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

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: 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: Manga Classics Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

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

Title: Romeo and Juliet

Author: William Shakespeare, Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Category: Comic/Manga Drama Adaptation

Publisher/Date: UDON Entertainment/15 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38920941-manga-classics

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Romeo-Juliet-Manga-Classics-Crystal/dp/1947808044/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/romeo-and-juliet-william-shakespeare/1127403905?ean=9781947808041

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, suicide, physical violence, murder, and tumultuous family relationships.

I’ve always been fascinated by Shakespeare — a Shakespeare class that I took during my very first term of college was what sold me on being an English major. What I remember most about Shakespeare, though, is reading Romeo and Juliet during English class back in high school. I didn’t have a ton of problems reading it myself (though I was pretty reliant on the glossary at the bottoms of the pages of the book we used), but almost the entire rest of my class had a ton of trouble following along — to the point where they would ask me to “translate it into English” so that they could figure out what was going on. Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly the best Shakespeare experience for them OR for me.

This is the kind of text I wish that my classmates would have had in high school instead of the straight text of the play. Shakespeare’s plays weren’t really made to be read straight; they were made to be performed, and comics is a wonderful format for this because it combines reading the play with watching the drama unfold. What was even more delightful for me was the fact that the text itself is virtually untouched; every one of Shakespeare’s original lines is given space inside a word balloon, and it’s not at all abridged. Readers of this adaptation are getting Shakespeare’s original work in its entirety, but they’re getting it in a way that is dynamic and fun and, for many younger readers in particular, easier to digest.

The only thing that I found off-putting about this book relates to the illustrations. The art itself is lovely and rich and a pleasure to look at; what bothers me, though, is how the characters are drawn. The majority of the characters look like your “typical” manga-style characters, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the characters are virtually all white Italian people (as the adaptation kept the play’s original location of Verona, Italy) and manga facial characteristics are actually depicting Japanese facial features. There’s a lot of confusion that goes around about how manga characters in all manga “look white” even though the style is designed to depict Japanese characters, and white manga characters have a very different look to them. I worry that because the characters in this book are drawn as Japanese manga characters rather than as white characters, it’s going to continue to spread the idea that manga characters are white when they really aren’t. I feel like this is something that should have been taken into account more.

On the other side of things, the team who worked on this adaptation really did their research — they took a trip to Verona to look at the architecture and really understand the history of the place and to find the most accurate backdrops for the illustrations they could find. They put a lot of work into ensuring that the details in the book were accurate, and I really appreciated that.

Overall, this was a really good adaptation of this play, despite the issues I have with depictions of race. If you love Romeo and Juliet, or want to read the play but have trouble following Shakespeare’s text alone, this is a really nice way of experiencing the story.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution by Ann Travers

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

Title: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution

Author: Ann Travers

Category: Nonfiction/Children’s Studies/Transgender Studies (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: New York University Press/5 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36747917-the-trans-generation

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Trans-Generation-Parents-Creating-Revolution-ebook/dp/B07C6898VH/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-trans-generation-ann-travers/1127195306?ean=9781479885794#/

A groundbreaking look at the lives of transgender children and their families

Some “boys” will only wear dresses; some “girls” refuse to wear dresses; in both cases, as Ann Travers shows in this fascinating account of the lives of transgender kids, these are often more than just wardrobe choices. Travers shows that from very early ages, some at two and three years old, these kids find themselves to be different from the sex category that was assigned to them at birth. How they make their voices heard–to their parents and friends, in schools, in public spaces, and through the courts–is the focus of this remarkable and groundbreaking book.

Based on interviews with transgender kids, ranging in age from 4 to 20, and their parents, and over five years of research in the US and Canada, The Trans Generation offers a rare look into what it is like to grow up as a trans child. From daycare to birthday parties and from the playground to the school bathroom, Travers takes the reader inside the day-to-day realities of trans kids who regularly experience crisis as a result of the restrictive ways in which sex categories regulate their lives and put pressure on them to deny their internal sense of who they are in gendered terms.

As a transgender activist and as an advocate for trans kids, Travers is able to document from first-hand experience the difficulties of growing up trans and the challenges that parents can face. The book shows the incredible time, energy, and love that these parents give to their children, even in the face of, at times, unsupportive communities, schools, courts, health systems, and government laws. Keeping in mind that all trans kids are among the most vulnerable to bullying, violent attacks, self-harm, and suicide, and that those who struggle with poverty, racism, lack of parental support, learning differences, etc, are extremely at risk, Travers offers ways to support all trans kids through policy recommendations and activist interventions. Ultimately, the book is meant to open up options for kids’ own gender self-determination, to question the need for the sex binary, and to highlight ways that cultural and material resources can be redistributed more equitably. The Trans Generation offers an essential and important new understanding of childhood. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for discussions of transphobia/queerphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, bullying, abuse, and suicide, and for a graphic description of a trans child dying by suicide.

I usually get incredibly frustrated while reading academic work on trans people because most of the time it’s littered with binarism and outdated/offensive terminology, so this book was a breath of fresh air for me because it was pretty spot-on for most of the book. Travers, who identifies as trans, did their research and their best to ensure that this book was as respectful toward trans kids as possible, and it was really effective. Overall, this book is very good and one that most trans people like myself will find reflective of their own experiences to some degree.

My favorite thing about this book is that it not only was respectful towards trans people, but it is also intersectional — Travers goes into deep discussions about how race, class, disability, and sexuality all play a part in a trans person’s experiences and acknowledges that these experiences are going to vary widely because of these factors. For instance, during one moment Travers tells a young trans person that things will get better as they grow up and go to college and move on with their life, and then later Travers realizes that the assumption they made that college is a certainty in that person’s future was incredibly classist and they felt guilty for how they had phrased that conversation. The trans kids and teens who were interviewed have a variety of gender identities and backgrounds, and the mix of different perspectives from these kids and teens were a huge boon to the book and to our understanding of trans people’s childhoods.

My largest issue with the book was how Travers approached being trans as being “disabled” by society — in a sense, I get where they were coming from. They very eloquently discussed the medical vs. social models of disability and how with the social model it is society that creates barriers rather than the disability itself, and Travers expanded this to society “disabling” trans people as well. I get what they were going for here and agree that that is the essential effect that society has on trans people, however as a disabled person I felt that the terminology around trans people being “disabled” was co-opted in a way that tries to equate transness and being disabled when these are two very different things, and I don’t feel that an abled trans person should really be describing themselves as “disabled” when they mean that society is creating barriers that cause them to be discriminated against. I felt that better terminology could have been used here. I did, however, appreciate the good understanding of how ableism comes into play regarding trans disabled people, and felt that that added to the larger discussion as a whole.

Aside from that larger terminology issue, this book adds a lot of value to discourse about the lives of trans kids and was a really thoughtful and insightful read. Though I disagree with some of the definitions of terms in the glossary, this book in general is a really great overview of how intersectionality affects trans youth and how trans youth are growing up in this generation. It’s a great read, and I definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27) by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

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

Title: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27)

Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bantam/29 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36213902-probable-claws

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Probable-Claws-Mrs-Murphy-Mystery-ebook/dp/B075CB7QQV/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/probable-claws-rita-mae-brown/1128133508?

With the New Year just around the corner, winter has transformed the cozy Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia, into a living snow globe. It’s the perfect setting for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen to build a new work shed designed by her dear friend, local architect Gary Gardner. But the natural serenity is shattered when out of the blue, right in front of Harry and Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and in broad daylight, Gary is shot to death by a masked motorcyclist.
 
Outraged by the brazen murder, Harry begins to burrow into her friend’s past—and unearths a pattern of destructive greed reaching far back into Virginia’s post-Revolutionary history. When Harry finds incriminating evidence, the killer strikes again.
 
Heedless of her own safety, Harry follows a trail of clues to a construction site in Richmond, where the discovery of mysterious remains has recently halted work. Aided as always by her loyal, if opinionated, companions, crime-solving cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and Tee Tucker the Corgi, Harry hunts for a link between the decades-old dead, the recently violently deceased—and ancient secrets that underlie everything. And while other deaths are narrowly averted in a flurry of fur, the killer remains at large—ever more desperate and dangerous. The deep-rooted legacy of corruption that’s been exposed can never be buried again. But if Harry keeps pursuing the terrible truth, she may be digging her own grave.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, murder, poison, gun violence, physical violence, racist/xenophobic language, and miscarriage/pregnancy loss.

I had expected better of this book than what I got; though it wasn’t the worst, overall it was quite disappointing. One thing that is less the book’s fault and more my own is that the dual timelines did not work for me at all; though cozy mysteries like this one are usually fine read as standalone books, the historical plot that takes place in the 18th century apparently spans across the book before this one in the series as well as the book following this one. Because of this, the storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the modern-day narrative because it didn’t have anything at all to do with Gary’s murder. What was more odd was that the modern-day storyline read as expected — as if it could be a standalone read out of order even though it’s part of a series. The historical plot was also pretty boring and dry, and I didn’t care for anything that happened during those chapters. Even though reading the books in this series out of order and not getting the previous part of the 18th century narrative from the previous book, I still expect the characters and the narrative to be interesting, and they just weren’t.

The modern-day narrative was self-contained and more interesting, although I wasn’t impressed by it, either. The human characters mostly spent their time bumbling around almost as if they were waiting for the animals to give them clues, and while the animals were snarky and kind of funny when they talked to each other, their scenes were almost entirely consumed by Pewter the cat complaining about a giant spider. I know cozy mysteries often have a very leisurely pace to them, but this was just too slow and repetitive. I don’t mind a book being a leisurely read, but if it’s going to do that then the narrative needs to have enough content to keep my attention. This book felt as if it could have been half the length and still keep its leisurely pace and storylines without sacrificing anything.

Additionally, I was pulled out of the narrative on multiple occasions because of the racism and xenophobia contained in the book. I realize that this book takes place in the south and maybe phrases like “you can pinch a nickle until the Indian rides the buffalo” (9%) might be more commonplace than they are where I live, but it was still off-putting to see in the text. There was also a really weird scene where Harry’s new Black friend, Marvella, basically starts explaining institutionalized oppression to Harry and sort of even tries to turn enduring institutionalized oppression into a “positive,” and it feels really unnatural and weird. This isn’t my lane so it’d be better to seek out opinions of Black readers (or other readers who are PoC for the racism issues as a whole), but these scenes left a funny taste in my mouth.

I was also a bit uncomfortable with physical violence in the book. There is a scene where a “good” character is breaking the bones of a “bad” character in order to keep them in line, and I was cringing through the whole scene because that felt incredibly wrong to me for a number of reasons. It’s just odd to me that something like that would be depicted as acceptable and heroic when it’s pretty terrible and the character clearly has other options or has started doing it just because they can. This just did’t sit well with me.

I found myself really just wishing there was more to this book. It’s pretty average for a cozy mystery and there definitely could have been more to this one. It wasn’t the worst read, but it was underwhelming at best. If you’re a regular Mrs. Murphy reader then you might like this one; otherwise it might be better to look at other cozy cat mysteries instead.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Clowders by Vanessa Morgan

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

Title: Clowders

Author: Vanessa Morgan

Category: Adult Horror

Date: 1 March 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36688136-clowders

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Clowders-Vanessa-Morgan-ebook/dp/B078GTVF7Z/

Clervaux, Luxembourg. This secluded, picturesque town in the middle of Europe is home to more cats than people. For years, tourists have flocked to this place – also known as “cat haven” – to meet the cats and buy cat-related souvenirs.

When Aidan, Jess and their five-year-old daughter, Eleonore, move from America to Clervaux, it seems as if they’ve arrived in paradise. It soon becomes clear, though, that the inhabitants’ adoration of their cats is unhealthy. According to a local legend, each time a cat dies, nine human lives are taken as a punishment. To tourists, these tales are supernatural folklore, created to frighten children on cold winter nights. But for the inhabitants of Clervaux, the danger is darkly, horrifyingly real.

Initially, Aidan and Jess regard this as local superstition, but when Jess runs over a cat after a night out in the town, people start dying, one by one, and each time it happens, a clowder of cats can be seen roaming the premises.

Are they falling victim to the collective paranoia infecting the entire town? Or is something horrible waiting for them? Something unspeakably evil.

Aidan and Jess’ move to Europe may just have been the worst decision they ever made.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for cat death, human death, gore, car accidents, physical violence, and toxic relationships.

This book was a mixed bag for me because while I thought the premise was fascinating and thought that the horror aspects of the book were really good and creepy, I felt frustrated with much of the rest of the book. To start with, I could not stand Aidan. After the move to Clervaux he almost immediately started cheating on Jess, whom he dragged to a different continent with him. (I also had a LOT of issues with the woman that Aidan was “seduced” by being a Latina-coded, stereotypical homewrecker. She was the only person in the book that was coded as a person of color, and that felt very icky to me because OF COURSE the cheating isn’t the white man’s fault…) His tone was also irritating and he was overall pretty boring. Jess was a little better, but not by much; it was clear that she cared about her child and her relationship, but her behaviors bothered me a lot and she was also difficult to read.

I also had issues with literally every other character in this book that was not either a child or a feline… Eleonore was fine and didn’t bother me because she acted like a small child could be expected to. Everybody else got on my nerves at all times. What frustrated me the most, I think, was how literally no one bothered to even try to explain to the newcomers (Aidan and Jess) why the town had rules against killing cats. This was written off as “too difficult to do” by one of the characters, but it just seemed silly because it’s written in the book description and telling someone a legend should not be that difficult. This really weird aversion to actually explaining what was going on to these characters was an okay mystery at first, but it got really tired really quickly and made the pacing feel very off.

I did enjoy the legend itself and the cats and the horror aspects of the book, but these didn’t really shine through because so much effort was put into masking these elements and making the book feel more like a mystery than a horror story. I think I would have liked this book a whole lot better if all humans were removed from the book and it was just the cats. With this town’s luck and history, it seems like this could be something that happens eventually anyway.

Final rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Final Draft by Riley Redgate

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

Title: Final Draft

Author: Riley Redgate

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Amulet Books/12 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35960813-final-draft

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Final-Draft-Riley-Redgate-ebook/dp/B078W61YYV/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/final-draft-riley-redgate/1126960304?ean=9781419728723

The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.
 
At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for car accidents (off-page), hospitals, and death (off-page).

This book was really really good, but definitely not one of my favorites. I’m struggling to pinpoint what exactly it is that I didn’t like, though — I think it might have mostly been the writing not clicking for me, especially in relation to Laila’s interactions with her teachers. Something about those interactions felt off to me, and the pacing of the book felt incredibly slow through the middle of the book. Tighter writing would have made this a better read for me, overall.

I loved the characters themselves — Laila is a fat, bi-racial (Ecuadorian), pansexual teen with mental illnesses, and she was such a joy to spend time with. She is a writer and a nerd, and seeing her geek out over her favorite shows and books with her friends was so much fun. Her relationships with her friends were complicated; they loved each other, but they struggled to get everyone to get along all at the same time.

Laila’s frustration with the writing and editing process after getting a new teacher really hit me. Writing is something that can be incredibly enjoyable, but certain parts of the process can really suck the fun out of it even though it can make the writing itself a lot stronger. Watching her try to figure out where that line is for her felt very true to me; finding that line is not easy, and it can potentially ruin writing for some people. I also loved seeing how this affected not just herself but also her relationships with those around her.

Though this isn’t one of my favorite reads from this year, it had a great story with really solid characters. If you’re looking for stories about teenage nerds and writers, this is a good choice for you.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: When the Beat Drops by Anna Hecker

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

Title: When the Beat Drops

Author: Anna Hecker

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Sky Pony Press/1 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35217468-when-the-beat-drops

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/When-Beat-Drops-Anna-Hecker-ebook/dp/B073XTGZFX/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-the-beat-drops-anna-hecker/1126763769?ean=9781510733336#/

Seventeen-year-old Mira has always danced to her own beat. A music prodigy in a family of athletes, she’d rather play trumpet than party—and with her audition to a prestigious jazz conservatory just around the corner (and her two best friends at music camp without her), she plans to spend the summer focused on jazz and nothing else.

She only goes to the warehouse party in a last-ditch effort to bond with her older sister. Instead, she falls in love with dance music, DJing…and Derek, a gorgeous promoter who thinks he can make her a star. Suddenly trumpet practice and old friendships are taking a backseat to packed dance floors, sun-soaked music festivals, outsized personalities, and endless beats.

But when a devastating tragedy plunges her golden summer into darkness, Mira discovers just how little she knows about her new boyfriend, her old friends, and even her own sister. Music is what brought them together…but will it also tear them apart?

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for drug use, abusive relationships (between a teen and a college student), overdose, death, and hospitals.

I loved this book. I was immediately captivated by Mira, our biracial (Black and white) classical musician-turned-DJ main character who used music to escape the stress of her family life. One of my favorite things in books is when characters are passionate about something, and Mira’s passion for music steals the show. Even better, the evolving nature of her interests rang so true and showed wonderful growth in her character.

Mira’s complicated relationships with the people around her were also fantastic. She struggled with feeling inferior to her college-aged sister, with her parents who seemed to favor her sister over her, with her best friends who went off to music camp without her, with her new friend who got her into DJing but her new boyfriend keeps trying to warn her away from, and with her new boyfriend whom other people keep trying to warn her away from. She clearly cares very deeply about the people around her, and her relationships are intimate and complex.

The writing itself is also enchanting and really draws you in — this was a really quick read for me because the writing itself was just so lovely and drew me in. This made the story even more heartbreaking at points; if you’re at all sensitive to reading descriptions of drug overdoses, this probably isn’t the book for you. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a really good book about people and rave culture and teen angst, this is a good choice.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars