*The Decoy Girlfriend by Lillie Vale


*The Decoy Girlfriend by Lillie Vale
Publisher: Penguin Group, Putnam, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Writer Freya Lal has a huge secret: she’s a dead ringer for It-girl actress Mandi Roy. Her second novel is due in a month, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. Desperate to shake off her writer’s block, Freya leans into her look-alike abilities and indulges in some mistaken identity for simple perks, like scoring a free mimosa or getting into a trendy nightclub.

Actor Taft Bamber appears to have it all: gorgeous, talented, and Mandi’s love interest both on- and off-screen. But what nobody knows is that their relationship is a PR stunt, and after years of playing make-believe, he’s yearning for something real.

When Freya’s latest impersonation of Mandi goes viral thanks to Taft’s accidental interference, rumors of a breakup threaten Hollywood’s golden couple. To make amends, Freya is forced to give Mandi a little time off: she’ll pretend to be the actress for a month, move in with Taft, and squash the rumors by acting completely in love. But as Freya and Taft play house, it becomes impossible to ignore that their instant chemistry isn’t just for the cameras. While faking it, they might have just found the real thing.

Decoy Girlfriend is an intoxicating story about a fake Hollywood romance. The story is engaging and the characters are realistic. Even though the two main characters, Taft and Freya are successful, they are filled with self doubt and insecurities, just like all of us.

Freya has written one successful book but she is having an impossible time trying to write the second one. She resembles Mandi Roy, a famous movie star and people often stop Freya thinking she is Mandi.

Taft is a famous movie star who meets Freya while buying a book for his mother and he is instantly smitten with Freya. I loved all the bantering between Taft and Freya. From the moment they meet, they enjoy needling each other, but behind all the bantering is an instant attraction that they both have a difficult time ignoring.

I enjoyed this upbeat story, it has sparkling dialogue and entertaining characters.

Skin Game by Stuart Woods


Skin Game by Stuart Woods
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Teddy Fay receives a freelance assignment from a gentleman he can’t refuse, he jets off to Paris on the hunt for a treasonous criminal. But as Teddy unearths more information that just doesn’t seem to connect, his straightforward mission becomes far bigger–and stranger–than he could imagine. The trail of bread crumbs leads to secrets hidden within secrets, evildoers trading in money and power, and a global threat on an unprecedented scale. Under the beautiful veneer of the City of Lights, true villainy lurks in the shadows…and Teddy Fay alone can prevent the impending disaster.

Teddy Fay is given a freelance assignment from a powerful man he never thought would need his kind of help. Sent to Paris undercover to unearth a mole, Teddy figured it’ll be a quick and easy break – easily handled and shortly over. When one thing leads to another Teddy soon realizes there’s far more at play than any of them originally realized.

I’ve read plenty of books by this author and while I always enjoy them greatly, I strongly feel readers need to know this author always falls solidly into the “disengage your brain” style of story. Forget logic. Ignore reality. Just have a lovely large drink, sit back and follow along for the ride. There are a good cast of interesting characters who all know each other well and work together delightfully. There is an outlandish, but fast moving and interesting, plot that hooked my attention within the first few pages.

Readers looking for an action packed, light espionage style of story should feel this really fits the bill for them. There is a very light hand with the plot that I feel this author always does amazingly well. With enough plot and subterfuge to keep my interest, there nevertheless is no doubt this is not an intricate or complicated style of story. Readers looking for a fun summer read, or a quick and enjoyable escape from reality should find this mystery/espionage style of story is a delightful way to spend an easy and relaxing weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed this full length novel and am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Out of a Jar by Deborah Marcero


Out of a Jar by Deborah Marcero
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Llewellyn does not like to feel afraid or sad, angry, lonely, or embarrassed. And so he comes up with a brilliant plan: he tucks each of his feelings into jars and hides them away where they won’t bother him anymore. But when he gets in trouble in class, Llewellyn finds he needs to put away excitement too. And when joy is quickly followed by disappointment, he decides to get rid of joy as well. After a while, Llewellyn walks around not feeling much of anything at all. And what happens when his emotions refuse to be bottled up any longer?

In this richly illustrated and universally relatable picture book, Llewellyn soon discovers that life is more colorful when he sets his emotions free. And only then, by facing and embracing each of his feelings, is he finally able to let them go.

All emotions are valuable.

Once again, I was blown away by Ms. Marcero’s ability to make a complex topic relatable and entertaining for small children. Emotional intelligence is a difficult but critical skill to learn. She managed to make it sound like one of the greatest adventures anyone could experience. It takes smooth writing to accomplish that, so my interest in reading more of her work has only deepened now that I’ve read two of her tales.

The only thing holding this picture book back from receiving a five-star rating from me had to do with how little time it spent explaining what to do with feelings that seem too big or overwhelming to handle. Honestly, this is something that even adults struggle with sometimes, and it can be even tougher for kids. The narrator did such a spectacular job with every other aspect of the topic. I would have happily gone with a perfect rating if they’d gone into the same amount of detail with this one.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that carefully wove the fantasy elements of the plot in with the author’s messages about the importance of emotions and how she thinks children should handle them. It wasn’t always easy for me to pick out where one of these themes ended and the other began. They were so well-suited for each other that I was nothing but pleased to see it written that way.

This is the sequel to In a Jar. I recommend reading this series in order because the narrator made some lovely references to previous scenes that can only be understood by readers who have already experienced them.

Out of a Jar was a wonderful starting place for talking about difficult emotions.

Eternal by Lisa Scottline


Eternal by Lisa Scottline
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical, Action/Adventure
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Ginger

What war destroys, only love can heal.

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro grow up as the best of friends despite their differences. Elisabetta is a feisty beauty who dreams of becoming a novelist; Marco the brash and athletic son in a family of professional cyclists; and Sandro a Jewish mathematics prodigy, kind-hearted and thoughtful, the son of a lawyer and a doctor. Their friendship blossoms to love, with both Sandro and Marco hoping to win Elisabetta’s heart. But in the autumn of 1937, all of that begins to change as Mussolini asserts his power, aligning Italy’s Fascists with Hitler’s Nazis and altering the very laws that govern Rome. In time, everything that the three hold dear–their families, their homes, and their connection to one another–is tested in ways they never could have imagined.

As anti-Semitism takes legal root and World War II erupts, the threesome realizes that Mussolini was only the beginning. The Nazis invade Rome, and with their occupation come new atrocities against the city’s Jews, culminating in a final, horrific betrayal. Against this backdrop, the intertwined fates of Elisabetta, Marco, Sandro, and their families will be decided, in a heartbreaking story of both the best and the worst that the world has to offer.

Unfolding over decades, Eternal is a tale of loyalty and loss, family and food, love and war–all set in one of the world’s most beautiful cities at its darkest moment. This moving novel will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of readers.

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I wasn’t going to read the latest book by Lisa Scottoline; the subject is not something that I would typically read and the length of the book is intimidating. The first day I open the book, expecting not to like it. Fast forward, a week later after finishing the book I am definitely glad that I did give the book a try. The story is a harsh real life event and may be a trigger for some but it’s a beautiful story of family, friendship, and love for people.

The author did a wonderful job in providing scenic details of the cities, and of the events during that time. I love historical reads and I admit that previously I only read history about the United States. But after reading this book it has peeked my interest on what I probably have missed out on reading especially if a story is told with such authentic details and from a heartfelt account that makes it feel personal.

The story is told from several different characters’ viewpoints. The author did this in a way that allows the reader to know thoughts and events that we otherwise may not have known or had to assume if she only voiced the words from Elisabetta D’orfeo, Sandro Simone and Marco Terrizzi. Elisabetta is about to reveal a thirteen year secret to her son. She starts her story during a time of innocence in her childhood. The events that she tell gradually unfold over decades until his birth.

I loved the relationship between the Simone and Terrizzi families. Though the Simone family was Jewish, it didn’t stop Massimo or his son Marco from risking their life to support and save Sandro’s family during the war and cruelty that the Jews suffered.

This was a history lesson and a must read. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting to me how, based on a person’s heritage or beliefs, they can either be looked upon in greatness or looked upon as less than. I was only reading the story and found myself in tears and disbelief so I can not imagine what those that lived this actually felt. The author delivers a full story, the bad and the ugly, but what stands out to me is the fight for what’s right, for equality, the fight for family and definitely the fight for those that we know and call our friend.

I define courage as letting the one that you love go so that they won’t be subjected to the harsh brutality of your heritage. I define courage as standing up for those that are less fortunate or helpless even though you risk being killed. I define courage as the author creating such an emotional story that tells such inhumane acts that should never be repeated but never should be forgotten.

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi


Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Middle Grade
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Magic has all but disappeared in Brooklyn, but one tenacious young magician is determined to bring it back in this exciting middle grade mystery.

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Somehow, though, when his father disappeared, he took all of Echo City’s magic with him. Now Echo City—a ghost of its past—is living up to its name. With no magic left, the magicians have packed up and left town and those who’ve stayed behind don’t look too kindly on any who reminds them of what they once had.

When Kingston finds a magic box his father left behind as a clue, Kingston knows there’s more to his father’s disappearance than meets the eye. He’ll have to keep it a secret—that is, until he can restore magic to Echo City. With his cousin Veronica and childhood friend Too Tall Eddie, Kingston works to solve the clues, but one wrong move and his father might not be the only one who goes missing.

While fantasy and themes of magic are not my first choice in genres, I had no problem reading this book. I flew through it, in fact. I think the reason it was so readable is not just because it is easy to read but because it is really and truly a good story. The kind that draws you in and makes you forget the things around you.

This is the story of a young boy determined to find his father, who is a magician. He and his friends work through the mystery to find him, all the while trying not to endanger their own lives. It’s full of tricks and codes and everything I loved as a 5th to 6th grade reader and well, ok…I loved it now as an old adult reader too. Just a fun run-away and get lost in a book kind of read. Recommended!

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

FIFTH
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Publisher:G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full Length (457 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Thistledown

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

What would happen if aliens did come to earth?

Some books stick with you and keep you up nights. The 5th Wave did both. In this multi-POV teen novel you experience what it is like when Cassie, the main character suffers as aliens make their presence known on earth. Other characters pop in as the black chapter breaks appear. There are several waves of disasters that plague mankind, designed to wipe us off the face of the earth.  It was relentless and in The 5th Wave, it sure doesn’t go well for the human race.

When the book begins, we meet Cassie, a teenager, who is on her own in a post-apocalyptic world. Almost everyone has been killed in the first four waves (silence, disease, flooding and more) and Cassie begins to wonder if she is the last human being left on earth. She wanders, learns how to survive and becomes a force to be reckoned with. It would be just too easy if that was all to the story. We journey with her as she retells the beginning of the end in flashbacks. What happened when the lights went out, what happened to her family as an Ebola type virus swept through the population, the military gathering of children and the murder of her father. It is a visceral journey told as only Rick Yancy can. Beautiful. Tragic. Poignant. In the present someone is hunting Cassie. It is one of the aliens that she calls a silencer. After he corners her and shoots her in the leg, she has to decide if she is going to live or die. One choice and it would all be over. She promised her brother she would come for him and one wrong move could very well end everything.
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As the book develops, you also meet Ben. He is a young man that went to Cassie’s school but has now been captured with the other kids and brought to a military base for what they believe is training against the alien forces that have infiltrated humanity. That is the catch. They look just like we do and have been here forever. Sneaking inside of our mothers as they slept, implanting themselves in the growing babies held within, their consciousness awakened as the invasion hit. Well, most of them. For some, they have been plotting against humanity from the start, waiting for the time to strike. At the compound, Ben has to decide to give in to his despair and become a force to end the suffering of humanity or succumb to his own inner demons. Who is real? Who is not? Military regiment becomes the new religion and survival is for the fittest. The fact that they are children hardly matters at all. There are some interesting questions posed by this part of the book. Who are these people in charge of the base? How did they get power back up when everything else is gone? What are the chips they are inserting into each child and what is this Wonderland mind mapping system? Red or green, who is alien and who is human? It is a question that kept me turning the pages.

Cassie’s brother Sam is also a character that appears once or twice in narratives. Renamed Nugget after being brought to the military camp where Ben is stationed, he learns quickly what his new reality has become and it is terrifying. He begins to grow up. These journeys come together as Cassie is rescued by Evan, begins to fall for him and continues her search for her brother. Ben, now renamed Zombie, grows in his strength as he helps himself and others and Nugget tries to keep up with it all.

Having a book with multiple POV’s makes the story more inclusive. In this case, you get multiple sides of the alien invasion, all of which are riveting. The descriptive elements of the book are so there I literally felt like I was falling into the story. The gut clenching moments when you try to figure you who is friend or foe, the fluttering sweetness of first love, the bitterness of betrayal and the sheer determination of the human race against insurmountable odds are all themes here. I have read the first book in Yancey’s Monstrumologist series and knew firsthand the level of writing this author has to offer and even still, this book blew me away. It is gripping, suspenseful, heart wrenching and beautiful all at the same time and I fell in love on the first page.

The next time I am looking for an alien novel, this will be the one I pick up again. To be honest, l didn’t read it at first because it was about aliens, but noticing it was Rick Yancey’s work made me rethink my decision. This is not a hokey body snatcher novel. Yes, it has some elements of that, but the way it is handled, to me, was much better than any other alien invasion scenario I have ever read. That is the scary part. He makes it seem so real. Every layer, every character quirk that makes the person pop off the page, every plot twist all points to a story that had me creeping off into corners at every opportunity to read this remarkable book. I just hope there is going to be another one.

One other thing that struck me about this book was the end note by Yancey. While he was writing the book, he lost his writing dog and companion Casey. As a reader, that struck me, because all the through the book there is loss after loss and the grim reality of what life has become in the after. Yancey was going through it himself as he was writing and that got to me.

The 5th Wave was unforgettable. It is a journey. It is the unrelenting force of love and the unstoppable essence of humanity.

Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood

CURSED
Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood
The Cahill Witch Chronicles Volume 2
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (366 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

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Cate Cahill is the eldest of three sisters, and has just had to make a heart wrenching decision to leave her home and fiancé, Finn. She has joined the Sisterhood in order to save those she loves from becoming pawns in a war that could destroy her family and all she cares for. Finn has joined the Brotherhood in order to be able to protect her, even if from afar. Her sisters Maura and Tess are sent for after a wave of violence toward girls and women suspected of witchery begins to get out of hand. As the sisters arrive at the school run by the Sisterhood, tensions escalate. Warring factions within the ranks of the witches place the sisters at odds and in danger. It has been foretold that one of the sisters will kill the other and one will be the oracle that either sets the witches free or begins a new Terror.

The events in this series captivated me so much that I bought the first book, Born Wicked in e-book form and when I found out I was going to meet the author, I promptly went out and bought it in hardcover so she could sign it. So, getting the chance to review the second in the series pretty much made my week. I credit a book with being good when I can’t sleep, eat or do anything without it in my hand and that was the case with Star Cursed as well. As I read, I couldn’t help but respond to the dynamic that author Jessica Spotswood crafted with her characters. The fighting between the sisters, the love between Cate and Finn, the desperation of the women effected by the tyranny of the Brotherhood, the inmates at Harwood, the religious fervor of the Brotherhood and the many different personalities in the cloister of the Sisterhood; all of it pops with emotion and action and I could not get enough.

Watching the three sisters interact within the mystery of the prophecy was intensely moving. First there is Cate, the oldest sister that has had to keep the sisters moving in the right direction pretty much her whole life. Now she has had to forgo her dreams of happiness with Finn in order to keep everyone safe. Maura is the middle child and is always looking for attention and ready to pick a fight just to prove how much prettier she is than Cate, or even how much stronger she is as a witch. Maura is determined to be the oracle and she doesn’t care who she knocks over in her path to greatness. Tess is the youngest sister and is only twelve. She has secretly begun to have visions and is terrified of what they will mean. The Brotherhood is on the hunt and is filling the insane asylum at Harwood with more girls every day in search of any and all oracles or witches.

Star Cursed is also a political testament to the rights of women. Think about the times when women couldn’t vote, hold a job, learn to read or even own certain books because of religious intolerance. Women have been placed in powerless situations before, cast into insane asylums for being different, accused of being immodest and arrested for simple misunderstandings or forced into situations with male “superiors” that put them in horrible circumstances. Add to that the fear and terror of the witch burnings that happened throughout Europe and the incidents that happened in Salem and this is the climate that Jessica Spotswood has so brilliantly brought to life, with an alternative history twist. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, Beautiful Creatures, Charmed, the House of Night series or The Secret Circle series, then this is a book you will more than likely enjoy.

When I am in the market for a witchy read with characters that leap out of the page, I know Jessica Spotswood will deliver. Star Cursed cast a spell on me on the very first page that has lasted long after the final page has been read.