Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

Title: The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Rating: ★★★

The Last Best Kiss is not my usual type of novel. I went through high school, I dealt with high school drama, and it’s just not my favorite thing to read about. I gave The Last Best Kiss a change, though, because I felt like LaZebnik had the potential to write a novel with a lot of character growth. In the end, I liked the novel and found the character growth to be really well done.

Anna first meets Finn in 9th grade, when Finn is part of her carpool. He’s the nerdy boy who always has an interesting picture to share with her. She’s more on the popular side of things and is in that awkward stage of life where she wants her friends to like her, but she’s unsure if they’ll like the person she’s becoming. It’s an awkward age to be and her nerves are really well written. Anna and Finn develop a relationship, but she’s always a little shy of introducing Finn to her friends as the guy she likes. Her wariness costs her the relationship with Finn, one of the best things to happen to her. He moves away, but she can’t stop thinking about him. When he moves back their senior year of high school, she’s given the chance to make things right.

I actually really enjoyed Anna as a character, more than I thought I would. Her 9th grade self is exactly who I thought she’d be. She concerned with how others view her and wants to make people like her, even if it’s not her they actually like. Four years later, as a senior, she’s a lot more comfortable in who she is. She’s found her talent in drawing and doesn’t put as much stock in how others view her. She’s found a peace with who she is and has friends who accept her, quirks and all.

Finn, while adorable, wasn’t really my thing. He’s fine as a character, maybe just a touch too perfect, but he’s really the catalyst for Anna’s change. He’s sweet and provides a bit of levity and teen romance to the novel. He fits in nicely with the story, but in the end, I felt as though he’s a replaceable character. He helped with character development, but he wasn’t a fully developed character in his own right, in my opinion.

I found the plot of the novel really did a good job of showing Anna’s growth. It was easy to see her unease with herself as a newcomer in high school. Her priorities were fitting in and trying to keep from sticking out in a wrong way. It cost her a relationship she found happiness in, and that forced her to change. Her priorities have changed by the time she’s a senior. Reading as she tries to reconcile her actions in the past with the person she is now was a very real portrayal of how people grow and change with time. In that respect, it was a wonderful novel.

I did have problems with Finn becoming dateable only because he didn’t fit the “nerd” image stereotype anymore, as well as a few other issues with the book, but overall it was a nice read. This definitely has to be you “type” of book, but if a sweet high school romance is your kind of novel, this is a book to pick up.

If The Last Best Kiss sounds like your kind of novel, you can purchase it here:
Barnes and Noble

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog Series
Rating: ★★★★

The time period between the First World War and the second has always fascinated me. The environment that Hitler had in order to make his rise to power had to be just right. Prisoner of Night and Fog looks at pre-World War II Germany through the life of one of the Nazi Party’s girls. She’s held in high regard because her father died for Hitler. She’s never questioned what her father was fighting for. That all changes when she learns that the story of her father’s death might not be the truth.

Gretchen has always believed in Hitler and his ideals. Her father died to protect him, so she sees no reason to think Hitler’s wrong. She’s not quite like other Nazi’s though. She still has compassion, and that gets her in trouble one evening. When a Jewish reporter sees her try to stop her brother from beating a Jew, he begins to reach out to her. He claims the story she’s been told about her father’s death is wrong. She doesn’t want to believe him, but when things start pointing her towards the truth, she questions all the beliefs she’s grown up with.

I enjoyed Gretchen’s character. I’ll admit that I was worried. How can you take a person who so strongly believes in what Hitler talks about and make her likable? Or if she’s really that ignorant, why should we think she’s trustworthy? But Blankman pulled it off. She made Gretchen just ignorant enough, just compassionate enough, that her transformation from Hitler’s pet to Hitler’s despised felt real. It was clear that she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel about Daniel. In the beginning, it was clear that she believed Hitler’s statements about the Jews. She had grown up being told they were horrible and subhuman. But when she sees that’s not really true, she has to reexamine everything she’s thought.

Daniel was fantastic. It’s clear that he knows Gretchen’s thoughts can’t change overnight, but his belief that she needs to know the truth makes him stick with her. He starts to change her mind about the Jewish population, proving that Hitler is wrong. When he exposes just how deep Hitler’s hatred goes, it’s a shock to Gretchen, but Daniel waits until she can come to terms with everything she’s learning about. He’s strong and wants to fight what’s coming in the best way he knows how.

I was fully engaged in the plot. There was history mixed with new characters. Seeing Germany struggle and how Hitler took advantage of that was really interesting. Not only that, but to see Gretchen have her dreams and goals, yet also see them fall apart right in front of her broke my heart.

I’m incredibly happy the story isn’t over yet. Gretchen and Daniel still have so much to do and so many stories left. This series will definitely be one I watch. The history was what made me pick Prisoner of Night and Fog up, but the characters are what kept me reading.

If Prisoner of Night and Fog sounds like your kind of novel, you can purchase it here:
Barnes and Noble

Thank you to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy
Rating: ★★★★★

Okay. I had to sleep on this review. I couldn’t pull my thoughts together enough after finishing the novel. My jaw was on the floor and my head was a mess. In the best way, of course. The Winner’s Curse is a book I never thought I needed to read. I wasn’t sure Rutkoski could make me feel the relationship between slave and owner was a real one. There’s so many ways it could have felt wrong, but it never did.

Kestrel is the daughter of the general’s daughter. She’s part of the town’s elite, but that doesn’t mean she is treated differently than other people. She must either join the military or marry. She doesn’t want to do either. On a whim, she purchases a slave one day. This goes against everything she feels is right, as she’s one of the few people in the city that feels like owning people isn’t right. But Arin, called Smith in the beginning, comes to her home and the two form an odd relationship. Arin is not what he seems and in him, Kestrel finds someone she doesn’t have to hide from.

Kestrel was an amazing character. She’s not a fighter. She’s a strategist. Her abilities with weapons go about as far as protection, but she’s able to strategize and analyze situations better than most people. She’s not a boy-crazy teen. She sees through flirtations and knows her feelings on the people she’s grown up with. She begins to doubt herself when Arin challenges her feelings and beliefs. Despite not being as confident in herself as she was in the beginning, she never loses the belief that she can accomplish whatever she needs to. She is constantly strategizing and figuring out her next best move.

Arin is just as amazing. He’s definitely not what he seems, but it provides his character the ability to change. He’s a slave, a resident of the city from before the people were conquered and either killed or sold. He has harbored an anger and resentment towards the people who reduced his people to slaves for 10 years. I did have a hunch about his role in the novel, but that didn’t make me love him any less. His growth from the time Kestrel buys him to the end of the novel is fantastic. I really can’t say much about why I love his character so much without giving away events of the novel, but I can’t wait to read more about him.

This novel has twists and turns all the time. Just when I thought I had things figured out, something new was thrown in the mix that left me reeling or picking my jaw off the floor. Like my hunch with Arin, I had thought I knew how the story would go. I was right about some things, but Rutkoski threw me for a loop at times. I was on the edge of my seat. I didn’t want the novel to end, but when it did, I was shocked and needing more.

The Winner’s Curse is one of the best world-building books I’ve read. You’re thrown right into the action, but never feel like an outsider. The characters are fantastic and the growth from the beginning of the novel to the end was superb. Rutkoski has an amazing series on her hands and I’m really looking forward to reading what comes next for Kestrel and Arin.

If The Winner’s Curse sounds like your kind of novel, you can purchase it here:
Barnes and Noble

Review: The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston

Title: The Midnight Witch
Author: Paula Brackston
Rating: ★★★★

Brackston is no stranger to writing witch novels. She’s set one in the 17th and 19th century, and now she tackles the time around World War I. I think Brackston’s writing style is one that you definitely have to like, but she can write an amazing novel. The Midnight Witch took a little while to get going, but once it did, I couldn’t put it down.

Lilith is the daughter of the 6th Duke of Radnor. Her father is also the Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. When he dies, Lilith’s brother becomes the 7th Duke of Radnor, and she becomes the Head Witch. From the beginning, her reign in challenged. People aren’t sure if a young female can truly lead the coven. But she has support and eventually gains the respect of the other witches. At the same time she’s learning how to lead, a group of sorcerers are trying to get the Elixir, the secret the Lazarus coven protects. She’s also learning what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. With the threat of war looming, Lilith must learn how to balance all areas of her life before everything she works to protect is gone.

I like Lilith. She knew what she wanted, and even though she had moments of self-doubt, she never backed down when she knew her choice was right. She’s up against great odds, in all areas of her life, but she tries to keep that from overwhelming her. She learns to balance her duties and her desires well. She’s not the typical woman of the time and she knows what it’s time to adjust her ways of thinking to fit the times.

Bram, the love interest, wasn’t my favorite, but he wasn’t horrible. He was devoted and hopelessly in love, even if it felt like it happened a little fast. This might be because we don’t get to see all of their interactions before they declare love, so it didn’t bother me too much. Louis, the man Lilith is engaged to, isn’t too bad either. It’s easy to see how much he loves and cares for her. They’ve grown up together and that’s given him the time to develop feelings for her. It’s clear to see both men will help Lilith in whatever way they can, whenever she needs them.

The storyline was interesting. It started a little slow, with a lot of set-up taking place. I can appreciate it, but it still felt a little slow. Once things began happening, however, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know what was going to happen next and there was never an easy time to stop. There was always a reason for me to keep reading.

Brackston has another great book on her hands with The Midnight Witch. It might take a little while to get into it, but once you get drawn in, it’s hard to break away. The Midnight Witch takes on a different tone than her other novels, but it’s still just as wonderful.

If The Midnight Witch sounds like your kind of novel, you can purchase it here:
Barnes and Noble

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.