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.
"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.
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.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.