Guest Post: Author Spencer Hoshino

Today’s post is a guest post by the lovely Spencer Hoshino, author of Paper Wishes (The Magical Girl Series #1). I am incredibly honored and excited to have this chance get to know her and to work with her to promote her awesome novel! Please make sure to check out Spencer on her website and social media. My full review of Paper Wishes will be posted in a few days!

Aloha (Hello)!

 

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Hello! It’s me, Spencer Hoshino

It’s nice to meet you all! ヽ(*・ω・)ノ

I’m Spencer Hoshino, author of The Magical Girl Series. I am a 4th generation Japanese-American and a lifelong resident of the state of Hawaii, where I live with my husband and two children, thanks to my great-grandparents, who came to Hawaii decades ago to work on a sugar plantation. (I’m sad to share that the last sugar mill, the one my great grandparents and maternal grandma worked for, closed down late last year.) 

I was very honored when Ariana asked me to write a guest post for her (totally awesome) blog. I wasn’t sure what I could share with you all, so I decided to write about my publishing journey. I’ve never written a guest blog before, so I hope that you will all bear with me. (*/_\) 

 

Paper Wishes & Lucky Stars

 

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Paper Wishes’ original cover made for Swoon Reads. Image used with permission from Audrey Faith Lim

The road to finishing and publishing Paper Wishes (The Magical Girl Series, #1) was a long journey, but the catalyst was my mom’s passing. I’ve always struggled with depression, but my mom’s death put me in a dark place I’d never been before. I was struggling to cope, when a friend of mine, who is like a sister to me, that I hadn’t seen in years made a surprise return to our hometown after living in Japan for a while. We met up for dinner and caught up with each other.

During our conversation, she encouraged me to be happy. She asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her that I’d been trying to write a book for years, that I wanted to finish it and be a writer. After some introspection, I made the decision (with the support of my husband and children) to quit my job as a web developer and finish writing my book, which I later submitted to Swoon Reads.Although my book was not chosen for publication, I made many wonderful friendships with amazing writers, like Gigi McClure and Macy Filia, which was the best prize of all. (*^^*)♡ 

Digressing, despite the amazing connections I made through Swoon, I still had my manuscript that had no home. At Gigi’s urging, and with Macy’s support (thank you for all of your tips and tricks), I started posting Paper Wishes to Wattpad. Best. Decision. Ever. I lucked out! Paper Wishes was well received on Wattpad, gaining about 700,000 reads within the first year. Thanks to Wattpad (and Gigi and Macy), I was able to share my work with people and they were reading it! I was elated! After working on my book for so many years, I had readers! But, beyond that, I was able to connect with so many wonderful people and my readers became my friends. (ノ_<。)ヾ(´ ▽ ` ) I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the most fantastically supportive readers, whom I call Lucky Stars because I’m beyond lucky to know them. 

Self-publishing & Non-traditional Media 

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Paper Wishes 2nd edition with gifts

On the back of Paper Wishes’ success on Wattpad, I tried querying it to agents and boutique publishers with little success. At some point, there were three different boutique publishers considering Paper Wishes. Unfortunately, two decided to pass on it while I ultimately decided to pass on the third because I realized we weren’t a good fit. The thought of self-publishing was attractive because I would have complete control over my work and its design. I reached out to two of my favorite writers who had self-publishing experience, J.M. Wilde (The Eva Series) and Dan Garcia (The Succubus in a Red Dress Series), and they gave me a wealth of advice. (Did I mention how lucky I’ve been throughout this writing journey?) Having decided to self-publish, Paper Wishes was released on February 14th, 2016 as a Kindle e-book first, then as a physical copy a couple of weeks later. 

Aside from believing strongly in the possibilities of self-publishing, I am a huge fan of non-traditional media. I have so many apps, like Tapastic (now Tapas), Spottoon, and TappyToon downloaded into my phone. I love supporting creators and purchase new chapters/episodes on a weekly basis. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to share my work on Radish Fiction and Tapas (formerly Tapastic) apps. In September 2016, Meteor Garden was released as a serialized book on the Radish Fiction app. It is the companion novel to Paper Wishes and tells the story of Vilvian and Kai’s mothers, Maya and Eri, their friendship, and who Vilvian’s biological father is! ∑(O_O;) 

On February 14, 2017, the 2nd edition of Paper Wishes was released (much to my excitement) on the Tapas app. Upon releasing Paper Wishes on Tapas, I pulled the e-book from the Kindle store so that it would be exclusive to them. It has been such an honor to have Paper Wishes on Tapas. They are seriously the best, especially Editor-in-Chief, Gabby Luu, who has been so flipping supportive of me and my writing. (T▽T) 

A hui hou (until we meet again)!

So, that’s been my experience with writing The Magical Girl Series and publishing. While I think traditional publishing is great, and I love that there has been more awareness regarding diversity in publishing, in the end, I felt that self-publishing and non-traditional media were what would work best for me. I was very fortunate to have everything come together the way it did.

Aside from the support I received from my Lucky Stars and the friends that I’ve made through writing, I was also very lucky to be given the opportunity to share my work through non-traditional media, like Tapas. (Did I mention how much I love being a part of the Tapas Media Family? Because I do!) To any of my fellow writers, if Tapas Media reaches out to you about potentially publishing your work, I encourage you to seriously think about it. I have nothing but good things to say about them and hope to have other works published through their app in the future.) 

If any of you decide to give Paper Wishes a read, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving it a chance. If you read Paper Wishes on Tapas or the unedited version on Wattpad, please be sure to comment and let me know that you found me through Ariana’s blog! 

♡ ~(‘▽^人)

Thank you so much for reading! And, an especially big thank you and hug to Ariana for allowing me to share a little about myself and my journey.

http://spencerhoshino.com

Review: Birthrights by J. Kyle McNeal

birthrightsBirthrights by J. Kyle McNeal

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Revisions to the Truth: Book One

Date Published: June 6th, 2017

Publisher: Elevate Fiction

Pages: 402 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: To escape the burden of his family’s past, Whym accepts an apprenticeship with a master his parents fear and revile. He soon finds himself entangled in a web of treachery and on a perilous journey to locate a creature of myth and magic-a journey that will transform Whym and shape the future of the realm. 

Meanwhile, Quint, the son of a powerful religious leader, abandons his faith to join the fight against a corrupt council. As the adviser to a remote tribe, he must find in himself the wisdom and fortitude to save the people from the invading army-and their own leaders.

Civil war looms, defeated foes plot revenge, and an ancient deity schemes to destroy them all. While navigating the shifting sands of truth, the two young men must distill what they believe, and decide on whose side they will stand in the coming conflict.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This was an extremely solid start to a very promising new fantasy series. Richly detailed, thought-provoking, and highly intriguing, I was very easily pulled into the narrative. Though it took a little while to fully immerse myself in the world and its history—the lore at the heart of every character’s life—once everything was set up, I felt completely absorbed into the words. There was something to find engaging about every moment of the narrative. This is intrinsically a coming of age story, but past that, you begin to see the intricate complexities of not only the characters but the of society they live in.

In this novel, we follow multiple characters’ lives as they weave together into one, captivating picture of the Lost Lands. Primarily, we follow two young men named Whym and Quint. Whym has reached the point of his life where he must begin an apprenticeship, and he is willing to do anything to break away from the poverty of his parents’ lives—even if it means working with a potentially dangerous man who has a past that connects darkly with his own. Quint comes from the most powerful religious family in the Lost Lands, his future laid out solidly before him. But when his long-held faith is ripped from him, he begins a journey to bring the truth to light.

Despite its initial appearance, this is not just a simple tale of two young people coming of age. It is a story about faith and beliefs. About corrupted politics and the inciting of a rebellion. About history and finding out where you fit into that which is being made around you. About discovering the meaning of truth and extracting it from the harshness of deceit. These characters are having their eyes opened to the society they are living in, one where the foundation is deception and the currency is lies.

By Fire

As in most fantasy novels, there are always some aspects that take a little while to fully grasp. Building up the world, introducing the many characters, laying down the backstory and lore, all take a while to set up and for the reader to become involved in. It took me about a third of the novel before I felt I had truly gotten into things, so the beginning was a bit slow. However, this minor sluggishness in the beginning took the place of a short but massive and confusing information dump. The opening chapters are not fast-paced and packed with action, but are a gradual and meticulous composing of an intricate world.

I was a bit confused toward the start as I began piecing the backstory together but, at the same time, there was never a moment were I did not feel very engaged in the plot. The measured construction of each and every element ended up serving the narrative well. By using this method, McNeal allows the reader to take the time needed to become connected to the story and its expansive cast of characters. He also saves them from the confusion that can come with trying to convey too much information to quickly. As a whole, though the pace might feel slow, it establishes a solid foundation for the reader right from page one.

McNeal did a wonderful job building and growing his various, multi-dimensional characters, as well as giving them each a distinctive voice and personality. They were vivid and very easy to like or dislike, as the case may be. Whether hero or villain, each one was memorable and well-developed, which worked favorably with the regularly shifting perspectives of the narrative. I also highly enjoyed the dynamic and relationships between the various characters—they were very interesting to follow. I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Whym and Kutan.

Wood Pile

I have to admit, there were a few times where it was difficult to remember who a minor character was and what role they had played in previous chapters of the novel. This was due in part to their short appearances, stemming from the frequent jumps in perspective. Another issue that I had character-wise was that I never quite understood the concept of “the Rat-Man”. I also wish that there had been a bit more of a glimpse at some characters’ storylines, but I am hoping this will be rectified over the course of the rest of this series. All-in-all though, these were very small problems for me, and did not detract much from my overall reading experience.

McNeal’s writing in this novel was absolutely spectacular. The scope of this enchanting world that he has created leaves him endless opportunities to spin an absorbing story in his unique voice. I found him to be a brilliant storyteller; the prose was beautiful. His writing flowed incredibly well, and it was very easy to be carried away by his words. This was a strong debut novel, and I believe that he has shown a great talent and will go far in the future.

Overall, I had quite an enjoyable time delving into this tale. Once I began to feel involved in the characters’ lives, I found myself lost among the pages. This novel held so many of the elements that make me love the fantasy genre. I now feel extremely invested in these characters and their futures, so I am highly anticipating the upcoming installments in the series. If you are a fan of high fantasy or, especially, if you are just discovering the genre, this is a series that I would definitely recommend giving a try.

4.0 TARDISes

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April 2017 TBR

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Hey everyone!

I can’t even believe it’s already April! This year is going by so fast! I’m happy to say that I am fairly certain I’ve emerged from my reading slump. Though I only managed to read four books last month, I feel really good about that—it’s a lot more than I’ve been able to read recently. I feel a lot more motivated to get going on my TBR, so I’m definitely going to be taking advantage of that!

Like last month, this will most likely be another review copy catch up month! I’m going to start out the month with the last few books I didn’t get to from my March TBR, and then begin these. This list is probably way too ambitious, but I’ll give it my best shot! 🙂

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around— and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? 
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? 
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
Welcome to Weep.

The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

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Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.
In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta

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In the City of Brea, thieves and sorceresses do not mix.
When Curtis Vance—professional thief—stumbles into a sorceress’s trap, he’d prefer to kill her than help her. Now bound to the insane sorceress, his only escape (and chance to turn a profit) is to find the long forgotten Dragon Eye gem. Little does Vance know, the Dragon Eye holds more than the key to Vance’s freedom. The Eye could awaken a devastating power—a worldkiller bent on destruction, and Vance is all that stands in its way.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

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Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Thirteen-year-old novice Maresi arrived at the Abbey four years ago, during the hunger winter, and now lives a happy life under the protection of the Mother. Maresi spends her days reading in the Knowledge House, caring for the younger novices, and contentedly waiting for the moment when she will be called to serve one of the Houses of the Abbey.
This idyllic existence is threatened by the arrival of Jai, a girl whose dark past has followed her into the Abbey’s sacred spaces. In order to protect her new sister and her own way of life, Maresi must emerge from the safety of her books and her childish world and become one who acts.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. 
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. 
No matter the cost.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Inspired by her childhood love of books like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia, bestselling author Tahereh Mafi crafts a spellbinding new world where color is currency, adventure is inevitable, and friendship is found in the most unexpected places.
There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other. 
But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. It will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

The Waterfall Traveler by S.J. Lem

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All eighteen-year-old Ri wants is to cure her adoptive father Samuel from his hallucination-inducing illness. Everyone in her village tells her it’s impossible. But when she meets two newcomers in the forest—a gruff rogue with a vendetta against the gods and a charming fugitive with the power to travel through water—she’ll be torn away from Samuel and swept across the sea to an oppressed city governed by a ruthless tyrant. Once there, she’ll not only have to confront Samuel’s unlawful past, but a vicious evil that threatens all mankind.
In this tale of bravery, friendship, and unexpected love, Ri must discover her own strength to save the men she cares for.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

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Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.
Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?
Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

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Born into an affluent family, Leo outwardly seems like a typical daughter of English privilege in the 1870s: she lives with her wealthy married sister Christabel, and lacks for neither dresses nor trinkets. But Leo has a crippling speech impediment that makes it difficult for her to speak but curiously allows her to mimic other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back… and watch as she unintentionally scares off every potential suitor. Only the impossibly handsome Mr. Thornfax seems interested in Leo…but why? And does he have a connection to the mysterious Black Glove group that has London in its terrifying grasp? Trapped in a city under siege by terror attacks and gripped by opium fever, where doctors (including her brother-in-law) race to patent an injectable formula, Leo must search for truth in increasingly dangerous situations – but to do so, she must first find her voice.

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

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Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…
Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.
When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…
Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts.

What books are you guys looking forward to reading this month? What are your favorite books this year so far? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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Review: If I Run by Terri Blackstock

ifirunIf I Run by Terri Blackstock

My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The If I Run Series

Date Published: February 16th, 2016

Publisher: Zondervan

Pages: 305 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Casey knows the truth. But it won’t set her free.

Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore. 

But what is the truth? That’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up. Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?

Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices. The girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

First of all, I have to start off this review by saying that this book was responsible for pulling me out of the biggest reading slump I have ever experienced. This novel promised a fast-paced dose of mystery and suspense, and Terri Blackstock definitely delivered just that and so much more. It is a deceptively light read that ends up rooting itself in important and thought-provoking topics—very relevant in society today—packing more of a punch both emotionally and intellectually.

From the very start, the reader is thrown right into the middle of the action, and is fluidly swept up into this story of suspicious murders, dubious police work, and a heart-pounding, multi-state chase. With vividly portrayed characters and using two strong narrative voices to unfold this saga, it is a novel that pulls the reader in and hangs on through the bittersweet, cliffhanger ending.

In this novel, we follow Casey Cox and Dylan Roberts in a dual narrative as the mystery unravels and the chase gradually weaves their individual storylines together. Casey unexpectedly walks into—and becomes a part of—a crime scene when her best friend is murdered. With traces of her found all over this scene, she is immediately pegged as the sole person of interest in the murder. Having experienced previous unfair treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials, Casey realizes that her best chance at unveiling the truth, and even at staying alive, lies in her ability to escape—take herself completely off-the-grid.

Dylan Roberts has just returned home, tired and broken from his time serving in the army. Suffering from PTSD, he is finding it incredibly difficult to settle back into this style life that he has been so disconnected from. On top of his inner demons, he struggles against unfair treatment as he tries to find work again—many companies refusing to hire someone in an unreliable and fragile mental state.

Dylan seemingly gets a break when he is employed by the family of the murder victim to track down Casey and take her into custody; something that should be fairly straight-forward for him given his level of experience. However, he ends up facing off with an exceedingly clever girl who always seems to be a few steps ahead of him no matter what he does. And if that weren’t enough, when the information that he has been supplied begins to not add up with what he uncovers on his own, and the people he trusts start to look more like the villain they portray Casey to be.

This is a very character-driven novel, and Blackstock does a wonderful job of making each and every character an important element to the plot. Even those with smaller roles to play are distinctive and memorable, adding a strong foundation of realism to the narrative as a whole. Some secondary characters end up contributing a great deal to the overall plot, as well as creating some intriguing subplots—mysteries within a mystery.

Casey has definitely earned a place on the list of my all-time favorite female leads. She is resilient, intelligent, and brave from the very start, but she also displays weakness and fear, making her a highly relatable character. It would be hard not to fall in love with her, and cheer her on as she tackles obstacle after obstacle, and proves time and time again that she is an utterly selfless individual. She evolves a lot throughout a short period of time, and gains a great deal of personal strength and faith in multiple aspects of her life.

Dylan is another exceedingly intelligent and strong character. He has been through war in Afghanistan and is now fighting a war of his own—the inner turmoil that has been created from the horrors he has witnessed. Nevertheless, he pushes through, and devotes himself to the job he has been given, remaining independent and focused on what he takes away from his investigations, not just what one party would happily force him to believe. Casey and Dylan are very similar. Both broken, but not beyond repair. Both dealing with their own hardships, but never forgetting to remain true to themselves and do what they believe is right.

As far as the actual text itself, I found the writing to be very solid. I really enjoyed Blackstock’s style—it flowed very well throughout, even with the changing perspectives. Having more than one narrator and managing to give them each a distinct narrative voice can be very difficult, and Blackstock completely nailed it with her portrayal of Casey and Dylan. Both characters had clearly unique voices and personalities, and there was never a feeling of choppiness as the perspectives changed.

I found this to be such an engrossing read I could hardly put it down, and I did in fact end up reading it in one day. The end to every chapter is written in a way that isn’t necessarily a major cliffhanger, but leaves you craving more all the same. This is an adult novel, but the writing does tend to feel a bit more like a young adult novel. However, in my personal opinion, that does not detract from the story at all. In fact, it makes it accessible to a wider audience.

This is a novel that I would highly recommend, particularly to people who enjoy an exciting mystery and skilled characterization. I absolutely tore through this book, dying to know what would happen next and what the fate of these characters—both lovable and not so lovable—would be. I was completely sucked in from the first few pages.

The plot never slows down, with Blackstock masterfully creating some amount of suspense at the end of each chapter. It is an addictive read that is also quite intellectually stimulating and very full of substance. Teeming with love, loss, pain and ultimately hope, this is a novel that shows the unbelievable strength, courage, and faith that a person can have in the face of adversity.

4.5 TARDISes

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Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

wolfbywolfWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Wolf by Wolf Series

Date Published: October 20th, 2015

Publisher: Little, Brown Books

Pages: 388 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Her story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I had an absolutely fantastic time reading this in a buddy read with my good friend Anna from My Bookish Dream. Please make sure to take some time to head over and check out her amazing blog!

When I first discovered this novel, the premise immediately intrigued me, but I had no idea what an incredible ride I was in for. I have never read anything quite like this before. Historical fiction—with an emphasis on the fiction—it is, by far, one of the most unique and compelling plots I have ever come across.

Taking the history we know to be true, it asks, “what if?”. What if World War II had not turned out the way that it did? How would this have affected the lives of millions of people? Where would society—where would the entire world—be? Add in a dose of genetic modifications, super human abilities, and a twenty-thousand kilometer motorcycle race and you’ve got an unpredictable story that pushes the boundaries of the young adult genre and of the mind.

Alternate history with elements of science fiction. Now of course, this is not a completely new and unheard of style of writing. I’m sure there are many works using this very captivating combination of genres. This, however, is my first experience with it—and it absolutely blew me away.

To be honest, I have not read a young adult novel so refreshing in quite some time. It was new. It was exciting. And all without relying on many of the tropes that have become so abundant in the genre as of late. The premise itself is one of the most fascinating I have ever come across. Admittedly, it is not a perfect novel, but it truly grabbed a hold of me on so many levels, and I personally had a wonderful experience with it.

Set in a nightmarish scenario where Hitler still holds power and the outrageous cruelty of the Nazis during World War II has continued long after, the world is in an unpleasant state, to say the least. Many innocent people suffer greatly in an unfair world focused on creating “a superior race” through any means necessary. To celebrate their victory during the war—and demonstrate their very tenuous alliance—Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host a yearly, cross-continental motorcycle race followed by a lavish ball in Tokyo.

In this novel, we follow Yael, a former death camp prisoner and current resistance member with a painful and unusual past. As a result of genetic experimentation, Yael has been left with the remarkable powers of a skinshift—someone who can change their appearance at will. After intense training and preparation, and with these incredible abilities at her disposal, she transforms herself into the race’s previous winner, Adele Wolf, and enters in an attempt to reach Hitler and end his life.

The element of this novel that I am, by far, most impressed by is the writing itself. I completely loved Ryan Graudin’s lyrical prose, and it lent itself well to the overall atmosphere of the novel. Told through a mixture of flashbacks to Yael’s time in and escape from the death camp, and her present participation in the motorcycle race, we are given a slowly unraveling yet extremely fast-paced story. As we travel through the events of the race, bit by bit we learn more of her past—what brought her to this point and who had the biggest impact on her life, shaping her into who she is today.

This type of writing, when done well, can be quite suspenseful and generate an atmosphere of mystery that unfailingly keeps a reader turning pages. Ryan Graudin absolutely nails this technique in her novel. She also manages to form a very distinct tone for each side of the dual narrative. I found that the flashbacks felt intensely emotional, which matched perfectly with the grief and struggle of Yael’s early life.

On the other hand, the present day narrative feels much more suppressed and reserved emotion-wise. This not only fits with her harnessing of her powers for the good of the resistance, but also with her unrest over her true identity—something which she is clearly trying to quell. As the plot moves forward and more of her past is revealed to the reader, more of the emotion found in the flashbacks steadily begins to seep into the present.

Graudin’s characterization is another extremely memorable aspect of this novel. Yael is an exceptionally strong, beautiful, and complex heroine with an utterly mesmerizing story—one of the inner turmoil caused by a loss of identity. She can confidently take on the appearances and lives of others, and has fashioned a face that has become her own. But she has lost the physical image of the real Yael, and struggles deeply with the concept of her true identity. Filled with the perfect balance of courage, fierce determination, and natural human vulnerability, she is not only a wonderfully well-crafted character, but one who is easy to connect with.

We spend a lot of time one-on-one with Yael due to the nature of the plot, and Graudin did a fantastic job of making a character that fluidly drives the story forward. However, the other characters and her relationships with them are equally as vividly portrayed and well-developed. I truly enjoyed seeing the roles that Felix and Luka played in Yael’s life, and I am looking forward to finding out what their involvement in the next novel will be.

Though they only appear briefly in the flashbacks, the “wolves” are quite three-dimensional, and their importance in Yael’s life is quite literally etched into the present day plot. The slow unfolding of their individual roles in their part of this dual narrative worked brilliantly to create mystery and anticipation in both storylines, since it very much enriched many aspects of the present portion.

Challenging what readers know in terms of World War II-based historical fiction, Ryan Graudin creates an intriguing tale of alternate history and extraordinary power. She exhibits a very imaginative mind with the many inventive elements of the narrative, such as the aspect of skinshifting, which is something I absolutely loved. The juxtaposition of Yael’s flashbacks and her actions in the present allows two storylines to slowly weave together, producing emotional suspense as well as an ultimately well-rounded story containing many riveting twists and surprises.

With her beautiful, lyrical writing style, multidimensional characters, and unique plot ideas, Ryan Graudin proves herself to be a very talented writer. Fast-paced and gripping, with vividly developed characters and an enthralling narrative, I absolutely devoured every page. Despite knowing things could not possibly end as flawlessly as desired by the characters, I could never have imagined it ending the way that it did. I am incredibly eager to not only get my hands on a copy of the sequel, but also to read more of her work in general.

5.0 TARDISes

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Top 5 Anticipated Releases of Fall 2016

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Hi everyone!

Happy Fall! It’s finally my favorite time of year, and I’ve already started wearing my sweaters and boots! First off, I’d like to apologize for my absence this past month. I’ve been dealing with some unexpected health issues and it has caused both reading and blogging to be rather tricky. I’m starting back with a bit of a shorter post today, but I promise, I’ll be getting back into the swing of things with posting this month. I have a number of reviews coming, including one from an awesome buddy read with my friend Anna from My Bookish Dream (read her review here!). I’m looking forward to coming back and being a bit more active—and feeling better!

1. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 4th, 2016)

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When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

2. Timekeeper by Tara Sim (November 1st, 2016)

timekeeperTwo o’clock was missing.

In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

The stunning first novel in a new trilogy by debut author Tara Sim, Timekeeper is perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Victoria Schwab.

3. Blood For Blood by Ryan Graudin (November 1st, 2016)

*Contains spoilers for Wolf by Wolf*

bloodforbloodThere would be blood.

Blood for blood.

Blood to pay.

An entire world of it.

For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

This gripping, thought-provoking sequel to Wolf by Wolf will grab readers by the throat with its cinematic writing, fast-paced action, and relentless twists.

4. Heartless by Marissa Meyer (November 8th, 2016)

heartlessLong before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

5. Flashfall by Jenny Moyer (November 15th, 2016)

flashfallOrion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner, Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.

But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it.

What are some of your most anticipated releases this fall? Let me know in the comments!

-Ariana

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Review: Wolf by Kelly Oliver

wolfWolf by Kelly Oliver

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Jessica James Mysteries Series

Date Published: June 1st, 2016

Publisher: Kaos Press

Pages: 316 pages

Source: Author

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Montana cowgirl Jessica James is sleeping on a desk in the attic of the Philosophy Department at Northwestern University and she blames her advisor, Professor Wolfgang “Wolf” Schumtzig, “Preeminent Philosopher and World Class Dick-Head.” But when he’s found dead in his office, her real education begins. The murder weapon is a campus date-rape drug, supplied by the Russian mafia—and Jessica could be the next target.

Dmitry Durchenkov is trying to live a normal life as a janitor at Northwestern after escaping Russia with part of his father’s mafia fortune—which has suddenly disappeared. Jessica and Dmitry team up to wrangle mobsters, encounter a trio of feminist avengers, and lasso frat boys in order to rope in a murderer who’s read too much Existentialism. Together, the brooding Russian and the cowgirl philosopher learn that sometimes virtue is just the flip side of vice.

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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This is a spoiler-free review.

Wolf is pitched as being a crime novel that tackles some important issues using a good dose of intelligence, humor, and feminism—and it certainly lives up to these claims. Despite my love of the mystery genre, I was a bit unsure whether or not this particular combination of themes would really be my type of story. However, Kelly Oliver’s clever writing managed to erase all of my hesitations. Though some parts fell a bit flat or lacked believability, it turned out to be a very enjoyable read as a whole. I ended up getting completely swept up in the suspense and wit of this novel.

Throughout the duration of the narrative, we follow the lives of two characters. Jessica James, hailing from Montana, is pursuing her PhD in philosophy at Northwestern University when her advisor, Professor Wolfgang Schumtzig is found murdered in his Philosophy Department office. Dmitry Durchenkov, the university’s janitor, finds that the past he fled his homeland of Russia to escape is finally catching up with him, and at the worst possible time. Existentialism, murder, date-rape drugs supplied by members of the Russian mafia, and even the disappearance of famous works of art tie these two lives together in intriguing and unexpected ways.

Kelly Oliver takes some incredibly difficult topics and tackles them in a mature and respectful way. She carefully injects the humor into the story, giving the darker aspects of the plot the gravity that they deserve. There is never a moment where it seems as if the more serious moments are being taken too lightly. I appreciated how she focused on educating her readers about very relevant issues. On top of this, Oliver also adds quite a deal of philosophy and art history into the story, which I was very interested in. From her intelligent writing, it is easy to tell that she is well informed on all the subjects that she covers.

I’ll admit, I had a little bit of trouble getting into this novel to begin with, as the first fourth or so of the novel is much slower paced for the most part. This is primarily due to the fact that there is a lot of setup and familiarizing the reader with the characters rather than focus on action and the mystery unfolding. This is completely understandable, especially given that it is the first novel in a series, so even though it was slow going for me for a little bit, it did not by any means put me off the story.

I think that this initial sluggishness I experienced was magnified due to the fact that the narrative jumps between the two main characters. The entire novel is told in third person, but it switches back and forth between the storylines of Jessica and Dmitry every chapter or so. It takes some time to make significant progress in each storyline and for them to weave together. This causes the main body of the novel to be quite fast-paced, but sort of puts the brakes on things when it comes to the setup.

Writing a novel using this method can be fantastic for developing a feeling of suspense, but is also tricky to perfect. I found that the constant shifts sometimes caused me to feel that the narrative was becoming a bit jumbled. However, this did not detract from my reading experience too severely, particularly as I got further in. Once you get to know the characters, it is extremely easy to get caught up in their lives, and I tore through most of the novel.

Oliver juxtaposes the humor and awkwardness of Jessica’s life with the pain and fear plaguing Dmitry’s in order to create an ultimately gripping and unified plot. As a whole, she created the desired tension by leaving the reader wanting more at the end of each character’s contribution to the progression of the storyline. When it becomes fully apparent how closely these two lives are connected, the story picks up very quickly. For some reason, I was not expecting this link between them, and was pleasantly surprised with the direction that Oliver took it in.

This book is filled with a diverse and quirky cast of characters, all filled with a great amount of inner strength. I found the characterization to be an exceptionally strong point. Jessica is a great example of how to create a female protagonist. She is funny and delightfully awkward, while also being a very intelligent and independent heroine. Dmitry shows his strength in a different way, fighting to move forward from a troubled past that won’t let him go.

I think Lolita ended up being my favorite character in the novel. I love what a strong woman she is and how much she cares for and supports her friends and family. All of the primary characters are fully formed and multidimensional, each showing some amount of progress throughout the novel. No matter what their personal story holds or what struggles they are facing, each character does their part and is working hard to be the best version of themselves that they can be—someone they are proud of.

There is also a major focus on relationships between friends and the importance of family rather than on romance, which is an aspect of this novel that I found to be quite refreshing. The friendship between Jessica and Lolita—the way they look out for and support each other—is absolutely lovely and shows the strength that can be produced from that sort of companionship. Dmitry’s devotion to his family and the lengths he goes to in order to keep them safe is quite beautiful, adding both more dimension and a greater sense of urgency to his struggle.

The small amount of romance that is present, though I really wanted to like it, fell sort of flat for me. It felt a bit forced and at times confusing, so I do wish that it had either been addressed a bit more or left out completely. But this was the only area of issue in the portrayal of relationships and the theme of love. Overall, the dynamics and interactions between the various characters added more depth and meaning to the story, and was one of the strongest and most captivating aspects.

Wolf is a novel with a lot of heart and a good sense of humor, despite its fairly dark subject matter. With smart and skillful writing, vividly depicted characters, and an addictive plot, it proves to be quite a rousing read. Kelly Oliver has created a unique and memorable mystery that both educates and entertains. I am incredibly eager to continue on with this series, and look forward to seeing the ongoing adventures of Jessica James. I would definitely recommend giving this book a try.

3.5 TARDISes

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