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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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: 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: 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
to
face my fear
to
break out of my complancency
to
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.