Until We Break: A Review

Until We Break by Matthew DawkinsTwo weeks ago Naomi Morgan lost her best friend. It was an accident, there wasn’t anything she could have done. But still Naomi is weighed down by guilt as she continues pursuing a career dancing ballet when she knows that Jessica can never dance with her again.

But even if she isn’t dancing next to her anymore, Naomi still has Jessica at her side. Jessica is quick to remind Naomi that she doesn’t have room for distractions like TV, or friends. She’s always there to tell Naomi that as a Black dancer–the only Black dancer now that Jessica is gone–Naomi has to work harder, be better.

As dancers at her academy gear up for a prestigious competition that will open doors to every conservatory program, Naomi pushes herself harder. And harder.

But when disaster strikes, Naomi is only left with herself and her grief as she recovers and contemplates if she’ll be able to dance again and, more importantly, if she wants to dance again.

Saint has never met anyone like Naomi. Even when she’s hurting, her dancing is beautiful. Watching her–and eventually drawing her–feels like Saint’s one refuge from being the sole carer for both his dying father and his younger brother.

Naomi and Saint don’t inhabit the same worlds but together they might be able to find their way to a better one in Until We Break (2022) by Matthew Dawkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Until We Break is Dawkins’ debut novel. The story is narrated in close third person with alternating viewpoints following Naomi and Saint, both of whom are Black.

Until We Break explores themes of passion and grief while Naomi reluctantly acknowledges Jessica’s death and Saint faces his father’s mortality as his health deteriorates from COPD and continued smoking. While Naomi’s grief is a main theme of the story her hallucinatory conversations with Jessica are never unpacked as a potential manifestation of a larger mental health crisis.

Dawkins brings a fine eye for detail to descriptions of Saint’s art creation and, especially, to Naomi’s dance. Common problems in ballet dancers including overstrain and disordered eating are mentioned (the first with Naomi’s sprain that forces her off the dance floor for part of the novel and the latter hinted at with fellow dancer Aspen) but never addressed beyond superficial treatment as Naomi learns how to love both her dancing and herself.

Until We Break is an introspective story of healing and recovery; ideal for readers with an interest in dance or art.

Possible Pairings: Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Christina Forest, You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick by Diana PeterfreundJust when everyone thought things couldn’t get worse at the formerly prestigious Blackbrook Academy, an accident strikes bringing another tragedy to the school’s door and into the lives of the infamous Murder Crew.

Orchid has survived her toxic former career and a deadly encounter with her stalker. But she isn’t sure how to survive losing Vaughn when they were just getting started.

Beth is still recovering from her injuries in the car crash that killed Vaughn. Tennis is a wash. But maybe that will give her a chance to focus on something else.

After losing her status as part of Blackbrook’s best platonic power couple, Scarlett’s confidence in choosing the right people is shaken. She can support Orchid and help her launch Vaughn to posthumous super-stardom. But it’s just not the same as plotting and dominating with Finn.

Finn is desperate to get back in Scarlett’s good graces for help protecting his invention as much as for their friendship. But he isn’t sure what to do if winning Scarlett’s friendship means risking whatever it is he has with Mustard.

Mustard doesn’t know what to do about his growing feelings for Finn or the deteriorating state of his new school. Things get even worse when Mustard’s roommate turns up dead and Mustard is the prime suspect.

With Blackbrook crumbling around them, the Murder Crew will have to rally together one more time to save one of their own, finally unearth the last of Blackbrook’s secrets, and throw a prom that no one is going to forget in In the Ballroom With the Candlestick (2021) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick is the final book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue (find it on Amazon). Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers. Like its predecessor, this novel is broken up into alternating chapters between the six main characters. Scarlet is Indian American, Mustard is Latinx, the rest of the cast is presumed white.

This final installment picks ups soon after the dramatic conclusion of book two with the entire Murder Crew still picking up the pieces as they sort through the school’s remaining secrets–most notably Vaughn’s past and his history with the school.

Readers who have been with the series from the beginning will appreciate the growth of all of the characters as they work together to solve one final round of mysteries at everyone’s least favorite boarding school. Finn and Mustard in particular have a lot of development as they try to navigate their fledgling relationship. Unfortunately, the primary focus of this series remains squarely on Orchid and Vaughn despite them arguably being some of the least interesting characters among the Murder Crew.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick stay true to the board game (and the now classic 1985 film!) that inspired this series delivering murder, mayhem, and multiple endings that guarantee that this finale will have something for everyone.

Possible Pairings: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Killing November by Adriana Mather, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Seoulmates: A Review

Seoulmates by Susan LeeHannah Cho’s dreams of perfect summer before senior year go up in smoke when her boyfriend dumps her. Nate, like most of their friend group, is obsessed with K-pop and K-dramas. While Hannah is Korean American, she has no use for Korean pop culture. After years of leaning into the American parts of her identity to better fit in, Hannah doesn’t know how to handle this shift. Especially when it leaves her suddenly single.

As a rising K-drama star, Jacob Kim struggles with questions of whether he’s committed enough–and Korean enough–to succeed. After years of training, he isn’t sure how much longer he can deal with the pressure to make himself constantly available to his publicity team, his costars, and the press. When a press junket leads to Jacob needing some down time, he’s excited. Until he finds out his mom plans to have them stay with the Chos.

Jacob and Hannah used to be inseparable as kids. But that was before everything soured between them. The two strike an uneasy bargain–and an even more tenuous truce–when Hannah enlists Jacob’s help to win back her boyfriend and Jacob, in turn, asks Hannah to help him complete his summer bucket list of all the things he’s missed in San Diego over the years.

As Hannah and Jacob get to know each other again they’ll have to decide if new memories are enough to make up for old hurts and whether they’re headed for a happy ending or some K-drama level tears in Seoulmates (2022) by Susan Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Seoulmates is Lee’s debut novel. The novel alternates close third person perspective between Hannah and Jacob with some fun vignettes from their mothers’ points of view along the way. All principle characters are Korean or Korean American.

Hannah’s relationship with K-dramas and K-pop is partially inspired by the author’s own journey to embrace her heritage and cultural identity. As such, Seoulmates is lovingly filled with as many zany adventures and heart-string tugs as K-drama fans would expect. While Hannah starts the novel bitter and angry at Jacob, her hurt is clearly defined on the page never leaving readers in doubt of the long history between these characters and the difficult conversations they have in order to get back to each other.

Their hate to love relationship plays out against the backdrop of a summer filled with big questions. Hannah has to figure out what it means to be Korean American when, at last, being Korean finally seems to make her cool enough without trying to change herself. Jacob, meanwhile, has to figure out if continuing as an actor is worth the lack of privacy and the pressure–a stressful question to consider when he’s also been supporting his family since his father’s death years ago.

Lee balances these different plot threads well leaving room for the characters to realistically learn and grow as they reconnect while also delivering gasp-worthy twists in the rocky road of Hannah and Jacob’s relationship.

Seoulmates is a fun and breezy summer romance where finding love is tempered well with finding yourself.

Possible Pairings: The Charmed List by Julia Abe, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan Lee here on the blog.

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

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne: A Review

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan StroudScarlett McCain has been a formidable criminal for years; her reputation as a notorious outlaw growing with every bank robbery.

Far beyond the safety of the city walls after a particularly daring escape, Scarlett finds an abandoned bus. Typically this could mean danger or access to supplies which are always scarce. Or it could mean both.

The bus holds more than Scarlett bargained for when she finds herself stuck with the hapless, lone survivor of the crash. Albert Browne projects harmless naivete with every word out of his annoying mouth. Scarlett is fairly certain she could break him in half without much effort. And she is sorely tempted.

When Scarlett reluctantly agrees to escort Albert across the wilds of England to a rumored safe haven it changes the trajectory of both their lives forever.

Not necessarily for the better.

Even Scarlett is surprised by the dogged pursuit once she and Albert begin traveling together evading the law, trackers, and worse. Scarlett is no stranger to being on the run. But she isn’t sure what it means for herself or her strange new companion when it seems their pursuers aren’t chasing her at all in The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne (2021) by Jonathan Stroud.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is the first book in Stroud’s latest YA series. Scarlett and Albert are white, there is some diversity (as indicated by names and described skintones) among the secondary cast. The story alternates close third person perspective following Scarlett and Albert with a gripping audiobook narrated by Sophie Aldred.

Fans of Stroud’s previous novels, particularly his Lockwood & Co. series, will appreciate the same snark and reluctant bonding between these ragtag protagonists. The action-filled narrative contrasts well with both Scarlett and Albert keeping their pasts close as they learn to trust each other and slowly reveal their secrets.

With a focus on the main characters and their adventures some of the world building feels more like broad strokes than concrete details as Stroud paints a bleak future with England fragmented from societal instability and implied damage from climate change. New world orders and dangerous creatures roaming the wilds add further tension to this fast-paced story and leave plenty of room for expansion in later installments.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is a compelling origin story for two outlaws with hearts of gold and hopefully many more stories to tell.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Dustborn by Erin Bowman, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Flood City by Daniel Jose Older, The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah, Ice Breaker by Lian Tanner, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

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

The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Leah KonenNew friends Sam, Margaret, and Diana bonded over their messy divorces–different trajectories that all ended in the same place. Now they’re all single, ready to move on, and maybe in Sam’s case still just a little bitter.

A road trip out of New York City is exactly what all three of them need.

Which makes it even more of a bummer when their car breaks down in the Catskills and puts the trip on hold while their car is being repaired. It’s the same place Sam’s ex–Harry–chose to move in with his other woman, the one he left Sam to go back to. But that doesn’t have to mean anything. They can still have fun at a bar. Unless maybe Sam can use the opportunity to get Harry back.

Margaret is nervous about the trip, the expenses, her ex-husband’s increasingly erratic behavior in the apartment they’re still sharing because neither can afford to move out. But she’s also ready for a break and a distraction. Which she finds when sparks start to fly with a younger man at the bar.

When a night promising fresh starts instead leads to bad decisions, both Sam and Margaret aren’t sure what their night out means for the rest of the trip–or their futures. Then they realize that Diana never made it back from the bar. Then things get worse.

It should have been the perfect trip. None of them expected it to include a body count in The Perfect Escape (2022) by Leah Konen.

Find it on Bookshop.

Konen’s latest thriller is a wild ride through secrets and lies set in upstate New York. All main characters are cued as white.

As the story alternates between first person narrations, it’s clear that all of the characters are keeping their secrets close. Konen slowly teases out Sam, Margaret, and Diana’s backstories as this pressure cooker of a story builds to a twist-filled conclusion and doubts begin to rise between the close-but-new friends.

The Perfect Escape is the kind of book that you’ll enjoy the most with no expectations and minimal information. Konen continues to hone her craft with this smart and suspenseful story where she strikes the perfect balance between dropping clues and foreshadowing future events while also leaving space for truly surprising reveals.

Descriptive prose and well-realized backstories for both Sam and Margaret add substance to this stylish thriller.

Possible Pairings: The Weekend Away by Sarah Alderson, We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz, Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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

Our Crooked Hearts: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“So. Magic. It is the loneliest thing in the world.”

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa AlbertIn the suburbs, right now Ivy is ready for summer–even one that starts with a breakup (hers) and a broken nose (not hers). Ivy feels like strange things always happen around her, like she’s always waiting. But she’s never sure what for. She’s even less sure when strange things start happening around her house. First there’s the dead rabbit on the driveway. There’s the open door she knows she locked. Then there are the cookies, each with one perfect bite taken out while she’s home alone.

In another life, Ivy might talk to her mom Dana about what’s happening. But it’s been a long time since Ivy and her mom have been able to discuss anything. It’s been a long time since her mom has even looked at her, since she’s been anything close to present for the family.

Back then, in the city Dana is waiting for things to start. She’s always been perceptive, some might call it uncanny. She had to be to survive her childhood. Back then, the summer she turns sixteen, Dana realizes she might be able to be more than uncanny. With help from her best friend Fee and a striving newcomer, they could all be magic.

In another life, Dana might have seen the risks and understood the costs before it was too late. She doesn’t.

Instead Dana’s choices here in the city will have lasting consequences leaving a mark on her and on Fee and, most of all, on Ivy who will be left alone to unravel her mother’s secrets and the havoc left in their wake in Our Crooked Hearts (2022) by Melissa Albert.

Find it on Bookshop.

Our Crooked Hearts is a stark urban fantasy where magic doesn’t come without a cost. Ivy and Dana are white, Dana’s best friend Fee is Latinx. The story alternates between Ivy’s narration (in the suburbs, right now) and Dana’s narration (in the city, back then) in Chicago and its suburbs.

Although the plot highlights their fractious relationship, Ivy and Dana follow similar character arcs in spite of their different trajectories. Both girls are brittle and filled with an abrasive vulnerability as they struggle to understand their place in a world that never feels like it fits–a theme that gains potency as more of their backstories are revealed. This dual storyline is used to great effect with each plot moving toward its inevitable and potentially painful conclusion.

It’s impossible to read any book now without considering the mental landscape where it germinated, particularly in the context of the global pandemic. Both Ivy and Dana struggle with isolation as they flirt with power in a literal (magical) sense and in relation to their own agency as teenage girls. These struggles can easily be writ large and applied to so many of the changes we have all had to make because of the pandemic. One quote in particular, “I could still observe the shock of it, the impossibility, but I’d run out of the energy to feel them.” encapsulates living and working through the pandemic so clearly–especially the burnout and stress and increasingly bleak current events.

Both narratives are imbued with a noir sensibility and a keen eye for detail that lead to observations like “It was one of those raw, unjust spring afternoons when the air is so bright and clean it focuses the whole world like a lens, but it’s cold still and you’re shivering.” Albert blends fantasy and horror elements into a tense story that feels like it could happen anywhere, to anyone, while also possessing a strong sense of immediacy that makes it impossible to turn away.

Our Crooked Hearts is a magic-filled, intergenerational story with all of the edges sharpened into razors; a dangerous fantasy with an eerie stepped-out-of-time otherness.

Possible Pairings: Book of Night by Holly Black, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Mayhem by Estelle Laure, Extasia by Claire Legrand, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Melissa.

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

Last Things: A Review

Last Things by Jacqueline WestEveryone in town has heard of Anders Thorson and his band, Last Things. The metal group has made a place for themselves on the local scene and as their–especially Anders’–reputation grows there’s no reason to doubt that the band is going to be big way beyond the town and even beyond Minnesota. With comparisons to Opeth and talent scouts circling, it’s clear that Anders is prodigiously talented.

But Anders isn’t sure if he wants to pay the price for all that fame. Especially when everyone is increasingly interested in Anders and only Anders. The band started as a project between friends. Leaving them behind isn’t an option. Is it?

Thea Malcom has been keeping an eye on Anders for a while now. They haven’t spoken, he may not even know her, but Thea is there at the back of every show. She’s always watching. She says she’s trying to protect Anders. But is she really? Or could she be the reason both his cat and his sort-of girlfriend have disappeared?

Things are changing. Anders will have to decide if he wants to let them and if he can trust Thea and her promises to keep him safe in Last Things (2019) by Jacqueline West.

Find it on Bookshop.

Last Things is a suspenseful and atmospheric story with all characters assumed white. Vivid descriptions of the woods surround town and Anders’ musical endeavors pull readers into this page-turner. Chapters alternate between Anders and Thea which works well to increase the tension in the plot as it becomes clear that Thea (and readers) know more about the strange occurrences at work around Anders than the guitar prodigy himself.

Thea’s mysterious past and Anders’ own reluctance to remember exactly what he promised away to get to this point raise further questions that move the narrative along to its dramatic finish. With Faustian bargains and palpable menace Last Things is an ideal choice for both fantasy and horror/suspense.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Blackout: A Review

Blackout by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola YoonEveryone who’s ever lived in New York City has a blackout story. Maybe it involves the looting and chaos of the 1977 blackout. Maybe you were at your first part-time job orientation about to get your ID photo taken when the blackout in 2003 hit the entire northeast (that’s mine). Maybe you were without power for five days after Superstorm Sandy in 2011 (still me). Maybe you have a different story.

For a group of Black teens things get a lot clearer after the lights go out. Like, all the lights. Everywhere.

They all start in different places. Stranded in Manhattan, isolated from friends, worried about elderly relatives, thinking about what comes next.

But tonight is the last block party of the summer. Missing it is not an option. Whether walking, biking, or going rogue in a NYC tour bus (for real) everyone has somewhere to be tonight. And, along the way, everyone has something to learn about themselves and their heart in Blackout (2021) by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackout is a collaborative novel featuring six interconnected stories from some of the best voices in writing YA fiction right now. Clayton–the initiator of the project–pulled these authors together to create their own version of the ubiquitous Hallmark romantic comedies that often fail to feature Black characters (or any characters of color) finding love. The audiobook is pitch perfect with narrators Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles and Bahni Turpin bringing the characters to life.

The book starts with “The Long Walk” by Tiffany D. Jackson, a story told in five acts throughout the novel as exes Tammie and Kareem reluctantly travel together back to Brooklyn after the blackout (and finding out they were both offered a single internship) leaves them stranded at the Apollo theater in Harlem. Tammie’s narration is sharp and still smarting after the breakup but as the two make their way to a block party where Kareem will be DJing, both teens realize that maybe growing apart doesn’t mean they have to stay apart.

In “Mask Off” by Nic Stone JJ (Tammie’s brother, who is bisexual) is trapped in a subway car with his longtime crush Tremain. Helping Tremain manage his claustrophobia as they escape the crowded subway allows the two to talk–and connect–more than their years at school together and JJ’s suspicions about Tremain’s sexuality have allowed. This is one of the shorter stories but Stone uses every word to great effect drawing readers into JJ and Tremain’s dramatic subway exit.

Even when her heart is broken, Nella loves visiting her grandfather at his nursing home, Althea House in “Made to Fit” by Ashley Woodfolk. There’s nothing like hearing about her grandparents’ love story or hanging out with all the cool seniors–especially when Joss and her therapy dog come around. When a cherished photo goes missing, the girls work together to try and track it down leading to a search through the house that reveals as much about their mutual interest as it does about the missing photo. Come for the cute banter, stay for the matchmaking grandfather.

“All the Great Love Stories … and Dust” starts with Lana’s big plans to finally confess her feelings for her best friend Tristan. A plan that is delayed when the blackout strands the two teens in the main branch of the New York Public Library. While Tristan never quite feels like a worthy love interest for her, Lana’s internal dialog as she tries to figure out how to finally admit her feelings is compelling and authentic.

Kayla thought she had problems before her class trip to New York City in “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” by Angie Thomas but that’s nothing compared to how the trip has been going. Things have felt stale with her longtime boyfriend Rashad for a while but that doesn’t mean that Kayla is prepared for her entire class to discuss the intricacies of her love life when Micah starts trying to get her attention. Kayla is an anxious, fast talker and her narration here is exhausting as she spins out when–with the advent of the blackout–it feels like things between her, Rashad, and Micah are about to come to a head. Unlikely advice from the class’s tour bus driver (Tammie’s dad) remind Kayla that before she can choose either boy, she has to remember how to choose herself.

Blackout wraps with “Seymour and Grace” by Nicola Yoon. Grace’s ride share to the block party takes an unexpected turn when she connects with her driver Seymour. Her entire plan for the night was to get to the block party looking sharp as hell while she gives her ex Tristan the earful he so righteously deserves. But plans change all the time. Maybe this ride share is a sign that Grace should make some changes too. Yoon brings her usual excellent prose and clever characters to this story making it a powerful conclusion to this collection.

Blackout is a fun, multifaceted story centering Black joy and highlightling love in many forms. The interconnected nature of the stories leaves room for fun Easter eggs to tie the different pieces together while leaving space for each author to shine in this book filled with humor, pathos, and plenty of love. Blackout is a must read for fans of contemporary romance–short story or novel–and a perfect introduction to these talented authors.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins, The Meet-Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Up All Night: 13 Stories Between Sunset and Sunrise edited by Laura Silverman, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

The Ivory Key: A Review

The Ivory Key by Akshaya RamanAshoka has always been known for its magic–a prized resource mined from the quarry beneath the kingdom’s palace.

But the magic is running out.

Newly named maharani after her mother’s sudden death, Vira won’t let losing the kingdom’s magic be her legacy. Not when following a trail of ancient riddles and clues to find the mythical Ivory Key could unlock more magic quarries.

Ronak, Vira’s twin brother, is more interested in studying the past like their Papa than in preparing for his future. With royal expectations closing in around him, Ronak will do anything to get away. Even promising to secure the Ivory Key for a dangerous mercenary.

Kaleb never felt like a half-brother to any of the royal siblings. But his Lyrian birth mother is enough evidence to imprison him for the previous maharani’s assassination. Helping Vira find the Ivory Key could clear Kaleb’s name. But that still might not be enough to reclaim his old life.

Riya has been happy in the two years since she left the palace behind. Now, drawn into the hunt for the key with her siblings, Riya will have to choose between her obligations to her family and her loyalties to the Ravens–the group of rebels that took her in when she had nothing and no one.

Four siblings, one magical artifact, centuries of secrets in The Ivory Key (2022) by Akshaya Raman.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ivory Key is Raman’s first novel and the start of an India-inspired duology. The main characters are all brown skinned and Ashokan (a name commonly associated with ancient India) while the neighboring Lyrians are described as fairer skinned. The story alternates between close third person perspectives following the four siblings.

Raman takes her time building out the world of The Ivory Key dropping hints about each character’s backstory alongside details of the political landscape that threatens Ashoka’s future. A well-developed and unique magic system underscore the urgency of Vira’s search for the Ivory Key although that part of the plot is slow to start.

Balancing four points of view is challenging and something that makes the first half of The Ivory Key drag as characters are introduced and tensions build. Once the four royal siblings reluctantly begin working together to find the key, the story starts to pick up and feels more like the adventure promised in the synopsis.

Hints of romance add dimension to the story and drama to one of the book’s biggest reveals although most of the story is squarely focused on the fractious relationships between Vira, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya. A rushed final act introduces new twists and obstacles for all of the siblings as their paths once again diverge leaving each primed for an exciting conclusion to this duology in the next installment.

The Ivory Key is a sweeping, politically charged adventure where action and the search for magic are balanced by court intrigue and maneuvering; a dramatic story that isn’t afraid to take its time to draw readers in.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faisal, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Sisters of the Snake by Sarena Nanua and Sasha Nanua, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

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

Killing Time: A Review

Killing Time by Brenna EhrlichWith so much small town charm, it’s easy to think that bad things don’t happen in Ferry, Connecticut.

Which is why everyone is so shaken when local teacher Mrs. Halsey is found dead. Murdered. Even the local crime reporters are shocked by the violence of the crime.

Natalie Temple always thought she’d have a chance to apologize tom Mrs. Halswy after their in the middle of senior year. Mrs. Halsey is the reason Natalie is going to her dream school to study journalism.

Instead, Natalie’s favorite teacher is dead and no one knows why or who to blame.

Mrs. Halsey taught Natalie and her best friend Katie all about the power of true crime as a genre–an interest Natalie’s strict and overprotective mother has never been willing to entertain. Now, Natalie knows the best way to honor Mrs. Halsey is to find her killer. The investigation could also help Natalie take her “blood drenched” podcast Killing Time to the next level–something she’s sure no one would appreciate more than Mrs. Halsey.

Investigating the murder will bring Natalie face-to-face with the seedier side of Ferry–and some uncomfortable truths about her own family history–as Natalie learns that secrets never stay buried forever in Killing Time (2022) by Brenna Ehrlich.

Find it on Bookshop.

Killing Time plays out in two timelines alternating between Natalie’s investigation into Mrs. Halsey’s death and flashbacks to her mother Helen’s first year at college. All main characters are presumed white.

Natalie’s first person narration is filled with smart references to narrative conventions in true crime stories and observations about the divisions between East and West Ferry–parts of town separated by train tracks as much as income brackets. Unfortunately, Natalie’s singular focus on her investigation leaves little space for Natalie to gain dimension beyond her fixation on solving Mrs. Halsey’s murder–most of the on page interactions with her best friend revolve around the podcast. Although Ehrlich explores more of Helen’s past in the flashback chapters, Natalie’s relationship with her mother remains very one note for most of the story without fully exploring any of the dynamics inherent to growing up with not just a single parent but one who had Natalie very young.

Where Killing Time excels is in highlighting the knife edge journalists and true crime afficionados walk while trying to balance morbid interest with compassion for the real people who are impacted by these crimes. As with many ethical questions, there are no right answers but Ehrlich explores both the good and the bad through Natalie and Helen’s timelines.

Readers looking for a new true-crime-fueled story in the vein of Courtney Summers or Holly Jackson will find a lot to enjoy in Killing Time.

Possible Pairings: They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, Sadie by Courtney Summers, The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

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