears her throat, but her indulgent smile softens the severity. “Can we get back to your translation, Nina? And, Rhys, I want a full report on half-human, half-demon taxonomy.”

Rhys ducks his head, blushing. He’s the only one here who’s in line to be a full Watcher, which means he can join the Council one day. Someday he’ll be in charge, part of the governing body of the Council. He wears that weight in everything he does. He’s the first one in the library and the last one out, and he trains almost as much as Artemis.

Watchers were meant to guide Slayers—the Chosen Ones specially endowed to fight demons—but over the centuries we evolved to be more hands-on. Watchers have to make the hard decisions, and sometimes the hard decisions include weapons. Swords. Spells. Knives.

Guns, in my father’s case.

Not all of us train, though. We all take our education seriously, but there’s slightly less pressure for me. I’m just the castle medic, which doesn’t rate high on the importance scale. Learning how to take lives beats knowing how to save them.

But being the medic doesn’t get me out of Prophecies of Doom 101. I push away the Latin Sumerian Tickle Apocalypse. “Imogen,” I whine, “can I get something a little less difficult? Please?”

She gives me a long-suffering sigh. Imogen wasn’t supposed to be a teacher. But she’s all we’ve got now, on account of the regular teachers being blown up. She teaches for a few hours every morning, and the rest of her time is spent managing the Littles.

Her blond ponytail swings limply as she stands and searches the far bookshelf. I hold back a triumphant smile. Imogen is always nicer to me than to anyone else. Actually, everyone here is. I try not to take advantage, but if they’re going to treat me like the castle pet just because I’m not all with the stabby stab, at least I should get some perks.

The shelf Imogen is searching is technically off-limits, but since Buffy—the Slayer who single-handedly destroyed almost our entire organization—broke all magic on earth a couple months ago, it doesn’t matter anymore. The books that used to pose threats such as demonic possession or summoning ancient hellgods or giving you, like, a really bad paper cut are now as benign as any other book.

But that doesn’t make them any easier to translate.

“Magic is still broken, right?” I ask as Imogen runs her fingers down the spine of a book that once killed an entire roomful of Watchers in the fifteenth century. It’s been two months without a drop of magical energy. For an organization that was built on magic, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment. I wasn’t taught to use magic, but I have a very healthy respect-for-slash-terror-of it. So it’s creepy seeing Imogen treat that particular tome like anything else on the shelf.

“Fresh out of batteries and no one can find the right size.” Rhys scowls at his text as though insulted by the demon he’s reading about. “When Buffy breaks something, she breaks it good. Personally, I think that if confronted with the Seed of Wonder—the source of all magic on earth, a genuine mystical miracle—I might opt to, say, study it. Research. Really think through my options. There had to be another way to avert that particular apocalypse.”

“Buffy sees, Buffy destroys,” I mutter. Her name feels almost like a swear word on my tongue. We don’t say it aloud in my family. Then again, we don’t say much in my family at all, besides “Have you seen my best dagger?” and “Where are our stake-carving supplies?” and “Hello, my twin daughters, it is I, your mother, and I love one of you better than the other and chose to save the good twin first when a fire was about to kill you both.”

Okay, not that last one. Because again: We don’t talk much. Living under the same roof isn’t as cozy as it sounds when that roof covers a massive castle.

“Think of all we could have learned,” Rhys says mournfully, “if I had had even an hour with the Seed of Wonder. . . .”

“In her defense, the world was ending,” Imogen says.

“In her not defense, she was the reason the world was ending,” I counter. “And now magic is dead.”

Imogen shrugs. “No more hellmouths or portals. No more demons popping in for vacations and sightseeing.”

I snort. “Foodie tours of Planet Human are canceled. Sorry, demonic dimensions. Of course, it also means no current tourists can get back to their home-sweet-hellholes.”

Rhys scowls, pulling off his glasses and polishing them. “You’re joking about the disruption and destruction of all the research we’ve compiled on demonic traveling, portals, dimensions, gateways, and hellmouths. None of it is current anymore. Even if I wanted to understand how things have changed, I couldn’t.”

“See? Buffy hurts everyone. Poor Rhys. No books on this subject.” I pat his head.

Imogen tosses a huge volume on the table. “And yet your homework still isn’t done. Try this one.” A poof of dust blows outward from the book; I flinch away and cover my nose.

She grimaces. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. I actually haven’t had an asthma attack in a while.” It’s fine that my asthma mysteriously disappeared the same day Buffy destroyed magic, the world almost ended, and I got showered in interdimensional demonic goo. Totally fine. Has nothing to do with the demon. Neither does the fact that I’m desperate to go running or start training or do anything with my body besides snuggle up and read, which used to be its primary occupation.

I pull down my sweater sleeve over my hand and carefully wipe the leather cover. “?‘The Apocalypses of . . . Arcturius the Farsighted’? Sounds like the dude just needed a better prescription for glasses.”

Rhys leans close, peering curiously. “I haven’t read that volume.” He sounds jealous.

Notes have been scrawled in the margins, the handwriting changing as it moves through the centuries. On the last few pages there are orange fingerprints, like someone was reading while eating Cheetos. The Watchers before me have made their own notes, commenting and filling in details. Seeing their work overwhelms me with a sense of responsibility. It’s not every sixteen-year-old girl who can trace her family’s calling back through the centuries of helping Slayers, fighting demons, and otherwise saving the world.

I find a good entry. “Did you know that in 1910, one of the Merryweathers prevented an octopus uprising? A leviathan demon gave them sentience and they were going to overthrow us! Merryweather doesn’t give many details. It appears they defeated them with . . .” I squint. “Lemon. And butter. I think this is a recipe.”

Imogen taps on the book. “Just translate the last ten prophecies, how about?”

I get to work. Rhys occasionally asks Imogen questions, and by the time our class period is almost over, he has what looks like half the extensive shelves piled on our groaning table. In years past, Rhys and I wouldn’t have studied together. He’d have been in classes with the other future Council hopefuls. But there are so few of us now, we’ve had to relax some of the structure and tradition. Not all of it, though. Without tradition, what would we be? Just a bunch of weirdos hiding in a castle studying the things that no one else wants to know about. Which I guess is what we are with tradition too. But knowing I’m part of a millennia-long battle against the forces of evil (and apparently octopuses) makes

Buffy and the Slayers might have turned their backs on the Watchers, rejecting our guidance and counsel, but we haven’t turned our backs on the world. Normal people can go on living, oblivious and happy, because of our hard work. And I’m proud of that. Even when it means I have to translate dumb prophecies, and even if I’ve wondered more and more the last few years if the way the Watchers and Slayers fight evil isn’t always right.

The library door slams open and my twin sister, Artemis, walks in. She takes a deep breath and scowls, crossing past me and tugging open the ancient window. It groans in protest, but, as with all things, Artemis accomplishes her goal. She pulls out one of my inhalers from her pocket and sets it on the table beside me. Everything in this castle runs because of Artemis. She is a force of nature. An angry but efficient force of nature.

“Hello to you, too,” I say with a smile.

She tugs my hair. We both have red waves, though hers are always pulled back into a brutal ponytail. I have a lot more time for moisturizing than she does. Her face is like looking in a mirror—if that mirror were a prophecy of who I’d be in another life. Her freckles are darker from spending so much time outside. Her gray eyes more intense, her jawline somehow stronger. Her shoulders are straighter, her arms are more defined, and her posture is less snuggly and more I-will-destroy-you-if-it-comes-to-that.

In short, Artemis is the strong twin. The powerful twin. The chosen twin. And I am . . .

The one who got left behind.

I don’t just mean the fire, either. The moment when my mother was forced to choose to save one of us from the terrifying flames—and chose Artemis—was definitely life changing. But even after that, even after I managed to survive, my mother kept choosing her. Artemis was chosen for testing and training. Artemis was given responsibilities and duties and a vital role in Watcher society. And I was left behind on the fringes. I only sort of matter now because so many of us are dead. Artemis always would have mattered. And the truth is, I get it.

I was born into Watcher society, but Artemis deserves to be here.

She sits next to me, pulling out her notebook and opening it to today’s to-do list. It’s in microscopic handwriting and goes past the first page and onto at least one more. No one in this castle does more than Artemis. “Listen,” she says, “I might have hurt Jade.”

I look up from where I’m almost finished with this book. Every other prophecy had margin notes detailing how that particular apocalypse was averted. I idly wonder what it means that this is the last prophecy. Did Arcturius the Farsighted finally get glasses, or was this apocalypse so apocalypse-y that he couldn’t see past it? It also has no Watcher notes. And Watchers are meticulous. If it doesn’t have notes, that means it hasn’t been averted yet.

But my own castle emergencies are far more pressing. “And by ‘might have hurt Jade,’ you mean . . .”

Artemis shrugs. “Definitely did.”

On cue, Jade limps in. She picks up her tirade midargument. “—and just because magic is broken, doesn’t mean that I should be Artemis’s punching bag! I know my father worked in special ops, but I don’t want to. I was good at magic! I am not good at this!”

“No one is, next to Artemis,” Rhys says. His voice is quiet and without judgment, but we all freeze. It’s one of the things we don’t talk about. How Artemis is inarguably the best, and yet she’s the assistant and Rhys is the official golden boy.

Watchers excel at research, record keeping, and not talking about things. The entire organization is ever-so-British. Though technically Artemis and I are American. We lived in California and then Arizona before coming here. Rhys, Jade, and Imogen—who all grew up in London—still laugh when I treat rain like a novelty. It’s been eight years in England and Ireland, but I adore rain and green and all things nondesert.

Jade flops down on the other side of me, hauling her ankle up onto my lap. I rotate it for range of movement.

“That one translates as ‘Slayer,’?” Artemis says, peering over my shoulder. She crosses out where I had mistranslated a word as “killer.” Same difference.

Jade yelps. “Ouch!”

“Sorry. Nothing is broken, but it’s swelling already. I think it’s a mild sprain.” I glance at Artemis and she looks away, guessing my thoughts as she so often can. She knows I’m going to tell her there is no reason to train this hard. To hurt each other. Instead of rehashing our usual debate, I point to my translation. “What about this word?”

“Protector,” Artemis says.

“That’s cheating,” Imogen trills from where she’s reshelving.

“It doesn’t count as cheating. We’re practically the same person!” No one calls me on the lie. Artemis shouldn’t have to do my homework on top of everything else, but she helps without being asked. It’s how we work.

“Any word from Mom?” I ask as casually as I can manage, probing around the topic even more gently than I’m probing Jade’s ankle.

“Nothing new since Tuesday. She should finish up South America in the next few days, though.” Artemis planned our mother’s whole scouting mission. I haven’t heard so much as a word from her since she left seven weeks ago, but Artemis merits regular updates.

“Can you focus?” Jade snaps. She was on assignment in Scotland keeping tabs on Buffy and her Slayer army antics. It didn’t do us much good. Buffy still managed to trigger an almost-apocalypse. Now that Jade’s back at the castle without any magic, she’s not happy about it, and she lets us know.


“Rhys,” I say, mindful that Artemis would do it in a heartbeat, but her to-do list is already super full and I don’t want to add to it, “can you go to my clinic and get my sprain pack?”

Rhys stands. He shouldn’t have to run my errands. He ranks far above me in pecking order, but he puts friendship before hierarchy. He’s my favorite in the castle besides Artemis. Not that there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Rhys, Jade, and Artemis are the only other teens. Imogen is in her early twenties. The three Littles are still preschoolers. And the Council—all four of them—aren’t exactly BFF material. “Where is it?” he asks.

“It’s right next to the stitches pack, behind the concussions pack.”

“I’ll be right back.”

He saunters away. The medical clinic is actually a large supply closet in the opposite wing that I’ve claimed as my own. The training room is amazing, naturally. We prioritize hitting, not healing. While we’re waiting for Rhys, I elevate Jade’s ankle by propping it on top of books that used to contain the blackest spells imaginable but now are used as paperweights.

George Smythe, the youngest of the Littles, bursts into the library. He buries his face in Imogen’s skirt and tugs on her long sleeves. “Imo. Come play.”

Imogen puts him on her hip. During teaching hours, Ruth Zabuto is in charge of the Littles, but she is as old as sin and far less pleasant. I don’t blame George for preferring Imogen.

“Are you done?” she asks me.

I hold up my paper triumphantly. “Got it!”

Child of Slayer

Child of Watcher

The two become one

The one becomes two

Girls of fire

Protector and Hunter

One to mend the world

And one to tear it asunder

“There’s a postscript, like Arcturius can’t help but comment on his own creepy-ass prophecy. ‘When all else ends, when hope perishes alongside wonder, her darkness shall rise and all shall be eaten.’?”

Imogen snorts. “Devoured. Not eaten.”

“In my defense, I’m hungry. Did I get the rest?”

She nods. “With help.”

“Well, even with Artemis’s help, it doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t have any calamari recipes.” I tuck my papers back into the book.

Rhys returns with the supplies just as the other two Littles break into the library and swarm Imogen. She’s the busiest person in the castle, other than Artemis, who has already left to prepare lunch for everyone. Sometimes I wish my sister belonged as much to me as she does to everyone else.

Rhys strides toward me with the sprain pack. Little George runs at his legs, and Rhys trips just before he gets to me. The pack flies out of his hands. Without thinking I lunge and save the kit in midair with one hand, the whole motion feeling surprisingly effortless for my usually uncoordinated self.

“Good catch,” Rhys says. I’d be offended by his surprise if I weren’t experiencing another ripple of anxiety. It was a good catch. Way too good for me.

“Yeah, lucky,” I say, letting out an awkward laugh. I break the ice pack and wrap it into place around Jade’s ankle. “Twenty minutes on, an hour off. I’ll rewrap you when the ice comes off. That will help with the swelling. And rest it as much as possible.”

“Not a problem.” Jade leans back with her eyes closed. She’s substituted all the time she used to spend on magic with sleeping.

I know it’s been rough on her—it’s been rough on everyone, having the entire world change yet again. But we do what Watchers do: We keep going.

My phone beeps. We avoid contact with the outside world. Paranoia is a permanent result of having all your friends and family blown up. But one person has this number and he’s the highlight of our tenure here in the forest outside a sleepy Irish coastal town. “Cillian’s almost here with the supplies.”

Rhys perks up. “Do you need help?”

“Yes. I don’t know how I’d manage without you. It’s absolutely essential that you come out with me and flirt with your boyfriend while I check over the boxes.”

The great hall of the castle, always chilly, is lit with the late-afternoon sun. The stained-glass windows project squares of blue, red, and green. I fondly pat the massive oak door as I step out into the crisp autumn air. The castle is drafty, with questionable plumbing and dire electrical problems. Most of the windows don’t open, and those that do leak. Half of the rooms are in disrepair, the entire dorm wing is more a repository for junk than a living space, and we can’t even go in the section where the tower used to be because it isn’t safe.

But this castle saved our lives and preserved what few of us are left. And so I love it.

Out in the meadow—which has finally recovered from having a castle magically dropped into the middle of it two years ago—old Bradford Smythe, my great-uncle, is sword fighting with horrible Wanda Wyndam-Pryce. Though sword bickering would be more accurate, since they pause between each block and strike to debate proper stance. The mystery of the Littles escaping is solved. Ruth Zabuto is dead asleep.

I watch her across the meadow to make sure her chest is moving and she’s only dead asleep, not dead dead. She lets out a snore loud enough for me to hear from this distance. Reassured, I follow Rhys to the path outside the castle grounds. I can still hear Wanda and Bradford arguing.

Cillian is on a scooter, boxes strapped to either side. He lifts a hand and waves brightly. His mom used to run the sole magic store in the whole area. Most people have no idea that magic is—was—a real thing. But his mom was a decently talented and knowledgeable witch. And, best of all, one who could keep her mouth shut. Cillian and his mother are the only people alive who know there are still Watchers in existence. That we didn’t all die when we were supposed to.

We haven’t told them much about who we are or what we do. It’s safest that way. And they’ve never asked questions, because we were also their best customers until Buffy killed magic. But even now, Cillian still makes all our nonmagical supply deliveries. Weirdly, online retailers don’t accept “Hidden Castle in the Middle of the Woods Outside Shancoom, Ireland” as a proper address.

Cillian stops his scooter in front of us. “What’s the story?”


There’s a flash of movement behind Cillian. A snarl rips apart the air as darkness leaps toward him.

My brain turns off.

My body reacts.

I jump, meeting it midair. We slam into each other. The ground meets us, hard, and we roll. I grab jaws straining for my throat, hot saliva burning where it falls on me.

Then I twist and snap, and the thing falls silent, still, a dead weight on top of me.

I shove it aside and scramble to my feet. My heart is racing, eyes scanning for any other threats, legs ready to leap back into action.

That’s when I hear the screaming. It sounds so far away. Maybe it was happening the whole time? I shake my head, trying to force the world back into focus. And I realize there’s a creature—a dead creature, a creature I somehow killed—at my feet. I stagger backward, using my shirt to rub away the hot sticky mess of its drool still on my neck.

“Artemis!” Bradford Smythe runs up. “Artemis, are you all right?” He hurries past me, bending down to examine the thing. It looks like hell’s version of a dog, which is accurate, because I’m almost certain it’s a hellhound. Black, mottled skin. Patchy fur more like moldy growths. Fangs and claws and single-minded, deadly intentions.

But not anymore. Because I killed it.

I killed it?

Demon, a voice in my head whispers. And it’s not talking about the hellhound.

“Nina,” Rhys says, in as much shock as me.

Bradford Smythe looks up in confusion. “What?”

“Not Artemis. That was Nina. . . . Nina killed it.”

Everyone stares at me like I, too, have sprouted fangs and claws. I don’t know what just happened. How it happened. Why it happened. I’ve never done anything like that before.

I feel sick and also—elated? That can’t be right. My hands are trembling, but I don’t feel like I need to lie down. I feel like I could run ten miles. Like I could jump straight over the castle. Like I could fight a hundred more—

“I think I need to throw up,” I say, blinking at the dead thing. I’m not a killer. I’m a healer. I fix things. That’s what I do.

“That was impossible.” Rhys studies me like I’m one of his textbooks, like he can’t translate what he’s seeing.

He’s right. I can’t do what I just did.

Bradford Smythe seems less surprised. His shoulders slump as he pulls off his glasses and polishes them with resignation. Why isn’t he shocked, now that he knows it wasn’t Artemis? The look he gives me is one of pity and regret. “We need to call your mother.”

Monday, January 14, 2019

#Review - Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Circle of Shadows # 1
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: January 22, 2019
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

A thrilling new fantasy series full of magic and betrayal from Evelyn Skye, the New York Times bestselling author of the Crown’s Game series

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

Love, spies, and adventure abound as Sora and Daemon unravel a complex web of magic and secrets that might tear them—and the entire kingdom—apart forever.

Circle of Shadows is the start of a new duology from author Evelyn Skye. From the dangerous and talented fighter Sora and her partner, Daemon, a powerful boy who was raised by wolves, to Fairy, Sora’s best friend, a relentless flirt and brilliant poison-master, and Hana, Sora’s long-lost sister who is fighting for an evil cause but perhaps is still connected to the sister she once adored, the cast of Circle of Shadows is full of complicated, fun, and unforgettable characters.

In the Kingdom of Kichona, Empress Aki Ora has brought peace and prosperity to her country after a horrible Blood Rift tore the country into factions. 18-year old Sora (Spirit) and her gemina partner Daemon (Wolf) are Level 12 Taiga apprentices who are getting ready for graduation. Sora has a reputation for causing trouble which doesn't go well with her instructors. Even though she has the best scores, especially with magic, she's called talented but deficient when it comes to following the rules. 

After an impressive show in front of Aki, Spirit and Wolf are sent to the village of Tanoshi by the Society of Taigas where they end up discovering some very unpleasant and unwelcome news that someone who was thought to be dead for 10 years, has returned and is luring Aki's people into following him into a war to take over the crown from Aki. Armed with new magic, the Dragon Prince Gin is recruiting warriors to his cause via mind control. 

The native magic of the warriors is to use mudras to get animalistic abilities like enhanced sight, speed and strength, but the new ryuu magic is much more versatile and expansive and can easily overcome any challenges they encounter. Sora has a personal stake in the matter as Gin was the cause of the nursery fire in which she lost her sister Hana 10 years ago. Daemon, meanwhile has a mysterious past that gets hinted at the end of the book. 

Raised among wolves, Daemon has never known his parents and has often wondered about his lack of magic that Sora seems to easily access whenever she needs it. Sora and Daemon's partnership is one of friendship, but it is really never hinted that anything romantic is possible. As Gin pursues his long sought path to Evermore, or immortality for the entire country, Sora and Daemon are at the front and center of pretty much all of the action along with their friends Fairy and Broomstick. 

I have heard that things are supposed to be even more suspenseful, dangerous, and action packed in the sequel. Since I have read the authors previous series, The Crown's Game, and liked it, I will definitely look out for the sequel to this series once it releases.

#Review - The Wicked King by Holly Black #YALit #Fantasy

Series: The Folk of the Air # 2
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: January 8, 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The enchanting and bloodthirsty sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Cruel Prince.

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.” 
The Wicked King is the second installment in author Holly Black's The Folk of Air series. This book picks up 5 months after the events of The Cruel Prince. Protagonist Jude Duarte is now seneschal to the High King Cardan whom she forced into the throne of Elfheim. But, things are far, far, far, from over. There are underlying political maneuvering going on that will find Jude and really put a damper on her future plans for her brother Oak. 

Jude is determined to protect her brother, Oak who is living in the mortal world with her sister Vivienne. As seneschal (right hand woman) to King Cardan, she believes that by controlling Jude, she can control what happens to Oak. But, in reality, Jude can't trust anyone, or anything in fairy. She has too many enemies including Balekin who is still living and scheming from his prison cell. But, Madoc, her "father" has finally come around to understanding that Jude is not someone to take lightly, or underestimate.

To make matters worse,  the Queen of the Sea is threatening to attack land and worse of all, Jude may be the one thing that will be the deciding factor to whether or not Cardan and the Queen go to war. I've said this before, but Holly Black is a twisted genius. She lures you into her evil web, then laughs when you think that things are going to go the way you believe. The book will take you for a wild ride, and you won't be able to put it down or guess in what direction the story will end up. 

Can I be honest for a moment? I loathe Taryn, Jude's twin sister. Honestly, I won't bother reading The Lost Sisters because I just don't care about Taryn, or her feelings. I do not care what anyone says about how she has her own way of coping or surviving in Faerie. The bottom line is only one of the sisters has double crossed and betrayed her sister, and it wasn't Jude. I pray that Jude stabs her several dozen times and she doesn't return.

That also goes for Locke as well. Locke deserves all the pain and suffering that is coming for him. There are others, of course, including Madoc, the man who killed Jude's mother, and brought Jude and Taryn to Faerie. He absolutely needs to have his comeuppance. But, at least I can understand Madoc and his machinations. He is trying to protect his family and doesn't understand why Jude is so hesitant about joining his side.

So much happens to Jude because she is absolutely blindsided by people she has no business trusting. Her relationship with Cardan is a total mess. Come on folks, be real. This relationship is toxic. These two shouldn't be in the same room together let alone falling in love with each other, or having feelings that may complicate Jude's plans. Would if be fair to call it beautifully tragic? In some ways, I am not mad at what happens at the end of this book. One could say that if you follow the story closely, you will see it coming.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

#Review - Lost Creed:by Alex Kava #Thriller

Series: Ryder Creed # 4
Format: Hardcover, 346 pages
Release Date: May 3, 2018
Publisher: Prairie Wind Publishing
Source: Library
Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Ryder Creed rescues abandoned dogs and turns them into heroes. But this time, it's Creed who may need rescuing when a madman leads him and Agent Maggie O'Dell on a gut-wrenching scavenger hunt.

Sixteen years ago, Ryder Creed's sister, Brodie, vanished from an interstate rest stop. She was only eleven and Creed was fourteen. Her disappearance ripped apart his family and has haunted Creed.

Now a former Marine with his own scars, Creed has dedicated his life to his K9 business. He takes discarded and abandoned dogs and trains them for scent detection. Together they search for the lost and the missing. And always, Creed has held onto the hope that one day he might find out what happened to his sister.

A thousand miles away during a police raid, FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell stumbles upon a clue that may explain what happened to Brodie Creed all those years ago. But to find the answers she'll need to make a deal with a madman. And the search that follows will be as agonizing for Creed, as are the answers he discovers.

Lost Creed is the fourth installment in author Alex Kava's Ryder Creed series. 16 years ago, Brodie Creed, younger sister of Ryder Creed, disappeared without a trace from a rest stop on the Georgia/Alabama border. For 16 years, Ryder has never once given up hope of finding the reason why she disappeared, or the hope that she may still be alive. In the meantime, Ryder lost his father, and his mother when he choose to enlist in the Marines. 

Ryder's drive to bring home other missing children like Brodie, helped him and his business partner Hannah, open K9 Crime Scene. Ryder and Hannah and their newest trainer Jason, not only rescue unwanted dogs, but they train them to be used in situations like finding missing people, or sniffing out C-Diff that patients in nursing homes tend to get. But, thanks to an event that is happening in the middle of the country, Ryder might finally get the closure he needs.

In Nebraska, FBI Special Agent Maggie O'Dell is part of a task force named Operation Cross Country. They are hoping to round up as many human traffickers as they can starting with one Elijah Dunn. The only problem is that Dunn knew they were coming and really made no effort to run away from Maggie. As the investigation gathers steam, a certain picture sheds new light on a 16 year old mysterious. Has Maggie and Detective Tommy Pakula found evidence of whether or not Brodie is alive? Or, is this just another cold trail which leads no where?

As I stated in my previous review of Reckless Creed, this is no longer just Ryder's series. It has pretty much included Maggie from the get go. Maggie and Ryder's relationship is making me twisted inside. You just know that they appeal to the other, but other factors, such as Maggie's friendship with Benjamin Platt, and Ryder's refusal to push the relationship any further for fear he might tear a good thing apart. I love that Jason has become a fixture in this story. He and Scout have a mission all their own and I loved that he's gaining more and more confidence every time out. 

There is a twist in this story which I won't speak about. You absolutely must read the book to find out if the answers that Ryder and Maggie are searching for will finally bring about good news. Lastly, I absolutely have no hesitation in calling out Ryder's mother who walked away 10 years ago and never once looked back, or tried to find out how Ryder was doing. 

It really took a whole lot of time for the library to purchase this book which released in 2018. I guess it's because the author lost the original publisher and found a new home for her books. According the credits, there will apparently be a fifth book in 2019. One can only hope that the author really does get around to writing and releasing it.

*Human trafficking is a major issue in this country and it goes unreported because our media is bought and paid for by powerful entities that just don't care. The author plus the spotlight on Nebraska because so may major highways intersect the state, and there is plenty of places where missing children could be kept, or even buried. I know that is gruesome, but human traffickers are really not nice people and they should be given the harshest penalties imaginable if and when they are caught.* Stepping off pulpit.

Friday, January 11, 2019

#Review - Splendor and Spark by Mary Taranta #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Shimmer and Burn # 2
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

In this exciting follow-up to Shimmer and Burn, Faris has given up love to save her sister’s life and the dying kingdom of Avinea, but will her sacrifices be enough to overcome the poisoned magic and villains surrounding her on all sides?

The fight is just beginning.
Faris has been forced to give up the man she loves for a dangerous but necessary alliance. Her loyalty is bound by a powerful spell to his future bride, the villainous Bryn. And her mother’s powerful spell that could be the key to saving Avinea fights with poisoned magic for control of her heart.

None of that matters though because everything Faris has done has been for Cadence, the little sister she’s been trying to rescue from the king’s slavery. Now they’re finally reunited, but Cadence has a gut-wrenching confession: she remembers everything from while she was under the king’s enchantment. She wants nothing to do with Faris.

Heartbroken, Faris focuses on tracking Merlock, the king who must be killed to stop The Burn, by manipulating her mother’s spell through her dreams. Before long though, Faris realizes these aren’t normal dreams, they might just be real, and they may show her a way to kill Merlock herself.

But there are things darker than poison that lie in The Burn, and not even the spell deep in Faris’s chest can stop them. Faris will again be faced with impossible choices. Does she risk everything to save Avinea, even if she might lose North and further betray her sister’s trust? Or does she succumb to the poison inside that begs her to think this time, finally, of herself?

Splendor and Spark is the second installment in author Mary Taranta's Shimmer and Burn duology. To save her sister Cadence's life, Faris Locke smuggled magic that was given to her by her mother into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom of Avinea that is slowly being over taken by the Burn. But, after Cadence was caught trying to flee the kingdom and was sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agreed to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

“I am my mother’s daughter, and ten years ago she cut me open and made me stronger. I didn’t want to be a fighter, but I became one out of necessity—a consequence of her choice for me, which means my choice is simple. There are monsters in Avinea, and I have the ability to stop them.”

It has been 3 weeks, and Faris is still wallowing in self-pity for allowing herself to get caught up in something that gives her zero control over her actions. Faris finds herself a slave to the whims of Bryn who ends up marrying and binding herself Prince Corbin, the Prince that she and Bryn knew as North.  Faris finds herself surrounded by enemies she cannot trust and loved ones she must give up. To make matters worse, her sister is still a puppet to a much large game, and Faris needs to wake up from her pity party before she loses Cadence forever. 

The absolute heart breaking part is that Cadence truly believes that Faris left her behind and goes about tearing Faris heart to pieces allying herself with Bryn. The dangers of the Burn still threaten Avinea which means that Faris will have to journey into the Burn and find Merlock, the Avinean King who is responsible for the creation of the Burn and kill him if she is able to overcome so many odds against her. With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch. 

The ending is okay, but I absolutely agree with others in saying that the author definitely has left the door opening for a sequel to this series. There is no way that Faris and North, err, Corbin can leave things the way that were left off. They need to resolve the issue quickly and efficiently. I was pleasantly surprised by how well I liked the backstory of Merlock and how Avinea got to the point where it is in this series. In fairness, I also felt for Corbin/North since he really was disrespected by not only Perrote, but his own people who see him as an absolute failure. Bryn is a straight forward villain with little redeeming values which is why I actually liked her so much. She doesn't change for anyone. She has a mission and nobody is going to get in her way.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#Review / #Blog Tour - You Won’t See Me Coming - Kristen Orlando #YALit #Thriller

You Won’t See Me Coming
Kristen Orlando
(The Black Angel Chronicles #3)
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication date: January 8th 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult

After finally taking down Torres, her mother’s merciless killer, Reagan and Luke have two targets on their backs and are forced into hiding. With new names, looks, and cover stories, they’re living quiet, “safe” lives, but revenge comes at a steep price. Reagan’s actions continue to haunt the pair and put the people they love in danger.

When Reagan discovers her best friend Harper is on the verge of being kidnapped, she and Luke defy Black Angel orders and risk blowing their cover to save their friend. After the rescue attempt goes wrong, the three friends must go on the run with an army of assassins hot on their trail and the list of trust-worthy Black Angels getting smaller and smaller. Will they make it out alive? And at what cost?

Fast-paced and suspenseful, this is the explosive finale of Kristen Orlando’s Black Angel Chronicles series.

You Won't See Me Coming is the third and final installment in author Kristen Orlando's The Black Angel Chronicles. This story picks up shortly after the events of You Won't Know I'm Gone. I urge readers to please read these books as they were released. I do so because every thing is absolutely connected. What happened in You Don't Know My Name carries over into the second book, and of course, the fall out from what happened in the second book, weighs heavily on protagonist Reagan Hollis's shoulders and the events of this book. 

This is be a huge attempt at not spoiling anything. Reagan is in a sort of witness protection program in Manchester, Vermont as the story opens. She has a new name, and a new look to hide who she really is. She was supposed to be a Black Angel rescuing hostages, taking down terrorists, among other things that the Black Angels were created to do. However, Reagan has a bit of a rogue attitude ever since the events of the first book, which, again, I am not going to spoil.

Because of her actions in the second book, Reagan and Luke are now hiding from those who want her and Luke dead. This weighs heavily on their relationship. That is until Reagan's best friend Harper, ends up in trouble. Acting on pure instincts to protect her friend at any cost while ignoring the orders of her supposed superiors, Reagan and Luke begin operation rescue Harper. With minor help from others (Cameron), Reagan must deal with a humiliated and extremely dangerous foe.

I will say that there's plenty of action to keep even the most fussy reader happy. Right out of the gate, Reagan and Luke and Harper race through the streets of NYC, and across country to keep away from the assassins looking to capture Reagan and Luke. Even when she is beaten, and taken down, she doesn't give up hope of finding a way out of her predicament. Reagan has been trained all of her life as a future operative of the Black Angels. Her training and her courage more than anything else, makes her a heroine worth paying attention to. No, she is not perfect. She has made some huge mistakes over the course of this series. But, when it comes to friendship, and loyalty, she's not going to let any one get in the way.

Author Bio:

Writing is one of the great loves of Kristen Orlando’s life and she has been lucky enough to make it her living, first as a television producer, then as a marketer and now as a novelist. Kristen graduated with a B.A. in English literature from Kenyon College. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with the other great love of her life, Michael. You Don’t Know My Name is her debut novel.