ARC Review: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3) by Julia Buckley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3)

Author: Julia Buckley

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley Books/31 July 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36601854-a-dark-and-twisting-path

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Dark-Twisting-Writers-Apprentice-Mystery-ebook/dp/B077CRJ71C/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-dark-and-twisting-path-julia-buckley/1127456867?ean=9780425282625#/

Writer’s apprentice Lena London is happily working on a new collaboration with her idol and bestselling suspense novelist and friend Camilla Graham, but her joy is short-lived when a dark cloud descends upon the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana…

Lena’s best friend, Allison, is in a panic. On a walk in the woods by her home, Allison discovers the body of her mail carrier, an argumentative man who recently had a falling out with Allison’s husband. Lena quickly realizes that Allison has nothing to worry about as the murder weapon points to a different suspect altogether: Lena’s embattled boyfriend, Sam West.

Sam was cleared of his wife’s murder when she was found alive, and now someone is trying to make him look guilty again. Surveillance video of a break-in at his house shows a shadowy figure trying to incriminate him by stealing the weapon from his desk. Lena and Camilla work on a suspect list, but a threatening note and a violent intrusion at Graham House prove that the devious killer has decided to write them into the plot.

I received an ARC from the publisher via the First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, on-page attempted murder, stalking, kidnapping (both adults and children), and violence.

This is definitely one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries I’ve read in a while! This isn’t your typical “someone gets murdered so a friend tries to solve the mystery on their own” mystery book; it actually has quite a bit in common with a thriller. The character relationships in this book are complex, and though our main character, Lena, wants the mystery solved, she also in a sense wants to stay away from the mystery because she and her partner are in real danger because of it. The plot itself is rather complex, but not in a confusing way; though this book is the third in the series and reading the other two in order is recommended (especially by other readers), I had no problem following what was going on without reading the preceding books.

This book also had a very nice “small town” feel to it. The sense of feeling like everyone is watching you, how word travels very quickly, and how unforgiving small town people who don’t believe you can be felt incredibly real to me, and I loved this. The characters felt well-rounded and complex, even if they were side characters, and this part of the book was well done. (And the book gets bonus points for treating librarians like superheroes — because we are.)

Overall, this was a really good read. If you’re looking for a new cozy mystery series to pick up, you might like this one!

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

Advertisements

ARC Review: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Darius the Great is Not Okay

Author: Adib Khorram

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Dial Books/28 August 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37506437-darius-the-great-is-not-okay

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Darius-Great-Okay-Adib-Khorram-ebook/dp/B077WZ46TC/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/darius-the-great-is-not-okay-adib-khorram/1127582464?ean=9780525552963#/

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for racism/xenophobia, homophobia, fat-shaming, depression/depression-related ableism, bullying, terminal illness in a family member, and strained family relationships.

This is one of those books that, after reading it, you want absolutely everyone to read it. Darius is such an intriguing main character, and Khorram managed to balance how Darius doesn’t feel like he fits in with either side of his family in a very delicate manner. Darius feels disconnected from his Persian heritage because he wasn’t taught to speak the language from birth like his younger sister was and because the culture doesn’t really “approve” of his medication for depression, and he also feels disconnected from his white father who doesn’t seem to approve of Darius’s life, constantly policing him for being fat and for choices he makes in his life. The feeling of being a teenager, especially a fat teenager of color, who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere was very well-done, and I really empathized with Darius.

As someone with depression, I also really loved the depression rep and the discussions around mental health in this book. Many people who don’t have depression don’t understand that it’s not a matter of “just being happy” and getting shamed for trying to treat it can be incredibly overwhelming. This part of the book in particular was one that I felt very deeply; it almost felt like a weight was dragging my shoulders down as I continued to read because this kind of talk is SO common and so harmful for someone who is just trying to seek help.

The romance in this book was very light and sweet, and I’m actually rather glad that it kind of took a backseat to the other themes in the book because this book covered so much ground and I think was stronger for having the romance be a little less prominent. This is a story about a gay boy, yes, but it’s a story about that gay boy’s Persian heritage and his family and how he’s viewed as a fat person, and I’m really glad that those things took the stage in this one.

I absolutely adored this book. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you really should.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Cats Came Back (Magical Cats #10) by Sofie Kelly

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Cats Came Back

Author: Sofie Kelly

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley/4 September 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37538833-the-cats-came-back

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Cats-Came-Back-Magical-ebook/dp/B0782VC3Y6/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cats-came-back-sofie-kelly/1127620590?ean=9780399584596#/

The charming Minnesota town of Mayville Heights is hosting a music festival, and the whole place is bustling with musicians and tourists. Kathleen is looking forward to taking in some fabulous performances–and her two cats, Owen and Hercules, are looking forward to taking in some fabulous sardine crackers. But then the trio stumbles across a dead body by the river.

The victim is a close friend–who also happens to be a look-alike of a popular cabaret singer set to perform at the festival. Who could have wanted to harm this innocent girl? Was it a case of mistaken identity?

As accusations abound and suspicions swirl, Kathleen, Hercules and Owen will put their abilities–both mundane and magical–to the test, and lay down the paw. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, and violence.

Cats and librarians in mysteries tend to draw me in quickly, and this one did not disappoint. The supernatural elements in regards to the cats were rather fun, and the story was intriguing and well-paced overall. The mystery itself was interesting and well-done; it was the kind that an astute reader may be able to figure out on their own but not so quickly it ruins the reading experience, which is my favorite kind of mystery plot. The subplots also worked really well with the main plot, making this overall an enjoyable read.

My only slight disappointment was with our narrator, Kathleen. I didn’t dislike Kathleen — most of the time I liked her very much — but there were a handful of instances where she and I just didn’t mesh together very well. It was kind of strange because this wasn’t consistent and this didn’t occur for long stretches of the book by any means, but at times something about her character just bothered me. This didn’t make the reading experience too unpleasant, but it made it somewhat more uneven.

This wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was a solid, fun read, and I would definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: See All The Stars by Kit Frick

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: See All The Stars

Author: Kit Frick

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: McElderry Books/14 August 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32718970-see-all-the-stars

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/See-All-Stars-Kit-Frick-ebook/dp/B075RQ3FQC/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/see-all-the-stars-kit-frick/1127208720?ean=9781534404373

Part love story, part thriller, We Were Liars meets Goodbye Days in this suspenseful, lyrical debut.

It’s hard to find the truth beneath the lies you tell yourself.

THEN They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

NOW Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

THEN Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

NOW Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

The path forward isn’t a straight line. And moving on will mean sorting the truth from the lies—the lies Ellory has been telling herself.

I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for drug use, alcohol use, unhealthy relationships, and death.

loved this book — it’s one of those books that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the very end. This book alternates between two timelines: Ellory’s junior year and Ellory’s senior year. The switching was handled really well and really created tension and mystery surrounding the story, and it had me on my toes as I read.

The emotion in this book is raw and gut-wrenching; there is so much sadness and loneliness and it all really rang true to me. There is a stark contrast between the friend-surrounded Ellory of junior year and relatively-isolated Ellory of senior year, and it hurts to read, but it hurts to read in a way that made me want to share Ellory’s pain as I read.

See All The Stars dives deep into first love and teenage friendships in a beautifully heartbreaking story. There is a twist at the end, which I will not spoil, that really changes the way you see the rest of the book that you’ve just read. It’s wonderfully-crafted and engaging, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy

Author: Chris Priestley

Category: MG Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury/5 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36150286-maudlin-towers

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Curse-Werewolf-Boy-Maudlin-Towers/dp/1681199327/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/curse-of-the-werewolf-boy-chris-priestley/1127084657?ean=9781681199320

Mildew and Sponge don’t think much of Maudlin Towers, the blackened, gloom­laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity that is their school. But when somebody steals the School Spoon and the teachers threaten to cancel the Christmas holidays until the culprit is found, our heroes must spring into action and solve the crime!

But what starts out as a classic bit of detectivating quickly becomes weirder than they could have imagined. Who is the ghost in the attic? What’s their history teacher doing with a time machine? And why do a crazy bunch of Vikings seem to think Mildew is a werewolf?

Hugely funny, deliciously creepy and action-packed by turns, this brand new series from Chris Priestley is perfect for 8+ readers who like their mysteries with a bit of bite. Fans of Lemony Snicket and Chris Riddell will love Curse of the Werewolf Boy.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book was cute and funny, and it has a lot going for it. It reads a lot like a satire of some magical boarding school books; so many on-the-nose names and silly traditions as well as adults with exaggerated characteristics fill the pages of this one. The all-important School Spoon goes missing, and as Mildew and Sponge try to figure out what happened to it they run into more questions than they do answers. This book has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s very amusing.

At the same time, I don’t feel like this book was the right book for me. Though this is usually the kind of book that I like, I didn’t feel particularly grabbed by this book; it didn’t read as anything particularly unique, and the pacing of it felt a bit too quick for my taste. I think the plot was a bit too all over the place and the writing could have been a little bit clearer. It wasn’t necessarily poorly-written or anything, but it wasn’t quite meshing with me.

Younger middle grade readers who love creepy yet funny mysteries would probably really love this book. Though it’s not one of my personal favorites, it still has a lot going for it and may be very entertaining for young readers.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Anger is a Gift

Author: Mark Oshiro

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Tor Teen/22 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36142487-anger-is-a-gift

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Anger-Gift-Novel-Mark-Oshiro-ebook/dp/B0756JKLF1/

Barnes and Noble: https://smile.amazon.com/Anger-Gift-Novel-Mark-Oshiro-ebook/dp/B0756JKLF1/

A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.

Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death (including but not limited to the sudden death of a character), police brutality, racism, transphobia (including misgendering)/homophobia/queerphobia, ableism, anxiety/depictions of panic attacks, and graphic violence.

I have been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I don’t know if anything I write about this book will do it justice. This is one of those books that will make your heart melt and then proceed to tear it into a million little tiny pieces. The characters in this book are a delight — one thing that really makes a book great for me is when all of the characters in the book feel like whole, well-rounded people rather than just the point-of-view character, and this book nails this. The teens in the cast are almost entirely queer people of color, and I really love this because while many people claim that having so many queer characters in one place is “unrealistic,” it’s really representative of how queer teens tend to find each other and become friends rather than having a token queer person or two within the friend group.

The romance in this book is sweet and my heart is still aching from it. Moss is a Black gay boy and Javier is a Latinx gay boy, and they are just so damn cute together. The two of them absolutely shattered me, and my heart still aches because of how much I loved them.

A lot of this book can be hard to swallow because much of it is very graphic. Episodes of graphic police brutality in the book don’t just focus on race (though they definitely still do); they also show how that racism is combined with queerphobia and ableism and how these communities are affected. The intersectionality of this book is beautifully done and it opens up a lot of discussions about how institutionalized oppression works on multiple axes. It’s good to know going into it that these scenes are brutal, though; if you’re sensitive to violence toward trans or disabled people, this is something to be aware of.

This is easily one of my favorite reads of 2018, and it’s definitely one that I will want to read again in the future. Please read this one.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Esme’s Wish

Author: Elizabeth Foster

Category: YA Fantasy

Publisher/Date: Odyssey Books/30 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33634667-esme-s-wish

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Esmes-Wish-Elizabeth-Foster-ebook/dp/B07DBMD258/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/esmes-wish-elizabeth-foster/1127273417?ean=9781925652246

“A fresh new fantasy of an enchanting world.” – Wendy Orr,author of Nim’s Island and Dragonfly Song.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all. 

This fresh, inventive tale, the first in an MG-to-YA series, is an ideal read for 10-14 year olds.

Esme’s Wish recently won first place in the fantasy category of the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, which recognises excellence in children’s literature.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Readers program. This book has content warnings for parental death/drowning/disappearance (lost at sea), grief, some violence, and some gender binarism.

This book was an okay read for me. The writing itself was really good — the book is on the cusp of being MG and YA, and it felt like it was well-written for its intended audience. I was also really enchanted by the worldbuilding; the alternate world that Esme ends up in where she learns her mother, who was lost at sea some years ago, had apparently spent a lot of time is a really well-developed setting. It’s immersive and leaves you feeling very curious about the people and beings and secrets that are hidden in this world, and the concept and execution of Gifts was something I also really liked. The world itself is really fascinating, and that kept me reading.

I was less entranced by the story itself. This book has a really slow pace and it doesn’t really map out where the story is headed as well as it should. It’s definitely character-driven instead of plot-driven, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for me it felt that it was a little bit too close to the former than the latter. Additionally, the ending itself felt like it came and went way too quickly, and while I get that this is the first book in a series I still felt like it wasn’t resolved enough and the rush of the ending of the book didn’t feel very satisfying.

The other thing that bothered me was how the gender of the sirens was discussed within the book. The sirens are apparently genderfluid, though the early part of the book claimed “Their sex is … indeterminate” (p. 55). There are at least two places in the book where the genders of the sirens are determined by their pronouns (“she’s not really a he” or “she became a he” or something of that sort), and that really bothered me as a nonbinary trans person because it ignores that pronouns aren’t gender and that there are more than two genders. If you’re sensitive about nonbinary erasure and genders being referred to by pronouns, this is something to consider before reading.

I didn’t mind this book, but it wasn’t the best read for me. If you’re looking for a light fantasy upper MG/lower YA with no romance and solid worldbuilding, this might be the book for you.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars