LITTLE WHITE LIES by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

“I’m not saying this is Sawyer’s fault,” the prim and proper one said delicately. “But.”

Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother’s “society” might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father’s identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn’t expect to find is friendship, but as she’s drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn’t the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother’s glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer’s search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning.

Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off. 


Title : Little White Lies
Author : Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series : Debutantes (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Freeform
Release Date : November 6, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

My love for this book has definitely been helped by a string of disappointing and/or boring reads but that’s not why I loved it. It just gave it a bit of a boost, is all.

I’m a big fan of Barnes’ writing, catch me in the corner forever mourning the fact that we only got two books in her Fixer series, but. But. If not for that fact, maybe this book, and series, wouldn’t exist. And that would be a crying shame.

This story follows Sawyer, raised by her single flighty mother, who has never known her father or family, until the moment her very polished, very Southern, grandmother shows up with a proposition : spend nine months in the place her mother grew up, before getting kicked out when she was a pregnant teen, in exchange for an all-expenses paid college tuition. Sawyer is suspicious but takes it. Because maybe, just maybe, she can figure out who her father is.

From the tone in her voice, you would have thought we were in a life raft in the middle of piranha-filled waters. Then again, I was about to make my debut in high society. Maybe we were.

Naturally drama ensues but maybe not the kind you’d expect. There’s blackmail, and kidnapping, and violence, and betrayal, and it’s a riot. Sawyer, the girl from the other side of the tracks, thrown in amongst the rich, the elite, the debutantes, makes friends, finds family, but both are somewhat fluid, and yet the journey is fabulous. It doesn’t exactly follow the same path as you might expect from a story with that bare bones concept and, as an added bonus, Barnes keeps you guessing, keeps things twisty, right up until the very end. Almost every character is flawed, or layered, and fascinating. The wit and charm that I love from this author is also present in her characters, in the dynamics, and I enjoyed the hell out of it all. Like in the last book I read (in fact, maybe all since her Naturals series), there’s no real romance plot for her protagonist. And I can’t tell you how much I love that. These stories stand on their own, with deep friendships, and family connections, that negate the need for added drama or angst or entanglements. I won’t be sad if a certain something happens between Sawyer and a certain guy but if it doesn’t.. I still won’t be sad.

Clearly, I’d been mistaken for the help. Unfortunately for Campbell, there were two kinds of people in this world : those who weren’t condescending and needlessly cruel and those I was pretty content to leave duct-taped to a chair.

I’m ever so happy to have an ARC of book two in my hands because I’m running high off the joy of this story and I can’t wait to see the trouble these girls get into next. And what mysteries, and what heartbreak, lies in wait for them.

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MOONCAKES by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (artist)

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.


Title : Mooncakes
Author : Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu (artist)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 256
Genre : YA LGBTQ+ fantasy graphic novel
Publisher : Lion Forge
Release Date : October 15, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

This graphic novel about witches, werewolves, and magic, is adorable, queer, and inclusive. There is a ton of every day representation mixed in amongst the magical, the bittersweet, and the fantastical. But I think where this would’ve been a bigger success for me is if more time had been spent in the set-up.

The reunion between these two main characters is very unexpected and things between them seem sped up while the reader is left trying to catch up to the why and how the all the backstory. We do get some of that after the fact, in the wrap up of the story, but I would’ve preferred some of it upfront instead of how it was done.

I also found myself a little lost in some of the nuance of the magic, the culture, and how it all worked. But maybe I’m just spoiled by longer fantasy epics like SAGA where the world building has time to, well, build.

This is definitely cute and diverse but I’m not sure it’ll be wholly memorable in a month’s time.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

INTO THE CROOKED PLACE by Alexandra Christo – double review!

The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.

Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.

Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.

Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.

And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.

Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.


Title : Into the Crooked Place
Author : Alexandra Christo
Series : Into the Crooked Place (book one)
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 380
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends/Hot Key Books
Release Date : October 8, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★  / DNF


Hollis’ 2 star review

Here’s a big reason why I think the current GR rating is what it is (which, as of the writing of this review, is 3.73) : it very much feels, and reads, like another book. Which, as my buddy said, doesn’t mean a certain author holds the copyright to heist ensemble gangster anti-hero/amoral stories. It’s just.. like, wow, a little effort to be different, when so much of today’s culture is comparisons, would’ve been nice?

But here’s where I get a little less snarky. After bemoaning the comparisons, and the utter boredom, for almost 50%.. this book did shift gears. A little. I won’t say I liked it after the first half but while I predicted a lot of what was coming.. some things I didn’t. I felt good about the ending — particularly the last 20% — which, I mean, I guess didn’t take much considering how not-good I was feeling about the book in general, so that’s definitely a low-ish bar. Also, the shift in plot doesn’t quite take away from how much this book is like other things. I’m talking vibe, tone, names.. yeah, it’s a lot.

But. Again, I say, but.

I might pick up book two (thank goodness it’s not a trilogy). Hell, I probably will. I’m a bit of a masochist but I did feel this ended on a good — well, no, not good, but you get what I mean — note. Also there is a lot of diversity in this story, which is one of the few uncomplicated things to celebrate.

So, yes, this is kind of a hash, for a book I wanted to DNF and yet now find myself intending to read even more of now that I’ve finished it, and yet here we are.

** I received a ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky sadly DNF’d at 30% – unrated

I’m sorry to say that this was a full day’s struggle of picking it up and putting it down repeatedly because I did not like this world that felt pretty familiar and I did not buy into the characters or story. I found the names of people and phrasing too similar to the Grisha world to discount and it was told without the finesse of that one.

I strongly believe there is no copyright on this kind of story (heisty-gangster fantasy) because the whole book world is built on a jenga pyramid of similar stories. That said, its hugely important to find your slice of uniqueness and according to my bud Hollis, that issue settled a bit from half way in. I didn’t get that far because I just didn’t engage with the story and I was consistently bored.

I feel disappointed in myself on the one hand because I loved Christo’s previous book but I think this review would look a whole lot worse if I had.

Thank you to Hot Key books for the review copy and I’m sorry I couldn’t see this through to the end. Gratitude for the chance to read early.

THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS by Charlotte Nicole Davis – double review!

Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this stunning fantasy adventure from debut author Charlotte Nicole Davis.

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst

THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.


Title : The Good Luck Girls
Author : Charlotte Nicole Davis
Series : The Good Luck Girls (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 346
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Tor Teen/Hot Key Books
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This is a YA fantasy unlike almost anything I’ve read. This also feels both dystopian and historical and yet is set in a fantasy world, so is truly neither of those things.

It’s about strong women and daring stakes. It’s about learning to trust when no one has ever given you reason to. It’s about sacrificing your own chance at a happily every after for the benefit of others. It’s a whole lot of things. It’s also diverse, a little queer, and is all sorts of magical; though not in ways I expected.

Despite my obvious enjoyment, there is still something holding me back a bit on this one. And I don’t even know really know why. This was unique and brutal with characters both tough as nails and hella vulnerable with plenty of issues mirrored in this unusual world that are also present in our own. It’s a scary possible reality that makes you, as a reader, and a human, and, in my case a woman, want to fight back.

And yet again, I don’t know why I just didn’t love it. I wasn’t bored by anything, necessarily, though I did find sometimes that I would skim a passage or two. I didn’t always love Aster, our main POV, and yet could also totally understand why she wasn’t always likeable. And.. yeah, I don’t know. This one is just a bit of a mystery for me, I think.

But I would definitely recommend it if anyone was already interested in picking it up!

** I received a finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 3 star review

I am very close to Hollis in my experience of reading this book. It’s a curious context that has a fresh feel, slicing dystopia with an old time world, almost like a western. The start of the book was super strong for me with a compelling narrative that brought all my compassion to the surface. That strong start waned at times but this was a series starter that I will definitely finish.

What worked for me were the sisters (Aster and Clementine) and the group of young women, sometimes very polarised against one another, but with a common goal of escapism and freedom. There were analogies to contemporary themes such as traficking and oppression that were appealing. What I found less appealing were the fantastical developments such as raveners and vengeants. I didn’t bond with that aspect of the world.

I moved between reading avidly to feeling a slowing of the pace of the story that left me wanting to feel more involved. Despite the fleeing, chases and general tension, I wanted a bit more attachment to the book than I felt and I can’t quite explain why I didn’t feel this. Maybe I wasn’t connected to Aster and Clementine enough, but I do still want to know where this goes after book one.

Thank you to Readers First and Hot Key Books for this finished review copy.

THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA by Julia Drake

The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family: Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece-the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

Epic, funny, and sweepingly romantic, The Last True Poets of the Sea is an astonishing debut about the strength it takes to swim up from a wreck.


Title : The Last True Poets of the Sea 
Author : Julia Drake
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Disney Hyperion
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating: ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This is such a lovely, and rather hard-hitting, story (and from a debut no less!) that it feels a little strange to not rave about it and slap it with a high rating. But while there was so much good, so much of it moving, some of it also left me a little unmoved, too.

I became a bad sister and a bad daughter in an hour; an exile in just under two. By comparison, the Titanic sunk in two hours, forty minutes. Pretty impressive, to have sunk to the bottom even faster than the twentieth century’s greatest shipwreck.

Tackling issues of depression, anxiety, self-harm, grief, and self-destructive behaviour, the story takes place against the backdrop of a small seaside town in Maine, featuring the mystery of a shipwreck, a romance that bloomed after, and focusing on the ancestors of the sole survivor of that long-ago tragedy.

I didn’t think it was possible to be blindsided by a truth you’ve always suspected, but there you have it. As it turns out, it’s devastating.

The story is queer, and lyrical, and funny, with quirky weirdness and awkwardness and charm. All from the perspective of a tall girl — woo! It’s got a lot of things going for it and I really did love the writing, too. So while this one maybe, for whatever reason, didn’t quite hit the mark, I will totally be keeping an eye on this new author and definitely picking up her next book.

There wasn’t going to be magic healing; there’d be only a strong of ands on which we’d thread our survival.

This is definitely going to be a hit for a lot of people, I think. I just wish I could count myself among them.

** I received a ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE TENTH GIRL by Sara Faring

Simmering in Patagonian myth, The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist.

At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.

Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored.

One of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi’s existence. In order to survive she must solve a cosmic mystery—and then fight for her life.


Title : The Tenth Girl
Author : Sara Faring
Format : ARC
Page Count : 460
Genre : YA historical horror/thriller
Publisher : Imprint
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

So here’s my problem with THE TENTH GIRL. If this was a more straight-forward, yet twisty, gothic horror, I think it would’ve been amazing. Parts of this were really good. The atmosphere, the creepy factor, the isolated strangeness of the setting, the eerie encroaching darkness of it all.. it was great.

But instead this book is a lot more than meets the eye. Infact in hindsight you see a lot of the clues, or at least I do, but even had I noticed, even if they had got me wondering, nothing could have prepared me for that this book actually is. It’s a very.. risky choice. Bold, even. Particularly for a debut.

The good thing is you get a sense early on that things aren’t quite as the appear. But the problem is just how not as the appear things really are. It didn’t work for me. My mind is trying to make it work but I had certain expectations about this book and the story as a whole didn’t meet them. So maybe that’s on me.

This is a spoiler free zone. This is the only kind of review you will, get the vaguest of vague, which will either intrigue or scare you off. Either choice is valid.

I might read this author again but unfortunately I can’t say this book gave me what I wanted.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE INFINITE NOISE by Lauren Shippen

Lauren Shippen’s The Infinite Noise is a stunning, original debut novel based on her wildly popular and award-winning podcast The Bright Sessions.

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

“What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” (Vox on The Bright Sessions)


Title : The Infinite Noise
Author : Lauren Shippen
Series : The Bright Sessions (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA sci-fi/fantasy
Publisher : Tor Teen
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

There’s a lot to love in THE INFINITE NOISE. Representation-wise, we have a protagonist who is Jewish and gay and plagued by depressive episodes, another who is.. well, we’re never given his orientation on page, and also an empath who struggles with the overflow of emotions and lashes out in rage. There’s also a ton of therapy. Positive therapy.

This world is based on a podcast where, as the book’s blurb says, “What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” In this world, though, the people with powers, or extraordinary abilities, are Atypicals. And we learn of their existence through Caleb discovering his own abilities, that he’s an empath, with the help of Dr Bright.

The majority of this book is spent with Caleb trying to sort through and also keep from being overwhelmed by the emotions of his classmates and family. His mood swings, culminating in a fight, are a result from processing things he didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, and the aftermath is learning to deal. There’s a lot of talking through of emotions, as represented by colours, and trying to block out the infinite noise of it all. Which only seems to work when he’s alone or with Adam.

I get a moment of enjoying the silence before something inside of me tries to make itself known. Oh. Right. I have my own feelings. I sort of forgot about those.

Adam, who is lonely, alone, and depressed. Who has a hopeless crush on the big jock in his class. Who knows, as a tentative friendship begins, that Caleb is hiding something. But then again.. so is he.

Thinking about Adam makes me feel a little less like a sponge that doesn’t get a say in what it soaks up.

While I did like both characters, I’m not sure I liked either one all the time. They both make questionable decisions, both hide things for too long (and as of the end of this book, one is still hiding things), and.. I don’t know. I loved so much of them, but. Maybe I loved the idea of them a bit more than the reality of them sometimes.

Knowing someone’s feelings doesn’t give me a guidebook on how to respond to them. That I have to make up as I go along.

The back and forth between these two was tough. On the one hand, there’s a lot of baggage, uncertainty, and angst involved. On the other, I’m not even sure how Caleb identifies but while it took quite some time before he blinked and realized he wanted to kiss Adam, date Adam, there wasn’t much issue coming to terms with that. Nor for his family, either. With exception to a few slurs, there wasn’t really any conflict surrounding their characters’ sexualities. The real angst, beyond being sixteen and struggling with depression, with school, with the future, was surrounding an organization who targets Atypicals and who might be working for them; and how keeping Caleb’s secret was paramount.

I think, for all the good, what keeps this book from being great is the pacing. The latter half of the book changes a lot in both tone and scope and after all the big build-up of who is hiding what, I’m not really sure where we are in the end of it all. I know more books are to come (three, it looks like) but the summaries indicate they are to focus on other characters, so. If that’s true, I’m even less satisfied by this ending. At least for how it wraps for this pair.

I love the concept, therapy for superheroes, and it’s a very creative way to ease into the transition of adapting to new powers, but I guess I wanted a tighter focus on these two soft boys.. but also less time spent getting them together, if future books weren’t going to focus on them, and also an ending that was.. more. I don’t know that I’m explaining this well, but. That said, I would read on. I like this world. I love the unique perspective. I just hope book two, and subsequent books, are stronger.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **