My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

ARC Review: After She's Gone by Camilla Grebe

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
In a small backwater town in Sweden, a young boy with a dark secret comes across a diary. As a cold case investigation suddenly becomes eerily current, a police investigator mysteriously disappears. What links these seemingly random events?

As atrocious acts from the past haunt the present and lives are changed forever, some will struggle to remember - while others struggle to forget . . .

Most of the time, I get advance copies of books through services such as Netgalley or Edeilweiss.  So I was surprised when I got a request directly from a publisher to review this book.  I looked up the description on Goodreads and was intrigued.  I've been wanting to read more crime mysteries.  This book had some of the same elements that hooked me on the novels of Louise Penny: a flawed police detective, a small town full of interesting characters, and of course, a murder.  Even though this is a darker version of the crime novel, I was still thoroughly entertained and excited to find out who the murderer was. 

What I Liked:
No one would want to live in the fictional village of Sweden known as Ormberg.  A once thriving small town, the area is full of shuttered factories, and unemployed townspeople.  The abandoned buildings are used as a refugee center, first during the Bosnian conflict, and now to aid people fleeing the violence in Syria.  The townsfolk are bitter about the government helping these recent immigrants, while ignoring the suffering of the long-term residents.

The book is filled with memorable characters that fall into two groups:  The police officers investigating the murder, and the local townsfolk.  

I liked the main character, Malin, a young woman who grew up in Ormberg, but left to find a more exciting life in Stockholm.  She clashes with a small town cop named Andreas.  His boring life of sitting at home and watching television after work represents everything she is trying to flee.  But, there's something about him that attracts her, as well.

Malin's colleagues, Hanne and Peter, are older (in their fifties), and involved in a passionate affair.  But as the book progresses, we learn that Hanne is suffering from the beginning stages of dementia.  Through her diary, the reader sees how scared she is about her future.  It would be terrifying to be such a capable, confident professional and realize that you are going to lose all of that.  And will Peter stick around?

The townspeople are equally interesting.  Jake, is a teenager struggling to understand their gender identity.  Jake's sister, Melinda, is an older teen who has stepped into the role of parent after their mother dies of cancer.  Their father, Stefan, is an alcoholic who blames the Muslim refugees for his misfortunes.  He's a mess, but could he also be a murderer?

As Malin is forced to stay with her mom, we meet a host of locals, including her aunt Margarita, and her cousin Magnus.  Each character knows their place in this village, and each of the villagers look out for each other.

Narrative Style:
I liked the way the book was set up.  Jake shows us the perspective of the tiny village, with all of its strengths and faults.  The diary of Henne shows us the perspective of the police, who are outsiders.  But most of the action is seen through Malin, who is both a local and an interloper.  All these perspectives add up to a full picture of a complex society.

What I Was Mixed About:
The Ending:
The ending was exciting and wrapped up the plot points nicely.  But then the author added one more twist that I felt was unnecessary.  It was like when someone adds just one more side dish to a perfectly balanced meal.  It throws everything just a bit off.  I get that the author did this to make the some of the characters more relatable to the reader.  But it was really more of a distraction. 


Release Date:  February 7th, 2019

Author:  Camilla Grebe

Publisher:  Zaffre Publishing

Genre:  Crime Fiction

Page Length: 400 Pages

Source:  Publisher

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A solid crime thriller.  Full of unforgettable characters, this was a compelling read. 
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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Book Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Against the unforgettable backdrop of New York near the turn of the twentieth century, from the Gilded Age world of formal balls and opera to the immigrant poverty of the Lower East Side, bestselling author Susan Vreeland again breathes life into a work of art in this extraordinary novel, which brings a woman once lost in the shadows into vivid color.

It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman, which ultimately force her to protest against the company she has worked so hard to cultivate. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces to a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.  I am really drawn to stories from the turn of the 20th century, so I was looking forward to reading Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland.  As much as I loved the setting of old New York City, the historical details, and the characters, I found the book to be a bit slow.  Not much happens over the course of the novel.

What I Liked:

The book is set in New York City in the "Gilded Age" of the early 20th century.  I loved the optimism of the time. This was a moment in history when immense public work projects were set in motion.  Iconic symbols of New York such as the subway system, the Flatiron building, and the New York public library were being constructed.

But the novel also showed the great disparity between the wealthy, white establishment and recent immigrants.  There were depictions of overwhelming poverty in tenements where it was so crowded that people rented space in the hallways of apartment buildings! 

Historical Details:
I loved the historical details of how people lived.  Many young people, such as Clara, lived in boarding houses.  This was practical, but also showed the reader how many people had so little that they could carry everything they owned in just a suitcase.  In a time before Marie Kondo was needed, Clara had just a few changes of clothes, one or two books, and some small mementos. 

Role of Women:
The book shed light on the difficulties women faced in the early 1900's.  If you married, you were at the mercy of your husband.  Married women could not work to earn their own money.  And if their husbands had financial problems, women were the ones scrambling to feed their children and secure a place to live.  

Even though Clara had a job, she had to face disparities in working conditions, pay, and autonomy with the male coworkers.  This played out when the men at her factory went on strike and demanded that Mr. Tiffany get rid of female employees.

I really loved Clara.  In a time where married women were not allowed to work, she chose art over a more traditional life.  She wanted to be remembered for her art, and not defined just by her romantic relationships.  I liked that the author didn't paint her as tragically lonely, or unfulfilled.  She certainly did need to fight for recognition, but she lived an unconventional, rich life.

Mr. Tiffany was also a complicated character. Often oblivious to the hardships of his workers, he remained focused on bringing art and beauty to the people.  Of course, most people could not afford his extravagant designs.  There was a constant pressure to lower the quality (and price range) of his products from his business partners.  But he and Clara were most in sync when designing beautiful stained glass lamps.  The scenes of their collaboration were mesmerizing.

There were several characters in this novel that showed just how difficult it would have been to be gay at that time.  George, and his friends, are mostly artistic types who seem to have a life of leisure.  But underneath their frivolity was tension. If they were known to be gay, they would have been arrested.

What I Didn't Like:
Story Arc & Pacing:
Because this book was based on the real life events of Clara Driscoll, the story sometimes meandered without much happening.  Clara's life was interesting.  But the big events in her life happened over many years.  Sometimes there seemed to be smaller conflicts presented as filler between these larger milestones.  I wish the author would have chosen a smaller window of time to focus on.  This would have strengthened the pacing.


Release Date:  February 11th, 2011

Author:  Susan Vreeland

Publisher:  Random House

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  432 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  If you enjoy historical fiction, there is much to love in this book.  I would recommend getting this at the library.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

ARC Review: The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943--aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

There's an old saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This quote, written over one hundred years ago, is attributed to philosopher George Santayana.  When I read the gripping historical novel, The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner, I couldn't help but think how timely her story was.

Written from the viewpoint of a fourteen-year old girl forced to live in an internment camp, this book brings to light the mistreatment of some German-Americans during WWII.  With strong historical details, and heartbreaking characters, this novel seized my attention, and did not let go.  I only wish the book was a little longer.

What I Liked: 

The settings of the internment camp, Germany in the midst of WWII, and post-war California are full of details that put me in the character's shoes. The author does an excellent job of using all the senses (sounds, taste, smell, touch) that bring a moment to life.  You can tell that she did extensive research on each setting.

I loved the journey that Elise takes throughout this book.  Starting as a teen where she has no control, we see her evolve to a point where she gets to decide for herself what will make her happy.  I liked that she realized that she was relying on others to rescue her, and determined that she could rescue herself.

Elise's Parents:
I liked that both of Elise's parents, Otto and Freda were fully formed characters.  When they were repatriated back to Germany, Otto and Freda were mortified for their children and racked with guilt. Yet Otto looked forward to returning to his birthplace. 

Female Friendship:
I loved the bonds that formed between Elise and Mariko, her fellow American-born internee.  These are two girls who saw each other as just American teenagers, not German or Japanese.  They shared dreams about the future, and helped each other when their families went through tensions.

Relevance to Current Events: 
While I don't want to get too political in a book review, I couldn't help but draw parallels between what happened in the book and what is happening to some immigrant families in the United States today.  I was appalled that Elise, an American citizen who doesn't speak German, could be forced to leave the U.S.  Similar situations are occurring right now.

The message of the book, that everyone is trying to find where "home" is, resonates with me.  Some people, like Elise's father, identify with a specific physical location, such as his childhood vision of Germany.  Other people are more connected to specific people.  Elise feels she could call anywhere home if Mariko were there.  Perhaps it is the struggle of youth to figure that out for oneself?

What I Was Mixed About:
We never do find out the true reasons why a certain character wants to marry Elise.  I wish the author would have been more clear about this person's motivations, as they really affected Elise's self-confidence (please excuse my own vagueness, as I don't want to put spoilers in this review). 

I also wanted to have more Mariko in the book.  She had an equally compelling story that I think should have been explored more.  I do understand though.  Elise, and what happens to her, is the main focus of the book.

Trigger Warning for Sexual Violence


Release Date:  March 19th, 2019

Author:  Susan Meissner

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  400 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation: A timely reminder of the mistreatment of immigrants during WWII.  Strong historical details and characters would make this an excellent choice for a book club.
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Audio ARC Review: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Please Note:  I received an audio ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

I first heard of author Taylor Jenkins Reid when my book club selected her novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a few months ago.  It put me straight into the Hollywood of the 1950's and 1960's.  Her newest book, Daisy Jones & The Six is set in the 1970's.  With wildly entertaining characters, I felt like I was a groupie following this fictional rock band.  The audio book, itself, has a full cast and is delightful.  One can understand why Reese Witherspoon snatched up the movie rights even before publication.

What  I Liked:

Audio Narration:
The audio book has a full cast of very accomplished actors.  Jennifer Beals  portrays Daisy as a woman who has done it all: tough, self-assured, but also with some battle scars.  Pablo Schreiber plays rock star Billy Dunne as a genuinely nice guy... but perhaps in denial about the harm his drug and alcohol addiction had on his family.  

Even the secondary characters are memorable, as played by this talented group.  I particularly enjoyed the performances of Fred Berman (as Eddie) and Ari Fliakos (as Warren).  Both acted as though they were the main characters.  I loved every scene they were in.

The setting is the rock music scene in the Los Angeles of the 1970's.  With all the vivid details of recording studios, wild parties at the infamous Chateau Marmont (where John Belushi died), and life on a tour bus, readers will feel as though they are getting the ultimate behind the scene access pass!

I loved all the characters in this book.  Daisy was heartbreaking in her longing, while Camilla (Billy's wife) was a study in how a person can have faith in their partner.  I also really liked Karen and Graham.  They were so wonderful together, but you knew their differences would tear them apart.  

This book was set up like an oral history.  There was a "reporter" interviewing all of the characters.  This format was great because each person speaks from their own perspective.  And, since they are remembering event from decades ago (and most were drunk or high at that time), everyone remembers what happened a bit differently.  It also makes the reader question the motives of each character.  What do they gain by recollecting in this way? 

I liked that there were multiple story arcs involving all the characters.  This made me really invest in each person, not just Daisy and Billy.



Release Date:  March 5th, 2019

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Author:  Taylor Jenkins Reid

Audio Publisher:  Random House Audio

Audio Length:  9 Hours, 4 Minutes

Print Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source:  Random House Audio

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  Very entertaining.  I think you should really listen to the audio book version as the actors add so much to the story. 

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

ARC Review: All The Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Fiona and Danny were born in the same hospital. Fiona’s mom fled with her to the United States when she was two, but, fourteen years after the Troubles ended, a forty-foot-tall peace wall still separates her dad’s Catholic neighborhood from Danny’s Protestant neighborhood.

After chance brings Fiona and Danny together, their love of the band Fading Stars, big dreams, and desire to run away from their families unites them. Danny and Fiona must help one another overcome the burden of their parents’ pasts. But one ugly truth might shatter what they have…

Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Northern Ireland.  I was so impressed, not only with the historic sights and staggering natural beauty, but with the people.  Everyone was so friendly and hopeful for the future.  The "Troubles" seemed to be a long-ago conflict.

But, even during our visit (which occurred during the July12th Loyalist celebrations) there was a fire-bombing in one of the smaller towns.  Driving through some villages, we would suddenly see British flags.  In other places, graffiti was scrawled on bridges with sayings such as, "Loyalists go home".

All The Walls of Belfast, by Sarah Carlson, got all the details of life in Northern Ireland right.  As a tourist, I only saw the safe, superficial Belfast.  This novel showed me a different side of this culture.  There are still strong feelings between Republicans (Catholics) and Loyalists (Protestants).  I loved that both sides were equally represented.  There is a sweet romance, and lots of tension.  This book is a reminder that there are teens who are facing huge challenges due to events that happened generations ago.

What I Liked:

Having visited Northern Ireland just a few months ago, I was really happy with all the little details of life in Belfast.  I went to many of the tourist attractions depicted in the novel.  And I recognized the idioms and brands of food and drinks.  But the book also showed the contrast between the well-to-do and working poor in Belfast.  The novel illustrated how people who have not enjoyed the economic improvements of the last two decades vented their frustration by blaming groups of people.  There's still a lot of anger simmering just below the surface of this society.

The book has two viewpoints.  Danny, a teen who is just graduating high school, has an abusive dad who wants his son to continue a tradition of angry Loyalist pride.  But Danny wants more out of life.  He dreams of joining the British Army so he can work as a nurse, helping people.  Danny has so much against him.  It's heartbreaking to see him struggle so he can get out from under his father's thumb.

Fiona is also born in Ireland, but moves with her mother to the United States as a toddler.  She thinks she has no relationship with her dad because he just didn't want her in his life.  When she learns that her father does want to see her, she insists on visiting.  But there was a reason that Fiona's mom fled to America.  The truth about why is very complicated.

I really love the romance between Danny and Fiona.  Both share a love of music, and have big plans for the future.  I like that they also both have some big secrets that they are afraid to tell each other.  This adds to the tension in the book.  

This book was a page-turner!  With Danny's dilemma of needing to get to England for his Army test, and so many family secrets being revealed for Fiona, this book had a certain urgency that was exhilarating.  The lead up to the July 12 marches includes the bigger picture of sectarian tensions that is the whole backdrop of the book.  

What I Was Mixed About:
Plot Developments:
I was a bit startled by how quickly Danny's world began to crumble.  At one point in the story, he makes a series of terrible decisions in a matter of hours.  While this made for an exciting development in the book, I found Danny's behavior to be so out of character that it stretched credibility.

I had mixed emotions about Fiona because she is kind of a self-absorbed American.  Yes, there is a lot for her to absorb about the continuing conflict in Northern Ireland.  But she also doesn't seem to care about how hard everyone is working to make her comfortable on her trip.  Her dad works several jobs, but when she goes running off, he must take time off work (probably something that is really hard on him, financially) to go after her.  She doesn't apologize or consider that her dad could ill-afford to do this.  Several times in the book, she wishes she can just go back to being an oblivious teen in the U.S. and ignore what is happening in Northern Ireland.  I think that once her eyes were opened, she would continue to want to be involved, even if the situation is difficult.

Trigger Warning for domestic violence 


Release Date:  March 12th, 2019

Author:  Sarah Carlson

Publisher:  Turner

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Page Length:  240 pages

Source:  Edelweiss

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A timely reminder of how challenging teen's lives are throughout the world.  A page-turner.
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Thursday, March 7, 2019

ARC Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret--he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson, is a novel set in 15th century Spain at a time of transition.  As the Islamic empire of the Sultan dwindles, the influence of Catholic kings press down on everyday people.  I enjoyed the setting, characters, and narrative style.  The book did a credible job of exposing me to a culture and time I knew nothing about.  With its symbolism and violent subject matter, this is not the novel I was expecting.  The changing realities and timelines made this story difficult to follow, and made the ending less than satisfying. 

What I Liked:
The story begins in The Alhambra, the palace of the Sultan of Granada in 1491.  Fatima, a concubine, is witness to the siege and surrender of the Sultan's empire to Catholic Spain.  There is lots of colorful historical details about life in a harem that I hadn't know about.  The details of Islamic faith, and culture were also delightful.

There were also lots of insight into the lives of Spanish Catholics at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.  What turns people into zealots?  How did people become powerful in a time of fear and superstition?  I found these questions fascinating. 

Fatima, the main character is a beautiful teenager who has been raised to be a concubine for the Sultan.  She is both cherished (for her beauty) and treated as property.  Seeing this contradiction is infuriating to Fatima.  But she sees no other way to live.

Hassan, the mystical map-maker, is Fatima's only real friend.  He is also treated differently.  Prized for his gifts, he is also reviled.  The Sultan's people tolerate his loving other men, but also fear him because of his magical abilities.  As long as both Fatima and Hassan fulfill the needs of the Sultan, they are safe.  They both know that the moment they are not useful to the court, any protection they had will be gone.  

Narrative Style:
The novel is very well written with beautifully detailed prose.  The world of the harem comes to life in vivid descriptions of food, fabrics, and fragrances.  There is a great deal of symbolism and metaphor used in this story.  As we learn the stories of various birds, we learn lessons about different types of people.  The jinn (magical spirits) also evoke a sense of the spirituality of the Islamic world.

What I Was Mixed About:
I had very mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I loved how the book took the reader from inside the harem of a Sultan to a race across Medieval Spain as the main characters try to evade the Spanish Inquisition.  This was fun and exciting.

However, as the novel continued, the story became muddled.  It was very hard to follow some of the key action sequences.  This was due to time and space seemingly changing at random, and the author occasionally throwing in a new mythical creature to confuse the action.  This caused me to miss some critical information which made it difficult to follow the story.  I found myself re-reading critical moments to try and make sense of what I was reading.

What I Didn't Like:
I felt very let down by the ending of the book.  Considering all the action that proceeded it, the ending just sort of fizzled out.  By resolving the main problem too early, the author had nowhere to go with the story.  Instead, we are treated to a lot of hand-wringing as the characters decide upon a final sacrifice (Yes, I am being vague because I don't want to throw out spoilers).  This was very unsatisfying and it left many questions unanswered about one of the character's motivations, and how they would proceed.  Given that this character had lied so much in the past, I didn't find their promises credible at the end, so their sacrifice was empty.  By not showing a conversion of personality, there was no way to know if they would actually do what they promised.  Would there be another betrayal?  We don't know, because the book ended abruptly.


Release Date:  March 12th, 2019

Author:  G. Willow Wilson

Publisher:  Grove Press

Genre:  YA Historical Fantasy

Page Length: 440 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This was a very philosophical novel, filled with symbolism and imagery.  Although this is being marketed as a YA novel, I would not want a young teen to read this book.  There was sexual violence and torture described.  This might make for an interesting book club selection.  But I recommend getting this from the library.


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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

ARC Review: Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Aurelia is the first princess born to the Renalten crown in two hundred years, destined to fulfill a treaty by journeying to marry Valentin, the prince of Achleva – Renalt’s greatest enemy. Rumors of an unwell, cruel prince abound, and the only thing that eclipses Aurelia’s apprehension of her impending marriage is her fear of those who’d kill her to prevent it.

When an assassination attempt forces Aurelia to use forbidden magic to save a stranger, she is driven from Renalt by the witch-hunting Tribunal and a mob out for blood. But before she can claim asylum in the court of her betrothed, her travel party turns on her, forcing her to trade places with her treacherous lady-in-waiting, Lisette.

Now penniless in Achleva and bereft of her identity, Aurelia must decide if she wants to surrender to her new life or fight for her old one, all while navigating the complicated ties binding her to the enigmatic prince, the unquiet ghost of an ancient queen, and a poisonous plant called bloodleaf.

Aurelia is a pawn in a centuries-long game of love, power, and war— and if she can’t extricate herself from it before Lisette marries Valentin in her stead, she may face losses far more devastating than her crown.

Sometimes, I admit, I judge a book by its cover, and the cover of Bloodleaf, by Crystal Smith really is lovely.  With a mysterious white flower dripping with blood and its swirling lines of thorny vines, my interest was peaked.  Happily for me, the possibilities hinted at by the cover came to fruition.  Bloodleaf is full of strong characters, a swoon-worthy romance, an exciting world of ghosts, treachery, and betrayal, and a story that was a page-turner.  I loved it!

What I Liked:

The story centers around Princess Aurelia.  She is a blood-mage (a witch who can use her blood to perform magic).  She's been told all her life that this is a curse, that she should be killed for her abilities.  At the beginning of the story, even she believes this.  I love how Aurelia gains self-worth and comes to understand that these are gifts.  Her transformation from helpless to courageous had me cheering her on.

Zan is another character who is underestimated.  All his life, he has been belittled and mistreated because of his fragile health.  When he meets Aurelia (disguised as a servant) he realizes that he can enact change to save his kingdom.  Zan and Aurelia help each other to make an impact. 

With Aurelia and Zan being all supportive, is it any wonder that they fall in love?  Their romance is really lovely, how they are drawn to each other by similar experiences.  I am also really glad that this book did not follow all the regular tropes of a love triangle, or a love/hate relationship.  They just can see that they are kindred spirits.  
The universe that this novel is set in is full of magic.  There are legends of powerful forces, witches, ghosts, and the strange plant, Bloodleaf, which only grows in ground that's been soaked in death. 

The story is full of conspiracies, hidden identities, and betrayal.  Someone is plotting to take down the magical barriers of the kingdom of Achleva.  In order for this to happen, there must be a series of sacrifices done at precise times to coincide with the phases of the moon.  It's up to Zan, with the help of Aurelia's magic to stop it.  But who can be trusted?  With many characters with hidden agendas, the plot kept me guessing to the very end.


Release Date:  March 12th, 2019

Author:  Crystal Smith

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  384 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  With a fun fantasy world, this story of intrigue and romance is one you won't want to put down.

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2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


80% 80% 100 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
clean sweep 2017

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