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“A breathtaking fantasy set in an extraordinary fairy-tale world, with deceptive twists and an addictively adorable cast who are illusory to the end. Just when I thought I’d figured each out, Sara Ella sent me for another ride. A wholly original story, Unblemished begins as a sweet melody and quickly becomes an anthem of the heart. And I’m singing my soul out. Fans of Once Upon a Time and Julie Kagawa, brace yourselves.” —Mary Weber, award-winning author of the Storm Siren Trilogy
Eliyana can’t bear to look at her own reflection. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world exists where her blemish could become her strength?
Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her like he does: normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.
But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird. Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.
Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?
“Lyrically written and achingly romantic—Unblemished will tug your heartstrings!” —Melissa Landers, author of Alienated, Invaded, and Starflight
“Self-worth and destiny collide in this twisty-turny fantasy full of surprise and heart. Propelled into a world she knows nothing about, Eliyana learns that the birthmark she despises is not quite the superficial curse she thought it was—it’s worse, and the mark comes with a heavy responsibility. Can she face her reflection long enough to be the hero her new friends need? With charm and wit, author Sara Ella delivers Unblemished, a magical story with a compelling message and a unique take on the perils of Central Park.” —Shannon Dittemore, author of the Angel Eyes trilogy
“Unblemished is an enchanting, beautifully written adventure with a pitch-perfect blend of fantasy, realism, and romance. Move this one to the top of your TBR pile and clear your schedule—you won't want to put it down!” —Lorie Langdon, author of the Amazon bestselling DOON series
“Unblemished had me from the first chapter—mystery, romance, and mind-blowing twists and turns that I SO did not see coming! The worlds Sara Ella builds are complex and seamless; the characters she creates are beautifully flawed. Readers are sure to love this book and finish it, as I did, begging for more!” —Krista McGee, author of the ANOMALY trilogy
About the Author
Once upon a time, Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a Disney castle. Now she spends her days throwing living room dance parties for her two princesses, raising her little prince to be a king, and conquering realms of her own imaginings. Oh, and her husband is definitely more swoon-worthy than any Prince Charming. Sara’s Unblemished trilogy has received high praise and multiple awards, but none as rewarding as the love and support she receives from her readers every day. She believes “Happily Ever After Is Never Far Away.”
Connect with Sara online at SaraElla.com, Facebook: WritingHisTruth, Twitter: @SaraEllaWrites, Instagram: SaraEllaWrites, and YouTube: Sara Ella.
Read an Excerpt
By Sara Ella
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Sara E. Larson
All rights reserved.
It can't be true. I've known the news for a week, and still it hits me as if I'm finding out for the very first time.
Elizabeth Ember, Up-and-Coming Artist of the Upper West Side, Dies at 34.
The bold headline on the front of the New York Times obituaries blares up at me, a black-and-white photo of Mom posted beneath. Was it only last month this exact photo adorned another section of the paper? Even with gray skin, her dark hair swept into a messy bun, Mom's organic beauty radiates from the page. Why she hated being photographed, I'll never understand. I flip the paper upside down. When I die, will my portrait grace the news?
Of course not. My face looks as if a toddler scribbled on it with a red Sharpie while I was asleep. No reporter in his right mind would put my picture in the paper. Not unless it was a Halloween edition.
Mom used to sit in the rooftop garden of our brownstone, a cup of hot Earl Grey in her hands, and gaze out over Manhattan. She adored this city for its energy and symphony of cultures. "It's always alive, always moving," she'd said.
Now, every consolation from a complete stranger invites a fresh wave of sobs. My chest heaves with each one, rising and falling like the steady tumult of the Hudson on a stormy day. I drive back the waves with smiles and nods and deep, controlled breaths, all for the sake of appearances. To be the hostess Mom would've been. The one I'll never be.
"I'm so sorry for your loss ..."
"She'll be missed ..."
"It will get better with time ..."
"You know we're all here for you, dear ..."
Nothing more than empty words from phony people who can't even look me in the eye as they give their condolences. Can I blame them? I don't enjoy looking at me. Why should they?
My phone vibrates, dancing along the granite countertop in our — my kitchen. The screen lights up, flashing the name and selfie that hurts and comforts in one ping of mixed emotions.
My fingers curl around the orchid-colored case, squeeze. I asked him to stay away, to give me space. Time. He agreed with a solemn nod, giving me what I wanted.
If it's what I wanted, why do I long to go next door and fall into his arms?
I close my eyes, mentally pushing away the cacophony of voices echoing around our — my home. It doesn't work. This is all just too much.
A sea of catered dishes covers the kitchen island. Nothing offers comfort like platters of prosciutto and tartlets, right? What is this, a cocktail party? And could it be more obvious these people know nothing about me or Mom? Prosciutto? Really? Gag me. I haven't touched meat in ten years, and I'm certainly not going to start now.
Beyond the bar, the sunroom with its large bay window, upright piano, and ornate fireplace is set up as an art gallery. Mom's recently commissioned dealer, Lincoln Cooper, took care of all the details, despite the setback his recent gallery fire caused him. How very noble of him considering he's known us less than a month. Where did he find all these people? Do they even know who they're mourning, or are their sympathies part of the show?
Easels display oil-pastel renderings and watercolor paintings, along with a few of Mom's charcoal sketches. Most of the pieces featured are from her Autumn collection, Lincoln's idea of staying on theme with the current season. He negotiates prices while admirers speak overtly about the tragedy of such a talented artist dying so young.
"What better way to remember Elizabeth than to display and sell her masterpieces at the wake," he'd said with enthusiasm. "Eclectic art is all the rage now."
I nodded my consent, but I knew better. Lincoln Cooper couldn't care less about paying tribute to Mom. He hardly knew her. All he cares about is his big fat commission. And considering he's priced each painting well beyond what Mom would approve of, I don't think he'll have trouble getting what he wants. Sheesh. Maybe this is a cocktail party. Let him have his fun. I only want one painting for myself, along with Mom's sketchbooks.
The essence of her surrounds me. In every brushstroke and ebony pencil rub. In the scent of canvas. In the crinkle of brown paper as Lincoln unwraps a new piece to replace one he's just sold. My lower lip quivers, and I suck it in between my teeth. Mom would want me to be brave now, but how can I be? She'll never again sit on our roof and paint the sun rising over Central Park. Never send me down the block to pick up a new box of pencils from Staples or sketch me while I do my homework.
At once I can't breathe. I'm suffocating, but no one notices. I can't be here anymore. I won't do this. She's not dead. She can't be.
Nausea takes over. I cover my mouth with one hand, bolt from the kitchen. My empty stomach lurches, but I welcome the chance to escape. I shove past the mingling art enthusiasts in the sunroom who turn their attention to me for a moment before I enter the bathroom across the hall. Slam, flip, click. Finally having a moment of privacy and solace, I collapse to the floor, clutch my throbbing head in my hands, and cry.
"Mom ..." Sob. Swipe. Sniff. "Mom, I need you."
"Beneath winter's icy sadness lies spring's blooming joy."
Mom's poetic words breeze across my heart. She was always repeating things like this, urging me to remember them, to write them down.
"Not this time, Mom." Not this time.
I jerk my head up. Hold my breath. If I don't answer, whoever it is will go away eventually.
Tap. Tap, tap, tap, tap —
"Occupied," I call out. "There's another bathroom — "
"El? Are you in there? It's me."
I roll my head back against the door. He's here? He's here.
"Come on." A hint of humor mellows Joshua's tone. "I brought pizza. I know how much you hate fancy hors d'oeuvres."
My stomach rumbles. I've hardly eaten in days. Still, I can't bring myself to budge.
"If you don't come out, I'll start singing."
He wouldn't dare, not with all those people around.
I stand and push the tears away with my palms.
I force myself to look in the mirror, and my heart tumbles to the floor. What did I expect? Crying and mascara streaks would actually help my appearance? I can't let him see me this way.
I've fallen apart in his presence once, and all it brought was more heartache. Never again.
I glance at the door and wait. One, two heartbeats. Footsteps depart. I sigh. Guess he gave up. It's for the best. I'm a wreck.
My gaze returns to my reflection. The strange crimson birthmark winds up the right side of my face in creeping, curling tendrils. Like vines choking my skin. Thorns drawing blood in trickles, permanently staining my complexion.
I'm a monster.
I lift a hand and let it hover there. Now I look almost normal. Too bad I can't walk around this way all the time. Or better yet, wear a paper bag over my head. My only trinket of beauty is the silver treble clef-heart pendant Joshua gave me last spring. The one he made me swear never to take off — a token from a time that will never be again.
I swipe my fingertips beneath my eyelids to extract some of the runny mascara goop. My ombre hair, mocha melting into blonde, hangs in drab sheets to my shoulders. Mom's idea of something wild for senior year, though it just makes me feel as if I'm trying to be someone I'm not. I comb my fingers through my full bangs, the ones I cut to cover my forehead, to help me blend in. Some birthmark covered is better than none covered at all.
The soft picking of guitar strings breaks the silence. A familiar melody floats under the crack beneath the door, cradles my heart, and lifts it off the ground.
Joshua sings out pure and strong. The chords to "Daydream Believer" are the first he taught me to play — G transitioning into A minor, then B minor to C. I could play the song in my sleep. He's not being fair.
More notes. Closer. Louder. His dynamic tenor beckons me as it crescendos at the chorus.
I place a palm on the door. A smile surfaces for the first time in a week. In the three years I've known Joshua, he's never once sung in public. I turn the lock and open the door to a crowd gathered around a boy and his guitar. The boy I love.
No. The realization is a slap in the face. The confession may be internal, for my heart alone, but it's there. Complicating. Everything.
When he finishes the song, everyone applauds. Once they disperse, trickling from the foyer back into the sunroom, Joshua smiles and shrugs in his boyish way.
"I thought you weren't coming," I say to the floor.
"You asked me not to."
My head lifts. "And yet here you are."
He takes a step closer. "Here I am."
The silence between us is easy. Comfortable. The first bout of normalcy I've had since Mom died.
"You didn't think I'd let you deal with these suits alone, did you?" He hitches his thumb over one shoulder, then lays the guitar against the stairs and crosses the hall, closing the remaining distance between us.
"Thank you." The words release on a much-needed exhale. Maybe I misunderstood what happened between us the other night.
"Of course." He smiles and his fingers brush mine. An accident? Aside from the times he had to position my hand on the guitar, Joshua has never initiated physical contact. I search his eyes for some confirmation the touch was intentional.
A throat clears. Joshua shoves the hand that grazed mine into his pocket. The moment, whatever it was, is gone.
An elderly gentleman with a pocket square and a circa-1970s briefcase steps forward, a manila folder tucked beneath his right arm. "Ah, Mr. David. Glad you could make it. I just need your signature on a few more papers."
Joshua glances between me and the man. Scratches the back of his head. His dark hair is a mess, and his black-and-green plaid shirt is rumpled. The disheveled look is out of character for him. "Right." He takes the folder from the man. "Thanks."
My eyebrows pinch. "What's that? Who are you?"
"Forgive me." The man sets down his briefcase and offers a hand. "My name is Wallace Matthews. You must be Eliyana. Elizabeth told me so much about you." I can't help but notice he doesn't meet my eyes. My face.
I cross my arms, not bothering to shake his hand. "Joshua? Do you know this guy?" My eyes don't leave Joshua's stubbled face, but his gaze remains downcast.
"So very sorry," Wallace mumbles, retracting his hand and letting it fall limp at his side. "I am Elizabeth's attorney. And Mr. David here is your legal guardian now." He picks up his briefcase and flips his wrist to check his out-of-date watch. "Strange she never mentioned any of this to you — "
"Is this why you're here?" I snap at Joshua, cutting Wallace off. "Because you have to be?" My expression tightens.
Joshua's cerulean eyes widen and finally lock on mine. "What? Of course not. El — "
"How long have you known?" My words slip through clenched teeth.
He hesitates. "Awhile."
"So all this time we've been friends, it's been a lie?"
"No. We were friends first. It was only a month ago Elizabeth came to me and asked if I'd be willing to take responsibility should something happen to her."
"Responsibility?" My voice quivers. "Are you serious? I'll be eighteen in less than a month. I can take care of myself."
"That isn't quite accurate," Wallace interjects. "Your mother left everything to Mr. David. The home. Her bank accounts. She wanted to ensure you'd be looked after by a responsible adult. Someone who could work and provide while you finish high school and begin college." A lady in a ridiculous black feathered hat taps Wallace on the shoulder with her dragon fingernail and he excuses himself.
Once we're alone again I say under my breath, "You're only three years older than me. How much more responsible can you be?"
"I'm going to take care of you. It's what your mom wanted." He bends the folder and shoves it into his back pocket.
I step back. Shake my head. Why would Mom keep this from me? And why isn't she here so I can ask her?
"El." Joshua reaches for me. "I'm sorry. We should've told you. If it bothers you that much, I'll find someone else to be your guardian. I'll do whatever it takes to make this transition as easy as possible. To make you feel safe. That's all I want."
Someone else. Transition. Easy. Safe. The words blur together as I retreat into the bathroom. Lock the door. Invisibility is the only way I know how to survive. Because if I let him see how much this hurts, if I let him witness the broken heart on my sleeve, he might find someone else to care for me.
Then he'll leave me too.
And there it is. The truth. As much as I hate for him to stay out of guilt or pity or duty, it would be worse to see him go. Mom's death is the hardest thing I've ever endured. If I lost Joshua, too, I don't think I could bear it. I'm not that brave. So I'll do what I'm best at. I'll pretend. If he sees I'm okay, he'll stay.
And I won't have to feel this way ever again.CHAPTER 2
Someone's in my room.
I lie unmoving atop rumpled sheets. Sweat sticks to every crease and pore on my skin, reminding me I fell asleep with the space heater on again. Floorboards whine beneath my intruder's weight. I keep my eyes closed and feign sleep. My breaths release as if rehearsed.
The light flicks on. An orange glow penetrates my eyelids.
I open my eyes. Mom?
So this isn't real. Just a memory. A dream. Still, I'll take what I can get.
She floats over to my bed. A Crumbs Bake Shop cupcake with a single lit candle rests in her palm. Blackout — my favorite flavor. Mom sits, her ageless smile beaming. "Make a wish."
How could I forget? Every year it's the same. At midnight on my birthday Mom wakes me and insists we begin celebrating. Except my birthday is still three months away. I laugh. "It's not even September."
Her brown eyes twinkle. What's she hiding? "I know, but I thought we'd start the festivities early this year."
Wax drips down a purple candle onto chocolate frosting. "Three months early?"
"You only turn eighteen once." She says this every year, about every age. "As far as I'm concerned, all of autumn belongs to you this year. Now make a wish."
"Hold on. I have a surprise for you too." I open my nightstand drawer and withdraw the latest copy of the New York Times. Beaming, I pull out the "Arts & Leisure" section, pass it to her.
The paper crinkles as she unfolds it. "What's this?"
"Your surprise." I sit up and cross my legs, unable to contain the bouncing five-year-old inside. "I know you've postponed your dream because of me. Now you don't have to." I tap the paper. "Look."
Mom gasps, covers her mouth with a trembling hand. All color drains from her face. "Eliyana, what did you do?"
My excitement falters. "I entered one of your paintings in an art competition. You know, the one that fancy gallery downtown holds every year? The one you've always wanted to enter but never have." I nudge her with my elbow. More than just my mom, she's my best friend. She deserves this.
Mom remains silent.
I shift uncomfortably. Weird. I thought she'd be excited. "Um, anyway," I continue, the rush gone from my words, "you were selected as one of twenty artists to exhibit your work. They wanted to include your picture with the other winners, so I sent it in. I didn't think you'd mind."
She sets the paper down, her emotionless expression gives nothing away. Is she angry? Embarrassed? Finally she says to the wall, "You know how private I am."
I do know. I had to sneak a candid shot for the contest because she's always hated having her photo taken. Won't even let me get my picture done at school, insisting she do my portrait herself, which means no yearbook photos for me. I've never argued against her protectiveness. Who'd want to remember my ugmug anyway? I have no Facebook account, no Twitter or Instagram. Not that I'd have any friends or followers if I did.
"Mom, your photo is in the paper because you're an amazing artist." My hand finds her shoulder. "I thought you'd be happy."
She stands, tightens the tie on her robe. "Go back to sleep, Eliyana. I'll see you in the morning. We have back-to-school shopping tomorrow. You need your rest."
"Good night." She blows on the candle. The flame extinguishes.
Excerpted from Unblemished by Sara Ella. Copyright © 2016 Sara E. Larson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beautiful and enchanting, I enjoyed every moment of this debut novel!
An intriguing concept and a fascinating cover (though I'm not certain the nature of the story truly comes across through the cover image) and a story our teenagers desperately need in this world that is obsessed with body image. Weight, looks, fashion and style are things which should not define a person, and yet, the very people who extol the phrase "Never judge a book by its cover" certainly do - in so many more ways than one. I am unsure if this topic was Sara's aim or simply a by-product of the storyline, but I applaud her for staying true to such a delicate subject! BRAVO!
*This book was received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review* I was really excited to read this book and for the most part I wasn't disappointed. El was quite a strong character and I appreciated that although there were love interests and lots of shocking things happening in El's life, she kept her goal of rescuing her mother in the forefront of her mind. The relationship between El and Ky was also quite realistic and believable as they get to know each other before suddenly declaring they are head over heels in love. Similarly, the plot was quite interesting with the concept of the Reflected world quite well developed. I did, however, find the plot quite complex and it was hard to keep track of as well as remember all the different abilities. Overall, this was an enjoyable read with a well-developed romance and a good plot.
Received this book from a fiction group. It's not my reading style but I thought I'll give it a shot. Once I got into the book I enjoyed the story. It's a sci-fi, other-worldly type of book. Eliyana's mother is dead and she has become the ward of Joshua David. Then they end up in another dimension (Reflection) where the soulless are after her. Will they survive their mad dash to freedom? Will Eliyana figure out what is going on and what part she will have in this strange world? There are alot of twists and turns in the story. If you like sci-fi, you will enjoy this book.
Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson--Fiction for the opportunity to read and review Unblemished by Sara Ella. There's a mystery surrounding El, her recently deceased mother and their pasts. El has a crimson birthmark on one side of her face and this has made her insecure, along with all the taunts and rudeness she has received from others throughout her lifetime. Her mother passed guardian responsibilities to Joshua, a young man El has known about three years. She's almost eighteen and Joshua is only a few years older, so she finds this arrangement ridiculous. The world she knows is only a small part of the world she learns about and is thrown into. Alternate worlds or Reflections surround El and her true history. I enjoyed the book and movie references throughout the story and the humor brought with them. The worlds consist of many intertwined characters and their relationships as well as their skills. The author keeps the reader on top of everything and keeps it organized by having the main character, El, review as she learns, smart and helpful. Deep characters and a fantastic world rates 5 stars. The story continues in the sequel, Unraveling.
As some of you may know, over the past couple of months I have been a part of the judging process for the INSPYs. Reading and analyzing the 5 books on the short list. WELL, the winners were announced last week which means I FINALLY get to share my thoughts with YOU on all of these books! I decided it only appropriate to start with the WINNER in the Young Adult Literature category...Unblemished! As my brain tries to untangle itself from this crazy mess this book put it into, I will TRY to express my true emotions for this book. First off, I love LOVE Sara Ella's style. Written solely in first person and easy to follow her train of thought. I know that first person narratives can be an immediate turnoff for some people, but this one was done really well. (Reading is my SuperPower can attest to that). It was also helpful having MANY references to modern day movies, songs, etc. making this the perfect book as an introduction to fantasy. It gives you a taste without drowning you. There is a lot of new terminology and locations, but very easy to follow along. A couple of the names were pretty similar and I got a little confused at the beginning, but I caught on and got it sorted pretty easily. As Eliyana searches for beauty and love she encounters so much more along the way. I really loved this theme. There were so many allegorical references to God's love, God's plan for us. I love how Sara wove the faith in. The Verity and the Void, the Light and the Dark, the Truth and Lies. #BookHangover at its finest right here. Clean and I felt it is very appropriate for young adults. I can NOT wait to read Unraveling now! (side note: I did in fact read Unblemished first, even though I post my review for Unravelling weeks ago.) One thing that I could have done without, was the love triangle. Yes...you heard me right! I know that love triangles and Young Adult fiction goes hand in hand...But it would be nice to have a little break from that. In the end it was "needed"...but I still could have done without it. **SPOILER ALERT** I love allegories. They have the ability to reach so many people and work on their hearts no matter what they believe or where they are in life. One aspect of the allegory in this book was in Joshua's love for El. It mirrors (oops....I know I would do that) God's love for us. Unconditional, unphased by outward appearance, He loves with all of his heart and soul. **End Spoiler** If you are a fan of YA Fiction, Fantasy, or allegories...Or all of the above...You really should give Unblemished a try! It didn't win an INSPY for nothing... I purchased and read my own ebook copy of Unblemished from Amazon. However, I was provided with a complimentary hardback copy from the publishers through The INSPY Award. I was not required to write a review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.
Wow. I was not prepared for this book. I knew within the first couple pages that I was in for an adventure. What I didn’t expect was to be so consumed with the intricate world the author created. This is a new genre for me and I have to say I LOVED it! Eliyana is a fascinating heroine, who struggles to see herself for who she really is. She goes through a deep transformation throughout the book’s journey and I was holding my breath to see how she would survive. There are several other characters, which at times confused me in keeping track of who was who, but they each played a strong role. It took me a little while to adjust to the story being told through first person present tense, but I quickly realized it made the tale that much stronger. The blending of the real world with the fictional world was incredible. The settings and descriptions were bright and intriguing. The story had so many layers to it and each character was so well-developed. I was surprised at nearly every turn of the page. It kept me guessing up to the very end. And what an ending it was. Wow! It’s both satisfying and surprising, with a great lead in to book 2. I can’t wait for the sequel. I had the hardest time putting the book down. I found myself thinking about the plot twists and the characters throughout the day. After finishing it, I had to take a few days to digest it all before moving on to another book. It’s that gripping. If you can’t tell, I’m very excited about this new series. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Holy cow, that was intense. I wasn't expecting Unblemished to be that good. I saw all the rave reviews on Goodreads, and felt skeptical. "Well, might as well give it a try, I suppose." I'm glad I did. I'm normally not a fan of allegories--I suppose that only contributed to my skepticism. However, it was really well done here. Very subtle, and not in your face at all. I'm interested to see where the author takes it in following books. The entire story kept me riveted, and I couldn't wait to see what happened to Eliyana next. I found the world-building to be believable, and very fascinating. I'm not normally of fan of alternate reality stories, but...this book is an exception to a lot of my dislikes. But not all of them. (Warning! Warning! Minor spoilers ahead!) This book does have a love triangle. And yes, it is very frustrating. It was convincing at the beginning--the author had me rooting for one guy, until the tables turned and I was rooting for the other, just like Eliyana. Unfortunately, I remained rooting for that one character for the rest of the book. Guy #1 totally and completely lost my vote by acting like a total jerk. 'Nuff said. Most of the characters were well-rounded, and sympathetic. Eliyana was especially endearing, as we spent the most time in her head, experiencing her every emotion. Her character transformation was excellently done. I liked how it started in our world, before transitioning into the fantasy realm. All the pop culture references were really fun. It was neat to watch El transition into the new realm, and start to unconsciously use 2nd Reflection phrases in her thoughts and dialogue. I also loved the idea of Callings, and Thresholds. However, quite a bit of the world-building was very confusing. What, exactly, happened to Reflections 5-7? (Is that correct? There are 7 Reflections total, right? Ugh. See, it's totally confusing.) And I'm not sure I totally got the concept of what the Verity and the Void are, and what they can do. Things only got messier towards the end, and I'm still not sure what happened. I can't share much more details, as I'll only spoil the plot. Overall, I'd rate the book 5 stars, minus 1/2 for confusion, and another 1/2 for the love triangle. I can't wait to start Unraveling, as Unblemished left me with a bit of a cliffhanger. Let's hope it's just as good--or dare I say, even better--than the first! Rating: 4 stars Recommended: Yes. 14 and up. (Too confusing for younger readers, and some content issues.) Content guide: Language: 2/10 (at least one bad word and unfinished sentence that implied foul language) Sexual content: 6/10 (frequent non-sexual nudity, desire to kiss or touch, heavy kissing, some touching, innuendo, implications of rape, adultery, fornification) Violence: 6/10 (quite a few injuries and deaths, but most non-graphic) *Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy to review!* For more book reviews, or to request your own book to be reviewed by yours truly, visit gabriellenblog.wordpress.com
Unblemished by Sara Ella Eliyanna Ember is 17 and a misfit. Because of her birthmark she is an outcast wherever she goes. Her mother and her neighbor, Joshua David are her closest friends. Then her mother dies and Joshua her neighbor-turned-boyfriend becomes her guardian. That’s when her life gets really strange. To help her cope with her grief, her acquaintance Quinn persuades her to sneak away from Joshua and hang out at a party. Then Quinn ditches the party and Eliyanna is stuck without a ride until another party-goer, Ky, persuades her that he can take her home. Except that Ky isn’t the safe new friend she thought he was and Eliyanna ends up in another world that is strangely familiar and yet totally new. She will have to call forth resources deep inside her that she never knew she had in order to survive this new world. This book was way better than I expected. It was a compelling story, one that I didn’t want to put down. It moved so quickly that it almost made me dizzy. The characters were surprising—I had a hard time figuring out who was “good” and who was “bad.” The plot twists were amazing and caught me off guard. The ending was satisfying and yet left me with soooo many questions! The next book can’t be published quickly enough for me. Despite this being a young adult fiction, it totally engrossed me. Even after finishing the book, there are still things in the story that I am pondering. For readers who enjoy fantasy, this book and any others that follow it will quickly become favorites. I was given a free copy by Thomas Nelson for my honest review.
Well, when I received this book, I wasn't certain what I would think. I really enjoyed the fairy tale feel to it. It reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia in a lot of ways. Sara Ella is a gifted writer and you travel to other worlds with her. The story doesn't mention God but it is a story of Good vs Evil and I saw the representation. At times I was a little confused because of so many characters, so therefore I gave it four stars instead of five. I look forward to the next book to see where the story takes me. A very enjoyable read, especially if you like fantasy or fairy tales. I received a complimentary copy from Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Fiction Guild. The honest review and opinions are my own and were not required.
Unblemished by Sara Ella is in a class of its own. At first, I wasn’t sure what genre it was, but now I see that it is a bit of a combination of fantasy, science fiction, and superheroes with just a pinch of Cinderella thrown in. Anyway, this story does a very good job of ‘nothing is as it seems’ as we learn that some thorns are actually roses- and vice versa. The language was beautiful, descriptive, and poetic, and the heroine grew with the story. As for the hero… Well, he’s not the one you’d expect (is he even the hero?), but he definitely stole my heart. The story itself was almost hypnotic and the climax was full of twists and turns. This is definitely one of my favorite stories. I received a copy of this book for free. I was not required to post a positive review and the views and opinions expressed are my own.
Unblemished is a breathtaking story of love and bravery wrapped in a magical, fairytale world with elements of truth for all. Sara Ell's imagination is boundless. From the minute I opened the pages of this book until the very end I was transported to a world where anything is possible, nothing is as it seems, and love conquers all. I loved Eliyana's character and transformation through this story. From her struggle with wanting to be loved to her passion for music, I resonated with her and couldn't wait to see what would happen. And oh what a journey. I won't say much here because I don't want to spoil anything but MY OH MY Sara killed it with regards to this books amazing plot. There is a lot to set up and understand when creating a fantasy novel, but she did so in such an amazing, imaginative way. I found myself talking out loud to the book (I can't be the only one who does that...) during some parts just wondering what was going to happen. I also really loved Sara's writing style. It's fresh, relatable, and deeply personal. After reading this book I feel like I know Eliyana--that we're friends. To me, that's what makes or breaks a first person story - the main character. I so appreciated how Eliyana's character was written in a way that allowed me to know her and to struggle with her, but not to be burdened by her (if you know what I mean). If you love YA Fantasy's you will flip over this book - seriously! That ending - oh man! But, even if you aren't usually a fan, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. There is a beautiful truth written into these pages and a deeper sense of strength and bravery woven throughout the story that all will enjoy. _______________ I received this book for free but was under no obligation to post a review. I do so under my own motivation and the opinions I have expressed in this review are honest and entirely my own.
As debuts go - Sara Ella’s book Unblemished is one special title. It transports one from the moody New York Central Park through to the magical world’s of the first and second reflections. Eliyana is our pivotal character and guide into this fascinating new world - one which she enter’s wide eyed, awestruck and just a little baffled. The two main male character’s are boy next door Joshua and darkly alluring Ky. Sara Ella expertly weaves these two young men into intricate characters who are neither who we think they are from the beginning. Just be prepared to have all perceptions turned on their head before the final chapter finishes. My only concern was two fold - ordinarily I shy away from sci fi/fantasy in fiction so receiving this title from The Fiction Guild at Christmas time was both a thrill and a challenge. While there was no compulsion to read something out of my preferred reading genre - I was up for the challenge and am really really glad that I did give it a go. It has literally opened up a new sphere of fiction to me and I am now eagerly looking at other titles in the fantasy genre. Sara Ella I have to thank for that! My second concern was as a relatively inexperienced fantasy reader, some of the complexities of the plot did cause a little bit of struggle with making sense of the world which Sara had created but not enough to cause me to want to quit the book in the least. I can heartily recommend Unblemished to anyone wanting a tightly plotted, complex and throughly enjoyable read that engages both mind and heart. The moment I had finished the last words - I immediately had book 2 on order and am counting down the dates until this July. Can’t come soon enough.
Do you ever start reading a book, then have to stop in the middle and check for other works by that author because the book is so good? That happened to me while reading Unblemished, and I was surprised to find that this is the author's debut book. I don't consider young adult fantasy one of my favorite genres, but after reading this, I may need to reevaluate that. I absolutely loved this story and can't wait to see what happens next. The author did an excellent job of gradually revealing the storylines, building the new Reflection and developing the cast of characters. To top it all off, there are plenty of plot twists to keep the reader guessing and make the story more interesting. Plot: Eliyana Ember is just trying to make it through high school. Having an ugly birthmark on her face, she prefers to blend into the background. When her mom dies, friend and neighbor Joshua David, three years her senior, becomes her legal guardian. Sneaking out one night with her best friend Quinn, Eliyana goes to a party and meets a guy that doesn’t seem to be bothered by her birthmark. Ky is friendly at first, but then Quinn abandons Eliyana and everything starts to get weird. Ky knows things about Eliyana's mom and it becomes clear that Joshua's not exactly who he says either. There's another Reflection, a whole different world, in New York City, and Eliyana's about to be transported there. In this new strange place, it's not easy to tell who she can and can't trust. Eliyana may not make it back to her home alive. Characters: Eliyana is a well-written character that earns the readers sympathy quickly when her mom dies. I liked having a teenage character that was physically imperfect, but smart and tough. The book is told entirely from her perspective. In order to not spoil anything, I'm not going to say much about the other characters except I really enjoyed their growth through the story. Content: This book didn't have anything I'd consider inappropriate, even for teenage and pre-teen readers. While it's from a Christian publisher, it could be a general market book. It has themes of good vs. evil, but no mention of God. Recommendation: I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy, whether you're young or not. It's the first of a three book series, and I can assure you, you will want to read the rest of them. (Book 2 comes out later this year!) I'd love to see this book become the next big thing and be turned into a movie. Rating: 5/5 stars I received a copy of this book from the Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild. This review is my honest opinion.
There were some things I noticed at the beginning of this novel that had me saying "uh oh, not another one..." Most noticeably, I spotted A LOT of elements that I've seen in various fantasy movies, tv shows and novels in recent years. Sprinkles of Once Upon A Time here and there... at times it felt like I could almost imagine Sara Ella's DVR line up. I'm not saying anything was directly lifted, I'm just saying if you're a fan of the genre, there is a ton of stuff here that you're likely to quickly recognize. First off was the similarities to The Never Ending Story: 1) mother dies 2) teased kid in this world becomes hero in alternate world 3) The Void = The Nothing >>> El has to find vessel of Verity to save world from The Void = Atreyu & Bastian have to stop the spread of the Nothing. Step away from Never Ending Story and you still see likenesses to Star Wars (especially when it came to that almost awkward link between Ky and El... Clueless-esque awkward). El transporting from NYC to the Reflection where she thinks her mother was taken = very 10th Kingdom. Even the tense triangle between Joshua, El and Ky was reminiscent of the Edward, Bella, Jacob business from Twilight -- there's even a blink-and-you-might-miss-it reference to one of the Twilight films. Oh and btw, I myself am totally team Ky throughout this whole book. So, given that I was spotting all these similarities, I was concerned that this was just going to be a sloppy rehashing of popular fantasy plots from the past. Good news though! This one is a little shaky in the early portions but gets REALLY good after Act III! All the characters here are dynamic with great personalities (healthy doses of snark included) that keep the story moving at a fun pace. While the plot itself can get a little muddled and murky at times, I do think Sara Ella developed her characters admirably well, giving them all noticeable yet reasonable amounts of individual growth... some towards the light, others going dark... as it should be if you want your reader to get heavily invested! ;-) As for our protagonist, El, I liked her personality for the majority of the story. My one gripe with her is how she would persistently knock any meat-eater she came across yet she proudly rocked UGG boots. Weirdly though, her harping on this topic seemed to stop halfway through the book... guess everyone just got so caught up in the battle of good and evil there was no longer any time for meal breaks! So if you're all about any of those stories I mentioned above: Never Ending Story, Star Wars, Twilight, The 10th Kingdom, etc... or if you want to just dip a reading toe into the fantasy genre pool, definitely try out this one. I'm all set to jump into the second book of this series -- I need to know what all's gonna go down if / when Ky returns! -- but sadly Amazon says it won't be available for release until this summer :-( FTC Disclaimer: Both TNZ Fiction Guild and Book Look Bloggers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.
4 stars- It is hard to imagine living Eliyana’s life, shunned as she is with a birthmark marring half of her face. She tries her best to hide in the shadows and doesn’t have any friends, until Joshua comes along. Is it possible that her birthmark isn’t hideous after all? I really enjoyed this book. Sara Ella did a great job creating her new worlds and it was a feast for the imagination. I loved learning about the other Reflections along with Eliyana and joining her on her journey of self discovery. There are so many great underlying themes to this story- of good vs evil and learning your worth is more than skin deep. The book kept me guessing and I could not put it down at the end. Eliyana, Joshua, Ky- all such great characters. The book reminded me at times of Katie Ganshert’s “The Gifting” series and even at times of the “Twilight Series”. The only bad thing- waiting for book two! I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I received this book for an honest review from the Fiction Guild. It was a very intriquing book with a lot of twist and turns. It is a very good book with interesting characters and a lot of different things happening in it to keep you wondering what is going to happen next
This is one book to definitely judge by its cover
Eliyana was a typical teenage girl. Well, maybe not so typical. She had a hideous birthmark that covered half her face. Students at school teased her and she was never thought of as beautiful by anyone except her mother. At least, not until Joshua moved in next door when she was fifteen. The two of them quickly became best friends and he treated her like a "normal" person. All that changed after her mother died. Joshua was given legal custody of her and strange people started coming around. All of these lead to other worlds full of mythical beings and magical powers. Her world is about to turn upside down. Could what had always been viewed as ugly, suddenly become something more beautiful and power than Eliyana could possibly imagine? I was pretty much immediately sucked into this story. It's fun, it moves quickly. It's a popular genre that I really love to read. Seriously, it's one of my favorite genres. However, sometimes the present tense first person style of writing got confusing and I didn't know what was going on. I had to go back and reread some to try and figure out and then I'd realize, "Nope, I didn't miss anything. I just don't know what's going on." After a few pages, I was normally able to fill in the missing pieces. Also, the constant onomatopoeia was a little bit distracting. There was a clatter here and the next paragraph was a shish and so on. It may be great for some readers, but I had a hard time with it. Now, I would totally still read this book knowing now what I didn't know then and I would recommend it to other people who love this genre. If you've never read this genre or are fairly neutral about this genre then you should probably not read it.
At seventeen Eliyana Amber is too young to be orphaned in New York City. But when her best friend, her only friend, Joshua is appointed her guardian, things go from dark, to strange. As El grieves her mother’s death she seeks answers from her guardian, and the strange man who seems to know so much about her. But when the sinister Kyaphus abducts her, the strange becomes bizarre when she lands in the middle of an epic struggle between good and evil in another dimension, a reflection of her own New York City. She discovers that the flaming birthmark on her face that shamed her all her life, is a sign that she is called to save this world—this second reflection. Now, she must summon her courage, and all of her wits to discover the truth, to find out who’s lying and who isn’t and find a way, if there is a way, out of this fantastic dream. Ella writes in deep first person, present tense point of view with tight and compelling prose. The heroine’s emotional journey was fascinating, compelling and realistic. The world building was also well done and the tension filled plot and mystery kept the pages turning. Although I’m not a fan of the love triangle that evolved later in the plot, the writing was so strong that I must give Unblemished the top rating. I received a free Advance Reader Copy of Unblemished in return for a fair review.
found out about this book from Nadine Brandes, and I am really glad. Sara Ella has done a stupendous job writing this book. and I really enjoyed it. The story was exciting, and I love how Sara Ella mixed our normal, modern world with a totally new world. The story was well paced, and there were a lot of new and creative things throughout the story. The characters were awesome, and I liked how relatable they were. Eliyana was awesome. She is a girl from our world who is suddenly thrust into a realm full of mythical beasts and an ongoing battle. Because of her birthmark on her face, she has never believed that she is beautiful, and her journey shows her what true beauty is, and that looks don't define you. Joshua was very sweet. He is one of El's only friends, and does whatever it takes to protect her. His parent's died when he was young, and was raised as a guardian in another realm. Ky is one of my favorite's. (I think I just like any character that is bad, but kind've good, and ends up one or the other, but you really hope they'll be good.) He lost his sister to the enemy and, after the death of his father, had been doing anything to survive the void that is trying to overtake him. Different realms, mystical creatures, people with gifts, and an amazing adventure. Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. I recieved this book free from Booklook Bloggers for an honest review.
Now there is a twist! Love this cover! This is the first book of Ms. Ella's that I have read, and surely will not be the last! I am ready for book two now, please? Ms. Ella is wonderful with her imagery! She can put you right where you need to be, feeling the surroundings of Eliyana, as well as experience each emotion. I loved the musical references, by the way. This book did tend to drag a bit for me at one point, but the ending made it all worth it! I am rooting for a certain character, but we shall see how I feel about that as the series continues... I just wish that book two was ready for me to read now, I hadn't realized that this was part of a series until I reached the end. I also am thinking that the next book may be in duo perspective, just from the taste we were given. Recommended to YA fans, who like Fantasy interwoven within the story, also the Author does make it known that this is a love triangle, but it is written well.
Sara Ella, you are a gorgeous writer! I loved being immersed in this unique world with such beautiful prose to pull me along. Eliyana's character development throughout, being able to accept herself for her inner beauty and finding her self worth, was such a relatable way to ground your character in a world of griffins and tromes :). I read this in less than 24 hours because I had to find out more about this world and these characters. I know the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi happens to be one of Sara's favorite series, and I got total Shatter Me vibes in the best way possible from this book. Dying for book 2 to come around. How can it leave on that cliff hanger?!
I just... I can't... This book... I... LOVED IT!!!!! Oh my goodness, guys. I had such a book hangover after finished Unblemished. My husband had to repeat questions because all I could do was stare dumbly, still digesting every delicious morsel of this delectable story. You're dropped into the middle of sweep-you-off-your-feet action. Eliyana is thrust into a whole new world, a world completely different than what I envisioned. Twists, turns, and amazing world building keep your eyes glued to the page. El's character development is wonderful. Her growth from the beginning to the end of the story is truly transformative. And I adore how the message of Who determines your worth is wonderfully woven into the story. And, for those of you dying to know, I've thought about my team a lot. I always look for elements of my husband and our love story in the hero. I see him in both. My heart was just as torn as El's...until...The Incident. I normally choose the road of unrequited love. And if Sara Ella wrote an alternate reality with him, I'd be all over that. However, I think the writing is on the wall. Team Ky, peps. (If you thought the love triangle in Twilight was intense, you haven't seen anything yet.) Fans of Wayne Thomas Batson, Bryan Davis, Rachelle Dekker, Ted Dekker, Mary Weber, and the popular Doon series by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon will adore Unblemished. But honestly, even if you haven't read those authors (I don't understand why... ;) LOL! ), you will enjoy this epic journey. Unblemished is the first book in Sara Ella's new trilogy! Unraveling, book two, releases July 2017! I. Can't. Wait. I received a copy of Unblemished by Sara Ella published by Thomas Nelson from BookLook Bloggers. All opinions expressed are my own.
Sara Ella has one very imaginative mind! Her debut novel, Unblemished was romantic and mysterious. It's like you're in a dream, and I guess you can say it is kind of like one in this alternate realm in the book. I'm amazed with what authors can come up with when it comes to world building. I love to read books where the setting is so different. It's a creation that came straight from the author, and when it's complete, it really is a whole new world. And the plus side is being set in NYC, my hometown. That always adds some points in my book! In Unblemished, we see urban fantasy with similarities to the hit TV series, Once Upon A Time, adding in fairy tale vibes of good versus evil. And the thing is, sometimes things may not be what they seem. In the real world, Eliyana (love that name!), in short, El, has a birthmark on her face, leading to a lifetime of ridicule and dismissal by others. Yet, in the alternate worlds of Reflections, her blemished may very well be a saving grace. I like the premise and I like what the author created, especially the imagery she written. It's both lyrical and mystical. Her descriptive prose gave way to a visual that matches the beauty of Unblemished's cover. What I do find needs a little more is the completeness of how. There are several areas that I find lacking in how things were done. From one setting to the next, it was hard to follow, but it wasn't a big factor, since the plot and the characters intrigued us enough to keep moving. Speaking of characters, boy o boy! When it comes to two boys and one girl, do we always tend to pick the bad boy? Yes! Especially if said bad boy is Hook, I mean like Hook (from Once Upon a Time), with brooding good looks and a mysterious/traumatic past. Plus, he really does look out for our girl, El. And El. Hmmm. Sometimes I'm not so sure how I feel about her. She annoys me at times with her self-consciousness and her obsessiveness of Joshua. Even from the first couple of chapters, her mentioned of Joshua and what he's doing was a tad over board. Yet, I can't blame her, because I understand. I understand how kids can be cruel when you have a mark on your face or how loving someone can become all consuming. A world where you're most unlikely feature to be the reason you are special. A world that beauty may not be just what we see. That being said, Unblemished is one good start to a trilogy with Christian connotations, serious pop culture references, realistic characters, and a dreamy world that lives up to the gorgeous cover! Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review, and have not been compensated for this. This is my honest opinion.