Review: Beneath the Haunting Sea

Beneath the Haunting Sea
By Joanna Ruth Meyer
Published January 9, 2018 by Page Street Publishing

Beneath the Haunting Sea is a beautifully written young adult fantasy with gothic sensibilities. It starts off with a bang. Young aristocrat Talia Dahl-Said learns that she is the Emperor of Enduena’s daughter and is named heir to the throne. Moments after the announcement is made, the emperor dies, Talia’s half-sister steals the throne, and Talia is Beneath the Haunting Seabranded a traitor and exiled to a remote outpost of the empire. She arrives in Ryn to stay at the estate of a baron and his slightly odd son Wendarian, to whom Talia is betrothed as a condition of her banishment.

The estate is glooming and forbidden. The Baron’s two wives died under mysterious circumstances that no one will talk about. There are locked rooms that Talia is forbidden to enter. And the sea seems to be calling her. The gothic elements are really well done. The writing really lovely, and the creepiness is so well done.

A big part of the story deals with the mythology of the empire’s gods and goddesses. Talia isn’t really a believer, but she has to reevaluate her beliefs when she comes to Ryn and feels called by the sea. The myths are caught up in the mysteries of Ryn, and the author does an excellent job of integrating them into the story.

I really enjoyed this book. Talia is a great character, the gothic elements were great, and there’s a very sweet romance. Highly recommended.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone
By Felicity McLean
Published June 25, 2019 by Algonquin Books

Publisher’s summary:
“We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.”

So begins Tikka Molloy’s recounting of the summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – disappear.

Eleven and one-sixth years old, Tikka is the precocious narrator of this fabulously endearing coming-of-age story, set in an eerie Australian river valley suburb with an unexplained stench. The Van Apfel girls vanish from the valley during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river. While the search for the sisters unites the small community on Sydney’s urban fringe, the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved forever.

Brilliantly observed, sharp, lively, funny and entirely endearing, this novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – and quintessentially Australian. Think The Virgin Suicides meets Jasper Jones meets Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a book that just didn’t work for me.

Tikka returns home to Australia from Baltimore when her sister is diagnosed with cancer. Twenty years earlier, the sisters’ friends and neighbors, the Van Apfel girls (Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth), disappeared. Tikka’s return home sets her to reminiscing 40853191._SY475_about the past and reexamining the girls’ disappearance with her adult eyes.

This book had so much potential. A daughter/sister returning home, an unsolved mystery. But these elements never gelled for me. The writing was well done, and the sense of heat and summer and the idleness of childhood is vividly evoked, but beyond that, I didn’t feel any connection to the story.

Tikka is a rather dull character. Other than her (understandable) grief and obsession with the unsolved mystery of her friends’ disappearance, she doesn’t have much of a personality as an adult. We’re told that the 13-year-old Cordelia is an object of fascination to everyone, but other than a little suggestive dancing, we don’t really see this.

Untimately, I found this book frustrating. There’s a huge mystery at the center of it, and there is absolutely no resolution. I didn’t necessarily expect everything to be tied up in a neat package, but I did hope there would be some answers. I wanted something more from this book.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

 

Review: Call It What You Want

Call It What You Want
By Brigid Kemmerer
Published June 25, 2019 by Bloomsbury YA

After reading A Curse So Dark and Lonely earlier this year, I wanted to try out other books by Brigid Kemmerer. Her newest release, Call It What You Want, is a contemporary, so it’s quite different from A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which was a fantasy-based retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I really enjoyed it. It falls into my favorite contemporary subgenre, messy misfits making out.

Rob used to be the king of the school. Then his financial adviCall It What You Wantsor father embezzled money from half of the town, and Rob became persona non grata because everyone assumes that he was in on the embezzlement scheme because he interned at his dad’s office (I understand people’s ability to assume the worst, but does anyone really think a 17-year-old would be a good partner-in-crime for an elaborate financial scheme?). Maegan is also an outcast because she cheated on her SATs, which meant that everyone who took them with her had their scores invalidated. The two are brought together when they have to pair up on a calculus assignment because no one else wants to work with them.

Rob and Maegan both have a lot of stress in their lives. Rob’s father tried to kill himself, but he survived the attempt and now requires round-the-clock care, which Rob and his mother have to handle. Maegan’s parents don’t trust her anymore, and her sister has just arrived home from college, pregnant and in danger of losing her athletic scholarship.

I really liked both Rob and Maegan. Rob is in a terrible position through no fault of his own. He’s just trying to keep his head down and get through senior year, even though everyone is really awful to him. He makes some not so great choices, but they make sense, given everything he’s going through. Maegan made a mistake, and now she wonders if she can ever live it down. They both have walls up, and initially, having to work on the project together doesn’t go well. But as they let their guard down and get to know each, a bond grows.

I found this book really engrossing, I loved the growing closeness between the two main characters, and I was dying to know how it would all work out. My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that everything wrapped up a bit too quickly. There was a lot of buildup to the climax, and then it was over and there was just a short epilogue. I would have liked a little more.

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

 

 

 

Review: All of Us with Wings

All of Us with Wings
By Michelle Ruiz Keil
Published June 18, 2019 by Soho Press

Publisher’s synopsis:
Michelle Ruiz Keil’s YA fantasy debut about love, found family, and healing is an ode to post-punk San Francisco through the eyes of a Mexican-American girl.

Seventeen-year-old Xochi is alone in San Francisco, running from her painful past: the mother who abandoned her, the man who betrayed her. Then one day, she meets Pallas, a precocious twelve-year-old who lives with her rockstar family in one of the city’s storybook Victorians. Xochi accepts a position as Pallas’s live-in governess and quickly finds her place in their household, which is relaxed and happy despite the band’s larger-than-life fame.

But on the night of the Vernal Equinox, as a concert afterparty rages in the house below, Xochi and Pallas accidentally summon a pair of ancient creatures devoted to avenging the wrongs of Xochi’s adolescence. She would do anything to preserve her new life, but with the creatures determined to exact vengeance on those who’ve hurt her, no one is safe—not the family she’s chosen, nor the one she left behind.

All of Us with Wings really blew me away. I went into it not knowing anything more than the description, and it was everything that’s in the blurb and so much more. This is magical realism set in the late 1980s in San Francisco, and it’s a weirdly lovely book.

There’s a hint of Jane Eyre to the story. At 17, Xochi has fled her past and landed in San All of Us with WingsFrancisco, where she’s befriended by Pallas, the precocious 12-year-old daughter of rock stars Io and Leviticus. The family hires her to be Pallas’ governess and she moves into the family mansion, which is also inhabited by various band mates.

For a girl who doesn’t have a family (her mother ran off and her adopted grandmother is dead), Xochi quickly finds a place in the ramshackle household. When she and Pallas unwittingly summon two creatures who want to protect Xochi and harm anyone who hurts her, all hell breaks loose.

The book is beautifully written and really evokes San Francisco in the late 1980s. At the same time that Xochi is finding a family of sorts, she’s falling in love with the city. There’s lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s gritty and realistic in some ways, but it’s also magical realism (one of the multiple narrators is a cat). I was totally absorbed in the story, even as I cringed at times at some of things the Xochi does.

This book feels fairly mature for YA. There’s lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and although the main character is a teen, there are multiple narrators of varying ages. It’s a coming of age story, but it’s the sort of book that may appeal to adult readers as well as teens.

CW: rape, drug use, relationship between a teenage girl and an older man

I received an ARC from the published via Amazon Vine.

Review: Sorcery of Thorns

Sorcery of Thorns
By Margaret Rogerson
Published June 4, 2019 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publisher’s synopsis:
All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

I really liked An Enchantment of Ravens, so I was looking forward to Margaret Rogerson’s latest, Sorcery of Thorns. I’m happy to report that it’s an absolutely delightful book. It felt Sorcery of Thornsa little old-fashioned to me, and I meant that in the best possible way. The book has more in common with old-school fantasy writers like Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

Elisabeth is a great heroine. She’s grown up as an apprentice at a library filled with grimoires, sentient and often dangerous books, but she’s always wanted something more, to become a warden (a protector of the libraries) like her mention, the library director. But then the library is attacked, the director is killed, and Elisabeth is blamed. She’s sent to the capital for her trial, and she’s forced into an uneasy alliance with a handsome, brooding sorcerer named Nathanial Thorn and his demonic servant, Silas.

The growing relationship between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is really nicely done. Elisabeth has been raised to fear sorcerers, so Nathaniel and his demon make her extremely nervous at first. But when they uncover an evil plot, they’re forced to work together. Their banter is very funny and charming. Nathaniel is very grumpy at first, but he’s had a difficult life and he doesn’t open up to other people easily.

The plot is great. The villain is revealed a bit earlier than I would have expected, but it’s not really about the villain as much as it’s about Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas working to stop the villain and keep chaos and destruction from happening. The author does an excellent job of world-building, and the society of libraries, sentient grimoires, and sorcerers really comes alive in the book. I really enjoyed it, and although it appears to be a stand-alone, I would be happy to revisit this world.

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

 

Review: Wild and Crooked

Wild and Crooked
By Leah Thomas
Published June 4, 2019 by Bloomsbury

In the small town of Samsboro, Kentucky, a high school golden boy named James Ellis was murdered by another high school student, Gary Spence. Seventeen years later, the son of the murdered boy and the daughter of the murderer meet and become friends.

Wild and CrookedGus Peake and Kalyn Spence have both had rough childhoods. Gus’s dad was murdered when he mother was only a few months pregnant. He was born with cerebral palsy, and his disability and his tragic backstory are all that anyone in his small town sees when they look at him. His mother is also extremely overprotective and treats him like a child. Kalyn has grown up half-wild, with a mother who’s got some issues (I have to question the life choices of someone who seeks out a relationship with a convicted murderer), and she acts out a lot.

The two meet and become friends without knowing who the other is (Kalyn is attending school under a pseudonym and Gus has a different last name than his father). They’re both misfits, and their growing bond is very sweet. It’s completely platonic, as Kalyn is a lesbian (Gus is pansexual). That bond is tested when they learn each other’s identities and when evidence surfaces that suggests that Gary Spence may not be guilty.

I’m fascinated by the aftermath of tragedy and how people deal with bad things years after the fact, and I’m drawn to books with this sort of story. It was interesting getting to see both sides of the aftermath of a murder, what it’s like to be the son of a murder victim and what’s it like to be the daughter of the murderer. It’s also an insight into mob mentality: the townspeople of Samsboro don’t take kindly to the suggestion that Gary Spence might be innocent, and there’s a huge public outcry. Basically, everyone is awful to Kalyn in the name of supporting Gus, support he doesn’t want or need. I had all the feels in the last third of the book as these two characters go through so much. It’s also an interesting look at the power dynamics of “justice” when the victim is a rich golden boy and the alleged murderer is a poor kid.

My only complaint is that the solution of the mystery is a little disappointing, but this isn’t really a mystery, and in the end, what really happened is only a small part of the bigger picture. This is really Gus and Kalyn’s story.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.