Blog Posts, Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Mayhem by Estelle Laure

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At night when I’m holding on to my mother because she’s trying to get away from you so she can have a few hours of peace, I think about ways you might die. I’d love to stab you, to pull your dreamy blue eyes from your head. I’d love to hear you scream, too see you beg for your life and then take it from you anyway. You’re a plague and pestilence, and the way you carry your manliness likes it’s a permission slip from God to act like you rule everything and everyone in your path, like you can do whatever you want-well, I think the guillotine is a good option. I’d love to watch your head roll across the grass.


Mayhem and her mother, Roxy, find themselves back in Santa Maria, California, after Mayhem’s abusive stepfather takes things too far. After the death of Mayhem’s father, Lucas, many years before, Roxy packed her daughter in her car and left Santa Maria, her twin, and her mother, with no intentions of ever looking back. Until now. It’s quite clear to Mayhem that there is more to this town, old house, and family, than meets the eye and she is determined to uncover the legacy her mother ran from all those years ago and to finally take her own place in in the Brayburn family. 

A diary exists in which the Brayburn women have added their own stories and experiences in the hopes that it would help the next generation own their power while also staying true to themselves. Mayhem finds this diary and the reader learns alongside her about the magic in her family. Throughout the book we are given glimpses into this diary and learn quite a bit about where the Brayburn Legacy originated and why. The magic of the Brayburn women was ultimately born of powerlessness. Starting with the rape of Mayhem’s great-great-grandmother, the brayburn magic manifests in the water found in a cave near their home. While the water loves Brayburn blood and the strength of the magic varies for each person, it is not required that you be a Brayburn to consume the water and adopt the power from it. Although, it is said that if you’re not a Brayburn the water will eventually drive you mad. 

Drink the water.

Find true love.

Embrace your fate.

Protect Santa Maria and you protect yourself.

And never, ever tell another about the spring. 

We are none of us invincible. We are all of us made of flesh and bone.

It is for us alone to carry.

I am fascinated by this concept. Estelle Laure created this interesting magic system set in a contemporary world where women who are so often powerless are given this unimaginable power and they use it to fight the injustices visited upon them. Over the years it becomes the duty of the Brayburn’s to protect their town and the people within it are grateful and show their thanks by leaving gifts at their home. Laced within this story there is also a serial killer on the loose and the constant threat of Lyle returning to take Roxy back to their old life. Meanwhile, Mayhem is learning where she fits into the family and is starving for details of her past, especially of her father, but her mother is self-medicating leaving Mayhem to learn what she can from her Aunt Elle and her aunt’s adoptive kids. Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship irked me at times. So many situations arose that I wish had been dealt with differently by both of them and I also wasn’t sure what relevance the author was attempting to portray by having Mayhem call her mother by her given name. This detail created a divide between mother and daughter that I didn’t think was realistic considering that the two of them only ever had one another for love and protection and I’m not convinced that a relationship cultivated in that type pf environment would leave room for such a thing between them. I don’t consider this a fault of the story; I love that this book leaves so much room for interpretation from the reader and this is just one small example of that. At the conclusion of the story I found Roxy and Mayhem’s relationship and the moments they experienced to be pretty accurate of what a mother/teen might experience. 

There is so much to unpack from this story. Mayhem is not for the feint of heart. It deals with many heavy topics and while there is an underlying theme of hope, it’s still very much a dark tale. There are a lot of contradicting personalities, especially from the group of kids that Mayhem meets when she first arrives in Santa Maria. I found Neve to be especially abrasive and didn’t care for her character much. Here is a book about women taking their power back and yet no one ever challenges Neve or her behavior in a meaningful way and I felt this contradicted the purpose of the story. I also would have liked if Elle was a stronger character. This story would have benefitted from a strong matriarchal presence and Elle had so much potential to fill that roll but then sort of fell flat when faced with any sort of challenge. Most of the characters are really fleshed out and I was able to connect with them as the story progressed but for some reason I didn’t have that same connection with Kidd. I kind of felt that her character was unnecessary and sometimes annoying. All in all these are small criticisms that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book in any substantial way. 

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Summer of Salt, The Wicked Deep, and Sawkill Girls. Mayhem is set in the 1980’s but definitely has that seaside, magical feel with an underlying theme of darkness, similar to the settings of the titles I’ve listed above. Also make sure to be aware of extensive trigger warnings (taken from Estelle Laure’s website): 

➽Rape: the Brayburn family’s backstory centers around the matriarch’s rape and explores the ensuing generational trauma and its effects on the women within its lineage. The rape is on page but is not graphically depicted. 

➽Suicide: a suicide takes place off page.

➽Drug use: there is one scene in which multiple adolescents take hallucinogenic mushrooms. There is much use of pills and alcohol by one of the adults in the story as a coping mechanism for chronic pain and trauma. 

➽Serial kidnapping and murder: part of the story centers around an active serial kidnapper and killer. There is also murder depicted throughout, sometimes on the page and sometimes off, including the murder of two of the children’s parents, which takes place in dialogue and is not explicitly on the page. 

➽Child abuse: central to the story is a depiction of violence experienced by a child.

➽Domestic violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse: also central to the story is long-term domestic violence and its attendant cycle. This is mostly off stage, however there are several scenes of emotional manipulation and intimidation, and one scene that contains stalking and breaking and entering and a physical altercation. 

✦ The quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.✦ 


About the Author

Estelle Laure (pronounced lore/lor) is the author of critically-acclaimed books for young people. She is best known for her novel, This Raging Light, which has been translated into twelve languages. She has five forthcoming young adult novels, including Disney’s City of Villains series (book one fall 2021) and Mayhem (July 14, 2020) with Wednesday Books/St. Martin’s. She is also very pleased to be fulfilling a dream by stepping into the world of picture books, the first of which will be out with HarperKids in 2021. In addition to writing her own stories, Estelle is an editorial consultant, writing coach, and educator.

book reviews

Book Review | Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

♫ Adult, Horror

♫ Release Date: 7/7/20

♫ My Rating: 4.5/5★


Thank you William Morrow for sending me an early copy of this book. The following opinions are my own. 

Survivor Song is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. Here are a couple of things that this story is not:

This is not a zombie novel. 

This is not an apocalypse novel. 

This book follows Dr. Ramola Sherman and her best friend, Natalie, after an outbreak of a super rabies illness. This illness is unlike the rabies we know and love where the symptoms can take several weeks to appear and we have all kinds of time to treat it before it becomes fatal. The super rabies has an incubation time of an hour or even less in some cases. Once it passes the brain barrier there is no hope of return. 

Natalie calls Ramola when her husband is viciously attacked and killed by an infected neighbor and shares the news that she, too, has been bitten. Natalie is due to give birth in 15 days. As Natalie pulls into the driveway of Ramola’s home the clock starts ticking. The two women head out determined to get Natalie treated before the illness can do permanent damage and kill her friend and possibly her child. 

This entire book, with the exception of the ‘postlude’ at the end, spans several hours as Ramola desperately tries to get Natalie to a hospital and a vaccine before it’s too late. On this journey through a chaotic Massachusetts that’s been set upon by the outbreak, everything that can happen does. It becomes a survival of the fittest type of situation and Ramola is willing to do just about anything to save her best friend. The chapters alternate between Ramola’s and Natalie’s point of view and the reader starts waiting with bated breathe to see if Natalie will mentally deteriorate like those all around her or if she was vaccinated in time to save her. One thing is for sure, though. They must deliver the baby by emergency c-section to save the child’s life in the event Natalie does not survive. Ramola doesn’t spare a single thought for anything else other than Natalie and her unborn child.

The story was gripping the whole way through. At every turn the two women face another challenge and you never know what they will do to meet it. They find themselves face to face with infected people and animals, conspiracy-believing zealots, car crashes, and two teenage boys who become more entangled in the story than expected. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end. This book goes a bit deeper than that, though. What I saw when reading this was the love and loyalty these women shared and what they were willing to do to help each other. I saw a doctor who is extraordinarily compassionate and held on to her morals with an iron fist no matter what. So while this is a horror novel about rabies-infected humans going around chewing on each other, it’s also a story about resilience and hope and I couldn’t put it down.

Some other aspects of the book I really liked were the creepy pages with the gothic writing peppered throughout and I also loved that the main character, Ramola, is a half white, half Indian, asexual woman with a British accent. Her character represented these qualities, not to further the plot, but just because that’s who she was. She has a really interesting background story that features her parents who are in an interracial relationship. I’d love to see more of this representation in books just for the sake of being there and not because it’s the focus of the story. 

There are only a couple small criticisms I have as far as this book goes. One being that the chapters, especially Rams (Ramola), are very long. This doesn’t hurt the story and luckily this is a very fast-paced read so those long chapters don’t drag like they sometimes do in other books. I just prefer shorter chapters. And the second being that I don’t understand what the purpose was behind the decisions the teenage boys, specifically Luis, made after leaving Romola and Natalie. I thought that was an odd addition to the story and it felt like it didn’t fit. I think I would have enjoyed that part more if specifics from their background had been revealed and we could have learned what their secret was in more detail. 

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. I enjoyed this infinitely more than The Cabin at the End of the World. If you weren’t a fan of that book but want to give Paul Tremblay another shot or if you haven’t read anything by him and want to then I’d definitely pick this one up when it releases in July. I love Paul’s writing. It’s really fantastic, and I felt that way when reading the previous book as well. But here the storytelling and writing are in sync to create an awesome book. 

Beware of some triggers for: blood/gore, violence, loss of a spouse/loved one, animal deaths, and xenophobia.

You can also find me here: goodreads | bookstagram | twitter

Blog Posts, Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

ARC provided by Park Row and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

25 years ago Maggie’s best friend Eve Knox was brutally beaten and left to die in the local caves that run under the small town that they live in. Worse yet, it was Eve’s unusual little sister, Nola, and Maggie herself, that found her. Police Chief Kennedy, Maggie’s dad, did everything he could to find Eve’s killer but the case eventually went cold with no arrests made.

Now 25 years later a new piece of evidence has been found and Maggie is the detective on the case. She is determined to see if new technology can pick up anything they missed all those years ago so that she can put her friend to rest at last. Everyone involved closely in this case has a different idea of who did what and they all have more than just Eve in common. They all have secrets too, some uglier than others. 

Reading this book was like watching a drama unfold before my eyes. Even though this book didn’t have any really seriously shocking twists it was still gripping and I really had no idea which one of them was the killer. It helped that all the people in this book were twisted in their own way and could easily have been the culprit. Maggie didn’t have much personality but I only really noticed that in the beginning when there wasn’t a whole lot to focus on. Eve’s sister Nola is as weird as weird gets. The neighbors are creepers. Eve’s ex boyfriend is a jerk. And they all have secrets that are slowly uncovered as the story unfolds. 

Throughout the book we are following Maggie in current day and also flashing back to the few days before, and of, Eve’s murder. My favorite aspect of this was following from Eve’s POV during these flashbacks as we got closer and closer to her time of death. We are also following Nola in both the current story and flashbacks. So, as we’re reading the book we are also slowly following Eve up to the fateful moment of her death and I thought this part was extremely well done. It kept me right on the edge of my seat the entire time, especially knowing that we would eventually see her death through her eyes, rather than be told what happened from an outside party. This really enhanced the book in my opinion.

I also really loved the very accurate dementia representation in this book. Maggie’s father has dementia and therefore can remember things quite clearly from years ago but has a very bad short-term memory. This added another layer of suspense to the story because he was the original detective on the case and you get the idea that he might know something that he’s keeping close to his chest but on the other hand you can’t trust anything he says due to the dementia. This was a great aspect to throw into the story for a little added mystery. It also shows the hardships that families dealing with dementia deal with and how truly devastating this disease can be for them. This aspect of the book touched close to my heart as I am deeply familiar with the disease and can therefore judge its authenticity in this book and I found it to be really well done and realistic.

For me what made this book a real gem wasn’t the shocking reveals but the unfolding of the story and drama involved. Even though I wasn’t shocked to find out who the killer was I still really enjoyed the journey to that moment. What really made me drop a star from my rating of this book was the fact that some things had to work a bit too perfectly for some important scenes to pan out and it really pulled me out of the story. There was also an element of the book that was never revealed. This element wasn’t a massive part of the book but it was present enough that I wanted to discover the truth and was disappointed when it was never explained in the end. I also would have liked to know more about Nola and what she was up to. It’s alluded to, of course, but I really wanted more where she was concerned. 

Luckily, I can happily recommend this book to all the mystery and suspense lovers out there. I really enjoyed my time reading this but just beware of some potential triggers: loss of a parent, loss of a friend, loss of a sibling, domestic abuse (both mental & physical), hoarding, assault, rape, miscarriage, animal dissection, murder (described from the victims POV as she died).


About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator.

Heather lives in Iowa with her family and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

Blog Posts, Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Foul is Fair is a brutal retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Macbeth. In this take of the story, main character Jade, and her three closest friends, Mads, Jenny, and Summer, crash a St. Andrews Prep party to celebrate Jade’s sweet sixteen. These four girls are the ruling circle among their peers and are practically untouchable. Every other girl either hates them or wants to be them. Until the night of her sixteenth birthday when St. Andrews Prep golden boys choose Jade as their next victim.

Over the next several weeks Jade and her coven plan her vengeance against every single person who played a part that fateful night. Jade enters St. Andrews Prep as a student and quickly climbs the social hierarchy using Mack, an all-around good boy whose ambition will be used against him.

This time, they chose the wrong girl.

Sweet sixteen is when the claws come out.

Whew, where to even start! This book is so unique and Hannah Capin really has a way with words. The writing is so sharp it’ll cut you if you aren’t careful. This story is brutal and bloody. Every girl who has ever been a victim will let out a war cry when reading this book. I loved the protagonist, Jade. She was strength and bravery incarnate. A girl pushed to the ground who refused to stay there and then decides to make her abusers pay. Her friend group, or coven, was one of the best elements of the book. The relationships were portrayed beautifully and realistically; each girl having their own identities and personalities. I particularly loved Mads, Jade’s very best friend. Described as a beautiful dark-skinned warrior and someone who would stop at nothing to defend her friends. I am pretty sure she is a trans girl based on how she was described in the book. It wasn’t explicitly said but it was made pretty clear. I also loved Summer for the simple fact that we share a name and also because she is more a lover than a fighter but can still be counted on to do whatever it takes to help the rest of the coven. Summer is also either a lesbian or bisexual. This was also not explicitly stated but implied. It’s been a long time since I’ve loved a girl friend group as much as I did in this book.

I know better than I’ve ever known anything: every second in my whole life has just been practice for what I’ll do to these boys. This is why I’m alive.

This story is portrayed very dramatically, which is fitting since it is a retelling of a play. Because of this many metaphors are used and the reader has to parse out the true meaning of the words at times. I really enjoyed this part of the story but can easily see how some people wouldn’t care for it. Some suspension of belief is required to fully enjoy this book as well. In the real world many of the things that the characters did would’ve been discovered by police pretty quickly. Another aspect that may require a suspension of belief is the fact that upon meeting Jade, Mack is willing to do and believe anything she tells him. Even though they’ve only known each other for a matter of hours. I think all of this plays into the drama of the story though and I found it easy to accept.

I am deadly. I’m a poisoned blade. I’m all the power he thinks he has and more.

There are trigger warnings galore for this book which I’ll add at the end. When it is said that this story is brutal, make no mistake, it IS. There is a lot of blood and violence happening. There is also poisoning, and stabbing. This is a revenge story after all and it wouldn’t be much of one without these gory elements! If this is something that doesn’t bother you than I’d say definitely give this book a go. This story does deal with very important but sensitive topics. So please be sure to read the trigger warnings before picking this up if you are at all worried about any of the more sensitive aspects of the book.

TW: sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, violence, an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying.

All quotes used in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia. Find Hannah on twitter @tldaaollf.

Blog Posts, Blog Tours, book reviews

Blog Tour | Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tweet Cute is a retelling of the 90’s classic, You’ve Got Mail, and it may be even better than its predecessor. Enter Pepper, a country girl at heart living in the Big Apple where her mother is the CEO of a big restaurant chain called Big League Burger. Even after four years of living in NYC and going to her fancy private school Pepper still feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers and dedicates all of her time making sure she gets the best grades, keeps her position as the captain of the swim team, and, above all else, doesn’t disappoint her mother like her sister did. So, When her mother asks her to tweet back to this small deli who has accused BLB of stealing their famous grilled cheese recipe Pepper doesn’t want to say no.

Jack can’t believe this burger chain would stoop so low as to steal HIS grandmother’s famous grilled cheese recipe and so against his father’s direct orders Jack decides to take matters into his own hands and tweet back to BLB’s snarky twitter posts and before he knows it a Twitter war has begun with half the world for an audience. All’s fair in love and cheese…

Unbeknownst to both Pepper and Jack they are also speaking to each other anonymously on an app called Weazel. An app that Jack made for the student body at their high school and has purposely tweaked to keep their real names a secret from one another but when they start having feelings that go beyond friends Jack wonders if he should just out themselves to one another once and for all.

At some point, it stopped being a war and started being a game.

Above all else what I really find this book to be is relatable. Underneath the snarky twitter war and sarcastic teenagers are two young adults struggling under the pressure that society has put them under. The need to be the best at everything, the constant competition between themselves and other students, and also the expectations of parents. Although success is important it shouldn’t be at the expense of friendship, letting loose once in a while, and having heart to hearts with the people you care about. Emma Lord did a masterful job of showing a relatable and realistic portrayal of what a teen is facing in today’s society. Many teens, and even older adults, will be able to see themselves in this story and that’s a big deal.

I also love how Emma Lord put her own little spin on the characters. Let’s face it, we see teens in high school as our main setting in a million books today. But I’ve never read about a a young country girl moved to the big city who also happens to be from a middle class family and now is living among the elite of the social classes. Those are big changes and also a huge step away from what we expect in YA contemporary. This also makes it so much easier for Pepper to relate to Jack, who is one of the very few students at their private high school not to come from money. It’s an interesting take.

I’m starting to think we’re the only ones who weren’t born with silver spoons in multiple orifices.

On a lighter note, this book is simply adorable. I love Pepper and Jack. I think both of their characters are extremely likable and believable. I think adding the social media aspect into the book makes it more relevant, even if I didn’t care for that aspect as much as other parts of the story. Another awesome part of this story is the baking blog between Pepper and her sister, Paige. The names of their baked goods were brilliant, made me laugh out loud, and just made the book more wholesome. This book also portrays a good example of expectation vs. reality. What is expected of a person based on the box they’ve been shoved in versus where that persons interests truly lie and what makes them happy. The romance is so sweet and I was rooting for #Pepperjack the whole time!

There you have it folks. A fitting end to the cheesiest romance ever told, and a love we can all brie-live in.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who loves a feel-good, laugh-out-loud, YA contemporary romance. This one truly stands out from the masses by being unique, relevant, and relatable.

All quotes included in the above review were taken from an Advanced Readers Copy and are subject to change.


About The Author

Emma Lord is a digital media editor and writer living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing either running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, grilled cheese, and a whole lot of love. Her sun sign is Hufflepuff, but she is a Gryffindor rising. TWEET CUTE is her debut novel. You can find her geeking out online @dilemmalord on Twitter.

book reviews

Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

My people had a saying about home, as they did about so many of the important things in life: a Varenian can never be lost at sea, because he calls the entire ocean home.

In the ocean city of Varenia law dictates that whichever girl the council of elders decides is the most perfect, the most beautiful, will move to the city of Ilara and marry the prince. This has been the tradition of the Varenian people for as long as they can remember. It is considered an honor to be chosen, or at least that is how you are expected to feel. In exchange for the beautiful bride the Ilarans will continue to trade with Varenia, buy their pearls, and keep the drinking water available to the community. The Varenians survival hinges upon this arrangement. Never are the Verenians allowed to travel on land and so they are at the mercy of the Ilarans.

Zadie and Nor are beautiful twins and the most likely to be chosen to marry the prince. Until Nor sustains an injury that leaves a scar upon her cheek and leaves Zadie to be the chosen one. But then the unthinkable happens and Zadie is gravely injured and Nor must go to Ilara in her place. Nor has always dreamed of traveling to land and discovering the world so this seems like it could be a dream come true for her until she learns the price that must be paid to be chosen for royalty. Prince Ceren, her betrothed, ends up being a cruel man who lives in a castle carved into a mountain where there is no sunlight or warmth. As Nor becomes close to Prince Ceren’s brother, Prince Talin, she begins to learn unbearable truths about her people and the maidens that were chosen before her. She also realizes that her family and all the other Varenians could be in grave danger and she is the only one who can help them.

The premise of an ocean city is what originally drew my attention to this book. The city is not below the ocean, but above. Houses are built on stilts and traveling from place to place requires a boat or you must swim. This turned out to be the most interesting part of this story. The plot is heavily reliant on the beauty trope for the first half of the book. At least for girls who have a chance at being chosen to marry a prince. The family of that girl is in turn heavily rewarded and would not have to worry about starving or the fact that they are able to find less and less pearls to trade to Ilara or less fish to feed to their family. In this case Nor and Zadie’s mother is completely obsessed with keeping Zadie absolutely perfect. She must not sustain an injury or have a scar of any kind. She must be perfect. Which is why it made no sense to me that she was allowed to go diving in dangerous places and continuously put herself at risk.

Nor and Zadie are extremely close. Nor has accepted that she will never go to Ilara and instead dedicates her life to protecting her sister and diving for pearls to feed their family. Zadie is the more demure of the two as she has been constantly practicing to be a queen since she was old enough to talk. She seems very willing to do her duty and leave Varenia forever no matter how much she’ll miss her family. That’s why Nor is shocked when Zadie requests the impossible from her. But Nor cannot refuse her beloved sister anything and the events that follow leave Nor going to Ilara in Zadie’s place. I did enjoy the portrayal of sisterhood. The two sisters really loved and cared for one another and Nor grieved the loss of Zadie pretty hard. 

Unfortunately there are parts of this book I found lacking. Once in Ilara Nor uncovers many truths about both Ilara and Varenia. The conflicts during this second half of the book were simply not convincing. I felt the problems could have easily been fixed with much simpler solutions than putting an entire community of people at risk. There was one scene in particular where Nor could have made a very simple and easy decision that would have in turn saved both the Ilarans and Varenians in one fell swoop… and she just didn’t. It went against her morals. I found this to be extremely annoying. It just didn’t add up. 

As for the courtier life and relationships that Nor built once in Ilara, I found that part of the book to be very bland. Not much happens at all until the end of the book when a large plot twist is revealed. The plot twist was probably my favorite aspect of the book and the only part of the story that made me even slightly compelled to read the next book. The building romance left me feeling nothing at all. I didn’t care about it. I felt it had potential when we were first introduced to the character but then it just fell flat. I’d say that the book would do fine without it but so much of what happens next will be reliant on that relationship. I especially wish it had been a more interesting element since it’s so necessary to the story. 

The book was definitely written well and I liked the main character and her gumption but the other characters were not fleshed out well enough and in turn did not inspire me to care about them at all. The story didn’t have enough intrigue to make it shine among a million other books just like it in the YA fantasy genre, either. Even though some of the aspects were definitely unique and not something I had seen before, the bare bones of the story were just like so many others before it. I do think this book offers a sense of adventure for someone who’s looking for that in a book. It’s also pretty easy reading. Between these things and the strong main character I think this book could definitely appeal to some people, it’s just not the book for me.

book reviews

ARC Review: Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Gather the Fortunes (Crescent City, #2) by Bryan Camp

Adult, Fantasy, Sequel

★★★★

↝ARC received by Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.↜

“The only thing death has never been is lonely.” 

Renaissance Raines, newly resurrected, is now a psychopomp, a guide that leads the souls of the dead through the Seven Gates of the Underworld. Until she shows up at the supposed death of a boy name Ramses St. Cyr to find that he has managed to escape his moment of death. As she starts to investigate where her soul has gone she ends up in the thick of a plot created by the Gods. When she discovers who is responsible for the escape of Ramses there will be hell to pay.

Gather the Fortunes is the second installment in the Crescent City series by Bryan Camp. In this book we return to the world of New Orleans and gods and tricksters. The storyline is focused on the underworld, psychopomps, and loa which was only touched upon in the first installment. The atmosphere in this book is still just as palpable as it was in the first book, very creepy and dark and it was really good to visit this world again. Many of the characters that you meet in the first book, The City of Lost Fortunes, make an appearance in this one. The main character being Renai, who ends up being somewhere between the living and the dead, helping souls travel through the underworld. The plot is not as twisty in this second installment but in turn it is also much easier to follow. 

Many of the chapters follow the same vein as the first book where they begin with different beliefs and mythologies throughout many different cultures; each usually focusing on one theme that is relevant to the chapter. Knowledge of the greek gods and mythology would make this book more enjoyable, I suspect, but it certainly isn’t required. I have very basic knowledge myself and still enjoy this series immensely. 

“What’s a life-bringing rain god doing in the underworld?” “Same thing a god does anywhere else,” Sal said. “Whatever the F**k he wants.” 

throughout this book Camp has touched on some extremely important subjects such as destruction, injustice, slavery, racism, and many other issues prominent today and in the past. He laces these important issues seamlessly throughout the book and uses his MC Renai as a voice of justice. I love her as a character. She is angry at the world for all the ways people can hate each other and she uses that anger as a powerful gift to take down her enemies. I think it’s really well done. Bryan Camp is a phenomenal writer with such intelligence I couldn’t help getting lost in the language of the book. If you read this series you will immediately understand my meaning. His books are filled to the brim with diversity of character and culture. I think there is something in these books to make almost anyone feel seen no matter where they hail from or what type of environment they grew up in. I love how the foundation of this story is built with Hurricane Katrina at its core and it speaks of a community torn apart but who refuse to stay down and are determined to rebuild again and again. In the Crescent City books New Orleans is a living, breathing character. Her Voice, Magic, and Luck being bestowed on some of my favorite characters in the books. Simply put, I doubt you’ll ever read a book like this one. If you enjoy learning about mythology, culture, gods, race, history, or the city of New Orleans specifically you will love this. I also recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy and magic in their books. This one is chock full of it. If you’re looking for a book with a young black woman as a main character, look no further. You’d be hard pressed to find another like Renaissance Raines. 

book reviews

ARC Review: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadney

The Grand Dark By Richard Kadney

Adult SFF/Dystopian

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

Largo is a bike currier in Lower Proszawa, traveling all over the city dropping packages to the rich, the poor, and everyone in between. The Great War has just ended and the people of this ravaged city drown themselves in sex, drugs, and parties to forget the terror recently visited upon them. As they give themselves up to pleasures of all kinds they fail to notice that the reality around them is dire. Automata are running the streets, taking jobs from the humans when they most need them, more and more genetically engineered creatures being kept as pets or instruments of war, and the general morbidity of the The Grand Darkness, where very realisitic murders are played out on stage in all it’s gory glory. Despite being a drug addict, Largo makes it to work each morning and when the Chief Courier goes missing his job is offered to Largo. Things seem to be looking up for him, with a new promotion, his beautiful girlfriend, Remy, and all the drugs he could possibly need, Largo is living in a state of bliss. But all good things must come to an end.

This book was a beautiful chaos. It was like a mish-mash of gothic architecture, 1940’s noir, automatons, and a bit of a lovecraftian feel to polish it all off. Lower Proszawa is a place you can’t picture the sun shining or any life outside of its reality. I listened to the audiobook while reading along because the names and places were entirely impossible to pronounce; the names and places making me think it was inspired by the German language. Men and woman are referred to has “Frau”, “Herr”, and “Fräulein”. While listening a lot of the accents also sounded French. Yet there was nothing that implied that these places even existed in the world. Simply put, this world is entirely unique and palpable. While reading I felt completely immersed. I was THERE. Kadney truly is a gifted storyteller with a vivd imagination. 

Largo and his actress girlfriend, Remy, along with most of the population, are addicted to a drug called Morphia. When they aren’t using Morphia, they are sniffing cocaine or getting drunk, seeing morbid plays that use a type of remote control doll to enact bloody scenes of murder and death, or having sex. In the absence of war, the people of the city have given themselves entirely to pleasure. But just below the surface dark and terrible things are stirring and there’s word that the war will be coming again. The Bollocks, or police, are trying to sniff out the people in the resistance and in turn end up brutalizing and jailing innocent people. Walking down the street isn’t safe, especially from the law. On every street corner the Iron Dandies can be found. Men that have returned from the war so maimed and disfigured that they must wear iron masks to cover their faces. There’s word that people are being abducted from the streets by slavers and everyones jobs are constantly at risk of being taken over by the Mara’s, genetically enhanced creatures that some keep as pets. And to top it all off there is a plague, known as The Drops, inflicting random people and no one is sure how it is contracted. It’s a bleak world and all anyone wants is to hide from reality. 

I really loved the characters in this book. This story features a m/m relationship along with a few bi or pan (not entirely sure which) characters as well. There is also a lot of disability representation in general but two of the main characters specifically. One is blind and the other is disfigured and disabled. They were all well fleshed out and interesting and they all showed amazing character growth throughout. Some of them were utterly unrecognizable by the end of the story. I loved how most of them reacted when faced with hard decisions and the things they were willing to do to protect the ones they loved. Previously seen as frivolous and uncaring, they now showed outstanding grit and determination in the face of their adversaries. The plot was fast-paced and held my attention until the last page. Most of the places this story took us I never saw coming and it was brutal. Kadney held nothing back, there’s blood and gore and death aplenty. 

This is definitely a book that speaks more for itself than I can. It’s very hard to explain a world this detailed that is pulled from so many different things to create this one amazing place. Lower Proszawa is really a character all it’s own with it’s carnival, its slums and upper-classes and all it’s crisscrossing streets and alleys; it has it’s own personality and moods. Kadney really created something unlike anything I’ve ever read. I’m only sorry it ended like it did. As far as I know this is a standalone. It did resolve the most important plot points but there are a few burning questions that never got answered. That is really my only criticism. 

There are some triggers to be aware of: Addiction (alcohol and both real and invented drugs), PTSD (maimed & disfigured soldiers are very prominent), Homophobia, Police Brutality & abuse of power, minor animal cruelty (not that any is ok!), Violence (a lot of blood and gore), Sex (not really a trigger but there is a lot of sex or sexual behavior throughout the book), Spreading of Disease/plague, Brutal Death of a Parent (witnessed by child), Brutal Death of a close friend (witnessed by child).


book reviews

ARC Review: Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Adult Contemporary Romance

⭐️⭐️⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker is a second chance romance between two people from very different worlds. In their teens, Kyle and Piper both attend summer camp as counselors and quickly fall into an intense romantic relationship. When Piper’s father finds out that his daughter is dating the child of a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks he demands that Piper end the relationship immediately. When she fails to follow his orders and finds herself getting into compromising situations that land her in a load of trouble, the summer comes to an abrupt end and Piper doesn’t hear from Kyle again. That is until he reappears thirteen years later as a security guard for the building her family owns and in which she is the VP of the company. Yet, when Piper approaches Kyle he seems to have forgotten her name… and their romance entirely. 

I really wanted to love this book. I had heard many good things about this author’s previous novel, The Simple Wild, and was expecting her most recent novel to be similarly good. And it was, but nothing more. The story alternates between the past when Kyle and Piper were teens at summer camp and current times when they are reconnecting after thirteen years. The current timeline was very dull. Chock full with the day to day luxurious life of Piper and her job as VP of a huge real estate company. At first I thought this was just a slow burn type of romance and I was totally down with that. Well, it was a slow burn all right. So slow the flame nearly snuffed itself right out. At the 40% mark of the book there was still nothing happening between Piper and Kyle. Instead we were learning about her job and family dynamics. The flashbacks were the only element carrying this story along and I found I enjoyed those chapters infinitely more even though it had turned this adult romance into more of a YA romance. The scenes between the two MC’s at camp were steamy and pretty graphic, while the adult portion was the polar opposite. Even after Piper and Kyle’s adult story finally starts moving along the steamier parts are pretty much grazed right over. This isn’t a huge deal to me but I was a bit surprised since the scenes involving them as teens were so detailed. 

There were definitely elements of this story that I liked quite a bit. Piper is snarky and smart and I really liked her character. I liked seeing how she handled being a woman in a position of power in a male dominated world. She’s down to earth without being unrealistically so and I really enjoyed that, too. I liked that Kyle was a bit different than your average teen love interest with his lip piercing, faux hawk, and tattoos. The chemistry between the two of them was palpable. I just wish there had been more of that chemistry in their adult relationship. Several times I found myself laughing out loud. The characters were definitely witty and interesting. Unfortunately, I felt like I was waiting for the entirety of the book for something to happen and when it did it kind of fell flat. I enjoyed my time with this novel but it was nothing to write home about. 

There was very little diversity, a gay couple was mentioned once or twice and the story features a disabled MC, but that’s really it. There are themes of divorce, absent parents, cheating, underage drinking, loss of virginity, and some derogatory comments towards women and the people who work for the wealthy. Nothing I would consider majorly triggering. 

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book reviews

ARC Review: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

New Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQ+

5/5⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press. The following opinions are my own.

Summoned to a royal wedding, the first family heads to England. Alex, First Son of the United States, is dreading the idea of facing his nemesis, Prince Henry. Unsurprisingly Alex promptly begins drinking to save him the pain of such a meeting and a confrontation between the two men finds them in a shoving match in which a $75,000 dollar wedding cake is decimated, the whole thing witnessed by the guests and media. In order to save face the two families have decided that they would play off the whole interaction as a mishap between friends and several meet-ups and hang out sessions are planned in which Henry and Alex will look for all the world as if they are the greatest friends. What could go wrong?

As your mother I can appreciate that maybe this isn’t your fault, but as the president, all I want is to have the CIA fake your death and ride the dead-kid sympathy into a second term.

Ellen
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