Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: The Devil's Prayer by Luke Gracias

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: February 18, 2016
Publisher: Australian eBook Publisher
294 Pages

A nun commits suicide in front of thousands in Spain. In Australia, Siobhan Russo recognises that nun as her mother, Denise Russo, who disappeared six years ago.

In search of answers, Siobhan travels to the isolated convent where her mother once lived. Here she discovers Denise’s final confession, a book that details a heinous betrayal that left her crippled and mute, and Denise’s subsequent deal with the Devil to take revenge. In the desperate bargain Denise made with the Prince of Darkness, she wagered Siobhan’s soul.

As Siobhan discovers the fate of her soul, she learns that hidden within the pages of her mother’s confession is part of The Devil’s Prayer, an ancient text with the power to unleash apocalyptic horrors.

And now her mother’s enemies know Siobhan has it.

Can Siobhan escape an order of extremist monks determined to get the Prayer back? Can she save the world from its own destruction?

Explicit Content Warning: "The Devil’s Prayer" is a historical horror thriller that contains brutality, rape, sex, drug abuse and murder. Readers may find its content offensive and confronting


Ummm...this one was kind of a mess all over.

When Siobhan learns that her missing mother has committed suicide, she begins this journey to find out why her mother disappeared many years ago. And how did she end up a nun in Spain under a different name? What or who was she running from?

When Netgalley sent me an e-mail about this book, I was intrigued. When other reviewers likened it to The Da Vinci Code, I was sold. The fact that it dealt with the devil was just a bonus. What I found was a book full of meaningless violence and revenge weighted down with historical facts.

And when I say meaningless violence - it just didn't make sense. It felt like it was there for shock value. Almost a 'how gruesome can I make this' crime. And they seemed to come from nowhere. For example, and this is a slight spoiler, girl wins lottery in front of group of friends. Group of friends then decides in a split second that they want to steal said ticket and suddenly have this elaborate plan that involves car crashes and kidnapping and escalates to rape and murder. This all happened in like 10 minutes. No, I just don't buy it.

It was such an interesting plot that just got lost. I didn't care about any of the characters. The only one who seemed likeable was Siobhan but unfortunately the only scenes we got of her were of her just reading her mother's diary. It also didn't help that there was so much historical info dumping that either didn't move the plot forward or we just dropped in such a random place that you ended up forgetting the main plot. The editor should have really helped smooth this over.

This is in no way comparable to The Da Vinci Code. And if you're looking for closure when reading this, you get none. The book doesn't have an ending. I feel that for a standalone there should have been some semblance of an ending. Instead, I was left just staring at the page, confused. Am I a little hard on it? Maybe. But I really wanted to like it and when I read adult horror/thriller, I'm holding it up to guys like Stephen King, Dan Brown, Dean Koontz, and Michael Crichton, and this just didn't hold up for me. 

<i>I received an e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.</i>

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

ARC Review: Any Boy But You (North Pole, Minnesota #1) by Julie Hammerle

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: February 13, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen

Elena Chestnut has been chatting with an anonymous boy late into the night. It’s a very You’ve Got Mail situation, and she has no idea who he is. He can’t be Oliver Prince, hot-and-bashful son of the family running the rival sporting goods store. Their fancy sales strategies are driving Elena’s family out of business. Elena’s mystery boy has teamed up with her in their latest sales strategy, an augmented reality game, to help her win the grand-prize plane tickets. Money’s so tight Elena’s going to miss senior year spring break with her friends if she can’t win this game.

The girl Oliver's fallen head-over-heels for online had better not be Elena Chestnut. She's his angry, vindictive Latin tutor, the daughter of his dad’s business rival, and the one girl he’d never even think of kissing. She’s definitely not his online crush, because that girl is funny, sweet, and perfect.

When Oliver asks to reveal their names at the Valentine’s Day dance, their IRL relationship will either ruin what they have online, or they’ll discover just how thin the line between love and hate really is.

The Chestnuts and the Princes have been at war for years. An old family feud that has spiraled out of control even has the town divided. With both families owning sporting goods stores placed right across the street from each other, there's not a day that goes by where the feud isn't on their minds. The only difference is the Princes are making money while the Chestnuts are struggling. When a mobile app scavenger hunt whips the town into a frenzy, Elena Chestnut finds herself caught up in the middle and puts her right in Oliver Prince's way.

I struggled a little with this book and initially I wanted to give it just three stars. Most in part because of Elena. I just really did not like her. Her character is extremely petty and immature. Her attitude alone turned me off from the start. It's amazing her family's store even had customers at all with her working there. She yelled at almost everyone she came into contact, lashed out at them because she was upset with her own life, and refused to acknowledge that people aren't their parents (mainly Oliver and Regina).

Another big turnoff for me was what happens between two of the parents. **Spoiler Alert**       Why did that kiss even exist? It's cheating. You're both married.**End Spoiler**       I felt it was completely unnecessary and hindered the plot more than helped. I don't see how both parties remained completely ambivalent towards it later.

What saved this book was Oliver and the supporting characters - most importantly Harper. Despite his families feud with the Chestnuts, Oliver could really care less. He lived in the world of computers. It isn't until he's forced to look up from that world that he realizes just how much he's been missing. And not just on the romantic front. His friendship with Harper was a surprising evolution. Whereas Elena only thought about how to bring him down, Oliver tried to help Elena - to share information when he found out the hidden secrets of their parents past. He even tried to help with business ideas, something that he really didn't need to do.

Then there was Harper. Can we please get more of her? She was by far the most interesting character. Though I figured out her secret long before it was revealed, I enjoyed watching her come into her own.

Set in a small town in the middle of nowhere surrounded by pretty much constant winter, the town itself adds it's own character. While the ending was maybe just a little to cutesy and perfect for me, it fit the story and I ended up enjoying it. I really liked Hammerle's first book, The Sound of Us, and look forward to more from her. 

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 23, 2017

ARC Review: Pushing the Boundaries (Off Limits #1) by Stacey Trombley

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: January 16, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen
185 Pages

Myra goes to Haiti with one goal: take the photograph that will win a scholarship and prove to her uber-traditional family that she has what it takes to be a photographer instead of a doctor. Her camera has always been her shield against getting too close to anyone, but she didn’t expect the hot teen translator who has an ability to see past her walls.

Elias needs his job as a translator to provide for his siblings. He can’t afford to break the rule forbidding him from socializing with a client. Except this girl Myra insists on going outside the city to capture the perfect picture, and he steps in as her guide in order to keep her safe.
The deeper they travel into the country, the harder they fall for each other. Now they’re both taking risks that could cost each other their dreams.

If they get too close—it could ruin both their lives.

Disclaimer: Caution! Reading this book will open your heart and inspire you to take risks. Only those searching for true love should proceed. 


I really wanted to enjoy this one more but something about it left me, I don't know, just feeling off.

Myra travels to Haiti with her mother as part of a Doctors without Borders type of deal. Her mother is a doctor who does work at a clinic set up in Haiti and Myra, along with other teens, join the doctors as interns. Myra's mother hopes this will set her on the path to becoming a doctor. Problem is, Myra doesn't want to be a doctor, she wants to be a photographer. And she's in Haiti hoping to capture that one picture to win a scholarship to an art school.  When she gets off the plane she immediately meets Elias. Elias has been hired to be a chauffeur/translator to the Americans while in the country. This is a huge opportunity for Elias. With this job he can afford to send his siblings to school and help feed his family. The job just comes with one warning - stay away from the Americans. I'm pretty sure you can all figure out what comes next.

I'm just going to say it, I did not like Myra. At all. I get that she feels trapped by her parents, by her religion, etc., but that doesn't excuse the fact that she ruins other people's lives with the attitude of 'oh it can't be that bad'. I get that she's young but being young and being naive are two different things.

Oh the other side, I did like Elias for the most part. I like what he represented and how the author chose to showcase his struggles with poverty and lack of jobs to grow. He wants to learn. He wants to be successful for his family. It definitely puts things in perspective when you watch how he just wants to feed his family.

I also appreciated the culture and description of Haiti. I read in the authors notes that Trombley has spent time in Haiti in her youth and I think that helped here. Writing another country is hard when you're just going off Google. Having been there and experienced the culture first hand added to the story.

But ultimately, I struggled with this book. The instalove was kind of ridiculous. I mean, you just met this person and you're only in Haiti, what, a week I think it was? It would have worked better if it was crush status more then love. I mean, they didn't really spend that much time together to make it believable. Another thing was the ending. Everything from when Elias receives the package to the end was a little sugary sweet and too perfect. It wasn't believable and took away from  what could have been a bittersweet growing experience.

I do think this book will relate with young adults. Maybe I was just a little too old for the story and writing, that it just didn't work for me.  

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: The Conspiracy of Us (The Conspiracy of Us #1) by Maggie Hall

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenille
336 Pages

To fight her destiny as the missing heir to a powerful and dangerous secret society, sixteen-year-old Avery West must solve an ancient puzzle in a deadly race across Europe. Forbidden love and code-breaking, masked balls and explosions, destiny and dark secrets collide in this romantic thriller.

Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada at the Champs-Elysees when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war.

They are part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle of Twelve, and Avery is their missing heir. If they discover who she is, some of them will want to use her as a pawn. Some will want her dead.

To thwart their plans, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the landmarks of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul and through a web of ancient legends and lies. And unless she can stay one step ahead of beautiful, volatile Stellan, who knows she’s more than she seems, and can decide whether to trust mysterious, magnetic Jack, she may be doomed after all.

I would describe this book as the DaVinci Code for teens. Avery West is you typical high school student - well, except she constantly moves around thanks to her mother's job and therefore sees no point in making lasting friendships or relationships of any kind. Other than that, she's friendly to those friendly to her and also manages to enjoy a life of solitude with only her mom since her dad left when she was a baby and she has no other family to speak of. But Avery isn't the only new kid this time. There's also Jack- the mysterious brooding, sometimes 'I have an English accent but only when I'm talking secretively on my cell phone', hot boy. When Avery finds out that Jack has been carrying around her picture - she first thinks stalker but then thinks crush maybe? Avery isn't so bright in this book, just saying.

On the night of her prom, Avery is confronted by both Jack and the mysterious Stellan (who appeared out of nowhere) - both boys are wanting to take her away (like kidnap). With the promise of meeting her long lost family, Avery hops on a place to Paris with stranger Stellan.

I told you she's not too bright. I mean, who does that???

Anyway, along the way she finds out that her father was part of this powerful secret society dating back to Alexander the Great. This society is responsible for every major event in history but their power is dwindling in this new age world. Their hope lies in a prophesy that talks about 'The One' who will marry the girl with violet eyes. Guess what? I'm sure you guessed it. Avery has violet eyes (though she covers them with contacts because who has violet eyes?). But why? Who is she? Is she the one prohesized to save them all even though there's another baby girl with violet eyes about to be born? 

I struggled with the beginning of the book. Avery, especially. She literally had no clue about anything or thought about the consequences. I get that she wants to know about her father and the chance that she has family out there is astounding to her. But I also feel that someone over the age of 15 would question these things - not just jump on a plane to Paris. And this isn't the only reckless thing she does. She is constantly just taking every ones word at face value, not questioning anything until after she's in trouble.

About around the halfway mark, the book picks up. This is when the DaVinci Code factor comes in. Avery and Jack are running around Europe chasing clues left by Jack's mentor hoping to uncover some ancient secret. This was fun. I loved the history and the locations. This saved the book and it's also when I felt the author came into the story.

The story ends on a cliffhanger which has me wanting to read the second one because now, I'm invested. I mean, secrets were revealed! Plots were unearthed! Prophecies coming true and 'The One' revealed! But what will this mean for Avery? And can her and Jack prove what they've just found out? With a bunch of power hungry families wanting to tie themselves to ultimate power, logic and reason are out the window. And what about 'The One'? Will he actually save them or damn them all?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: The Pledge (The Pledge #1) by Kimberly Derting

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
338 Pages

In the violent country of Ludania, the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina has always been able to understand the languages of all classes, and she's spent her life trying to hide her secret. The only place she can really be free is the drug-fueled underground clubs where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. It's there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she's never heard before . . . and her secret is almost exposed.

Charlie is intensely attracted to Max, even though she can't be sure where his real loyalties lie. As the emergency drills give way to real crisis and the violence escalates, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country's only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime.

So, I wasn't super impressed.
The Pledge follows 17-year old Charlie, a Vendor class girl who has a secret - she can understand all languages of her country. In a world divided by classes with each class only able to understand their own language, Charlie's secret could get her killed. A chance meeting with a member of the Queens Guard almost reveals her secret. Max knows there's something special about Charlie and he's intrigued to find out more. However, Max is hiding his own secret, one that could shatter Charlie's entire world.

Again, another interesting premise but I feel like a lot of backstory was kind of glossed over so that there was more focus on the love story - which don't get me wrong, I love a good love story but this needed more especially since it focused around a revolution. I wanted to know more about the past uprising, the history of the language barrier and how all of that really works, where the Queen originally got her power and a little more of her background so that we can understand her position better. Just more.

One thing I did feel like we got 'more' of was instalove - on both sides. I get that the author wanted to move the story along to get to the conflict but the lack of any relationship building hurt this book. Aside from physical attraction and initial intrigue, I have no idea what Charlie and Max see in each other based on Derting's writing of their interactions. And when Charlie is more concerned about an injured girl holding Max's hand instead of the BOMBS FALLING ALL AROUND THEM I just have to roll my eyes.

I felt that the story didn't really pick up until about 60% of the way through when there is a rebel attack on Charlie's village. Here's where things start to get interesting and the book starts moving at a fast pace. We see members of different classes helping Charlie as she uncovers the truth about herself and her country. Had the entire book read as well as the last 60%, it could have easily been rated higher.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The blurb as seen on Goodreads:
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Adults
359 Pages

Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

Well wasn't this an awesome surprise. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe came highly recommended to me by a few of my friends and now having read it, I can see why.

15 year olds Ari and Dante meet one summer at the local swimming pool when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. This sparks a friendship that goes through many ups and downs and revelations. Despite their opposite personalities - Ari is quiet and reserved, choosing to be alone over other people while Ari is talkative, friendly, and curious; the two become inseparable until Dante's father gets offered a job in Chicago for the next school year. Before Dante leaves, there is an accident that forever changes the tone of their friendship and sends Ari on a downward spiral of confusion where he is constantly questioning who he is and what he wants.

What I loved about this book was the realness of the characters.  Ari, the youngest of 3 siblings who are much older than him, lives in the shadows. His father, a war vet, is quiet, never talking about the demons that haunt him leaving Ari to feel this gap between them that he can't quite bridge. The fact that his older brother is in prison doesn't help either. His parents never talk about him and Ari feels like he's a stranger - there's this emptiness in his heart where his brother should be but he just can't fill it. This leaves him stuck in his own head. When you live in a house where people don't discuss feelings and secrets are hidden, that passes to the children. When Ari meets Dante, he doesn't quite know how to react to Dante's openness.

Another thing that really stood out to me was the parents. Most YA books either don't feature the parents or they show them in a harsh light. Here, both sets of parents were present. Even though Ari's dad had trouble communicating, when the time came, he was there for his son. He showed other ways of caring even if he couldn't talk about it. And Ari's mom was a constant source of love and support. Then there was Dante's family. They shared the openness of their son. They welcomed Ari into their homes and hearts without question. Both sets cared and actually parented. I feel this is just so missed in YA and I loved all of the family interactions. Actually, the one time I teared up was during a conversation between Ari and his dad.

This story is about two boys figuring out who they are and what they wanted in a time where life is it's most confusing. Despite it's slow start, this one sucked me into their lives and I know they will stay with me for years to come.

Fun fact: I kept forgetting this was set in the 80's.

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