Review: The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

I was given an advance copy of this book from the author.

Happy 2014, friends! I hope the holidays treated you well, that you greeted the new year with people you love, and that 2014 has good things in store for you. I’ll admit, I’m pretty excited for this year. Not because I’m anticipating anything specific, exactly, but because I’m anxious to see what opportunities the year will present. 2013 exceeded my expectations in so many ways, probably the greatest of which was the friends I made. It boggles my mind that some of the people I would now count among my best friends are individuals I hadn’t even met a year ago.

One of those people is someone who, a year ago, was just a name on a spine to me. Last year, I read Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, and absolutely loved it. To the point that the first time I met Victoria, I think I fangirled on her a bit. (I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry. It was well-deserved fangirling.) Since then, she’s become a wonderful friend, but I’ve remained a fan. Through shameless cajoling, I was able to convince her to let me read the sequel to The Archived a bit early. This book hits shelves in a couple weeks, and if you enjoyed the first one, trust me, you’re going to want the sequel. I enjoyed The Unbound every bit as much as The Archived, if not more. That’s right. More.

Let’s get to it.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.

Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She’s sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she’ll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?

With stunning prose and a captivating mixture of action, romance, and horror, The Unbound delves into a richly imagined world where no choice is easy and love and loss feel like two sides of the same coin.

My Thoughts:

I expect a lot from sequels. I need them remind me of everything I enjoyed in the first book, but not retread old ground. I need them to give me new likable characters, while allowing me to grow closer to characters I’ve already met. I need the events of the previous books to have consequences, and for the actions of the characters to have repercussions. I need higher stakes, deeper world-building, tighter plots, and more satisfying resolutions. Whether it’s the second or the third or the tenth book in a series, I need each sequel to continue upping its game to keep me invested in the series. It’s a tall order that is hard to fill, which is why I often wind up settling for less.

I’m pleased to report that no settling was necessary in the case of The Unbound. The narrative picks up shortly after the events of The Archived, with heroine Mackenzie Bishop coping with the trauma of a betrayal that nearly killed her, and the fallout of the decisions she made as a result. In the meantime, her world is broadened by the start of the school year. The story is no longer confined to the halls of the Narrows and the rooms of the hotel-turned-apartment-building that Mackenzie calls home. Now she has to deal with a new school and new friends, and must work constantly to keep the ghosts of her past and the demons in her head quiet — while still proving to the Archive that she is a competent Keeper.

Fortunately, she’s not alone. Guyliner-sporting co-Keeper Wesley Ayers is once again by Mackenzie’s side, livening up her life with sass and sarcasm while also providing the grounding and support that only someone who knows her secrets can. Their relationship grows and deepens as it is tested by both the trials of high school and the string of disappearances that seem tied to Mackenzie. His humor and openness provide a much-needed balance to Mackenzie’s seriousness and secretiveness. Mackenzie also makes some friends at school, and it’s fun to see her interact with people her own age who don’t share knowledge of the Archive.

The new setting of Hyde School gives The Unbound a freshness that is much appreciated after the purposefully claustrophobic confines of The Archived. With the move into the world outside the hotel, the scope becomes greater and the stakes feel higher. It’s interesting how the broadened environment plays with the narrowing walls of Mackenzie’s mind, as no matter where she goes, she can’t escape the haunting memories of the History who terrorized her. He even plagues her dreams, which results in nearly crippling insomnia and the concern that she may be suffering a break from reality. Mackenzie’s struggles are compounded by the disappearances happening around her, as the lines between reality and the Archived continue to muddle. It’s a brilliant balance of internal versus external conflict, with both plotlines weaving together and building on each other as they head toward a conclusion that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

As always, Victoria’s prose is lovely, a perfect blend of poetry and suspense. It gives the book a visceral quality that makes it easy to picture and hard to put down. There are some authors who have the gift of stories and some who have the gift of words. It’s clear in Victoria’s writing that she has both. Not only are the tales she crafts smart and imaginative and original, but the ways in which she tells them are beautiful.

The Unbound is everything I wanted in a sequel to The Archived. More mystery. More suspense. A greater sense of purpose and consequence and world. Deeper relationships. Higher stakes. And, of course, more Wesley Ayers. If you read The Archived and are wondering if you should pick up the sequel, wonder no more. Go forth, read, and enjoy.

Cover Reveal Celebration + Giveaway: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by MG Buehrlen

It’s time to PAR-TAY!

MG Buehrlen is one of those online friends that it sometimes feels weird to refer to as a friend, because we’ve only met via social media and email. But we’ve bonded over our shared affection for coffee and Gilmore Girls and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, so I’m pretty sure we’d do okay. Which means I was super excited earlier this year to hear that MG sold her debut novel, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, not only because I am thrilled for her, but also because it’s a time-travel adventure, folks, and I really can’t get enough of those in my life.

Are you excited? I’m excited.

Today we’re celebrating the cover reveal for THE 57 LIVES OF ALEX WAYFARE by MG Buehrlen with a guest post and a giveaway!

BONUS POINTS: Mention you saw the cover on my blog (when you fill out the giveaway form below) and you can earn extra entries!

Before we get to the cover, here’s a guest post from MG:

5 Things an Author Hopes for in a Book Cover – Guest Post by MG Buehrlen

Waiting for a book cover to arrive can be a nerve-wracking experience for an author. There are so many things you hope for! Here are the top 5 things I hoped for while waiting for cover art from my publisher.

1) To get a say in the cover design.
Every author hopes their publisher involves them and their opinions in the cover design process. Many publishers don’t. They simply hand the author a cover and that’s that. But my publisher, Strange Chemistry, listened to my ideas and feedback throughout the entire process, which is rare in the industry. I’m so appreciative for the chance to collaborate with them on the design.

2) To have kick ass typography.
We went through quite a few fonts, trying to find the one that fit the mood and theme of 57 LIVES. I think we’ve done it.

3) To have the cover depict a scene from the book.
Don’t get me wrong, I love abstract covers, covers that are title-centric, and even covers that are pure symbolism. For 57 LIVES, though, I wanted the cover art to be something readers come across between the pages, so they can flip back to it and feel like they’re in the story.

4) To have artwork that catches the eye and stands out on the shelf.
The colors, the depth of field, the light — I definitely think this cover will stand out on the bookstore shelf. It’s mysterious enough to draw you in, and eerie enough to make you wonder what the story is all about.

5) To see a part of the book’s world brought to life.
The main character in 57 LIVES is Alex Wayfare, a girl who can travel back in time to her reincarnated pasts by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. What you see on the cover is Alex standing in Limbo. I love seeing Limbo brought to life. It makes it feel all the more rich and real. It’s no longer just in my head. Now it’s in the reader’s as well, and that feels magical.

Ready to see the cover? Here it is!

(Lauren again) What do we think, friends? My reaction can be pretty well summed up like this:

I love the dark and mysterious graphic in combination with the playful font. Makes me think this book will be equal parts serious, high stakes combined with fun timey-wimey goodness. (I could be wrong. I haven’t read it. But I have a good feeling about my hunch.) Plus, I think this cover will appeal to both boys and girls and bridge a variety of age groups. I can’t wait to add it to my shelf!

About the Book

One girl. Fifty-seven lives. Endless ways to die.

For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

Pre-order The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare now!
Barnes & Noble|Books-a-Million|Amazon|Indiebound|The Book Depository

About the Author

When she’s not writing, M.G. moonlights as a web designer and social media/creative director. She’s the current web ninja lurking behind the hugely popular website YABooksCentral.com, a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers.

These are the places you’ll find M.G. hiding: in her creaky old house nestled in Michigan pines, sipping coffee on her porch, cooking over campfires, and dipping her toes in creeks. Say hello to M.G. on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Giveaway Details

One winner from each participating blog (10 total) will receive signed bookmarks and stickers.

One grand prize winner will receive a copy of the book (once available) as well as the Mega 57 LIVES Character Prize Pack (each item pertaining to a significant character in the book):

- A pair of black Wayfarer glasses, like Alex wears
- A pack of chocolate pudding cups, courtesy of Jensen
- Vintage piano sheet music for the song Star Dust, the song Nick plays for Alex
- An orange Baltimore Orioles cap, like Porter wears
- A pair of engraved Polygon game piece stones (You’ll have to read the book to find out how these come into play!)
- A YABooksCentral.com tote bag
- Signed bookmarks and stickers

This giveaway is open internationally. Winners will be chosen and notified by email within 30 days of the giveaway end date.

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Extra entries can be earned by following the bloggers involved in the Cover Reveal Celebration.

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom is the conclusion to Rae Carson’s epic fantasy trilogy that started with The Girl of Fire and Thorns and continued with The Crown of Embers. As you might remember, I enjoyed the first book in the series, but it was the second one that made me a die-hard fan. From the twisting plot to the fully realized magical world unlike anything I’ve ever read, it is everything I want in a fantasy. And it didn’t hurt that it features Hector, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. (Elisa, the main character, is no slouch herself).

So of course, The Bitter Kingdom was one of my most anticipated books of 2013. I couldn’t wait to hear how Elisa’s and Hector’s adventures would conclude, and if she would finally complete her act of service and fulfill her destiny as The Chosen One.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

My Thoughts:

The Bitter Kingdom begins with one of my favorite epic fantasy conventions: The Long Journey Into Unknown Lands. In this case, Queen Elisa and her small band of allies are traveling to the hostile territory of Invierne to rescue Hector, the Captain of the Royal Guard, and also the man who holds Elisa’s heart, who was taken captive at the end of The Crown of Embers. Before they can get to Hector, Elisa and her companions must overcome both the harsh winter weather of Invierne and the mysterious, deadly magic wielded by the Inviernos. But in The Bitter Kingdom, we are treated to something we never got in the first two books: Hector’s point of view. So we are able to watch as he undermines and sabotages his captors, trying to delay their plans until Elisa comes for him.

I loved how Rae Carson turned the damsel in distress trope on its head by having Elisa be the one to go after Hector. Not only was it fun to watch the queen rescue the soldier, but it evidenced Elisa’s tremendous growth since the first book. She was no longer cautious and filled with self-doubt, but finally comfortable in asserting her power as Queen. But although Hector was tied up and weakened, he was not helpless either. It was fantastic to see the two of them work together to secure Hector’s freedom, even though neither of them knew what the other was doing. And as expected, I still loved Hector and Elisa. Adding Hector’s point of view was brilliant, and it was amazing to witness his cold strategizing coupled with his tender thoughts toward Elisa.

As far as Elisa goes, in The Bitter Kingdom we see her both at her most powerful and her most vulnerable. Just when I thought her character arc may be complete, going from a meek princess with a low self-esteem to a confident queen in control of inconceivable magic, she plummeted back down and had to claw her way up again. I thought it was a stroke of genius, because it not only kept the stakes high and her character vulnerable, but it really let us see how Elisa has grown as a person, even apart from the Godstone.

I also enjoyed the secondary characters. The cast is smaller in this book, and I missed spending time with some of my favorite characters from Crown of Embers (the most noteable being Tristán), but almost every character makes at least a cameo appearance in the second half of the book, where we get some insight into where they wind up. Meanwhile, a couple lovely new characters are added to the cast, and some familiar characters are developed further. My favorite was probably Storm, the Invierno-turned-Joyan that we meet in the second book. He evolves from someone truly unlikable when we first meet him to one of the most fascinating characters in the series. I could read an entire book (or series) just about him and his family and his conflicted loyalties.

After the Epic Journey concludes, it’s up to Elisa to stop a war, unite her people, get to the bottom of the magic the Inviernos are using to conquer anyone in their path, and discover her purpose as bearer of the Godstone. It’s a tall order, and Rae Carson handles it brilliantly, with lots of action and intrigue interspersed with Elisa’s own personal reflection as she struggles to be the person God needs her to be. By the end of the book, I had all of my big questions answered and felt satisfied with where the others were left.

The Bitter Kingdom was everything I want in the conclusion to a trilogy: action, intrigue, smart plotting, fantastic character development, and a satisfying conclusion. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this series to fans of fantasy and adventure, or just someone looking for a masterfully crafted, well-told tale.

Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

I have been salivating over Vicious by V.E. Schwab since she first announced its existence on Twitter. I don’t think it’s any big secret that I love a well-written villain. So finding out that Victoria, whose writing I adore, had penned an entire novel about supervillains? Bliss. Pure, utter bliss. The only problem was that I had to actually wait for Vicious to release, and I suck at waiting.

BUT because I live in the best writing community in the entire world*, one that is home to one V.E. Schwab, I was actually able to get my hands on an early copy. Naturally, I devoured it almost the second I got my grimy** little fingers on it (not the exact second, as I had to drive home and that would’ve gotten messy). As expected, I loved every single twisted page.

Disclaimer: You’ve probably heard of V.E. Schwab’s alter ego, Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch and The Archived. Victoria is a YA author. V.E. is an Adult author. Vicious is an Adult book, with an adult voice and adult content. It’s still very much Victoria’s lovely writing, but it does not feel like her YA. It’s all grown up and dark and twisted and in need of therapy. So if you are a teen, or an adult who prefers YA, a word of caution before jumping on the Vicious bandwagon. It’s fantastic — but it’s not YA.

*I have not lived in every writing community in the world — just the one — but I’m pretty sure it’s the best.

**They were probably not actually grimy, but I can’t rule it out since I had tacos for dinner.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

My Thoughts: 

I loved Vicious from the first few chilling pages. Vicious is a little grittier, a little bleaker than Victoria’s YA novels, but although the prose is more stark than in her other books, it lacks none of her characteristic lyricism. It’s obvious from the disturbing opening — where we meet two of our main characters as they dig up a grave — that the reader is in for a well-crafted tale spun by a mind that is twisted in the best possible way.

Let’s talk for a minute about characters. Vicious focuses around two central characters, Victor and Eli, once best friends, now mortal enemies. Each has his own small band of misfit allies, some with powers, some without. And the best part of every single one of these characters is that each of them chooses sides based on what they believe in their hearts to be right. Maybe not good, but right. The calls they make are difficult, their actions are not clean and the consequences are often messy, but each fully realized secondary character picks the side they think is best not just for them individually, but the world as a whole. Which makes every character think they are fighting for the side of light, when in reality, they all inhabit a world of gray.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Getting back to Eli and Victor, my favorite villains in fiction have always been the ones who were motivated by more than darkness, power, and a desire to watch the world burn. Sure, there’s a strange dark beauty in a villain who will stop at nothing to destroy the hero, simply because he stands on the side of good. The Jokers and the Voldemorts and the Moriartys. But an excellent villain is one who can make me root for him, in spite of the fact that he opposes our hero, because in his own mind, he is right. These are the Lokis, the Magnetos, the Dr. Horribles, the Javerts. They’re the villains I know need to be defeated, but I keep hoping they will redeem themselves, because they make me care for them. Sometimes even more than I care for the good guys.

Eli and Victor both fall into this second category. Vicious is a book about villains, except none of the characters see themselves as particularly villainous. Certainly neither starts off that way. Eli and Victor begin as college roommates and best friends, whose downward spiral into villainy begins as nothing more than a thesis project and a flight of fancy. This is not a case of characters destined to be evil masterminds. They’re simply two guys who were, quite literally, too clever for their own good.

Ironically, the character who is indisputably the more righteous of the pair is probably the closest thing to a pure villain, whereas the one who comes across as more heroic (although even he is far from a hero) sees himself as irredeemable. The character with the stronger moral compass drifts deep into the darkness, while the one with little empathy or remorse holds himself in check right where the light begins to fade into shadow. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, and brilliantly executed. Vicious doesn’t paint either protagonist in particularly rosy colors, and both characters make terrible decisions and, at one point or another, commit terrible acts of violence with motives that are far from noble. But in this world where nothing is as simple as black and white or good and evil, it’s fascinating to see who we root for. I finished the book thinking really, one character wasn’t so bad — surely he wasn’t a villain — until I thought back to what he actually did, and I realized yes, yes he was. He just wasn’t as much of a villain as the other character. And I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, because I liked him — even though in a black-and-white world, I really shouldn’t have liked him.

As for the plot itself, Vicious is an intricately woven tale of intrigue and deception, betrayal and revenge. The rules of the world are simple and clear, enough that you find yourself wondering if maybe it is possible to give yourself superpowers through thwarting death. The twists and turns aren’t predictable, yet everything makes sense. The action isn’t constant, but ebbs and flows in a natural rhythm that keeps the pages flying by. Victoria masterfully builds the tension leading to the final confrontation between Victor and Eli throughout the entire book, slowly ratcheting up anticipation until it’s almost unbearable. And when they finally do meet, the result is explosive, bloody, and deliciously satisfying. I was left wanting more, not because any threads were left dangling, but because this world and these characters were so painfully amazing that it hurt to be parted from them.

If you’re a fan of sympathetic villains and realistic superpowers and dark, twisty tales brimming with moral ambiguity, make haste to your nearest bookseller and pick up a copy of Vicious. Run, don’t walk. Or, if you can, fly.

Review: Deception by C.J. Redwine (and SIGNED ARC GIVEAWAY!)

I absolutely loved C.J. Redwine’s debut post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure, Defiance. It was one of my favorite books of 2012, probably because it’s exactly the kind of story that appeals to me: strong, smart characters battling creepy villains, lots of action, sweet romance, and A DRAGON THAT LIVES UNDERGROUND. Seriously, the underground dragon would probably have been enough for me. Probably. But dragons aside (…did I really just say “dragons aside?” Who even am I anymore?), it’s an amazing story.

So when C.J. offered me an early opportunity to read the sequel, Deception, of course I jumped on it.

I mean…not literally. You shouldn’t jump on books.

And I am pleased to report it totally lived up to my expectations. And this is good for several reasons.

1) Because Defiance is awesome, so it’s good that the sequel is also awesome.

2) Because Deception hits bookstores today, so you can go get your copy right now.

3) Because I’m giving away my SIGNED ARC of Deception to one of you lucky readers!*

So without further ado, let’s talk about Deception, shall we?

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Baalboden has been ravaged. The brutal Commander’s whereabouts are unknown. And Rachel, grief stricken over her father’s death, needs Logan more than ever. With their ragged group of survivors struggling to forge a future, it’s up to Logan to become the leader they need—with Rachel by his side. Under constant threat from rival Carrington’s army, who is after the device that controls the Cursed One, the group decides to abandon the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland.

But soon their problems intensify tenfold: someone—possibly inside their ranks—is sabotaging the survivors, picking them off one by one. The chaos and uncertainty of each day puts unbearable strain on Rachel and Logan, and it isn’t long before they feel their love splintering. Even worse, as it becomes clear that the Commander will stop at nothing to destroy them, the band of survivors begins to question whether the price of freedom may be too great—and whether, hunted by their enemies and the murderous traitor in their midst, they can make it out of the Wasteland alive.

In this daring sequel to Defiance, with the world they once loved forever destroyed, Rachel and Logan must decide between a life on the run and standing their ground to fight.

My Thoughts: 

If you’re still reeling from the catastrophic ending of Defiance, fear not. Deception picks up very shortly after Defiance ends, with Logan and Rachel trying to figure out what to do with the hundred-plus survivors of Baalboden. It hits the ground running, and the first couple chapters introduce a lot of new characters. At first, I was a little concerned about all the names being flung at me. Defiance was mostly Rachel and Logan alone in the wilderness, so I didn’t have to worry about oodles of secondary characters. But never fear; C.J. Redwine handles her new, expanded cast deftly. Within a few chapters, the glut of new names were fleshed out into fully realized characters. I had no trouble remembering who was who, and I loved so many of the new players. Quinn and Willow, in particular, rocketed up to the top of my Favorites list. Their story was so layered and intriguing. If C.J. ever wants to do a spin-off series about the two of them, I’d read it.

There are two main conflicts in Deception: the problem of what to do with all the survivors, who are still being pursued by the nefarious Commander, and the alarming realization that there is a traitor in their midst. The resulting balance between action-driven tension as they flee the Commander’s army, and internal tension as Rachel and Logan try to suss out who has betrayed them, was masterfully handled, and kept me turning pages long after I should have turned out the lights and gone to bed.

Personally, my favorite part of the book was the murder mystery. C.J. gives the reader enough clues that it is possible to guess the murderer (I did), but you’re never 100% sure you’re right. I think that’s the mark of a well-handled mystery. I don’t like it when the answer comes out of nowhere, nor do I appreciate it being so obvious that it kills the tension. There’s a fine balance, and Deception does it well. The fact that it performs this feat while the characters are fleeing through the wilderness and fighting armies and blowing stuff up and cowering from dragons just makes it that much more amazing. And when you do find out who the murderer is, it comes with a few twists of its own that perhaps a more savvy reader could have guessed, but took me totally by surprise. In a good way.

I also really appreciated that Deception did not fall prey to the common practice to break up the two main characters who spent a good chunk of the first book coming together. A lot of times, it seems storytellers get bored with functional romantic relationships, so they throw in DRAMA and pull the characters (that they spent so much time convincing us were MFEO) apart. Not so in Deception. Rachel and Logan mature both as characters and as a couple, and like most couples who have weathered a few storms, are allowed to get upset with each other and disagree, without it having to mean they CAN NO LONGER BE TOGETHER EVER, OH THE ANGST.

Speaking of angst, Deception does not shy away from high stakes and raw emotion. Much like a certain wagon scene in Defiance, one chapter needs to have a warning label to have a box of tissues handy, or at least change your shirt into one that can double as a tissue. A lot of times in books, and perhaps in YA in particular, it seems that the Strong Female Characters can’t show their emotions. They can’t grieve their losses or feel broken from pain. In these books, I appreciate that Rachel is strong, but also feels so much. Emotions don’t make a character weak. Neither do tears. And I think it speaks so much to the character of Rachel that she can hurt and weep and break, but then she gets up and keeps going. She carries her losses with her, and they make her stronger. But because the reader is in Rachel’s head when horrible things happen to the people she loves, we get to feel all that strong emotion right along with her.

So. As I said. Box of tissues. Change of shirt. You have been warned.

I could go on for ages about how much I love this series, these characters, this world, but I think you’ve got the gist of it. Adventure. Murder. Dragons. Villainy. Romance. Swordfights. Treachery. Anguish. Triumph. All stirred up together in a fantastic, masterfully executed whirlwind of action and tension and twists and emotion. I couldn’t put it down.

And now the giveaway! Enter below to win my signed ARC of DECEPTION! U.S. only, please. Giveaway will run for one week. (And I shouldn’t have to say this, but no cheating. I’ll be checking.)

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*You can put it in a place of honor on your shelf right next to the shiny hardcover that I know you’re totally going to buy, right? Because ARCs are cool (especially signed ARCs), but real books are better. And C.J.’s real books are so very pretty.