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.



Review: These Witches Don’t Burn

These Witches Don’t Burn
By Isabel Sterling
Published May 28, 2019 by Razorbill

These Witches Don’t Burn is an urban fantasy that reminds me a little bit of Charmed. It’s a fun start to a new series.

Hannah is a witch living undercover in Salem, Massachusetts. Because of they’re concerned about anti-witch prejudice, her cover is very secretive and Hannah must keep These Witches Don't Burnthe fact that she’s an elemental witch from everyone outside the coven. When Hannah finds evidence of dark magic being practiced in Salem, she’s convinced that a blood witch has come to town and her coven in is danger, but no one seems to believe her.

I really felt for Hannah. She just wanted to have a fun summer, but now she’s investigating the weird stuff that’s happening in her own, her coven doesn’t believe her, the new cop in town thinks she’s responsible for all the trouble, and her ex-girlfriend won’t leave her alone.

The world-building in this book was great. I liked the idea of the three types of witches (elemental, caster, and blood) and the distrust between the different groups. There’s also an interesting examination of how the coven’s need for secrecy can be really problematic. Hannah is torn between trying to save a friend’s life and revealing her magic, a serious no-no for the coven. She chooses to save her friend and ends up being punished by the coven, which is pretty messed up.

This book is basically the queer witch trying to deal with her obnoxious ex (seriously, she’s the worst) while trying to solve a magical mystery and date the new girl in town story that I didn’t know I needed. And since it’s take place in summer, it feels like a perfect summer read.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Amazon Vine.



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.