Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm ★★★★★

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LOVED THIS! Phoebe and Her Unicorn is one of my favorite middle grade comic series.

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

If you haven’t checked out the other Phoebe and Her Unicorn books or checked out the weekly strip on DanaSimpson.com, then go do that RIGHT NOW.

Phoebe and Marigold are the new Calvin and Hobbes. Period. End review.

But in all seriousness, I have yet to read a Phoebe and Marigold story that didn’t make me laugh out loud. They are equal parts hilarious and educational, complete with a list of vocabulary words that may be above grade level for some readers.

If I had children, these would be a staple before bedtime for us.

Pub Date: October 17, 2017

Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

They Both Die at the End ★★★★★

33385229Holy mother of feels, y’all. I was warned this one had a lot of heart-smashing, toe-curling feels to dish out, and even thought I knew what was going to happen (because, regardless of how hard you hope, the title tells you everything you need to know about the ending) I still cried like a baby.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

I really really really wanted this title to be a lie. I wanted to have Mateo and Rufus survive and be happy and together forever and the entire time I had hope that the title was wrong and that I wouldn’t cry forever.

I’m not a fan of contemporary. I don’t hide that fact. But this was just enough fantasy to pique my interest and I was hooked. The ways the characters and the story intersected was amazing. I loved the little details that tied it all together.

Though the closer I got to the ending, the more I despaired. I was sure the ending was going to happen a certain way and then it didn’t, and Mateo’s and Rufus’s actual deaths were fitting and just so goddamn painful to experience. I was barely able to read with all that rain coming out of my eyes.

I did have a lot of unanswered questions about Death-Cast and how that came to be and how it all worked. I wanted more out of the story in a world building way that I didn’t quite get.

So, in summary: feels on feels on feels on feels.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding ★★★★★

cover110213-mediumSave yourself the time of reading my review and just go buy the book. I LOVED IT!

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.”

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it?

Bracken uses the perfect blend of darkness and humor. I loved learning about Prosper’s family history and reading Alastor’s many, MANY quips at Prosper’s expense as well as the numerous other humorous moments.

“If I had sat down at my desk at home, opened my spiralbound notebook, and tried to draw my perfect nightmare… it would have been adorable in comparison to this place.”

“Why is he talking like that? … It sounds like he swallowed a Pilgrim.”

“Do not keep my lord and master waiting. It is a school night and he has a bedtime.”

Alastor is hilariously bad at being bad, Prosper is steadfast and good, and I loved every second of their journey together.

Without giving away too much, know that Alastor has been asleep for 300 years and doesn’t know what traffic cones are for. And that scene alone should be why you pick up this book.

Shimmer and Burn ★★★★☆

9781481471992_fca55Don’t you just love when you pick a book for the cover and the writing is just as beautiful?

To save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

There were so many wonderful fantasy elements in Shimmer and Burn, and Taranta’s writing is so immersive that it was easy to get lost in it.

The opening scene is so powerful and dark and amazing and I knew after I’d finished the first chapter that I was going to be recommending this book to everyone. Faris’s mother attacks her on page one. There are so many emotions, questions, and eye openers in just that one scene there is literally no way for you to put the book down.

And it only got darker. Taranta was totally unafraid to kill these characters and there is no where, on any page, where I believed anyone was safe.

Faris’s characterization is wonderfully new in the world of YA. She is in no way, shape, or form a perfect little snowflake and I loved reading her. She makes mistakes and harbors a lot of guilt for them. She is incredibly well written.

The only place that Shimmer and Burn lost points for me was the romance, and that is really only because I’m tired of seeing that in my fiction. I always feel like romances take away from a character’s autonomy.

Shimmer and Burn is alluring and terrifying and deserves a very special place on your shelf.

 

Mask of Shadows – ★★★★☆

29960675Pre-order it here!

Mysterious and tense, Mask of Shadows delivered on almost every promise it had given. I was pulled in by the characters and Linsey Miller’s writing was thrilling and poetic. Plus the representation of genderfluid and other queer identities was everything that fantasy books have been missing. And yet…

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

The moment I heard that Mask of Shadows had a genderfluid main character, I knew I needed to get my hands on it, whether for reviewing purposes or just pre-ordering it to have and to hold. Then when I learned Mask of Shadows was a fantasy assassin fight to the death story, I was already in love.

Fantasy is a genre close to my heart, one I’ve always loved, but the lack of representation and diverse characters is glaring. In a world where magic and dragons are real, why shouldn’t there be queer characters? Why is a queer main character so unbelievable? Well, that’s a discussion for another blog topic.

I had some hesitations about Mask of Shadows, in that Sal would have been the only queer character and that the book would have used their identity as a marketing ploy; it wouldn’t be the first time books or movies have tried to garner queer readers, simply because we were starved for representation. But in reading, all my hesitations were thrown out the window at how well the representation was handled.

Sal was never only identified by their genderfluidity; they were a thief and an assassin first, a fierce competitor, clever and flirtatious and had terrible aim. The subject of pronouns was brought up, showing how natural asking or presenting pronouns should be, something we in our modern day world can’t seem to handle. Characters asked, “How should I address you?” and when characters that didn’t respect Sal’s pronouns tried to misgender them, that character was corrected (or punched in the mouth, depending on which character was doing the correcting).

Miller’s writing was lyrical and bright in many places, but sometimes I found certain passages confusing and ended up having to read over those several times. It was never enough to throw me out of the story, but it did slow me down. The only reason I can’t give Mask of Shadows five stars is because of the worldbuilding. The little worldbuilding we got left me wanting more, a little confused and sometimes frustrated.

We get a timeline of the history of the world towards the end of the book, but what I would have loved the most is having a map. A fantasy world is hardly complete without a map for readers to peruse and explore, or to reference when it’s brought up in the story. Especially since Mask of Shadows was rife with politics, a map would have been crucial to have. Barring a map, then there could have been better descriptions regarding the nations and the state of the world around the characters. Miller does a fantastic job of painting an intriguing character, but the setting often felt like a vignette: detailed the closer we were to the character, but fuzzy and empty the further away we got.

Mask of Shadows was still an entertaining read and one I think I’ll come back to again and again. If more fantasy books had the representation this one did, I think we queers would be alright.

Little Monsters ★★★★☆

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I don’t know if this is obvious, I love thrillers.

Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Recently, I posted a big long list of YA tropes, which you can view here. On it, are evil (cheerleader-esque) teenage girls. And there were a lot of them in Little Monsters. BUT… I love them so much. They’re so evil I love it. I’m a terrible person.

Kacey is a new girl in a small town. She had a big fight with her highly unstable mother and moved in with her father, whom she’s never met, and his family in Broken Falls. But lucky for her she made new friends: Bailey and Jade.

Queue my other least favorite tropes: girl goes to party, girl doesn’t make it home.

Okay, the party is presented like the usual “girl goes to party and tries drugs for the first time,” it’s a legitimate social gathering here and it’s huge, because Kacey wasn’t invited. As the summary says.

In a small town where everyone already has tight and long-form relationships, it’s not long before everyone suspects Kacey and she, rightfully so, begins to retreat inward and keep her loyalties to herself.

I did, despite many red herrings, guess the culprit, but I did suspect a few others before that.

I really loved the depiction of the small town, complete with its own local legends and universal small town culture. It really added to the general mood of Little Monsters.

I also loved the friendships. It was all so accurate about how complicated teenaged friendships can be. All the obsessions and jealousy was turned up for the sake of the story but it never popped me out of the book.

One thing that did bother me is Kacey’s “Mysterious Past,” which is never fully pinned down. It added to the mystery for sure, but definitely took away from the project as a whole. I think if Bailey’s journal entries, our only alternate viewpoint, could have been expanded to help us better understand Kacey.

Definitely a solid YA thriller and it’s already out! So go pick it up and… you know… don’t read it before bed. (You’ve been warned)