Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Series: Cursebreakers #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Davis Brooks, Kate Handford, Matt Reeves
Length: 15 hours (507 pages)
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Beauty & the Beast retellings
Content Warnings: violence, death, cancer, chronic illness

SYNOPSIS

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

MY THOUGHTS

This book is so highly rated by so many reviewers I follow, and I usually love fairy tale retellings, but I thought it was just okay. I tend to not like portal fantasies that begin in our modern world as much as high fantasy, and I’m starting to lose interest in a lot of YA fantasy tropes that were prevalent in this book.

I struggled to get into this story. Harper is NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS. The foundation is laid for a love triangle that I just do not have time for. I will say that I never fully bought Harper’s feelings for Rhen. The uncertainty that lingered at the end annoyed me. I can’t say I was ever too surprised by any of the plot points.

It is refreshing to see such great disability rep in a YA fantasy book. The fast pace kept me interested in the story, but I’m not sure if I’m interested enough to continue the series. I think I would’ve loved this book a few years ago, but it doesn’t work for the reader I am today.

Review: Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Good Girl, Bad Blood
Author: Holly Jackson
Series: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 401 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Veronica Mars, Karen M. McManus
Content Warnings: death, references to rape, gun violence, knife violence, child abuse

SYNOPSIS

Pip is not a detective anymore.

With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared, on the very same night the town hosted a memorial for the sixth-year anniversary of the deaths of Andie Bell and Sal Singh.

The police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?

MY THOUGHTS

My Veronica Mars loving heart cannot get enough of Pip Fitz-Amobi! This is a really great YA mystery series. For whatever reason I am ALL ABOUT books about fictional podcasts, and I love the epistolary content that brings Pip’s investigations to life.

I didn’t think this mystery was as compelling from the beginning compared to book one (I honestly thought the premise was a bit ridiculous), but by the end I was shocked, horrified, and fascinated by the twists and turns. I also wanted more Ravi in this book. He’s still a major character, but I just didn’t feel his presence as much throughout this book.

Pip has a lot of character development in this book as she figures out who she is and what her priorities are. I can’t wait to read the conclusion of this series!

Review: Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Redemptor
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Series: Raybearer #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Length: 13 hours (336 pages)
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: August 17, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

SYNOPSIS

For the first time, an Empress Redemptor sits on Aritsar’s throne. To appease the sinister spirits of the dead, Tarisai must now anoint a council of her own, coming into her full power as a Raybearer. She must then descend into the Underworld, a sacrifice to end all future atrocities.

Tarisai is determined to survive. Or at least, that’s what she tells her increasingly distant circle of friends. Months into her shaky reign as empress, child spirits haunt her, demanding that she pay for past sins of the empire.

With the lives of her loved ones on the line, assassination attempts from unknown quarters, and a handsome new stranger she can’t quite trust . . . Tarisai fears the pressure may consume her. But in this finale to the Raybearer duology, Tarisai must learn whether to die for justice . . . or to live for it.

MY THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed the direction this book took, following Tarisai’s journey to be the best ruler she could be and do right by her people…all while processing her relationship with her mother and being haunted by creepy kids.

I wanted a bit more from certain parts of the story. The whole book builds toward Tarisai’s journey to the Underworld, but her actual time there felt rushed. This book is fairly short for fantasy, and I think there was room to flesh things out a bit more.

I thought the ending was great, and overall this is a really good duology!

Review: One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: One of Us Is Next
Author: Karen M. McManus
Series: One of Us Is Lying #2
Genre: Thriller
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 377 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press for Young Readers
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: One of Us Is Lying, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Content Warnings: death, sexual assault, bullying, cancer, alcoholism

SYNOPSIS

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

MY THOUGHTS

It’s been a few years since I’ve read one of Karen M. McManus’s YA thrillers, but this one was not as fast-paced and compelling as I remember her books being. The mystery was slow to develop, and there was a lot of filler in the first half of the book, but I still finished this book quickly.

I really like how all of the characters are fully realized people who have their own problems outside of the dangerous game of Truth or Dare. These are believable teen characters with believable teen relationships, and the friendships and romance are what separate YA thrillers from their adult counterparts.

I mostly liked the way the twists played out, but one reveal was painfully obvious and the characters were too smart to not even consider the possibility. I also did not love the twist in the epilogue. I normally love it when thrillers include twists up to the very last page, but this one was unnecessary.

Review: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Deathless Divide
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #2
Genre: Historical Paranormal Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Bahni Turpin & Jordan Cobb
Length: 15 hours (560 pages)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: zombies + historical fiction
Content Warnings: racism, death, gore

SYNOPSIS

The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

MY THOUGHTS

Like Dread Nation, Deathless Divide did not go in the direction I expected, but boy did it take me for a wild ride!

This book adds Katherine as a second POV narrator, for plot reasons. Jane and Katherine change a lot throughout Deathless Divide (which includes a 1.5 year time jump midway) as they process the events of Dread Nation and further traumatic events at the beginning of this book.

Even though this book portrays a fictionalized American history plagued by zombies, it explores the racism and discrimination faced by Black people, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants with accuracy and nuance. Ireland did a phenomenal job of adapting the prejudices of the time to her fictionalized version of events.

The zombie vaccine storyline hit a little too close to home, although this book was published pre-COVID. I was not a big fan of the main conflict in this story. Ireland took a misguided yet sympathetic character and turned him into a fully fledged villain, and I just didn’t like the way that arc played out. I was also a bit underwhelmed by the resolution of Jane’s complicated relationship with her mother.

This series is so cool and unique, and I highly recommend it to readers for a totally different YA adventure!

Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Long Way Down
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: Contemporary/Verse
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 306 pages
Publisher: Atheneum
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: The Hate U Give, Dear Martin
Content Warnings: gun violence, death, gangs, drugs

SYNOPSIS

An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.

MY THOUGHTS

This is an incredibly powerful novel in verse about the systems that perpetuate a cycle of violence in black communities. The story is told through a series of short, time-stamped poems as Will rides down an elevator on his way to kill his brother’s killer.

During this short elevator rides, Will encounters the ghosts of people in his life who were victims of violence. They illustrate for him a larger picture as Will decides whether to follow through with his plan.

The writing was incredible. I love how Jason Reynolds makes poetry so gripping and accessible. This is also an incredibly important and emotional story for young adult readers. As a teacher, this is one of the top book recs I see every year for secondary students. I’m so glad I finally took the time to read this (which was not very much time at all) so I can add it and the graphic novel adaptation to my classroom library.

Review: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Love Hypothesis
Author: Ali Hazelwood
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley Books
Release Date: September 14, 2021
Source: Book of the Month subscription
Recommended for fans of: Emily Henry and Christina Lauren
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, cancer, death of a parent

SYNOPSIS

When a fake relationship between scientists meets the irresistible force of attraction, it throws one woman’s carefully calculated theories on love into chaos.

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding…six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.

MY THOUGHTS

Is this my favorite romance of 2021? It’s definitely top 3.

I could not stop grinning while reading this book. It checks off all my favorite romance trope boxes: Meet cute. Fake dating. Enemies to lovers. Grumpy/sunshine. I loved that the main characters are scientists in an academia setting. They are smart and doing important work. The book is also HILARIOUS and had me laughing as much as an Emily Henry or Christina Lauren book. And knowing that this story originated as Reylo fanfiction made it very easy to cast the characters in my head.

Like the best romcoms, there is so much more to this story than romance. The story includes important perspectives on misogyny and sexual harassment in STEM and power dynamics in academia. There are some amazing (and not-so-amazing) friendships. And we see how both Olive and Adam’s childhoods shaped them into the people they are today.

I could gush about this book all day. I absolutely ADORED it, and I want everyone to read it!

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆.5
Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Genre: Horror Thriller
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Adrienne King
Length: 14 hours (352 pages)
Publisher: Berkley; Penguin Audio
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: slasher films
Content Warnings: graphic violence, murder, death, panic attacks/anxiety, cancer

SYNOPSIS

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

MY THOUGHTS

I found this book underwhelming. I did not like the audiobook narrator, which is not Grady Hendrix’s fault, but I also thought the main character was generally unlikable.

This book has an interesting concept, where well-known slasher films from our world (with fictional titles) are based on true stories of these final girls, who meet weekly in a support group. The execution fell a bit flat for me. This book isn’t truly horror like I expect from Hendrix. There were only a handful of gory, graphic scenes, although there were some thrilling action scenes.

I just wasn’t that impressed with the twists or that interested in the story overall. I’m not sure if this is a result of the audiobook, the writing, or the fact that I’m not that into slashers, but this book was not for me.

Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: The Rules of Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #0.2
Genre: Magical Realism/Historical
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 367 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Source: Library
Content Warnings: death, grief, drug use

SYNOPSIS

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this more than Practical Magic because the magic felt more real and tangible in this book. I loved the 1960s setting, the sibling relationships, and learning more about the mysterious and strange Owens family in general.

However, I made a mistake by reading this back to back with Practical Magic within a week. The tangential writing style is difficult to binge, and I wish I had taken more time getting through this story. I was also very aware of a few inconsistencies with Practical Magic. They’re understandable considering the 20+ year time gap between publishing Practical Magic and this second book in the series, but as a result the curse and story’s message about love were a bit confusing and contradictory.

I enjoy reading about the Owens family, and I want to read the rest of the series to get the full family saga.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #1
Genre: Magical Realism
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 286 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 1, 1995
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, death, grief

SYNOPSIS

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this, but it did not live up to my expectations based on watching the movie (about 15 years ago). I guess I expected the book to be witchier. I thought this was a witchy, paranormal fantasy, but it’s actually an understated magical realism where you’re never quite sure if actual magic is at play, or mere superstitions and coincidences.

The writing style is interesting. It’s very descriptive, with long paragraphs and little dialogue, reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness writing, but in third person. The book also does not have traditional chapters; instead, it’s divided into large sections with very few stopping points. This unique writing style made it easy to get lost in the story, but it also made it hard to get back into when I had to put the book down.

Overall, this is a heartwarming, multigenerational tale of unusual women and everyday magic, even if the plot is a bit slow and meandering. I enjoyed reading about the Owens family, the sister relationships, and the magical ties that bring family back together.