Review: Romanov

By Nadine Brandes
Published May 7, 2019 by Thomas Nelson

The story of the fate of the the last Tsar of Russia and his family is one that is still fresh in the public consciousness. It’s been 100 years since their tragic deaths, but there are countless books on the topic. Romanov is a young adult version of the story with magic added.

RomanovGrand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (Nastya to her family) is imprisoned with her family after the Russian Revolution. She and her family don’t know what their fate will be. They expect that her father, the former Tsar, will be put on trial, or exiled to a remote part of Russia. The Tsar tells Nastya to guard a Matryoshka doll that contains a spell that will help the family. In this version of the revolution, the Bolsheviks are going around killing any spell masters, and the doll may hold the family’s last chance at salvation.

The first half of the book tells the story of the family’s imprisonment, first in Tobolsk, under conditions of some comfort, and then at Ekaterinburg, where the conditions were much grimmer. Nastya is the fourth of five children and the youngest daughter. She’s know in the family as imp (shvibzik) for her love of mischief and practical jokes. She works to keep her family’s spirits up, especially her brother Alexei, who is in constant pain from injuries related to his being a hemophiliac.

I enjoyed this part of the book. The sense of claustrophobia and the family’s uncertainty about the future are well done, and the sense of pervasive anxiety works well for the story. The family is hoping that the White Army (the counter-revolutionary forces) will rescue them, but with no news from outside their prison, everything is uncertain. The magical elements only come into play in the second half of the book. At that point, the tone changes quite a bit, as we go from historical events into the realm of the speculative. I enjoyed the magical elements, but I’m still not sure I like the way they were worked into the history. It was interesting, but it didn’t quite work for me.

Nastya is an entertaining character. I’ve always been interested in the real Anastasia (because of the legends that she survived her family’s slaughter), and her portrayal in Romanov feels true to life. She’s a bit of trouble-maker and acts before she thinks, but she loves her family and wants to do anything she can to save them. Her relationships with her father, Alexei, and the next oldest sister Maria are all very nicely done. Her romance with a Bolshevik guard is somewhat less convincing, but it’s at least historically probable as there are accounts of the Grand Duchesses having flirtations with the guards during their captivity.

There were a couple of historical inaccuracies that bugged me. Tsar Nicholas II is portrayed as a very saintly figure. And while yes, he was a loving husband and father, and he cared about his country, he was also a criminally incompetent ruler, and that’s really glossed over. The book is told through Anastasia’s point of view, so of course, she thinks highly of her father, but I wish there had been some acknowledgment that he was a less than ideal ruler. It’s also mentioned multiple times that Rasputin, the healer who held great influence over the imperial family because of his ability to help Alexei, was murdered by the Bolsheviks. Rasputin was actually murdered by another member of the Imperial family, an aristocrat, and a right-wing politician. But I’m a Russian history nerd, so this may not bother other readers.

I did enjoy the book, although I wish the magical elements had been a bit more integrated into the story from the start. The second half of the book is very exciting, and I liked how the author added magic to known historical events.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.




Review: The Lovely and the Lost

The Lovely and the Lost
By Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published May 7, 2019 by Freeform

Kira is a former feral child. She remembers almost nothing before the time she was rescued in the woods by Cady, her adoptive mother, just that she was on her own, trying to survive. Cady trains dogs for search-and-rescue, and she’s the best in the business. Kira, her brother Jude, and their friend and neighbor Free are all learning to train dogs for search-and-rescue.

Lovely and LostCady is estranged from her father, but when she gets a call that he needs her help searching for a child who’s lost in a vast national park, she agrees to go home to help, and brings the kids along. Kira gets caught up in the search for the missing child, and it triggering fragments of memories. It soon becomes obvious that the missing child didn’t just wander off, she was kidnapped, so there’s a mystery element to the story.

The characters all have some baggage. Kira has PTSD from her traumatic childhood experiences. Even though she’s been living in a safe environment with a loving family for many years, the scars of her past are still there. She doesn’t like being touched, eye contact is hard for her, and she relates better to dogs than people. Cady hasn’t been back to her hometown in 18 years and has a fraught relationship with her father. Joining Kira in the search is local boy Gabriel, who has a criminal past and secrets of his own.

The book is fast-paced and very readable. I wasn’t really expecting this to be a mystery, but that part of the plot was very well done and left me guessing until the end. There were a lot of twists and turns, and whenever I thought I had things figured out, I was way off base.

Kira was a fascinating character. She can be prickly and difficult. She loves her family, but the emotional interactions are really difficult for her. Her PTSD is triggered by searching for the missing child, and she’s on edge for most of the book.

I found the info about search and rescue missions really interesting. The vastness of the wilderness where the child disappeared seems insurmountable, but the dogs and humans on the search team are able to do so much. It was really fascinating. I loved reading about the bonds between the searchers and their dogs.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Review: You Must Not Miss

You Must Not Miss
By Katrina Leno
Published April 23, 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

She did not want Ben to kiss her because if he did that, he might get the wrong impression: that she was the type of girl who should be kissed. And she wasn’t. She was the type of girl who should be run from.

After reading Summer of Salt last year, I became a big fan of Katrina Leno’s work. I’m making my way through her back catalog, and I grabbed at the chance to read an ARC of her latest book, You Must Not Miss. It’s a very different book than her previous work. Her You Must Not Missother books have a slightly cozy, magical feel, but You Must Not Miss is all sharp edges.

Magpie’s life has fallen apart. She caught her father in bed with her mother’s sister, her sister took off, and something terrible happened at a party the same night. Now her best friend hates her, everyone at school calls her a slut, and she’s stuck in a house with her alcoholic mother. Her life is a mess, and the only thing she can control is what she writes in her notebook. Her notebook is her constant companion. She writes about a place called Near, a world where her life is still good, where her father didn’t cheat, where her best friends still likes her. Near is a perfect world, and Magpie wills it into existence.

Then he saw the yellow notebook that she had hurriedly closed when he walked into the classroom. He touched its cover and Magpie felt the touch on the inside of her body. The notebook as as much a part of her as her blood, her soft tissues, her large intestines. It was as if he’d run his fingernails across her heart. It wasn’t a nice feeling.

You Must Not Miss is a gripping, creepy little book, and I’m still thinking about, weeks after I finished it. Magpie isn’t a nice character, but she is a compelling one. The force of her rage makes a whole other world. Her rage is a palpable thing, big enough to create something magical and also terrifying. Teenage girls are so often belittled, disregarded, and ignored. Consider what rage can do, and there you have Magpie. You Must Not Miss is a difficult read in some ways. There will be times that you cringe and rage and feel so much for Magpie. It’s dark and weird, and it’s the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a teen.

I received an ARC from another blogger.






Review: Last Girl Lied To

Last Girl Lied To
By L. E. Flynn
Published April 16, 2019 by Imprint

Last Girl Lied To is the kind of messy teen drama that will appeal to fans of Pretty Little Liars. Fiona is grieving for her best friend Trixie, who committed suicide over the Last Girlsummer. Starting her senior year, Fiona is still in shock, and she starts to think that the story of Fiona’s suicide doesn’t add up. She seeks out Jasper, the guy Trixie was hooking up with, hoping he’ll have some answers. Fiona and Jasper make a connection, but Fiona also has feelings for the guy she’s been in love with since freshman year, Beau, who happens to be the boyfriend of her former best friend.

At first I thought this was going to fall into the messy misfits making out category (which I love), but the story went in a different direction. I’m a little torn on how to rate it. It was a gripping read, I didn’t want to put it down, and I was genuinely surprised by the resolution of the mystery. On the other hand, I found Fiona to be a bit of a limp noodle and I couldn’t bring myself to care about her. Also, she’s hung up on Beau, who is basically a hot mess (drunk at school is not a good look). They have a bond because he’s also grieving the suicide of his older brother (which is why he’s a hot mess).

So, this was basically a 3.5- star read for me since it was entertaining and fast-paced, but I didn’t connect with it on more than a surface level.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.

Review: Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight
By Jenn Bennett
Published April 16, 2019 by Simon Pulse

This book was so delightful, and I really enjoyed it. It’s your basic Girl meets Boy, Girl has sex with Boy in his car, Girl freaks out and runs away story.

When Birdie starts her first job, the night shift at a hotel front desk, she’s horrified to find that she’s working with Daniel, the guy she had an awkward hookup with a few weeks Serious Moonlightearlier. They met in a diner and ended up having sex in his car. She freaked out afterward and ran away. Now that they’re working together, it’s very awkward, but Daniel, knowing Birdie’s love of mysteries, convinces her to help him solve a mystery: he thinks a famous, reclusive author may be visiting the hotel. As they grow closer during the investigation, Birdie has to figure out if she can actually manage a relationship.

This book is so cute, and I liked watching two people stumble into a relationship. Both Birdie and Daniel have baggage. Birdie’s mom died when she was 10, and after that, she was raised by the grandparents who kicked her mother out of the house when she got pregnant as a teen. The grandmother didn’t want Birdie to follow in her mother’s footsteps, so she was very overprotective and homeschooled her. The grandmother died a few months before the book starts. Birdie is still grieving, but she also has a lot of unresolved resentment toward her grandmother. She’s also ignoring a pretty big health issue.

Daniel also has some issues, having survived a rough patch in high school, and he’s got unresolved issues with the father he’s never met (who dumped his mother when she got pregnant). He wants to be a magician, but he’s also being pressured by his mother to go to school for something more practical.

This book has a lot of things I really enjoyed. It’s very sex-positive. There’s no shame attached to sex, as long as you’re being careful (which the characters are). It’s a really nice exploration of grief as Birdie realizes that she can grieve for her grandmother even while she still has some conflicted feelings toward her. I like that the books features young people who aren’t going to college. Daniel just isn’t interested in college, and Birdie technically hasn’t graduated high school since her grandmother passed away unexpectedly before giving her a diploma for her homeschooling. A lot of YA books focus on college-bound kids, and it’s refreshing to see other options explored. There’s some diversity–Daniel is half-Japanese. And as a mystery buff myself, I loved Birdie’s interest in mysteries. I really loved the character of Birdie’s “Aunt” Mona, a quirky artist who was Birdie’s mother best friend and who helped raise Birdie. She’s super wacky, but she’s also a great friend to Birdie and is always there for her. I firmly believe We all need a wacky aunt in our lives.

Serious Moonlight is a really fun read, and I definitely recommend it.

I received an ARC from Simon Pulse via Netgalley.

Review: White Rose

White Rose
By Kip Wilson
Published April 2, 2019 by HMH Versify

White Rose is an important and timely book. It tells the story of Sophie Scholl, a young German woman who was part of group called the White Rose that resisted the Nazi government during World War II. Sophie, her brother, and their friends were university White Rosestudents who wrote and distributed anonymous letters and pamphlets condemning the Nazi regime.

This is a really valuable book. As we get further away from World War II, it’s important to keep the memories of what happened alive. In a regime where most people just went along with the horrors, it’s inspiring to read about people who tried to make a difference. Sophie and her friends were just normal people who found a way to stand up to tyranny, at great personal cost.

The novel is written in verse, which I think was a good choice, as it lends a certain gravitas to the story. The poems are very straightforward and readable, and even readers who aren’t used to poetry shouldn’t be put off. There are many lines I could quote, but here’s a brief passage that’s representative.

After sitting
on the sidelines
like a caged tiger
for a week,
I can’t wait
face my fear
break out of my complancency
do whatever I can.

I found the book very moving, and I think the story will resonate with teen readers. I highly recommend it.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Amazon Vine.


Review: The Princess and the Fangirl

The Princess and the Fangirl
By Ashley Poston
Published April 2, 2019 by Quirk Books

The Princess and the Fangirl is a truly delightful retelling of The Prince and the Pauper set at a sci-fi fan convention.

Jessica Stone is an actress who just played the legendary character of Princess Amara in a reboot of the sci-fi franchise Starfield. The princess appeared to die at the end of the movie, and Jessica wants nothing more to do with the franchise because she wants to be taken seriously as an actress. Imogen Lovelace is a major Starfield fangirl, and she’s spearheading a campaign to save Amara from being killed off. The two meet at ExcelsiCon when Imogen is mistaken for Jessica and ends up inadvertently taking her Princess and Fangirlplace on a panel. Jessica is livid at first, but then she loses her script of the Starfield sequel and pages are linked online. Worried that this will hurt her career, Jessica enlists Imogen to pose as her so Jessica can go undercover at the con and figure out who stole the script.

This book was so much fun. It’s a really entertaining look at fandom culture and cons. Jessica and Imogen are both great characters. Jessica seems a bit unsympathetic at first, but her desire to leave Starfield behind makes a lot of sense when you see the harassment she has to put up with on a daily basis. Then there’s Imogen, whose love for Starfield is so pure, but she has to face up to some of the uglier sides of fandom.

There are two cute romances. Imogen has to work with Jessica’s assistant, who she finds very annoying, but also maddeningly attractive. And Jessica finds herself attracted to Imogen’s friend who think she’s Imogen (the con is the first time they’re meeting in person). The book has a lot of diversity: a f/f romance, one love interest is African-American and the other is Japanese-American, Imogen has two moms, and her brother is gay.

This is a companion novel to Geekarella, which I haven’t read. This book stands on its own, and you don’t need to have read the first book, but The Princess and the Fangirl has some spoilers for Geekarella.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Amazon Vine.