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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The perfect mystery series for the young Sherlock Holmes in your life—or for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries with a modern sense of humor. Myrtle was a HOOT!
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Mystery: ★★★ 1/2
Myrtle Hardcastle has an Unconventional Obsession with crime. Unlike other Proper Young Ladies during these olden times, Myrtle doesn't like tea time, dresses, or spending time sitting still. She likes to investigate. And what's better to investigate than murders and crimes?
One morning, Myrtle is observing her neighbor's estate through her telescope and she notices something odd. Something is afoot at Redgraves, and the mistress of the house hasn't gotten up yet. As this highly irregular behavior, Myrtle calls it in to the police.
Turns out, her wealthy spinster neighbor has been murdered.
Myrtle Hardcastle is on the case. With her sharp-witted governess in tow and her prosecutor father in the background, Myrtle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery—no matter what is at stake.
What a clever, funny, and engaging middle grade mystery novel. As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes-inspired tales and has a soft spot for plucky historical female characters, this was a win-win for me. While this series IS meant for a middle grade audience—and it is an excellent novel for that group—I would also highly recommend it to adults who love Deanna Raybourn and other such historical mystery writers as the tone and feel is quite similar.
A fun-filled ride from start to finish! Looking forward to catching more of Myrtle's antics in the sequel, How to Get Away with Myrtle.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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"I wish my love was more beautiful."
Just take my heart, rip it out, grind it into shards of ice, and burn it. This sequel was spectacular but I CANNOT FORGIVE IT for doing what it did. What a beautiful, terrible, heartrending piece of fiction. Everyone should read it.
Character development: ★★★★ 1/2
This book is a sequel, and so my review will have SPOILERS for the first book in the series. Please don't read if you don't want SPOILERS for The Gilded Wolves. You can read my review of The Gilded Wolves here.
...Are they gone? Good!
Alright, so let's just dive right in. First off, how dare she—the author has done us dirty, folks. Roshani Chokshi has written such a beautiful world with wonderful characters, and she keeps hurting them! And now we have to wait a whole year for the next book. Brutal.
The Silvered Serpents picks up shortly after the events of The Gilded Wolves. The team is fractured beyond repair following the surprise death of Tristan, one of their own, and all of them are (not) coping.
Severin has decided that the best way to not fail his friends again is by... failing them every day with a numb, cold caricature of himself. Laila is quickly approaching her birthday and knows that her days are numbered—she needs to find the book that can keep her alive. Zofia, Enrique, and Hypnos are caught in Severin and Laila's crossfire and it's not looking pretty—and they all have dramas of their own.
And then the group gets a lead on the Fallen House's Sleeping Palace, which seems to hold the answer to all of their problems. It has The Divine Lyrics, the book Laila desperately needs. Severin is also newly interested in the book, but for different (darker) reasons. And the rest of the team just hopes that this quest will lead to a happy ending.
But the night gets darkest before the dawn...
Filled with heists, drama, intrigue, stunningly lush descriptions, and shocking betrayals—this sequel has it ALL. I could not believe the amount of character development and plot development that Chokshi was able to cram into this novel. It doesn't even feel forced—it's that well written.
Like in The Gilded Wolves, this series' focus on the grim underbelly of colonialism and Western "might is right" politics was a cutting commentary, and that increases with this novel too. I love the diverse backgrounds of the crew and how their backstories unfolded to reveal more secrets and some interesting tie-ins to the discussion of race, class, and politics.
My favorite aspects of this series continue to be its world building, the setting descriptions, and the nuanced relationships between all of the characters. (And the angsty romances? SO WELL DONE.) Each of the POVs adds an extra layer of secrets, intrigue, and motives... and in this installment in particular, it was fascinating to see the pieces of the pie assemble into the final conclusion.
Which, without giving away any spoilers..... that conclusion gutted me. And was extremely surprising. If you thought the ending of The Gilded Wolves was big, strap in. This one is bigger.
I can't wait to see what Chokshi brings us next.
Thank you so much to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Wow. This is the kind of book that makes you wish you could give out more than 5 stars. One young woman's quest to find herself, do what she loves, find love, and break the cycle of female oppression in contemporary Argentina—this was such a glorious read.
Enjoyment: all the stars, it was beautiful
Camila wants to be a female futbol (soccer) player. Raised in a family where her father, her brother, and her close family friend Diego all played and rose to fame on the field, it's in her blood to pound her feet across the field after the ball.
But Camila is a girl. And in Argentina, women are treated very differently than men. Instead of being able to play, Camila is forced to be a pile of contradictions—i.e., the female Argentinian experience. Be this, but not that. Get yourself a good man, but don't be a slut. Cook fantastic homecooked meals, but don't you dare get fat.
Camila decides she's had enough of that. Keeping it a secret from her authoritative father and her family, she joins a female futbol team. And she kicks BUTT. They call her Furia, and when she plays the play flies.
Soon scouts start paying attention, and as her Furia futbol persona rises, Camila's secret life gets harder and harder to maintain. When her childhood friend and long-time crush Diego comes home from his international futbol team, things get even more complicated.
Can Camila keep her dreams, her family, and her love life separate and thriving? Or will it all come crashing down and force her to choose?
The only words I have for this debut are WOW. And spectacular. And stunning. This was a riveting, nearly one-sit read for me as I devoured Camila's story. Her need for personal fulfillment of her dreams, her struggles for identify, individuality, and love in a culture with restricted ideas of the female experience... all of these ideas come to a head in Furia. Camila's struggles to choose her own path are universal for many young girls and young people, and yet her unique story and responses make this tale something special and uplifting.
A powerful, spectacular debut from an Argentinian author to watch.
Thank you the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was adorable and nostalgic and everything we need to save us from 2020. A badger in a rut meets a skunk looking for a roommate—things will never be the same. Oh, and also there are chickens.
Badger is an Important Rock Scientist. He does Important Rock Things in his rock room, which is the living room of a brownstone building that his Aunt Lula lets him live in. Badger doesn't explore the city, he eats cereal everyday, and he never—ever—receives guests.
Then one day there is a knock at the door. Skunk has arrived.
Skunk was also told that he could live in Aunt Lula's brownstone. Aunt Lula thinks Badger needs a roommate. Aunt Lula also thinks Skunk needs a place to call home. (Life isn't easy for a skunk.) Badger didn't think he needed a roommate, but Lula owns the house so... Skunk is here to stay.
But it quickly becomes clear that Badger and Skunk have different ideas about life, noise, and...chickens?
What a cute, beautiful, heartwarming, and beautifully illustrated tale about two unlikely characters discovering what it means to be good. Skunk and Badger is the perfect tale for kids—the pleasing repetition of themes and sentence structure begs to be read aloud—and the themes of acceptance and love are applicable for all ages.
I loved reading this as an adult, so don't be shy! Beautiful story.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Filled with whimsy, adult-worthy dialogue, and the magic at the heart of the best types of middle grade. Fantastic book.
Concepts/World building: ★★★★★
The Trials of Morrigan Crow is one of those extremely rare middle grade novels: it's just as fun for us adults, too.
I think it's the MOST fun for those of us who grew up with Harry Potter, because this has something similar going for it. It's new, it's exciting, and the plot is too good to put down. I loved every aspect of this book, except for the fact that it ended. (Good thing it's a series.)
Morrigan Crow was born cursed. Because she's "cursed," everything that ever happens in her small town is blamed on her—from someone's pimple to a death to a surprise hail storm—and she's been told that she's going to die on her 11th birthday. Yep. Her life is...not the best.
But at the stroke of midnight on her 11th birthday, a strange man appears and says that Morrigan has a choice: run with him now, fast, and escape her fate. He says there's more out there, and Morrigan believes him because...well, anything is better than dying, right?
Just a hop, skip, and jump into another dimension and whole new world... Nevermoor.
So from my 5 stars, you should be able to tell that I loved this. I don't have negative thoughts, or "meh" thoughts. Just good ones. It's rare for me to read something and not have at least one thing to critique, or wish was more "my" taste, but this one did it. I loved it all.
If you like any of the following, pick this up immediately: portal fantasy, girl protagonists, magical hotels, endless rooms of whimsy, shadows, umbrellas, competitions, boarding schools, magical schools, colorful settings, cats, friendship plots, morbid humor, adventure, chosen one trope.
Knocked my socks off. Argentinian lore, werewolves and witches, football (soccer), concepts of gender roles, identity, belonging, Other, and the plight of the undocumented.... this was wonderful.
First 50 pages: ★★
Manu is an undocumented Argentinian immigrant living in secret in Miami with her mother. Manu's life is a double-edged sword of secrets—on the one hand, Manu and her mother are in the USA and in hiding from the government, and on the other hand, Manu is also forced into hiding by her own mother because of her unique eyes and an unknown threat from Argentina—the real reason they're living off the government grid.
Manu has golden, luminous eyes with a starburst pattern of silver in the center.
Manu's eyes have made her life a living cage. Her mother won't let her go anywhere, she can't make friends, and everywhere she goes it has to be daylight so that she can wear her mirrored sunglasses. Manu's father had dangerous friends, her mother always said, and they've never stopped looking for Manu and her mother. With her father's eyes, Manu has no choice.
Then Manu's mother is captured by the ICE, America's immigration unit. In the rush of capture, her mother screams at her to flee, to stay in hiding.
Running away from the city on the back of a mysterious pick up truck, she takes an unexpected trip into the wilds of the Everglades and happens upon something she literally can't believe: there's a secret community in a magical mangrove forest, and ALL of the people in it have Manu's luminous eyes.
What's a girl to do, but join them? Manu has no idea what she's in for. (Hint: werewolves and witches and other dimensions, oh MY!)
AMAZING. I think it's safe to say that this is one of my favorite YA fantasy reads of 2020. This was fresh—and filled with so many unique spins on fantasy tropes that I was shooketh. I loved learning more about Argentinan and Latin American culture, especially as it related to their myths, and I LOVED where the author's imagination took us. (We always need more alternate dimensions in our fantasy.)
Now, to address a mild elephant in the room: some other reviews of this book mention that it's filled with traditional YA tropes and is predictable. I'd like to (politely) disagree, and here's why:
-This is an Argentinian/Latinx/immigrant narrative. Our diverse stories did NOT get a chance to get in on the YA action at the start of the genre in the 2000s and 2010s—so for many of our diverse reads, they're playing with some of these tropes for the first time, and they're writing them for an audience that never saw themselves in Harry Potter, Kiss of Deception, Hunger Games, etc etc etc. YES this story has the magical school trope. So what? I still found enough unique identifiers to set it apart from the rest. YES this story has similar plot devices to other YA fantasies. So what? (No shade, just honest questions. I think our community is sometimes quite hard on YA fantasies.)
-Yes, there's a love interest identified quite early on in the story. So what? While the initial interaction might seem to be instalove or trope-filled, the author immediately back pedals and allows the story to take over. Again, I thought this was well done and deviated enough from the tropes to be relevant.
I could go on, but those are two of the main points. In short, I thought this story was beautiful, extremely relevant to modern American and Latin American concerns (immigration, ICE, etc.), and a fantastic series opener with a great take on werewolves, or the Argentinian lobizones. Also, the quoteable portions of this book - gah. So great.
Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This is kind of an odd review... apologies in advance. (Another case of it's not you, it's me.)
Mayhem had all the ingredients to be a book that I'd enjoy: speculative magic, ocean vibes, female protagonist, witchy vibes, 1980s aesthetic. But it didn't mesh with me, and I'm still not exactly sure why.
Described as a YA feminist mash-up of The Lost Boys and The Craft, this book follows its main character, literally named Mayhem, and her mother, Roxy, as they deal with secrets, hidden magic, and the ties that bind in families.
It's witchy, it's 1987, and it's Santa Monica.
Mayhem and her mother are on the run from her abusive stepfather, Lyle, and its gotten so bad that Roxy decides to bite the bullet and take them home to the Braeburn house. Roxy used to be a Braeburn, but she's spent all of Mayhem's life trying to forget her roots.
Mayhem doesn't understand her mom's reluctance to go home, because her aunt and cousins are awesome. Being a Braeburn means belonging, accepting, and a home of her own. It's a dream come true.
Being a Braeburn also means that Mayhem has a legacy, and one that her mother literally tried to squash out of her—the Braeburn women are magical.
When Mayhem, her cousins, and the Braeburn legacy all intertwine for the first time....things are about to get intense in a major way. And there's also the disappearing girls. That too.
As I said at the beginning, I think this novel wasn't for me. It was written well, the characters leapt off the page, and the plot seemed to mesh well with a lot of other readers, so I'm clearly not the core audience for this one—take my thoughts with that grain of salt.
It was just a case of the novel not fitting with my tastes of YA. I think I'll leave it with that to keep things spoiler-free.
If the description appeals to you, check this out!
Thank you the Wednesday Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A Jewish girl finds her own voice in a Christian Southern community in the late 1950s. A meaningful look at what it means to accept your own identity, and an even more meaningful reflection on racism, bigotry, and the lessons from the past that are still relevant today.
In the Neighborhood of True is a novel that I think sits at the table with some of the many YA novels on racial discrimination in the 1950s South. The messaging is slightly different—our protagonist is a Jewish teenager, and the core themes are a 50/50 split on religious identity vs racial identity—but the overall story echoes others that tell a similar tale: when we Other another community, we breed hate and ignorance.
Obviously, this message is very important to our modern times. The author had no way of knowing this when this novel was written, but its coincidental timeliness was something I was hyper aware of during my read. But this novel stands on its own legs when it comes to quality and core resonance.
Ruth Robb has recently moved into her grandparents home in Atlanta in 1958. Her mother, a former Southern girl, had eloped with Ruth's Jewish father when she was young, so all Ruth remembers is her father's liberalism, her mother's outspokenness, and their welcoming Jewish community in New York.
Then Ruth's father dies, and her mother takes their family to live with her parents in their antebellum home in Atlanta. It's the land of sweet tea, "bless her heart," and the War of Northern Aggression. It's also the home of Ruth's grandmother, who believes Ruth could be her proper debutante granddaughter as long as the don't mention "the Jewish" stuff.
Ruth quickly falls in love with the glamour, the beautiful girls, and the lifestyle of the Southern way of life. So what if she has to hide her temple lessons and synagogue visits? She thinks it's worth it.
But as Ruth ends up discovering, the cost of hiding your true self is deeper than she initially thought...
As I said at the beginning, I loved this story's poignancy and messaging. This narrative, framed through the eyes of a teenager, was beautiful and relevant and heartbreaking at times. It was my first story regarding a Jewish person in the 1950s, and definitely my first story of that experience in the South. The themes of true self vs. the collective, religion vs religion, and truth vs the easy path were themes relevant to that time period and now. A powerful novel for teens and adults alike.
I also loved Ruth herself. Her desire to fit in, her desire to be loved and admired by popular boys... all of us girls can relate to aspects of that. I felt for her when she ignored her inner voice because when you're young, sometimes you don't follow that voice—and then you learn the hard way that the voice is there for a reason.
Great lessons, great plot, engaging characters, and a poignant theme of heart and truth.
Thank you to Algonquin for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.