Thriller Thursday #Book Review #The Sun Down Motel by Simone St.James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

(From the book blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

I loved this book! It is probably going to be one of my favourite reads for the year. I know it is only February, but this atmospheric thriller is that good.


This was my first book by Simone St.James, and the description was vague enough for me to miss that there might be a paranormal element in it. Scary as it was (I think the scene where Betty tells Viv to run is the best ghost scene I’ve ever read), there is so much more to this book.

There are two very well-balanced timelines.

In 1982 we meet Viv Delaney, a twenty year old young woman who wanted to leave home and do something with her life, something that would get her out of the oppressive atmosphere of her home town and overbearing demands for perfect behaviour from her newly divorced mother. Viv never makes it to New York as she gets stuck in a little town of Fell with a very creepy motel, The Sun Down Motel, and Viv happens to land the job of the night clerk in it. Smart girl as she is, Viv observes and notices not only the strange customers any motel of this kind is bound to have (drug dealers, prostitutes, travelling salesmen, people with secrets), but also strange smells, noises and paranormal occurences. We know from the beginning that something will make her dispppear, but what will it be?

In 2017, Carly Kirk, a student and a true crime buff, is mourning the death of her mother and is venturing on a little research trip. To Fell, Upstate New York. The place where her mother’s sister, Viv Delaney, vanished into thin air 35 years ago. Once she is there, she quickly finds a place to live with an odd but very friendly flatmate, and a job of the night clerk in The Sun Down Motel. The same job her Aunt Viv held. Carly starts investigating and discovers that around the same time Viv disappeared several young women were murdered. Was her Aunt Viv another victim of the same serial killer? and did she see and hear the same strange things Carly notices around the motel? Could it be haunted?

The voices of Viv and Carly were distinct, equally well-written and engaging. Viv’s reality was very different. Not only because there was no Internet or DNA databases to facilitate police investigations. There was only one female police officer in Fell and she definitely faced a lot of discrimination.

“You think I did thirty years on nights by choice? That was the only shift they would give me. It was either take it or quit. And boy, were they mad when I worked it instead of quitting.

I was lucky to be able to get a credit card in those days without a husband.”

“If I ever get a time machine, remind me not to go back to the seventies”.

“It wasn’t so bad. We had Burt Reynolds and no Internet and no AIDS. We didn’t know how much fun we were having until the eighties came and it started go dry up.”

Viv’s flatmate Jenny dreams of getting married as a solution to all her life problems, while Viv… she is independent, smart, kind, loyal, determined, resourceful, and full of empathy towards those less fortunate than her. Once she figures out the mystery, she does everything possible to prevent the next crime from occuring. The link between the victims is so generic and unfair, that it sends chills down your spine.

Carly’s motivation to retrace Viv’s steps is different. Whether it is curiosity or desire for a closure that families of missing never get, Carly is as driven and determined as her aunt was.


There are some fantastic secondary characters as well- Alma Trent, Marnie, Heather, Nick- all unique and well-developed. Great portrayal of friendships and female solidarity as well as a slow-burn romance.

Intriguing, compelling, and eery, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St.James is a great thriller with paranormal elements. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley Publishing for the ARc provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

#Book Review #All the Best Lies by Joanna Schaffhausen

FBI agent Reed Markham is haunted by one painful unsolved mystery: who murdered his mother? Camilla was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while baby Reed lay in his crib mere steps away. The trail went so cold that the Las Vegas Police Department has given up hope of solving the case. But then a shattering family secret changes everything Reed knows about his origins, his murdered mother, and his powerful adoptive father, state senator Angus Markham. Now Reed has to wonder if his mother’s killer is uncomfortably close to home.

Unable to trust his family with the details of his personal investigation, Reed enlists his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway, to join his quest in Vegas. Ellery has experience with both troubled families and diabolical murderers, having narrowly escaped from each of them. She’s eager to skip town, too, because her own father, who abandoned her years ago, is suddenly desperate to get back in contact. He also has a secret that could change her life forever, if Ellery will let him close enough to hear it.

Far from home and relying only on each other, Reed and Ellery discover young Camilla had snared the attention of dangerous men, any of whom might have wanted to shut her up for good. They start tracing his twisted family history, knowing the path leads back to a vicious killer—one who has been hiding in plain sight for forty years and isn’t about to give up now.

(From the Book Blurb)

*****

My thoughts:

Although this is book 3 in Ellery Hathaway series by Joanna Schaffhausen, this thriller/police procedural works perfectly fine as a standalone. There is enough information and background, both factual and emotional, to understand both the past and the present of the protagonists. The previous books are The Vanishing Season and No Mercy.


In All the Best Lies FBI Agent Reed Markham makes an accidental discovery about his family that makes him question his relationship to his parents and his siblings. It also makes him re-visit a 40-year-old cold case of a brutal murder of Camilla Flores who died of multiple stabbing wounds while her baby was nearby in his crib. Baby Joe Flores was adopted by Virginian Senator Angus Markham, became Reed Markham, and grew up in a loving family that provided the best possible care and opportunities privilege can buy.


Ellery Hathaway couldn’t have come from a more different background. Her father left his wife and two children and stopped answering his messages. When Ellery was abducted by a serial killer Francis Coben, John Hathaway chose to stay away. When Ellery’s brother Daniel died of leukaemia, John even come to his funeral. Now he is desperately trying to get in contact with Ellery who is keen to avoid seeing him at all costs. Ellery doesn’t think twice. She is going to help Reed try to discover who exactly killed his mother, and she is going to stand by him, because the case is bound to be impossibly hard to investigate.


The plot is intriguing and although I had my suspicions as far as the identity of the killer was concerned, there were some twists I didn’t anticipate. Joanna Schaffhausen’s writing is superb. She created complex, well-rounded characters who keep evolving as they face new life challenges and make new choices.


The relationship between Reed and Ellery is complicated. He keeps thinking about the moment when he found fourteen-year-old Ellery and knows in some respects he was too late. ‘He’d re-entered her life expecting gratitude and instead found himself hoping for forgiveness’. Ellery and Reed’s understanding of each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities and their desire to be there for each other is so powerful and rare.


Joanna Schaffhausen explores thorny topics family relationships, lies, secrets, and choices to hide the truth. She also gives her characters plenty of second chances and opportunities for healing and building a new life.


I am very glad to have discovered this compelling series with its fascinating characters. Highly recommended for all lovers of mystery/crime genre.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read All the Best Lies or is it on your tbr list?
  • What new crime series have you recently discovered?
  • Do you prefer reading series or standalones?

#Book Review #A Queen in Hiding by Sarah Kozloff – Book1 in a new epic fantasy series ‘The Nine Realms’

Debut author Sarah Kozloff offers a breathtaking and cinematic epic fantasy of a ruler coming of age in A Queen in Hiding, and all four books will be published within a month of each other, so you can binge your favorite new fantasy series.

Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom. (From the book blurb)

****

My thoughts:

Epic fantasy books require a special mindset, focus and time to get into. With this one, the writing was so engaging that I was hooked straightaway.


As you would expect with book number one in a series the worldbuilding in Queen in Hiding is very thorough. Unexpectedly it appeared almost effortless. You are in the middle of events at the Nargiz castle, home of Weirandale queens, and yet, I was not confused or baffled for a single moment. I trusted the author to provide the necessary background information at the right moment. Sarah Kozloff lets you experience this complex world as if it is your own and when an explanation comes it’s just a piece of a puzzle that fits in the overall picture. E.g. hair colour shows old distinctions between various lands, and we get our first glimpse of this particularity through observing the members of the Queen Council. One of them has amber hair. Whenever a brown hair shows up, she asks gets her maid pluck it out. So we know this is something the court lady is ashamed of. Later through a child song sung by Princella Cerulia to her mother we learn that brown hair is characteristic of common folks, that all tiny kingdoms(lands) in this fantasy world used to have their own distinct shade of skin and hair, that there was a lot of intermarriage, trade and travelling. We see that old prejudices may run deep in this society, but judging by what the Queen says to her daughter, she is a person who would like to promote unity and peace and so on.


The characterization is absolutely fantastic, and let me tell you, there is a large cast. The author pays attention to give every character- main or secondary their own distinct voice, appearance and personality. There is also depth that comes with the additional background and showing the characters’ motivations.

We meet Princella Cerulia at the age of eight when the elders are trying to define her special talent (all previous queens possessed one). It is blatantly obvious to us that it is communicating with animals and that like it was the case with her mother, Cerulia’s talent will develop in future and will manifest itself at the times of need. Then we are plunged into the world of court intrigue. Queen Cressa is surrounded by treacherous nobles, one of whom Councellor Matwyck stages a coup to kill the queen in order to rule the country as a regent. Betrayed by her Council, Queen Cressa fears for her own life and life of Cerulia and is forced into an exile. Cerulia is disguised and given a new identity as a commoner. Gradually she will master her own magic abilities and grow into a strong and intelligent contender, ready to reclaim the throne for her family.


There is an original magic system based on elements, but the book is so well-researched and well-written that the magic aspect feels secondary to the realistic descriptions of court politics and everyday life.


I am very glad that the books are being released over four months (January 21, February 18, March 17, April 21), as I am really looking forward to reading the second instalment of this fast-paced fascinating epic series.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Tor for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read A Queen in Hiding or is it on your tbr?
  • Do you like fantasy books? If yes, what’s your favourite series?

#Book Review #The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

The Absolution is the third installment in Queen of Icelandic crime fiction Yrsa Sigurdard�ttir’s series about the psychologist Freyja and the police officer Huldar.

The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows a terrified young woman begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number “2”.

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim, but who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, more clips are sent to social media, and the body with a “3” is found. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. The killer is not done yet. And is there an undiscovered body carrying the number “1” out there?

****

My thoughts:

Content/Trigger warnings: bullying, cyberbullying, suicide attempts.


Sixteen-year-old Stella has just finished her shift working in the cinema. She lets her workmates know her boyfriend is coming to drive her home and they happily leave her in their hurry to catch their bus home. While Stella is waiting alone and refreshing herself in the bathroom, she receives a snapchat image of herself from a stranger, and then she hears footsteps… A tall broad-shouldered man wearing a Darth Vader mask makes a video of terrified Stella who he forces to repeat ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry’, begging for mercy, and sends it to all her contacts.

When the police hear from Stella’s frantic boyfriend who was late by ten minutes and also received the videos, they start looking for Stella. The footage from the CCTV cameras leaves them little hope she’ll be found alive. Among other witnesses, the police hear from Stella’s close friends and it becomes clear that the girls are hiding something.

The series has two protagonists: Detective Huldar, smart, good-looking, messed-up, and a child psychologist Freyja who works in Children’s Home and is used to dealing with traumatised children and adolescents. Freyja notices a girl, Stellas’ classmate, who seems to have a different reaction to the news of Stella’s murder. It turns out the girl was severely bullied by the angelic Stella and her clique. When Freyja suggests checking out this angle, the police are not convinced. Stella’s body is found lying in a car park and there is a piece of paper with number 2 underneath. Does it mean there is Victim Number 1 whose body is lying somewhere? and where is Egill, another teenager whose abduction was accompanied by harrowing Snapchat videos?

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Cat’s eye’ by Margaret Atwood. Among other brilliantly explored topics, it deals with the psychology of a bully, possible reasons and consequences of becoming one. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir focuses on a different aspect: the effect bullying has on the victims’ parents. In her attempts to help the investigation, Freyja reaches to her own childhood and adolescence experience of being bullied and the effort it took to pull through that period of her life. She knows getting qualified professional help is vital, but how often schools do not look too closely into suspicious incidents, hoping the children ‘will work their differences out’? how often tired and overworked teachers do not know how to deal with the situation or inadvertedly miss the signals until the situation becomes desperate? We live in the world where technology has given bullies more ways to harass and abuse weaker ones. It is important to be aware of cyberbullying and do everything possible to report and stop it.



Yrsa Sigurðardóttir rightly (and necessarily) points out, nobody (even the worst kind of bully) deserves to become a victim of horrific violence and murder described in the book, and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, but it isn’t easy to break the vicious circle which changes and scars everybody involved. A bully may become bullied and vice versa, as the brilliant ending to this gripping novel shows. There is also help and understanding you can reach for in people like Freyja who know how to listen and care to act.

This is my first book by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, but it won’t be the last. The topic of this well-plotted and well-written police procedural was dark and painful, and this is why I included possible trigger warnings at the beginning of this review. Still, it was an absorbing and thought-provoking read, and I will be looking forward to future books written by this talented author.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Absolution or any other books by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir?
  • Do you like reading Nordic Noir? If yes, who are your favourite authors?

#Teen Tonic #Book Review of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch. (From the book blurb)

***

My thoughts:

Cal Lewis is a seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist and news reporter. He has been working very hard on building his account and follower base on a social media site. Cal is passionate about his videos with news updates because he believes people do not just want gossip – they want facts and real information that can help them make choices. Cal is also a planner. He has a schedule for his news updates, he knows what he is going to do in summer ( his internship), next year, and how he is going to build his career. All of this comes to a screeching halt when his Dad announces he has just been selected for a NASA program as a potential astronaut on a mission to Mars. Cal’s family are to move to Texas in …a few days. The worst part is that Cal won’t be able to post any more videos as all filming rights are controlled by StarWatch Reality Show that has an exclusive contract with NASA. Once in Texas, Cal meets another astro-family with two perfect teens, one of whom becomes his love interest.

Cal comes across as a bit self-centred, especialy if you consider his interactions with Deb, his best friend/ex-girlfriend who has much more serious problems and is nothing but supportive of Cal. Having said this, there’s so much energy in his character, self-confidence and so much drama! I really liked the social media career angle, and sympathized when he felt his carefully laid-out life plans were thwarted. Of course, his Dad was entitled to making HIS dream of becoming an astronaut come true, but a bit more attention to how the change was going to affect the rest of the family was surely needed.


Cal’s relationship with Leon was a bit too fast, and Leon himself seems to stay out of limelight all the time. The book has the most romantic lines I have read in a very long time, but I would still categorize it under a coming-of-age novel, not romance, because there is only one point of view- Cal’s. Great rep for mental illness – Cal’s Mom’s anxiety and Leon’s burnout and depression. These are important topics that require a lot of sensitivity, and Phil Stamper did a really good job here.

Overall, an original and upbeat coming-of-age novel dealing with topics of family relationships, first love, following one’s dreams, authenticity in journalism and social media and many others.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Bloomsbury YA for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

I want to tell him I’m here, that he can talk to me if he needs to. Or I can sit here, inches from him, listening to him breathe. In, and out. I want him to know how remarkable it is that, of the billions of people in the world, I am the one who’s sitting next to him, under stars and the champaigne’s gaze.

I want him to know the improbability of two people meeting like this. That it’s astounding, no matter how inconsequential it is. Sure, strangers meet all the time. It’s the universe’s way to say we don’t matter. None of this matters.

Our eyes meet. And it’s clear that sometimes, the universe is just wrong.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

#Book Review #Golden in Death by J.D.Robb

In the latest thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, homicide detective Eve Dallas investigates a murder with a mysterious motive―and a terrifying weapon.

Pediatrician Kent Abner received the package on a beautiful April morning. Inside was a cheap trinket, a golden egg that could be opened into two halves. When he pried it apart, highly toxic airborne fumes entered his body―and killed him.

After Eve Dallas calls the hazmat team―and undergoes testing to reassure both her and her husband that she hasn’t been exposed―it’s time to look into Dr. Abner’s past and relationships. Not every victim Eve encounters is an angel, but it seems that Abner came pretty close―though he did ruffle some feathers over the years by taking stands for the weak and defenseless. While the lab tries to identify the deadly toxin, Eve hunts for the sender. But when someone else dies in the same grisly manner, it becomes clear that she’s dealing with either a madman―or someone who has a hidden and elusive connection to both victims.

(From the blurb)

****

My thoughts:

This is my mom’s favourite series, so I have been following it for years. Every single book in it can be read as a standalone, although I have yet to meet anybody who read one and didn’t decide to go back and start from the beginning.


Golden in Death is as entertaining and creative as its predecessors. It begins with the death of a kind and distinguished pediatrician Dr Kent Abner who opened a package with a golden egg, made of cheap plastic (somebody’s idea of a present or a joke?), and was poisoned by toxic fumes within minutes. Leutenant Eve Dallas and Detective Delia Peabody call the hazmat team to investigate the unknown substance and its harmful effects. The murderer used a poison which doesn’t spread beyond a few feet and clears itself in little time. A mad scientist striking random victims? or more likely, somebody who had a grudge against Dr Abner?

However thorough the initial investigation is, it fails to produce anything but a few dead ends. Everybody loved Dr Abner. I could feel Eve’s frustration, as she was getting nowhere with her inquieries, until… the second victim is struck. She was as lovely and innocent as Dr Abner. An only daughter of a bookstore owner, mother of two teenage boys and wife of a Columbia University professor, Elisa Duran was about to host a book club meeting, when a package with another golden egg was delivered. Leutenant Dallas and Detective Peabody quickly find the link between the two victims and uncover the identity of the evil murder mastermind.


As usual, I enjoyed the thorough police procedure and method employed by Eve and Peabody. If you have been following the series, I don’t need to tell you it is set in the future, April 2061, to be precise. The futuristic elements, however entertaining they might be, are there only to provide a background to solid investigative work and detective skills. This 50th mystery is not an exception.


Eve’s technology-savy multi-billionaire husband Roarke is still there, dependable as rock. He makes his wife coffee, calls her darling, chooses a stylish outfit that will make the right kind of impression, makes sure she has enough pocket money, never interferes or asks for attention- swoon, swoon, swoon…but isn’t he getting a bit too tame?


A great addition to the series that never fails to deliver.


Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Golden in Death is out on February, 4th, 2020.

  • Have you read Golden in Death or is it on your tbr? Are you a fan of the series?
  • What’s your favourite detective series?

#Book Review #The Last Real Cowboy by Caitlin Crews

In Cold River, sometimes forbidden love is the sweetest of them all…

Perennial good girl Amanda Kittredge knows that her longtime crush on Brady Everett was never really supposed to go anywhere. But when Brady comes home to Cold River during Amanda’s first attempt at independence, well, who better to teach her about rebellion than her older brother’s bad-boy best friend?

Brady’s plans did not include being forced to work the family homestead for a year–and yet, here he is. And, to make matters worse, his best friend’s innocent little sister is making a menace of herself in the most grown-up, tempting ways. When Amanda begs Brady to teach her about men, he knows he should refuse. But could Brady’s greatest temptation be his salvation?

(From the book blurb)

****

My thoughts:

This is book three in the Cold River Ranch series which focuses on the lives of Gray, Ty, and Brady Everett after their abusive alcoholic father dies. All books in this series can be read as standalones, so I will try to avoid giving any spoilers, apart from this one: the last one is the best!


Like his older brothers, Brady Everett had a very unhapy childhood. His mother Bettina left with no explanation and planted a seed of doubt deep in his soul. Was it something he did? Was he so unworthy of his mother’s love? What kind of woman leaves her children to fend off the emotional abuse of their mean and manipulative father? When Brady got a full college scholarship, he just laughed it off in contempt. When Brady sent checks to help financially, his father tore them in pieces. It was as if Brady didn’t merit his love or attention. Not surprisingly, Brady decided to stay in Denver after graduation and make his life there. When Amos died and Gray and Ty needed Brady’s help, he came back home running. This was what he had been waiting for for years, but it isn’t easy to change attitudes and relationships that have been ingrained for such long time. The brothers continue treating Brady as a teenager and dismiss his ideas on how to modernize the ranch to ensure its future prosperity.


Brady’s best friend and neighbour Riley Kittredge asks to keep an eye on his 22-year-old sister Amanda to make sure she doesn’t attract wrong kind of attention or get in trouble in the dodgy bar where she has just started working as a barmaid. It does seem like a reasonable request. After all, Brady and Riley once changed Amanda’s diapers. The only problem is Amanda has grown into a very attractive young woman and suddenly Brady is aware of it.


Amanda is the baby of her family. The youngest child and the only girl in her family, she has been sheltered and protected…and denied any kind of independent experience. Tired of everybody thinking she is a twelve-year-old, Amanda gets a job which comes with a little apartment and moves out. Imagine her brothers’ dismay! Amanda wants to live her own life and make her own mistakes, and that includes falling in love and dating. The man she has her sights on is her brother’s best friend…Brady. Charming, reliable, good-looking, and safe. A perfect man to teach her things she only heard of.

Brady’s dilemma is clear. Amanda is his best friend’s little sister, so by definition she is off-limits…unless his intentions are serious. But Brady himself isn’t sure whether he is going to stay or leave for Denver.


Despite Amanda and Brady’s ten year age difference, they do have something in common – both have an eerily similar experience of being ignored and undervalued by their older siblings. Brady knows he needs to work out his feelings towards his father, the ranch and his brothers- his character is very well-rounded. But Amanda just comes across as very young and naive for a twenty-two year old, even taking into account the fact that her brothers are indeed overbearing and patronizing.


I loved the advice Amanda gets from her friends, including Abby and Hannah Everett on the many factors to take in consideration in romantic matters. What Amanda really wants is to make her own choices, whether they turn out right or wrong. But is Brady the right man for her, will their relationship, based on chemistry and sexual attraction, become a solid foundation for anything more than just a fling? Will their age difference and different levels of maturity become a problem in the long run or will Brady and Amanda complement each other?


I loved the small town setting and all the descriptions of nature and people who live and work in harmony with it. A very satisfying conclusion to a great romantic series with unique characters and complex family dynamics. I will be looking forward to reading any future novels written by Caitlin Crews.

Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s paperbacks for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read The Last Real Cowboy or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Caitlin Crews?
  • How do you feel about ‘the forbidden love’ trope?

#Teen Tonic Book Review of Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.

Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.

DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.

To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn’t want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.

Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of Francesca Flores’ breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!

(From the book blurb)

My thoughts:

The world created by Francesca Flores is full of violent gangs, ruthless assassins, orphans and spies. The religion is based on blood magic and can be used to either save lives and create shelter in case of need or to kill in the most horrible manner. This forbidden religion uses rough diamonds to focus the magic and has been outlawed by Steels, people who own technology and industry (we are talking about electricity, steel plants and factories, not computers or spaceships).
The protagonist of the book, Aina Solis was orphaned at the age of eight, when her parents were shot while practising their religion. Aina survived on the streets for four years and then was rescued by Kohl Pavel, the Blood King, who turned her into a trained assassin. He also brainwashed her into believing that ‘good things do not happen to girls who come from nothing’, instilled a fear of falling from her dubious grace and taught her to think of herself as a weapon, part of a service, not somebody responsible for taking away lives. When Kohl offers her an extremely dangerous job to do, almost a suicide mission, all she thinks about is not the person who is going to die, but the money she is going to earn and her freedom to open her own tradehouse.


Aina isn’t exactly a likeable character, although you can see straighaway she is going to change and see the error of her ways. She is too confused, too mistrustful, too insecure. I had less trouble warming up to other characters: Teo who felt a life of crime was the only way to buy medicine for his dying mother, gentle Ryuu, almost too ready to understand and see the situation from the other person’s point of view, even Tannis, another ‘Blade’ (Assassin) in Kohl’s group of misfits and protegees.


The book is action-packed, although the pace is a bit uneven. There are also flashbacks to Aina’s past to help the reader understand how she got to be what she is and her relationship with Kohl. I felt that some things were a bit repetitive and could have been edited to make the book shorter and more focused. Having said it, I read the book quite quickly and put aside other novels, because it does have that addictive quality that makes it difficult to put it down. Will be looking forward to reading the second part of this duology to see if Aina manages to save her dark world.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Wednesday Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

#Teen Tonic #Book Review of A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier

A Castle in the Clouds follows a girl as she navigates secrets, romance, and danger in an aging grand hotel.

Way up in the Swiss mountains, there’s an old grand hotel steeped in tradition and faded splendor. Once a year, when the famous New Year’s Eve Ball takes place and guests from all over the world arrive, excitement returns to the vast hallways.

Sophie, who works at the hotel as an intern, is busy making sure that everything goes according to plan. But unexpected problems keep arising, and some of the guests are not who they pretend to be. Very soon, Sophie finds herself right in the middle of a perilous adventure–and at risk of losing not only her job, but also her heart. (From the book blurb)

My thoughts:

This was a perfect winter read! The book is set in a beautiful hotel up in the Swiss Alps, while the main events take place between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so I couldn’t have asked for a more atmospheric YA book.

Seventeen year old Sophie Spark is a high school dropout who is working as an intern in a luxury hotel. She is trying to find her own place in the world, however different it might be from her mother expectations and her friends’ chosen lifepaths. Sophie is learning various jobs and tasks hotel staff do: she has been a chambermaid, learnt ins and outs of running the laundry room equipment, worked as the hotel spa assistant and baby-sitter. Sophie’s a lovely girl with her own particular brand of humour. She’s always smiling (maybe a bit too much) and has even occasionally burst into a song in the laundry room. She also gives milkroll crumbs to seven little jackdaws who coo outside the window of her tiny room. Sophie’s also very independent and doesn’t give in to peer pressure.
Ben Monfort is the only son of one of the hotel owners and is also working there for free during his winter holidays. Ben still needs to figure out his feelings towards the old hotel. On one hand, he has grown up in it and has known most of the staff since he was a toddler. On the other hand, he feels he will never be free to make his own choices in life. If you are not a fan of love triangles, I’ve got bad news for you, as not only Ben, but also another mysterious, but utterly gorgeous hotel guest falls in love with Sophie.


There is a huge cast of characters. Some of them are nice and warm-hearted (or rather that’s what Sophie thinks) or…the opposite. Sophie might be a bit quick to judge people, but perhaps it is just the prerogative of her age to find out that not everybody is what they seem to be at a first glance. There is a Russian oligarch travelling incognito, a PI following the trail of a criminal, a group of thieves, a famous writer… the list goes on. One of the guests pretends to be nice and meek, although deep down they are cruel and heartless, while another one who doesn’t seem to have a kind bone in their body, turns out to be not so bad.

There is money laundering, kidnapping and jewellery theft, so the book is action-packed, although there are also a few very romantic scenes, including several almost-kisses and a spellbinding waltz on the hotel roof.


Hotels have this special liminal quality that makes you believe anything can happen there, however strange, improbable or downright scary (picture Shining or even Psycho in your mind). You are also allowed to be anything or anybody you want (within reasonable limits) and that includes acting heroically to save somebody’s life. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading this book.

Overall, entertaining, unusual, sentimental, A Castle in the Clouds has a lot to go for it. Not least, it has a cozy atmosphere, quirky characters, squeeky clean romance, and a feel-good-happy-ending.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read A Castle in the Clouds or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read any other books by Kerstin Gier?
  • Can you think of other books set in a liminal space that you would recommend?

# Top Ten Tuesday January 21st – Ten most recent additions to my bookshelf

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Today’s topic is Ten most recent additions to my bookshelf. I’ve added a link to Goodreads and book description (just in case the title and the cover on their own are not enticing enough). Here they come:

1 Cinderella is dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again. Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

2 Super Host by Kate Russo

Bennett Driscoll is a Turner Prize-nominated artist who was once a rising star. Now, at age fifty-five, his wife has left him, he hasn’t sold a painting in two years, and his galley wants to stop selling his work, claiming they’ll have more value retrospectively…when he’s dead. So, left with a large West London home and no income, he’s forced to move into his artist’s studio in the back garden and rent out his house on the popular vacation rental site, AirBed. A stranger now in his own home, and with his daughter, Mia, off at art school and any new relationships fizzling out at best, Bennett struggles to find purpose in his day-to-day. That all changes when three different guests–lonely American Alicia; tortured artist Emma; and cautiously optimistic divorcee Kirstie–unwittingly unlock the pieces of himself that have been lost to him for too long.

3 Long Bright River by Liz Moore

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

4 The Second Home by Christina Clancy

A debut novel set on Cape Cod that centers on a beloved family home and the summer that changed the lives of three siblings forever.

After a disastrous summer spent at her family’s summer home on Cape Cod, seventeen year old Ann Gordon is left harboring a secret that changes her life forever, and creates a rift between her sister, Poppy, and their adopted brother, Michael.

Now, fifteen years later, her parents have died, and Ann and her sister Poppy are left to decide the fate of the old Wellfleet home that’s been in the Gordon family for generations. While they both love the house, they decide to sell it and move forward. But then Michael re-enters their lives with a legitimate claim to a third of the estate. He wants the house. But more than that, he wants to set the record straight about that long ago summer.

Reunited after years apart, these very different siblings are forced to decide if they can continue to be a family–and in the process, they’ll discover that the house might be the glue that holds them together.

5 The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. The earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

In a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.

6 The familiar Dark by Amy Engel

A spellbinding story of a mother with nothing left to lose who sets out on an all-consuming quest for justice after her daughter is murdered on the town playground.

7 Everything here is beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Two Chinese-American sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone—and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.

8 Beach Read by Emily Henry

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

9 All our Worst Ideas by Vicky Skinner

When Amy, on her way to becoming valedictorian of her graduating class and getting accepted to her dream school, gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she takes a job at a record store to ease the pain. She needs a distraction, badly.

Oliver, Amy’s record store co-worker, isn’t so sure about Amy—his complete opposite—but what he is sure of is his decision not to go to college. He just can’t figure out how to tell his mother.

As they work late-night shifts at the record store, Amy and Oliver become friends and then confidantes and then something more, but when Amy has a hard time letting go of what she thought was her perfect future with her ex, she risks losing the future she didn’t even know she wanted with Oliver.

10 Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West

A wry and cleverly observed debut novel about the privileged bubble that is Liston Heights High–the micro-managing parents, the overworked teachers, and the students caught in the middle–and the fallout for each of them when the bubble finally bursts.

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These are ten latest additions to my neverending list of books to read and hopefully enjoy! Are any of them on your tbr? Or perhaps you’ve already read some of them and can tell me what you think?

What have you added recently?

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