Filled with heart, acapella, drama, and the complexities of young people in love, this was a sweet and engaging read. It gives you the feels, you know?
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Izzy Crawford is just trying to belong. Having spent the past six years moving from town to town to town with her mother after her father died in Iraq, Izzy's tired of feeling like she can't put down roots.
Things change when Izzy starts going to school in Virginia. She's keeping her scholarship status on the down low and she's attempting to play it cool, but high school has other plans. When you've got roots, you've got ties. And some ties get complicated.
Izzy finds herself juggling her school life—she's in an acapella group and getting closer to one of the hottest athletes in school, Sam, which is made more complicated by the fact that Izzy's friend Roz likes him too. If that's not enough, she's also experiencing one of the most exciting things that her family has ever experienced—they've been selected by Habit for Humanity to receive a brand new home.
However, Izzy can't keep all the elements in her life from spinning into each other forever. It's all going to overlap soon. Is she ready to lay down roots and roll with the seasons?
I thought this was a powerful and moving YA novel. Sometimes a YA contemporary reads for its audience and doesn't transcend its age bracket for adults... How to Build a Heart is not one of those reads. There are lessons, fun, and love to be had in these pages and the author shares them beautifully for all ages. Izzy's story of fitting in and growing into her own personhood was a lot of fun. Plus, Maria Padian's writing is amazing. So read it for the writing voice alone.
Recommended for all! Haha. But in all honesty, I really enjoyed this one. Will definitely keep an eye on Maria Padian's future works.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
"What big teeth you have, Grandma..." All the better to eat you with, my dear. This debut is filled with teeth, ominous undertones, and horror-set vibes. A very interesting debut, even if it didn't jive for me personally.
Writing style/how plot points were unveiled via the writing: ★★
Use of speculative elements: ★★★ 1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Eleanor Zarrin has been away at boarding school for many, many years. But it's time to come home—she has no choice. What greets her at home is her family...shapeshifters, eldritch horrors mixed with human features, the family friend who eats nothing and gleams in the moonlight, and her fortune-telling grandmother holding it all together.
But when Eleanor's grandmother dies violently over the tarot card deck while reading Eleanor's fortune, things start to turn sour in the Zarrin household.
With no where to turn to and feeling trapped by her family's suspicions and distanced aloofness, Eleanor finds a letter from her other grandmother locked in a chest. She decides to invite her to come to the Zarrin house. It would be nice to meet her other grandmother...
But no one in the Zarrin household—whether they have teeth, sea-skin, or blackened maws—is ready for the Other Grandmother. Least of all Eleanor.
"You take after your other grandmother, Eleanor," they said. They never meant it as a compliment.
So for those who know my reading tastes, this seems like the perfect read. Right? That makes it extra painful to share that I really... didn't mesh with this story at all. It might the case of it's me, not the book. Definitely take all of the below with a grain of salt.
In particular, I found it extremely hard to get into the groove with the way the story was told. Basic plot facts were purposefully dangled and never explained, and yet we spent a lot of time on physical descriptions and internal thought processes, so the lack of plot depth became frustrating as opposed to interesting. It left me with a very uneven sense of what was even happening—and NOT in a good way like a typical mysterious horror set-up. If we'd been vague in all things, it would have made sense as a style choice, but with way too much time spent with Eleanor's thoughts on mundane teenage romance feelings and descriptions of the settings the lack of plot knowledge felt like a lack of building.
I also thought that the pacing seemed off, but that could be tied to my frustrations with the way the story unfolded. The first half felt like we were in a holding pattern, and while the vague, horror "What's happening??" atmosphere worked for the first 100 pages... I got bored waiting for the shoe to drop and the plot to begin. And when it did begin, then I was frustrated that we veered away from that and decided to focus on a romantic subplot that didn't seem to make sense in the story. Without spoilers I can't say much, but if you'd just snipped out the romance it would have been a lot stronger. It was a distraction, for me, and an added frustration when combined with the rest of this (vagueness, lack of plot action, etc).
But I did find the ending worked out well. It was worth the wait, and even though it became easy to predict the further you read, that lack of surprise did not take away from the satisfaction of the moment.
Overall, definitely check this one out if the cover appeals to you and you're a fan of horror and speculative fiction.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A powerful, moving novel about the everyday grit of young homelessness tinged with empathy, endurance, and subtlety. Definitely not easy to forget.
Living in the homeless community in San Francisco, Maddy has banded together with a small group of others in the Golden Gate Park. Struggling to survive, the last thing Maddy expects to experience is a murder.
Having been an unwilling yet captive witness of a young man's murder, Maddy quickly finds herself drawn in to the investigation with the local police and with the murdered man's parents. Maddy didn't sign up for this—and she certainly doesn't want to give up the secrets of her history in order to help the police and the family find closure.
But will she decide to open up given the circumstances? If she does, what then?
I know the above description is pretty vague, but I really didn't want to give too much away about the novel. It's one of those that you really need to experience first-hand and not read in a blurb. I was surprised at how much this novel moved me—which sounds callous, as obviously a novel about young homelessness is one that you'd automatically assume would be moving. And I did assume it would be. But at the same, I guess I underestimated how much it would move me as a reader. There's a lingering thread of sadness mixed with hope mixed with a sense of trapped circumstance in this, and it's an intense cocktail to experience.
This is a powerful debut that is grappling with some heavy, contemporary topics. I'm glad I got to follow Maddy's journey, however hard. I occasionally wished for more depth, but overall a very satisfying story.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Drama, drama, DRAMA! This insider's look into the world of teen influencers was a wild ride from start to finish—and I couldn't stop reading it.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Binge-level enjoyment: ★★★★
Delilah Rollins is catapulting to stardom in a major way on Instagram. From her Minnesota roots to her recent move to LA, she's scrambling to find her bearings in a world where hundreds of thousands of people know her name, her face, and her life. Is Delilah really ready for her autonomy to be controlled by the opinion of the masses?
Jasmine Walters-Diaz is used to the fame of being an influencer. From her roots as a wholesome child TV star to her teenage years as a brand's dream endorsement, Jasmine should be used to her life being filtered through the lens of perfection and frozen time... but as her need to be herself and love who she loves grows and chafes against her public image, Jasmine finds herself bending and breaking to get out.
Fiona Jacobs is the perfect casual and funny influencer. She's effortless... right? As she listens to her inner monologue critique her every move, every breath, every calorie, and every step, Fiona tries to desperately maintain the facade of put-together perfection while her OCD and fear of past secrets threaten to tear her apart from the inside. Will she survive her own attacks on herself?
Delilah, Jasmine, and Fiona all have one thing in common: they're living their teenage years through the crystalized lens of public opinion, filters, and judgement.
And then there's Scarlett Leigh. Another teenage influencer but with more sex appeal, more ruthlessness, and more drive to win, Scarlett seems to be the three girls' worst nightmare and competition all rolled into one. But you can never trust what's on the surface...and the girls should really know better.
They'll find out just what exactly the truth means when one of them ends up dead. It's time to show off your best angle, ladies, as the part you're going to play now is one of suspect...
My immediate response to this book was WOW, what a crazy premise and an even crazier plot. This reaction was further cemented when I realized that the co-author to this book, Lilia Buckingham, is an actual bona fide teen influencer herself. That definitely lent a more realistic quality to some of the details used in the novel (besides the murder, of course!).
My interest in this book came from the other author, Sara Shepard, who is best known for her drama-laden series Pretty Little Liars. Fans of Pretty Little Liars should be all over this—the amount of drama, gasps, and trainwreck sitcom moments are at the same level here in Influence. Like a reality tv show, I couldn't look away.
Definitely one to pick up if you like drama, glitz, and murder...
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Goblins, the underworld, and a lot of mythology references... I wish I'd loved this more.
World: ★★★ 1/2
Goblin King is the second book in the Permafrost duology. If you haven't read the first book, White Stag, please avoid this review as there are SPOILERS for the first book in the series. (You can read my review of White Stag here.)
The newbies gone? Good. Let's talk about this one.
So, first off, let me preface this by saying that it's been quite a while since I've read White Stag. Because of that—and how I felt while reading this sequel—I'm sadly coming to the conclusion that this series and my reading tastes have probably split up. Permanently. I'm not sure if it was the plot itself, the writing style, or the pacing but something about Goblin King really didn't work for me.
For those reasons alone, please take this review with several grains of salt. I'd encourage other readers to still pick up this book if it sounds of interest!
In this sequel, we're following Janneke and Soren as they try to come to terms with the new world order in the Permafrost following the explosive ending of White Stag.
Janneke merged her life force with the mythical heart of the land, the stag, in order to save the Permafrost realm and become one with her goblin beau, Soren. He became the Erlking—goblin king—and she his magical stag counterpart.
But all is not perfect in the goblin realm. Janneke is seeing and hearing the specter of her dead past abuser, Lydian, and he's taunting her with some bad news—he says that Janneke is going to bring about the end of the world.
Turns out, he's not wrong.
Now faced with a world ending prophecy of EPIC proportions, Janneke and Soren must lean on each other, venture to the underworld, and figure out how to fix what's already set in motion....before it's too late.
Now I don't know if I was an ignorant newb when I read White Stag, but this sequel was essentially a retelling of Ragnarok—and I DON'T remember this series relying so heavily on Norse mythology. Yes, you heard me correctly: the Norse myth. We had Hel, Frigga, the world-ending serpent, and a lot of references to the nine realms and Yggdrasil.
Because of that, the plot felt quite tired to me from the get-go. It's hard to get excited about a plot when you know the main players and the steps of the game... and when it seems like a total hit out of left field in the first place. Again, I wasn't expecting that element to be so tied to existing myths so that's either on me (for forgetting the first book so much) or on the book (for executing a complete 180 flip in priorities).
In addition to a plot that felt well-traveled, I also had quite a few personal issues with the way the pacing unfolded. We had a lot talking, rehashing, and limited action sequences as Janneke explained, then explained again, and then explained AGAIN to various characters and herself what had occurred in the novel so far. This was tiring. I wanted more developed plot, less debriefing after each new action, and less internal rehashing of old concepts.
Overall, not for me... but maybe a treat for a newer YA fantasy reader or someone very interested in Norse myths.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was SO GOOD. Witches, retellings, space thieves, the weighing of hearts, Schwab returns to the world of A Darker Shade of Magic, and Libba Bray returns to the world of Gemma Doyle... What. A. Showstopper.
A Universe of Wishes comes out on January 5, 2021!
As this is an anthology, I've reviewed each story individually and given a one sentence sales pitch of sorts below. Quick take, my favorites were: The Weight by Dhonielle Clayton, A Royal Affair by V.E. Schwab, Unmoor by Mark Oshiro, Liberia by Kwame Mbalia, and The Scarlet Woman by Libba Bray.
Tara Sim - A Universe of Wishes (3.5 stars)
Thorn harvests wishes from the dead and gets caught red-handed by the morgue boy—what now?
Natalie C. Parker - The Silk Blade (4 stars)
Lushly described, beautifully colored—a bisexual female warrior competes to win the heart of the Bloom prince and may or may not fall for her beautiful rival instead.
Libba Bray - The Scarlet Woman(5 stars)
Gemma Doyle has been in New York for a while now, but the world's magical community isn't done with her yet and someone's determined to reel her back in with grisly gifts.
Anna-Marie Mclemore - Cristal y Cerisa (3.5 stars)
A transgender prince, a Mexican girl attends a ball with a pair of fated glass slippers and a desperate plea for her people.
Kwame Mbalia - Liberia (4.5 stars)
Kweke is the primary research officer on the spacecraft Liberia growing plants with ancestral ties to the crew's abandoned homeland, deep roots.
V.E. Schwab - A Royal Affair (5 stars)
Sure to be a fan-favorite for series readers, this behind-the-scenes take on Alucard's origin romance with Prince Rhy was such a treat.
Rebecca Roanhorse - The Takeback Tango (4 stars)
An intergalactic thief is on a mission to steal back her people's treasures from the republic... and she might not be the only one with a conquered people to avenge.
Nic Stone - Dream and Dare (2.5 stars)
Dream escapes her family's expectations to help a monster in the woods. (This story did not resonate with me, so apologies for the bland description.)
Jenni Balch - Wish (3 stars)
A "granter" in a LAMP device is summoned to a set of very bizarre circumstances: a spaceship, a girl, and a dream for space travel.
Dhonielle Clayton - The Weight (5 stars)
A deep cut, damn. Marcus and Grace know they love each other, and they're going to get their hearts weighed to prove it... that's good, right?
Mark Oshiro - Unmoor (5 stars)
Urban fantasy, Felix wants to "unmoor" his painful memories of his lost love, Arturo—no matter the cost.
Samira Ahmed - The Coldest Spot in the Universe (unrated)
No sentence pitch for this one... I'll be honest, I could NOT get into this one and therefore did not complete it. Told in diary entries, some sort of apocalyptic natural disaster mixed with the dead? Confused.
Tessa Gratton - The Beginning of Monsters (3 stars)
High fantasy in miniature—Crystal-taloned Elir designs a new body for King Insarra, who is tired of their female one. Add in one snarky heir and some political intrigue and you get...
Zoraida Cordova - Longer Than the Threads of Time (4 stars)
A truly sensational Rapunzel retelling. There's a Tower in Central Park and every magic user knows those inside are deserving of their prison sentence—too bad one young brujo is curious enough to get close enough to find out the truth.
Onyebuchi - Habibi (3.5 stars)
Told in diary entries, an American Black prisoner and a Middle Eastern protestor behind bars strike up a magical and unworldly pen pal situation with heart-wrenching and emotional results.
Thank you to Random House Children's for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
An interesting take at the writers behind the curtain in a YA anthology filled with underrepresented voices, fantastical fiction, and more. This is a must read for anyone interested in the craft of writing.
Writers' workshop elements: ★★★★★
Foreshadow is a really unique concept for an anthology. Curated by authors Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma, this collection features thirteen YA stories from a diverse group of lesser known YA authors—with each of their stories introduced by some of the bigger names in YA, including Melissa Albert, Laurie Halse Anderson, Roshani Chokshi, Jandy Nelson, Sabaa Tahir, and more.
To put it simply, this was a joy to read. As someone who loves YA, loves the craft of writing, and loves discovering new writers to watch, this was the trifecta.
Each of these stories carries something different. Some are romances, some are fantastical, some handle some deeper themes. They're great stories, and that's important. But what was actually more interesting for me as a reader was what came AFTER the stories. Following each of those stories is a writers' breakdown—a section focusing on the particular theme/concept/writing tool that was used by the author, and a technical analysis for what worked for that story to use that particular device/etc.
This is an anthology that is a love letter to the craft of writing YA. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but for the readers who like to peek behind the curtain at the act of writing itself, this one to pick up.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The second installment in the Clue Movie-inspired mystery series—another dead body, another mystery to solve, and (unfortunately) a bit too much time spent looking back at the first story.
Character development: ★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
So I really, really enjoyed the first novel in this series, In the Hall with the Knife. I HIGHLY recommend you check that book out if you haven't yet already—it's the perfect nod to the Tim Curry movie and will make you remember the board game fondly.
This book, In the Study with the Wrench, is the second novel in the trilogy. In this one, we're following the aftermath of the first novel as our motley crew of characters at Blackbrook Academy—Mustard, Scarlett, Peacock, Green, Plum, and the "new girl" to the canon Orchid—try to cope and move on from the tragic murder and events following the death of headmaster Boddy.
The group is referred to by the other students as the "Murder Crew" now. And while the group is trying to shuck off that label and ignore their recent past... fate has other plans. They discover another dead body. Again.
What's a group to do but solve another murder?
So.... this is super painful for me to admit this about one of my most anticipated releases, but I just couldn't love this installment in the same way as the first one. We spend wayyy too much time rehashing the events of the first book. Now, I understand that there needs to be a "recap" grace period at the start of a sequel—it helps us to remember where the story left us if we haven't recently read the first one. But this novel spent 50% of its storyline on rehashing, regrouping, and focusing on the first book.
Because of that, this novel had a hard time standing on its own. I wish it had spent much more time on developing the current murder plotline, and more time on helping the characters grow/adapt. With its stale focus on previous plot, everything felt like one endless waiting room... waiting to wrap up the last story in order to get to the new.
I'm still very excited to read the third book in the series. Hoping this one was just a one-off problem and a victim of sequel syndrome. We'll see! Definitely still check this one out if you enjoyed the first novel—spending more time with the characters was fun.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Hot demon princes, tattoo magic, underworlds, witches in Italy, and a high stakes murder mystery. Need I say more?
Characters: Besides the main character being more dumb than fully believable? ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Kingdom of the Wicked comes out on October 27, 2020!
Emilia di Carlo grew up with her twin, Vittoria, on tales of witches and demons. Their grandmother raised them to learn about their witch bloodline and magical abilities and taught them to fear the devil and his seven Wicked princes—because there's nothing more dangerous to a witch and her kind than a demon. And there are no demons more powerful and deadly than the Wicked.
Emilia takes—what she thinks as metaphorical—cautions to heart, and she thinks her twin does too.
But then Vittoria is found brutally murdered. Turns out there have been a string of young female witch killings throughout Italy, and Vittoria is the latest victim. As Emilia reels from the loss of her other half, she starts to realize that maybe Vittoria didn't take their grandmother's warnings as seriously as she did—and maybe those "stories" of the Wicked demon princes have more than a grain of truth in them.
With vengeance and blind need for justice in her heart, Emilia decides to follow in the steps of her sister and deal with the devil in order to find out the truth.
But Emilia has never summoned a demon before. To put it bluntly, her summoning doesn't go exactly as planned. Instead of a random, everyday demon from Hell...Emilia finds herself face to face with her nightmares: it's one of the Wicked demons himself, Wrath. In all his gold-and-smoke tattooed glory.
And she may or may not have bound them together more permanently than she intended. Wrath is, to say the least, pissed.
Now bound together, Emilia and Wrath are about to discover the truth behind Vittoria's murder and get WAY more than either of them bargained for.
It's time to wreak havoc on the Kingdom of the Wicked.
So, first off, WOW. As someone who's read and enjoyed this author's first (completely unrelated) series, I thought this book showed a massive leap in writing maturity and plot complexity. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Stalking Jack the Ripper series for its drama, medical stuff, and fun—but Kingdom of the Wicked is something else. It's clear that Maniscalco is honing her craft and exploring new storytelling in this, and I LIKE it.
The strengths: worldbuilding, concepts, push-pull relationship between Wrath and Emilia, unique magic system and take on the "underworld" trope, and the larger plot hinted at for future books to come.
The weaknesses: There's really only one major flaw from my perspective, and that's Emilia herself. This book fell into the trap of making the main character too dumb to be believed for the first half of the book in order to allow for the plot unfold in a very particular series of events—and it's too on the nose. Emilia makes extremely illogical, dumb, and borderline childish decisions for the sake of plot development, and that stung a bit to me as a reader. With such a beautiful concept, world, and plot, why did we need Emilia to stumble about like a bull in a china shop? She does get much better in the second half—so that makes me think this issue will be fixed in the second book—but still.
Overall, amazing book and one of my all-time favorites of the year. Definitely check this one out!
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Oh Myrtle, Myrtle, Myrtle. She just keeps finding herself smack in the middle of a crime scene. What’s a smart, bored Young Lady of Quality stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to find out which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer? This sequel was so much fun.
This sequel to the Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries was even more fun than the first one, and to be honest could be read first—up to you as the reader!
Myrtle is such a great character. Stuck in a time period where girls and women are usually confined to oppressive and restricted roles, Myrtle shucks tradition and decides to pursue her true passion: crime and science.
In this latest installment, things have seriously gone awry. Myrtle, her terrible Aunt Helena, her governess, and their cat, Peony, have all gone on a train trip to a far away seaside town. The last thing they expect to discover is a dead body on the train—pierced by Aunt Helena's own shears.
Can Myrtle solve the case and get to the bottom of it before it's too late?
Ah! There's something so special about discovering a middle grade series that holds up for us adults, too. Not that there is any expectation for a book to do so—if it's middle grade, the MOST important thing is that is should resonate with its young audience. But isn't it nice when a book crosses those age boundaries and becomes something for all?
That's what I would say this series excels at doing. Myrtle Hardcastle might be a 12 year old (with young moods and opinions) but her humor and situations appeal to all audiences. I loved watching Myrtle get to the bottom of the case in this one, too, and couldn't get enough of her adventures with Peony and the gang.
You go, Myrtle!
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.