Review: Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

Let Me Hear a RhymeLet Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Quadir and Jarrell’s best friend, Steph, is killed, the boys are in shock. Steph was the best of them, a real good guy, who was also super-talented. Why did it happen?

But as the boys know, violence doesn’t often make sense and talent certainly doesn’t protect you. The year is 1998 and in their Brooklyn neighborhood, the murders of Biggie Smalls and Tupac are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

After Steph’s funeral, family and friends gather at Steph’s Mom’s place to show their respects and remember him. Getting away from the crowd, Quadi and Jarrell head up to Steph’s room, a sanctuary to which they have never gained access to before.

Inside they find his little sister, Jasmine, also seeking solace from the crowd. Additionally, they find the room plastered with images and memorabilia of his favorite musical artists. The boys knew Steph was real into his music, but they didn’t understand the passion went this far.

While innocently poking about Steph’s room the trio discovers he had been in a studio recording. Now they have tracks they need to share with the world. They won’t let Steph’s legacy die with him. He should be remembered for his greatness.

It becomes their mission. Steph, who they dub, The Architect, will take the scene by storm, they just know it, but how the heck they gonna pull it off?

Pick it up to find out! Things get a little crazy, but this group of teens definitely have their hearts in the right place. Will it be enough? And can’t they end up in trouble for this?

Seriously, pick it up!!!

Tiffany D. Jackson can do no wrong in my eyes. This was a superbly-crafted story. She drew me in from the very start.

Her characters always have depth. It is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. It is easy to become attached to them; to the point where you are willing to fight for them, cheer them on, cry with them and celebrate their victories.

I highly recommend the audiobook as a way to take in this story. I just feel like the voice work by all three narrators amplified and energized this narrative. It was so addictive to listen to!

While this story does tackle some heavy topics, obviously as it revolves around the murder of a teen boy, it was still a fun story. Quadi, Jarrell and Jasmine have to get creative in order promote Steph’s music; it was a trip.

I will pick up anything Jackson writes. This was such a powerful story; I loved the setting of the 90s and the incorporation of the music.

It was fantastic. Jackson never fails! How’s it even possible?! I’m super excited to read more from her! I still have Grown and White Smoke to look forward to; definitely picking both of them up soon.

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Review: A Soldier and A Liar by Caitlin Lochner

A Soldier and A LiarA Soldier and A Liar by Caitlin Lochner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Soldier and A Liar is a YA-Dystopian novel set in a world where supernaturally-gifted teenagers, known as Nytes, are feared and shunned by the rest of society.

The set-up of this world is similar to that of The Hunger Games, with different sectors living independently of one another. There’s also dangerous beings on the outside that make travel outside the sectors dangerous.

The entire society is quite fractured, with the ungifted wanting to suppress, or eradicate the Nytes; rebel forces willing to fight back against the ungifted and a smaller faction wanting everyone to just get along.

Unsurprisingly, the government certainly doesn’t mind using the Nytes when it works to their own advantage.

Lai Cathwell is a Nyte and a talented soldier, who in the beginning of the story is in prison, but not for the reasons people think.

When the military wants to rerecruit her to aid in a special mission against rebel forces, they send in a fellow soldier and Nyte, Jay, to try to convince her to join up.

Lai is initally unimpressed, but there’s something about Jay that has her intrigued.

Ultimately, she decides to help and agrees to commit to the team, not just with Jay, but with two other fellow Nytes, Al and Erik. Together the four are set the task of eliminating the rebel threat and saving the sector from a long and brutal war.

I’ve had a copy of this book since it was initially released at the beginning of 2019. I love a good Dystopian story and the color scheme of this cover had me sold. I decided to pick it up recently as a backlist bump; my way of actually reading some of the books on my shelves.

I’m so happy that I did. I really enjoyed this story. From the very first chapter I was intrigued by the set-up of the world and the characters.

Lai, in particular, is the character I connect with the most. She’s a bit of a wildcard and I enjoy that about her. You never really know what she is going to do. She’s smart, strong and used to standing on her own, away from the maddening crowd.

I also really like Jay. He has a difficult relationship with his overbearing father and feels like he always has to be perfect. Even though he has excelled in his military career, is smart and capable, he still struggles a bit with self-consciousness.

Jay is selected to function as the team leader, which works quite well as the team members train together and learn to trust one another.

I loved the team training aspect. That’s a trope I tend to enjoy, so I was happy to find it here. The missions were dangerous and full of action. I also like the layers of this world that keep being revealed; like peeling back the layers of an onion.

This ended on a great cliffhanger and I have already started the second book, which is equally as compelling.

Overall, I had such a fun time reading this. I am always so happy when I randomly pluck a book off the shelf and it turns out to be a winner. Another successful backlist bump. Let this be a lesson to us all, don’t neglect your backlist!!!

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Review: Scream All Night by Derek Milman

Scream All NightScream All Night by Derek Milman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dario Heyward receives a phone call from his older brother, Oren, inviting him to return to the home he fled three years ago, he is filled with trepidation.

Moldavia, the iconic castle that was Dario’s family home, also serves as the set, studio and home for the cast and crew of Moldavia Studios.

His father, the studio’s enigmatic director, is in poor health and apparently, there will be some mysterious, over-the-top ceremony to honor him and his first film, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue.

After being legally emancipated from his father, Dario has been living in the Keenan Group Home, where he has been steadily gaining in confidence and autonomy.

While he’s concerned about returning to Moldavia, he feels like he can finally face all that happened to him there. He needs that closure. Additionally, he’d love to see Hayley again, his childhood friend and crush.

At Moldavia, it seems to be life as usual. People buzzing around everywhere, working on strange projects. The whole scene like some sort of morbid hotel with quirky characters and equally zany props.

At the ceremony, true to his father’s normal drama, something horrifying occurs with disastorous consequences. Just like that, Dario is sucked back into Moldavia, and the life he thought he left behind. Now he needs to try to help save the floundering family business.

Scream All Night was a delightful surprise. A heartfelt, coming-of-age story for true Horror fans.

I loved the whole idea behind Moldavia Studios. The setting at the castle had such a vibe, macabre and eerie, made even more haunting by Dario’s early-childhood experiences there.

While this story does include some fairly heavy topics, including the abuse and neglect that Dario suffered while living with his family, as well as the death of a family friend, there was also a great amount of humor incorporated.

Milman had me laughing quite a bit. I loved his witty, sarcastic, dry humor and the way Dario thought about and processed the world around him. Dario is such a compelling character, one that is very easy to get behind and support.

Overall, I was really impressed with this. I fell in love with Dario and the setting of Moldavia. The tone and humor were creative and the storyline captivating throughout.

I definitely plan to pick up more from this author!

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Review: The Apartment by S.L. Grey

The ApartmentThe Apartment by S.L. Grey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

After masked men break into their Cape Town home in the middle of the night, and subsequently terrorize them as they ransack the place, married couple, Mark and Steph are understandably traumatized.

Although they, as well as their 2-year old daughter, weren’t physically harmed, the emotional scars run deep. They are having an extremely difficult time returning to life as normal in the aftermath.

Troubles sleeping, paranoia about leaving the house unlocked, feeling like someone has been inside; all classic PTSD-home invasion symptoms.

Confiding in a friend one evening over dinner and drinks, she suggests to them that they may need some time away to heal and regroup; a house swap site is mentioned and Steph’s interest is piqued.

While they really aren’t in a financial position to take a trip, if they participated in a house swap, they just might be able to pull it off.

Mark doesn’t seem as into the idea, so Steph, naturally, creates a profile behind his back and begins the search.

Finding a match, Steph ends up convincing Mark to take the leap. Paris here they come!!

Arriving in Paris, Steph and Mark quickly discover the apartment is not quite as advertised. Not by a long shot. They fear there has been some sort of mistake, but gradually come to accept that they have been had.

It’s dirty, creepy, terribly furnished and under-provisioned. There’s even mold. Plus, don’t even ask what’s in the closet.

Unfortunately, for the couple, circumstances are actually much worse than they appear. Not long after settling in, strange things begin to happen in the apartment building and their minds.

I picked this audiobook up after a friend of mine had listened to it and really enjoyed it.

She seemed so excited about it and I wanted to be able to discuss it with her. I hadn’t really heard any hype for it, so was pretty jazzed once I read the synopsis and realized it was just my kind of story. Creepy and weird.

The audiobook was fantastic. The narrators did a wonderful job of believably protraying Mark and Steph’s sides of the story; which you alternate between.

There was a constant feeling of dread, even when nothing overtly scary was happening. I always enjoy that type of narrative. When I am just waiting for the dark truth to unfold.

I felt Grey did a solid job steadily building tension throughout. With this being said, the story actually disturbed me from the very start; it had a great tone.

It was like when you are watching a slightly scary movie and the cinematography is very dark, or sepia-toned, and you’re just kind of squinting the whole time, anticipating what is going to be coming next. What’s just outside the lense that you can’t see. I love that.

In addition to the many real-world issues Mark and Steph were struggling with, I enjoyed the darker supernatural elements to this story as well. The ending was satisfying to me and I can definitely picture this being adapted into a movie.

The Apartment certainly may not be for every Reader, but I really liked it. It was especially fun to read with a friend and discuss the different disturbing and crazy occurences plaguing Mark and Steph.

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Review: The Blade Itself (The First Law #1) by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The First Law series has been on my radar for a long time. It’s one of those Fantasy series that seems to stand out as a favorite amongst Readers.

After completing this, I can absolutely see why.

With a lush, Grimdark Fantasy setting, extremely well-constructed characters, magic and a ton of intrigue, I was fully immersed within this story when I was reading it.

Even when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I had no clue where the story was going, but was perfectly content to sit back and let Abercrombie’s genius wash over me.

In this first book, the main cast of characters is introduced and we watch as the spheres of their worlds begin to merge.

Logen, Bayaz, Glokta and Jezal were all incredibly compelling. Each one of their stories was one that I wanted to know more about. Often, I feel like character work can be uneven; like there are characters you are more drawn to than others. In this case, I loved each and every one of them!

There is a lot of ground work being laid in this novel, but in spite of that, it never felt like a slog. It always felt exciting and important.

I really enjoyed the level of magic that Abercrombie included. It wasn’t overdone, or relied upon too heavily as a plot device, but I feel like we are just scratching the surface of the powers available in this world.

I love how this ended up, with the intrigue higher than ever and it appears we are heading out on a quest. One of my favorite tropes in Fantasy.

I cannot wait to get to the next book!!!

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Review: Tears of Frost (Heart of Thorns #2) by Bree Barton

Tears of Frost (Heart of Thorns #2)Tears of Frost by Bree Barton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Tears of Frost kicks off directly after the startling events of the first book, Heart of Thorns.

Mia and Quin have been seperated; Quin believes Mia has been killed. Pilar has been mislead and betrayed. All is not good for our young protagonists.

Mia sets her sights on Luumia in the Snow Kingdom with the hopes of finding her mother, long believed dead, to finally get some answers.

Pilar is also making her way to Luumia, but on a separate journey. She is searching for an infamous assassin who she hopes can help her get revenge. When Pilar stumbles across Prince Quin, the two team up and make their way to the palace of the Snow Queen together.

On her own, Mia is still trying to deal with the ramifications of the spell that allowed her to escape her sister’s grasp. It has deeply effected her; it feels like she’s not truly alive.

She finds a new ally in a boy named, Zai, and finds herself beginning to desire him a way that surprises her, but is he really someone she can trust? She’s been burned before.

Quin and Pilar start to open up to one another. They seem to forgive each other for past grievances, but can all ever be completely forgiven.

This book was absolutely packed full of new information. It put all of the previous characters on difficult paths. The world is in turmoil with Angelyne and Zaga vying for complete power. Angelyne is so powerful and quite devious.

There were so many revelations, as to the past and to the character’s lives. Who they are, who they’re related to, who they can be. There were some shocking moments.

Additionally, I appreciated the feminist undertone, as well as the exploration of topics such as colonialism, sexual assault and trauma recovery. I thought Barton handled those issues well, although I still personally feel like this story reads on the younger-side of YA.

The Snow Kingdom was a fantastic setting. Towards the end, though, I felt like there was almost too much going on. It got a wee bit convoluted, but I’m still intrigued overall.

I am definitely planning to read the final book of the trilogy, Soul of Cinder very soon!

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Review: Heart of Thorns (Heart of Thorns #1) by Bree Barton

Heart of Thorns (Heart of Thorns, #1)Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Mia Rose lives in the River Kingdom, where her Father is the Captain of a guard that hunts Gwyrach, evil women who possess magic.

The Kingdom is hoping to banish all magic from within its borders and Mia Rose, a lover of science, wants nothing more than to assist with that pursuit. A Gwyrach killed her Mother after all; she wants revenge.

Unfortunately, that’s not really a common profession for women in her kingdom. In fact, there is only one woman currently serving in the guard.

Additionally, Mia’s Father has different plans for her. Needing an alliance with the royal family, he pledges his daughter’s hand to the Prince.

Although the last thing Mia wants is to marry Prince Quin, she is willing to make the sacrifice in order to save her younger sister. She knows her Dad is going to get the alliance he wants one way or another; either with her hand or Angelyne’s.

Going forward with the wedding, Mia has secretly plotted an escape, for her and her sister.

As the ceremony gets underway, a shocking turn of events ultimately exposes the fact that Mia possesses the very powers she has vowed to destroy.

How is that possible? The powers of the Gwyrach are passed on from mothers to daughters. What does this mean about Mia’s own Mother?

Mia is forced to team up with Quin in her search for answers and as with many Princes and unwillingly brides before them, sparks begin to fly.

Heart of Thorns is a nice, solid story. I’ve had it on my shelves for a while and I’m glad I finally got around to picking it up.

In my opinion, it falls on the younger-side of YA; more of Tween category, or for Readers just delving into YA Fantasy, but that’s absolutely fine. Those Readers deserve good stories too!

The narrative contains a lot of the usual YA Fantasy tropes, but it also had a strong feminist undertone that was well done and that I appreciated.

I enjoyed the characters, Quin, most of all, and never felt bored or lost. It read quickly and although, at times, predictable, there was one giant reveal at the end that left my jaw on the floor!

This had an exciting conclusion and I am looking forward to continuing on with the series.

Marking this one in the books as another successful BACKLIST BUMP!!!

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Review: The Caged Queen (Iskari #2) by Kristen Ciccarelli

The Caged Queen (Iskari, #2)The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s official. I am complete trash for the Iskari series.

The Caged Queen is the second installment of Kristen Ciccarelli’s highly underrated YA Fantasy series, Iskari.

If you are unaware, the three books within this trilogy are actually companion novels. Even though they follow a linear story, with the same cast of characters, each installment features the perspectives of different main characters.

Picking up shortly after the conclusion of The Last Namsara, this volume focuses mainly on Roa, her sister Essie, and the new King of Firgaard, Dax.

Roa and Dax, now married, are working on merging the interests of their two kingdom. As the two are still learning to trust one another, things don’t always go smoothly.

Although Roa did appear in the first book, we really didn’t learn too much about her; she remained the mysterious beauty that Dax hoped to marry, in order to (view spoiler).

The Caged Queen gives her full story. Most interestingly to me, is that her sister, Essie, who died in a tragic childhood accident, has remained with Roa in the form a bird of prey.

The two sisters share a very special bond and are able to communicate with one another in spite of Essie unconventional form.

Roa would love nothing more than to get her sister back to her old self and when she learns of a way to make that happen, she vows to try.

The only catch, she’ll need to kill the King, her new husband, Dax, in order to do so. Who will she choose? Her sister, or the man she could learn to love.

I am obsessed with this story. Ciccarelli has fully drawn me into this world. There are so many fabulous elements, I could swoon for days.

I’d like to keep this review somewhat succinct, however, so I will list just a few of my favorites.

The World. I really enjoyed how a good portion of this volume was set in the Scrublands and other outlying areas, as opposed to strictly in Firgaard.

Our main characters are traveling for a bit and I loved the desert atmosphere, with the stark, inhospitable terrain. It made the characters work that much harder for every gain.

The Legends and Back Stories. Interspersed amongst the core narrative are sections that tell of the lore and legends of this world, as well as some character’s early life/back stories.

This is the same across all three volumes and is one of my very favorite aspects. I find it to be such a lush and creative way of building out the world.

The Characters. I enjoy all of the characters. Their thoughts, motivations, inner and outer turmoil, angst, love, longing, grief, agony; it’s devastatingly addictive.

I was intrigued by Roa in the first book. I wanted to know more about her and I got exactly what I wanted with this volume. I loved the focus on grief, forgiveness and sisterhood, in this one as well.

If that doesn’t motivate you to give this series a shot, I’m not sure what will.

If you have had this one on your radar for a long time, like I did, take my advice and pick it up now. It’s a perfect escape for your reading pleasure!! That is all.

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Review: Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

Ghost Wood SongGhost Wood Song by Erica Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Mood. This book is a mood and I loved it!!

Shady Grove is a fiddle-playing high school girl, who has been struggling a bit since her father’s untimely death.

Her mother has since remarried and her step-dad, Jim, has a contentious relationship with Shady’s older brother, Jesse. This makes life at home far from peaceful.

Shady finds respite practicing her fiddle in the woods surrounding their trailer. At least for a while.

She’s also in a band with her best friends, Sarah and Orlando. While Shady enjoys playing with them, she really wants to play just bluegrass, the music she was raised on, but they have a different opinion; especially Sarah.

Making matters worse is the fact that Shady and Sarah were an almost couple. It never ended up happening and now it feels like there is a giant elephant in the room every time they are together.

When they compete in an open mic night and a boy in a rival band catches Shady’s eye, it seems like things may finally explode with Sarah.

Shady hardly has time to focus on that however, when something much more serious happens.

Her brother, Jesse, gets arrested; accused of murder.

Shady recognizes her brother has a temper and he admittedly, hasn’t been in the best place mentally as of late, but she also knows he could never do this.

Remembering the stories her father used to tell her, how he could channel spirits by playing his fiddle, Shady decides there’s only one thing for her to do.

She needs to find her Dad’s old fiddle and raise the spirit of the person Jesse is said to have killed. That way she can ask him what happened to him and use that knowledge to help free Jesse. Sounds fairly simple, right?

This novel has so many elements that I traditionally love.

There’s the storyline featuring music and musicians, a murder, a haunted old farmhouse, long-buried family secrets, a beautifully-constructed love triangle for our bi-girl protagonist and a haunting, gritty setting.

Tie all of this together with Erica Waters exceptional writing, how could I not absolutely love this story?

I was drawn in from the very start. Some of her descriptions of music, what it is like playing music, the way it can overtake your body; gahhhhhh, it was so well done.

The murder mystery was interesting and just added another level to an already intriguing tale.

Additionally, I loved how Waters weaved in the lore surrounding Shady’s family and their obviously haunted property. Shady’s Aunt Ena was one of my favorite characters.

Then there’s the overriding grief that permeates this entire story. It’s morose, it’s lyrical, it’s so many wonderful things.

I do recognize this story will not be for everyone, but for me and my tastes, it was close to perfection. I would respectfully and lovingly refer to this as a type of Hillbilly Noir. It’s enchanting and I can’t get enough of it.

I cannot wait to check out more of this author’s work! If I love any of it half as much as this one, I will be a happy girl.

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Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Story by James Luceno

Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One StoryCatalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Story by James Luceno
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Catalyst: A Rogue One Story, while admittedly not my favorite, was still a good story. I can appreciate all the fine details it adds to the larger picture.

It’s probably my fault for picking this up directly after, Dark Disciple, which I absolutely loved!!!

This is a prequel novel to the Rogue One film.

Basically it follows Orson Krennic, part of Chancellor Palpatine’s Death Star Project, along with brilliant scientist, Galen Erso and his family.

This had a lot more technical details and political maneuverings than character work and drama, but as I said, it was still good.

I’m glad I read it as it provides a solid backdrop for the events of Rogue One, an immediate prequel to A New Hope; probably only necessary, or interesting, to hardcore fans.

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