This was lightning in a bottle, a gunshot in progress. Loved it with my entire soul.
Writing: wrap me in these sentences, I'll sleep in a bed of these words
The Vibe: ★★★★★
Tigers, Not Daughters comes out on March 24, 2020!
Tigers, Not Daughters hit me from the side with a punch that I wasn't expecting. Magical realism, grief, ghosts, the unshakable reality of sisters, and use of multiple narrators all collided to bring one unforgettable (and new favorite) read.
The Torres sisters were always a set of four. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa. Their mother isn't there, and their father shouldn't be there, but life is life and that's how it goes.
Except it's not. Because Ana's dead.
Ana's death cracks the lines of this fragile family into 3 distinct shards. We have Jessica, who misses Ana so much that she consumes her, becomes her, shoving the angry versions of herself under layers of steely indifference. We have Iridian, who feels more comfortable with words than with people, as it's only ever people who hurt her over and over. We have Rosa, whose magical ways of understanding reality leave her with a different lens, but no less pain.
All three sisters have survived the impact of Ana leaving them in waves, but when a ghostly presence interrupts their fragile grief, the storm arrives again.
This was so, so good. I loved it. Mabry's realism was definitely magical, but it was also earthy and gritty in a way that was so exciting to read. These sisters were raw, they were real, and they had all kinds of aspects—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the bizarre in a way that only girls can be. The vibe of sisters was perfect.
I also loved the writing. This is a tale in the telling, and the snapshots of perspectives and the lyricism in the sentences flowed in such a way that this story was all-consuming. You lived the Torres sisters and you were them at the same time. This kind of writing is a gem to read in any situation, and I loved its deft handling of grief, darker themes, and resilience.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
5 theatrical stars
I would read this over and over. A gritty traveling circus, the angel v. the devil, romantic tension to CUT a KNIFE, tattoos, diverse orientations, and again for the people in the back romantic tension on POINT.
Romance elements: literally the best in YA, it is FRESH
Imagery: ★★★★★ *chef's kiss*
So I don't care what's on your TBR for this month. Make room for Ink in the Blood.
If you loved the Night Circus for its iconic imagery and archetypal romance figures that were players on a stage as well as flesh and blood love interests, you'll love this.
If you liked the gritty, broken shards of Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, just wait until you meet the plague doctor, a man who never takes off his sharp-edged mask because he's already died once and he's too much for your eyes. He's the ringmaster of the troupe, the reminder that death is always waiting, and he'll tempt you to the devil if you'll let him.
But he's not the devil—its Celia, our protagonist, who dons the horns and lies and smoke to hide from herself and her Divine. She believes she can coat herself in enough lies to save herself from her fate. But can she run from the ink in her blood?
Ink in the Blood is all of the above, plus a one-of-a-kind religious system based on tattoos, the Divine, Diavala (the devil), and a matriarchal plot line that feels like the perfect amount of grit, soul, and lying diamonds.
I know the blurb mentions a lot of things, and some of them are what I've said and some of them just allude to things to come. Please don't be disillusioned by the first few chapters. I was, and I thought this was going to be a very different book. But, I promise, it's not. Get to the circus. It is perfection from there.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The hype around this novel might be a bit much, yes, but Truly Devious is a really great example of how a YA mystery/thriller can be done well.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
One thing that I completely, utterly agree on about this book is that it is unputdownable. What a great main character, and what a good plot. It's not the most ingenious plot in the world, but its boarding school setting, its split timeline with the 1930s, and its main character's drive to be a detective really propelled this story along. I loved the process of reading it, even as certain things kept it from perfection.
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school known for its genius students. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, a fan of devious mysteries, games, and learning for the sake of learning. He make a boarding school with hidden rooms, twists, and turns. He never expected his school to be used for a murder. "Truly Devious," a pen name, kidnaps Ellingham's wife and daughter and leaves cryptic riddles in their wake. Forever unsolved, the case goes down in American history.
Stevie Bell, a private detective in training, decides to apply to the school to solve the cold case. Shocked to be chosen as one of the elite, she finds herself in the midst of school politics, rich kids with problems, and a lot of things to observe.
When someone is found dead on Ellingham's campus, Stevie realizes "Truly Devious" might not be done with their crimes...
I really appreciated this novel's readability. As someone who loves Agatha Christie, I enjoyed reading this modern version of Poirot with her nods to the master himself. It is a great gateway series for teens who would (hopefully) be encouraged to pick up more in the genre after reading this book.
Stevie as a character really sold it for me. She has anxiety—and it actually manifests. It's really nice to see panic attacks and the like represented in teen fiction, as I was once a teen that had panic attacks and, as I never saw them represented in TV or books, had zero idea what was "wrong" with me. It's nice to see that normalized and portrayed.
Overall, a nice solid start to the series. Not a particularly inspired ending, BUT as it's a series I hold out hope for a more epic reveal to come—Truly Devious isn't yet solved.
5 bloody stars
She's beauty, she's grace, she's going to put them all in their place—the grave.
Welcome to Hannah Capin's version of revenge. "For the girls who have had enough," indeed.
Writing style: ★★★★★
I had no idea what I was getting into with Foul is Fair, but I'm here now and it was amazing—twisted in the best way, dark in the best way, and so validating in its satirically dark version of female victim agency.
Elle goes to a party for St. Andrews Prep boys when she was 16. She's chosen as a target for their non-consensual idea of "fun." Imagine what a group of untouchable rich, white boys could do to a vulnerable girl with a drink of who knows what. Yes, that. Yes, in the way it is portrayed in so much media. Trigger warnings for those who cannot handle that subject matter.
They picked the wrong girl.
Elle now goes by Jade, and she's got a plan.
Those boys might be golden, but they're not invincible—all men can bleed. And it's their time to pay up.
Jade enrolls at St. Andrews Prep, and Foul is Fair truly begins.
I honestly cannot distill into words how glorious this novel was. First off, it was brilliantly written. Semi-stream of consciousness, semi-loose form narrative, Foul is Fair has the kind of writing that is hard to get into, but once you're in it you can't stop. It's a rolling train and the brakes are gone. Read this one on a weekend, folks, when you can devote some time to reading it in large chunks.
On top of the writing, we have a Tarantino-esque surrealist violent plot line. Jade's got a hit list, and a swat team of girlfriends who are here to take them down from the inside. Now, obviously, I am not a fan of killing people. That's not the point that Foul is Fair is making. It's not a glory piece on violence. That concept is merely a device the author uses to convey the visceral emotions on behalf of every girl who's been abused, every girl who's been the victim of male violence. In a world where women are still fighting for their right to their own bodies and their own safety, this novel is the best kind of social commentary. I was so, so happy that the author chose to be this unflinching.
What a great novel. This one is unforgettable for many factors, the least of which being that you will never read another novel like this it. New all-time favorite, and a new author to watch.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was so much better than I expected? Loved this, what a great starter to a series. 1920s, Manhattan speakeasies, ghosts, oh my!
Density: ★★ (needed less detail)
The Diviners has been on my radar since its release in 2013, but for multiple reasons I never picked it up.
I don't like historical fiction, I said.
I'm not a fan of the 1920s, I said.
Wow that's a big book, I said.
Now it's 2020, the 20s are upon us again, and I freaking loved this massive book.
The Diviners follows the perspectives of a cast of characters in Manhattan, New York City, in the 1920s. But unlike the 20s that you and I know, this era has more magic, more spook, and more pizazz. Essentially, something paranormal and evil is afoot, and our cast of characters is slowly twined together into a group of paranormally-tinged individuals labeled "diviners."
Meet Evie, exiled to her Uncle Will's odd museum of the occult because she read the history off of one too many objects in Ohio—Evie' brash lack of consequence has landed her in a mess, and New York isn't exactly the reform she was expecting to get. She's an incredibly unlikable character—you just want to strangle her—but her role as our eyes and ears grew on me after a while.
Meet Memphis, who once could heal the sick with the touch of his hands. Now, his healing gift has disappeared, but he still finds himself on the edges of the paranormal with his job as the runner for one of Harlem's lynchpin underground tycoons. He's running from his past, running from his future, but something about the dream he keeps having keeps him up at night.
Meet Theta and Harry, who live as platonic friends in a fancy apartment building, both of them grasping at the limelight of the stage. They've got secrets they don't want to share, and some weird abilities that they refuse to acknowledge. When Evie and Memphis bump into their bubble, things will never be the same.
Meet Mabel, the one who's never quite out of her parents' shadow. Socialist parents make great avenues for change, but not exactly the best, well, parents. Mabel's friend Evie is a hurricane that is going to blow Mabel's life to bits whether she likes it or not.
Meet Jericho, the boy hiding behind a bland face and boring smile. His story might be the most otherworldly of them all...
I really, really enjoyed this. But, come on—did it need to be this long? This book is a whopping 578 pages and it feels like it. I loved the plot, I loved the concept, and I loved the characters (except for Evie, tbh), but they're chained down to way too much description, scene set-up, and waiting around for things to happen. Here's to hoping the pacing—and editing—improves in the later books.
So this had some killer punches...including one VERY memorable one at the end. But that doesn’t quite make up for the dead weight.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
One of Us is Next is the sequel to McManus' explosive debut novel, One of Us is Lying. While technically you could read this one by itself, the amount of references to the first book are numerous enough that I would encourage readers to pick up the first one, well, first.
I was EXTREMELY excited for this sequel. I loved, loved, LOVED One of Us is Lying, and I enjoyed her follow-up mystery/thriller, Two Can Keep a Secret.
But I didn't love this one.
We follow a new cast of characters at Bayview High School, including Maeve (Bronwyn's younger sister, who hacked the gossip site in the first novel), Knox (Maeve's best friend and ex-boyfriend), and Phoebe (a popular-ish twin with an interesting family life).
Maeve, Knox, and Phoebe find themselves at the heart of a twisted game of Truth or Dare when a new faceless gossip monger begins a texting alert with the student body.
Let's play a game - truth or dare?
With Simon's death fresh on their minds, the students of Bayview High are intrigued—but not intimidated—by the new faceless dealer. But then Phoebe doesn't respond to her Truth or Dare request, and the dealer reveals a secret that's way too cutting to be fun...
Uh oh, here we go again.
How well do you know your classmates?
One of Us is Next didn't hit the mark for me, most likely because it was a lesser aftershock of the debut. Too many references, too many reflections, and then the "game" of gossip—in this case, Truth or Dare—was executed with less suspense, less intensity, and less intrigue than One of Us is Lying. I feel bad comparing the two so intensely, but the book itself does so with its continual references to the events of the previous book. If this novel had reflected less, my memory of it might have been softer and I would probably have rated this higher. But if you're going to throw the comparisons in my face, I'm going to...compare them. And this one just doesn't hold up.
Also, the pacing was really tough. For the first half, I found myself slogging through it, waiting for the author's characteristic intrigue and intensity to kick in. It took a longgg time. I LOVED the final reveal, but the last 70 pages doesn't make up for the fact that the first half was mind-numbing.
The Guinevere Deception is a story about women's agency and their role in myth—and cleverly ties together known aspects of the Arthurian legends with some much needed LGBT+ and modern sensibilities.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
I'm so mad at this book because it does not put its best foot forward. The Guinevere Deception starts out so simplistic, so run-of-the-mill, that it's boring. Boring boring. Skim-worthy, even.
But then, we cross the hump. The second half of this book is gorgeous. It's lyrical, it's feminist, it's evocative of the Kiersten White that I remember from my long-ago read of And I Darken—where women had their own agency and commentary--that I put down my kindle and went what? Is this the same story?
The Guinevere Deception follows "Guinevere," the wife of the newly made King Arthur. Arthur has won Camelot, and now he rules in a realm where magic is pushed to the edges of his borders and everything is free from chaos and everything is wholesome and good. (Ha. Obviously, this is a disaster waiting to happen.) Enter Guinevere, except we, as the reader, know the Guinevere is not really the princess at all, but the daughter of Merlin, sent to be the last line of defense for King Arthur—she is supposed to keep the king safe from magic...by using the forbidden magic herself.
Such a good plan. No holes at all. (Right.)
Guinevere enters into the world of Camelot and starts exploring the city and its people in the most mundane ways possible. The dialogue is meh, the chapters go slowly, and I caught myself jumping ahead several times because we were so clearly treading water, waiting for something to happen.
Then, some things happen.
I won't spoil anything in the plot because I think most of the enjoyment comes from being surprised, but The Guinevere Deception has some significant tricks. Guinevere isn't as milk toast as she seems, Arthur isn't that stupid, Lancelot appears in THE MOST EPIC TWIST as a different take on the character, women support women, some LGBT+ rep enters as breath of fresh air in this traditional hetero tale, and I just really enjoyed the turn of events.
The entire time I was reading The Guinevere Deception, I kept saying to myself: man, I miss Kiersten White when she gets dark. Maybe this is too light for me, and I'll stick with her darker content. But I can see the hints of darkness in the set up for book two, and call me intrigued—I think White has more things up her sleeve.
Definitely pick this one up if you're a fan of legends, myths, retelling, feminism, LGBT+, and good old fashioned plot twist surprises. I think this one is worth enjoying if you can get over its own problematically dull beginnings.
Thank you to Delacorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Gods, demons, fluid time constructs, ruthless families, and more collide in this epic fantasy opener that deserves a seat at the table with the titans of YA fantasy.
World building: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Arrah is the daughter of two powerful magic users. Her father's ties to the rural tribes keep her with one foot in the old world, while her mother's political fist in the urban Kingdom keeps her with one foot in the new. This clash of cultures, magic, and sense of morality was amazing—and split along the dichotomy of father versus mother, which was also interesting.
Arrah isn't the "chosen one" in this fantasy—in fact, she's one of the few characters without a natural source for magic—and she finds herself in an epic conflict between gods and demons.
The orishas (gods) have ruled the land for all of living memory. The Demon King and his followers were vanquished long ago, and the orishas remain in power. But then... Arrah discovers that her world isn't all that she thought it was. Her mother has her own vendetta to accomplish, and Arrah finds herself on the front line of a godly conflict that she is definitely not prepared for.
But she's willing to do anything to win.
Things I loved:
Arrah's sense of self—her rock-solid personal identity was refreshing. The land of Kefu, where time is fluid?? So cool, so unique, it added to the myth-like feel to the story. THE WRITING—GORGEOUS. The love interest was supportive and not too involved with the plot. The sidebar chapters written from the orishas to...someone(s). Those sidebars make me want to reread this book immediately, to catch references that I missed on the first pass. The world. I loved it all, honestly. One quick spoiler favorite: (view spoiler)
Things I wished were better:
The pacing—given the sheer amount of plot and time progression that occurs, Kingdom of Souls feels like more than one book that was smashed together. I would have happily read one book on the events pre-Kefu, and then another book on the events that happened after. There was DEFINITELY enough plot for more than one installment. But really, is too much plot a negative??
Surprisingly elegant and atmospheric, but definitely rough around the edges. Zombies meets ancient Wales meets myth meets....traditional YA trappings.
Visual descriptions: ★★★★
Density: ★★ 1/2
The Bone Houses has one of the coolest concepts in YA--in a small town at the edge of the mystical mountainous woods, skeletons come alive at night and wander. They're called bone houses. That kind of an opener screams to be read.
Ryn is a gravedigger, and the tough-as-nails, chip-on-her-shoulder YA heroine that we've seen before. Her father was lost to the mountains, her uncle was lost to the wilderness, and her siblings are all she has left. The family scrapes it by on the edges of poverty in a very medieval-feeling way.
Enter Ellis, the mapmaker. Kind of strange that there seems to be an entire profession devoting to traveling mapmakers, but The Bone Houses runs with it. Ellis is an orphan boy trying to find his parents, and finds himself drawn to the woods where he was found.
Ryn and Ellis also find themselves drawn to each other and end up in the woods on a quest to a) learn more about the mountains for a map, b) learn more about Ellis' past, c) try to find out what happened to Ryn's dad, and finally d) to discover the heart of the woods and find a way to stop the bone houses from rising. (It's a complicated quest.)
There was potential for me to love The Bone Houses, but I never found myself crossing the divide between liking and loving. It was cool...but I wanted more of the magic, more of the bone houses, and wayyyyy less of the YA-standards: the romance, the tying everything up together in the end, the internal dialogues on identity that took up space that could have been used on plot, etc. Give me the weird and the unexplained magic and leave everything else behind—it just bogged the story down.