Review: THE GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult mystery
Year Release: 2018
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Pippa Fitz-Amobi uses her senior year capstone project as a pretense to solve a murder. Andie Bell had gone missing five years prior and all signs pointed to Sal Singh as the culprit of her disappearance and murder. Pippa wants to find the answers herself, despite the case already being closed.

I really enjoyed the way Jackson uses several formats to bring the research to life. Between audio interviews, research logs, and traditional story telling, we really see every aspect of how Pippa solves this murder. No stone is left unturned as Pippa conducts interviews, visits locations both seedy and deceptively friendly, and learns secrets about people she had grown up with. The voice is clever, and I never got the sense that Pippa had everything handed to her. No moment felt too coincidental. Once again, it was nice to read a young adult where parents are involved and concerned about their children. The depth and breadth of all the character interactions were complex and memorable.  However, the various twists and turns in the final quarter of the book, though effective, could have been cut down a bit. 

If you were a fan of Sadie for how Summers incorporated the podcast element, you will enjoy this small town mystery.

ARC Review: ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS by Diana Urban (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Six students—star athlete, queen bee, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek—are invited to a scholarship dinner where they are presented with a bomb, a syringe, and a note saying that they choose one of them to die or they do.

This book delivers on all the tensions expected from a locked-room thriller. Urban expertly balances the stress in that room with the events of the year prior. Each revelations feeds into the next interaction. It is stressful from start to finish, but the teens feel so real, that the jokes amid the horror stick every landing. The author writes such relatable teen characters—and does a careful job not falling into the trope of cliques. I found myself both cringing and nodding along during the “before” segments because, wow.

There is not much I can say about the ending because when all the secrets come out, your jaw will be on the floor, and then you’ll have to read the book again with a new perspective.

Review: ECHO NORTH by Joanna Ruth Meyer (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library physical copy

Starting with the wolf attack that left her scarred from age seven, Echo Alkaev’s life has the makings of a fairy tale: magic, strange curses, a selfish stepmother. When she meets the same wolf almost ten years later while searching for her missing father, Echo must house sit for a year with the wolf or else her father dies. But there is far more to this promise.

This story is steeped in folklore and fairy tale. From the Wolf Queen to the boy trapped in stories to the settings, it all seems so familiar. Atmosphere and magic sustain every page. I find it interesting how there was a micro-trend of library magic, but in this story, books are mirrors and you can inhabit as if they were movies in VR. These had been created by one of the characters, but that’s spoiler territory and it’s an unnecessary detail for most of the narrative. Because the world-building was otherwise so light, it was easy to follow along with internal character struggles of Echo and especially Echo’s perspective of Hal.

If you’re looking for something Beauty and the Beast (1999), this book captures the same magic, right down to a wonderful library and enchanted ball.

 

Review: SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Sorceries, demons, and libraries coming alive, oh my. Rogerson has provided another fantastic fantasy novel featuring a driven heroine and a smarmy love interest. Elisabeth wants to serve to great libraries but uncovered a conspiracy that has her working with disgraced sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his very good demon companion Silas. There’s demonic summonings and a love of books galore.

I really loved all the main characters. This trio had such an excellent dynamic. My personal favorite was Silas. So wise, so benevolent, but the narrative never makes you forget that he is a demon. The love Nathaniel has and the love which Elisabeth develops felt so natural in the progression of the story. There’s such a great relationship among all three them. In addition, Rogerson has a deft hand at actually describing the magic. It’s cinematic and visceral and wraps the reader in all five senses.

That all being said, the ending seems a little unevenly paced. The resolution of so many feelings had me convinced the book was ending, but when I looked, I was actually at the 75% mark. The rest of it feels fairly rushed, but everything ties up neatly in a way that is satisfying to both the characters and the world conflict.

Perfect for people who love books, magic, and an anime called Black Butler.

ARC Review: WHEN WE WERE MAGIC by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Sarah Gailey has such a knack for capturing the feeling of hopeless effort. In this young adult novel, Alexis accidentally kills a boy at prom and it is up to her and five magic friends to figure out what to do with the body. Strange things start happening around them, all while senior year winds down to a close and the feelings Alexis has for one of her friends stir stronger than ever.

I don’t think I’ve seen such accurate representation of the petulance, uncertainty, and stress that comes with being a teenager. Adding stresses like keeping your magic secret from those outside your circle and concealing that terrible thing you did definitely heightens the ante. What also really stood out to me was the fantastic balance between Alexis’s found family and true family. Because I read a lot of fantasy young adult, parents tend to be absent, either dead or evil. Here, Dad and Pop are so supportive and definitely are trying their best in terms of being parents.

This book is very light on the world-building, but that’s because it is so character-driven. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the magic came from or how it shifts as the coven tries to solve its big problem. The story is tightly woven in its emotional arcs that ultimately, the real magic was also the friends we had along the way.

We have been blessed in these last twelve months of works by Sarah Gailey. While I hope they get some rest, I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

 

ARC Review: THE SOUND OF STARS by Alechia Dow (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: NetGalley ARC

Read an ARC from NetGalley

Electricity-powered Ilori attack Earth and subjugate humans as part of their expanding their reach across the galaxy. Janelle “Ellie” Baker keeps an illicit library. When another type of Ilori, a labmade named Morris, returns one of Ellie’s missing books, their friendship and connection sends them on a journey far from New York to neutralize a vaccine which could spell doom for the human race.

The music and references to other young adult novels are absolutely spot on. Dow deftly peppers them through the narrative, especially when connecting them to both the oppression brought by the Ilori, but also the rage that comes from injustices plaguing our world today. I appreciate Ellie’s musings of if humanity really is worth saving, especially given her lived experience as a Black girl in the United States. It gave her character so many layers as a heroine who wants to protect the things that matter to her most, rather than becoming a hero whose triumph saves the world.

The presentation of anxiety in this book is so spot-on. Even as Ellie gathers her courage to save her family and runs cross-country with Morris, her anxiety maintains a steady presence. It’s always there and doesn’t get magically cured by the end.

Definitely give this book a read for an alien invasion narrative in which humans find resistance in protecting their stories, music, and the people they love.

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings can be found on the author’s website

This book blew my mind. I had been seeing so much hype for this cathartic young adult retelling of Macbeth, I just had to jump in.

The hype was so real.

Elle goes out with her friends on her sweet sixteen. The night takes a horrible turn when untouchable, privileged white boys make her the target of their sick idea of “fun.” Instead of relying on any judicial system, Elle cuts off her hair, transforms into Jade, and takes justice into her own hands. She infiltrates St. Andrew’s Prep to get her bloody revenge on those golden boys.

Capin does not shy away from the horror of what had been done to Jade. The sharp prose only enhances the rage and venom seeping through the page. Jade’s scheming and voice are simply excellent, with the more stream-of-conscious narration working super well. In some places, the plot and descriptions become so over-the-top to the point of delightful. The murders are so intricately spaced out, keeping the tension tight from start to finish. I found myself cheering Jade on in her vengeance and in her manipulation of Mack in particular.

The fact that Capin included Jade’s parents who agreed to her transferring schools was, honestly, an unexpected touch. This novel leans deeply into its own dark revenge fantasy. No one tells Jade that her methods are questionable at best or tries to stop her, but that is part of the magic of this book.

Breath-taking, suspenseful, and delightfully violent, Foul is Fair is a perfect addition to books starring female rage like The Female of the Species and Sadie.