Book Reviews

The Cousins: A Review

The Cousins by Karen M. McManusThe Story family always lived by one simple rule: family first, always.

That was before the family matriarch mysteriously disinherited and banished all of her children from the family estate on Gull Cove Island with nothing but a letter saying, “You know what you did.” Now cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah barely know each other. They’ve never met their infamous grandmother.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t familiar with the Story family reputation: glamorous, mysterious, and just a little bit tragic. It doesn’t mean they aren’t just a little bit curious when their grandmother reaches out inviting the cousins to work at a local resort for the summer and reconnect. They soon realize the letters they received are a far cry from the real grandmother they find when they arrive on the island.

Everyone in the Story family has secrets but there’s something seductive about family secrets and the way they can become a part of you until exposing them feels just like losing part of yourself. After a lifetime of secrets surrounding their family history, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah will have to uncover the truth to help their entire family move on in The Cousins (2020) by Karen M. McManus.

Find in on Bookshop.

The Cousins is a standalone mystery. Chapters alternate between Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah’s first person narrations. Third person chapters interspersed throughout the story from Milly’s mother, Allison, in 1996 show the events leading up to the disinheritance. With the exception of Milly who is half-Japanese, the Story family is white. A few secondary characters are BIPOC and play small but key roles in the story.

McManus packs a lot into this slim, fast-paced novel as the cousins begin to collaborate to start putting together the pieces of their family’s troubled past. Aubrey, a guileless narrator eager to connect with her estranged family, is a fun contrast to calculating Jonah and shrewd Milly who have more complicated reasons for coming to the island.

The Cousins balances its multiple timelines and plot threads shifting viewpoints so the right character is able to present the right information to readers for maximum impact. Tightly controlled narratives and excellent plot management leave just enough breadcrumbs for readers to try to make sense of the Story family’s secrets along with the protagonists.

The Cousins is an utterly engrossing mystery filled with suspense, complex family dynamics, and three narrators that are as multifaceted as the mystery they’re trying to solve.

Possible Pairings: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao, Knives Out

Week in Review

Week in Review: June 19

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

Things that had been in flux are slowly getting back on track as I deal with various work things if nothing else. I signed up for a Christmas in July gift swap to remind myself what it’s like to feel joy so I’m excited to get my person and start putting together a gift box for them.

How was your week?

Book Reviews

A Season of Sinister Dreams: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy BanghartStill grieving the death of his son and heir during the Sickness years earlier, the elderly king of Tyne forces all magic workers to the capital where they can prolong his life and protect the castle while the rest of the kingdom suffers.

Annalise has spent years in the castle secretly using her unwieldy magic to weave a web of influence around the king, his grandson (and her cousin) Prince Kendrik, and the king’s advisors. Annalise hopes to exact revenge against the king for her mother’s death–a plan that is close to fruition when Annalise accidentally uses her magic on Kendrik leaving him hidden and monstrously transformed while Annalise becomes the new heir.

Meanwhile, Evra’s quiet country life is ruined when her magic manifests years later than expected making her the first girl ever to become a Clearsee. As magical prophets Clearsees (usually men) use their magic to interpret visions meant to guide and protect the kingdom. While Annalise prepares for her coronation, Evra reluctantly arrives at the capital where she sees cryptic visions hinting at danger. But is the danger a threat to Tyne’s rulers or is it the rulers themselves? in A Season of Sinister Dreams (2021) by Tracy Banghart.

Find it on Bookshop.

This plot-driven standalone fantasy alternates chapters between Annalise and Evra’s first person narrations. All characters are presumed white.

With Annalise used to hiding the scope of her powers and Evra newly invested with magic, both narrations are claustrophobic leaving readers and characters floundering. Themes of agency as both heroines try to defy expectations are undermined by extremely limited world building and backstories that never fully explain character motivations or actions–particularly Annalise’s.

Fans of Banghart’s Grace and Fury will appreciate this book’s strong female leads, fast-paced action, and the focus on Evra and Tam’s friendship despite other shortcomings.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Summer TBR

These are some of the books at the top of my summer to read list.

  1. An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi
  2. A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
  3. Your Life Has Been Delayed by Michelle I. Mason
  4. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  5. The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White
  6. All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue
  7. Baby & Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma
  8. Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
  9. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  10. The Bonemaker by Sarah Beth Durst

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.

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel: A Review

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel by Ned Vizzini, adapted by David Levithan, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi Jeremy Heere is an average high school boy even though his decided lack of popularity sometimes makes him feel well below average. Jeremy pines for the beautiful Christine and wishes he could figure out all the rules the popular kids seem to know out so easily to be, well, popular.

Then Jeremy learns about the squip. It’s from Japan. Quantum nano-technology CPU. The quantum computer in the pill will travel through your blood until it implants in your brain and it tells you what to do.

With a pill-sized supercomputer telling him what to do, Jeremy knows he can finally win over Christine, gain popularity, and become the coolest guy in school. But as Jeremy relies more and more on the squip’s influence, he’ll have to decide if being cool is worth giving up on being himself in Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel (2021) by Ned Vizzini, adapted by David Levithan, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi.

Find it on Bookshop.

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel is, as you might have guessed, the graphic novel adaptation of Vizzini’s 2004 novel by the same name. The original book also inspired a musical adaptation which I may more or may not have quoted in my booktalk above–did you catch the reference?

Levithan’s adaptation of the text works well to bring the book into graphic novel form. Bertozzi’s illustrations are primarily black and white with blue as an accent color. This choice works very well to focus reader attention as the story moves forward. It’s worth noting that this a faithful adaptation of Vizzini’s original text which features a dramatically different story arc than the musical.

Readers familiar with the story but new to graphic novels will enjoy this new format even without the madcap changes found in the musical. Recommended for readers looking for a contemporary graphic novel with elements of speculative fiction and caustic wit.

Possible Pairings: Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Deacon Locke Went to Prom by Brian Katcher, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Week in Review

Week in Review: June 12: In which the blog has a new look

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

Lots of fun blog updates happened this month already. You might have noticed I have a new header, new theme, and a slimmed down sidebar if you are viewing on a computer. I’m really excited about the new look–especially having my social icons at the top of the page. Be sure to click through to follow me in various places. You can also find my Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links at the end of the social bar if you want to support me/the blog while buying books.

Mercury is in retrograde right now which is often attributed to increased miscommunication, confusion, and other annoying things. All of which have been present in abundance at work while reporting on site amidst a significant amount of construction. I’m looking forward to a quiet Sunday to recover.

How was your week?

Book Lists

Read-a-likes for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Jenny Han’s heroine Lara Jean Song endeared herself to readers in Jenny Han’s trilogy and, of course, in the Netflix adaptations. Hopefully these read-a-likes will help fill the Lara Jean shaped hole in your heart if you’ve finished the series.

Click the book titles below to read my reviews.

You can also shop this list on Bookshop with some bonus titles included.

Lara Jean Read-a-likes collage with cover art for To All the Boys I've Loved Before, PS I Still Love You, Always and Forever Lara JeanIf you’re anything like me and consider yourself Lara Jean’s number one fan, you might want to check out these fan buttons I made to declare your allegiance online.

If You Want a Book With Sensational Sisters:

Book covers for books with sensational sisters

  • The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, & June by Robin Benway: Sisters April, May, and June rediscover their childhood powers after their parents’ divorce. April sees the future, May disappears, and June reads minds. The powers help them cope with a tumultuous year but could they also have a bigger purpose?
  • The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman: When Katie’s family moves from New York City to rural Fir Lake, she expects to face all of the changes with her older sister, Michaela. But the harder Katie clings to her memories of the city, the more Michaela adapts to life in Fir Lake, leaving Katie to wonder what happens when your best friend starts to look like someone you don’t know.
  • Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu: Missing her sister as she immerses herself in college life, Montana dives head first into a friendship with Karissa, an intoxicating girl from her acting class. Throwing herself into new relationships and trying to remake herself, Montana isn’t sure if she is losing herself or finding herself for the first time.
  • The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson: Sisters Brooks, May, and Palmer don’t know how to cope with their father’s sudden death. Brooks starts drinking, Palmer focuses on softball and middle sister May is left to hold their family together. As the girls drift apart they each gravitate to their father’s 1967 Pontiac Firebird. The Golden Firebird might be a horrible reminder of everything they have lost, but it might also be the key to finally moving on.
  • Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan: Josie can always translate the things around her into her own native language of Josie. But living a life in translation is exhausting–especially with her sister marrying an insufferable man. Love is found in many languages. With so many things around her changing, Josie is about to get a crash course in the true meaning of the word. 

If You Want a Book With a Sweet Romance:

Book covers for books with sweet romance

  • Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Not-quite-openly gay Simon is blackmailed into being the wingman for a classmate unless he wants his sexual identity (and the privacy of the amazing but still anonymous boy he’s been emailing) made public.
  • Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira: Unsure what to do about Dev potentially liking her, bookish Phoebe turns to the heroines in her favorite books for advice. But it turns out fictional romances don’t always translate well to reality. If Phoebe wants her own happy ending, she might have to figure out the answer herself.
  • Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein: June and Oliver have seen each other around for years, an annoying side effect of their mothers being best friends. But they don’t get to know each other until the start of senior year when their mothers arrange for Oliver to drive June to school. Every. Day. As they get to know each other, both June and Oliver will have to decide if young love has a place in a world where high school doesn’t much matter.
  • In Real Life by Jessica Love: Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since eighth grade. They chat and text constantly. They talk on the phone for hours. They know each other better than anyone. But only online. After an impulsive decision to road trip to Vegas to meet Nick, Hannah has one night to get to know Real Life Nick and decide if she’s ready to risk her heart trying to make their friendship into something more.
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Natasha believes in science and facts. Which is why it’s so hard to hope for a miracle on her last day in New York City. Daniel believes in poetry and fate which is why he knows the moment he meets Natasha that their lives are about the change forever.

If You Want a Book With a Love Triangle:

Book covers for books with love triangles

  • Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler: Vanessa Park is passionate about acting and loves being on set–even with her flirty co-star Josh Chester. Van’s happy to have her new career handler, Brianna, but unsure what to do when her friendly feelings for Bri become something else.
  • A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody: Ellison Sparks has the worst Monday ever but she knows that with a second chance she could fix everything. But what happens when she gets seven chances? As Ellie tries again and again (and so on) to get her Monday right she starts to realize that the dream Monday she’s been chasing might not be so perfect after all.
  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum: When she receives an email from someone (Somebody/Nobody to be more specific) offering to help make sense of her perplexing new school Jessie isn’t sure what to think. Is his offer genuine? Is it an elaborate prank? The potential for a new friend and some much-needed information win out. The more Jessie and SN email and text, the more she wants to meet him in person. But as she gets closer to discovering SN’s identity, Jessie also wonders if some mysteries should remain unsolved.
  • The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder: In a year filled with changes and heartbreaks both small and large, Penelope will have to figure out how to move forward–especially when she knows exactly how fragile a heart can be.
  • The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott: Sarah has had a crush on Ryan for years. He’s smart, funny, and he understands her. He’s also dating her best friend. Sarah liked him first, but it doesn’t matter. She still likes him. That doesn’t matter either. At least, it’s not supposed to. The only problem is, it does.

If You Want a Book About Growing Up:

Book covers for books about growing up

  • Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo: In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere.
  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure: Lucille is used to being responsible and she knows that if she takes things one step at a time she can handle anything. She can find a job, she can take care of her little sister Wren, she can make sure no one notices that their mother is conspicuously absent. But Lucille isn’t sure if she can do all of that while holding onto her best friend and maybe falling in love.
  • The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart: The whole mess started with Finn. Well, technically it might have had more to do with Kim. But Finn is definitely involved. So is Jackson. And his four ceramic frogs. When it’s all said and done Nora, Cricket and Meghan are not speaking to Ruby. Kim isn’t either but that isn’t really a surprise. And that’s almost all before fifteen-year-old Ruby starts having panic attacks that lead to her eleven shrink appointments.
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Anna Oliphant expected to spend her senior year in Atlanta with her friends. Instead her wannabe-sophisticated-noveau-riche dad has exiled Anna to boarding school. In Paris. Where the funny, charming, gorgeous Etienne St. Clair takes Anna under his wing. As Paris begins to feel more like home, Anna and Etienne have a lot of near-misses that bring their friendship to the verge of romance. Even while Etienne is very much still taken. But anything seems possible in the City of Lights. Maybe Anna and Etienne really are meant to be, maybe Anna will even learn some French.
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales: Elise Dembowski has tried countless times to make herself better. Less different. Less precocious. Every time it’s been a horrible failure. Until one magical night when Elise wanders into a warehouse dance party and something finally does change. At the party Elise finds people who accept her; not some mainstreamed version of herself, not the invisible version or the fake one. Just her. In the midst of the party and the magic Elise also finds something almost as important: DJing.

If You Want a Book with a Baker:

Book covers for books with bakers

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Bonus: If You Want Another Rom Com:

Book covers for books releasing in 2017

  • Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan: Texan teen Piper dreams of leaving Houston far behind and attending art school in New York City with her best friends. Piper’s art might be enough to get her out of her stifling life at home, but only if she’s ready to take a chance on the unknown.
  • Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: When Rachel moved away she left a love letter for her crush, Henry Jones, in his favorite book in his family’s bookstore. But Henry never came. Now Rachel is back in the city and working beside Henry, the one boy she had hoped she would never see again.
  • I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo: Desi Lee is a straight A student who knows CPR, car mechanics, and definitely has her application to Stanford well in hand. Love and flirting, however, remain a painful challenge. When Luca Drakos–probably the hottest guy ever–enters Desi’s life, she decides it’s time to improve her flirting game. And she knows exactly how to do it thanks to the Korean dramas her father loves.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: Dimple Shah has plans now that she’s graduated. Those plans do not include playing along with her mother’s mission to find her the ideal Indian Husband. Rishi Patel believes in love and the tradition behind arranged marriages. He’s thrilled to have the chance to woo his future wife over the summer. Dimple and Rishi’s parents didn’t mean to start the arrangement when their children were so young, but how can they ignore the serendipity of both teens choosing the same summer program?
  • By Your Side by Kasie West: What happens when the good girl gets locked in the school library for the long weekend with the bad boy?

Lara Jean Read-a-likes collage with cover art for To All the Boys I've Loved Before, PS I Still Love You, Always and Forever Lara Jean

This piece originally appeared on YALSA’s Hub Blog in 2016.

Book Reviews

Mexican Gothic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexico, 1950: NoemĂ­ Taboada, 22, leads an easy, if sometimes boring, life as a glamorous debutante. Her biggest concerns are usually which men to dance with each night, how many dresses she can wear in a day, and convincing her father to continue paying her college tuition instead of urging her to find a husband.

NoemĂ­’s predictable life is upended when a frantic letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, everyone assumed that Catalina was living happily in the Mexican countryside on her husband’s family estate. But her letter hinting at poisoning, menace, and other threats suggests otherwise.

Although she is an unlikely rescuer, NoemĂ­ is certain she can get to the bottom of things once she gets to Catalina. Even unflappable NoemĂ­ doesn’t know what to make of High Place when she arrives. The once-stately mansion is nearly derelict, mold creeps along the walls, locals won’t make the trek up the mountain path to the estate, the family lives in isolation.

Catalina’s alluring but menacing husband dismisses the contents of the letter and seems determined to block NoemĂ­’s access to her cousin. Worse, NoemĂ­ catches the eye of the family’s ancient patriarch who is uncomfortably interested in the purity of his family line.

Uncertain of who she can trust, not sure if she can believe her own senses, NoemĂ­ will have to rely on her own wits to unearth High Place’s dark secrets and try to get herself and her cousin out alive in Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mexican Gothic is a standalone horror novel filled with all of the lavish descriptions and ill-defined menace readers familiar with gothic horror will appreciate. Written in close third person, the novel follows NoemĂ­ as she comes to High Place and begins to discover the estate’s long-buried secrets.

Moreno-Garcia uses masterful pacing to amplify both the tension of the narrative and High Place’s menace as NoemĂ­ comes closer to the truth. The first two thirds of the novel are very gothic and very creepy with a tightly controlled story. The climax, and explanations, take a dramatic turn with an outcome that feels more like the plot of a 1950s B horror movie as the elements behind High Place’s depravity continue to pile up.

Horror and supernatural elements work together to unpack the sinister truth behind High Place but readers should also be aware that the novel includes instances of sexual assault, gaslighting, body horror, cannibalism, emotional abuse, and incest.

Mexican Gothic is a genuinely scary if sometimes bizarre story. Lavish descriptions, deliberate prose, and a singular heroine make this book a standout in the genre.

Possible Pairings: The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase; The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi; Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff; The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, Crimson Peak, Mother!

Book Reviews

Broken Web: A Review

Broken Web by Lori M. LeeThe Soulless is awake and recovering in the Dead Wood. The long peace between the nations of Thiy might be crumbling. And Sirscha and her best friend Saengo still have no idea how to fix any of it.

The world believes that Sirscha is a rare soulguide but she and Saengo know that Sirscha is actually a soulrender–just like The Soulless. Despite the dangers, Sirscha is determined to stop The Soulless and, if she can, save Saengo from the rot he infected her with that is slowly killing her.

With powerful allies and even more powerful enemies circling, Sirscha will have to risk everything to find–and fight–the most immediate danger in Broken Web (2021) by Lori M. Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken Web is the second book in Lee’s Shamanborn trilogy which begins with Forest of Souls.

Set two weeks after the explosive conclusion of book one, Sirscha and Saengo are still trying to understand Sirscha’s new powers and Saengo’s role in nurturing them as a familiar. Treachery is a constant threat hanging over the girls and their allies as they try to learn more about the Soulless and how to stop him once and for all.

Lee has created a nuanced and compelling world in this series although this book focuses more on action to move the series toward what promises to be a shocking conclusion.

Broken Web is a fast-paced, exciting installment in a singular fantasy series. A must read for fans of book one; a recommended series for readers seeking a new friendship focused fantasy adventure.

Possible Pairings: Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, The Reader by Traci Chee, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer, Fireborne by Rosaria Munda, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

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

Week in Review

Week in Review: June 5

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

I was on a much-needed vacation this week. It was nice to be able to do nothing and rest without feeling guilty.