Blog Posts, book reviews

Blog Tour | Mayhem by Estelle Laure

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

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.

Blog Posts, 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, book reviews

Blog Tour | Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

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, book reviews

Blog Tour | Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

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.