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: Field Notes on Love

Field Notes on Love
By Jennifer E. Smith
Published March 5, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Sometimes you just want a book that you will make you feel happy, and Field Notes on Love was that book for me. It’s got a very original meet cute story and people falling in love against the backdrop of a cross-country train trip.

Hugo has a major problem. As a last hurrah before starting college, he and his girlfriend Field Notes on Lovewere going to take a train trip across the United States. For Hugo, who’s never been outside the UK, this is a big adventure. Then his girlfriend dumps him and he finds out that all the reservations for the trip are under her name and nontransferable and nonrefundable. So, Hugo turns to the internet to look for a traveling companion with the name Margaret Campbell.

Enter Mae (full name, Margaret Campbell). Her dream was to go to the University of Southern California for film school. She got into USC, but not the film school and she’s trying to reassess her work, not understanding why it didn’t measure up. She’s in a weird place, and when she sees Hugo’s post, she decides to go for it, and they take the cross-country trip together.

This book was really delightful. Hugo and Mae are great characters. They’re both at a crossroad in their lives. Hugo is a sextuplet. He’s never been on his own, and he’s supposed to be starting college with his five siblings in a few weeks. Suddenly, he’s not sure this is the path he wants and he’s feeling trapped. In an effort to move past the failure of her film school application, May decides to start a film while they’re traveling, and she and Hugo interview their fellow passengers about love. She’s got some barriers set us, but with the encouragement of her sassy grandmother, she opens herself up.

Field Notes on Love is a really cute, fun travel romance. It’s perfect for anyone who loves travel and trains (if you find trains romantic, this is definitely the book for you).

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.


Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Two Can Keep a Secret
By Karen McManus
Published January 8, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Echo Ridge, Vermont is a lovely small town with a bad history for high school girls.
In 1996, Sarah Corcoran vanished without a trace.
In 2014, Homecoming Queen Lacey Kilduff was brutally murdered and her killer was never caught.
In 2019, history seems to be repeating itself.

Two can keep a secrteTwins Ellery and Ezra Corcoran have to move to Echo Ridge to live with their grandmother while their mother Sadie is in rehab. Sadie fled Echo Ridge 23 years earlier after twin sister Sarah disappeared, and the twins have never been there before. Ellery is a true crime addict, and she’s fascinated by the mysteries of Sarah’s disappearance and Lacey’s murder, neither of which her mother would ever talk about.

Ellery befriends Malcolm Kelly, who’s older brother Declan was the main suspect in Lacey’s murder. Declan was Lacey’s boyfriend, and although he was not arrested, most of Echo Ridge still thinks he did it. Malcolm has grown up in the shadow of this suspicion.  As Homecoming gets closer, there are anonymous threats against the Homecoming court, and when another young woman goes missing, Malcolm falls under suspicion.

Two Can Keep a Secret is a compulsively readable thriller. Ellery and Malcolm are great characters. I loved Ellery’s obsession with true crime, and it makes a lot of sense for her character given her family’s unsolved mystery. Malcolm lives on the other end of the spectrum, just trying to live under the radar, avoiding the attention that comes with being the brother of a suspected murderer. The story is told in dual perspectives. I felt for both characters. Ellery has bounced around a lot because of her flighty mother, and Malcolm is viewed with suspicion by many just because of his brother.

This book also has awesome fall vibes, since it takes place in New England and the twins work at the town’s horror amusement park, Fright Farm (formerly called Murderland, but they changed the name after Lacey was actually murdered on the premises).

There are a lot of twists and turns, and the reader is thrown right into the action when the twins and their ride home from the airport come across a dead body in the middle of the road. There are a lot of potential suspects, and I love that Ellery suspects literally everyone, including the guy she wants to kiss. I like a mystery where I have no idea who the killer is, and I was pretty surprised by the ending.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.




Middle Grade Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island

The Storm Keeper’s Island
By Catherine Doyle
Published January 22, 2019 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

One of my goals for 2019 is to read more middle grade, and The Storm Keeper’s Island sounded right up my alley: set on a small island off the coast of Ireland, with family secrets and magic.

Eleven-year-old Fionn Boyle and his older sister Tara are sent to the island of Arranmore to spend the summer with their grandfather, Malachy, while their mother is hospitalized Storm Keeperfor depression. Tara’s excited to return to the island where she has friends and a boyfriend, but this is Fionn’s first visit and he’s missing his mother and apprehensive about staying with a grandfather he’s never met.

Arranmore is a magical place, and Fionn can feel the magic almost as soon as he steps off the ferry. His grandfather is a bit odd and lives in a ramshackle cottage filled with candles he makes. Tara has no time for her younger brother and ditches him as soon as she can to hang out with her boyfriend, the truly awful Bartley Beasley (Fionn refers to him as a “follically gifted Voldemort.” He’s actually much more of a Draco Malfoy type.). Left to his own devices, Fionn begins to explore the island and its secrets.

Fionn learns that his grandfather is the island’s Storm Keeper, the person who wields the island’s magic and keep it safe. Malachy’s mind is beginning to fail, and it’s time for the island to choose a new Keeper. An ancient evil may be waking up, and the Storm Keeper’s job of keeping the island safe is going to be a difficult one.

Fionn is a great character. He’s a little lost, he misses his life in Dublin, and he worries that he’s not as brave as his dead father (who died before he was born during an island rescue) and Malachy. His growing bond with his grandfather is lovely and we see him begin to find himself. The connection between Fionn and Malachy was the best part of the book for me.

I found the book’s villains a bit weak. They’re revealed to be bad the first time you meet them, so there’s not much suspense. One of them even has a resplendent mustache, which is a bit too on the nose for me. But the villains aren’t really that important to the story. It’s much more about Fionn and his family and the ways they’re trapped in the past and bound to the island.

This is a lovely book, and I think kids will really enjoy reading about Fionn. There’s going to be a sequel, and the next stage of Fionn’s tale should be very interesting.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

My Best of 2018

2018 was a pretty good reading year. I finished approximately 114 books (it’s only December 29, so that might not be the final number), and I enjoyed most of them. Here are my favorites of 2018.

Books published in 2018:
The Cruel Prince
The Hazel Wood
Girl Made of Stars
The Astonishing Color of After
Summer of Salt
Dance of Thieves
Sky in the Deep
Sawkill Girls
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
The Silence of the Girls
Muse of Nightmares

Books published before 2018:
Great Expectations
Wuthering Heights
The Scorpio Races
A Tale of Two Cities
North and South
We Have Always Lived in the Castle