Book Reviews

Book Review: The Beholder (Book 1) by Anna Bright

The Beholder

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling

Plot: Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks…and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

Opinion:

What is this…sensation blossoming inside me?

*claws at face and chest*

It’s…

It’s unBEARable!

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“You tend to gardens and fields with the women and to the stock with the men. That makes you one of the people. That does not make you their leader.”

As Seneschal-elect of Potomac, and daughter to the current leader, Selah will soon have the responsibility of her country of Potomac resting on her shoulders. And being Eighteen she is expected to marry, to present a strong and united front as she leads her people. But when Selah extends an offer of marriage to Peter, a boy she has always yearned for from afar, and he rejects her proposal, her step-mother and the council take matters into their own hands. She is forced to travel across the Atlantic by ship with a crew of misfits, stopping in several countries and courting the eligible Princes, each for two weeks, in the hopes of proposals. Heartbroken, embarrassed, and only agreeing out of duty, Selah and her crew set off. But the royalty Selah meets is far from what she could have expected, and countless secrets and games are lurking around every corner.

“I didn’t want his proposal. I didn’t want to be a princess. I was never born to wear a crown.”

“Do not waste your efforts on good-for-nothing boys. Do not cast your pearls before swine.

“You are everything you ought to be.

When I started The Beholder…I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it would be that great. I had been debating purchasing it since it released a year ago, and every time I was about to buy it, I found myself not able to. The reviews from other readers have been super conflicting, some sprinkled in praise and others feeling luke-warm, but I was especially weary that it would be dull or completely lacking.

Well.

Curse me for second-guessing myself because…

This was everything.

“No mortal wounds, perhaps, but the scars these boys had left me would remain.

“The weight of the chaos was going to flatten me.”

This isn’t just a YA Fantasy retelling with a few Cinderella and Odyssey elements. And honestly, even calling it a Fantasy is a bit of a stretch. This world is a mix of fictional and real places. Europe plays a huge role, but peppered throughout are fictional countries and cities – like the one our dear heroine hails from. Also sprinkled within these pages are countless folklore and fairy-tales from all over the world, and each lends a hand to the plot and the direction our main character is thrust towards.

“. . . and if ye will listen but a little I will tell it you with tongue As I have heard it told, In a story brave and strong, In a loyal book of old, In the land it has been long.” —Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Selah is a sweet and a fairly dainty young woman with a great work ethic, and someone who is easily likeable. She is wrapped in innocence and her eyes bubble over with hope and sincerity for those around her, even when their eyes unfortunately do not. Upon the first few chapters, you are instantly heartbroken for her already. Not only is she woefully rejected by a boy she has loved from afar since she was a wee lass, but it is done so in front of EVERYONE. And THEN, to make matters worse, the fate of her love-life is discussed and decided by council members and her evil stepmother – “smother”, Alessandra.

And oh my sh, is this woman a piece of work.

“If Alessandra came down and caught me crying in the dark, she’d lean into my weakness, press on my bruises in front of the others until they thought me as spineless as she did.

If an author want’s me to feel heartbroken within the first 30 pages of a book, all you have to do is make a young girl feel entirely alone, while her sickly father stands by and does nothing.

Shatter me, why don’t you.

But this is just the beginning of heartbreak in The Beholder.

It was kind of him to pretend I wasn’t drowning.

I don’t even know how to describe the amount of sorrow I was feeling alongside Selah as she experienced betrayal after betrayal. Here is this beautiful soul, thrust into a duty of having to flaunt herself in front of princes and impress them enough to be offered proposals, all in the hopes of returning to her country to care for her sick father…and in the midst of being completely rejected! I felt her embarrassment, her loneliness and every wave of uncertainty that rolled through her. She is a shy introvert who just wants love. Not a title, a crown or a prince as a husband.

“He’d left me burning brighter than the candles.

Now I just felt burned.”

The Beholder is the name of the ship that Selah voyages on to meet her suitors, and the crew running it are a smattering of beautiful souls with various ethnic backgrounds, ages, and personalities. The author gives you just enough information and dialogue from them to instill a sense of trust and comfortably, but also withholds enough to keep you constantly wondering. Though I was a little surprised at how quickly these crew members become protective of Selah, I also found it entirely endearing.

“I imagined having a job onboard the Beholder, instead of being a job myself. Imagined being one of their friends, instead of cargo.”

And even though these crew members are fiercely loyal to Selah and always put her protection first, the reader quickly learns that there is something more going on when Selah isn’t looking. Most mysterious of all, is our dear Captain Lang. A VERY young captain in his early twenties (and dashing, I might add) riddled with secrets and complete intrigue. And even now, I am STILL wondering about this guy! With overly concerned glances and notions towards Selah, a tuck of hair behind an ear here, or an accidental lacing of fingers there…suffice it to say, I was being thrown in a million directions wondering WHO THE LOVE INTEREST IS!!!

“Would I ever learn what seeds he sowed that bloomed in bruises on his cheeks?”

Speaking of love interests

If there were ever a story to bloat me with so much love, and just as quickly drop my heart to the floor through my stomach

…it would be this one.

“You are making a mistake.”

“You are making a mistake.”

“You are making a mistake.”

How do I even explain the sheer mind messery that the love in The Beholder invokes? It is twisted, quick, fleeting, meddlesome, loaded, passionate, dark, light, achingly sweet and crushingly wretched. There are games layered in secrets layered in maneuvers and countermoves. Selah is a pawn in so many maps and boards, it’s devastating to witness. Her unwavering trust in people is endearing, yet wholly painful. Her desire to forgive and forgive is admirable, and the way she propels herself onward is empowering. The girl launches herself at the chance of love and being loved, and it makes me both happy and sad.

“My heart was a lit candle, a forest fire, a burning star. Doomed, but smiling.”

But her fear and lack of confidence in herself is truly the most sorrowful of all.

“I realized I’d been waiting for this moment, this inevitable point when he would look at me—soft, scared, unremarkable—and see that he could do better.”

I so SO badly want to dive into the romance angle, but I will spill all the beans of everything, and the unraveling of this story is just too good for me to do that to you. Just know that this is going to be an emotional whirlwind if you’re ready for it, and if you can understand/tolerate quick love.

But let me just say this: the siblings of Asling Fortress make my heart sing.

On another note, the world building.

There is a LOT of world building explaining in this, and let me not be the first to say, it’s damn confusing. Never have I encountered so many names that I didn’t even attempt to sound out. Call me lazy, but geez…those jumbles of letters were daunting. So in terms of making sense of the world – what was real and what wasn’t – yeah, I was pretty little lost. There was an excessive unloading of fictional names and places that I could not make sense of, try as I might. And even the land of Imperiya Yotne (that’s…the land, right?) which acts as “the villainbarely made much sense to me. All I know is there is something about the tsarytsya, they’re evil, and some mutterings of Baba Yaga – an old Russian folklore, sort of like the Boogeyman

“When Baba Yaga locks the door, Children pass thereby no more.”

“Baba Yaga’s land, there is no safety.”

So in that regard, I had to knock a star down. Because if this world and the cities/countries were cleaned up a bit, this book would be stellar. I am hoping book two, The Boundless, will really cut these loose strings and sew up some holes in terms of the setting and the story of the Tsarytsdafjfbdsf…you know, the bad place.

I am now already devouring The Boundless in anticipation for it’s release on Tuesday, June 9th. But I am still pretty early into it. So…

Pray for me.

“What fortune was mine.”

4 Stars

 

 

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Additional quotes I loved, because there were just too many.

“I was struck suddenly with the feeling of desperately needing to ask him a question and at the same time not being sure exactly what it was I needed to ask—the feeling that the question didn’t matter, so long as the answer came from him.”

“He is so very handsome, and we are so very, very unwise.”

“‘It’s not what you look like, it’s how you see,’ she used to always say, and she believed someone who didn’t read only ever saw through their own eyes.”

“We were doomed, but I was smiling.”

“‘I just wish you’d told me when it was just the two of us’

‘It never was just the two of us.'”

“No one knows how many years he has, Seneschal-elect. Life is short and death is certain.”

“So every moment I am aboveground and not below it, I want to feel the difference. We’ll all be in our graves soon enough.”

“I will fight, if I have to. But if I have to break another’s body, I deserve at least to feel his suffering in my own arm. I think the powerful would love less the fruits of violence if they had to deal it out by hand.”

 

 

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Book Reviews · Edelweiss+ · New Releases · Upcoming Releases

Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

All your Twisted Secrets

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, HarperTeen, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Mystery/Thriller

Plot: Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

Opinion:

The Queen Bee.

The Jock.

The Brains.

The Stoner.

The Loner.

& The Orchestra Geek.

It’s The Breakfast Club meets Saw!

And DAMN is it epic.

What they all assumed was a scholarship dinner with the mayor at one of the local restaurants, quickly turns into a game of survival against the clock. Six seniors are locked in a banquet room with no way out, and forced to play a sadistic game. Upon being locked in the room, the teams discover a bomb, a syringe filled with a lethal liquid, and a note instructing them to pick one person to kill within the hour, or they all die. Frightened and unsure if the game is real or not, the teens try to find a way out as the clock starts ticking down. But why would someone throw them all in a room together, wanting someone to die? Who is the common enemy? As the hour goes by and they become frantic, their morals and judgments are put to the test, as well as their pasts. The real question isn’t about who has to die, it’s about what you will do to survive.

It was do or die time.”

HOLY. SHIT.

I did NOT see that coming!

I came into this expecting a fluffy whodoneit with a little teenage angst, maybe some bully/slutshaming, a few screaming matches and possibly a flying fist or two. But what I got instead, was so much more than that. With a collection of teens that resembles the cast of The Breakfast Club (with an orchestra geek) set in modern times, and a Clue-esque murder mystery styled game that has all the horrific appeal of Saw, it was bound to get a little wild. The high stakes of only having an hour, being stuck in a blistering hot room with people you know but also despise, and then having to choose who to kill or risk exploding?!

The thing about being trapped in a room with five other people, a bomb, and a syringe of lethal poison is that at some point, shit’s going down.”

And down that shit went.

The story is told by Amber PrescottOrchestra Geek extraordinaire. From the beginning she comes off as a level-headed, conscientious and plain ol’ teenage girl. She has a passion for music that takes president in her life, as she hopes to one day score movies in Hollywood like Danny Elfman. She is dating The JockRobbie, who is a baseball star and again, proves to be a truly nice guy despite his popularity and dashing good looks. The Queen BeeSasha is of course gorgeous, intelligent, and has her toe in practically every aspect of their high school. She has big aspirations and is a go-getter, but also rumored to be a bit nasty towards her peers. DiegoThe Brains, is exactly what you’d expect. Super smart and inquisitive, and he has a history with Amber that has now evolved into something complicated, to say the least. Scott is The Stoner who is rumored to sell drugs, do drugs and be an all-around pretty doped up guy. And lastly is PriyaThe Loner. The former best friend of Amber, Priya is a super quiet girl who keeps to herself while practicing magic tricks and sleight of hand.

The story flips between the present, where the teens are trapped in the room and the clock is ticking down, to different moments in the past year. Each “flashback chapter” gives a piece of insight into the relationships between these characters – the good and the bad. The reader learns how their lives are connected, the things that each of them has done to affect one another, and why they have all ended up in this room together. At first the teens start out assuming they are being pranked. But when the doors are bolted, their cell phones have no signal, and they can’t escape through the barred windows, they begin to worry that maybe it isn’t just a practical joke after all.

No matter how frantically you claw at rationality, how desperately you cling to common decency, you eventually give in to your basic instinct to survive.”

This book is a web of lies, and I LOVED. EVERY. SECOND. OF. IT. I was hooked like Popeye on spinach, like Homer Simpson to doughnuts and beer. This story sunk its claws into my skull and refused to let me look away until the very last page. Not like I’d want to! I devoured this book and drank up every tiny detail the author left dripping on each page. The characters felt so incredibly authentic and developed, the plot had countless twists and turns that made me so unclear of who could have been behind it, and the amount of truly important topics this author included was executed perfectly!

Bullying, peerpressure, suicide, gun violence, drug abuse and societal and parental expectations are huge themes to the story. Each character’s backstory has been affected by one or more of these issues and it brings a raw realism to this YA tale. It made connecting with each character effortless because these are all issues, experiences and feelings that so many of us can relate to. And the best part is that each issue was weaved into the story in a very natural way. A lot of times when an author wants to include THIS many hot topics, it feels forced and rubs me the wrong way. But Diana Urban did an amazing job of blending each one into the story like a damn professional.

I really wish I could unleash and give away every secret to this sneakily crafted work of fiction but I won’t ruin it for you guys. Even if it does pain me to keep my mouth shut about it! This book just blew my mind and I loved how sucked into it I got. It’s a twisted web of lies, deceit, manipulation, trauma, regret, anger and vengeance. It was phenomenal. So buy it and buckle in buttercup, cause it’s about to get CRAZY!

Now you all know who you really are.”

4.5 Stars

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Book Promo · Book Reviews · Edelweiss+ · Upcoming Releases

Book Review: Frozen Beauty by Lexa Hillyer

Frozen Beauty

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, HarperTeen, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary/Mystery

Plot: Everyone in Devil’s Lake knows the three golden Malloy sisters—but one of them is keeping a secret that will turn their little world inside out….

No one knows exactly what happened to Kit in the woods that night—all they have are a constellation of facts: icy blue lips and fingers cold to the touch, a lacy bra, an abandoned pick-up truck with keys still in the ignition. Still, Tessa, even in her fog of grief, is certain that her sister’s killer wasn’t Boyd, the boy next door whom they’ve all loved in their own way. There are too many details that don’t add up, too many secrets still tucked away.

But no matter how fiercely she searches for answers, at the core of that complicated night is a truth that’s heartbreakingly simple.

Told in lush, haunting prose, Frozen Beauty is a story of the intoxicating power of first love, the deep bonds of sisterhood, and a shocking death that will forever change the living.

Opinion:

“…it’s your life, your being alive. It was supposed to be yours.

But then, one day, it isn’t.”

“Secrets. Secrets.”

The Malloy sisters are well-known in Devil’s Lake for their contrasting personalities and unique beauty. They are thick as thieves and have always shared a close bond with each other, and their neighbor and best friend Boyd. But the three sisters also have secrets. Deep, dark and lovely secrets that they keep hidden from one another. And it isn’t until the eldest sister, Kit, is found half-naked and frozen to death, that the secrets finally start to unravel. And when Lilly comes forward with information about seeing Boyd and Kit out in the snow that very night, arguing and kissing, Boyd is taken into custody. But Tessa can’t believe that Boyd, their best friend and her crush, could hurt any of them. So she begins to dig deeper, but what the sisters uncover is more twisted than anything they could have imagined…

“Lilly: the unpredictable one, the selfish one, the baby of the family – all brawl and tears and flash and fire…

Kit: the good girl, the oldest, the one to whom everyone turned in a time of crisis.

Tessa: known for tripping on her own feet, a clumsy shadow in Kit’s wake. Not a shadow…but a negative, all bleached out and odd to look at.”

Frozen Beauty is a beautifully written story about the relationships between three sisters in close age to one another, but who are vastly different in looks and personalities. It portrays the competitive nature between the girls, the yearning to be seen, the desire to be confided in, and the secrets that each of them kept hidden – unsure if they could share them with each other. The sisters love one another deeply and spend a lot of their time together, along with Boyd, but the distances between them are vast once the layers begin to fall away.

This story is told between the two remaining sisters, Lily and Tessa, as they begin to navigate a life without their older sister Kit. The story flips back and forth between the days leading up to Kit’s death, and present time. So as we get to know these two sisters, it is quickly shown how different the girls are and how much they actually keep their lives separate from one another. Tessa is in the same grade as their neighbor Boyd, who is like a brother to the girls, and she is kind of quirky and nerdy but in a relaxed cool kind of way. Lilly, however, is a spunky fifteen-year-old who is the typical young teenage girlobsessed with clothes, loves attention, and is drastically trying to make herself seem older. But Lilly is also beyond hilarious and drops curse words like a seasoned vet, and I loved her for every sassy sentence she delivered.

But the real story centers on Kit, and the WHY and HOW of her sudden death.

“That early Saturday morning, only two days later, Kit’s body would be found, bruised and frozen, in the back of Boyd’s truck.”

Early on in the book, there is a “before” scene of when Lilly sneaks out of her friend’s house after waking up and seeing her friend is no longer there. She sneaks out onto the road when she sees headlights, and comes upon her sister and Boyd arguing in the snow, and eventually kissing. Not wanting to intrude, Lilly goes back to her friend’s house…but finds out the next day that her sister never ends up leaving that spot. So she goes to police and tells them that Boyd was there that night, and that he must have had something to do with it.

“A cry of guilt –

A wolf in the forest of falsehoods that we built.

And now, winter whispers: deny, deny,

Silencing me with its little white lies.

I open my mouth and it fills with snow.

The end’s a blur – I can’t see where to go.”

Secrets obviously play a huge role in this story, and not just between the sisters. EVERY character seems to be dealing with some heavy stuff or hiding a dark secret. Lilly’s best friends are no exception. One is shrinking into thin air and drowning in oversized clothing to compensate for her frail frame, while the girls don’t even mention anything about it. And the other girl begins acting frazzled and says the most indecipherable sentences and phrasesI swear, my brain was in overload trying to figure out what was going on!

As far as suspects go…this author really lays out the possibilities for you! She introduces countless characters who act vague, spout cryptic statements and just act incredibly suspicious. Boyd, who has grown up with the Malloy sisters and acts as their protector, comes off as this great guy at first but it’s not hard to be swayed into a corner of believing him to be obsessive over the girls. Then there is Patrick. A mysterious, new bad boy with rumors of violence and criminal activity following him through the school halls.

But how this story actually turns out was…well, it was alright. My mind wasn’t blown or anything, but it was still a twisty tale that I couldn’t figure out until the end. I definitely didn’t see THAT coming, but it wasn’t the kind of surprise that had me gasping for air and wanting to scream dramatically. Another story I had read last year had a similar outcome, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t as satisfied with the ending as I could have been.

I think I was expecting a bit more from this story. At times the writing was really beautiful and poetic, but other times it felt very forced and awkward. Dialogue was where things would get a little cringey for me, like when the author tries making Patrick seem like this super mysterious and cool guy…but just ends up making him look like he can’t form a sentence? There was a lot of odd comparisons that didn’t make sense, and the connections to the characters just wasn’t really there. I was wanting to get gut-punched with emotions and loss from Kit’s death, but I found myself in a state of not really caring for her at all.

It was a decent story and a good mystery, but I wanted a little more substance and feeling. However, I do like the themes of how secrets can both strengthen and ruin a bond, and the emphasis on sisterly dynamics. I think the author perfectly captured the essence and intricacies that make up the bonds of sisterhood. There is competition, fighting, envy and being left out. But there is also a deep and unbreakable love, and a compassion for one another that is deeply rooted.

I came for the mystery, but I stayed for the sistership.

“And sisters are the hardest – they are mirrors of you; they are competition, opponents in everything…They’re a reflection of your best and worst self, and yet strangers always on the brink of going their separate ways and leaving you, or being left by you – a shadow in the doorway, falling across the carpet. A hug that lasts the length it takes to snap a photo, before it turns into a shove.

They have the power to undo you. And, maybe, to save you.

That’s a terrifying kind of love…”

3 Stars

 

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