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.

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. 

Blog Posts

Book of the Month YA: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Hey guys! Let’s wish Frankly in Love by David Yoon a warm Book Birthday today on it’s release day! If the name Yoon sounds familiar it’s probably because David Yoon is the husband of Nicola Yoon, who wrote the popular YA novels Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star, which was recently adapted to film. David’s book is similarly about a Korean-American boy who falls in love with someone who is not Korean, going against all his parents expectations of him. When he meets a Korean-American girl in a similar predicament they pretend to be dating each other to satisfy both their parents but things don’t go as planned. Franky in love promises to be a witty, fun, heartwarming book of self-discovery and first love.

Davids Yoon’s book is one of the biggest releases this fall! Its also a Book of the Month YA (@yasofthemonth) pick and you can get your copy today for just $9.99 (retail price $18.99) using the code GROW. Just click the BOTM YA link highlighted in this paragraph or click one of the adds on my blog.

I am a Book of the Month YA affiliate and when you use my links I make a small commission. Thank you kindly for stopping by and I hope you take advantage of this great deal. You won’t be disappointed! I’ll be back soon with more bookish content!