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 Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Devil’s Thief
Author: Lisa Maxwell
Series: The Last Magician #2
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 692 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: time travel, Six of Crows
Content Warnings: racism/cultural appropriation, drug abuse/addiction

SYNOPSIS

Hunt the Stones.
Beware the Thief.
Avenge the Past.

Esta’s parents were murdered. Her life was stolen. And everything she knew about magic was a lie. She thought the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she ever imagined.

Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world to get its revenge, and it will use Esta to do it.

To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is like nothing they expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink not willing to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them.

In St. Louis, the extravagant World’s Fair hides the first stone, but an old enemy is out for revenge and a new enemy is emerging. And back in New York, Viola and Jianyu must defeat a traitor in a city on the verge of chaos.

As past and future collide, time is running out to rewrite history—even for a time-traveling thief.

MY THOUGHTS

First, I want to say that I adore The Last Magician. It is a totally underrated YA historical fantasy about time travel and a magical heist, a la Six of Crows. I love the characters, their found family dynamic, the setting in turn-of-the-century New York, and the magic system in this series, but Lisa Maxwell tried to do too much in this book.

This book pushes 700 pages, and it has no business being that long. By separating the core characters from The Last Magician across space and time AND adding multiple new POV characters to each timeline, the story became sprawling and unwieldy. I didn’t like most of the new characters as much as the originals, and some of the new POVs seemed unnecessary.

The story slowly built and built, and I really expected it to pay off with an explosive ending, but the book ended SO abruptly, leaving me confused and unsatisfied. The book was so long and we didn’t even get to see the final events play out completely! I will eventually continue this series because I love the concept and the first book earned five stars from me, but I need a little time before I’m ready to attack book 3 (which is even longer than this one!).

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Length: 12 hours (455 pages)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: zombies
Content Warnings: racism, violence

SYNOPSIS

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. 

MY THOUGHTS

This book is so unique and creative, unlike anything else I’ve read. I love the zombie twist on Civil War, Reconstruction, and Old West history. The way this book addresses race and gender feels both authentic to the time period and incredibly relevant today.

Jane was smart and headstrong main character, and I really liked how her friendship with Katherine developed throughout the book. All of the supporting characters were vivid and well-developed.

This book took some WILD turns I could not foresee, but it was so much more clever and entertaining than I expected. The audiobook was great, and I can’t wait to see what adventures book 2 has in store!

Review: My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: My Contrary Mary
Authors: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Series: Mary #1
Genre: Humor / Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 12 hours (512 pages)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: June 22, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: My Lady Jane, historical parodies

SYNOPSIS

Welcome to Renaissance France, a place of poison and plots, of beauties and beasts, of mice and . . . queens?

Mary is the queen of Scotland and the jewel of the French court. Except when she’s a mouse. Yes, reader, Mary is an Eðian (shapeshifter) in a kingdom where Verities rule. It’s a secret that could cost her a head—or a tail.

Luckily, Mary has a confidant in her betrothed, Francis. But after the king meets a suspicious end, things at the gilded court take a treacherous turn. Thrust onto the throne, Mary and Francis are forced to navigate a viper’s nest of conspiracies, traps, and treason. And if Mary’s secret is revealed, heads are bound to roll.

MY THOUGHTS

It was so fun to return to the era of My Lady Jane where it all started. I love the way these authors play with history and humor while developing such lovable characters.

This fresh take on Mary Queen of Scots was delightful, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a basic understanding of European history looking for a fun, light read.

Review: Flash Fire by T.J. Klune

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Flash Fire
Author: T.J. Klune
Series: The Extraordinaries #2
Genre: Contemporary/Superhero
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Michael Lesley
Length: 13 hours (374 pages)
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: lgbtq+ romance, superheroes

SYNOPSIS

Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.

MY THOUGHTS

I love this series so much because it’s so much more than a typical superhero story! It’s so earnest and authentic in the way it addresses everyday teen issues like ADHD, lgbtq identify, race, police corruption, friendships, and family dynamics. It feels more like contemporary YA than science fiction despite the fantastical elements of the story, so I personally classify the genre as “contemporary superhero.”

Nick is SO FUNNY, but while this book often had me laughing, it’s also super emotional. I thought the first book in the series was a bit too predictable, but this one took me by surprise. Some twists I saw coming, but some I DEFINITELY DID NOT. That ending. Omg. I need book 3 NOW, please.

Also, I highly recommend the audiobooks for this series! Michael Lesley’s narration is spot on, I truly feel like I am inside Nick’s head.