Review: The Museum of Us

The Museum of Us
By Tara Wilson Redd
Published June 26, 2018 by Random House/Wendy Lamb Books

The Museum of Us is a poignant look at dreams, fantasies, and mental illness. Sadie is a teenage girl with what seems like an enviable life. She has loving parents, a great best friend, and a sweet rock star boyfriend. But she lives her life mostly in her head. She has another best friend named George. He’s basically her imaginary friend, but the intense Museum of Usfantasy life she has developed feels completely real to her.

Sadie and George go on elaborate adventures. Climbing Mount Everest, spy adventures, reenacting the Harry Potter books. They are best friends and perhaps something more. Only George isn’t real. As Sadie says, “Well, I just… think about it. And then the thinking becomes daydreaming and the whole world fades away and I’m with George.”

When Sadie is in a car accident, she wakes up in the hospital disoriented and asks for George. She ends up being sent to the psych ward for observation, and the psychiatrist keeps asking, “Who is George?” Sadie tries to convince them she’s not crazy, but every time she talks to the psychiatrist, she’s in danger of revealing her secrets. Another teenaged patient warns Sadie that if she reveals her secrets, the doctors will take them away and she’ll be left with nothing: “They steal your dreams here.”

This book is an interesting look at why someone might want to escape their life and the kind of trauma that makes a fantasy better than reality. I found the idea of being so caught up in a fantasy life that you basically zone out really interesting, and it’s fascinating how Sadie’s detachment from reality has affected her life. It’s a somewhat sad book, but there’s also hope for the future.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Wild Blue Wonder

Wild Blue Wonder
By Carlie Sorosiak
Published June 26, 2018 by Harper Teen

“But as you know, in all camp stories, there are monsters.
In this one, there are two.
The sea monster.
And me.”

Last summer, Quinn had it all. She was a nationally ranked swimmer, she and her siblings were as close as can be, and she was falling in love with her best friend, Dylan. Now it’s fall, and Quinn’s given up swimming, her siblings hate her, Dylan is dead, and she blames herself for his death.

Wild Blue WonderWild Blue Wonder is a sweet and sad look at love, loss, and the ties that bind. Quinn is just existing, feeling shut out by her brother and sister and not able to enjoy anything. Her family runs a summer camp, which seems like a magical place, but in fall in Maine, it’s not quite as charming.

The story in told in alternating timelines, each chapter switching between the present and the previous summer. I liked this format, and the gradual revelation of what happened in the summer adds to the dramatic tension. The summer chapters are written as if Quinn is telling the story to Dylan.

The arrival of a new boy named Alexander causes Quinn to think about moving on, but the grief and the guilt are always with her. She has lovely parents, a wonderful grandmother, and a supportive best friend, but she’s drowning in guilt and her fractured relationships with her brother and sister are a continual source of pain.

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. Quinn’s grief felt very real, the family dynamics were really interesting, Quinn’s Nanna is a great character who works hard to help her granddaughter move on, and the new romance is very sweet. There are some slight magical realism elements; the camp is described as a magical place, where blueberries grow year-round and there may be a (possibly metaphorical) sea monster lurking in the water.

I like quiet books about grief, so Wild Blue Wonder is very much my type of book. It reminded me a bit of I’ll Give You the Sun and A Million Junes, so fans of those books may enjoy it.


Review: My Plain Jane

My Plain Jane
By Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Published June 26, 2018 by Harper Teen

I loved My Plain Jane so much. I had high hopes going in, given that that I really liked the first book in the series, My Lady Jane, but this one definitely lived up to my high expectations.

This is not a straightforward retelling of Jane Eyre, so if you’re a purist, this may not be My Plain Janethe book for you. It takes some of the weird/problematic aspects of the original story (the age difference, Mr. Rochester’s super odd behavior) and looks at them in a different way.

The story begins at the awful Lowood School, where both Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte are pupils. They’re close friends, although Jane is keeping a big secret from her friend: she sees ghosts. The head of the school, the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst, is recently deceased, and his ghost is haunting the school, so they call in the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits to help with their problem. Agent Alexander Blackwood arrives and send the entire school (who have rarely seen any males besides Mr. Brocklehurst) into a tizzy. When Alexander learns that Jane can see ghosts, he tries to recruit her for the society, but it’s Charlotte who really wants to join. Hijinks ensue, and the trio all end up at Thornfield Hall.

This book is so, so funny. The combination of a classic gothic tale and snarky ghosts is winning one, and I definitely laugh-snorted multiple times. It has the same absurdist tone as the first book in the series, My Lady Jane, but it’s slightly different in that it’s mostly fictional characters, with a few real people.

The book has three narrators (Jane, Charlotte, and Alexander), and the chapters switch points of view. The three characters have very different voices. Charlotte was my favorite. She’s had a rough life, but she’s tough and determined to make her way in the world. She wants to be a writer, and she thinks that joining the Society will give her fodder for her stories. Of course, there’s the small matter of her not being able to see ghosts, but she doesn’t let that thwart her ambitions.

My Plain Jane is a hilarious and entertaining book, and it’s a perfect summer read.

Review: Summer of Salt

Summer of Salt
By Katrina Leno
Published June 5, 2018 by Harper Teen

“On the island of By-the-Sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.

The first was obvious. It came crashing ashore in the blue waves; it sat heavy and thick in our hair and our clothes; it stained our bedsheets and made our pillows damp.

The second–the scent of magic–was harder to pin down.”

Summer of Salt is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It has lots of elements I love: magical realism, an island settings (I have a thing for books set on islands), and a quirky, sort of Wes Anderson-esque vibe. This book is not going to be for everyone, but it’s the Summer of Saltsort of book I want to press into people’s hands with a plea to read it.

Georgina Fernweh lives on an unusual island called By-the-Sea. The Fernweh family runs an inn that’s very busy in the summer, when a group of bird enthusiasts descend upon the island hoping to see Annabella’s Woodpecker, a very rare bird that only appears in this particular place and only during summer. Georgina and her twin sister Mary grew up on the island, and although they’re going to be leaving for college at the end of the summer, they’ve never been off the island. Oh, and Annabella may be 300 years old and a distant great-aunt of the sisters (said great-aunt disappeared and the family was convinced that she turned into a bird).

The Fernwehs are an interesting family. Most of the women in the family have magical gifts, and they always show up before they turn 18. Mary has been able to float in the air since she was an infant, and their mother can create potions. But Georgina has shown no sign of a magical gift, and as she nears her 18th birthday, she’s wondering if she’ll be one of the few Fernweh woman without a gift.

The birdheads, as the islanders call them, are a funny bunch, all completely obsessed with Annabella. Most of them are repeat visitors, but this year, a grad student and his younger sister come to stay, and Georgina finds herself attracted to the sister, Prue.

The tone changes halfway through the book, and after a tragic event, the islanders and the birdheads start to turn against the Fernweh family. The townspeople and the birdheads seem fine with the slightly unusual family when everything is going fine, but when things go wrong, everyone is quick to turn on them and blame them. The fraught atmosphere is heightened by terrible weather that causes massive flooding on the island.

I love that there’s no issue with Georgina being gay. She’s been out for several years, and it’s a non-issue. The only problem is that on such a small island, her dating pool is very limited. The arrival of Prue gives her a romantic interest, and their attraction is a slow burn. The romance isn’t a major focus of the book, since there’s a lot of other drama going on, but it’s very sweet.

This book is equal parts beautiful and devastating. Katrina Leno’s writing is lovely (“She was tied to the water, my sister. Moods like tides, temper like a hungry shark.” is one particularly evocative passage.) I really loved this book, and I’m excited to read Leno’s other books.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: The Summer of Us

The Summer of Us
By Cecilia Vinesse
Published June 5, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I am not the biggest fan of YA contemporaries, but when I read the description of The Summer of Us by Cecelia Vinesse, I jumped at it. What’s not to love about a book about five recent high school graduates traipsing across Europe with lots of drama?

Summer of UsBest friends Aubrey and Rae are embarking on a two-week trip to Europe, with their friends Jonah (Aubrey’s boyfriend), Clara (Rae’s secret crush), and Gabe (who Aubrey kissed three weeks earlier). Aubrey and Rae are both having a pre-college freakouts. Aubrey is going to go to school in New York with Jonah, but she’s worrying if she made the right decision. She’s also wondering why Gabe has been avoiding her since their unexpected kiss, and she’s worried that she and Rae are growing apart.

Rae has decided to move to Australia for college, thinking that she needs to escape from her current life and her seemingly hopeless feelings for Clara. She and Aubrey usually share everything, but Rae hasn’t confided in Aubrey about her crush. Aubrey told Rae about the kiss with Gabe, but she’s keeping quiet about her uncertainty about her future. These secrets are driving a wedge between the friends and they have to figure out whether their friendship will continue.

I identified with Aubrey, who’s anxious and a planner, and has every detail of the trip mapped out (something her friends occasionally mock her for, but without her, they’d probably be missing a lot of trains). The transition from high school can be a hard one, and The Summer of Us really captures the uncertainty of this time. All of the characters are struggling a bit, wondering if they’ve made the right choices for their future. I really liked that there’s just as much emphasis on friendships as there is on romance.

This book is really adorable, and it’s the perfect fun fast summer read (maybe for your summer vacation in Europe if you’re lucky).

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

Review: Neverworld Wake

Neverworld Wake
By Marisha Peissl
Published June 5, 2018 by Delacorte Press

In high school, Beatrice Hartley and her closest friends ruled the school. They were the kids everyone wanted to be. Then her boyfriend Jim died under suspicious circumstances, and now it’s been a year since Beatrice has seen any of her friends. When she receives an invitation from one of the group, Whitley, to celebrate Whitley’s birthday at her seaside estate, Beatrice decides to go, hoping to discover the truth behind Jim’s death. It’s a weird, uncomfortable night, culminating a near-miss car crash and a visit from aNeverworld Waken odd old man who calls himself the Keeper. He tells them they’re stuck in a place between life and death called the Neverworld Wake. They think he’s a harmless crank, until they wake up the next morning and it’s the same day over again. The Keeper tells them that they must take a vote, and only when they’ve unanimously chosen one of themselves to save, the others will pass on to the next stage.

They’re now stuck in time, forced to live the same day over and over, seemingly trapped in the area near the estate. They can’t stay awake, and whenever they fall asleep at the end of the day, they wake up back in the same day again. The friends all react differently to their predicament. Beatrice goes home over and over to see her parents, while flighty Whitley and intense Cannon con their way onto a yacht to torment the other passengers. Kipling tries suicide (unsuccessfully). Oddball Martha spends most of her time alone. Eventually, the friends decide to try to solve the mystery of Jim’s death, which forces them to work together, as much as they seem to loathe each other, being stuck in this bizarre Groundhog Day-esque reality.

This is a really interesting, gripping book. The idea of being stuck in time, with a bunch of former friends you’ve grown apart from, is pretty awful. But when they start making plans to solve the mystery, being able to live the same day over and over becomes something of an advantage. If a plan doesn’t work the first time, just try again the next day with the knowledge of what didn’t work the day before. They’re able to test the limits of the world. It’s creepy and sometimes funny. There are also elements of the Neverworld that come from an obscure cult classic sci-fi novel that Martha is obsessed with.

This book gave me similar vibes to a few other books. There’s a bit of The Secret History, a little The Magicians, and a little We Were Liars. It’s a little creepy and weird and an excellent read. I highly recommend it, and I’ll be checking out the author’s earlier books.

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

Review: Sweet Black Waves

Sweet Black Waves
By Kristina Perez
Published June 5, 2018 by Imprint

I am low key obsessed with the Arthurian legends, so when I heard about a new YA fantasy based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult, I knew I had to read it.

Sweet Black Waves is the first book in a trilogy retelling the legend of the star-crossed lovers. The story is told from the point of view of Branwen, the lady-in-waiting of Sweet Black WavesPrincess Eseult of Iveriu. In this version, Branwen is Eseult’s cousin, as their mothers were sisterz. Iveriu is in a constant battle with a country across the sea, Kernyv, and raiders from each country attack the other routinely. Branwen’s parents were killed many years earlier by Kernyvak raiders. Branwen is devoted to the princess.

One day, Branwen finds an injured man named Tantris on the beach, and she saves his life. She’s shocked when she realizes that he is from Kernyv, but Branwen is training to be a healer, and once she saves his life, she feels responsible for him, so she hides him and nurses him back to health. They fall in love, but Branwen knows there can never be a future between her and an enemy of her people, and they part. He returns a few weeks later,  presenting himself at her uncle the king’s court as Prince Tristan of Kernyv. He has come to take part in a tournament to win the hand of Princess Eseult on behalf of his uncle, King Marc of Kernyv.

The story unfolds much as you would expect from the legend, but it’s made interesting and new by being told through Branwen’s eyes. She’s an interesting character. She has every reason to hate the Kernyv people, but she also hopes desperately for a lasting peace, and she’s willing to do anything to make it happen. I liked Branwen very much, and her main fault is that she’s way too nice to the awful Eseult. Eseult is basically a spoiled brat, who’s not cut out to be queen. Branwen, on the other hand, is smart and competent, and she shows remarkable talent in her training as a healer. She’s very serious, which makes sense given that she was orphaned at a young age, and has devoted herself to her healer training.

There is some serious insta-love in this book, but that’s completely true to the source material. People are always falling in love at first sight in Arthurian legends. But the fast-moving romance between Branwen and Tristan meant that for me, I wasn’t terribly invested in their love story. Also, being familiar with the legend, I was expecting tragedy at every turn, so that may have something to do with my lack of investment in the romance. I really liked Branwen, I just didn’t care that much about Tristan. But Branwen’s story stands on its own.

I do think the author really captured the feel of the original legend: Branwen’s life in the castle, the wind-swept shores of Iveriu, and the constant threat of the the invaders all feel very real and work well for the story. It’s very atmospheric. There are a few places where the pace drags a bit, and I do think the middle of the book could have been trimmed a bit, but the last 100 pages are great, and I’m excited to see where the story goes from here.