Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm ★★★★★

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LOVED THIS! Phoebe and Her Unicorn is one of my favorite middle grade comic series.

Phoebe and Marigold decide to investigate a powerful storm that is wreaking havoc with the electricity in their town. The adults think it’s just winter weather, but Phoebe and Marigold soon discover that all is not what it seems to be, and that the storm may have a magical cause. To solve the case, they team up with Max, who is desperate for the electricity to return so he can play video games, and frenemy Dakota, who is aided by her goblin minions. Together, they must get to the bottom of the mystery and save the town from the magic storm.

If you haven’t checked out the other Phoebe and Her Unicorn books or checked out the weekly strip on DanaSimpson.com, then go do that RIGHT NOW.

Phoebe and Marigold are the new Calvin and Hobbes. Period. End review.

But in all seriousness, I have yet to read a Phoebe and Marigold story that didn’t make me laugh out loud. They are equal parts hilarious and educational, complete with a list of vocabulary words that may be above grade level for some readers.

If I had children, these would be a staple before bedtime for us.

Pub Date: October 17, 2017

This Darkness Mine ★☆☆☆☆

9780062561596_305afI requested it because it was weird, and I like weird, but I don’t know… I just wasn’t feeling this.

Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure that her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved.

But suddenly there’s a fork in the road, in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it, and she relishes the smell of him—smoke, beer, and trouble—all the things she’s avoided to get where she is. Even worse, every time he’s near Sasha, her heart stops, literally. Why does he know her so well—too well—and she doesn’t know him at all?

Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending another’s: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. As Sasha loses her much-cherished control, her life—and heart—become more entangled with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back.

Edgar Award–winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a dark and gripping psychological thriller about a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.

I sat on this one for a while. I mean, did I want to read a book that was going to so obviously end with split personalities? The longer I waited to pick it up the less interested I became in actually getting it off my review list.

And then I finally bit the bullet and opened it up.

The writing was confusing, at best. When it wasn’t confusing it was boring.

Part of what made my eyes roll is that Sasha is suddenly portrayed as “bad” the minute she has sex and the reason her unborn twin sister has any control is because Sasha absorbed her heart in the womb. Like I said, it’s “twist” is exactly what you thought it’d be.

I was really pushed out of the story for these issues, as well as the writing, and ultimately, I skipped around a lot just to look for the ending to confirm what I thought was going to happen.

And I want to put this out there: the synopsis says This Darkness Mine is about a “a girl at war with herself, and what it really means to be good or bad.” Being sexually active does not make you bad. The end.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding ★★★★★

cover110213-mediumSave yourself the time of reading my review and just go buy the book. I LOVED IT!

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.”

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a tale of betrayal and revenge, of old hurts passed down from generation to generation. Can you ever fully right a wrong, ever truly escape your history? Or will Prosper and Alastor be doomed to repeat it?

Bracken uses the perfect blend of darkness and humor. I loved learning about Prosper’s family history and reading Alastor’s many, MANY quips at Prosper’s expense as well as the numerous other humorous moments.

“If I had sat down at my desk at home, opened my spiralbound notebook, and tried to draw my perfect nightmare… it would have been adorable in comparison to this place.”

“Why is he talking like that? … It sounds like he swallowed a Pilgrim.”

“Do not keep my lord and master waiting. It is a school night and he has a bedtime.”

Alastor is hilariously bad at being bad, Prosper is steadfast and good, and I loved every second of their journey together.

Without giving away too much, know that Alastor has been asleep for 300 years and doesn’t know what traffic cones are for. And that scene alone should be why you pick up this book.

Before She Ignites ★★☆☆☆½

9780062469403_24007It sounded like it would be a great read. Fantasy. Anxiety. Dragons. But Before She Ignites fell short for me and I ended up putting it down about 75% of the way through.

Before

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

At first, the out of order narrative was intriguing. We bounced back and forth learning just what got Mira thrown in prison in the first place. The first few shifts in time worked like flashbacks and added to the story in place. But as the book went on and I learned more about Mira, and her personality, the more these shifts worked against the book.

You might assume that being thrown in prison by those you trusted would sparked a certain amount of forced maturity on a person. It might be a wake up call to an absurdly naive and privileged character, like Mira. But the flashes just showed me the same character.

Mira before and Mira after, aren’t significantly changed. I would assume getting thrown in prison and being starved and taken from a world of comforts would change a person. I don’t see strength in Mira, I see naivete.

She gets warnings at every turn: you don’t know who you can trust in the Pit. And her first actions are to trust the people in her cell block. Her excuse is that the friendliness is a custom on her island, but that’s just not strong enough for me. The friendliness should from Mira before, and be something to work back to for Mira after.

Her lack of change comes through strongly in the out of order narrative and it’s where the book lost a lot of stars for me.

 

But it wasn’t all bad. The anxiety, the part of the story which really intrigued me, was really well done. Although Mira has panic attacks for legitimate things and I really wanted to see her have one for no reason at all to really drive home to readers who don’t suffer from them just how obnoxious and intrusive they can be, her coping mechanisms were spot on. Her reactions and frustration with losing control of her of her body were accurate and I really enjoyed them.

But the one thing which annoyed me to know end was how the dragons were referred to. Always by full Latin-esque names: drakontos quintus, drakantos mons, drakontos aquis, drakontos raptus, drakontos titanus, drakontos mimikus, drakontosrex, drakontos maior, drakontos sol, drakontos ignitus, and drakontos milus. I understand that Meadows is trying to create a species and keep us thinking is sizes and colors, but the jargon for her world was tiring and it made the descriptions sound unnatural.

People say, “I have dogs” not “I have a black Labrador, St. Bernard mixed breed canine.” I think this could have been a lot better if the academic classification of the dragons had been less integrated into Mira’s narration.

Shimmer and Burn ★★★★☆

9781481471992_fca55Don’t you just love when you pick a book for the cover and the writing is just as beautiful?

To save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.

Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.

Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.

With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.

There were so many wonderful fantasy elements in Shimmer and Burn, and Taranta’s writing is so immersive that it was easy to get lost in it.

The opening scene is so powerful and dark and amazing and I knew after I’d finished the first chapter that I was going to be recommending this book to everyone. Faris’s mother attacks her on page one. There are so many emotions, questions, and eye openers in just that one scene there is literally no way for you to put the book down.

And it only got darker. Taranta was totally unafraid to kill these characters and there is no where, on any page, where I believed anyone was safe.

Faris’s characterization is wonderfully new in the world of YA. She is in no way, shape, or form a perfect little snowflake and I loved reading her. She makes mistakes and harbors a lot of guilt for them. She is incredibly well written.

The only place that Shimmer and Burn lost points for me was the romance, and that is really only because I’m tired of seeing that in my fiction. I always feel like romances take away from a character’s autonomy.

Shimmer and Burn is alluring and terrifying and deserves a very special place on your shelf.

 

Bad Girl Gone ★☆☆☆☆

31450580.jpgBased on the premise, I thought I’d really enjoy Bad Girl Gone. Well–I knew I’d have an issue with the “she’s blatantly dead why can’t she tell” part of it, but the rest of it I fully expected to enjoy.

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she’s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There’s just one problem: she’s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents’ car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive—but she’s not.

She’s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn’t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she’s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.­­­­

Echo is obnoxious and self-centered. I’m all for something focusing on personal development but I couldn’t make it far enough to watch her learn from her mistakes.

True to books I can’t stand–a love triangle is featured prominently. Echo loved Andy when she was alive. They even had obnoxiously disgusting nicknames for each other: rabbit and wolfie. Once Echo died, she fell for Cole. Because he’s super hot. Then she gets incredibly jealous when Andy is eyeballed by a new–living–girl and rushes to kiss Cole. And I wanted to hurl. Echo is literally every stereotype about teenage girls all rolled into one and it annoyed me to no end.

Everyone lacked a genuine personality and Echo’s mind reading power made her troubles too easy to get through.

Little Monsters ★★★★☆

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I don’t know if this is obvious, I love thrillers.

Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Recently, I posted a big long list of YA tropes, which you can view here. On it, are evil (cheerleader-esque) teenage girls. And there were a lot of them in Little Monsters. BUT… I love them so much. They’re so evil I love it. I’m a terrible person.

Kacey is a new girl in a small town. She had a big fight with her highly unstable mother and moved in with her father, whom she’s never met, and his family in Broken Falls. But lucky for her she made new friends: Bailey and Jade.

Queue my other least favorite tropes: girl goes to party, girl doesn’t make it home.

Okay, the party is presented like the usual “girl goes to party and tries drugs for the first time,” it’s a legitimate social gathering here and it’s huge, because Kacey wasn’t invited. As the summary says.

In a small town where everyone already has tight and long-form relationships, it’s not long before everyone suspects Kacey and she, rightfully so, begins to retreat inward and keep her loyalties to herself.

I did, despite many red herrings, guess the culprit, but I did suspect a few others before that.

I really loved the depiction of the small town, complete with its own local legends and universal small town culture. It really added to the general mood of Little Monsters.

I also loved the friendships. It was all so accurate about how complicated teenaged friendships can be. All the obsessions and jealousy was turned up for the sake of the story but it never popped me out of the book.

One thing that did bother me is Kacey’s “Mysterious Past,” which is never fully pinned down. It added to the mystery for sure, but definitely took away from the project as a whole. I think if Bailey’s journal entries, our only alternate viewpoint, could have been expanded to help us better understand Kacey.

Definitely a solid YA thriller and it’s already out! So go pick it up and… you know… don’t read it before bed. (You’ve been warned)

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls ★★★☆☆

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A little slow and a little weird, but definitely worth the read.

Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Food Poisoning #1 last year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is lying comatose in faraway Puerto Rico after suffering a stroke. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she never has before. She can share her deepest secrets and feel safe. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. As her life continues to crumble around her, the Estate offers more solace than she could hope for. But Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.

Let’s start with the awesomeness that is a bisexual main character. I really loved watching her come to terms with her sexuality and how that inward struggle prevented her from addressing her passions, as many inward struggles do. Her front most struggle is to create a second painting in a series about… well… food poisoning… a little weird but you do you. But her real struggle is not only coming out to her best friend but also admitting that she has more than friendly feelings for her. All great things needed in YA.

And even with that–it’s not really a romance. Don’t go into this expecting a romance. Go into The Gallery of Unfinished Girls expecting a coming of age story. Because that’s what this is. And honestly, I think we need more “coming into feelings” stories and less “having feelings returned” stories.

Now onto other things. The writing is not bad. It’s not meh, either. It’s actually a very well written book, but I wasn’t ever really drawn into the book. I blame the flat opening. A piano suddenly shows up on the front lawn one day and then… nothing really happens for a few days… I think the opening would have benefited from more magical things occurring to keep us interested. Instead, there is a lot of introspective downtime in front of partially complete canvases.

Which is totally relate-able to as a writer who has sat in front of many a blank screen before, but I need that summed up in my fiction.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it and recommend that you pick it up, but it’s not a must have or don’t bother.

Court of Wings and Ruin ★★★☆☆

23766634I finally finished Court of Wings and Ruin. I feel like it took me forever to get through and that’s where it lost a few stars for me. Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers.

A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

I loved almost everything about this book, so you might be wondering why I’m giving it three stars. I’ll get to that later. Continue reading “Court of Wings and Ruin ★★★☆☆”

Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora ★★★★☆

Definitely one of my favorite pieces featuring a second language since Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost.

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Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

For Arturo, summetime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

In Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex’s family heritage is present but not in the way that Arturo’s is.

Their life revolves around the family business and the family itself. Which was amazing. That was the sort of family that I grew up in and it made me feel right at home reliving those experiences. Especially with the mention of cousins aren’t really cousins but you call them cousins anyway. I had so many of those.

One of the greatest lessons I took from this book is that your family is important, but so is the family you choose. You see that with Arturo and his friends (especially in the Twitter DMs) but also in the community when they stand up for the restaurant.

My favorite part of the book, though, was Abuela, who only speaks in Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish. I had it once in sixth grade, and so my knowledge of the language includes numbers one through ten and a few greetings. But I knew what Abuela was saying.

Not because her speech was translated. Not because I looked up everything she said. But because the other characters just reacted to her and I took my context clues as I needed to – as I do when I’m at a friend’s house and their parents don’t speak English.

I loved the way her Spanish was included because I can see this book being used to introduce the language to not native speakers in the classroom, but also as a way for native speakers to shine in a class that isn’t taught in their first language.