Book Review: Birthright by Jessica Ruddick

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Title: Birthright
Series: The Legacy Series Book One

Author: Jessica Ruddick
Publication Date: January 26, 2017 (paper)
March 20, 2017 (ebook)

Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Amazon // Indiebound

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Birthright
The Legacy Series Book One
Jessica Ruddick
Jessica Ruddick Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-946164-01-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

How do you live with yourself when you decide who dies?

Ava Parks would have killed for an iPod for her sixteenth birthday. Anything would have been better than coming into her birthright of being a seeker for the Grim Reaper, an arrangement made by her fallen angel ancestor in exchange for his re-admittance to heaven. And she isn’t just any seeker—she finds souls that have the potential for becoming angels and sentences them to death. A year and two souls into her role as a seeker with her conscience overflowing with guilt, Ava comes up with a plan to thwart the system. When it goes awry, she is forced to submit the name of a classmate, Cole Fowler, an ornery, rough around the edges guy who always seems to come to her rescue, whether she likes it or not. Her feelings for Cole prompt her to intervene, and she saves him from death, upsetting the Grim Reaper’s agenda. 

While Ava schemes to find a way to save Cole, she learns he has some secrets of his own. She lets him believe he is protecting her, and not the other way around, until a final showdown with the Grim Reaper forces Ava to make choices Cole may never forgive.

I’ve read quite a few books (and series) that are focused on the Grim Reaper or fallen angels and the like and they’ve run the gamut when it comes to mood. Some are purely black comedy, some are mysteries with a fantastical element, a few have been more romance than anything and others have been a sort of action adventure. Birthright is a little bit of all these types.

It must be hard to cope when you find out your destiny, your “career” if you will, is all about putting the finger on people for the guy who brings death and, indeed, Ava is understandably resentful. Picking out people to become angels sounds like a good thing but….

Ava has learned to protect her own feelings by remaining detached, even from those who aren’t potential targets, but that doesn’t work when it comes to the unpleasant Xavier, the middleman she and her mom report to. Still, a year after finding out the truth, she hasn’t gotten past the lies and the betrayal that have been at the core of her own life and the thing she’s required to do is eating away at her.

Then she comes up with a foolproof plan to make this all a little fairer.

I had fun with this book and I liked Ava a lot, as well as the new hot guy, Cole, and the nerdy but sweet Kaley. The ending is a humdinger so be prepared 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

About the Author

Jessica lives in Virginia with her college-sweetheart husband, two rambunctious sons, and two rowdy but lovable rescue dogs. Since her house is overflowing with testosterone, it’s a good thing she has a healthy appreciation for Marvel movies, Nerf guns, and football.
Author Links:

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Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

More Teeny Reviews

lost-in-wonderlandLost in Wonderland
The Twisted and the Brave #1
Nicky Peacock
Evernight Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-77233-867-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Monsters, serial killers, and imaginary friends—being a Wonderlander can be murder… Once upon a time, Kayla was lost. Then she found Wonderland, but not the one you know. Run by ex-government agents and funded by an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire, this Wonderland is the name of a collective of highly trained vigilantes who hunt serial killers. Now Kayla, aka Mouse, works tirelessly alongside her fellow Wonderlanders, Rabbit and Cheshire, baiting dangerous murderers. But even her extensive training hasn’t prepared her for the return of her older brother…

Shilo has spent most of his life in an insane asylum, convinced his mother was abducted by a sinister Alaskan monster who lures the lost away to feast upon their flesh. And now he’s certain that his sister is in the same monster’s crosshairs. But if Shilo is going to save what’s left of his family, he’ll have to convince his sister that maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little mad.

The retelling of fairy tales has become almost a cottage industry but, for me, the fun is in discovering how a particular author approaches the task. Now, Wonderland is not, precisely speaking, a fairy tale but, hey, it’s close enough and I quite simply loved all the oddities and eccentricities, the madness, to be found in any Wonderland, even one that involves vigilantes and serial killers. That does mean there’s a certain amount of violence and the tale is quite dark so the squeamish may want to think before reading Lost in Wonderland. Still, I believe many will like Kayla a great deal and appreciate the story as much as I did.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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house-of-silenceHouse of Silence
Sarah Barthel
Kensington Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-0608-9
Trade Paperback
From the publisher—

Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin’s future—like that of every young woman—hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle’s visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiancé commit a horrific crime—and no one believes her.

Gregory denies all, and Isabelle’s mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband’s assassination.

In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.

Desperation sometimes leads to dire measures and none is more dire than pretending mental illness and landing in an asylum. In the days when treatment of mental patients was something close to horrific, such an escape would have been even riskier but Isabelle certainly couldn’t have expected to find friendship with such a woman. That in itself leads to some interesting conversations and behaviors but the overall tone wasn’t as ominous as it should have been considering the setting and the times. The appeal of the story was further lessened for me by somewhat stilted language that could have been “softened” just a little to make it more amenable to the modern reader and yet there were also occasional anachronisms that simply didn’t work. Overall, while I don’t really consider this to be one of the better historical fiction novels I’ve read, I do see potential for future works from Ms. Barthel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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the-purloined-poodleThe Purloined Poodle
Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
Kevin Hearne
Narrated by Luke Daniels
Audible, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

Thanks to his relationship with the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, Oberon the Irish wolfhound knows trouble when he smells it – and furthermore, he knows he can handle it.

When he discovers that a prizewinning poodle has been abducted in Eugene, Oregon, he learns that it’s part of a rash of hound abductions all over the Pacific Northwest. Since the police aren’t too worried about dogs they assume have run away, Oberon knows it’s up to him to track down those hounds and reunite them with their humans. For justice! And gravy!

Engaging the services of his faithful Druid, Oberon must travel throughout Oregon and Washington to question a man with a huge salami, thwart the plans of diabolical squirrels, and avoid, at all costs, a fight with a great big bear.

But if he’s going to solve the case of the Purloined Poodle, Oberon will have to recruit the help of a Boston terrier named Starbuck, survive the vegetables in a hipster pot pie, and firmly refuse to be distracted by fire hydrants and rabbits hiding in the rose bushes.

At the end of the day, will it be a sad bowl of dry kibble for the world’s finest hound detective, or will everything be coming up sirloins?

There are a handful of series that I always read by listening because I’m so entranced with the narrator and the Iron Druid Chronicles is one of those. Further, I also always get the ebooks because there are foreign and/or mythological names and terms that I can’t always pick up by listening so I play the audio books and then use the ebook to verify those words.

Besides the delights of Luke Daniels‘ narration, Oberon, a goofy Irish wolfhound, is one of my all-time favorite characters. Oberon talks to his druid pal, Atticus, and is totally charming while being very dog-like, focused largely on his next meal, and he has an eye for the ladies, particularly of the French poodle variety. When he finds out that a nefarious ring of dognappers is operating in the Northwest, he naturally feels it’s his duty to sniff out these bad guys so off he goes, with a little help from his friends. What ensues is an entertaining story with a satisfying resolution and I smiled all the way to the end. As always, Oberon’s voice alone had me going and I highly recommend readers who haven’t tried the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne listen to this tale for a taste of the joy you’ll get from these audio books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Deliverance by Kristy Centeno

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Title: Deliverance
Author: Kristy Centeno
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Publication Date: March 19, 2016
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

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Purchase Links:

 

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DeliveranceDeliverance
Kristy Centeno
Inkspell Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-939590-79-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s been locked away his entire life. 
He dreams of freedom. 
The only way he can accomplish his goals is by breaking free of the chains tying him to a dark past and gloomy existence. But there’s one catch. He’s not human. 
And he’s never set foot outside his jail. 

Devoted to saving his peers as well as his own life, he sets out to find the one person that can help him achieve his objectives. He knows where she will be and what she will look like, but what he doesn’t anticipate is the fact he finds himself caring for the girl whose life he’s put at risk, more and more each day. 

He has no name. 
He has only known hatred and violence before her. 
However, she will teach him to have faith in humanity, even if she can’t trust him. 
Together they will embark on a journey to bring down a corrupt system responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. But when he finds his feelings compromised, can he still move on knowing that doing so will put an end to the life she once knew? How far is he willing to go to be free? 

From the very beginning, this book was a surprise to me. I’d read the publisher’s description but I still wasn’t really prepared for all the elements that came together to make Deliverance such an interesting and compelling story.

While “dark fantasy” is as good a genre as any, this really is a blend of dark fantasy, mystery, romance and even science fiction, not to mention a large dollop of action adventure. Plot and characterization are equally important and even the less savory players have a strong presence.

Imagine, if you will, spending your entire life closed up and removed from the rest of the world. That’s Tiger’s whole existence and he knows nothing about normal living. Occasionally, I found this to be a little unworkable for the story because it’s hard to fathom how such isolation could still result in a fairly knowledgeable and sane person but it’s also what makes this young man so appealing. His very innocence of the ways of the world have made him a kind, thoughtful individual rather than the mentally troubled and unpleasant person most of us would expect.

Katrina, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense young woman who generally avoids unnecessary attention and, yet, when she’s confronted with a difficult and certainly perilous situation, she chooses to help Tiger. She is aware of the potential dangers but, essentially, Katrina believes in doing the right thing and it’s that sort of idealism that makes her who she is, not to mention her strong devotion to her grandmother, Rose. Rose herself is the third character who pulled me into the story and wouldn’t let me go.

When all is said and done, Deliverance is all about good versus evil and, as such, I was intrigued and the story never let me down. Ms. Centeno has come up with a premise that’s a bit mindboggling and fleshed it out with memorable people; I’ll look forward to more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

About the Author

Kristy CentenoKristy Centeno is the author of the Secrets of the Moon saga and Keeper Witches series. She has always had a passion for books and after years of being an avid reader, she decided to transform her desire to write into a reality and thus, her first novel was born. When she’s not busy taking care of her five children or holding down the fort, she finds time to sit and do what she loves the most: writing.

Author Links:

Website // Blog // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

The Sin Eater's DaughterThe Sin Eater’s Daughter
Melinda Salisbury
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-81062-3
Hardcover

Twylla comes from an odd background. No father is ever mentioned and her mother is the Sin Eater for the crown. Her job is to sit by the casket of a recently deceased person and ‘eat’ their sins in the form of various foods, spices and drink laid out on the top of the coffin. For years, Twylla believed she would be the next Sin Eater, but everything changed when the queen declared her to be the Daunen Embodied, the first in over a hundred years.

Her position requires her to have a drop of her blood mixed with poison once per month. She then drinks the mix as a way to demonstrate her purity and ability to see truth in others. It also makes contact with her skin lethal. Touching the condemned is another part of her destiny, one she’s come to detest because the queen made her kill a boy she’d become friendly with after declaring him a traitor for unspecified reasons. Another bit of reality hanging heavily over her is the fact that she’s betrothed to Merek, the prince who will assume the throne after his mother and stepfather relinquish it.

Merek has been away on a learning journey for the past two years, but his return, with some very different ways of seeing the future of the kingdom, sets in motion a series of events that quickly spiral out of control. This spiral is fueled by the queen’s treachery, the forbidden attraction between Twylla and Lief, her new bodyguard who comes from another kingdom where medicine and alchemy are far more advanced.

As she becomes more attracted to Lief, she must also agonize over her bond with Merek because she begins to see things through his eyes. The last thirty pages reminded me of a literary tennis match as emotions and truth bounced all over the place, but in an impossible to put down way. Every time it seemed like Twylla figured out how she felt about Merek and Lief, some new angle threw everything out the window. This was done so well, I couldn’t really anticipate what would finally happen. That’s a rare feat these days.

This is an excellent YA fantasy, one that adults will like as well and has me eager to read the second book, The Sleeping Prince: A Sin Eater’s Daughter Novel which is told from Lief’s younger sister’s point of view.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of VulturesWake of Vultures
The Shadow: Book One
Lila Bowen
Orbit, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-316-26431-0
Hardcover

This was both a joyful and inspiring read.  With a fabulously frantic fast pace, the action-packed adventure to find and conquer the Cannibal Owl sucked me in and carried me along.  The variety of monsters that are encountered all along the way totally tickled my adoration of fantasy, while the main character, Nettie Lonesome, grounded me and filled me with hope and pride.

Nettie’s spunk, whole-hearted courage and unconditional admiration and adoration of all animals are delightfully demonstrated by her actions and blunt dialogue.  Her rough edges are only a thin disguise for her compassion and empathy, making her into the quintessential heroine, in my eyes.

“What if it was a good monster having a bad day?”

Already a huge fan of Delilah Dawson (aka Lila Bowen), I was nevertheless blown away by her clever capability of tackling serious social issues with subtle undertones in this captivating, compelling story.  I think Chuck Wendig summed it up best when he said, “WAKE OF VULTURES doesn’t just fly—it soars.”

“I ain’t white, and that’s all that seems to matter to folks.”

“Suicide was a pleasure she couldn’t afford.”

If you are looking for something completely different yet comfortable and familiar, this is the author for you.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

Book Review: Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Secondhand SoulsSecondhand Souls
Christopher Moore
William Morrow Paperbacks, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-177979-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can’t be good—in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore’s delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.

Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone—or something—is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He’s trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall “meat puppet” waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host.

To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl. Now if only they can get little Sophie to stop babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind . . .

Way back in my bookselling days, I was perusing a catalogue one day when I came across a title that stopped me in my tracks—Island of the Sequined Love Nun. I’ve always been a pushover for eye-catching titles so I did a little rummaging around about this author, Christopher Moore, and found such wonders as Practical DemonkeepingThe Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove and Bloodsucking Fiends. I was sold and I hadn’t even read any of these books so I ordered for our shelves everything Moore had written up to that point and never stopped till the day we closed the shop. This author some might call crazy or just plain nuts turned out to be one of our bestsellers for his new titles and his backlist and I was right in there with our customers, devouring everything. One of his titles—Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal—still holds a place in my top 5 favorite books 14 years after it came out.

Now, the thing about Christopher Moore’s books is I find them nearly impossible to review, at least in the normal way. How do you get across the pure joy of reading about a guy who becomes a soul collector because, if somebody doesn’t do it, the really bad guys will take over the world? Or that said soul collector is now himself dead but his own soul is trapped in a 14-inch high makeshift lunchmeat doll of sorts while his Buddhist nun girlfriend tries to figure out how to get him in a real body? For that matter, how to explain a 7-year-old who’s guarded by a pair of hellhounds named Alvin and Mohammed while she claims to have dominion over the Underworld?

The fact is I can’t do it all justice so I’ll just say this….I never read these books in public because I can’t help snorting out loud, sometimes bringing myself to tears of glee. ‘Nuff said 😉 If you haven’t read anything by Christopher Moore and you have a weird, snarky sense of humor, get yourself to a bookstore right now and start anywhere. As for Secondhand Souls, you’ll enjoy it even if you haven’t read the first book, A Dirty Job, but I suggest you start with the first one and then go right into the second. You won’t be sorry either way!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound // HarperCollins

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About the Author

Christopher MooreChristopher Moore is the author of fourteen previous novels, including Lamb, The Stupidest Angel, Fool, Sacré Bleu, A Dirty Job, and The Serpent of Venice.

Find out more about Christopher at his website, connect with him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

Secondhand Souls isn’t a book you savor. …This is a binge-reading book, a crazy, fast-paced trip that leaves you satisfied, a little sleepy, and ready for the next installment. I mean, I can’t wait to see what happens when Death goes through puberty.” (Dallas Morning News)

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