Review: THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim Johnson

Review:  THIS IS MY AMERICA by Kim JohnsonThis Is My America by Kim Johnson
five-stars
Published by Random House Children's Books on July 28, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set in Galveston, Texas, Kim Johnson’s This Is My America follows Tracy Beaumont, a 17-year old African American who is on a mission to save her father, who is sitting on Death Row, convicted of a murder he did not commit. When the novel opens, he has less than one year before he’s put to death and so Tracy is running out of time. She has spent the past seven years writing weekly letters to Innocence X, an organization devoted to help those who have been wrongly incarcerated, pleading with them to take her father’s case.

The matter becomes all the more urgent when tragedy strikes the Beaumont family all over again. The local police arrive at the Beaumont house late one night with an arrest warrant for Tracy’s older brother Jamal. He is the prime suspect in the murder of Angela Herron, the editor of their school newspaper and also the white girl Jamal has been dating in secret. Jamal has no alibi and the sheriff’s son places him at the scene of the crime. Fearing he’s going to suffer the same fate as his dad, Jamal flees and refuses to come home until he can prove his innocence. With the clock ticking on both her father’s and her brother’s lives and still no response from Innocence X, Tracy decides it’s time to take matters into her own hands and starts looking for the evidence that will set them both free and save her family.

This story is hard-hitting on so many levels. As we follow Tracy on what turns out to be an increasingly dangerous journey to find the evidence that will exonerate her family members, the author unflinchingly explores so many tough and all-too-relevant topics, such as systemic racism, corruption in law enforcement, police brutality, the lingering existence of hate groups like the KKK, and the fact that without ample resources, a black person has little chance of successfully defending themselves in our legal system. The deck is just stacked against them. The author really drives her point home though by bringing us into the Beaumont home, where we meet and fall in love with Tracy, Jamal, their mom, and especially with their little sister Corinne, who at only seven years old, has never known her father as a free man. He has always been behind bars. Everything this family has gone through just had me in tears several times while I was reading, especially knowing that even though this account is fictional, the Beaumont’s situation is unfortunately a reality for too many families.

I don’t want to give away anything about the actual murder mysteries, so I’m just going to add that as powerful a read as this is because of its message about racial injustice, it’s also just a flat out fantastic read because the drive to find the real murderers is so riveting.

This Is My America is a hard-hitting exploration of the racial injustices that are so pervasive in American society. It’s a powerful read in that it will make you sad, angry, and frustrated at how little progress we as a society have made to stop the racial injustices, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful story. This is a book I’d love to see as required reading at the high school level because of its message that you’re never too young to start making your voice heard and that no matter how young you are, your voice can actually make a difference.

five-stars

About Kim Johnson

KIM JOHNSON held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Reviews: The Year of the Witching & The Pull of the Stars

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two historical fiction novels that are releasing in July.  The first is an atmospheric tale about witches and curses that is sure to entertain, while the second is a heart-wrenching and thought provoking look at the influenza pandemic of 1918.

 

Reviews:  The Year of the Witching & The Pull of the StarsThe Year of the Witching Goodreads

Author: Alexis Henderson

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Publisher:  Ace

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I’m always up for a good witchy read so I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson.  That gorgeous cover promises an atmospheric read with hints of the supernatural, and I knew from the moment I opened the book and saw it was divided in parts labeled Blood, Blight, Darkness, and Slaughter that I was in for a wild ride, and boy does this book deliver! The story follows a young woman named Immanuelle Moore, who was labeled as cursed from the moment of her birth, because her mother was unmarried.  Raised by her grandparents after her mother ran off, Immanuelle has spent her entire life trying to live up to the religious ideals of her community and prove that she is not a curse or a threat.  One night, however, Immanuelle finds herself inexplicably drawn to a forbidden place called the Darkwood and it is there that everything changes. She encounters witches there and they present her with her mother’s diary.

When people in her community start falling ill soon after, Immanuelle fears she has unleashed something awful and turns to her mother’s diary for some insight.  The more Immanuelle reads, the more she questions everything she has ever known about her mother, her own life, and the Puritanical, cult-like ways of her community.  I adored Immanuelle because she was so smart, so resourceful and resilient, and because she wasn’t afraid to challenge and question authority, especially if she feels that the authority figures are abusing their power.  I also loved how determined she was to save the people of her community even though they weren’t always as nice to her as they could have been because of her “cursed” status.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m just going to say that for me, The Year of the Witching reads like a mashup of Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a play about the Salem Witch Trials.  It’s an atmospheric witchy read filled with secrets, lies, and curses, and whose vivid supernatural imagery will keep you glued to its pages.  4 STARS.

 

Reviews:  The Year of the Witching & The Pull of the StarsThe Pull of the Stars Goodreads

Author: Emma Donoghue

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

When I first heard about Emma Donoghue’s new novel, The Pull of the Stars, I struggled with whether or not I could handle reading a novel about a pandemic since we’re currently in the middle of one ourselves, ultimately my love of Donoghue’s writing and storytelling won out though and I decided to give it a go.  Set in Dublin, Ireland in 1918, in the middle of both WWI and a deadly influenza pandemic, The Pull of the Stars takes us inside a maternity ward in a hospital in Dublin.  Through the eyes of Nurse Julia Power, we see firsthand what it looks like to work in what has become just as lethal as the battlefield itself.  Nurse Power is tasked with caring for expectant mothers who have contracted the deadly flu.  The hospital is woefully overcrowded and understaffed as the staff continually gets sick while caring for patients.  Nurse Power’s ward honestly isn’t even a ward; it’s a supply closet that has been converted to a ward.  Not only is it cramped, but it means that all of the pregnant women are in one room together.  When tragedy strikes, there’s no dignity and no privacy.  Everyone bears witness to your grief.

I was drawn into the story immediately by Nurse Power’s perspective of what it was like to work as a nurse in this environment and her tireless devotion to keeping these women alive, but what really captivated me was watching each pregnant woman’s story unfold.  The story may mostly take place in a tiny closet, but Donoghue uses the journeys of each woman to explore some huge themes – religion, poverty, sexual abuse, PTSD, and abuse of power, just to name a few, as well as to show how deadly the flu was and how it could strike at any moment.  What takes place in that room is raw, emotional, and so authentic that I found myself tearing up many times while reading, particularly once I learned the significance of the watch on the book’s cover.  I may have been hesitant to start reading The Pull of the Stars, but once I started it, it kept me rapt until the very last page.  While in many ways, it’s a tragic story, The Pull of the Stars is also a quietly, powerful story of hope and survival.  4.5 STARS

Reviews: Today Tonight Tomorrow & 10 Things I Hate about Pinky

 

I’ve got two great YA contemporaries to share with you today.  The first is from a new-to-me author, Rachel Lynn Solomon and the second is from one of my favorite YA contemporary authors Sandhya Menon.  I had so much fun with both of these reads and am excited to share my thoughts on them with you.

 

Reviews:  Today Tonight Tomorrow & 10 Things I Hate about PinkyToday Tonight Tomorrow Goodreads

Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication Date: July 28, 2020

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon is one of the most entertaining and relatable novels set in a high school I’ve read in a long time.  It follows senior Rowan Roth on her last day of high school and beautifully captures all of the emotions running through her head as she prepares to say goodbye to her classmates and, in essence, her childhood, and as she looks ahead to her future and her desire to become an author.  Will she ever see her friends again?  Has she really accomplished everything she hoped to accomplish in high school?  Will people take her seriously when she tells them she wants to write romance novels?  All of the emotions swirling around in Rowan’s brain as she navigates that last day of school were so relatable and really made me nostalgic for my own high school days.

Today Tonight Tomorrow is also a really fun read though.  It features the most epic scavenger hunt/assassin game called HOWL where seniors are given clues that take them all around the city of Seattle, along with an armband and the name of a target, which is of course a fellow senior.  If you capture your target’s armband, he or she is eliminated.  The goal of the game is to correctly solve all of the clues, providing photo evidence for each, and eliminate as many targets as possible without being eliminated yourself.  How much fun does that sound like?  I would have loved this game when I was in high school. Heck, I’d actually play it right now!  What makes HOWL even more fun though is that Rowan inadvertently ends up paired with her arch nemesis and high school rival for valedictorian, Neil McNair (or McNightmare as Rowan prefers to call him).  What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?  Will they work together, maybe become friends or dare I say it, even more than friends?  Or will they relish the opportunity to go head-to-head one more time before they say goodbye to high school and to each other?  Oh, the possibilities!  I’m not going to say anymore so that you can find out for yourself, but I’ll just say I loved every minute of their time together that last day.  If you’re looking for a heartwarming, contemplative read with a little side of mostly good-natured, cutthroat fun, be sure to check out Today Tonight Tomorrow.   4.5 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  Today Tonight Tomorrow & 10 Things I Hate about Pinky10 Things I Hate About Pinky Goodreads

Author: Sandhya Menon

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

My love for Sandhya Menon’s YA novels continues with her latest, 10 Things I Hate about Pinky.  Pinky Kumar is a free spirit and a social justice warrior, and when she is passionate about a cause, watch out because nothing is going to stop her from making her dream a reality.  While Pinky’s passion is an admirable quality, it does tend to rattle her conservative lawyer parents a bit, especially since they think her free spiritedness leads her to make unwise decisions at times.  Pinky’s choice of boyfriends is also a frequent topic of conversation and when it’s the first topic of conversation when they arrive at their beach house for summer vacation, Pinky decides to take action so that she doesn’t have to spend the entire summer listening to her parents.  When she hears that Samir Jha, a friend of a friend, has had his summer plans fall through at the last minute, she invites him to her beach house to pose as her fake boyfriend.  Samir wants to be a lawyer like her parents and he dreams of going to Harvard, which is Pinky’s mom’s alma mater, so he’s the perfect boy to finally impress her parents.  There’s just one problem…once they finally meet up and start hanging out, Pinky and Samir realize they can’t stand each other. Samir is so flustered and so frustrated by Pinky that he actually writes a list down of all the things he hates about her.  It’s so hilarious watching the two of them try to deal with each other all summer without blowing their cover and of course every step of the way I’m waiting for that moment when they’re sure to realize that perhaps those sparks flying between them aren’t all about hate after all.  I adored everything about this book. Both Pinky and Samir are adorable in their own way, and I also loved the shout outs to Ashish and Sweetie from Menon’s other books in this series.  I breezed through 10 Things I Hate about Pinky in a day and was sorry to say goodbye to these characters at the end.  As always though, Menon left me with warm fuzzies and a smile on my face and I really hope we’ll get even more books set in this world.   4 STARS

Review: PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlay

Review:  PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA by Jenn McKinlayParis Is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Brittanie at Berkley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Jenn McKinlay’s latest novel, Paris is Always a Good Idea.  I had a major case of cover love for this book as soon as I saw it, and I’m thrilled to report that the story itself is as wonderful as the gorgeous cover and can’t wait to share my thoughts on it with you.

 

* * * * *

 

Chelsea Martin is in a rut.  She’s all work and no play, and as her sister points out, hasn’t been in any kind of relationship in years.  Seven years ago their mother died of cancer, and it’s like Chelsea stopped living as well.  Things come to a head when Chelsea’s father announces that he is getting remarried. Chelsea is overwhelmed by the news and feels like her Dad is betraying her mom’s memory and basically tells him this, creating a very awkward and tense situation. A heart-to-heart with her sister afterwards convinces Chelsea that she really needs to do some soul searching.  Since the last time she can even remember actually being happy is during her trip to Europe after college, she decides she wants to retrace her steps and see if she can rediscover the Chelsea she used to be.

Paris is Always a Good Idea follows Chelsea on this journey to self-discovery, and wow, what a journey it is!  I don’t want to give away any details because her journey is best experienced knowing as little as possible up front, but I do want to share what I loved most about the story.  Below are some highlights.

* * * * *

5 REASONS PARIS IS A GOOD IDEA IS A MUST-READ

  1. Wanderlust. If you love traveling like I do and have been missing it fiercely because of the pandemic, Paris is Always a Good Idea is the perfect read for you.  We not only get to travel to romantic and beautiful Paris as the title suggests, but as part of retracing Chelsea’s gap year abroad, we are transported to the lush countryside of Ireland and to an incredible castle and vineyard in Tuscany, in central Italy.  The author does an incredible job of capturing the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of each location and bringing them to life. It’s as close as you can get without your passport and I loved following Chelsea on this journey.

  1. Mamma Mia vibes. Okay, so maybe I’ve watched Mamma Mia a few too many times, but as I was reading this book, I kept thinking certain aspects of it reminded me of Mamma Mia.  No, Chelsea doesn’t go to Greece and no, there’s no love child with three possible fathers, but still, Chelsea does go to Europe hoping to rekindle her heart by tracking down three hot guys she had fallen in love with during her gap year. The search for these three hotties leads to many awkward and hilarious moments for Chelsea, which is where my Mamma Mia comparison comes from. If you’re a Mamma Mia fan like I am, I think you’ll love this book too.

  1. Emotional journey. It’s not all lighthearted fun and games though. Paris is Always a Good Idea also very much focuses on the emotional journey Chelsea takes as she tries to find herself again.  Chelsea has been grieving for the loss of her mother for so many years now that trying to find her way past that grief so that she can live and love again is a tall order.  As much as I enjoyed the humor of those lighter moments as Chelsea looks for her old boyfriends, I really loved having this emotional journey as part of the reading experience as well. It made for an all around satisfying read.

 

  1. Relatable protagonist. Chelsea is definitely a character I found easy to relate to.  So much of what she goes through are things many of us have gone through or probably will go through at some point.  Burying ourselves in our work to avoid troubles in our personal lives, friction between family members, the loss of a parent, or even just feeling like we’ve lost some essential part of ourselves.  She’s also relatable in the sense that she’s messy and flawed. Some of what she says to her dad when she learns he’s getting remarried was downright cringeworthy, but at the same time, the reaction felt very authentic, like drama I could imagine playing out in my own family.

 

  1. Enemies to Lovers. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun reason of all, for all of you romance fans, there’s a fabulous enemies to lovers romance. I don’t want to give away any details on this, so I’m just going to say if you enjoy sparks flying, witty banter, and off the charts chemistry, you’re going to love this book!

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea is an emotionally satisfying read that will fill both your heart and  your need to travel.

four-half-stars

About Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of several mystery and romance series and will be debuting a stand alone romantic comedy in July 2020 entitled PARIS IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband’s guitars.

Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby

Review:  BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. CosbyBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read a lot of crime novels but I was drawn to S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland because it’s set in my home state of Virginia.  Whatever my reasons for initially picking it up though, I’m so glad I did because Blacktop Wasteland really blew me away.  It is both an action-packed thrill ride that features a high stakes heist and an emotional journey about a man who is caught between the sins of his past and what he desperately wants for his future.

Blacktop Wasteland hooked me from the very first chapter when we meet the protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage.  If you like complicated characters, you’re going to love Bug.  When we first meet him, Bug is drag racing for cash and it becomes immediately clear that Bug’s driving skills are unmatched.  Think “The Fast and the Furious” and you’re on the right track.   For years, Bug was the go-to wheelman for anyone out there who was trying to pull off a heist.  He’s now trying to leave that life of crime behind though.  Bug has a wonderful wife, great kids, and he owns his own auto body shop.  He loves his life as a family man and business owner, living on the up and up, and wants to do right by his family no matter what.  Bug is also haunted by memories of his father, who led a similar criminal lifestyle but ultimately abandoned his family rather than stick around and take care of them.  Bug is determined not to be like his father.

Life gets complicated for Bug, however, when for reasons beyond his control (unexpected expenses, new competition from a rival shop, etc.), he starts struggling to make ends meet and fears he won’t be able to provide for his family.  As he exhausts all of his non-criminal options, his old way of life starts calling to him and when a former associate approaches him about a can’t miss heist, Bug agrees to take part, rationalizing in his mind that he’s doing this one last time and that it’s all for his family.  Things unfortunately don’t go according to plan as Bug and his associates realize they’ve stolen from the wrong person and that things are about to go from bad to worse for them.

There’s so much tension and suspense building as Bug finds himself in an increasingly impossible situation. When the heist goes wrong, Bug’s life spirals down a dark and dangerous path that leaves him and his family more vulnerable than ever before and he has to figure out a way to fix it once and for all. And what made Bug such an especially compelling character for me is that no matter how deep he found himself in trouble, he never loses sight of his family.  He truly is willing to do absolutely anything to protect them and secure their future, even if it means possibly sacrificing himself.   S. A. Cosby does such an incredible job with painting Bug as both morally gray and completely sympathetic that I actually found myself rooting for Bug to do whatever he had to do to take out all threats to his family, even if it involved violence.  I was just that invested in Bug and his family.

S. A. Cosby’s writing in Blacktop Wasteland is phenomenal as well.  Whether he’s describing the back roads of rural Virginia, muscle cars and action-packed driving scenes that would easily fit into a Fast and Furious script, exploring the landscape of poverty and racism that is ever-present in our society, or laying out an emotional discussion between a husband and wife about the challenges that are facing their family, Cosby’s characters are both authentic and unforgettable, and his imagery is vibrant, powerful, and sure to resonate.  This is my first time reading one of S. A. Cosby’s novels and I very much look forward to reading more from him. If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced crime thriller that is raw, gritty and will leave you on the edge of your seat, Blacktop Wasteland is a must-read.

four-half-stars

About S.A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

Review: WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine Center

Review:  WHAT YOU WISH FOR by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine Center’s latest novel, What You Wish For, is a beautiful story about love and loss, friendship and “found” family, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about overcoming fears, embracing joy, and living life to the fullest.

The story follows Samantha (“Sam”) Casey, an elementary school librarian at a prestigious private school in Galveston, Tx.  Life is pretty good for Sam when we first meet her. She loves her job – the school itself is fantastic with a vibrant, creative atmosphere, and Sam loves interacting with her students and with her colleagues.  She even loves her bosses, Max and Babette Kempner, the beloved founders of the school who also happen to be Sam’s landlords.  Over the years, Sam has come to think of Max and Babette as family.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly and Max passes away, Sam’s life, both personally and professionally, is thrown into turmoil, especially when she learns that the man hired to replace Max as Principal is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a teacher from her old life that Sam had a mad crush on, so much so that when she realized she had missed her chance with him and that he was marrying someone else, she immediately resigned her position and moved to Texas to get away from his happily ever after with someone else.  When Duncan arrives, Sam is shocked that 1) he doesn’t even recognize her, and 2) he immediately starts dismantling everything about her beloved school that made it so special.

What You Wish For really took off for me from the moment Duncan walked back into Sam’s life. He’s so awful and not at all like Sam has described him to her friends that I, like Sam, was obsessed with trying to figure out what had happened to cause such a radical change in his personality.  I was even more hooked by the story though from the moment Sam and Duncan have their first meeting.  It’s borderline hostile and he clearly doesn’t remember Sam, but even so, the chemistry between them is intense and the sparks are flying.  This was a relationship I was eager to see evolve!

Aside from the relationship between Sam and Duncan, I also just loved all of the secondary characters in this story.  I already mentioned the lovable Max and Babette, but there’s also Alice, the hilarious math teacher who wears math pun t-shirts to work everyday and who is also Sam’s best friend.  Then there is Babette’s adorable grandson, Clay, who is a bookworm and loves to hang out in the library with Sam.  Oh and there’s also an adorable labradoodle named Chuck Norris who will absolutely melt your heart.

The last thing I want to mention is a major theme running through the story that I really loved. It was Max’s life philosophy, which he imparted to Sam over the years anytime he sensed her struggling.  Max believed that no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how scared or stressed you may be, it’s important to always choose joy. That while it may not solve all of your problems, it’s a great place to start.  I thought that was such a beautiful philosophy, and one that is especially relevant right now, with everything that is going on in the world.

What You Wish For is my third Katherine Center novel and she has yet to disappoint.  Her stories are always so moving and filled with unforgettable characters, and they never fail to leave me with a full heart and a smile on my face.  If that sounds like your kind of read, you definitely want to give What You Wish For a try.

four-half-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Reviews: THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEAD

 

I’ve got two great YA fantasies to share with you today.  The first is a hilarious new superhero story from T.J. Klune.  This was my first time reading one of Klune’s novels and it did not disappoint! The second is an entertaining and fresh take on the beloved fairytale, Cinderella.

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADThe Extraordinaries Goodreads

Author: T.J. Klune

Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

T.J. Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is one of the most laugh-out loud funny books I’ve read in a long time.  A cross between Marissa Meyers’ Renegades and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, The Extraordinaries follows Nick, a gay teen and popular fanfiction writer who writes stories for the Extraordinaries superhero fandom. Nick’s fanfiction centers around Shadow Star, the Extraordinary he has a major crush on.  Nick dreams of meeting Shadow Star and winning his affections, and Nick’s dream only increases when against all odds, he has a chance meeting with Shadow Star, that leaves him utterly awestruck and formulating a hilarious yet slightly unrealistic plan as to how he too can become a superhero so he and Shadow Star can be a real team and live happily ever after.

Nick and his “adorkableness” are really what made me love this book.  His nerdy crush on Shadow Star is just adorable, as is his passion for his fanfiction.  I think Nick is going to be a character that a lot of readers relate to as well. Nick has an amazing queer friend group that supports his crush and yet has fun mocking him relentlessly over it.  He’s also got an ex-boyfriend that just won’t go away, which makes life interesting yet awkward for everyone.  On a more serious note, Nick has ADHD that he takes medication for to help him stay focused, and he’s also dealing with the loss of his mom, who was killed during a robbery.  One of my favorite parts of the novel is actually Nick’s relationship with his ultra-supportive Dad as they try to navigate their new normal without Nick’s mom in their lives.  As much as I was sitting there giggling right along with Nick’s friends as they gently poke fun at his crush, I also had moments where I just wanted to grab him and give him a big hug because he just needs one every now and then.

I don’t want to say much more because with superheroes, secret identities and even a bit of a mystery thrown in the mix, it’s just way too easy to run into spoilers, but I will say if you’re looking for a read that is as heartwarming as it is funny, The Extraordinaries should be on your must-read list.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loved Renegades and Fangirl and to anyone who enjoys a good friends-to-lovers romance.  The Extraordinaries has something for everyone!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADCinderella Is Dead Goodreads

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Bloomsbury YA

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Those who follow my blog know that I love fairytale retellings, so it was a given that I would want to read Kalynn Barton’s feminist Cinderella retelling, Cinderella is Dead.  As the title states, Cinderella is long dead when this story opens but her story is being used by the King of Lille to control his young female citizens.  Girls are required to commit Cinderella’s tale to memory and they are taught that they should want a happy ending just like Cinderella’s.

There’s a cruel twist to the King’s version of the fairy tale, however.  Once they reach a certain age, the young ladies are required to attend the King’s annual ball.  They are to dress up in the finest gowns and present themselves to potential suitors, who are then charged with selecting a mate.  Girls who aren’t chosen are allowed to return to the ball twice more but then after that, their lives are deemed forfeit and they are never heard from again.  Being chosen isn’t necessarily a happily ever after either as the men in the kingdom view their wives as property and often beat and verbally abuse them.

Sophia, the protagonist, wants no part of this dystopian disaster. She’s not looking for a Prince Charming and in fact would much rather marry her childhood best friend, Erin.  She decides that she will not take part in this sick ritual and makes it her mission to not only escape from the King’s ball, but to also come back once she finds a way to bring the whole patriarchal system crashing down.  I really loved Sophia. She’s bright, fierce, independent, and she’s loyal.  She’s also not perfect, which makes her all the more likeable and relatable.  Once she makes her escape, she meets up with an unexpected member of the Resistance and that’s when the story really takes off and takes turn after unexpected turn to shake up the original Cinderella tale.

Sophia is definitely the shining star of this story, but what I loved most is just how unique and fresh the story is even though it uses so many elements from the original fairytale.  The author will have you questioning every aspect of the tale you thought you knew so well.  Were the stepsisters really evil?  Who was the fairy godmother?  Was Prince Charming all that charming after all?  What really happened to Cinderella?  Did she really have a happy ending?

Cinderella is Dead is a quick and entertaining read that I breezed through in less than a day.  If feminist retellings, queer protagonists, and smashing the patriarchy are your thing, then this is the book for you! 4 STARS.

Reviews: THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

 

I hope everyone who was celebrating this weekend had a safe and fun 4th of July holiday.  I spent most of my holiday weekend reading so today I’m sharing reviews for a couple of fun contemporary reads that are coming out this week.  The Heir Affair and Not Like the Movies are the perfect reads to escape into this summer.

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESThe Heir Affair (Royal We, #2) Goodreads

Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Grand Central Publishing

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

If you enjoy books about royalty or have ever fancied yourself marrying the future King of England, The Royal We series by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan needs to be on your must read list.  The Royal We, the first book in the series, follows American college student Rebecca Porter (Bex) and Prince Nicholas (Nick), the future King of Great Britain as they meet, fall in love, and navigate the many obstacles that stand in the way of Bex becoming a member of the Royal Family, while the newest novel in the series, The Heir Affair, picks up with Nick and Bex as a newly married couple starting out their lives together.

While I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, what I really loved about The Heir Affair is that it really takes a deep dive into Nick and Bex’s relationship.  Some very dramatic events from the first book have really shaken them.  They need time to heal and regroup, and then they also need to work to try to reconcile with Nick’s brother, Freddie, as well as mend their reputations with respect to the people of Great Britain.  The authors do a wonderful job of making Bex and Nick’s relationship easy to relate to.  Even though they are royalty and many of their issues and challenges are royal problems that most of us can only imagine in our wildest dreams, many of the other challenges they face are normal, everyday couple issues.

Of course there are still plenty of humorous moments sprinkled throughout the book, particularly with respect to Bex’s relationship with the Queen and with Bex and Nick’s circle of friends from college who are always entertaining.  As much as Bex and Nick’s journey through married life and, in particular, their strained relationship with Freddie, tugged at my heartstrings, the humorous moments really balanced things out, as did some of the long-buried, juicy royal secrets that come to light and shake things up for everyone.

As much as I enjoyed The Royal We, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel in The Heir Affair. Overall, a very satisfying read. 4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE HEIR AFFAIR & NOT LIKE THE MOVIESNot Like the Movies (Waiting for Tom Hanks, #2) Goodreads

Author: Kerry Winfrey

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Berkley Books

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

I went into Kerry Winfrey’s new novel, Not Like the Movies, hoping for a bit of light rom-com goodness, but I have to say that I fully underestimated this book because Not Like the Movies has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the summer so far.  While yes, it has plenty of that rom-com goodness I was looking for, it also has so much more.

Chloe Sanderson is the protagonist of the story and I adored her and just found her so relatable. Chloe has a big heart, always going out of her way to do nice things for others.  She also has a lot on her plate, working as a waitress and baker at Nick’s Café, going to school to finish her business degree, and, most importantly, caring for her aging father who has Alzheimer’s.  Chloe’s life is further complicated when her best friend Annie, an up and coming filmmaker, writes a rom-com screenplay inspired by Chloe’s life and her romance with her boss, Nick.  There’s just one problem…Chloe and Nick are not in a relationship and never have been.

When Annie’s screenplay is actually picked up by a major studio, Chloe’s fictionalized life is suddenly everywhere and everyone thinks she and Nick are together. Awkward!  Things become even more awkward as Chloe starts to consider the possibility of dating her boss. She doesn’t have time for it with everything else on her plate and doesn’t even know if she believes in love, but Nick is kind of irresistible in a sexy, grumpy yet super sweet Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls kind of way. I loved Nick and Chloe’s chemistry and immediately became fully invested in the “Will they or won’t they?” pull of the story.

As much as I adored the rom-com aspect of Nick and Chloe’s evolving relationship, what really took Not Like the Movies to the next level for me was Chloe’s journey as she tries to balance everything she has going on in her life.  It’s an emotional one for her because she’s always so worried about caring for others, especially her Dad, and leaves her own self-care out of the equation.  Even though the journey is a struggle for her, I loved watching Chloe grow as a person, and I especially enjoyed watching her assert herself when it comes to her brother, who has conveniently stayed away and not pulled his weight when it comes to matters of their family.

There’s just so much to love about Not Like the Movies. I flew through it in a couple of sittings and even though I was completely satisfied with the ending, I was actually still just a little sad just because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Chloe and Nick yet.  If you’re in the mood for a story that features romance, family drama, and friendship, this is your book.  Oh and there’s pie too!  Lots of pie!  4.5 STARS

Review: I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit Frick

Review:  I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit FrickI Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick
Also by this author: All Eyes on Us
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 30, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kit Frick’s new novel, I Killed Zoe Spanos, has all of the ingredients that make for a great summer read.  It has a compelling mystery regarding what has happened to Zoe Spanos and who is responsible, and it also features a fantastic podcast run by a teenager who doesn’t think the police are doing enough to solve the mystery.  Top that off with an unreliable narrator and a small town setting in the ultra-elite Hamptons and you’ve got yourself a must-read book for the beach or your next vacation.

The protagonist of I Killed Zoe Spanos is Anna Cicconi.  Anna has come to Herron Mills, a village in the Hamptons, to work as a nanny for a family there.  She is hoping this job will be a fresh start for her.  Anna has gone through a rough patch lately and spent entirely too much time partying and drinking, to the point where she has started experiencing blackouts and memory loss.  Anna’s journey takes an unexpected turn when she arrives in Herron Mills and is immediately told by everyone she meets that she looks just like Zoe Spanos, a young woman who went missing in the village months earlier.  Anna becomes interested in Zoe’s disappearance and starts having little flashes of memories that convince her that she knows Zoe and that she has been to Herron Mills before.  When the story opens and we are faced with a scene in which Anna is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it becomes clear that Anna’s summer in the Hamptons is life changing in all the wrong ways.

We get most of the story from Anna’s perspective, and Anna is a classic unreliable narrator.  From the moment we meet her as she is confessing to Zoe’s murder, it’s clear that we can’t necessarily trust what she’s saying.  The confession is oddly specific yet filled with comments like “I guess,” “I think,” etc. It doesn’t sound at all like a statement made by someone who is sure she committed the crime.  An even bigger cloud of doubt is cast over Anna’s story when we learn from her best friend Kaylee that she was with Anna and they weren’t even at the house where Anna is saying Zoe died.  Even though the story opens with a confession, the mystery of what happened to Zoe and what, if any, role Anna had in it, is truly about as muddled as it gets and I was hooked on wanting to get to the bottom of it.  I also really liked Anna and that she was trying to get her life under control, so I wanted her account to be wrong. I didn’t want her to be a killer.  Sometimes unreliable narrators don’t work well for me, but I loved its use here.

I was also a big fan of the author’s use of a dual timeline.  One timeline follows the events that lead up to the discovery of Zoe’s body, while the other timeline deals with the fallout after the body is discovered.  I always love watching the pieces of a puzzle come together this way, as it allows me lots of opportunities to try to fit those pieces together and come up with my own theories about what has happened, as I did with this story.  In this case, the chapters alternate between the two timelines so that the reader is fed a few crumbs at a time from each end of the mystery, both from Anna’s perspective and from the perspective of Martina Jenkins, who is conducting her own investigation into what happened to Zoe, and broadcasting her findings on a podcast called Missing Zoe.

I don’t want to give away any details about what actually happened to Zoe, but I will say that it’s a wild ride to the final reveal.  I came up with lots of theories along the way and was wrong every time.  In addition to the mystery about Zoe, there are also plenty of little side plots filled with secrets and drama that add extra layers of intrigue and suspense to the overall story.  I devoured I Killed Zoe Spanos in just a couple of sittings and definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for a good mystery.

four-stars

About Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us (2019), and Windermere (2020), all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, and the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press). Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

Review: MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Review:  MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
four-stars
Published by Del Rey on June 30, 2020
Genres: Horror, Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read much in the way of horror, but when I read the synopsis for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel, Mexican Gothic, and saw the comparisons to gothic classics Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I just couldn’t resist stepping out of my comfort zone and giving it a try.  I’m so glad I did too because Mexican Gothic is one wild and seriously creepy ride!

Set in Mexico during the 1950’s, the story follows Noemi Taboada, a stylish debutante who spends much of her time either going to parties or studying anthropology.  She’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life when her family receives a disturbing and cryptic letter from Noemi’s recently married cousin, Catalina.  In her letter, Catalina rants and raves, makes it sound like she’s being held against her will, and begs for someone to come and save her from a mysterious doom.  Noemi and her family hadn’t heard from Catalina much since she moved away with her new husband so her letter comes as a huge shock.  Fearful for both her physical and mental well-being, Noemi sets out on the long journey to visit Catalina and assess the situation.

As soon as Noemi arrives at High Place, the remote mansion in the countryside where Catalina is living, she can tell that something is just off.  The mansion is creepy, rundown, and there are signs of decay everywhere, and the family themselves doesn’t appear much better off.  Howard Doyle, the patriarch of the household, is practically on his deathbed, and all rules of the house are set up so as not to disturb him, with the ultra-stern housekeeper Florence enforcing them.  Catalina’s husband Virgil is equally creepy and has a predatory vibe about him that Noemi immediately dislikes, and she quickly begins to understand why Catalina could be distressed by her living arrangements.  Speaking of Catalina, Noemi is rarely allowed to see or speak to her cousin, and is told that she is recovering from an illness.  The few times Noemi does speak to her, she seems agitated and not at all like herself.  The longer Noemi stays in the house, the more she starts to sense that something is very wrong and that it may be starting to affect her as well.

I really enjoyed the character of Noemi.  She’s smart, resourceful, and quite brave.  She went to that house wanting answers and she wasn’t leaving without them. She also refused to back down to anyone who got in her way, no matter how much they tried to intimidate or threaten her.

I don’t want to say anything else about the plot since the bulk of the book deals with Noemi trying to figure out what is going on in this house.  I will say though that what Noemi finds blows her mind, and mine as well.  Mexican Gothic is a dark, disturbing, utterly twisted and such a unique story that all of the big reveals kept me guessing.  In addition to the uniqueness of the story itself, I also loved the gothic atmosphere of the setting, especially the rundown mansion with the creepy graveyard on the property.   Everything about this story had me on the edge of my seat from the moment Noemi started poking around in the mansion.  One of my favorite elements of the storytelling was that the author creates an environment where it becomes hard to distinguish what is real from what is illusion or perhaps an imagination run wild.  I mention this in part because I do want to give a trigger warning for some graphic scenes involving a real or imagined sexual assault.

Circling back to touch on those comparisons to Jane Eyre and Rebecca, I think both of those are apt and I would also toss in a little V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic as well.  If you’re craving a dark and haunting read, Mexican Gothic is sure to satisfy your appetite.

four-stars

About Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of several novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow. She has also edited a number of anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.