Mayhem: A Review

Mayhem by Estelle LaureCalifornia, 1987: Mayhem Brayburn and her mother have never been like everyone else. May can see it in her mother Roxy’s constant pain, her pull to the water, the gaping hole of her father’s absence in the wake of his suicide years ago.

When her step-father goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem make their way back to the beach town–and the family history–that Roxy left behind when May was a baby. Santa Maria is everything May always hoped it would be. She meets her aunt’s foster kids, finds the family she always wanted and, amazingly, discovers her own connection to the Brayburn family’s long line of magic.

But not everything is magical in Santa Maria. Girls are going missing. Soon, Mayhem’s own efforts to find the culprit draw her into a strange world of vigilante justice and revenge as she learns more about the town–and her family’s–darker secrets in Mayhem (2020) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

If this standalone fantasy sounds a lot like the 1987 film The Lost Boys, that’s because it is. While Laure imbues Mayhem with its own magic and world building, the story stays close to the original plot of the classic vampire film complete with brief appearances by the iconic Frog brothers. Laure also brings more diversity to the cast in her update–the Brayburns are white but May’s farther was Brazilian and Jason and Kidd are biracial (Black and white).

Questions of why this story had to be set in 1987 instead of modernized are also inevitable and not well answered by any authorial choices.

How you feel about this book might depend on your familiarity with the film and your feelings about it. Mayhem includes a lot of nods to the original film but shifts in surprising ways to make space for the Brayburn’s family history as seen in a mysterious diary Mayhem finds upon exploring her new home. Unfortunately these two storylines don’t always mesh well feeling more like two separate stories than one, cohesive plot.

Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Lost Boys

Week in Review: May 15: In Which Blog Maintenance Continues

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

I’ve been working behind the scenes here on updating a some things as I tweak the blog theme and consolidate categories. I’m also trying to migrate some guest posts so they are cross-posted here and generally updating areas that haven’t been touched for a while. It’s tedious but I find it’s also good to be working on something with tangible results that is fully in my control as I get used to working on site again. That has been tiring but is going okay. Although my feelings remain deeply mixed, I think I’m finally getting used to it after so long working entirely from home.

This week I listened to Measure for Measure which I think I liked–hard to say how I feel when the entire comedy centered men taking advantage of women, you know? I also read Luck of the Titanic (good but sad because duh), Goddess in the Machine (good but the dialect killed me), and Across the Green Grass Fields (I will never not read a Wayward Children novella).

Books with Bakers, Chefs, and Other Food Enthusiasts

Everyone has to do it eventually but surprisingly few YA fiction books have any reference to it. I’m talking about cooking and baking, of course. This list features books for teens with bakers, chefs, and foodies.

collage cover art for Books with Bakers book listClick book titles to read my review where applicable. You can shop the titles on this list plus a few bonus suggestions on Bookshop.

If you want even more titles check out the “cooking & baking” tag on my blog for every book I’ve reviewed that features cooking or baking.

  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake: Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more
  • A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis: Lainey dreams of becoming a chef and having her own cooking show one day. With the lack of African American female chefs–not to mention vegetarian ones–she figures her odds of hitting it big are excellent. When her best friend (and crush) moves away, Lainey finds comfort in the kitchen as she works through new recipes and makes peace with the past.
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: Sydney is used to living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. When Peyton is sent to jail for drunk driving, Sydney tracks down the victim of the accident and finds herself drawn into the warm and chaotic world of the Chathams and the pizza parlor they run.
  • Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg: Both Macallan and Levi are pretty sure they’re better as friends than anything else. Except they can’t help wondering if the complications that come with being more than friends might just be worth it.
  • Taste Test by Kelly Fiore: As accidents mount in the kitchen arena of Taste Test, a new televised cooking competition, Nora has to try to find the culprit while proving she has what it takes to win.
  • Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram: Anjali dreams of hosting a cooking show where she can showcase dishes inspired by her Hindu and Trinidadian heritage. When she has the chance to compete in a cooking show will she be able to defy her family and attend the audition?
  • The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler: Penny’s life is far from sweet when her mother moves them from the big city to Hog’s Hollow so that she can open a cupcake bakery.
  • The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil, illustrated by Mike Lawrence: Alba loves living behind the bakery, drawing comics, and watching bad TV with her friends. Unfortunately Alba’s comfortable life is thrown into chaos by the return of a boy she used to know, complications with her best friend, and the flock of doomsday enthusiasts coming to Eden Valley for the end of the world.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley: Baker Rae “Sunshine” Seddon’s life takes a dramatic turn when she is abducted by a gang of vampires. And survives.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer: Catherine is more interested in baking than the attentions of Wonderland’s unmarried King–especially when she has big plans to open her own shop and is secretly courting Jest. Cath wants to choose her own path but in a land filled with madness and magic, she may not get the chance.
  • Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson: Alice Ramirez loves baking and helping at her father’s bakery, Say It With Flour. When a rival coffee shop opens across the street, Ali tries to give her family an edge with trendy cake pops.
  • The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier: Keri has her hands running her bakery when she is unexpectedly chosen as the next Lady of Nimmera. Only time will tell if one inexperienced and unexpected heir will be enough to repair Nimmera’s quickly fading boundary magic and help the small country thrive even in the face of imminent invasion.
  • Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler: Hudson gave up her ice skates for baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner after a betrayal completely altered her plans for her future. When she has a chance to start coaching the boys hockey team, Hudson will also haveto decide if she wants to start skating again on her own terms.
  • The Prank List by Anna Staniszewski: Rachel Lee will do anything to save her mother’s cleaning business if it means not moving to Connecticut and losing her new best friend, almost-boyfriend, and her pastry classes.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: Every year when the temperature drops, Sam changes into a wolf–Grace’s wolf, the one always watching her from a safe distance–trapped in his changed form until spring when the temperatures rise and he can become Sam again. Once Grace knows the truth, sees her wolf made human, losing him is unimaginable. Being with Grace is all Sam has ever wanted; the one thing he always held onto as a wolf. But the temperature is falling in Mercy Falls and Grace and Sam are running out of time.
  • Pizza, Love & Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams: Sophie Nicolaides grew up in her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant. But is that enough to prepare her to compete on the Teen Test Kitchen reality show?
  • Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood: Between moving, having no money, changing schools, and his father suddenly revealing that he’s gay Dan has more than enough issues without an impossible crush on the girl next door. Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things. With a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them–maybe even his mom’s wedding cake business that seems to result in more cancelled weddings than actual cakes.

An earlier version of this piece originally appeared on YALSA’s Hub Blog in 2017.

Tokyo Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko JeanIzumi Tanaka is used to not quite fitting into her small, mostly white, town in northern California. She goes by Izzy because it’s “easier,” she’s grateful to be best friends with the only other non-white girls at school. And she’s always been close to her single mother.

At least she thought she was.

After Izumi finds out the truth about her father’s identity, she isn’t sure what to think of her mother or her own life anymore.

Turns out Izumi’s never-in-the-picture father is the Crown Prince of Japan. In other words: Izumi is suddenly a princess!

In a whirlwind of preparation and dodging paparazzi, Izumi travels to Japan to meet her father and learn more about this side of her family. But it turns out being a princess isn’t as easy as putting on a new tiara. Izumi is woefully unprepared for the rigid royal protocols, Japanese culture shock, and the media attention. Worse, she might be “too American” for Japan after years of being “too Japanese” in her hometown.

Add to the mix even more press, a cute bodyguard who might hate Izumi (or not?!), and plenty of scheming cousins and Izumi is in for a trip she–and the rest of Japan–won’t soon forget in Tokyo Ever After (2021) by Emiko Jean.

Find it on Bookshop.

Tokyo Ever After is tailor made for anyone who loves a royal romantic comedy (or royal gossip) complete with near misses, embarrassing shenanigans, and opposites attracting.

Izumi is an irreverent and authentic protagonist. She makes a few mistakes along the way (notably: not reading up on protocol on her flight) but she’s also quick to acknowledge her flaws and admit her mistakes. Jean brings Japan to life for readers as Izumi explores and learns more about her royal heritage.

Tokyo Ever After is a breezy, exuberant story with a winning heroine (and brooding male lead) you can’t help but cheer on. A must read for fans of romantic comedies–and tiaras, of course.

Possible Pairings: Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Nature on the Cover

As my graphic shows, I love trees and nature imagery so this was a fun one to pick books for. Click the covers below to read my reviews!

Ever Cursed by Corey Ann HayduThe Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardYou Have a Match by Emma LordInto the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth MeyerTales From the Hinterland by Melissa AlbertGirl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa BashardoustA Treason of Thorns by Laura E. WeymouthSpindle and Dagger by J. Anderson CoatsThe Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Realm Breaker: A Review

Realm Breaker by Victoria AveyardCorayne an-Amarat is a pirate’s daughter eager to embark on her own adventures at sea in Allward. But she is also the last of the ancient Cor bloodline and the only one who can use the ancient spindleblade to protect her realm and make sure the Spindles that can open destabilizing passages between realms are closed.

Reluctant to embrace this lineage, Corayne joins weary immortal Dom as he attempts to mount a second quest to succeed where the first failed in closing the Spindles. Aided by a mercenary assassin and Andry, a squire and the only mortal to survive the first quest, the group will face numerous obstacles as they struggle to work together to save the world in Realm Breaker (2021) by Victoria Aveyard.

Find it on Bookshop.

Aveyard follows up her blockbuster Red Queen series with this homage to high fantasy that works to make more space for women and offer a more inclusive cast. The realm of Allward features people with a range of skin tones and backgrounds–Andry is described as “honey brown” while Corayne has “golden skin.”

Shifting viewpoints, flashbacks, and changing locations cut through much of the novel’s potential urgency as the narrative pauses continuously to ruminate on the failed quest seen in the prologue and offer character backstories.

Aveyard creates a compelling world with ample space for female characters in a traditionally male genre. Despite its start and stop pacing, Realm Breaker is action packed with plentiful fights, chases, and other derring-do.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Furyborn by Clarie Legrand, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser, Fable by Adrienne Young

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Week in Review: May 8: In Which Adjustments Are Made

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

Adjusting to working on site again after a year of not doing so has been an … experience. The only way out is through, I guess.

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends: An Early Reader Review

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends by Jess KeatingBunbun has it all: a delightful bunbun nose, a bunbun smile, bunbun ears, and even a fluffy bunbun tail.

What Bunbun does not have is a friend.

All of that changes when an unassuming rock turns out to be … Bonbon.

Bonbon has a purple candy shell, a sugary candy body, and two sparkling candy eyes.

Together, this unlikely pair becomes fancy friends as they don bowties and top hats, eat fancy foods, and prepare for a fancy party in Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends (2020) by Jess Keating.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends is the first book in a new series of graphic novels perfect for the youngest comics fans and early readers. Large panels and bold text for the story and speech bubbles make the story sequencing easy to follow whether being read aloud or independently.

Keating’s illustrations are bold and colorful bringing Bunbun and Bonbon’s fancy world to life with clean backgrounds that convey the setting without cluttering the panels. A limited vocabulary also makes the story easy to follow while introducing new words (notably bonbon among others) throughout. The story broken into chapters that can be read as self-contained stories or all at once.

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends is everything I never knew I always wanted in a story. Bright artwork, clever dialog, and gentle stories come together to make this series a standout for readers of any age. Perfect for fans of Elephant and Piggie, Toon Books, and Geisel award winners.

Lucky Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lucky Girl by Jamie PactonFortuna Jane Belleweather has always been good with numbers. As the only winner of the most recent lottery jackpot, Jane know there are 58,642,129 to claim the ticket. And every one of them includes a dollar sign.

Unfortunately, Jane can also see four big problems that stand between her and the big prize:

  1. Jane is still seventeen for two weeks. This isn’t terrible since she has 180 days to claim the ticket. Except if anyone finds out she bought the ticket as a minor it’s a criminal offense. So aside from being in big trouble, she wouldn’t be able to claim the winnings.
  2. The most obvious solution is to give her mom the ticket to cash. But after her father’s death, Jane’s mother has started hoarding other peoples’ possessions (and their memories, whatever that means) so Jane isn’t sure she can trust her mother with that much cash. Or really any cash.
  3. Jane’s best friend Brandon Kim is determined to reveal the big winner on his website, Bran’s Lakesboro Daily, to better prove his chops as an aspiring journalist and land a coveted internship at CNN.
  4. Then there’s the biggest problem: Jane’s ex-boyfriend Holden is back on the scene with a lot of ideas about spending Jane’s winnings. And trying to claim them for himself.

Winning the lottery should be the luckiest thing to ever happen to Jane, but as she struggles with keeping her big secret and figuring out how to claim her winning’s she wonders if this is a case where a strike of luck is more bad than good in Lucky Girl (2021) by Jamie Pacton.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jane narrates this standalone contemporary. Jane, like most of the small Wisconsin town residents, is white. Her best friend Brandon is Korean. Jane is bisexual.

Pacton packs a lot into a short novel as Jane comes to terms with her life-changing win and figures out how to claim her winnings (or if she even should). While this decision understandably drives most of the plot, Jane and her mother are also still grieving the death of Jane’s father and dealing with the aftermath (isolation for both of them and hoarding for Jane’s mom).

While some of the plot–particularly everything to do with Holden–can feel heavy-handed, Pacton delivers a very sweet slice-of-life story focused very squarely on Jane and her support system. Jane’s friendship with Brandon (and Brandon’s long-distance girlfriend who is in Australia) nicely centers this story and, once Jane comes clean, proves that she has more people in her corner than she realizes.

Lucky Girl is a fun bit of escapism that also thoughtfully tackles heavier themes of grief and loss. Recommended for readers seeking a change of pace in their next read.

Possible Pairings: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Jackpot by Nic Stone, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Most Recent Reads (Reviews)

Instead of sharing my ten most recent reads, I thought it would be fun to share my ten most recent review posts here on the blog (click the titles to read my full review):

  1. Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia Iredale: What begins as a story about a spoiled girl and a common boy becomes, in the author’s capable hands, a much larger commentary on art, friendship, and identity as we watch Melisto and Rhaskos transform, becoming “the girl as electric as amber, the boy, indestructible as clay.”
  2. Mayhem by Estelle Laure: Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.
  3. Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock: Recommended for short story fans and readers of suspense.
  4. Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp: A thoughtful, fast-paced story perfect for readers looking for a romance with an unlikely connection and delicious food descriptions.
  5. Can We Talk About Consent?: A Book About Freedom, Choices, and Agreement by Justin Hancock, illustrated by Fuchsia Macaree: Unfortunately a book design that seemingly failed to consider that this book has to be read makes it difficult to easily interface with much of that information–particularly for anyone who is visually impaired or needs larger and clearer text to read.
  6. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: A taut, perfectly plotted mystery with a protagonist readers won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.
  7. Pointe by Brandy Colbert: This is a messy story about a terrible turn of events and, at the end, an impossible decision.
  8. Ever Cursed by Corey Ann Haydu: Recommended for readers with an equal interest in feminism (or feminist theory) and fairy tales.
  9. Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan: Dugan is a great writer and brings all of the fun (and less fun) elements of the comics world to life in this inventive take on Shakespeare’s classic play.
  10. The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen Bischer: Readers looking for a fun rom com should pick this one up with caution.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.