YA Review: WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie Wexler

YA Review:  WHERE IT ALL LANDS by Jennie WexlerWhere It All Lands by Jennie Wexler
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on July 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult 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.

 

 

Jennie Wexler’s debut YA contemporary novel Where It All Lands is one of the more unique stories I’ve read recently.  It’s a story about love, friendship, missed opportunities and second chances, and it’s about how something as simple as the flip of a coin can alter the course of a person’s journey.

The story follows three teens: new girl Stevie Rosenstein and Shane and Drew, who have been best friends forever.  Both Shane and Drew find themselves drawn to Stevie and want to ask her out.  They don’t want to step on each other’s toes though and have a girl come between their friendship, so they do what they always do when they need to resolve something and move on – they flip a coin.  Whoever wins the coin flip gets to ask Stevie out and the loser steers clear.

It’s here that the story takes a unique turn because the author presents the rest of the story in a dual timeline:  in one timeline, Shane has won the coin toss and becomes involved with Stevie and in the other timeline, Drew has won and it is he who gets to ask out Stevie. I have to admit I was a little nervous when I realized it was somewhat of a love triangle, but I really loved how the author presented the relationships in each timeline. She really fleshes out all three characters and shows how sometimes even the smallest choices people make can have a huge impact on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Even though it was the unique concept of the love triangle/coin flip dual timeline that drew me to this story, what really made me love it was the cast of characters.  I adored Stevie, Shane, and Drew.  I was particularly drawn to Stevie because she had spent her whole life moving from city to city because of her father’s job.  Every time she makes friends, she immediately has to pack up and move.  She’s lonely and at this point in her life is hesitant to even bother trying to make new friends.  I felt so bad for her and was immediately rooting for her to find some great friends and convince her dad to settle in one place so she can put down roots.

I also adored Shane and Drew, especially because of their friendship.  They’ve both been through so much and no matter what, have always been each other’s number one support system.  I didn’t want them to let a girl, or anyone else for that matter, come between them, so I was anxious to see if they would really be able to abide by the rules of their coin toss or if the tension would come to a head and cost them not only Stevie, but also their lifelong friendship.  Wexler does a wonderful job creating tension and straining these relationships to the brink.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but I’ll say that this book also had me in tears a few times.  I just became so invested in these characters that when tragedy strikes (also presented in a dual timeline with different outcomes) I was immediately a wreck.

Even though there’s definitely quite a bit of heartbreak sprinkled throughout, overall Where It All Lands is still a heartfelt and hopeful book.  If you enjoy unique stories that feature love, friendship, trust, second chances, and possibilities, you’ll want to check out Where It All Lands.

four-stars

About Jennie Wexler

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. She has a BA in literature/rhetoric from Binghamton University and an MA in television/radio/film from The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Jennie’s debut young adult contemporary novel will be released on July 6th, 2021. She is a member of SCBWI and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy.

Review: BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter

Review:  BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
five-stars
on May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies follows Liz Buxbaum, high school student and hopeless romantic.  Liz is obsessed with romantic comedies and uses them partly as a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her mom, who was also a huge fan of rom-coms.  Liz daydreams about securing a happily ever after of her own and thinks the perfect opportunity for one has presented itself when Michael, her childhood crush, moves back to town.

I really loved Liz. Her extensive knowledge and love of romantic comedies was so endearing, as was her slightly misguided attempt to secure her own happy ending by fake dating her neighbor in an effort to get Michael’s attention. I also found Liz to be a very sympathetic character, as she is clearly struggling with the loss of her mom.  It’s clear they were very close and that Liz is feeling her absence tremendously.

Liz wasn’t perfect by any stretch though.  While trying to orchestrate that happy ending for herself, she all but ditches her best friend.  And while she’s struggling to cope with the loss of her mom, she pretty much pushes her stepmother Hannah, who is actually really cool, off to the periphery of her life and refuses to let her be a part of any of Liz’s senior year milestones.  These rocky, awkward moments just made Liz come across as all the more real and, for me, made her that much more likable and relatable.

My absolute favorite part of Better Than the Movies though was Liz’s relationship with her neighbor and arch nemesis, Wes Bennett.  When the novel opens, Liz and Wes are in the midst of an ongoing war over the parking space out in front of their homes.  They each resort to all sorts of dirty tricks to keep the other from getting the spot, which was just hilarious. It’s actually Liz promising Wes unlimited access to that parking space that makes him agree to help her get Michael to notice her.  Watching the relationship between Liz and Wes evolve was the aspect of the book that really had me smiling as I read.  No matter how much Liz professed to loathe Wes, it was all too clear the two of them had tremendous chemistry and that her actual happily ever after has quite possibly been living next door to her all along.

I don’t want to say anything else because you just really need to experience Wes and Liz’s immensely entertaining journey for yourself.  Not only is Lynn Painter’s new novel Better Than the Movies a delightful rom-com that features fake dating and the enemies-to-lovers trope, but it’s also filled with perfectly placed references to all of my favorite rom-com films.  I honestly don’t think a book has ever made me smile so much; I’m sure I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

five-stars

About Lynn Painter

Lynn Painter lives with her husband and pack of wild children in Nebraska, where she is a weekly contributor to the Omaha World-Herald and an avid fan of napping. When working on a new book, she can often be found sound asleep on her office floor. Some might say she should grow up and stop randomly dozing off like she’s a toddler, but Lynn considers it part of her writing “process.”

Review: YOU HAVE A MATCH by Emma Lord

Review:  YOU HAVE A MATCH by Emma LordYou Have a Match by Emma Lord
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on January 12, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma Lord’s new YA contemporary, You Have a Match, follows 16-year-old Abby Day. When Abby agrees to take a DNA test, alongside her two best friends, Connie and Leo, she thinks she’s just doing it for moral support because Leo is adopted and would like to know more about his biological family.  What Abby doesn’t count on is that taking that simple little test will turn her entire life upside down when it connects her to an older sister named Savannah (“Savvy”) she never even knew existed.

Abby has no idea what to do with this information, but then Savvy reaches out to her and wants to meet. After an initial meeting where Abby ends up with more questions than answers, she agrees to meet up with Savvy at summer camp so they can really get to the bottom of why Abby’s parents gave up Savvy for adoption.  Add Leo, who Abby has some awkward more-than-friends feelings for, to the mix because he also attends the same summer camp and you’ve got a recipe for an entertaining and cute read with lots of potential for emotions to run high.

The relationship between Abby and Savvy was the biggest highlight of the story for me.  Abby is a born risk taker, who tends to act first and think about it later. She’s also a budding photographer who inherited her love of photography from her grandfather who passed away recently. Abby has been struggling a bit with her grief since his passing, both in her personal life and academically.  In contrast, Savvy comes across as little Miss Perfect. She’s a social media influencer who focuses on healthy living.  Her Instagram feed is filled with yoga, meditation, healthy eating, etc.  Savvy wants everything in her life to be picture perfect so Abby’s act first, think later, rules are optional philosophy does not sit well with her.

These two are such polar opposites that it’s hard to believe that they could possibly be sisters, but I really loved watching their relationship progress the more time they spend together.  There are plenty of bumps in the road as the two of them constantly butt heads over pretty much everything, but the relationship growth comes across as very authentic and I liked that both sisters learned a lot and grew as a result of the challenges they encountered and mistakes they made along the way.

I also loved the blend of family, friendships, sisterhood, and romance, along with the summer camp setting. In addition to the sibling relationship, there’s also the mystery of why Abby’s parents gave up Savvy for adoption and then promptly had Abby a year and a half later.  Getting to the bottom of that mystery kept me turning the pages, as did wanting to see Abby sort through her feelings for Leo.  Leo is such a sweetheart so I was 100% invested in Abby being brave enough to take a chance on him.

I really enjoyed reading You Have a Match.  It’s a fun and quick read, but also just one of those stories that has a little something for everyone and that will leave you with a contented smile on your face.

four-stars

About Emma Lord

Emma Lord is the author of TWEET CUTE and upcoming YOU HAVE A MATCH, and a digital media editor 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, a whole lot of love, and copious amounts of grilled cheese.

Review: JUST OUR LUCK by Julia Walton

Review:  JUST OUR LUCK by Julia WaltonJust Our Luck by Julia Walton
four-half-stars
on December 29, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 272
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Walton’s new novel, Just Our Luck, is the feel good book I really needed in my life this year.  It follows Leo, a teen who has struggled with anxiety all his life.  His mom died when he was younger so his Greek grandmother, Yia Yia, was the one who watched over him and provided him, not only with coping mechanisms, like knitting, to help with his anxiety, but also with two “rules for life”:  1) Bad luck follows lies, and 2) Leave the Paros family alone.  When his grandmother passes away and his father is too wrapped up in his own grief to really know how to relate to Leo, Leo starts to struggle even more and manages to break both of Yia Yia’s “rules for life” in one fell swoop when a fist fight at school, followed by a fib to his father about what happened, lands Leo enrolled in a self-defense class at a gym where you guessed it, Evey Paros, of the forbidden Paros family from rule #2, works.  What follows is a life-changing journey for Leo and a delightfully, heartwarming coming of age story filled with humor, friendship, love, and so much more.

It was impossible not to root for Leo every step of the way as I was reading Just Our Luck. I’m a sucker for an underdog and for a soft boy and Leo is definitely both.  Leo’s passions are photography and knitting and the thought of having to even set foot in a martial arts style self defense class makes his heart race.  When Evey tells him she can secretly switch him over to a hot yoga class that takes place at the same time in exchange for a favor, Leo eagerly jumps at the chance even though he can practically hear his grandmother screaming at him to “LEAVE THAT PAROS GIRL ALONE!”  Even though he has no idea what he has gotten himself into, with either the hot yoga or with Evey, I loved watching Leo take this journey because he just grew so much every step of the way.  There were honest and raw moments as he continues to work through his anxiety and his overall awkwardness around people, and there were also hilarious moments in the yoga classes as well as with some of his antics with Evey.  I also enjoyed watching Leo and Evey grow closer and learning what the deal was with grandma’s rule about Evey’s family.

I think my favorite part of Just Our Luck though was the friendship that develops between Leo and Drake, the boy who punched Leo in the face and kicked off this whole chain of events.  Leo and Drake are forced to sit in a special detention every day and they have one goal:  to work through whatever issue led to the punch in the face.  It’s a hard sell at first with both boys just sitting there in awkward silence day after day, but once the breakthrough finally happens, a really wonderful friendship emerges.  One that left me with an even bigger smile on my face than Leo and Evey growing closer.

I could go on and on about how truly heartwarming and delightful Just Our Luck is, but just take my word for it.  If you’re in the mood for a feel good story, Just Our Luck is a must read.

four-half-stars

About Julia Walton

Julia Walton received her MFA in creative writing from Chapman University. When she’s not reading or baking cookies, she’s indulging in her profound love of Swedish Fish, mechanical pencils, and hobbit-sized breakfasts. Julia lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband and daughter.

Review: ADMISSION by Julie Buxbaum

Review:  ADMISSION by Julie BuxbaumAdmission by Julie Buxbaum
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on December 1, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Buxbaum’s new novel Admission is a timely and relevant read that takes an inside look at a college admissions scandal.  The novel contains clear parallels to the recent admissions scandal involving actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin as it explores what happens when those who are rich and privileged enough to already have the deck stacked in their favor decide that still isn’t enough.

Admission opens with a bang and never looks back.  The protagonist of the story, Chloe Wynn Berringer, awakens to the sound of the doorbell ringing and watches helplessly as her world unravels around her. Her mom, a famous celebrity, is led away in handcuffs, and as Chloe soon learns while watching the news, her mother has gotten caught up in a college admissions scandal while trying to bribe Chloe’s way into her college of choice.  The story then progresses, very effectively using dual timelines, “now” and “then”, to follow Chloe and her family as they deal with the fallout from the scandal and to show what happened to lead to the moment where the FBI came knocking.

I have to admit that my feelings for her and for her family were very ambivalent.  Like the general public, I was furious to learn the lengths these rich, entitled folks would go to in order to take what they wanted, even if it meant taking an admissions slot that should have gone to a more-deserving student.  To Buxbaum’s credit though, she brings Chloe and her family to life in such a way that I wanted to learn more about them and understand their motivations and wanted to know if they had any understanding or remorse for how their actions impacted other families.  In the same regard, Chloe’s journey fascinated me because she really is just an all-around average person – average intelligence, average grades, average school activities, etc. There is nothing stand-out about her aside from that her family has money, so there’s no way she should have had her pick of colleges.  Although Chloe comes across as dense and naïve, I found it hard to believe that she was completely blindsided by what her parents had done and believed she had legitimately earned a spot at her college of choice. It soon became clear though that the novel is about more than just the actual admissions scandal; it’s also about Chloe’s exploration of whether she knowingly or unknowingly played any role in her parents’ scheme. As ambivalent as I felt about Chloe, I did really enjoy watching her grow as she tried to make sense of and learn from the experience rather than just play the victim.

My favorite characters in the novel though are actually Chloe’s best friend, Shola, and Chloe’s younger sister, Isla.  I adored both of these brilliant and driven young women and that they were up close and personal examples for Chloe of how truly unfair the admissions scandal is for hard-working students who have their spots stolen by rich people.  Shola is an incredibly gifted student who works hard everyday and her dream is to get into Harvard, but she needs a lot of financial aid in order for it to happen.  Shola faces the real fear that she will be rejected in favor of a privileged student who doesn’t need aid.  And then poor Isla. Like Shola, Isla is brilliant and a hard worker whose dream is to attend Yale and based on her grades, test scores, and overall amazing transcript, she should be able to get in pretty much anywhere on her own merits.  But is her name now tainted because of what her parents did for Chloe?  Where I had minimal sympathy for Chloe, these two young ladies had all of my sympathy and they were the two I found myself hardcore rooting for as I was reading.

If you’re in the mood for a compulsively readable family drama with a “ripped from the headlines” vibe, look no further than Julie Buxbaum’s new novel, Admission.  You won’t be able to put it down!

four-stars

About Julie Buxbaum

Julie Buxbaum is the New York Times best selling author of Tell Me Three Things, her young adult debut, What to Say Next, Hope and Other Punchlines, and Admission. She’s also the author of two critically acclaimed novels for adults: The Opposite of Love and After You. Her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Julie’s writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children, and more books than is reasonable.

Review: CHASING LUCKY by Jenn Bennett

Review:  CHASING LUCKY by Jenn BennettChasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes, Serious Moonlight
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on November 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Lucky has everything I’ve come to love and expect from a Jenn Bennett novel. It has an engaging story with a wonderful romance, moving family moments, and most importantly, it is filled with unforgettable and ultra-relatable characters.

There’s a lot to love about this story, and main characters Josie Saint-Martin and Lucky Karras are at the top of my list.  Josie and her mom moved away from their New England hometown several years ago and have only now returned to help out in Josie’s grandmother’s book shop while she is out of the country.  Josie is not excited about being home and only views this as a temporary pitstop. Josie is a budding photographer and plans to save up enough money to move across the country to L.A. where her famous photographer dad is.  Josie is torn because she doesn’t want to break her mother’s heart and leave her alone, but she is also determined to follow her dreams.  That is, until she crosses paths with Lucky, resident bad boy and also Josie’s former best friend from when she lived there before.  After an initial awkward reacquaintance because Lucky isn’t at all like Josie remembered him to be, Josie and Lucky renew their friendship.  It is this developing relationship and its many possibilities that really drew me into the story and I especially wanted to know what had happened to Lucky to change him so much in the years that Josie was away.

In addition to these two characters and their journeys, I also really loved the New England small town setting.  Lucky’s family business is a shipyard of sorts and there are lots of scenes set on or near boats and the ocean and Bennett describes these scenes so vividly that I felt like I was there.  I also adored the Saint-Martin family’s book shop, which is just so quaint.

Chasing Lucky hooked me from the opening scene and captivated me until the very end because I was so invested in Josie and Lucky, both individually and as a pair. I needed happy endings for them both and I also needed a happy ending for Josie’s mom, who in a very intriguing side plot, has some things from her past that come back to haunt her as soon as she returns home. If you’re a Jenn Bennett fan and/or a fan of small-town romances and bad boys who may not really be bad boys after all, be sure to check out Chasing Lucky.

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review: THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

Review:  THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle PaigeThe Ravens by Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige
four-stars
Series: The Ravens #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 3, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 400
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Page is the exciting first installment in their YA fantasy series of the same name.  I’m always drawn to books that are set in schools, so this one being set on a college campus really appealed to me.  The Ravens does not disappoint either.  It’s a dark and atmospheric, fast-paced read that is perfect for spooky season, but at the same time, it’s a wonderful story about sisterhood and sacrifice.  I really enjoyed it.

Kappa Rho Nu sorority is the envy of all at Westerly College.  Filled with glamorous and powerful women, it is easily the most elite and exclusive sorority on campus, issuing the fewest invitations to join during the sorority rush week.  Vivi Deveraux, a new student at Westerly, is shocked but thrilled when she receives an invitation to join.  She is even more shocked when she learns why – Kappa Rho Nu is not just a sorority; it’s also a coven of witches.  Only witches are allowed to join, which comes as a huge surprise to Vivi, as she had no idea she even was a witch.  Scarlett Winters, next in line to be President of the Kappas, is the first sister Vivi meets during rush week and they unfortunately get off on the wrong foot. Things get even more awkward for Vivi when Scarlett gets assigned to be her mentor and help her learn how to harness her magic.  When a dark secret from the Kappa’s past rears its ugly head and threatens not just their reputation on campus, but also their actual lives, can Vivi and Scarlett put aside their differences and neutralize the threat?

Vivi was probably my favorite character, mainly because she has that underdog vibe from the moment she gets on Scarlett’s bad side. I always have a soft spot for those underdogs.  I also found her to be a very sympathetic character in that she has come to Westerly looking for a fresh start.  She and her mom have spent most of Vivi’s life moving from place to place around the country, never putting down roots anywhere long enough for Vivi to make any friends. As soon as I heard her backstory I was really rooting for Vivi to find her squad.  I also found Vivi to be an interesting character in that her mother is completely opposed to her attending Westerly, swearing that it’s too dangerous for her there.  That, coupled with the fact that Vivi’s mom obviously never told her she’s a witch, made Vivi an all the more compelling character. There’s a mystery there and I really wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I do have to confess that I didn’t like Scarlett quite as much as I liked Vivi, probably just because she was so cold to Vivi when she first arrived at Kappa.  She grew on me though as I learned more about her. She’s a legacy and is trying to live up to the reputation of both her older sister and her mother, both of whom were Kappa presidents.  She’s under a lot of pressure because of that and she’s also trying to live down something that happened in her past, which makes her an interesting character to keep an eye on.

Filled with twists and turns as the Kappa sisters confront the danger that threatens to destroy them, The Ravens is a riveting read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

four-stars

About Danielle Paige

Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of the Dorothy Must Die series and Stealing Snow, as well as an upcoming Fairy Godmother origin story series, and the graphic novel Mera: Tidebreaker for DC. In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University. Danielle lives in New York City.

About Kass Morgan

Kass Morgan is the New York Times bestselling author of The 100, which was the inspiration for the hit CW show of the same name, and Light Years. An editor of middle grade and young adult fiction at a larger publisher, Kass received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree from Oxford University. She lives in New York City.

Review: KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri Maniscalco

Review:  KINGDOM OF THE WICKED by Kerri ManiscalcoKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1), Hunting Prince Dracula
four-stars
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1
Published by Jimmy Patterson on October 27, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal
Pages: 448
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 was a big fan of Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked, especially once I heard it was about witches and demons.  I started reading it last week and let me tell you, it’s the perfect dark and twisted read for spooky season.

Kingdom of the Wicked follows Emilia a young witch who lives with her family, including her twin sister Vittoria, in Sicily.  The witches in Sicily live in secret to avoid persecution, so it is quite shocking when witches start turning up dead, brutally murdered. Who’s responsible?  Is it the new witch hunting group that has suddenly cropped up or is something supernatural afoot?  When Emilia’s twin becomes a victim, Emilia, who was normally the more cautious of the two, throws all caution to the wind and vows revenge.

At its heart, I’d say Kingdom of the Wicked is a story of revenge.  Emilia is willing to do absolutely anything to bring her sister’s killers to justice and is tunnel visioned on that quest, even when it quite literally takes her to Hell, or to the Princes of Hell, I should say.  And it is when she magically binds herself to Wrath, one of the Princes of Hell, that everything changes…

The chemistry between Emilia and Wrath is off the charts.  They both really knew how to push each other’s buttons and I couldn’t get enough of their banter and bickering.  Wrath is dark, dangerous, and sexy, and it becomes clear as the story progresses that he develops feelings for Emilia that go beyond just the magic of the bond. He has a soft spot for her, whether he likes it or not.  Emilia finds herself experiencing similar feelings.  Neither should trust the other but can they fight the intoxicating lure of their attraction?  I was a huge fan of Charmed way back when and these two seriously gave me Phoebe and Cole vibes!

Aside from the amazing chemistry between Emilia and Wrath, and the compelling mystery as to who has been killing witches, I also fell in love with the worldbuilding, especially 19th century Sicily.  I’m a sucker for a story set in Italy, particularly if there’s food involved, and Emilia’s family owns a restaurant. Emilia loves to cook so the story is filled with vivid descriptions of delicious Italian recipes.  I also loved how atmospheric the story was.  It’s dark and eerie every time someone goes out because of the tension of knowing there’s a killer among them.  I also thought Maniscalco did a brilliant job with the witchy folklore. I absolutely loved the details of Emilia’s family history and how they ultimately became tied to the devil himself.  And speak of the devil, her descriptions of the Princes of Hell are truly brilliant.  This is one of those books where, as I was reading, I could easily imagine it as a film.

I don’t want to give anything away regarding Emilia’s quest for revenge and how her entanglement with Wrath factors in, but I will say some unexpected twists and turns at the end have me very eager to get my hands on the next book.

If dark and twisty reads filled with witches and demons are your things, you’ll want to visit the Kingdom of the Wicked. You won’t be disappointed!

four-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

Review: THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed

Review:  THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds ReedThe Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
four-stars
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant coming of age story set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King Riots.  It follows Ashley Bennett, a wealthy black teen whose parents have raised her in such a way as to shelter her from the struggles, and particularly, the racism that faces the black community.  Ashley attends a mostly white private school and her childhood friends are all white.  The only black kids she knows are those who attend her school on scholarships, but they keep to themselves and she doesn’t interact with them.  When the novel opens, Ashley’s most pressing concerns are whether to go to school or ditch and hang out with her friends at the pool or beach.

Everything changes, however, when the police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, are acquitted.  Rightfully so, the black community is outraged and so the L.A. riots began.  The beating, acquittal, and subsequent riots is such big news that there’s no way Ashley can be sheltered from it, and it soon becomes a revelation to her that makes her question everything about herself – her privileged life, her disconnect with the black community, and her entire sense of self.

Ashley’s inner monologue was what really made this story so powerful for me.  I just found myself so moved by all of the emotions going through her head as she truly has to re-evaluate everything she has ever known now that she is faced with this new harsher reality.  Ashley is also worried sick about her older sister, who abandoned that sheltered life and is out protesting for justice right in the middle of the riots.  My heart especially broke for Ashley when during an argument with one of her childhood friends, the friend lets the ‘n’ word fly.  Hearing that hate come out of her friend’s mouth for the first time makes her realize that perhaps it’s time to move on and find friends who understand what she is going through and what a mess her head is because of it.  Even though my heart broke for her at the loss of friendship, it also soared for her as she slowly starts to find her way, figure out who she is, and who the best kinds of friends are for her.

Ashley’s journey in The Black Kids is a hard one, but as hard as it was, I still loved watching her learn and grow, and discover a new sense of identity.  I also thought it was very powerful to watch the riots unfold through the eyes of a frightened and confused black teen.  I’m old enough that I remember watching the riots on TV, but Ashley’s perspective is an entirely different one and it really hit me hard as I was reading.  It also made me sad in the sense that it’s now almost 30 years since those riots and we still have so much more work to do when it comes to fighting racial injustice.  I’m glad to see more and more books like The Black Kids and hope they will inspire all of us to understand and to do better.

four-stars

About Christina Hammonds Reed

Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. The Black Kids is her first novel.

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.