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    Review: Poison Study

    Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder was released in the U.S. on October 1, 2005 in hardcover format. It is currently available to order online in paperback, audio and eBook formats at Amazon and in paperback and eBook formats at Barnes & Noble.

    The paperback edition, published by Mira Books on December 1, 2008, is 416 pages.

    Poison Study is the first book in the Study series by author Maria V. Snyder.

    ***

    Goodreads Description:

    Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison…

    About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

    And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

    As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…

    ***

    Yelena was ready to die. She committed the crime of murder and she was more than willing to pay the price. After nearly a year of being imprisoned she was ready to accept her fate and welcome the noose.

    By killing the General’s son, she stopped his abuses on her. But more importantly she stopped him from unleashing his cruelty on the other orphans – her sisters. And she would do it all again.

    But when the dictates of the land allowed her the choice to become Commander Ambrose’s next food taster instead of being immediately executed, she decided that living was worth the risk.

    Even if her days would be spent living in fear of being poisoned. Even if she had to live with the constant threat of being killed by the General’s men for what she did to his son. Even if it meant that any friendships she made would be short-lived. And even if it meant she would be living without a soul.

    But being the taster was more than Yelena bargained for. Poisoned so that she would remain bound into service, tested so that she would stay sharp, pursued by unknown enemies and betrayed by someone she trusted, made her question her choice to live. Because what she was doing didn’t feel very much like living.

    And when she learned something about herself, a dangerous secret that, if it were ever discovered, could cost her not only her life but her heart, it made execution start to sound like a much better option.

    ***

    Poison Study is an enchanting adventure and a thrilling mystery filled with action, danger, excitement and suspense from start to finish. With characters that are immediately captivating, a strong heroine with an unbelievably heartbreaking story who becomes even stronger, and an unlikely and surprising hero, Poison Study will charm readers and entrap them in this tantalizing world the author has created.

    Yelena is a girl sentenced to death for killing General Brazell’s son Reyad. She gets a stay of execution by becoming a food taster for the Ixian Commander as is her right under their Code of Behavior. While it’s not much of a choice, it does mean she avoids the noose and gets a chance to live, for a little while longer at least. The choice is hers. And even after all the years of torture and cruelty she endured, she still chooses life.

    As she first learns to become an expert on recognizing poisons and then learns what it means to hope and to live and to love, Yelena discovers that she wants more than just to survive and that she is more. More capable, more powerful and more dangerous than even she knew.

    But life as a taster is not without risk, and being a murderer does not leave her without enemies. As Yelena tries to regain her strength and learns how to trust, to fight and to live, she must not only keep the Commander safe but she must also keep and eye out for those who want her dead.

    With known and unknown enemies after her, a job that puts her life in danger with every meal, and a secret she’s keeping that could mean instant death at the hands of someone she cares about, Yelena must find a way to escape before she is either killed or her secret is revealed and her career as a taster ends up being a short one.

    Maria V. Snyder created an absolutely lovable character in Yelena and an absolutely magical and intriguing world and story. Each twist in the story will keep readers glued to the page, each moment that Yelena is under attack will keep readers on the edge of their seats and each dead end Yelena comes up against in solving the mystery or in trying to find a way to break free is a nail-biting and utterly nerve-wracking experience.

    Poison Study has an amazing flow, the story is totally bewitching and the characters are incredibly varied. They’re a wonderful mix of lovable and charming, mysterious and intriguing, fierce, deadly and unbelievably sexy, endearing, warm and fiercely protective, and evil, detestable and downright despicable.

    It’s a story that is unputdownable and will be impossible to break free of even after the last line. It’s a world that readers will be intrigued by and will want to return to instantly for the next installment in the series.

    There is no complicated love triangle. There is no gigantic cliffhanger. But for readers who are looking for a story with characters that are a bit older, for a setting that feels like its gone back to a time of magic and castles and kings, and for a story with an incredibly courageous and remarkable heroine and a fiercely loyal and intelligent and strong hero, then Poison Study is an absolute must devour.

    On a personal note:

    What a wonderful and magical story and what an epic adventure. The world was completely captivating, the characters were intriguing and enchanting and Yelena’s story was heartbreaking.

    Leaving the world was liking tearing a part of myself away from a place I never wanted to leave. Even with the danger, the atrocities and the risks, I wanted to be there in Ixia with Yelena and Valek.

    Poison Study had such a fascinating and seriously amazing mystery. One that I might have been on the right track for some things but was completely surprised by for others.

    It was an adventure. It was a deadly one, but one I wanted to go back to from the moment I finished. One that I want to return to right now. It will be a fight not to start reading the next book in this series immediately. I want to continue on with the story. I want to prolong my time with Yelena and Valek and Ari and Janco. And I want to spend time in Ixia and Sitia. I do not want to leave this world.

    I didn’t think this was one of those stories I’d connect to. I judged the book by the completely random and wildly inaccurate assumption that this was a dystopian/science fiction novel based not on reading the description but on the names of the characters and places.

    This wasn’t a cold story that kept me emotionally distanced from the characters. It was not scientific or clinical or militaristic. It was warm and inviting and enveloping and so completely magical. It felt more old world Merlin and wizards and castles and kings than anything futuristic.

    I loved that the characters were a bit older and that while there was a love story, it was not the driving force. But there was one. And it was heartwarming and just so perfect as it was written. And even without all the ups and downs of a tumultuous relationship, their connection made me melt and the characters totally wormed their way into my heart.

    The only thing I do wish is that the love story came about earlier in the book so I wouldn’t have to wait to find out just where things are headed in the next book in the series. At least I don’t have to suffer the wait for too long as the series is already released. But having to wait even a week or two will slay me.

    I want to read on right now, take the series to its end and suffer the withdrawal when I finally really and truly have to say goodbye.

    It was so easy to fall in love with this book. And it was so easy to talk about that this review practically wrote itself the moment I finished reading the book and set it down. I barely needed the time to process everything, because I was still caught up in the world, the one I didn’t want to leave, and the words just flowed.

    The Study series is definitely going to be one of those series that I put on top of my re-read list. And I can’t wait to continue on with Valek’s short story next.

    ***

    I have a “to die for” favorite passage, but it is totally spoiler-y. So this one will have to do….

    I joined him at the door. The uniform enhanced his athletic body, and my thoughts drifted to how magnificent he would look with his uniform puddled around his feet.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Poison Study is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book, although I only learned about it last year and not when it was originally released.

    I first heard about the author through Amazon recommends. But it was for her book Inside Out. About a year ago I finally had a chance to read that book and the sequel, when I received the eARC from NetGalley, but hadn’t checked out what else the author had written.

    Jaime of Two Chicks On Books changed that. She insisted I buy and read the author’s Study series. So I did purchase Poison Study last February and added it to my long list of books to be read.

    A year later and it hadn’t moved up in the pile. But Jaime was insistent that this would be a “me” book and that I must read it now.

    After much hesitation, I caved. And fell in love. And the rest is history.

    ***

    To read an excerpt of Chapter One from the author’s website, CLICK HERE.

    To find links to other excerpts and to the short stories in the series, visit the author’s website, HERE.

     

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    Review: Solitary

    Solitary by Alexander Gordon Smith was released in the U.S. on December 21, 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is currently available to order online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback, audio and eBook formats.

    The paperback edition, published on July 5, 2011 by Square Fish, is 256 pages.

    Solitary is the second book in the Escape from Furnace series. Book three – Death Sentence – is currently available. Books four and five – Fugitives and Execution – will be released in 2012.

    Goodreads description:

    Alex tried to escape.

    He had a perfect plan.

    He was almost free. Even felt the cool, clean air on his face.

    Then the dogs came.

    Now he’s locked in a place so gruesome—so hellish—that escape doesn’t even matter.

    He just wants to survive.

    ***

    The cells in Furnace Penitentiary are small. Those in solitary are even smaller. Solid walls. Pitch black. Soundproof.

    Except for the sounds of scratching from above. As if something wants in. Something strong enough to dent the heavy metal lid that locks you in a cell that is not much more than a hole.

    A solid lid that locks in place, leaving you no way out. And hopefully keeping you protected from whatever wants in.

    They say that three days is the most that anyone can survive in the hole with their mind intact. But what if you had to survive for thirty?

    After a month locked away from the light and from all human contact, with only nightmares for company, just who, or what, would you be when you were released?

    And if escape is the only chance you have for survival, how is it even possible to plan to break free if your mind has snapped?

    ***

    Solitary is the incredibly imaginative, unbelievably disturbing and downright chilling second installment in the Escape from Furnace series by Alexander Gordon Smith. Digging into this novel after lights out is a sure way to bring to life the nightmares that exist in and just beyond the walls of Furnace Penitentiary that unfold page after gruesome page.

    In this sequel, the journey is darker, scarier and even more horrific than what Alex Sawyer encountered in Lockdown and is just as nail-biting, if not more so. And readers will quickly discover that the horrors that face the prisoners aren’t the only things crawling through the tunnels beneath Furnace penitentiary.

    Solitary picks up right where Lockdown ended, on the edge of that cliff as Alex and the other escapees attempt their prison break. But as can be guessed from the title, things do not go as planned and they soon get to experience the blackness, isolation and terrors that solitary confinement has to offer.

    And if Alex didn’t think things could get much worse than what he had to endure in Furnace, he was wrong. Dead wrong. Because the fear of being taken at blood watch is nothing compared to the panic that comes from witnessing just what happens in the infirmary.

    Like Lockdown, Solitary ends with a cliffhanger. But where Lockdown left things in a hopeful, optimistic place, Solitary does the complete opposite.

    Author Alexander Gordon Smith really knows how to grab readers, pull them into his macabre creation and make their blood run cold as they follow along with Alex as he is forced to suffer all the evils inflicted upon him by the Warden, the black suits, the dogs, the wheezers and the other atrocities that live in the depths below the penitentiary.

    Solitary is an absolute must read for anyone stuck on the side of the cliff with Alex at the end of book one and for readers who enjoy a fast-paced, heart-pounding, grisly and terrifying adventure.

    Reviewer gives this book

    On a personal note:

    This series, which I am totally in love with, is also so completely addictive. I finished Lockdown and I just had to read more. I couldn’t pull my mind out of this dark, gruesome and hellish world. I did not want to leave. I don’t think I could if I tried.

    I couldn’t just stop reading with Alex on that cliff. I wanted to find out how he ended up in solitary or if it was even him that ended up there. I wasn’t sure if Solitary was a continuation of his story or not, as I refused to read the description.

    The moment I finished reading Lockdown I purchased Solitary for my Kindle so that I could keep the story going. It was just so easy to pick up this next book in the series and fall right back into this brutal world.

    Even the brief rehash at the beginning, for readers who might have had to wait between each book’s release, didn’t pull me out of the story. Although it did give me a new piece of information about the main character that I didn’t have before.

    And I really, really wish I listened to the advice that was given in that introduction. Because with the way things ended, it would have been a much easier pill to swallow if I took that information to heart.

    I had to put Solitary down for about a week, so that I could read my required review books. But it was always in the back of my mind. And when I did pick it back up again, I started it from the beginning so that I could experience it uninterrupted from start to finish.

    I didn’t think I could enjoy this book any more than I did Lockdown because it was a second book and because I’d already met the black suits, the Warden, the dogs and the wheezers. I didn’t think I could be surprised again.

    But I was. Oh, I most definitely was.

    There were two new additions to this sequel that made it even more horrific than the first book. I will not go into specifics so as not to spoil any first encounters with these horrors, but they are terrifying, grotesque and incredibly chilling.

    And one of these new additions, that was only just briefly introduced in this book, keeps the anticipation…dread might be more accurate…going until the next book. I thought nothing could be scarier than the Warden. I was so very wrong.

    But it was the peek inside what was happening in the infirmary, the place only hinted at in the first book, that left me utterly horrified, repulsed and saddened. While this isn’t a story meant to break hearts, mine did feel a little squeezed when certain events unfolded.

    And while I cringed at some of what happened in the first book, I actually groaned and shuddered at some of the extremely vivid and fairly disgusting things that happened in Solitary.

    As fantastical as this world is, when you’re reading it, it just feels so real – as if you’re there with Alex experiencing what he does, seeing what he does, hearing what he does, feeling what he does…smelling what he does.

    What goes on in Furnace Penitentiary is nothing compared to what happens behind the scenes or even beyond its walls. And I find myself more than morbidly curious about what’s going to happen next.

    As much as Alex claims not to be a good guy, I can’t help but root for him. No matter how dire or hopeless his situation. And I am dying to find out what happens in Death Sentence. Especially after that peek they gave at the end of Solitary.

    You can pretty much guess that I did end up buying and downloading it immediately. And that I started to read it the second it landed in my collection. But as Death Sentence is the last book currently available to buy – the next book doesn’t come out until 2012 – I’m terrified that if I do continue to read it, I’ll be left hanging in an even worse place than I am right now. If that’s even possible.

    I cannot recommend this book, and series, enough. Maybe not to fans of happy endings, love stories, or heartwarming adventures. But for readers who love to be scared, who want to follow along with characters who are put in the most dire of situations, who want a book that really pushes the envelope on what it means to be afraid, or who just love an incredibly descriptive, well-written and exciting, if harrowing, story, then Solitary and all the books in the Escape from Furnace series are definite must reads.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Solitary is a “Just Discovered” just learned about book.

    I heard about the first book in the series, Lockdown, through a promotional post and giveaway the publisher was offering to bloggers. As I don’t just auto-post anything here on the blog, I checked out the book to see if it might be something I, or my blog’s readers, would be interested in.

    I don’t know about my readers, but I was definitely interested in checking out the first book in this series.

    I loved it so much that as soon as I finished reading it, I immediately purchased Solitary, the second book, to see what was going to happen next.

    That was a pretty big cliff Alex was left on at the end of book one and I just had to get, and devour, this next book.

    ***

    If you’d like to check out my five-star review of Lockdown, click here.

    Click to read The Night Childrena novella about how Warden Cross met Alfred Furnace, on Tor.com.

    And be sure to head over to the author’s website, HERE, to check out all sorts of extras.

    Escape from Furnace series book trailer:

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    Review: Lockdown

    Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith was released in the U.S. on October 27, 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is currently available to order online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback, audio and eBook formats.

    The paperback edition, published on August 3, 2010 by Square Fish, is 304 pages.

    Lockdown is the first book in the Escape from Furnace series. Books two and three – Solitary and Death Sentence – are currently available. Books four and five – Fugitives and Execution – will be available in 2012.

    Goodreads description:

    Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries.

    Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.

    Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.

    ***

    There’s not much to do to pass the endless days and nights in Furnace Penitentiary except wait.

    Wait out a life sentence. Locked away a mile beneath the surface of the earth in a cell barely big enough to lie down in. Wait in darkness so black it seems infinite.

    Wait for the next day of hard labor, cold showers and food that is barely edible. Wait to die.

    And hope.

    Hope that the gangs don’t notice you. Don’t choose you as their next victim. Don’t break what’s left of your spirit. And don’t beat you too badly that you require a trip to the infirmary. Because that trip is always one way.

    Hope you’re not forced to jump. Because jumping almost always ends badly. And won’t necessarily end your time in Furnace. Not high enough means a trip to the infirmary. Too high and it’s as if you never jumped. Get it right or you’ll wish you never even tried.

    Hope that a fight doesn’t break out that calls for a lockdown. Locked out and it’s over. Quickly. But not painlessly. Because the guards will come. And their dogs. Monstrosities that will tear you limb from limb.

    And pray.

    Pray that they don’t come in the middle of the night. During the blood watch. When Furnace is bathed in the glow of the red lights. When the sirens blare. And when the wheezers come, with their inhuman cries, their rusty masks and their dirty needles.

    Pray that it’s not you they choose. Because if you’re marked you’ll wish you had died. What awaits you is something worse than the Skulls cruelty. Worse even than the quick and brutal end promised by the dogs.

    Pray for death. Because when they take you, you almost never come back. But if you do, what you’ve become can no longer be considered human.

    ***

    Lockdown is the dark, disturbing and chilling story of the unimaginable horrors that face the young offenders that are incarcerated in Furnace Penitentiary. This fast-paced, action-packed and gruesome tale will keep readers who enjoy the macabre riveted.

    There is no love story in Lockdown. There is no real hope for these prisoners who may or may not have committed the crimes they are accused of. The threat from other inmates is minor compared to what the warden, the guards, the creatures with only a vague resemblance to dogs and the wheezers can do.

    This first book in the Escape from Furnace series introduces Alex Sawyer, who is framed for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Furnace Penitentiary. As a backlash to the recent heinous crimes committed by children, adults are quick to embrace this form of harsh justice which locks these boys forever away beneath the ground. But what they don’t know, and don’t care to know, is just what cruelty awaits these kids.

    Alex is quick to learn that Furnace isn’t like any prison he’s seen on television. Failure to follow the rules can mean death…or worse. Getting injured is something to avoid at all costs. Getting sent to solitary for more than three days will break your mind. And even if you do everything right, they may still come for you.

    Author Alexander Gordon Smith has written a story that is exciting and terrifying and will leave readers on edge of a cliff, both literally and figuratively, as they follow the main character Alex through his induction into Furnace and his attempt to break free.

    The author paints a vivid picture of life in Furnace – one that is beyond horrifying. The stuff of the worst kinds of nightmares. Guards who laugh at the terror they invoke in their charges. Creatures whose only wish is to bite and rip and tear. A warden whose gaze is and depthless and soulless. And one where the darkness is far less frightening than when the red lights come on.

    This story is not for the easily frightened. It’s not one for the squeamish. But for readers who don’t mind a little bloodshed, Lockdown is an incredibly well-written, gripping and nail-biting adventure.

    Reviewer gives this book


    On a personal note:

    I have to start off with the cover. That thing absolutely freaked me out. It is the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately as I read the book I didn’t have to see its face. I would have if I had to set it down, but as this book was unputdownable, I didn’t.

    What I’m glad I didn’t notice until I was most of the way through the book was the back cover. If I had seen that it said that the walls were “soaked in blood” I would have been even more freaked out. Lockdown can definitely be called a young adult horror book, because Furnace Penitentiary is a waking nightmare and this story is disgusting and terrifying, but so unbelievably good.

    Anyone who reads this who has a very vivid imagination and takes the author’s words and constructs a visual will be horrified. I was. I still am. It’s Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker all rolled into one story with a little Resident Evil thrown in for good measure.

    I liked the characters, especially Donovan, but it was what went on in Furnace that kept me glued to this book. This is definitely the darkest young adult book that I’ve read. It was really twisted. It’s cruel and scary and violent. And the tagline – Beneath heaven is Hell… Beneath Hell is Furnace! – just so perfectly describes the world the author created in this book.

    I was rooting for Alex, Donovan and Zee. Even poor Monty. While not good boys, they didn’t deserve the brand of justice that Furnace dished out. But as this story is a horror story I wasn’t very hopeful.

    While I won’t give any spoilers away, I will say don’t expect the perfect happy ending. But do expect to be left on the side of a pretty huge cliff. Fortunately book two is already out, so there doesn’t have to be a wait. And I couldn’t help but pick it up to find out what happened next.

    I love books that are dark, hellish and creepy. And this was definitely one of those. While it doesn’t cross that line into horror stories aimed at adults, it comes close. Some of the scenes the author describes in detail, but others are left to the imagination. So, depending on just how dark and vivid your imagination….

    Lockdown is the perfect start to this series. Not everything is revealed in this first book. There is definitely much more to learn about Furnace – about the warden, what happens in solitary, what a trip to the infirmary is really like, and what exactly happens to those who are taken during the blood watch. And I know I’m morbidly curious to find out.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Lockdown is a “Just Discovered” just learned about book.

    I received an email from the online public relations team for the publisher, Macmillan, with an opportunity to receive a copy for review and host a giveaway. As I only like to promote books or have giveaways for books I’ll enjoy, or think I will, I made sure to check this book out thoroughly.

    I hadn’t heard of the author or series before. But this cover was… twisted… and disturbing… to say the least. So, of course I was intrigued. But the description really did a good job on selling me on this book. It was dark and kind of horrifying. And since I hadn’t really read any books for young adults that classified as horror, I just knew I had to review this book.

    ***

    Check out The Night Children, a novella about how Warden Cross met Alfred Furnace on Tor.com.

    And there’s all sorts of extras on the author’s website, HERE.

    Book trailer for Lockdown:

    ***

    This review is based on a finished copy I received from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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    Review: Secrets and Shadows

    Secrets and Shadows, the second book in the 13 to Life series by Shannon Delany, was released on February 15, 2011 in paperback and eBook formats.

    It is available online to order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both formats.

    Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, the print edition is 320 pages.

    **The first line of the Goodreads description is spoiler-y for book one**

    Highlight over the blank space to read the hidden text.

    Goodreads description:

    Nothing’s simple when you run with werewolves.

    Jess Gillmansen thinks she’s seen it all but her eyes are about to be opened to even more danger and a reality far more paranormal than she’s suspected. With Jess’s realization that the Rusakovas’ mother is still alive and imprisoned, the group’s choices become harder and trust more important.

    Lines are drawn and relationships change as the broken Rusakova family struggles to reunite long enough to free their mother and people who Jess always just took to be normal people show themselves to be much, much more.

    ***

    Jessie’s been having nightmares. After everything that she witnessed, everything that she did that night, she expected them. She just wished they would stop. That she could make peace with everything that happened.

    She wanted things to return to the way they used to be. Before she met Pietr Rusakova and his family. Before the accident that took her mother from her. Where her only heartache was having a crush on Derek. And the only excitement in her life came from entering competitions with her horse, Rio.

    But once she gave her heart away, she knew that going back was not an option. And that she would do whatever she could to help the Rusakovas find their mother before time ran out. Even if it meant putting herself in danger once more.

    Living under the constant threat to her safety from her association with the Rusakovas, having to keep secrets from her friends, walking on eggshells around Sarah, trying to figure out the real reason for the recent suicides at Junction High, discovering that someone she knows is much more than they appear to be and losing sleep from the nightmares that terrorize her, Jessica Gillmansen is really beginning to miss being just a farm girl from boring old Junction.

    ***

    The mystery deepens, the pace accelerates, and the tension continues to build in Secrets and Shadows, the exciting sequel to 13 to Life. The story doesn’t miss a beat and picks up shortly after the events in the first book, allowing readers to easily continue from one book to the next without a disconnect. But for those readers who have had to wait, the inclusion of a prologue offers just enough of a refresher about the story and events to bring them up to speed.

    In this sequel, the action intensifies as Jessica Gillmansen tries to come to grips with the part she played in the events that would leave her forever tied to the Rusakovas. And after learning their secret, she is now more determined than ever to help Pietr and his family.

    Even as she tries to get closer to Pietr, she can feel him pulling away, leaving her wondering what she did wrong. But Jessie is not one to give up, and loyalty and hope keep her going even as her heart is breaking.

    And when a troubling secret is uncovered about one of her friends, trying to keep her out of harm’s way while continuing to keep an eye on Wanda and Sarah, attempting to repair the broken Rusakova family, reuniting them with their mother, and actually attending classes every once in a while is keeping Jessie more than busy.

    So busy that her investigative mind fails to uncover an even bigger threat to her, and one that might be just too late to protect herself from.

    Author Shannon Delany has really expanded upon the story and characters she introduced in her debut novel. Jessie has become an independent, strong, determined, loyal and good-hearted main character who is much more likable and sympathetic in this sequel.

    There are a few new developments for some of the secondary characters and a few surprise revelations that will keep readers frantically turning those pages.

    Once again there is a dramatic conclusion to the story, leaving readers on the edge of a pretty steep cliff. Fortunately, the third book in the series, Bargains and Betrayals, has just been released so there is no wait to find out what’s at the bottom of that cliff.

    Secrets and Shadows is an immensely entertaining read in a series that continues to surprise and will draw readers in with its easy style, likable characters, romantic tension and cliffhanger ending. This second book in the series brings even more action and mystery to the page and is sure to keep readers engaged.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    I so completely loved this sequel. Why didn’t I read this last February? Seriously, what is wrong with me? I loved this way more than the first book in the series.

    I totally adored 13 to Life, but this just was so much better. As with book one, the writing made it so easy to keep that connection with the characters and the story, but this book had a much better flow. And aside from one question I had about the repercussions of something that happened to the main character, nothing pulled me out of the story once I made that connection. Everything I had an issue with or found confusing in the first book was not present in this book at all.

    I actually loved Jessie in Secrets and Shadows. Where she frustrated me and I thought her too much of a martyr in book one, here she was strong and determined and protective in all the right amounts. And throughout this story I really cared about what happened to her.

    The love story was deliciously torturous, maddeningly so at times, but in all the best possible ways. And even though there was still a little bit of a love triangle, it changed significantly and was definitely not the focus. I’m almost always a fan of the love triangle, but it’s nice to see that it wasn’t treated quite the same way in this sequel. And it became even more interesting with a surprise element that definitely mixed things up.

    Pietr was as yummy and frustrating as ever. Max was adorable, flirtatious and so totally alpha male. And Cat was a great friend and keeper of the peace.

    A few of the characters had less of a role, but were not forgotten entirely and were still kept a part of this story. And as much as I’m not a Derek fan, I am so glad that his part wasn’t reduced and he remained such an important character.

    I am really excited about an interesting twist in the story and what it means for one or more of the characters in this series. I would say more but it would be a total spoiler. But, it really makes me want to re-read 13 to Life to see if there were any hints.

    I liked how the author continued to progress the story and also Sarah’s character and I’m interested to see just what happens with her in the next book as everything was always pretty fragile with her.

    Secrets and Shadows was no filler novel or sophomore slump. Not only is there a new development with one of the characters, but the author broadened the world just in time for book three, completely blowing the door wide open for all sorts of possibilities.

    And with the cliffhanger ending in this book, there is no way I could not continue on with this series. I am so glad that I don’t have to wait and can just go from one book to the next without pause. I’m actually afraid to finish Bargains and Betrayals and possibly be left hanging until the fourth book’s release.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Secrets and Shadows is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I discovered the series initially from an Amazon recommendation shortly after the first book in the series, 13 to Life, was released. I decided to buy it, but didn’t immediately get a chance to read it.

    What got me to move this up in my TBR pile was the prequel novella Beasts and BFFs. It was short, but gave me a quick peek at the characters and the world. And I began reading 13 to Life very soon thereafter.

    The moment I finished it, I couldn’t wait to get this my hands on the sequel, Secrets and Shadows. But as always seems to be the case, by the time it was released, blogging got in the way. Which is why there are so few “Just Discovered” reviews lately. I always seem to be playing catch-up on required reviews and new releases.

    So, when release date came around last February this downloaded to my Kindle, but kept getting pushed further and further back. Even though I really, really wanted to read it. So as release date approached for book three, Bargains and Betrayals, which I happened to get an early copy of, I finally got a chance to move it to the top of the reading pile.

    I still would have liked to read this when I put it on my reading pile a couple weeks ago, but only just got around to reading it this past weekend. Still, it was well worth the wait and I’m actually glad I had the next book to pick up immediately because talk about a torturous cliffhanger ending. It beats the cliffhanger at the end of book one by a mile.

    ***

    Favorite passage, well, second favorite, my favorite is totally spoiler-y:

    Something flared in his eyes, bright as wildfire, and he grabbed me, covering my mouth with his. I gasped, and he moved his lips against mine, pinning our bodies together with his powerful arms. Every nerve ending in my body sparked like electricity rioted just beneath my skin as we breathed the same air. Shared the same tastes.

    If you’d like to check out my review for 13 to Life, click here.

    Book trailer for Secrets and Shadows:

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    Review: Waterfall

    Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren is the first book in The River of Time Series and is the author’s young adult debut. It was released on February 1, 2011 in the U.S and is currently available to order online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback, eBook and audio formats.

    Published by David C. Cook, the print edition is 384 pages.

    Waterfall is one of the books that can be chosen for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren.com.

    Goodreads description:

    Lisa Tawn Bergren’s new YA series, River of Time, is romantic, historical fiction in which the plucky heroine doesn’t have to fear a vampire’s bite but must still fight for her life.

    In Waterfall, American teenager Gabi Betarrini accidently finds herself in Fourteenth-Century Italy . . . Knights. Swords. Horses. Armor. And Italian hotties.

    Most American teens want an Italian vacation, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives there with their archaeologist parents. Stuck on yet another hot, dusty dig, they are bored out of their minds… until they place their hands atop handprints in an ancient tomb and find themselves catapulted into the Fourteenth Century and in the middle of a fierce battle between knights bent on killing one another.

    ***

    Falling in love is never without complication. But falling in love with someone from a different century, a different lifetime, than yours is the ultimate test. And it is even more of a challenge when that someone is promised to another.

    Gabriella Betarrini was never that excited about being dragged to Italy every summer while her parents sought to discover ancient treasures on their archaeological expeditions. And after her father’s death, being back in Italy, with her mother and sister, while her mom practically ignored them, was even worse.

    It was not as if she was a part of anything remotely interesting. She and her sister were really nothing more than gofers and laborers. But when she and Lia make a discovery inside one of the tombs, her summer takes an unexpected turn.

    Being transported nearly seven hundred years into the past, separated from her sister, and with no idea how to return home, Gabi must quickly adapt to her surroundings or risk being captured or even killed for being seen as a spy or witch.

    But, there are worse places or times where she could have ended up instead of Italy in the fourteenth century. And being taken to a castle and placed under the protection of Sir Marcello Forelli, the handsome future lord of Castello Forelli, was not exactly torture.

    All she needed was to find her sister and figure out how to get back to where she belonged. And all that was standing in her way were a few minor obstacles – sword-wielding enemies guarding the passage back, traitors looking to destroy the Forelli’s and anyone who sided with them, and Marcello and his knights who were hell-bent on ensuring her safety.

    And one major one – walking away from the only boy she’s ever loved and leaving her heart in the past.

    ***

    Waterfall is an exciting adventure and enchanting love story that is completely irresistible. It takes readers on a journey back in time to a world where honor and nobility go hand-in-hand with cruelty and violence. A time when men were the protectors, where danger lurked around every corner and friends could just as easily turn out to be enemies.

    It is to this world that Gabriella Betarrini is transported one afternoon. Coming from modern day Italy to a past that is nearly seven centuries old isn’t the shock she thinks it should be. Somehow this time, this place, feel so familiar to her.

    And when she meets Marcello, the younger son of Lord Forelli, she is immediately drawn to him. And he to her. But as future lord of the Castello, his responsibilities are to his family and to his people. And his commitment to the Lady Rossi cannot be broken. Even if it means breaking Gabriella’s heart.

    Author Lisa Bergren has written an absolutely captivating, magical story of time travel, adventure and romance. Waterfall will keep readers on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next. The story is action-packed, filled with sword battles and constant threats to Gabriella and the Forelli’s, and the tension between Gabi and Marcello is nail-biting.

    Gabriella is smart, brave, loyal and ever so resourceful. She is quick to jump in to defend those she cares about and does not give up when things are difficult or scary. It is her bravery that earns her the respect of the people during a time when it could have just as easily earned their mistrust. And it is her strength and compassion that attract Marcello to her.

    Waterfall is absolute must-read for readers who enjoy a love story that will also take them on an adventure to another time and place.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=5]

    On a personal note:

    This book was so totally enchanting. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect having read the description. I knew there would be time travel and knights and battles, which are always awesome, but I thought perhaps it would read more like one of those middle grade time travel stories, which are sweet and lovable, but are more about the adventure than the characters.

    Not even close. This story didn’t neglect the characters at all. They actually made this story amazing.

    I adored Gabriella and loved how easily she fit into fourteenth century Italy but still retained who she was, enough so to catch the eye of Marcello Forelli. And that although she adapted with ease to the manner of speaking, she was still put out by the lack of modern conveniences like hair conditioner and indoor plumbing.

    And I don’t think any girl could read this story without falling for Marcello Forelli. Handsome, brave, honorable, noble and confident, but daring enough to be captivated by the head-strong Gabriella. And not only was he taken with her, he was amazed by her. How hot is that?

    Luca was a total charmer. I always love stories that include a character like him. He’s the guy that is always there to help, breaks up the tension, adds humor and is one you hope finds his own love story. And Lady Rossi was the perfect two-faced and untrustworthy competition for Marcello’s affections.

    Stories about time travel can often come across as somewhat unbelievable, but I was completely taken back in time with Gabi, caught up in the both the beauty of the time and its cruelty. Not for a moment was I pulled out of the story or the era by something that just didn’t ring true.

    Although I fell in love with fourteenth century Italy, with its knights and castles, my favorite part was the love story. It gave me butterflies. Gabriella and Marcello’s love may have been pure and chaste, but it was so intense.

    I love when an author can build that tension into the story with just a look or a touch. Every single time Gabi and Marcello exchanged glances, or when he moved that lock of hair behind her ear, I think I swooned a bit.

    I got so caught up in the story that I read it in one sitting. And was so glad that I had the second book on hand, or that ending might have completely devastated me. It wasn’t a completely evil cliffhanger, as a few things were answered, but I think I would have died a little bit not knowing what happened next if I had to wait four months for Cascade.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    Waterfall is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I discovered this book back in January when checking out the 2011 Debut Author Challenge list. The story appealed to me as it involved time travel, knights, sword battles and a love story. And as I hadn’t read too many historical fiction novels, but wanted to, this one seemed a perfect fit.

    Of course, as it always seems to happen these days, time passed, deadlines loomed, and I did not get a chance to read this right away. But I was recently contacted by the author to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the second book in the series, Cascade. And of course I jumped at the chance, as I already had Cascade on my list of pre-orders and planned to read both books this summer.

    So, I moved Waterfall to the top of the pile in order to get caught up on the story prior to reading Cascade.

    ***

    Book trailer for Waterfall:

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    Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

    13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson was first published in the U.S. on August 23, 2005.

    It is currently available online in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audio formats at Amazon and in hardcover, paperback and eBook formats at Barnes & Noble.

    Published by HarperTeen, the hardcover edition is 336 pages.

    13 Little Blue Envelopes is being offered as a free eBook download until April 25, 2011 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony and is available to read online at HarperTeen. Check the blog sidebar for download links through April 25th.

    Goodreads description:

    When Ginny receives thirteen little blue envelopes and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she knows something exciting is going to happen.

    What Ginny doesn’t know is that she will have the adventure of her life and it will change her in more ways than one.

    Life and love are waiting for her across the Atlantic, and the thirteen little blue envelopes are the key to finding them in this funny, romantic, heartbreaking novel

    ***

    Ginny Blackstone always loved her Aunt Peg. When she was young, she and her aunt used to play “today I live in” and go on mini adventures around New York City imagining faraway places.

    When she was seventeen the imaginary was going to finally become reality when her aunt sends her thirteen little blue envelopes to embark on an overseas adventure of her own.

    Every destination would be a surprise, revealing itself one by one as she completes each task and opens each envelope. But Ginny isn’t the free spirit that her runaway aunt is, and following the rules is much more difficult than she ever imagined.

    Having an adventure without the comfort of knowing what might happen next will open up Ginny’s eyes to a world filled with surprise and love and the possibilities of the unknown.

    ***

    13 Little Blue Envelopes is an enchanting, delightful and fun little adventure that will take readers along with Ginny Blackstone as she follows the rules set by her aunt and hidden away within each of the thirteen little blue envelopes she received.

    Author Maureen Johnson has perfectly captured the main character Ginny’s reluctance to adhere to the unusual requests her quirky aunt set forth in each letter and her devotion to her aunt’s wishes to follow them regardless. Not everything goes according to plan, and even though Ginny is less than pleased with each deviation, it makes the adventure all that more real and believable.

    While at first it appears that Ginny may not have gotten everything out of her experiences as she could have, the author in just one short paragraph beautifully shows readers that she has and that her eyes have been opened.

    13 Little Blue Envelopes is a quick read and one that will transport readers to London to begin their whirlwind travels along with Ginny as she gets to learn just a little bit more about life, love and spontaneity as she follows her aunt’s footsteps on the same path that she took years before.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=4]

    On a personal note:

    This was sweet and fun and a really quick little adventure that only made me sad toward the end.

    I loved the fact that Ginny was completely taken out of her comfort zone to follow along with her aunt’s somewhat bizarre wishes. I can’t imagine any teenager who would willingly give up all technology and strictly follow the whims of a flaky aunt, especially if they were very by-the-book like Ginny was.

    What made this story lovable to me were the author’s writing style and the touches of humor she used throughout. Ginny herself was a difficult character to adore and connect with, but in the end I felt like I understood her. And I really did feel for her. Especially after reading her letter to her aunt at the end.

    The second I put this book down I immediately started reading the next and I’m really glad that I get a chance to continue the adventure and get to know Ginny a bit more. This book does wrap up nicely at the end, but knowing that there is now a sequel makes everything seem much more open-ended than if I had read it back in 2005 when a sequel wasn’t forthcoming.

    I don’t typically compare books, but there were many elements of this story that kept reminding me of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S. I Love You, which I had read back in 2004. The stories weren’t the same, the writing styles very different, but the idea that someone wanted to reach out to a loved one and orchestrate an adventure that would take them somewhere else in their life was similar in feel. (Fortunately this story was light with only a tinge of sadness versus the other which kept me sobbing from first page to last.)

    I really did feel like I was seeing all the different countries along with Ginny, and cringed at some of the less than sanitary places she had to stay and the lack of hygiene she had to endure on her quest. It would have definitely been a less exciting story if her aunt had her staying at five-star hotels around the globe.

    I can’t wait to see what the next book has in store and as I really like the author’s writing style I plan on checking out a couple more books she’s written.

    My favorite passage is actually the one I mentioned in the review section but don’t want to include it to spoil things here. My second favorite is one that is much more humorous:

    This reminds me of something. I still have a whopping bad case of what you call my scag magnetism. I thought I had gotten rid of it there, but it looks like scary guys still materialize from thin air in my presence. They are drawn to me. I am the North Pole, and they are the explorers of love.

    How I “discovered” this book:

    13 Little Blue Envelopes is a “Just Discovered” just learned about book.

    I’ve seen the author on Twitter and have followed her tweets for awhile, but haven’t read any of her books. But when I saw her upcoming book The Last Little Blue Envelope on NetGalley (and was then approved by HarperTeen) I decided it was the perfect opportunity to check out the author’s work.

    As the book I got approved for was a sequel I knew that I would be reading this first book in the series. I was planning on purchasing an eBook from Amazon to read, but heard (also on Twitter) that from April 12th through April 25th the book would be made available for free, and so I decided to wait.

    Legally obtained free books are wonderful, although I wish I had purchased this sooner so as not to have to read and review both books so close to the deadline.

    Book trailer for 13 Little Blue Envelopes:

    ***

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    Review: If I Stay

    If I Stay by Gayle Forman was released in the U.S. on April 2, 2009. It is currently available online in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audio formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

    The hardcover first edition, published by Dutton Juvenile and is 208 pages.

    The beautiful cover above is from the paperback edition published by Speak, a division of Penguin.

    Goodreads description:

    In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…

    A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

    ***

    What if everything was taken away from you in an instant? What would you do if the choice to go on was left up to you?

    Would you stay? Or would you leave?

    Could you leave behind those you love? Could you go on in the absence of those you’ve lost?

    What would it take to make you stay?

    ***

    If I Stay is a delicately beautiful, deeply moving and devastatingly heartbreaking story about a girl who is faced with the difficult decision of what to do after being involved in a horrific accident.

    Mia, whose life hangs in the balance, must choose whether to fight for life or slip away. Neither choice is simple. Neither without pain. Neither without loss. And no matter which choice she makes, she will have to say goodbye.

    Her decision will require a maturity and strength not easily found under such terrible circumstances or by someone as young as she. She should never have had to learn the harsh lessons of life at her age, been forced to make such a difficult decision or bear witness to the things she has seen and heard.

    “I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.”

    Author Gayle Forman has created such a fragile and heartrending story that cannot help but touch everyone who reads it. If I Stay will have readers asking themselves what they would do if they had the power over their own life and death.

    As tragic as this story is, there are bright spots throughout as Mia looks back at key moments in her life. These glances through the window at her life before show readers where she comes from, what she has to lose if she leaves, and what she has lost if she stays.

    This book will stay with you for a long time. It will turn you inside out, leave you very aware of just how tenuous the balance is between life and death and make you take a long look at just what you might have to lose if you were in Mia’s shoes.

    Reviewer gives this book [rating=6]. Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.

    On a personal note:

    I don’t know how many times I broke down during this book. It was technically such a quick read, but took much longer as it was devastatingly sad. My heart just kept breaking over and over.

    There is so much I could say, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I’m glad to see that the description tells so little of the story as it’s one that should be discovered and connected with personally. And I hope my review didn’t reveal too much.

    The author told the story beautifully from Mia’s perspective. And for anyone who’s suffered a great loss or who is close to someone who has, they can relate to and understand so much of what Mia and everyone who loves her is going through.

    And the author pulls you right into the story. As Mia asks those tough questions of herself you can’t help but ask them of yourself.

    I’m sorry not to tell more in this personal note, but this book will feel so very personal and come across so differently to everyone who reads it.

    I’m glad that I didn’t read this when it was originally released. I’m not sure if the sequel was planned, but if I had been aware of another book at the time I read this, I would have suffered for so long waiting for its release. Fortunately, I have a copy to read now, but if I didn’t, the release of Where She Went is only just over a week away on April 5th.

    I had so many favorite passages, but I’m only including a partial quote so as not to spoil:

    “I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

    How I “discovered” this book:

    If I Stay is a “Just Discovered” just got a chance to read book.

    I had seen If I Stay on Amazon for the longest time. It kept coming up in my list of books recommended to me. Eventually I purchased the eBook after having this on my Wish List for at least a year.

    It got shuffled back further and further until I almost forgot I owned it, I’m sorry to say. While I love contemporary young adult fiction, and for a brief period last fall I was reading nothing but, I tend to gravitate to the paranormal genre. They certainly offer more of an escape than the very real issues presented in a work of fiction such as this book.

    But recently I was made aware of a sequel that is coming out. And that cover is just as appealing as the paperback’s cover for If I Stay, shown above. I managed to snag the sequel in a book trade and so that motivated me to begin reading this book, which I added to my reading pile this week.

    ***

    To read an excerpt from If I Stay on the book’s website, CLICK HERE.

    To read an excerpt from Where She Went, which will be releasing on April 5, 2011, on the book’s website, CLICK HERE.

    Check back next week for my review of Where She Went.

    Book trailer for If I Stay:

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