YA Romance Reviews

THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER by Melida Salisbury –Dark YA Fantasy

sin eater
Image from Amazon.com

This YA debut left me spellbound. The cover of THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER encapsulates both character and concept. Twylla is trapped–bound by duty and myth to her country’s castle. Destined to be queen, Twylla is also poison–her skin enough to kill anyone unfortunate enough to touch her. That is, except for the prince.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads.com:

I am the perfect weapon.
I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it’s price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…

This novel’s high concept hooked me immediately, but it was Twylla herself that reeled me in. Conflicted by a duty assigned to her by fate and what she feels is right, Twylla is an incredibly complex character. And she isn’t the only one. The prince, the queen, and Twylla’s guard, Lief are each revealed to have incredible depth.

The play of imagery in this book and feast of the senses draws the reader deep into Twylla’s opulent and twisted world. Salisbury’s world-building reaches wide in terms of geography and deep in terms of history. She’s thought the fabric of this society through, its enemy kingdom upholding a different mythology, history, and set of values.

Twylla’s guard, Leif, is from that kingdom–a place that questions the traditions Twylla and her people have stubbornly held up for centuries. Through the course of the book, Twylla opens up to seeing both the world and herself from a completely different perspective. Salisbury achieves this transition in her character masterfully.

Check out Melinda Salisbury’s website for more on this author and her books!

Michelle Joyce Bond


Beta Readers: Do You Have Them?

imageOne of the most surprising things I heard at this summer’s RWA Conference was from a panel of published YA authors who said they did not have any teenagers as beta readers.  I still think about this because, though I do have critique partners and beta readers, I don’t haven any teenagers reading my books…yet.  

Yes, there are a significant amount of adults who read YA–including me–and adult beta readers are great for giving feedback on how that audience will see the book.  However, I don’t want to rely on adults alone when my primary audience would be younger.  A younger beta reader might bring something up an adult would never think of because they aren’t immersed in that culture anymore.  I don’t mean slang and fashion because we want our books to have a timeless quality, but I want to make sure my characters act and think like authentic teens.

The problem an author runs into here is the same problem they have with adult beta readers, and that is: “Who can I trust with my book?”  I love hearing stories of authors with teenage children who are a wealth of information and inspiration.  I also love hearing about teenagers who writers and trade with their friends.  I’m not lucky enough to be in either of these situations, but I do have teenagers in my extended family who I might begin with.  It’s just a matter of being brave enough to ask. 🙂

Whatever you write–do you have beta readers?  If so, are they close to you?

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles — Best Opposites Attract Novel EVER

Image from Amazon.com

Oh my god–read this book now!  Last week, I attended the Romance Writer’s of America Conference in NYC where I was surrounded by wonderful books and authors who wrote them (will blog soon!), but I couldn’t touch a single book until finished PERFECT CHEMISTRY.  This super hot opposites attract novel actually made NJ Transit fun.

Here is the summary from Amazon.com:

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for–her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

I’m going to start where I finished with this book, and that’s by reading the Acknowledgements section in the back.  There, Elkeles thanks several people who helped her research so that she might add believable Spanish and Mexican culture to her book.  This makes this story especially believable and lends incredible authority to her hero, Alex a.k.a. Alejandro Fuentes, a boy from the other side of the tracks with a good heart who joined a gang to protect his family.  He is intelligent and has college potential but has given up his long-ago hope for a better life, feeling he is already in too deep to ever break free.

Brittany Ellis comes from an incredibly wealthy but broken family.  Her father is a workaholic, her mother has anxiety and obsesses over perfection, and Brittany struggles to protect a sister who has cerebral palsy.  On the outside, Brittany has the best clothes, the best car, and the perfect life, but inside, she’s falling apart.  Pressure from her mother to obtain impossible standards and pressure she puts on herself to care for her sister in order to avoid her being sent away is just too much.  Soon, something will have to give.

When Alex and Brittany are paired as lab partners, each judges the other based on surface appearances.  Each seems disgusted with the other, but there is a spark of attraction obvious to the students around them.  The secondary characters in this book constantly warn Alex and Brittany against a doomed relationship, even when Alex and Brittany themselves are not yet ready to accept their own attraction.  I found this rather interesting–that their friends could see how much they wanted each other even when they were in strict denial.

As Alex and Brittany grow closer, they see past the armor and find they have a lot more in common than they originally imagined.  They are both fundamentally good people, trapped within their roles.  As things heat up between them, the plot thickens.  Of course, both Alex and Brittany care deeply for one or more members of their family.  This makes it impossible to extract themselves from their world of cemented roles and expectations.  As they try to break out, things only get worse.  Elkeles did a beautiful job of painting her characters into a corner.  Without giving away the ending, I’ll say I was very satisfied with it.  Elkeles really made her protagonists work for their happily ever after.

Check out Simone Elkeles’ webpage to find out more about PERFECT CHEMISTRY and the other books in her Perfect Chemistry Series!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Romance Reviews

THE MIDNIGHT RAKE by Anabelle Bryant — Hot Jersey Author

Image from goodreads.com

My latest read in this tour of hot romance authors from New Jersey is Anabelle Bryant whose latest title, THE MIDNIGHT RAKE kept me up well past the witching hour.

Phineas, a.k.a. Viscount Fenhurst, is so adverse to marriage, he mentally recites an anti-marriage mantra whenever a female threat looms.  However, he is caught completely off guard when he collides with an unexpected houseguest, a beauty who smells of vanilla and sparks a feeling he is unable to dismiss–a passion that will soon consume him.

Penelope has come to London in order to seek out the man who left her waiting at the alter while he robbed her house and took everything of value she had left in the world.  She came under the protection of Phin’s mother, the Countess of Fenhurst, but it is Phin who agrees to help Penelope find her mystery man.  In order to do so, he will need to take her to balls and other social events–places he usually escapes at the first opportunity.  As each night passes by, he grows closer to this innocent beauty, and his carefully constructed walls begin to crumble.  Penelope does not know the trouble she’ll meet, wandering the dark halls in her gossamer night clothes.  Soon this perfect gentle man will become a perfect rake.

This is my first Bryant book but the third in her Three Regency Rogues series.  One of the things I loved best about this book is how perfect Phin and Penelope were for each other from their first encounter…and each heated encounter after that.  🙂  They compliment each other so well that when their happily ever after comes, I can imagine their story continuing well beyond the pages.  Bryant’s complex sentences and word choice enthralled the English teacher in me, and her London settings spilled like paint over the pages.

I hope you enjoy this gorgeous historical!  Here is a link to Anabelle Bryant’s website:


Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

SECOND VERSE by Jennifer Walkup — YA Jersey Author

Image from amazon.com

Next in my series of New Jersey author’s, I’m pleased to present Jennifer Walkup whose romantic YA thriller SECOND VERSE will draw you into the shadows.

When Lange moves with her mom to a 200-year-old farmhouse, she has no clue what chilling history awaits her.  A séance puts Lange in touch with Ginny, a girl who was murdered.  Vaughn, a cute musician from her high school, was holding her hand during the séance.  He, too heard the whispered warning of the ghost, words that will haunt Lange through the rest of the book.

As Lange and Vaughn work to solve the mystery behind who killed Ginny, they draw closer and closer together.  But someone is watching them, a killer bent on using their love against them.  Is possible that the same person who murdered Ginny all those years ago is now after Lange?  Will she be able to outsmart him…or will history repeat itself?

I absolutely loved Walkup’s authentic teen voice which is clear from the banter between Lange and her friends in the very first scene and holds until the end of the book.  Walkup creates a fine web of tension as Lange discovers clue after grizzly clue.  One of the most intriguing things about the book was the title which I believe is a reference to the saying: “Second verse, same as the first.”  This theme ties in not only with the spiritual connection between Lange and Ginny’s characters but also blends in with the presence of music in the book as Vaughn is a talented songwriter.  Don’t miss this eerie YA romance!

Visit Jennifer Walkup’s site for more about SECOND VERSE and news on her new, upcoming title, THIS ORDINARY LIFE!


Michelle Joyce Bond

Romance Reviews

A SPY UNMASKED by Tina Gabrielle — Hot Jersey Author

Image from goodreads.com

Next in this series of incredible New Jersey authors, I’m pleased to present Tina Gabrielle whose historical romance, A SPY UNMASKED, delivers so much more than a smoking hot cover.

Sexy, smart, and laced with historical curiosities, A SPY UNMASKED is multifaceted and beautifully done. As the title hints, our hero has more to him that originally meets the eye…and so does the book.

Robert Ware, a spy in service of her majesty the queen, teams up with Lady Sophia Merrill, the daughter of an inventor, in order to solve the mystery of her father’s murder.  Disguised as a betrothed couple, they infiltrate a secret society of inventors, attending an elaborate, week-long retreat at the odious Lord Delmont’s estate.  Here, the safe-cracking spy and scientific-minded lady hope to uncover the clues they need to expose the killer.

One of my favorite things about this book was the fun Gabrielle had tying in technological and scientific curiosities of the time as well as a budding pre-Victorian spiritualism.  The way she describes events, characters, and settings evokes a neat precision that I really enjoyed in Gabrielle’s writing.  What’s behind the mask?  A romance that’s as smart as it is sexy.

Here is a link to Tina Gabrielle’s website.  Enjoy!


Michelle Joyce Bond


Romance Reviews

THE RIGHT CHORD by RoseAnn DeFranco — Hot Jersey Author

Image from goodreads.com

I’m beginning a new series of posts where I’ll be featuring some incredible romance authors from New Jersey, and I’m pleased to start with RoseAnn DeFranco whose latest title, THE RIGHT CHORD, kept me up late last night. (Super hot–had to finish!!)

DeFranco’s voice immediately leaps off the page.  She loves to stick her characters into humorous situations as well as push them to their limits, presenting them with their greatest dreams and worst fears.

Kit, a talented musician-turned-professor, returns to her home town after falling short of fame in the music industry.  Vince, her ex-boyfriend and super hot handyman, hopes to make a new life for himself and his daughter after his divorce.  Kit is determined to avoid the man who once broke her heart, but when Vince turns out to be her next door neighbor, avoiding him becomes impossible.  In fact, Vince cannot resist her, his rhythm matching hers beat for beat–stroke for stroke in music, in life, and in love.

I read this book first but will definitely go back to pick up the other books in the Audubon Springs Series.   There are so many parts to THE RIGHT CHORD that are laugh out loud enjoyable that I am struggling now not to mention in this post because I don’t want to give them away.  Check out the opening and you’ll see what I’m talking about. 🙂

Here’s a link to her site and her books: http://radefranco.com/books/

Michelle Joyce Bond


Read These Books–OR ELSE!

Or else…you might miss some off the best books you’ll ever read.  The following are a few notable titles I’ve read recently–both YA and adult–that I highly, highly recommend.  Enjoy!

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonI’m absolutely blown away!  This is my third LHA book, and she’s really impressed me with her range as a writer.  The tone of this book is so much more somber and it’s subject matter so much darker than the funny, upbeat Prom, but no matter what LHA writes, her voice remains true to her characters.  A bonus–this book is full of little details that put me right back in high school.  LHA has perfected adolescent cynicism.

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonI’m one of those weirdos who loves to ponder alternate realities, the multiverse, etc., and this book did a beautiful job of illustrating that concept.  Atkinson SHOWS us rather than TELLS us what an array of alternate realities would look like for a character who at times seems to be the center of it all and at others seems to be nothing more than a pebble swept up in the turbulence of change between realities.  If that isn’t enough, this novel doubles as an historical in which Atkinson paints a clear picture of Britain (and at one point, Germany) during WWI and WWII.  We follow Ursula as she dies and is reborn, her character evolving in a way that does not alienate reader but attaches us to the many versions of this girl.  We root for her as she dies again and again, both succumbing to fate and fighting against it.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellA sweet, powerful reminder of what first love is like–especially if you were an outcast. There is 80s nostalgia all over the place, but setting the book in the past just makes the timelessness of this kind of love that much stronger.

I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER by Sophia Kinsella

I've Got Your Number by Sophie KinsellaI actually read this a while ago, but after several Kinsella books, it’s still my favorite.  Blew away Shopaholic. Better premise than The Undomestic Goddess–and that was really good.  Kinsella’s comedic timing improves over the body of her work.  She is laugh out loud funny in a way that will make you gobble up her books in one day. I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER has wave after wave of comedic set up and pay-off–a sexy slap-stick delight!

Stick Figures

To Skim or Not To Skim?

imageBack in the days when I spent my hard-earned, part-time dollars on paperbacks at the old B&N, I read books cover to cover always.  Now that I have less time and virtually limitless access to books both inexpensive and free (oh yeah, the library–what was I thinking?!), I find myself growing impatient with some books.  So, I occasionally succumb to what I once considered a grave insult to the soul of a book.  I skim.

I usually hit the threshold of, “Yup…gonna skim this,” for one of two reasons.  I might find there are no layered plots, new interesting characters (that add to the existing story), or instances of rising tension to carry me along.  It just draaaaags.  Or maybe the book has the opposite problem–a bunch of new characters, settings, and problems drop in seemingly out of nowhere and proceed to bump around like plastic toys in a washing machine–ruining what was a delicately woven story.

When I skim, it’s no more than 10%–I swear!.  I skim for sanity because otherwise I’d take what seemed like a very promising book and hurl it at my backyard gnomes.  My gnomes deserve more respect than that.

I can’t really blame the writers on this–only my own lack of patience.  I’m struggling toward an ending right now that makes me want to chuck my laptop out, too so that it spins end over end before landing happily in a flooded ditch.  I know how hard it can be to first envision a fitting conclusion and then get your characters there without taking a major detour through the Oh-My-God-Where-The-Heck-Is-This-Going Forest.  Still.

Do you skim?  How do you feel about skimmers?  Would you like to throw us in a ditch?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Do We Really Need Happy Endings?

imageHave you ever read a book or watched a movie that was utterly destroyed by its ending?  You follow the characters passionately from beginning to end only to have the floor ripped out from under you in the last five minutes.  As avid consumers of media, we have been raised with an understanding of the tropes of specific genres.  Authors whisper promises to us between the lines, and we feel betrayed when those promises are broken.

We are well trained.

One of our common expectations, in Western literature at least, is to have a happy ending–or at the very least–and ending that is clear cut and lacks ambiguity.  That is not to say that there aren’t plenty of examples of pieces that rally against this and readers/viewers (myself included) that take great pleasure in endings that leave us in a grey zone–a questioning, confused, you’re-on-your-own-Jack zone.  It is up to the reader/viewer to try and answer those questions, and in doing so, ask even bigger ones.

It is the nerdiest and best kind of fun to get inside a piece of art(books/movies) and see how it ticks.  I love finding art that comments on art itself as well as the process of creating it, and best of all, I love finding art that comments on the viewer–that finds a way to take that viewer’s thinking apart as the viewer is taking the art apart.

This is exactly what I found in The Bag Man.  This movie got bad reviews, but I watched it anyway because–hey–I’m obsessed with John Cusak.  As I watched it, I thought I understood why it failed.  The movie was written to comment on scripts–on plot conventions and tropes of the fiction crystallized beautifully in De Niro’s monologue in Room 14 toward the end of the film (which I won’t ruin–just watch it!).  There was also a nifty supernatural layer that made the viewer question whether they were dealing with angels and devils–if only for a brief time.  I surmised the reason most viewers couldn’t connect with this movie was because they couldn’t grasp those layers–that it was a movie more for critics and weirdos like me than for general audiences.

But then I reached the true horror of this film–its ending.

The last five minutes seemed rushed and out of place.  This “happy” ending gave undue closure to what was otherwise a grotesque/beautiful pool of ambiguity that led the viewer to ask questions about our dark hero and how “good” he really is.  THEY SHOULD HAVE LEFT IT!!

I am neither for nor against happy endings.  I love all kinds of endings as long as they fit.  When something is forced in because it is expected…it’s pretty sad.  We remember endings and beginnings best (brain science, baby), so make them count!

Michelle Joyce Bond