Diana Princess of the Amazons

Cut off from the rest of the world, Diana had an idyllic childhood on Themyscira. But now 11-years-old, she’s beginning to feel more and more isolated. Though she has many “aunties” and a loving mother, she is an only child. THE only child, in fact.

After an escapade goes wrong, Queen Hippolyta chastises Diana for not living up to the Amazon standard. Diana just can’t seem to measure up, no matter what she does! Literally every other person on the island is an adult proficient in their trade and mighty in body, while she is gangly, sometimes clumsy, and not particularly proficient in anything. She’s not Wonder Woman yet. What Diana needs is a friend; someone her own age whom she can talk to. But when she decides to take matters into her own hands — she may just make a monster instead. 

Diana, Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale. Illustrated by Victoria Ying.
January 7th, 2020

Y’all. This book! It’s SO. CUTE.

It’s not a secret that I love Wonder Woman. The 2017 movie was the most empowering and wonderful movie I’ve ever seen. I’m PUMPED for the sequel. And Diana, Princess of the Amazons, is the perfect middle grade graphic novel to get all those little Amazonian Princesses (and Princes and other royals) in your life excited about girl power and friendship and belonging.

Diana, in this version of our favorite butt-kicking superhero, is not yet at the confidence and strength of the adult Diana. She’s eleven and unsure of her place on Themyscira among all the adults who know their strengths and where they fit into in society. Diana is lonely, without anyone her age to play with, and without someone who understands how she feels. She gets pushed to the side as all the busy adults in her life get to work.

So when Diana gets the idea from her own birth story to make her own friend, she makes Mona, a girl made of sand and Diana’s wishes. And for the first time ever, Diana has a friend. They talk all night and play in the woods, they explore and pull pranks.

Then things start to get worse. Mona gets Diana into trouble. Big trouble. The monsters behind the protected gate are released and it’s up to Diana to save her home.

Focusing on the idea of belonging, and discovering when a friendship goes bad, Diana, Princess of the Amazons, was an incredibly wonderful read. Fans of The Okay Witch and The Witch Boy will love it!

My Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Mooncakes, Wendy Xu, Suzanne Walker
October 22, 2019

Y’all. I’ve been following the artist, Wendy Xu, on Twitter for ages. Then I saw her promote Mooncakes and I was THROUGH THE ROOF.

Queer, beautifully written and drawn, and such a cute story! This one is entering the Hall of Favorites for sure.

It’s got magical elements, a nonbinary character, and FOOD. What’s not to love?

Sure, the ending felt a little rushed, but graphic novels tend to read quick anyway so I wasn’t too bothered by it. Regardless, whatever Wendy and Suzanne have planned next, count me in.

My Rating: ★★★★☆


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What Bookimal Are You?

We’re tired of being labeled as worms, wyrms, or fire breathing dragons. We wanna be other bookish creatures. Adorable bookish creatures. So we outlined some for your viewing, saving, and sharing pleasure.

Book Owl

AKA: bookish owl, hoot’n’reader, know-it-owl

  • likes to stay up late to finish the page… err… chapter…. uhh book.
  • immediately has to tell everyone about the book they just finished
  • reads as many books as they can fit in their wingspan
  • tends to be very sleepy during the day (because of all the night reading)
  • eats mice

Owl did you know that I’m totally a #bookowl

Book Cat

AKA: pitter patter reading catter, page purrrruser, The Great Catsby, F. Scott Fitzferal, Shakespurr, Purrrnest Hemingway, Oedipuss

  • Enjoys offering you a new book and then bothering you constantly while you read it
  • Constantly plays with the tassel on their bookmarks
  • Greatly offended by dog eared pages
  • Mad at anyone who interrupts their reading time
  • Also eats mice

The #bookcat fits me purrrrrrfectly.

Book Rabbit

AKA: book bunny, page hopper, rabbit reader

  • Reads books lickity split
  • Often hops between the pages of two entirely different books
  • Really wants to tell you about the book they just finished… but… you know… quietly…
  • Prefers reading to company but will sit with company so long as company is quiet while reading is occurring
  • Prefers not to answer questions about the book they are reading until they’ve finished reading it.

I’m hopping mad that I’m a #bookrabbit

Book Fox

AKA: the foxy reader

  • Loves to burrow away and curl up with a good romance novel
  • Often heard screaming “OH FOR FOX SAKE!” when ships do not sail
  • Easily spooked when reading
  • Eats book bunnies

Oh for fox sake, I’m a #bookfox

Book Bat

AKA: the alphabat, the bat pack (when in groups)

  • Unusually batty about good books
  • Often just wings their book reviews
  • Enjoys reading but prefers audiobooks
  • Can listen to the same book more than once
  • Prefers odd reading positions, such as hanging upside down from the ceiling.

I’ll just be hanging around reading like the #bookbat I am.

Book Giraffe

AKA: a pain in the neck, a tall order

  • Enjoys long walks through the bookstore
  • Will proudly recommend a book to you and then watch over your shoulder while you read it
  • Always on the lookout for the next great story
  • Always orders a tall latte at Starbucks
  • Has a colossal TBR

Get me a tall latte, I’m totally a #bookgiraffe

Book Raccoon

AKA: trash panda, an adorable little trash fire, the garbage gang (when in a group), book-coon

  • Enjoys used books
  • Fervently into terrible stories with groan-worthy scenes
  • Loves puns
  • Stays up all night with the Book Owl, but only makes noise when looking for another book
  • Enjoys lending terrible books to good friends

My taste in literature is absolute garbage. I love being a #bookraccoon

Book Dog

AKA: a good boi, dog ears

  • Dog ears pages with good quotes on them
  • Loves to tell people about books
  • Really loves to tell people about books
  • Hey, did you read that book yet?
  • Because it was the best book
  • You should read it
  • Here, I’ll give you a copy
  • You should read it

Let me retrieve you a good book, like a good #bookdog


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Which bookimal are you? Or did we miss you entirely? Let us know in the comments!

The Abyss Surrounds Us

24790901If there’s anything that can be said for me, is that I love my fiction to have a hearty dosage of pirates. And queer girls. And queer pirate girls. The Abyss Surrounds Us is that, and more. So much more.

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Cas became one of my absolute favorite characters in 2016. She’s smart, cunning and strong. She’s not afraid to face off against a pirate queen and a legion of pirates for what she believes is right. She’s loyal and best of all, queer. It’s always so hard to find good representation in fiction; but The Abyss Surrounds Us was great representation of lesbian and POC characters. There was nothing to not like about this book. Emily Skrutskie knows how to weave a good, action-packed story and can wrench your heart out of your chest with all the strength of a Reckoner pup.

The semi-futuristic not-quite dystopian setting was perfect for pirates and sea monsters. It felt a little old-timey and a little futuristic and it was totally perfect for the story.

Cas’s relationship to Swift, the pirate girl that’s meant to keep an eye on her when the pirates kidnap Cas, grows naturally and out of mutual respect and fondness. The possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and it’s problematic nature within the story is brought up between both characters. But it never comes to feel like Stockholm Syndrome is the reason these girls fall in love.

The whole story was tense–will Cas escape, will Bao survive, what’s going to happen to Cas and Swift–but the finale was quite possibly the tensest thing I’d read all year. Literally edge of my seat. Well, bed. You get the point.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is everything I ever could have wanted and more. This is the book you need on your shelves if you like pirates, sea monsters or queer representation. Perhaps all three.

My Rating: ★★★★★

January First Impressions

Happy New Year, Book Nerds! Let’s get down to business. Actually, let’s get down to books. Business is boring. We’ve gone ahead and rounded up some upcoming titles. Let’s see if we’d request them.

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

With Anna-Marie McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

Pub Date 14 Jan 2020

Anyone ever see the musical episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer? If Rosella exits her house singing about a mustard stain I will give this a whole five stars. I’m more curious about the history than I am about Rosella’s story, but I think we’re supposed to be. I’m curious to know if the shoes will make anyone Flashdance.


Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

From acclaimed author Tonya Bolden comes the story of a teen girl becoming a woman on her own terms against the backdrop of widespread social change in the early 1900s.

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper class African American family in Washington D.C., she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation–black or white–and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society–the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men, and shallow young women–has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah starts attending suffragist lectures and socialist meetings, finding herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the press for women’s rights, the Red Summer, and anarchist bombings, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl and the risks she must take to be the change in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

Pub Date 14 Jan 2020

The setting will be integral to whether or not this is a good book. Savannah sounds spoiled and unlikable and I haven’t even met her. I’m put off by another book about a rich kid learning how the other half lives. It’s very “Royalty leaves palace for first time ever. Discovers kingdom sucks for everyone else.”


Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard by Echo Brown

“Just brilliant.”—Kirkus Reviews

Heavily autobiographical and infused with magical realism, Black Girl Unlimited fearlessly explores the intersections of poverty, sexual violence, depression, racism, and sexism—all through the arc of a transcendent coming-of-age story for fans of Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together and Ibi Zoboi’s American Street.

Echo Brown is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic . . . everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor.

Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realizes there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she’s worked for.

Pub Date 14 Jan 2020

Echo Brown sat down at a computer and was like “You want Black girl magic? I’ll give you Black girl magic.” Black Girl Unlimited sounds like an amazingly emotional read and I’m just gonna add it to my TBR now.

Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers

A princess fleeing an arranged marriage teams up with a snarky commoner to foil a rebel plot in B. R. Myers’ Rogue Princess, a gender-swapped sci-fi YA retelling of Cinderella.

Princess Delia knows her duty: She must choose a prince to marry in order to secure an alliance and save her failing planet. Yet she secretly dreams of true love, and feels there must be a better way. Determined to chart her own course, she steals a spaceship to avoid the marriage, only to discover a handsome stowaway.

All Aidan wanted was to “borrow” a few palace trinkets to help him get off the planet. Okay, so maybe escaping on a royal ship wasn’t the smartest plan, but he never expected to be kidnapped by a runaway princess!

Sparks fly as this headstrong princess and clever thief battle wits, but everything changes when they inadvertently uncover a rebel conspiracy that could destroy their planet forever.

Pub Date 21 Jan 2020

Says it’s a Cinderella retelling… reads more like a Star Wars ripoff? Every princess flees arranged marriages these days. Anywho, princess has snarky pilot on stolen spaceship and rebel conspiracy. All I see are space buns and wookies.

The cover is pretty though.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

“A witty rom-com reinvention … with deeply relatable insights on family pressure and growing up.” – Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, authors of Always Never Yours and If I’m Being Honest

“An adorable debut that updates a classic romantic trope with a buzzy twist.” – Jenn Bennett, author of Alex, Approximately and Serious Moonlight

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them?? — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Pub Date 21 Jan 2020

I hate contemporary. I want to read this. It sounds adorable, relevant, and hilarious.


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The Night Country

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood!

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

The Night Country – Melissa Albert
January 7th, 2020

I wasn’t a fan of The Hazel Wood. In fact, I DNFed it pretty quickly. But I was a little deeper invested in the events of book two.

After a quick internet dive to get a full synopsis of the first book, I put on my headphones and began listening to The Night Country.

While I was a little confused at first, even with the found information, Melissa Albert did a wonderful job reminding readers what happened in the previous installment, an issue I often find in book series.

I made it through book two but didn’t find much stayed with me. Alice’s characterization felt inconsistent. Does she like Finch? Is he just a friend? Is she mad at him? Does she understand his actions? Even Alice doesn’t know.

I flipped back and forth about my rating. I didn’t hate it, the writing flowed smoothly, but I also didn’t love it. Somewhere in the middle I experienced a story.

My Rating:

⭐⭐⭐

Buy THE NIGHT COUNTRY on Libro.fm and support local bookstores and get more books for Booked All Night.

Blood Heir

This hot debut, perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and An Ember in the Ashes, is the first book in an epic new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and the con man she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder.

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

Blood Heir, Amelie Wen Zhao
November 19, 2019

We begin as Ana is trolling a prison looking for a specific prisoner to help her clear her name. Desperate to keep her Affinity (magic) hidden from the guards, Ana spends a lot of time telling us she’s trying to keep it under control.

There is, perhaps, too much backward information at the beginning of Blood Heir. Her father is dead but we didn’t see him die, she’s on the run because people think she did it, but we’re not sure why, she somehow knows this prisoner will help her, but we don’t know who he is.

I was certainly intrigued by the action of the opening chase scene but it wasn’t enough to keep me going with all my questions.

The other reason I put it down was the way the writing flipped. Some parts were very well written. They felt perfect for a YA audience. But other parts felt overly informative and talked down to the reader. Basically, I don’t need a description for a sword so much as I do for the magic system.

I ended up not finishing.

My Rating: DNF

Upcoming January Titles

New year–new books! Who else is excited for a whole new year of fresh books? My New Year’s resolution is to read all of these!

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

In the sequel to New York Times bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer returns to the world of Emberfall in a lush fantasy where friends become foes and love blooms in the darkest of places.

Find the heir, win the crown.
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom.
Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war. 

Pub Date: January 7th, 2020

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.

Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…

Packed with high-stakes adventure, romance, and dueling identities, this gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is the first novel in an epic YA fantasy duology, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Sabaa Tahir, and Leigh Bardugo.

Pub Date: January 7th, 2020

One of Us is Next by Karen McManus

The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling thriller everyone is talking about, One of Us Is Lying! There’s a new mystery to solve at Bayview High, and there’s a whole new set of rules.

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

Pub Date: January 7th, 2020

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Balancing epic and intensely personal stakes, bestselling author Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son is a gritty, fast-paced adventure about two brothers caught up in a magical war generations in the making.

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.

Pub Date: January 14th, 2020

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson delivers the witty and pulse-pounding conclusion to the Truly Devious series as Stevie Bell solves the mystery that has haunted Ellingham Academy for over 75 years.

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

Pub Date: January 21st, 2020

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Contagion

contagion

Fans of AlienOutbreak, and World War Z will love this spine-chilling, zombie horror film-esque novel about a search-and-rescue mission gone terrifyingly wrong.

It got in us and most are dead.

Decklan flew for help. 

Don’t trust the kid.

Responding to the distress call was supposed to be a straightforward mission. But when Thea Sadik and her crew land on the distant planet of Achlys, they find destruction and devastation . . . and no survivors.

As they try to piece together the puzzle of who—or what—could have decimated an entire operation, they discover that some SOS messages should be ignored—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

Erin Bowman takes suspense to new levels in this heart-racing first installment in the Achlys duology. Fans of Jonathan Maberry, Rick Yancey, and Madeline Roux will delight in the electrifying horror that Contagion so vividly brings to life.

SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!

Had to. Sorry. I loved Contagion. The most impressive part for me had nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with the writing. Every character has a POV. I thought the head hopping would get difficult to follow by Erin does it so seamlessly that it just felt natural to know what everyone was thinking.

It lost points for me in the beginning because slow builds are slow.

But once the ball got rolling I couldn’t put Contagion down. The suspense is built up from the first SOS and only continues to build on Achlys’s surface, a perfect setting for a space thriller.

As with all sci-fi, technology plays a part, but none of it was ever technology from the Hand of God. They fought with it, against it, and lost it creating new obstacles for the characters to overcome (or be overcome by!).

My Rating: ★★★★☆


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The Hate U Give

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well-written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl from Garden Heights, a predominantly black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must-read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Three Dark Crowns Series

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Ok, so, I binged through this whole series via audiobooks and my unnaturally long car rides lately. I absolutely loved the first two books, but I had significantly less love for book number three.

In Three Dark Crowns, I was really in love with the presentation. I loved that the story seemed to revolve around the place more than the characters and Blake’s narrative style never left me confused, which considering it’s written in third person omniscient, that’s pretty impressive. Like, five stars impressive. In fact, it felt incredibly episodic. I could easily see this whole series turned into a TV show and my nerdy ass would be firmly planted on my couch with a bowl of popcorn each week to watch.

I think that narration worked really well, actually, because instead of making sure each of the sisters, their friends, and their caretakers all have unique narrative voices, Blake was able to jump between these characters without beating me over the head with the POV change.

It also worked really well to hint that something was wrong with one of the queens. After being thrown into the center of the island, Katharine climbs her way back to life, but she is exponentially stronger than when she went in. Her coming back was suspicious enough, but with her gifts and personality change, the arch is even more intriguing. And because we’re distanced by the narrative instead of lead to experience it as we are in first person, we have the room to speculate what happened to her.

The second book is action-packed, full of betrayals, murder, and all sorts of scheming and the writing remains on par with the first one. We picked up right where the first book ended and missed no time at all.

Which is probably why the third book, Two Dark Reigns, has been such a turn-off. It seems months have passed, lives have happened, and an uprising, which was only hinted at before, has already started. Names of dead queens are dropped but we’d never heard of them before. Katharine has been scaring herself. The island’s mist, its defense system, is especially thick and eating people.

And I want to see when this happened. It may be that it’s in the companion novels but it’s barely recapped at the end of the series proper. We don’t see life on the mainland as the two queens who fled there are already on their way back at the beginning of book three, we don’t see the mist take its first life, we don’t see Jules come into her War Gift or accept her role as the Legion Cursed Queen, and we don’t even see her mother get captured–we just sort of find out that Katharine has managed to do so.

Overall, I did enjoy the series, but it peters out at the end, as so many books nowadays.


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A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

Magic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.


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Tricked

Things are changing at Fairy Tale Reform School.

At least, that’s what Gilly’s heard through the Enchantasia rumor mill. Word is, notorious trickster Rumpelstiltskin has taken over management from Headmistress Flora, and he’s locked down the school tighter than the Pied Piper’s pants. Not that this news concerns Gilly. She’s been released from FTRS and is now suffering through attending Jack of All Trades School, where she gets to learn about different kinds of shoe leather and ways to measure feet. Truly riveting stuff.

But when Gilly’s little sister Anna gets whisked off to FTRS thanks to her troublemaking new friends, Hansel and Gretel, Gilly knows she’s got to get Anna out of there. There’s only one thing to do; make some serious trouble and get thrown back into FTRS.

It’s time to out-trick a trickster.

Jen Calonita
Fairy Tale Reform School: Tricked
March 7, 2017

Tricked is everything you want in a middle-grade title–EVERYTHING!

If you’ve ever heard me talk about Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, you know I’m passionate about middle-grade books that imitate and re-tell other stories (Go pick up Heck if you haven’t already.) So it should be no surprise when I tell you that this series needs a place on your shelves.

Because I requested and was approved for Book #3, I needed to run through books #1 and #2. Lucky for me, they were easy to listen to. Because the FTRS is fantasy, there is a lot of world-building, but we are never just told about it all. We learn so much about the world just by being it. I felt like I’d already been in Enchantasia, and that everything in this world was plausible.

From gargoyles to evil fairies, everything in this world is plausible. And everything is a pun that children and adults are sure to enjoy.

Jen’s quirk keeps up in all three installments. And we watch Gilly toggle back and forth between a likable quirky little thief-and an obnoxious little brat.

Tricked brings us back to FTRS to once again watch Gilly, Jax, Maxine, Ollie, and Kayla save the day. Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked ex-stepmother, is no longer the headmistress at Fairy Tale Reform School. She has been replaced by Mr. Stiltskin, and he is cracking down on the rules so hard that more children are being sent to FTRS than ever!

I guarantee this is a series you, your kids, your younger siblings, your classmates, and basically, anybody with a pulse will enjoy. I definitely recommend you run out to your nearest bookstore to pick up a copy. Right now.


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Beyond the Red

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Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

Ava Jae, Beyond The Red
March 1, 2016

When it comes to the broad sibling genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I’ve always been more in the favor of Fantasy. But Beyond The Red showed me a whole new world within the Sci-Fi realm, and I have fallen in love.

I’ve been a long time follower of Ava Jae’s writing advice Writability (and you should be too!), and when I heard that their debut was coming, I was ecstatic. Surely, someone who gives such great and dependable writing advice should have written an amazing book, right? And Ava delivered, beyond all expectations.

Reading the book of someone who you hold in high regard due to their advice can feel like you’re walking on a fine line. On one hand, their book could not hold up to your expectations, and fall flat, thereby disillusioning you to their authority. It could be just plain bad and you’ll forever doubt any sort of knowledge they may try to impart.

But, as is the case with Beyond the Red, it could be everything you ever hoped for and more.

I felt deeply connected to Ava Jae’s characters, rooting for them from the start. Jae’s writing is rich and powerful, and their prose is lyrical. The book has a strong set of characters, all with different agendas, and the story itself has the potential to become a classic and a staple in the sci-fi/fantasy community.

My one and only gripe is the sudden end of the book, which sets up for a sequel. Perhaps it comes from my deep need to know more about the world of Sefara. I want more world-building, more stories, a comprehensive guide to the Sephari language, a history of all things Sephari, and how humans came to the world.

I essentially want this to become as wide and detailed as Harry Potter or LoTR, where I can learn the language and read everything there ever is to read about this story.


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Labyrinth Lost

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Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Zoraida Córdova, Labyrinth Lost
September 6, 2016
UPDATE: We absolutely love the new cover.

Córdova immerses us in fantasy, language, and LGBTQ in a way I haven’t seen done successfully in today’s YA literature.

Labyrinth Lost shows us a custom fantasy culture of brujas with a hefty helping of Spanish language and family traditions. My experience with “diverse” literature lately has been for the author to go overboard, effectively alienating readers.

Alex has a lot on her plate: trying to keep her powers a secret from her family and her best friends, dealing with her feelings for Nova (a boy) and Rishi (a girl), being tracked by demons, and–not a spoiler it’s right there in the blurb–making her entire family, the living and the dead, disappear.

Whoops.

An amazing action-packed read, Labyrinth Lost never left me wanting more. Until the end. When I wanted more book because I need more of these characters.

Córdova even made me care about the antagonists, making me care about their general well-being.

Not only pushing for diversity but achieving it, not predictable, and in no way shape or form boring, Labyrinth Lost delivers more than you could ask for of today’s YA literature.


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The Lie Tree

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Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree
October 20, 2016
UPDATE: We love the new cover!

I’m always enamored by girls in stories that seem innocent and invisible but use that to their advantage to carve their own path — which is exactly what Faith Sunderly does in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s impossible to put down this historical mystery, set just after the advent of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, where young Faith takes the matter of her father’s murder into her own hands.

Historical fiction has always been that tiny love of mine, the flame of a candle burning in the back of my mind while I busied myself with fantasy. It’s always forgotten while I adventure with dragons and goblins, but I’m reminded how brightly that candle burns when I read something like The Lie Tree.

When I opened Lie Tree up, I couldn’t close it until I was almost halfway through, and the only reason I did was that it was 3:00 in the morning and I had work in a few hours. Faith is an incredibly strong female character–and not in the ways most people expect when they hear those three words. She’s immensely flawed, selfish and brash, but she’s kind and brave and willful too. She seeks the truth when everyone else is blind to it, and she puts herself in danger to get to the bottom of it.

Every detail comes full circle in every aspect; Hardinge is a talented writer who wastes no word.

My only gripe, if I really could call it that, is the huge cast of characters. Some are only mentioned in passing and others we physically see on the page, but they end up flowing into one another and often I find myself asking, “Wait, who is that?”

It’s not a good thing to have happen, especially in a murder mystery where everyone you meet is a potential suspect. You forget who wronged whom or when they were last seen, and it gets confusing.

But regardless of your favorite genre, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction, you ought to pick up The Lie Tree as soon as you can.


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Let's Discuss Yvonthia Leland

We might take a vacation from the blog in December but we certainly don’t miss out on all the YA lit drama. And this winter, the big event was from an author bashing reviewers. Who could forget the horror story that was Kathleen Hale hunting down an anonymous reviewer for giving her one star on GoodReads which sparked outrage about author/reviewer etiquette? The answer is Yvonthia Leland.

First, let’s talk about how this drama didn’t start in December. The earliest reviews for The Wrythe and the Reckoning happened in January. A whole year ago at this point! The reviews all say the same things:

  • moves slow
  • little to no character insight
  • uneventful

It’s the uneventful part that really bothers Miss Leland. In her post The Wrythe And The Reckoning Book Review: In Response To “Nothing Happens” she basically throws a temper tantrum and accuses one particular reviewer (and then later all negative reviewers), of not reading the book, citing the reviewer as saying she skimmed most of the book.

She then claims that ARCs (advance reader/reviewer copy) are not final versions of the book. This is only partially true as an ARC should be as close to the final version as possible and not 1/3 of the book as she claims to have posted.

What tipped me off especially was the reviewer making statements that implied when the characters get to ________________ (a certain location) nothing happens. Ha! Excuse me? Any reader who has read The Wrythe and the Reckoning knows that when they get to that location a lot happens. It’s the main setting of the story. That statement alone gave it away that the reviewer skim-read most of the book and only captured a small amount of the content. However, there was no mention of her having read only bits and pieces of the book, in actuality having read the book only briefly. But yet she reviewed the book as if she had read it in its entirety or at least most of it. It’s as though she was giving the impression that she knows it well, but she hardly knew the story at all.

Yvonthia Leland

Rather than focus on the fact that her book didn’t hit home with this reviewer she chose to question whether this reviewer was qualified enough to have an opinion on her writing. As a reviewer I will say this:

I often review books I didn’t finish.

They are usually 1 and 2 star reviews and I state what made them that way and what made me put it down. While I have not been able to find the original triggering review, I’m willing to bet that this anonymous reviewer stated her reasons too.

Which brings us to another problem with Miss Leland. She attempted to discredit and police her GoodReads reviews. Many of the negative reviewers were apparently accused of either reading poorly or not reading at all. While many of her comments are gone now, they live on forever in quoted responses.

Since when does a Booktuber or Bookstagrammer give a review when they have read only one chapter or skim-read the book. You are unprofessional, and I don’t understand why you have authority on this site when you don’t even have the courtesy to read the entire book before reviewing it.”

A Since Deleted GoodReads Comment – Yvonthia Leland

But wait! There’s more!

…you don’t need to finish the plate if the first few bites tell you the food is awful.

Some Awesome GoodReads Reviewer

Responses like this are all over the place and I am happy to see that many claim to have simply reported this unprofessional author, although none of this experience seems to have set in for her.

Basically, anyone with a dissenting opinion of her book is a piece of crap. While this doesn’t happen often, when it does it certainly blows up the battlefield. So here it is ultimately for both sides:

  1. Be Polite
  2. Don’t Insult The Team
  3. Be Honest

There is a professional way to say everything and “I love how you all treat authors like #$%^& and then act like you’re the victims” doesn’t make the cut.

Every book and every book blog has a lot of heart go into it. There is no need to be insulting.

And no one is asking you to lie about how you felt about the book or how it feels to have a good or bad review. But regardless of your feelings, refer to rule #1.

And if you find that a comment or blog post is out of line or in violation of community standards then flag it, block the account, and move on.

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of it is that I’m going to put PROUD MEMBER OF THE GOODREADS MOB on a T-shirt and never look back.

As for Miss Leland, perhaps she should take her own advice.

Q: If you could give one tip about writing, what would it be?
A: To care about your audience. For writers, or any other artists or entertainers, I think caring about the audience should be at the foundation of our art.

About – Yvonthia Leland

The Darkest Corners

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There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.

Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.

Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.

But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.

Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.

Kara Thomas, The Darkest Corners
May 9, 2017
UPDATE: We love the new cover!

Looking for a nice, well-paced, slow build? You need to pick up a copy of The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas.

I should’ve known I would enjoy The Darkest Corners when it came packaged to me in an evidence bag.

Tessa Lowell and Callie Greenwood show signs of major anxiety disorders after having testified against the alleged killer, Wyatt Stokes. They also show two very popular ways to deal with: Tessa attempts to overcome it by ignoring it while Callie dives to the bottom of the bottle. Their character growth was both amazing and realistic. Too often, we see vices simply dropped without recourse and it was nice to see both cause and effect for these girls.

I certainly spent most of The Darkest Corners speculating “who dunnit?” which is exactly what I want out of a crime/mystery novel. Thomas does a great job slowly giving us information as Tessa and Callie remember fights and come to terms with their own actions. Without giving too much away, large revelations in the plot are given away as Tessa and Callie forgive themselves for their own actions and finally admit, both to themselves and each other, what actually happened ten years ago.

On the surface, we follow the case of The Ohio River Monster, a man who murdered girls and left their bodies to be discovered along I-70, but beneath that are other mysteries–all of which tie back to The Ohio River Monster and Wyatt Stokes. This was perhaps my one qualm with The Darkest Corners.

I wanted them to find the killer and Tessa’s other mysteries were a bit like roadblocks. I was delayed from finding out the inevitable. I wanted Tessa to prioritize Wyatt Stokes over her personal issues.


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For This Life Only

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Three minutes.

Jacob Palmer died for three life-changing minutes.

And when he woke up, nothing was the same. Elijah, his twin brother, is dead, and his family is broken. Jace’s planned future is crushed, along with his pitching arm. Everyone keeps telling him that Eli’s in a better place, but Jace isn’t so sure. Because in those three minutes, there was nothing.

Overwhelmed by guilt and doubt, Jace struggles to adjust to this new version of the world, one without his brother, one without the certainties he once relied on. And then Thera comes into his life.

She’s the last girl he should be turning to for help.

But she’s also the first person to truly see him.

For This Life Only, Stacey Kade
August 30, 2016

I have a theory that Stacey Kade wants to watch me die from dehydration. A scene that’s absolutely plausible given how much I cried while reading For This Life Only.

Would you believe me if I said Jace’s loss of his twin is the least of his problems? He struggles to identify himself after the accident which claimed the life of his twin brother, Eli. Jace knew he was the screw-up and Eli was good. Jace knew that he was an athlete and Eli was a scholar. But after the accident all Jace knows is that he is alive and Eli is dead. And it was heart-wrenching to watch him go through that struggle.

Jace’s characterization in For This Life Only is physical. He pops right off the page and sits down next to you to tell you his story. He is so, incredibly, aware of his situation in terms of what it is, what it was, and what it was supposed to be. Although his comparisons are constant, they are never overbearing.

When he finally begins to reach out and ask for help from “the last girl he should be turning to” it happens naturally like an un-dammed body of water rushing to find a new home. The pressure builds on him robbing him of his choice, causing him to let go of his prejudices and grow.

I loved the pacing in For This Life Only. I never felt rushed or like I was sitting in stagnant scenes. Kade got us where we needed to–when we needed to.

I do wish For This Life Only‘s ending were a bit longer, but I also feel that it was written exactly as it needed to be. 


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The Shadow Hour

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A battle has been won. But the war has only just begun.

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: she is the firebird, the creature of light that is said to bring peace.

The firebird has come into the world, but it has not come alone. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance. Cosmic forces threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now, as the firebird, her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome.

She knows the Dragon Prince will not fall without a fight.

Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the shadow hour.

The Shadow Hour, Melissa Grey
July 12, 2016

Sequels are hard; sequels in trilogies are even harder. So many of them suffer through Sagging Middle Syndrome that some people aren’t even able to finish them. I read and reviewed The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey last year, and I fell head over heels and finished it in one go. It’s a sequel, The Shadow Hour, was slightly less head-over-heels and more…trip and fall.

I was so excited for The Shadow Hour that I pre-ordered it the day it was announced. I didn’t even stop to read the summary attached, just ran straight over to Barnes & Noble’s website and put it in my cart. Melissa Grey had become one of my favorite authors of 2015, so she was sure to keep that Fave Status in 2016. I wasn’t wrong.

The Shadow Hour picks up more or less where The Girl at Midnight left off; Echo has become the Firebird and has gained supernatural powers that can either send the world into darkness or bring peace. Quite a lot to put on the shoulders of a teenager, but hey, YA heroines are used to it.

Echo is as snappy as ever, there are more stolen gazes and furtive kisses (Go Dorian and Jasper!) than in the last book and everyone in the main cast gets equal screen time so that all the character arcs are great and rounded. We even get some new love-to-hate characters on screen (I’m looking at you, Tanith. Why do you do the things you do?).

My only gripe with The Shadow Hour and the only thing preventing it from entering my Top Books of 2016 list was that I felt like I had to slosh through thick mud to get to the good parts. Some castle raids and kissing wasn’t enough to motivate me through 400 pages of a book. I devoured The Girl at Midnight in a day; it took me over a week to get through The Shadow Hour. The best part of the book was the last 20 to 50 pages when things hit the fan and Echo faces off against the Big Bad. Right around when that thing happened to Caius was when I started to get interested. (Man, it’s so hard to stay spoiler-free…)

But The Shadow Hour was still a good book and a great continuation of The Girl at Midnight. Now just to check to see if I can pre-order The Savage Dawn yet…


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Truthwitch

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In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch, Susan Dennard
January 5, 2019

Can someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute…

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well fleshed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, intense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, its sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.


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The Mesmerist

Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London’s supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself.

Ronald L. Smith, The Mesmerist
February 7, 2017

Jessamine works with her mother pretending to be spiritualists—until the day where the pretending becomes real and she finds out she has mysterious powers. Ronald L. Smith has made a dark and memorable middle-grade story in The Mesmerist.

Set in Victorian London, The Mesmerist tackles many dark stories: death, vengeance, and violence. Jessamine Grace lived a normal life with her mother until the day they found out that Jess was actually a mesmerist—someone who can read people’s thoughts and communicate with the dead. She joins the mysterious League of Ravens in order to fight necromancers.

A great story with a strong voice, The Mesmerist is sure to please any lover of middle-grade stories. With many familiar story ideas, young readers will love it.

My one gripe with the story was that it seemed to be trying to capture too many storylines in one book. And at less than 280 pages, there wasn’t much room to play with multiple storylines. With death and retribution being in the top spot, it was quickly followed by mystery, the Plague, and social-political statements that bog down the story and make it a little hard to keep one plotline straight.

Jess was a bright character and fiercely loyal and strong, and I fell in love with her immediately. While a lot of familiar tropes seem to fill the pages of The Mesmerist, and it did seem to border on cliche, it’s bound to become a staple in a young reader that loves dark stories and supernatural tales.


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Very Merry Christmas… Tentacles?

Jess and Dan were left without supervision for this quintessential holiday episode to talk about why you don’t give book nerds books for Christmas… and also the oddity of Sick Kid Romance and its likeness to Tentacle Porn… In any case, like, share, and rate your favorite episodes. It’s the best gift you can give this holiday season (cause it costs you literally nothing).

Having trouble listening here? Listen directly on Anchor.fm



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Toil & Trouble

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A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

An incredibly beautiful and diverse anthology about witches, women, love, and mischief. With stories that ranged from modern-day to historical to magical realism, there’s a little something for everyone in Toil & Trouble.

Toil & Trouble had me at queer witches. Honestly. I was in a super witchy mood when I requested this one and I was not disappointed. I was so intrigued by the varying stories and I love so many authors that contributed to this anthology that I knew I had to have it.

Each story was different in its own right, each unique and stellar and magical. I, obviously, loved some more than others. But that’s to be expected. You can’t love everything, after all. And trust me, I’ve tried. I’m a Hufflepuff.

I don’t want to go into details about each story–we’ll just be here for days–but as a collection, Toil & Trouble accomplishes something so rarely seen that it’s magical in its own right.

Each story, individually, has its own merits. Some are lyrical and imaginative, others are deep and personal, dark and wonderful at the same time. It’s hard to review an anthology, to be honest, but it’s an experience worth the admission price.

I’ll be extra honest here–I’ve never been a fan of anthologies in the past. Oh, sure, I’ve tried. But it was so hard for me to get invested in a series of short stories, especially if I didn’t know the authors going into it. But I took a chance on Toil & Trouble and I’m glad I did.

Grab this book, add it to your TBR list, especially now as we slowly enter Halloween season. It’s the perfect book to sip a pumpkin spice latte or apple cider to while sitting all cozied up inside.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Debian Perl Digital Detective: The Memory Thief

Megalopolis used to be the city hub for all the makers, doers, and dreamers. It was a better time according to Debian Perl, a technomancer known for her out-of-date computer programming skills. Now the city streets are filled with “Egg-heads,” those in thrall to the ease and simplicity of new technology as opposed to Debian’s way of doing things. Digits is one of those Egg-heads. She is a young social media guru and knows her way around all the newest, latest technology.

Debian and Digits cross paths when they both stumble across a 100-year-old lost robot named Ray-Bot. They soon learn that Ray-Bot’s CPU was suspiciously overclocked, leaving him unable to perform basic functions and commands. To find out where the robot came from, Debian must teach Digits everything she knows about computer coding and programming. Along their journey to bring Ray-Bot home, they begin piecing together the mysterious puzzle about his malfunction, and uncover some sinister secrets.

Debian Perl: Digital Detective is a five-book series in which middle-grade readers will join Debian and Digits on mystery adventures all while building practical knowledge of coding, algorithms, algebra, and logical problem solving.

Goodreads, 2019

OKAY. WOW. HOW CUTE. I LOVE THIS. THERE’S SUBTLE QUEERNESS. THERE’S CODING AND SCIENCE AND THE ART. IS. AMAZING.

*cough* Ahem. Now. Onto the review.

This was seriously one of the cutest graphic novels I’ve read this year. I LOVED the art style–the poppy, bright colors, the funky future-punk designs. It was just a JOY to experience.

The story itself is pretty straightforward: someone’s stolen a robot’s memory card, thus hiding a serious crime. What I loved the most was the blending of old and new tech, of the general educational feel of this story, and the subtle (and some not-so-subtle) themes of acceptance, sentience, and the good of all.

This graphic novel is PERFECT for teachers, librarians, and any kid looking to learn a little more about coding. It’s got so many great things to it and I can’t wait for the next in the series!

My rating: ★★★★☆


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The Okay Witch

Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Roller Girl in this hilarious, one-of-a-kind graphic novel about a half-witch who has just discovered the truth about herself, her family, and her town and is doing her best to survive middle school now that she knows everything!

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all! When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. Secrets surface from generations past as Moth unravels the complicated legacy at the heart of her town, her family, and herself.

In this spellbinding graphic novel debut, Emma Steinkellner spins a story packed with humor and heart about the weird and wonderful adventures of a witch-in-progress.

Emma Steinkellner, The Okay Witch
September 3, 2019

Maggie’s Review

I love all things witchy. And oh man, is The Okay Witch an amazing witchy coming-of-age story. Not only is the art in this graphic novel beautiful and colorful and expressive, but the story is endearing and magical all in one.

Moth is such a compelling character: a girl who’s an outsider and a bit of a weirdo, whose family holds an ancient secret that she only discovers when she accidentally steals the mouths right off the faces of a pair of bullies! MAGIC IS WONDERFUL.

Moth struggles to accept not just her new layer of weird–uncontrollable magic–but also grapples with her mother’s history and their hometown and how it all affects her family. And on top of it, she finally makes a new friend and now she’s got to come around to figuring out how to be a good friend and a good witch at the same time.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a talking cat that’s possessed by the spirit of Moth’s Russian neighbor? It’s all super cute and incredibly deep with twists and stellar worldbuilding.

The Okay Witch is a must-read for all witchy fans and graphic novel fans and just anyone who loves a cute, tries-her-best main character.

Jessica’s Review

The Okay Witch is adorable from start to finish. If you don’t love it for the art, you’ll love it for Moth and her journey of self-discovery.

Moth Hush is a weird, friendless outcast who discovers that her family isn’t at all what it seems. Putting magic in place for the consequences of our emotional outbursts, Moth literally steals the mouths right off some bullies’ faces.

The Okay Witch features all kinds of teenage witch favorites: talking cat, cool best friend, family secrets, and other realms.

I really loved watching Moth figure out the extent of her powers reveling in her triumphs and reacting to the uncontrollable nature of her magic. An especially empowering scene comes near the end when Moth decides to make a commitment to herself and her magic in her own way, telling both her mother and her grandmother that it’s hers to discover.

Which is a great coming-of-age message that no two people will get through the same experience in the same way.

The Okay Witch is a must-read for everyone, adults and kids.

Maggie’s rating:
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Jessica’s rating:
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


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Serpent and Dove

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Shelby Mahurin, Serpent and Dove
September 3, 2019

Maggie’s Review

Seriously, the characters of Serpent and Dove are the best part of this book and I honestly don’t even know when it started, but I love them so much that if anything happened to them, I’d die.

They’re both awkward and strong and pushed each other in ways that made me love them even more. Gimme more girls who make their big, burly man blush. I’ll gobble that right up.

I have to admit that it was a bit of a slow start. If Jessi hadn’t told me how much I’d love it, I probably wouldn’t have kept going. But the book really hit its stride a few chapters in and then… I couldn’t put it down.

Y’all. I sobbed at work over this one.

Serpent and Dove has a lot going for it; a truly unique magic system (that we still didn’t learn too much about and it took me some time to really understand it, as I didn’t fully grasp it as it was being used) and characters that are morally gray and lovable. Some of them you just plain love, some you hate to love and others you love to hate.

The setting was really rich and the tension of the story really picked up near the middle to end parts. But I do agree with Jess’s remark. The ending just sort of stopped. It felt like it was trying to be this big “DUN DUN DUN” moment but because we don’t really have any context for that last word. We literally have no idea who this person is and it replaces the tension with confusion. It almost feels like the book was longer but someone decided, “aaaand we’ll chop it off here.”

Still a dang good book though. 100% recommend. 10/10 would cry about these oafs in love again.

Jessica’s Review

There is so much to love about Serpent and Dove, and it all starts with the characters.

Lou and Reid absolutely stole my heart with their awkwardness and attitudes. Lou loves to push Reid’s buttons and his naivete knows no bounds.

I enjoyed Shelby Mahurin’s storytelling craft as she showed us Lou’s life outside of magic and her struggle to remain without it for her own safety. Serpent and Dove also features a magic system which I haven’t seen before, using patterns, smells, and individuality as well as acknowledging the ambiguity of magic’s cost.

Perhaps my favorite part was that the cost of magic was up for interpretation. A broken finger for a broken lock or a memory for memories feature as magic’s equivalent exchange, but later as tensions rise and the need for more complicated spell work comes into play so too does wordplay and a little faulty logic.

My only derogatory remark about Serpent and Dove is in regards to its ending, which seems to just stop like the draft wasn’t supposed to end there at all. As we begin the closing arc, addressing the consequences of the actions in the novel, we just stop. A character who was only mentioned as “my aunt” is finally named, but the name had never been mentioned before in the text. It lost all tension where it should have been a big explosion off the page, especially if it was to be the final word.

Despite that though, I’m proud to add this to my library and my little list of book recs.

Maggie’s Rating: ★★★★☆

Jessica’s Rating: ★★★★☆


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The Friendship Lie

Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels–to be thrown away. Between her mom and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster. But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: Things don’t always go where they’re supposed to, and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems. Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself. Written by Rebecca Donnelly, author of How to Stage a Catastrophe (an Indies Introduce and Indie Next List honoree), The Friendship Lie will speak to any reader who has struggled with what to hold on to and what to throw away.

-The Friendship Lie, Rebecca Donnelly

I was drawn right into the story with “Cora Davis’s life is garbage.” Is there anything more true to the tweenage experience? I say to you, no. Cora and Sybella are best friends, they have their own world, inside jokes, and the sheer ability to read each other’s minds through body language.

But a few things get in the way: Cora’s parents separate and Cora gets a little jealous that Sybella’s parents are still available; someone finds a poem that Cora wrote about her best friend that doesn’t paint her in the best light; and instead of talking to one another–both Sybella and Cora avoid each other like the plague.

The Friendship Lie is told through the best points of view: yours, mine, and the Truth. The alternating viewpoints gave us the whole truth of the situation, which is often something you don’t get in life or literature.

Perhaps the most accurate scene of social anxiety and depression, is when Cora begins to spiral downward as a bully begins to split up her friendship. Oh, no, Sybella saw the poem! Oh, no, I wrote the poem! But I don’t think it’s true! But maybe I do… The guilt that both parties feel about having hurt their best friend and the immense shame that keeps them from reaching out is well worth the read.

A great lesson on friendships and how each one is its own unique journey, The Friendship Lie should find its way onto your pre-order list and nestle its way onto your bookshelf.

My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


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Wicked Fox

Ripe with K-Drama level of feels and a rich fantasy woven through, Wicked Fox is a delight from start to finish.

A fresh and addictive fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul.

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway. 

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s. 

Wicked Fox, Kat Cho
June 25, 2019

I was so excited to get my hands on this book. Wicked Fox has everything I love: a powerful girl and a dopey boy who falls in love with her and she can’t risk falling in love with him because she may hurt him.

ALSO SHE’S A NINE-TAILED FOX.

Ahem.

This is one of these rare brands of modern fantasy that checked off every box in both romance and fantasy that I love. I don’t often go for modern fantasy stories, but Wicked Fox scratched that itch so well.

I really enjoyed Kat Cho’s writing and how immediately tense it got in the best situations. It would go from a cute high school romance to Oh No There’s A Monster type tension and it was such a wild ride. Wicked Fox hit all of those K-Drama moments perfectly, including making it feel impossible to put down. I couldn’t bear the leave the story behind for any reason. It was such a fun, intense story.

There were some part where I wish things were slightly more explained; even in just a bare description. Because the story takes place in Seoul, everything is sprinkled with Korean. I didn’t want a direct translation (I have Google for that) but I would have loved some descriptions after a Korean food name was dropped so I could get deeper into the scene.

Some of the magic and monsters could have been described a bit more. There’s a goblin-demon type monster called a dokkaebi that attacked Jihoon early in the book. They’re described as hunched, ugly goblin creatures. Later on, we meet a dokkaebi that passes as a handsome human guy and it’s never really explained why this particular dokkaebi is the way they are.

But all in all, Wicked Fox was a thrilling and emotional story that’s perfect for fans of fantasy, romance, K-Dramas, and Korean myths.

My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


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Teen Titans: Raven

When a tragic accident takes the life of seventeen-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to live with her foster mother’s family and finish her senior year of high school.

Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. When strange things start happening–impossible things–Raven starts to think it might be better not to know who she was in her previous life.

But as she grows closer to her foster sister, Max, her new friends, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

Teen Titans: Raven
Publication Date: July 2nd, DC Ink
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Raven’s origin story gets a retelling and a revamping in Teen Titans: Raven. We start in tragedy, as all good backstories do. Originally, Raven is raised in an alternate dimension with full knowledge of her powers and spends her life training to keep them and her emotions under control.

In the redux, Raven can’t remember anything before the car crash.

And it’s working. This characterization of her still works with the rage and the angst that we came to know, love, and sympathize with when we watched Teen Titans.

Kami Garcia’s Raven has questions and the drive to get them answered, and she’s drawn beautifully for her recent adaptation by Gabriel Picolo.

My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


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Unicorn Bowling

The NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING series Phoebe and Her Unicorn is back with all-new sparkling tales of best friendship. Whether they’re visiting Camp Shimmerhorn or fitting unicorn hooves for bowling shoes, Phoebe and Marigold find magic in every moment.

A unicorn in bowling shoes is quite a STRIKE-ing sight. But for nine-year-old Phoebe Howell, it’s just another fun outing with her best friend, the illustrious unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. This unique and magical friendship is at the heart of the ninth Phoebe and Her Unicorn collection, which includes adventures such as writing original songs, publishing rival news websites, and making a summer visit to the exclusive Camp Shimmerhorn. Life with a unicorn BFF is not without its challenges, however, and whether it’s homework, friction with classmates, or talent show jitters, Unicorn Bowling is full of amusing, heartwarming reminders that when the going gets tough, the tough get sparkling.

Unicorn Bowling, Dana Simpson

Another great collection from Dana Simpson. Am I biased? Too much of a fan to give an honest review?

Possibly.

With an always adorable art style and relatable characters harkening back to my childhood favorite, Calvin and Hobbes, Phoebe and Marigold are perfect for readers of all ages. The jokes are hilarious and the lessons are real, even if they are covered in glitter and perfect nostrils.

Unicorn Bowling is yet another wonderful collection perfect for reading on a cool Sunday morning.

My rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Bloodwitch

Fans of Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestselling Witchlands series have fallen in love with the Bloodwitch Aeduan. And now, finally, comes his story.

High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.

The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

It is no secret how much I love Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series. I fell head over heels in love with Truthwitch and even more so with Windwitch and Sightwitch. And then when I found out I won an ARC of Bloodwitch from BookishFirst a few weeks ago? Tears. Instant happy tears.

And, y’all, I could NOT put this one down! Seriously, Bloodwitch is one of Sooz’s best books to date. I cry on any day that ends in Y but these emotions ran DEEP. And I just need y’all to pre-order and suffer with me!

So there’s not much to go off of from the jacket copy. BUT. As any Witchlander would know, we’ve all been heavily anticipating the return of #Baeduan since the end of Windwitch. And hoooooo boy, did Bloodwitch deliver.

We get so much insight into Aeduan’s character, and we see so many different sides of the story. The part I loved most about Bloodwitch was how it developed every character. And I mean ALL of them. It’s a big ensemble, but Sooz made it work. And the best part? It wasn’t just the protagonists that got that treatment. The folks we’d been led to believe were the bad guys get their stories fleshed out and you’re suddenly rooting for any person who shows up on the page. They’re all multi-faceted and you need to know how everyone fares at the end of the war.

It was a non-stop gripping tale that wove and unwound all plot threads, until it all came together in one big climax. I couldn’t stop reading. I cried while reading on my lunch break at work. I needed to read it again.

And, no spoilers, but once I hit the last 100 or so pages, it was just non-stop feels, y’all.

Don’t sleep on this book, get it off the ice and DEVOUR it immediately! Witchlanders, don’t miss out. I’m sure y’all have pre-ordered ages ago, but if you’re new to the Witchlands, pick up Truthwitch and binge that series, yo. You won’t regret it. This series has already enshrined itself in my “Fave Fantasies of All Time” list. It beat out Harry Potter, guys. I’m not kidding.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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The Brilliant Death

For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one. 

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

A stunning, violent fantasy with beautiful writing and amazing queer characters that made me fall in love with them immediately. The Brilliant Death was one of my most anticipated 2018 reads, and its spot on the Favorites shelf is well-earned.

Teo was an instant fave the second I met her. Her struggle with power and her image was enticing, and her magic capabilities were unique and fascinating to watch evolve. I loved her journey through her gender presentation, her identity, and how it related to her magic.

And then along came Cielo. Wonderful, lovely, rascal child Cielo. Watching them interact with Teo was thrilling and hilarious, though I wished there had been more communication between the two of them. If there’s anything that ruins a romance for me, it’s miscommunication.

I wished there was more time spent on the development of the world and the magic system. There was very little I understood about the world-building throughout my read-through. Even as someone who reads fantasy on every day that ends in Y, I felt lost. I felt like there was something fundamental missing from the narrative that kept me from being grounded in the world. I wanted more description, more understanding of how the magic works, of what the world looks like, of what it’s like and I just didn’t get it

But the twists and turns of the story constantly kept me on the edge of my seat, always wanting to read more. The Brilliant Death was stunning in all capacities, and Capetta’s voice as a writer has astounded me. Definitely a must-have for all queer readers.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Testimony From Your Perfect Girl

Annie Tripp has everything she needs–Italian sweaters, vintage chandelier earrings, and elite ice skating lessons–but all that changes when her father is accused of scamming hundreds of people out of their investments. Annie knows her dad wasn’t at fault, but she and her brother are exiled to their estranged aunt and uncle’s house in a run-down part of Breckenridge–until the trial blows over.

Life with her new family isn’t quite up to Annie’s usual standard of living, but surprisingly, pretending to be someone else offers a freedom she’s never known. As Annie starts to make real friends for the first time, she realizes she has more in common with her aunt and uncle than she ever wanted to know. As the family’s lies begin to crumble and truths demand consequences, Annie must decide which secrets need to see the light of day . . . and which are worth keeping.

Testimony From Your Perfect Girl , Kaui Hart Hemmings
May 14, 2019

Maggie’s Thoughts

Listen, it’s no secret that neither of us like contemporary. We’ve talked about it ad nauseum on the podcast and on most reviews (it’s why we invited our friend Davis onto the project, he’s our contemporary boi!). And when Jessi told me we had some ARCs for a contemporary book coming up, I rolled my eyes and sighed. I wasn’t exactly enthused about it at all.

I read Testimony From Your Perfect Girl on my off time during work, or when it was slow. And then something strange happened.

I didn’t want to put Hemming’s book down.

Which is an absolute phenomenon when it comes to me & contemporary books.

Sure, it was hard to get into Testimony From Your Perfect Girl. And I audibly groaned and complained about the very first paragraph of the book–which describes, in detail, what the main character was wearing. I found Annie to be annoying and hard to relate to, and I was frustrated with the lack of information about the inciting incident. And then I realized that that’s exactly what Annie was going through.

I got pulled in by Hemmings’s easy flowing writing, and I started to relate to Annie a little bit more as she got herself a job, stumbled through some romance, found out more about herself and as she slowly started to redefine who she was, I started to get to like her. I liked being in the quiet little story–despite how often Jessi and I exclaim how much we want dragons and robots and exploding suns. It was a good little emotional book to ease me back into enjoying to read.

That’s not to say there weren’t some things that could have been better; I absolutely wanted some more tense moments. But the times we got that tension, it felt like real life tension. Robot dragons may be in your face tension, but trying to work through emotional trauma and redefining family borders is tense enough.

There were some laugh out loud moments–and I praise this book 100% for it’s fierce feminist sex-positive message. I loved watching the relationships build between Annie and her aunt and uncle. Some of the times when Annie and Aunt Nicole were hanging out felt so pure, it watered my crops and cleared my acne.

Jessica’s Thoughts

As I’ve practically tattooed on forehead, I’m not a fan of contemporary. And Testimony From Your Perfect Girl was distinctly lacking in killer AI programs falling in love and murdering whole ships of people for one single girl. But I decided to give it a chance.

Annie Trip introduces herself to us in luxury. She puts on designer sweaters like the rest of us put on those ratty old jeans from high school. And she stays in that naive, rich girl trope for a long time.

I agree with part of Maggie’s review, that this lack of information was incredibly frustrating, but obviously necessary. But I’d like to add that she only goes out of her way to ask or learn about the trial once and even after she gets some finite details about the extent of the damage her father has done, she doesn’t seem to register it.

In fact, Annie doesn’t seem to register much. And at first, I saw this as a pretty fair representation of the depressive spiral, giving her cause to act out just to see if a change in behavior would help. I was even proud of her for standing up to a guy who used her obviously weakened state for a good time on New Year’s Eve, when she shouted about what she’d done for him in the woods. And I was glad to see that of all the lessons Annie did take to heart that the lesson that sex is not affection one seemed to actually stick.

But it took a lot to really drive home just how many lives her father’s fraud screwed over. It’s not enough to hear it from old friends, but new friends also need to tack on that they are working more because their families have lost so much.

As the story progresses we find out that all the adults in Annie’s life have lied to her about one thing or another. This really clouded the story and diluted Annie’s chances at confronting her parents about the damage that had been done to so many people’s lives, including her own.

There were some funny moments and definitely a great lesson the autonomy of sex, but the plot overall felt watered down and slow. While I don’t think the plot should have been dumbed down to only focus on her father’s trial, I do wish more of the problems in Testimony From Your Perfect Girl had focused on the trial and its consequences for Annie.

Maggie’s Rating
★★★★☆
Jessica’s Rating
★★☆☆☆

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Clockwork Angel

In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

This post is from Anne M. over at TheLitB*tch.com.
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How strange it is to have the power to literally transform yourself into other people and yet be unable to put yourself in their place. This is the problem that plagues shapeshifting heroine Tessa Gray in Cassandra Clare’s steampunk novel, Clockwork Angel. Part of a trilogy The Infernal Devices, this first book blends romance, sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk, and adventure all together churning out 400+ pages of entertainment.

One word…HOOKED! When I started reading the book, I knew it was more YA than adult fiction…so I was expecting Twilight with gears and steam. While some of the romance was a little Twilight-ish, it was more action, less ‘obsessive’, and the love story involves a shapeshifter and a shadowhunter (Nephilim) rather than a human and a vampire….not to mention all the great Steampunk elements.

The novel opens with a great action sequence with best friends and fighting partners, Will and Jem, pursuing a demon through the dark underbelly of Victorian London.

After giving the audience a little taste of what is to come, the novel formally opens with heroine Tessa fresh off the boat from New York in England. Tessa’s brother, Nate, has sent her a ticket to London to join him after the death of her Aunt (leaving them both orphans). She is snatched from the docks by a pair of evil sisters (the Dark Sisters) who hold her prisoner forcing her to learn how to use her supernatural ‘talent’.

Tessa has no idea that she possesses any special power but the Dark Sisters seem to know something she doesn’t….they plan to offer her as a bride to the evil Magister but just before the fateful meeting, Tessa is rescued by Will and taken to the shadow hunter institute for safekeeping.

Innocent and scared, Tessa meets the other shadow hunters with trepidation. They eventually earn her trust and take her in so they can protect her. She quickly grows infatuated with the moody and self-destructive Will….but when she finds a kindred spirit in Will’s best friend, Jem, she finds herself torn between the devoted Jem or the wild Will.

In the midst of all the YA romance, there is a richly mystifying mystery involving all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy creatures….lycanthropes, vampires, warlocks, demons, Nephilim, and mundanes (humans) add in the clockwork angels, automatons, and steam-powered inventions and you have one perfectly constructed Steampunk novel!

One thing which stood out to me as different in this book was Tessa as a heroine. As I said earlier, she is a shapeshifter (though new to the magic) she quickly puts her new power into perspective. She recognizes her power makes her different from others–special if you will–a talent that makes her feel more alone than ever before.

Since she can change into anyone, she can literally be them–mind, body, and spirit–but she finds it hard to really put herself in their place or in their shoes which I think is ironic. This is part of the reason that she doesn’t fully understand Will or Camille, or Jem, or anyone in the Institute. For example, when she changes into Camille she realizes she can sense all of Camille’s feelings and thoughts inside her but when she changed back, Tess struggles to understand Camille and see situations like she might. You will have to read the book if you want to find out exactly what I mean…..let’s just say we see Tess growing up and struggling to understand people and why they do things some times. I thought this journey and struggle that Tessa goes though really brought depth to her character and the story–a very intriguing angle.

What I liked best about the novel was it jumped right in and didn’t feel rushed. I liked that the book never really had low moments or chapters. It went along smoothly and I found it really had to put down.

I loved that Tessa was more of an introverted and self inspecting female…..philosophical I guess one might call her. She was strong and could be a warrior but not in the same way the shadow hunters were.

Overall it was a richly written novel and very intriguing….I literally could NOT put it down. I loved that it was still a YA romance/fantasy but without all the vampire love stuff that’s all the rage right now. Clockwork Angel is also such a well-written book with lots of vivid descriptions….it’s practically a sensory experience. I also liked the setting in old foggy Victorian London, it’s the perfect place for a book like this…..it’s grimy, dirty streets, the dark opium dens, the gloomy weather and air….it’s hard NOT to think that something sinister is afoot.

Both the vivid descriptions and the setting works so well with a tale like this…it’s a perfect setting for a tale of dark magic, dangerous games, and tortured love This book blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and Steampunk unbelievably well, much much more than I ever expected when I first picked it up, had I know it was going to be so good I would have read it first.

Full steam ahead!!! The novel keeps up constant action and moves forward without a break leading up to the brilliant conclusion, full of twists and shocking revelations that will leave readers longing for the next book in the series, Clockwork Prince. I am so glad I pre-ordered it

Slink off into the world of shadows and twisted machines….down into a world where you can literally be someone in body but still cannot ‘see’ them….escape into a world where we are all pulvis et umbra sumus (dust and shadows)….by the Angel you will not be disappointed in the least!

Anne’s Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This post is from Anne M. over at TheLitB*tch.com.
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