Inspired Reading: Sekret

Sekret (Sekret, #1)Sekret by Lindsay Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sekret, by Lindsay Smith, is a terrifying and thrilling mind trip. Smith brings the Soviet Union in the early 1960s to chilling life with KGB thugs, ration rats and black market bartering. Amidst the Cold War and space race between the U.S. and Russia, our protagonist Yulia becomes a pawn in a deadly intelligence game between the CIA and KGB. Against her will, she participates in covert missions with other young psychics, like herself. Yulia’s struggle for freedom and to discover the truth about her own powers will seize your imagination, keep you enthralled to the last page and have you yearning for more. There is romance, non-stop action and startling revelations at every turn. And as with any great spy novel, no one can be trusted! I hope to see this book adapted into a movie, not only for the vivid plot and characters, but for the amazing soundtrack it would feature. Smith must be a musician or music aficionado, as she immerses the characters in everything from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles and the Animals. This book will assault all of your senses and have you believing that an empty mind truly is the only safe mind. Thank you, Roaring Brook Press and NetGalley, for this egalley!

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Inspired Reading: The Fire Horse Girl

The Fire Horse GirlThe Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like her willful title character, Kay Honeyman demands your attention. From page one of The Fire Horse Girl, you are hopelessly hooked and Jade Moon’s story refuses to release you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Jade Moon is not an entirely likable character. She is impulsive and outright hostile. And while her concerns are well-founded, I often wanted to shut her up for her own good. But it is her tenacious commitment to justice and reckless determination that won me over and allowed Jade Moon to forge her own path despite the strict confines of two societies’ rules for her. The young man she falls in love with, Sterling Promise, is equally full of contradictions. Like everything else in her life, this romance is fraught with tension. Sterling Promise elicits intense feelings of both tenderness and distrust in Jade Moon. In 1920s America, Jade Moon risks everything to find her freedom. She makes impossible sacrifices and bulldozes through barriers; but is it enough? Pick up this book and find out!

In The Fire Horse Girl, Honeyman skillfully captures the subtle nuances of Chinese (and Chinese-American) culture in the early twentieth century during an important era in American immigration history. Although Jade Moon was born generations past, her struggle for personal freedom is one that will resonate with many young women and men. Finding your own voice and destiny while bound by what others expect you to be is an eternal quest for most of us.

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Inspired Reading: The Sweetest Dark

The Sweetest DarkThe Sweetest Dark by Shana Abé

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an avid reader of young adult fiction, I have grown weary of vampires, witches, and werewolves. So when I came across this title on NetGalley, I was intrigued. Dragons and ancient magic set in war torn post-Victorian England sounded like just the dark romance I was looking for. And I was not disappointed!

Although Lora is unsure of her place in the world and in denial about her secret powers, she has a strong and compelling voice. I found myself thoroughly enjoying her wry observations about her spoiled, upper crust boarding schoolmates. The love triangle between Lora, Jesse (the literal golden boy), and Armand (the dark, disillusioned aristocrat) may appear to be an overused trope. However, the connection between the three was quite complex. You’ll yearn for Lora and Jesse to be alone together while simultaneously anticipating her next verbal sparring match with Armand.

As Lora discovers her true identity, the story races to an action-packed climax. I was sorry to finish the book and leave these vivid and irresistibly vulnerable characters. I look forward to reading Shana Abe’s Drakon series next. Thank you, NetGalley and Random House, for another excellent read!

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Inspired Reading: The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sea of Tranquility is an unexpected gem of a young adult novel that does not rely on the fantastical realm of monsters and magic. Instead, it explores the monsters that reside our own hearts and the magic of human connection. It is the story of Nastya, the mysterious new girl who has reinvented herself to hide her past. Her only purpose is to exact revenge upon the boy who destroyed her life. Despite the unassailable barriers she has built between herself and the rest of the world, Nastya finds herself drawn to a boy named Josh Bennett who loves to build furniture and somehow exists in a world apart from their high school classmates.

Katja Millay uses the first-person narrative in a brilliant dance between Nastya and Josh’s perspectives. The story unfolds in two very distinct voices. Nastya is all too aware of her own and others’ shortcomings. But it is difficult not to enjoy her sarcasm and vulnerability. As Nastya and Josh’s relationship develops, the reader gathers clues to the tragedy that ripped Nastya’s world apart. You’ll also discover why students and teachers alike avoid Josh. It is a visceral journey into the hearts and minds of Nastya, Josh, and Drew, Josh’s best friend. You’ll find yourself rooting for these utterly dysfunctional characters and hoping that they will overcome their respective inner demons, heal, and allow themselves to love and be loved. The Sea of Tranquility is an intricate tapestry of humor, human suffering, and above all, heart. A must read!

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Inspired Reading: Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful, #1)Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance, Beautiful Disaster appears to be your typical good girl/bad boy romance. However, Abby Abernathy and Travis Maddox are deliciously complex characters. At times, Abby’s willful denial of reality is extremely frustrating. I had the same urge to hit her upside the head that I did when Bella strung Jacob along in the Twilight series, insisting they were “just friends.” Things only become more complicated as Abby and Travis’ relationship progress. But I found myself involuntarily sucked into their story. It brought back all the intensity, vulnerability, magic, and desperate longing of first love. Abby and Travis’ passion for one another is beautiful and leads to a string of disastrous consequences. Jamie McGuire crafts a tale full of hope, redemption, and self-acceptance. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible for young love to last, but like me, readers will root for Abby and Travis, and believe that maybe these two can work it out–dysfunctional as they each may be.

Thank you NetGalley for this e-read!

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Inspired Reading: Lies Beneath

Lies Beneath (Lies Beneath #1)Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA literature seems to be rife with sexy, reluctant monsters that tempt and test our teen heroines. Vampires and werewolves abound. And now, there are mermen. Lies Beneath is told from the perspective of Calder White, a gorgeous merman, whose survival requires murder and manipulation. But Calder longs to be human, and even falls in love with one.

Calder has three stunning siren sisters, and together they plan to exact vengeance on Jason Hancock, whom they blame for their mother’s death. Calder ingratiates himself with the Hancock family by getting close to Jason’s daughters. But he isn’t prepared when Lily, the older Hancock sister, seems immune to his seduction and subtle powers of mind control.

In Calder and Lily, Anne Greenwood Brown builds two complex and strong-willed characters. Although humans adore him, Calder is acutely aware of the fact that he’s a monster. He envies humans their joy and vibrant emotions, and resists his instinct to kill. But he can’t resist Lily, a girl who baffles him with her quirky clothes, penchant for Victorian poetry, and tolerance for cold—especially when he, a merman, can’t stand the cold. And despite her suspicions that Calder is more than he seems, Lily is drawn to him. She helps Calder believe that he can aspire towards something beyond his bleak, predatory existence. As Calder struggles with his growing feelings for Lily, he must decide where his loyalties lie, before his sisters take matters into their own hands.

Lies Beneath is a compelling read. Audiences of all ages can relate to Calder’s constant feeling of otherness, of not belonging, even amidst his own family. They will root for him as he learns the truth about himself and his family, discovers love, and shapes his own nature and destiny.

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Inspired Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary:

After years of abuse at the hands of her father and a narrow escape from an arranged marriage that promises additional brutality, young Ismae finds refuge at the convent of St. Mortain. The devotees of the god of Death train her as an assassin to serve as a handmaiden of Death. At the tender age of seventeen, Ismae enters the high court of Brittany on an assignment that may save or destroy the Breton duchy. Despite her training in a vast range of deadly and womanly arts, Ismae is not prepared for the political intrigues at court. She must also confront a target that makes her question whether her loyalties lie with her god or her own heart.

Review:

Wow! I read all 528 pages in two days. I held my breath through Ismae’s first kill and wracked my brains to determine which nobles were plotting against Anne, the Duchess of Brittany. The plot twists and lists of overt and potential villains kept me at the edge of my seat throughout. I don’t know how closely LaFevers follows the history of Brittany, but this novel has piqued my interest in this subject and I intend to look further into the story of the young Breton duchess.

While the plot alone is enough to suck you into this deliciously dark and romantic story, it’s the characters that hold your imagination hostage. Ismae is the perfect combination of worldly innocence and deadly efficiency. I couldn’t put the book down as each encounter unfolded between the fair assassin and her reluctant ally/mark, Gavriel Duval. My heart remembered the stirrings of first love, as Ismae’s emotions wavered between distrust and tenderness for the nobleman. Although there are many characters in the book—LaFevers provides a two-page list of the “Dramatis Personae” to help you navigate all the players—each one feels distinct and propels the increasingly dire story forward.

Ismae’s unique voice held me captive throughout the novel, and I rejoiced as she came to understand her own powers, purpose, and desires. I anxiously await the feisty Sybella’s story in Dark Triumph, the second installment to this addicting His Fair Assassins series.

Thank you so much NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin for giving me access to this fascinating e-galley! This is a YA novel, but I would also highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, fantasy, romance, and adventure!

The release date is April 3, 2012.

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