Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Quick Picks ~ This Week's Top 3 Reads

Witches, troublemakers, and choices...oh my!

From a waitress and pop-star love story, to a tale of prophecies and magic, this past week has been filled with books that captured my attention and imagination.

Today I'm bringing three of these to your attention: The Black Witch by Laurie ForestWhen It's Real by Erin Watt, and If There's No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

All three novels had something to offer and I hope they will intrigue you, entertain you, and above all have you falling in love with them just as much as I did.

A big thank you to Harlequin Publishing Australia for sending me these copies to review.

Let's get listing!

#1: The Black Witch

The Black Witch
By Laurie Forest

Genre(s)Fantasy, YA, Magic, Paranormal
ImprintHarlequin Teen
Pub Date: June 2017
Page(s): 601
Price: $14.99 (AUD)

Rating4.4 out of 5 stars

One sentence summary: The granddaughter of a powerful witch, despite having no magical abilities, must navigate the treacherous halls of a paranormal university in order to pursue her dreams.

Best part(s): There is something so compelling about unique elements in fantasy novels - regardless of whether they utilise tropes or plot devices that we've seen before. Unique elements can refresh concepts like 'magical schools/universities' and 'prophecies', bringing a new perspective to the table. Despite having read many a YA novel about magic-less descendants of beings of immense power, I was intrigued by The Black Witch's blurb and what it seemed to offer. What were Icarals? Who were the Gardnerian people? From the blurb alone, I wanted to know more.

The Black Witch is to be commended for drawing you in from the very first page. And nope, that's not a figure of speech - the first page set the stage for some really interesting plot points and mysteries that slowly unfurled as you continued. I liked that the book didn't need a 'settling in' period, and that I was able to commit to it from the get-go. It was well paced from the start and came with a cast of characters who were equally entertaining and flawed, as characters should be.

A small little sidetrack: I wanted to briefly address a point that has come up in the reviewing of this book for many of my fellow bloggers and reviewers.

Despite hearing about the 'controversy' surrounding themes such as racism and prejudice in The Black Witch, I didn't find anything. Not a hint. Instead, I found careful handling of the issues by an author who wasn't afraid to give a voice to the problems that plague us as a society in real life.

People seem to believe that when an author includes racist characters (or generally terrible human beings) in their books, that they are condoning or, worse, promoting the actions of these characters. There are rare cases where this is true, and horrible for all involved. However, nothing could be further from the truth in The Black Witch - it is setting a stage to make a point. To quote the book itself: "People see what they expect to see (...) through a filter of their own hatred and prejudice." It is sending a message that there is a problem with racism and prejudice and it is not ok.

In my opinion, The Black Witch provides some much-needed commentary on prejudice, its origins, and the impact it has on society. And whether you agree with my opinion, or not, one piece of advice stands true: decide for yourself. Alot of my fellow bloggers and reviewers have stressed this point, as have I, over the years and it's especially important when it comes to books that are 'controversial'. Before making a snap judgement about a book, read it. Make up your own mind before joining in the conversation. Don't just take people's opinions as law.

As the reviewer Bentley @ Bookbastion.net wrote in his review: "You owe it to your followers to acknowledge when the content/theme/or plot of a book was too offensive for you personally, to fully evaluate the literary aspects of the book with any degree of objectivity." Therefore I wanted to let you guys know that though some parts of the book were harrowing and emotional, I personally was able to get through them and thought they added to the overall message that these issues are problematic and should not be condoned. 

Aaaand (now that my mothering moment is over lol!) back to the plot!

The plot itself was really nicely pieced together and, as I mentioned earlier, well paced. There was a good balance of information and plot movement, and very few 'information dumps' for the reader which is always nice in fantasy.

Elloren's character growth was another treat in The Black Witch and I truly hope that she (and the other characters) continue to evolve in The Iron Flower and any future books in The Black Witch Chronicles. I'm looking forward to the next leg of Elloren's journey and more of Laurie Forest's brilliant storytelling!

Least favourite part(s): I loved this book but (if I want to be fussy!) there were times when some things came a little to easily to our heroine or the other characters in this book - whether it was 'sensing' how another person felt or what they were thinking, or coming to convenient conclusions that furthered their character development or the plot.

These instances didn't take away from the book per se, but they did lessen the believability or realism of some of the more pivotal moments. However, overall, the book was a truly enjoyable read.

Find out more about the book & add it your Goodreads bookshelf today! 

'There are assorted side characters, too: the beautiful Gardnerian maidens with their long black hair; wicked Lupine shapeshifters—half-human, half-wolf; green-scaled Snake Elves; and the mysterious Vu Trin sorceresses. They’re characters from the storybooks and songs of my childhood, as familiar to me as the old patchwork quilt that lies on my bed.'


#2: When It's Real

When It's Real
By Erin Watt

YA, Romance, Contemporary

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pub Date: June 2017
Page(s): 413
Price: $14.99 (AUD)

Rating3.9 out of 5 stars

One sentence summaryA bad boy pop star requires an image overhaul and a fake girlfriend, and a part-time waitress just might be the solution to both.

Best part(s)I'm a sucker for romance! I've been honest about this in the past lol and it bears repeating: sometimes you're just in the mood for a feel-good read.

You know how it's gonna end. You know there's gonna be a conflict at the three-quarter mark where the two lovebirds will have a falling out. And you know the bad boy will have a repertoire of witty remarks, 50% if which will make you swoon. But it doesn't matter how predictable it is because you love the 'tale as old as time' and how entertaining it can be when the right writer is at the helm.

When It's Real was so, so good. I will admit that I went into with very little in the way of expectations, but was surprised by the imaginative spins on the 'popstar romance' story. The text messages were adorable (I especially love Vaughn's responses to Oakley's songwriting skills!) and their chemistry didn't seem overly forced, with a base of camaraderie that made their eventual romance a little more realistic.

Overall, I think the best part about When It's Real is its underlying message and the way the story forced both of its characters to reassess their priorities and the importance of being genuine when it comes to relationships in and out of the public eye. 

Least favourite part(s): W. What a loser!! Every time I read about him I internally cringed - especially the way he treated Vaughn at times. Let's just say that he definitely will not be up for the 'Book Boyfriend of 2017' award!

Find out more about the book & add it to your Goodreads bookshelf today!

'I can't maintain eye contact anymore, because I don't have a different idea. I rub my throat and wonder how I lost my mojo. If pretending to date a girl I don't know, who doesn't like me, gets it back, then I'll be the best boyfriend that this chick has ever had.

Which can't be hard considering her current one is named 'W'.'


#3: If There's No Tomorrow

If There's No Tomorrow
By Jennifer L. Armentrout

Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Romance

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pub Date: September 2017
Price: $14.99 (AUD)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One sentence summary: A young woman faces her senior year with mixed emotions, but everything is turned upside down when a single choice, a single moment, changes the importance of tomorrow.

Best part(s): The goddess has returned!!! Cue the celebratory music!!! J. L. Armentrout is known for bringing us brilliantly pieced together YA, emotional moments to sob over, and swoonworthy men (and yep, If There's No Tomorrow has all three!). I was so happy to see that she'd written a standalone, not because I didn't want a new series, or a continuation of an existing one, but because I was so excited to see what new ideas she had in store.

If There's No Tomorrow is built around the idea that a single choice can shape your tomorrow, and the tomorrow of others. That our choices can bring us a range of emotions, from guilt to grief, and they can turn a situation or a relationship on its head. If There's No Tomorrow makes readers take a second look at their own actions, making them think about whether or not mistakes are trials, or lessons. Whether they are things to cry over, or moments to learn from in order to make wiser choices moving forward.

Lena's own 'choice' that sends her spiralling is one that is so complex, as most choices are. I think one of the highlights of the book for me was the way J. L. wrote the impact of this choice - the way Lena took the choice and gave it a life of its own. No spoilers, but Lena's guilt feeds the choice, turning it into something she uses as a shield, a sword, a wall...a defence against change and facing the consequences. In her mind, she knew what others thought, what they would say, how they would react. She burned so many bridges by allowing herself to wallow in the choice, instead of moving on.

The theme of this book, 'moving on', was explored well and was very nuanced. There was no 'miracle cure' to Lena's grief and guilt, or for anyone else's. There was no turning back time, or redo, no High School Musical-esque reunion. Instead there was a gradual process of healing, with realistic bumps and sidetracks.

All in all If There's No Tomorrow made me smile, it made me cry, and it made me swoon over yet another one of J.L. Armentrout's fictional males (honestly at this point I'm pretty much in love with every single one she's written lol). 

Least favourite part(s): I have a love-hate relationship with the whole 'two people love each other but for some reason aren't together' thing (*cough* La La Land *cough*). I get that it's a part of the plot but it hurts my little bookworm heart! :(

Find out more about the book & add it to your Goodreads bookshelf today!

'"You're delusional!" I swung my arm out.

He was wicked fast, catching my wrist effortlessly. (...) I tried to yank my arm free, but he pulled me forward at the same time, and I was off balance. (...) We were eye to eye. Except he wasn't staring at my eyes.

At least it didn't seem that way. It felt like his gaze was focused on my mouth, and my stomach hollowed. Time seemed to stop and I became aware of every part of him that was touching me.

(...) "I'm delusional?" he asked, voice raspy.
I shivered. "Yes."'


Which book will you be adding to your TBR? Have you read any standout books this week?

Let me know in the comments below!

Although I was provided with a review copy by the author and/or publisher, all opinions expressed in the this post are purely my own. To find out more, please visit my disclaimer page.

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