Friday, December 18, 2020

Reading for Sanity's Best Books of 2020

2020 has been....Well, it's been something. 

When it all fell apart, we still had books.


Here's a look at 

OUR BEST BOOKS of 2020 (5 STARS)

All titles are linked to their respective reviews

 Stepsister - Jennifer Donnelly


Odd Dog Out - Rob Biddulph




Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit - Julie Shields & Mia Logan, PhD


A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles




Clever Encyclopedia: First Words - Cecile Jugla & Marion Piffaretti (Illus.)


This Much Country - Kristin Knight Pace


Circe - Madeline Miller

RUNNERS-UP (4.5 Stars)



Conjure Women - Afia Atakora


The Giver of Stars - Jojo Moyes



Britt-Marie was Here - Fredrik Backman


These is My Words - Nancy E. Turner


Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson

15+ Favorite Reading Challenges 

These amazing bookmarks

These gorgeous book fair finds

and

A huge TBR list


That's it for us in 2020. 

We hope you have a fantastic holiday season and that you've found something to curl up with in the New Year! 

Happy reading!  See you on January 4th, 2021!


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Poisoned - Jennifer Donnelly

Summary:  Once upon a time, a girl named Sophie rode into the forest with the queen's huntsman.  Her lips were the color of ripe cherries, her skin as soft as new-fallen snow, her hair as dark as midnight.  When they stopped to rest, the huntsman pulled out his knife...and took Sophie's heart.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise.  Sophie had heard the rumors, the whispers.  They said she was too kind and foolish to rule -- a waste of a princess.  A disaster of a future queen.  And Sophie believed them.  She believed everything she'd heard about herself, the poisonous words people use to keep girls like Sophie from becoming too powerful, too strong...

With the help of seven mysterious strangers, Sophie manages to survive.  But when she realizes that the brutal queen might not be to blame for the attack, Sophie must find the courage to face a more terrifying enemy, proving that even the darkest magic can't extinguish the fire burning inside every girl, and that kindness is the ultimate form of strength. (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I was beyond thrilled when I heard that Jennifer Donnelly was releasing another fairytale retelling.  I loved her previous novel, Stepsister (review here) and was hopeful she would knock my socks off with Poisoned, as well.  While both books are fully capable of standing alone, they do make lovely shelf-companions. The cover is absolutely brilliant.  I love the contrast of the black, red, and gold.  It's stunning!  

Poisoned is a reinvention of the classic fairytale, Snow White, with a charming cast of characters and a very important message.  Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia, Sophie for short, has a kind heart -- an unforgiveable weakness in the eyes of her stepmother and other members of court.  Sophie hears the horrible things they say, that she is hopelessly unfit to rule, and can't help but take their biting words to heart.  She tries to be the leader everyone says she must be -- cruel, unyielding, merciless -- but can never quite pull it off.  Then one fateful day, the princess rides into the Darkwood with the huntsman...and loses her heart. She manages to survive the ordeal, thanks to some rather small gentlemen who fashion a temporary fix, but it will not last.  Sophie embarks on a perilous journey to retrieve her heart from the one who has stolen it.  Along the way, she learns powerful lessons about herself, her kingdom, and what it really takes to lead.  

Poisoned sends readers with Sophie (and a few others) on a thrilling adventure that is peppered with suspense, humor, and a dash of romance.  Donnelly's writing flows like poetry, weaving an atmosphere of magic and nostalgia with an old-school fairytale vibe that favors Grimm's darker themes. Case and point: The narrator is dead and Sophie has her heart cut out on the very first page.  Don't worry, though.  Even though the princess and her cohorts get into a number of violent scrapes, the effect is somehow muted by the author's choice of words.  At most, it's a low PG-13.

YA lit doesn't always take the moral high road, nowadays, so I appreciate when authors make a concerted effort to write stories that uplift and inspire young readers. Sophie is incredibly relatable with a lovely character arc.  At the beginning of the story, she is unsure of herself, frozen in fear and tormented by the negative criticism she has received from others.  As the story progresses, Sophie learns to see herself and others more clearly and, in doing so, finds the courage and the confidence to do what must be done.  Her story conveys a message of equality and empowerment that will likely appeal to women of all ages, but especially those wading through the murky waters of adolescence and/or those who struggle with self-confidence.  

 Weighed against its predecessor, Poisoned falls slightly short, but don't let that put you off -- Stepsister set the bar rather high.  Honestly, there wasn't much about this book that I didn't like.  Occasionally, the narrator breaks the fourth wall by addressing the reader directly (meh) and the moral sometimes comes across heavy-handed, but if that is what it takes for the message to sink in, so be it.  

As with my review of Stepsister, I'd like to include some of my favorite Poisoned quotes that give you a feel for the book, without spoiling things:

"I give them no actual cause to diminish me, so they must invent one.  Nothing scares a weak man more than a strong woman."

"They can tell you everything you're not, but they can't make you believe it -- only you can do that."

"Sometimes the thing that makes us all wrong is the thing that makes us perfect."

"Slander a king, and the slanderer will lose his head.  Slander a queen , and the queen will lose hers."

"Love is a soft thing. It smells like woodsmoke and sounds like rain.  It tastes like sugared apples.  It costs nothing to give yet is more precious than a sea of diamonds. "

"Watch a child die for the lack of a few coins. Do that, and you might start to understand a few things, like the difference between a theft and a crime."

"Love is a fearsome thing.  It's braver than generals, stronger than fortresses. It opens graves and pulls rings off corpses.  It sits up through the long, lonely night with a failing child. It fashion

s hearts out of scraps and bits and rusty things and makes them beat on, no matter how many times they break."

"It's not the poisoned object that kills us...It's us.  We, ourselves. We listen to the snakes.  We let the scorpions close. We believe the hisses, the whispers, the words that tell us all we are not and will never be."

 "People need to follow their hearts, or they die long before the thing stops beating."

"Only a fool feels no fear.  Bravery is being afraid but doing what you must anyway."

"But look at her. What dead person looks like that? Dead people are all gooey. And crumbly."

Okay, that last one was just funny.  *snicker*  Crumbly.  But, seriously though.  Those quotes!

I don't know about you, but I am frequently plagued by thoughts of self-doubt and have a tendency to obsess over the myriad ways I'm failing instead of focusing on the things I do well.  Poisoned is the antidote to all of that.  It also serves as a compelling reminder that kindness is never weakness, that confidence is key, and that love truly does conquer all. We need more books like this one, and if the epilogue is any indication, more are on the way!

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some violence, magic, and dark themes, in keeping with older fairytales.  Could be scary for a younger audience, but probably fine for teens.  One character briefly admires another's backside.  Two people sleep (just sleep) together. A handful of curses of the A** and B*stard variety.  A character commits suicide, discussion brief.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Devil's Day - Andrew Michael Hurley

 

Summary: In the wink of an eye, as quick as a flea,

The Devil he jumped from me to thee.
And only when the Devil had gone,
Did I know that he and I'd been one . . .

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up, to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Very little changes in the Endlands, but this year, his grandfather—the Gaffer—has died and John's new wife, Katherine, is accompanying him for the first time.

Each year, the Gaffer would redraw the boundary lines of the village, with pen and paper but also through the remembrance of tales and timeless communal rituals, which keep the sheep safe from the Devil. But as the farmers of the Endlands bury the Gaffer and prepare to gather the sheep, they begin to wonder whether they've let the Devil in after all. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I picked this book up in a way that I love to do; when you first walk in, my local library has different displays of books with different topics. This is usually related to what’s going on—events, new fiction, in the news, holidays, etc. I’m sure your library does this, too. Despite my best efforts to be disciplined and just walk right in and grab my books that are on hold, sometimes I get waylaid by those tempting bits of librarian-made eye candy. I just can’t help it! This book happened to be on a “spooky reads” display, which is always tempting to me. I usually look around and read a few titles (there are always lots to choose from), and this one stood out to me. The cover is certainly ominous, and the description sounded good. It also has a Kirkus starred review, which I find can be hit and miss (and due to the ratings on Goodreads for books with Kirkus starred reviews, I know I’m not the only one). Anyway, I always like to give them a try because I do enjoy Kirkus’ book podcast, and have added many books there to my extensive and ever-growing “to read” list.

This book started out promising. The writing was unique, in that it took me a little while to really get into it, but I feel like that happens to me a lot when authors have a very distinct style and its more than just mass-market writing, ya know? I like authors with style, especially ones that are good at their craft and their writing is purposeful. I feel like Hurley is definitely an author with experience and style. He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to create a story—how to move it along, how to stall when necessary, how to create tension. I could definitely appreciate his ability to do this.

Now for the story—honestly, I was hoping for a lot more creepiness and maybe even some real horror, or at least some magical realism. I don’t want to give a lot away here, but this story built itself up to something dramatic happening, and hinted at dramatic happenings, and yet it never really delivered. There is definitely low grade creepiness throughout, but it read like just a normal story with people who are isolated and have beliefs of cultural bogeyman, instead of the actual promised “devil” that was described in the summaries. And I guess that’s my problem, and so maybe it is the problem with the people who marketed the book. I’m okay with low key books, and I really enjoyed the slice of life into the English countryside that this provided. I love reading historical fiction like that. If I can get an insight into an area and time of life that I am unfamiliar with, I love it. I would have been prepared for that, because, realistically, this book is just a quiet description of that. A well-written and insightful description of that (as well as familiar relationships, obligations, etc.,), but I was hoodwinked by the promise of devils and I didn’t get them. I wanted devils. I wanted something to actually happen, whereas, much like reality of life in this book, really doesn’t happen. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make for completely scintillating reading, though, and sometimes I want that. Okay, a lot of times.

If you are into quiet, well-written, introspective novels, especially ones that take place in England (because this felt very place-specific), you should definitely check this out. Be prepared for complex family relationships and discussions of obligation. If you are in a book club that enjoys deep discussions, and is not afraid to take on a novel that is more than just easy reading/pot boilers, I think this might be a really good choice.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language, but it is not overbearing or excessive.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Freeform Friday: President of the Whole Fifth Grade - Sherri Winston

Summary: When Brianna Justice's hero, the famous celebrity chef Miss Delicious, speaks at her school and traces her own success back to being president of her fifth grade class, Brianna determines she must do the same. She just knows that becoming president of her class is the first step toward her own cupcake-baking empire!

But when new student Jasmine Moon announces she is also running for president, Brianna learns that she may have more competition than she expected. Will Brianna be able to stick to her plan of working with her friends to win the election fairly? Or will she jump at the opportunity to steal votes from Jasmine by revealing an embarrassing secret? (summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: This book was really cute, and Brianna had the perfect kid voice.  I just love how dramatic kids can be about seemingly little things, and I cracked up every time Brianna's 'enemy' Jasmine did something that set her off, or the way Brianna would hastily jump to conclusions and believe she was in the right.  I also particularly loved her exclamation of the word 'FOOLISHNESS!' at intervals.  Seriously, she just felt like such a real and funny kid!  It was great, the author really captured the feel of a fifth grader.

(Another thing I loved was how she kept insisting that she was going to be a millionaire cupcake maker, it was just such a kid thing to say and every time she talked about her dream to be a millionaire by making cupcakes I just smiled.) 

Brianna's relationships with her friends was also well written, and how she gets so carried away with the election that she starts to forget what's really important--and that shows in how she treats her friends, but at the same time doesn't think she's in the wrong.  I thought that was well played, because often in life, we think we're in the right and can't see what we're doing wrong.  

This book also had a fun way of interspersing real history about past presidents, silly facts about them that Brianna would use in her campaign, ways she acted like them (for bad or good) and how she used their examples to eventually try and be a better person for the good of her school instead of just for the good of herself.  Overall, this was a fun and warm story about personal growth.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing big, but Brianna does disobey the rules a few times and gets into trouble for it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Anxious People - Fredrik Backman

Summary:  Looking into real estate isn't usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage.  The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can't fix up their own marriage.  There's a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can't seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place.  Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment's only bathroom, and you've got the worst group of hostages in the world. 

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be.  And all of them -- the bank robber included -- desperately crave some sort of rescue.  As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next. 

Humorous, compassionate, and wise, Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope -- the things that save us, even in the most anxious of times.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Anxious People tells the story of a bunch of idiots, a botched bank robbery, a singular apartment viewing, an unusual hostage situation, an aging rabbit, and the bridge that connects them.  I'm not going to get into all that though -- too many spoilers. The chapters alternate between different characters' perspectives of the events in and near the apartment, background and side stories, as well as a series of interviews between the released hostages and the two police officers tasked with getting to the bottom of things.  Taken as a whole, the plot is a bit of a hot mess, but it's also quite an adventure.

There is a lot to love about this book, but I'm going to start with the lows and end on the highs, so let's just dive right in.  First, the plot had several twists of varying depths and intensity, but I felt like I saw the biggest ones coming from the very beginning.  I won't go into any detail, but they seemed so painfully obvious to me that if it weren't for the meant-to-be-dramatic 'reveals' later on, I'm wouldn't have been certain they were twists.  Second, the narration is third-person omniscient and, though I loved the narrator's 'voice', it often broke the fourth wall and addressed the reader directly posing certain philosophical questions which I found distracting. Finally, the narrator and the characters often careened off on conversational tangents.  I suspect this was an intentional, stylistic move by the author, but one that my tired mom brain had a hard time following, although it did create some get-on-with-it tension that kept me furiously flipping pages. 

Now, on to the highs.  Fredrik Backman is the king of character driven writing. At least, it feels like that to me.  I've read and reviewed a few of his other novels, namely A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie was Here, and both are filled with well-crafted, uniquely relatable and oddly loveable characters.  If you've read Ove, you'll understand what I mean when I say that while not many of Backman's characters feel particularly endearing at the outset; most are complete wrecks.  And yet somehow, by the end, you are half in love with all of them -- even the crochety ones.  Backman orchestrates this massive shift in a way that feels organic, by first presenting his characters at 'face-value' and allowing the reader to make their own assumptions.  Then he begins dropping crumbs of backstory or placing the characters in situations that show them in a different light.  Anxious People is simply brimming with these unexpected revelations and as the reader comes to more fully see and understand these characters, they can't help but see the good in even the most unlikeable ones.

Fredrik Backman's writing is full of delightfully dry humor, but is also surprisingly insightful, tender, and compelling.  The author writes broken and struggling in a way that helps the reader empathize with almost every situation, even if it is far from their personal experience.  I also loved the ending -- it warmed me all the way down to my toes -- and the unexpected connections between the characters, but my favorite part of Anxious People is the overarching message of compassion and empathy for others.  To show what I mean, I'd like to share a few excerpts from the beginning...and then the end of the book.  It will be in italics below, so you can skip it if you like, but I promise it won't "spoil" anything.

At the beginning:  

We don't have a plan, we just do our best to get through the day, because there'll be another one coming along tomorrow....Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn't feel like it's ours.  Sometimes we panic, because the bills need paying and we have to be grown-up and we don't know how, because it's so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being grown-up. 

Because everyone loves someone, and anyone who loves someone has had those desperate nights were we lie awake trying to figure out how we can afford to carry on being human beings.  Sometimes that makes us do things that seem ridiculous in hindsight, but which felt like the only way out at the time....

At the end: 

The truth?  The truth about all this?  The truth is that this was a story about many different things, but most of all about idiots.  Because we're doing the best we can, we really are.  We're trying to be grown-up and love each other and understand how the hell you're supposed to insert USB leads.  We're looking for something to cling on to, something to fight for, something to look forward to.  We're doing all we can to teach our children how to swim.  We have all of this in common, yet most of us remain strangers, we never know what we do to each other, how your life is affected by mine.  

Perhaps we hurried past each other in a crowd today, and neither of us noticed, and the fibers of your coat brushed against mine for a single moment and then we were gone.  I don't know who you are. ...

I don't know about you, but those passages make me feel seen and they inspire me to be more intentional about trying to see others.  The entire story is a timely, gentle reminder that everyone we meet is dealing with their own issues, insecurities, and anxiety and that we must make the effort to understand others and find common ground.  

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: A handful of swear words. Some discussion of situations like divorce, depression, infidelity, anxiety, and suicide that might be triggering.  Two of the female characters are in a committed relationship.  Some vague discussion of and reference to intimacy.

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Shadows - Alex North


Summary: 
You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile--always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet--and inspired more than one copycat.


Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree--and his victim--were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It's not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there's something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn't just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again... (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Here’s the deal—I read a lot of books like this. I feel like if you’re into crime books, or even just one of those people who reads the most popular books and bestsellers at the time, you’ve probably seen this book. I feel like I don’t make it a point to read all of those because I pretty much know what I’ll get—the middle of the road not-too-bad but also not-too-great reading that is pretty interesting and catching enough that everyone will read it. They’re gateway drugs to the genre, books like these. You can read them without being totally committed to actually reading crime novels. They’re not as violent or shocking as, say, Jo Nesbo, but they’ll give you a thrill and your crime fix.

So that’s pretty much what we’ve got here. Alex North’s book The Whisper Man came out and was read by a lot of people. You can read my review here. It was decent and creepy, and so of course this is a natural follow-up. If you like one book you’ve picked up from an author, chances are you’ll like another one as well. That is why I picked this one up, but also because I’ve seen it a lot and it seemed like my kind of deal. I like crime books, and I like it when they take a little bit of a magical realism jump. Just on the edge of reality and not. Or maybe sometimes really on the edge.

 I wanted to like this book a lot. It definitely had some things going for it: creepy kids (there’s nothing creepier than creepy kids AmIRight?), altered states of reality, unexplained murder scenes, sparse details, etc. On paper it looked like it had a lot going for it. In reality, it was somewhat jumbled. There were concepts that were brought up but not really fully executed. I felt like it was confusing at times and also just under-delivered. I think maybe this is because North took on too much—there were a lot of elements to this story, and different characters in different places (and in different timelines, too)—and he just wasn’t able to pull it off. I don’t know if this would have been fixed if the story had been longer, but it’s almost like there were a couple of ideas going on and because of that none of them was executed as well as they could have been. That’s never a good sign, ya know? If a book is too jumbled and confusing, it just isn’t a pleasurable read. One of the things I like about crime books, especially mass market ones like this, is that they are easy and somewhat mindless to read. I can check out of my real life and dial into this alternate reality. No big commitments, no big decisions, no big deals, just check in and check out. I didn’t find myself really eager to get back to this book, and that’s a bad sign for me. Normally I’d read something like this in a day or two. But because it was disjointed, the pressure to ReadReadRead wasn’t there, and for me. Since that is one of the biggest reasons I picked the The Shadows in the first place, that’s a problem. I’m not expecting it to blow me away with its stellar writing or deep thoughts and life-changing insights. I just want to be entertained. If I’m confused and not that invested, I might as well move along to something else.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and violence in this book, some of it directed at children. If you read crime books, you’ll be fine.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Freeform Friday: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky - Kwame Mbalia

Summary: Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves? (summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: Okay, first off, I have to state that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I love stories that talk about the importance and power of stories: how they can heal, how they can help you survive, how they are so vital.  It always gets me.  So this book hit all those notes, as it is full of folklore and the act of stories and storytellers saving the day.

Tristan is a cool kid, and he's a well-rounded character too.  He doubts himself, he can get angry really quick, he cares for others.  He's also a typical seventh grader just trying to make it day by day, especially after the death of his best friend, and how he felt he failed him.  That's a lot of weight for a kid.

The folkloric characters Tristan meets in MidPass are great.  Some I'd heard of, like John Henry, Brer Rabbit, and Anansi, while others I hadn't, like the character of High John and Gum Baby among others.  And,oh boy, Gum Baby was hilarious.  Her jabs and jives and sticky attitude were always a high spot in a tale that was full of danger and deceit, keeping a light filter where it could easily get really dark.

The adventure scenes are so fun, and I just felt for poor Tristan as he is thrust into one danger after another, completely confused and having to totally wing it, but with each trial, you start to see him start to come into his own as an Anansesem, a storyteller, and using that gift to help his friends and help the whole world of Alke overcome a creepy darkness that is devouring their world.  And he does it through the power of stories.

(Also, I'd like to give kudos to Rick Riordan for using his platform to highlight these stories and get them out into the world.  I've already read a handful in this 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, all by different authors whose stories are able to reach a wider market.  It's awesome to read stories about cultures by the people who live in those cultures.)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Tristan is thrown into plenty of danger, and characters are constantly in peril, and some die. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Damned - Renée Ahdieh (The Beautiful series, #2)

The Damned is the second book in The Beautiful series.  You can read our reviews of the first book here and here.

Summary: Following the events of The Beautiful Sébastien Saint German is  no longer human.  Like the rest of The Fallen, Bastien is now cursed to walk the earth forever, hungry for blood. And after breaking the tenuous peace his uncle had brokered with the Brotherhood, promising never to bring another vampire into New Orleans, war between the Fallen and the Brotherhood seems imminent.  But Bastien is too obsessed with his lost humanity to care, and thoughts of Celine - who ensured his life by giving up all her memories of him and any claim on his heart - haunt him. Bastien decides Celine paid too high a price and sets about unmaking himself, intent on finding his way back to her. 

Celine, meanwhile, recovering from the attack on her life, is still gravely troubled by the events of a night she struggles to remember, and she can't help feeling that everyone is lying to her about what happened.  What, at last, she crosses paths with Bastien, now a stranger to her, she feels an inexplicably intense emotional reaction to him that leaves her bewildered by desire.  As Celine tries to puzzle out her connection to Bastien, one she knows he felt too, forces lurking in the shadows finally strike out, threatening not only Celine and Bastien's relationship, but their lives.  This next chapter in The Beautiful series is as perilous and romantic as the first.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I read The Beautiful several months ago and thoroughly enjoyed the lush setting and headstrong heroine, Celine Rousseau.  It ended with a cliffhanger and I was nothing short of utterly compelled to pick up the second book at the earliest opportunity. The Damned begins soon* after the night when Celine gave up her memories of Bastien in order to save his life. Both Celine and Bastien narrate the story, but the perspective flits between other narrators as well.  The Damned focuses more on Bastien's character than the first, which makes sense considering the evolution of his character.  It felt like the author was taking turns, with the first book centering on Celine and the second on Bastien.  It's likely that later books could focus on another character entirely, but I imagine Celine and Bastien's story will always remain central.  As the story unfolds it becomes clear that there is far more to Celine than is evident in the first book and the setting expands into a more than just New Orleans. I can't say that I completely loved the new turn of events, but it did add a sort star-crossed lovers quality to Celine and Bastien's relationship.  

I didn't like The Damned as much as I liked The Beautiful, but there were aspects of the book that I enjoyed.  From a superficial aspect, I loved the gorgeous street map of New Orleans on the inside of the front cover.  And this may seem cruel to the character, but I kind of liked that Celine lost her memories.  It set the romance between her and Bastien back a little bit, drew things out, and allowed time for a little love triangle to develop.  And, yeah, it was kind of a lukewarm love triangle, I still appreciated the romantic tension it brought to the story.  Speaking of romantic tension, I was totally 'shipping' Pippa and Arjun and I cannot be the only one.  Their interactions were relatively brief but absolutely brimming with love/hate chemistry.  Pippa, in general has a lot of potential for development and I would love to hear more of her story.  Celine is a very strong character and I loved how Bastien acknowledges Celine's strength and her ability to make her own decisions.  I appreciated the moral message behind Bastien's story, but didn't care much for the cliffhanger at the end of the book.  I have grown so used to Ahdieh's duologies that I just assumed The Beautiful and The Damned were one of them. I was wrong.  There is more to the story and that is problem for me, because I won't be continuing to read the series.  

Alas, it felt like it took forever to finish this book.  Perhaps it's because I am homeschooling half my crew right now and can't seem to squeeze much reading into in the tiny breaks I manage to steal.  It could be because I have a pretty awesome line-up of books waiting in the wings.  Whatever the reason, I just did not feel as invested in the story as the previous  novel. I was also disappointed by the increase in sexual situations that painted a far clearer mental picture than I would personally feel comfortable recommending to teens.  I know that makes me sound like an old lady, but there you have it. Unfortunately, with the sensitive reader issues and my lack of investment in the story, I have no plans to continue reading the series.

*Okay, so I don't actually remember how long after it was and I've already returned the book.  It wasn't immediately after and it wasn't months later.  

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swear words, including at least two F words.  Brief mentions of two separate characters same-sex orientation.  Several moderately detailed sexual situations.

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