The Abyss Surrounds Us

24790901If there’s anything that can be said for me, is that I love my fiction to have a hearty dosage of pirates. And queer girls. And queer pirate girls. The Abyss Surrounds Us is that, and more. So much more.

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Cas became one of my absolute favorite characters in 2016. She’s smart, cunning and strong. She’s not afraid to face off against a pirate queen and a legion of pirates for what she believes is right. She’s loyal and best of all, queer. It’s always so hard to find good representation in fiction; but The Abyss Surrounds Us was great representation of lesbian and POC characters. There was nothing to not like about this book. Emily Skrutskie knows how to weave a good, action-packed story and can wrench your heart out of your chest with all the strength of a Reckoner pup.

The semi-futuristic not-quite dystopian setting was perfect for pirates and sea monsters. It felt a little old-timey and a little futuristic and it was totally perfect for the story.

Cas’s relationship to Swift, the pirate girl that’s meant to keep an eye on her when the pirates kidnap Cas, grows naturally and out of mutual respect and fondness. The possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and it’s problematic nature within the story is brought up between both characters. But it never comes to feel like Stockholm Syndrome is the reason these girls fall in love.

The whole story was tense–will Cas escape, will Bao survive, what’s going to happen to Cas and Swift–but the finale was quite possibly the tensest thing I’d read all year. Literally edge of my seat. Well, bed. You get the point.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is everything I ever could have wanted and more. This is the book you need on your shelves if you like pirates, sea monsters or queer representation. Perhaps all three.

My Rating: ★★★★★

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

Magic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.

Freeks

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Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

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Bitter, bored, and sarcastic-Lizzie Lovett is a girl after my own heart. Want to go back to high school and talk to You: Senior Year Edition? Great. Because she’s in this book.

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

You remember them. The popular kids. They had everything and nothing bad ever happened to them. Hawthorn had one direct interaction with Lizzie Lovett and held onto it in the darkest place in her heart.

And when Lizzie went missing-Hawthorn didn’t care… sort of.

With her wild imagination, Hawthorn believes she figures out what happened to local dream queen Lizzie Lovett, but as she immerses herself into Lizzie’s life she finds out she not only doesn’t know what happened recently, but she didn’t know much about this girl she came to loathe entirely.

Hawthorn latches onto a few surface items about Lizzie, namely her love of wolves, and concocts an entire-fantastical-story about her disappearance. This is really where The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett lost a star for me but after that arc is over I really enjoyed watching Hawthorn come to terms with herself and her prejudices against a girl she never knew.

The character’s journey is always so important and watching Hawthorn grow and realize that the things she originally thought Lizzie lied about were just things that contradicted the girl she’d made up in her head was great. I was also 100% creeped out and a little outraged to watch as Hawthorn moved in on Lizzie’s life. I thought we were going to get a flashback any moment and find out that Hawthorn was a murderer. Spoilers: she’s not. But The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett could absolutely have gone in that direction and I would have been fine with it.

How To Prioritize Your TBR

As Book Nerds, we have a problem. That problem is our ever growing, never shrinking TBR pile that now needs its own house with its own mortgage. To help, we’re going to use/alter/reference the KonMari method.

Relax! We aren’t going to make you keep a max or minimum amount of books. We know you can’t be contained.

Step 1: Tidy All at Once

Instead of moving over days and giving yourself time and excuses not to attack the dreaded TBR pile, give yourself one day. You aren’t going out. You aren’t watching Netflix. You aren’t going to the bookstore.

Let’s repeat for emphasis.

YOU. ARE. NOT. GOING. TO. THE. BOOK. STORE.

You are going through your TBR pile and finally determining which books will be read, and which books you know in your heart, will never be touched.

Step 2: Visualize the Destination

Think in concrete terms. Do you want to read more Sci-Fi? Fantasy? Contemporary? Thrillers? Figure out what you’re going to tend toward or whether you want to challenge yourself with a new genre and tell yourself to focus on those titles.

Step 3: Does it Spark Joy?

Well, does it? Did a friend recommend that title to you? Did you buy it at a con? Did you get it at a table where you met your favorite author?

Or did you stop by a booth, grab a book you knew you wouldn’t read, and then just chucked it on the pile?

Step 4: Tidy by Category.

Marie Kondo says to tidy by category, not location. As a Book Nerd myself, I’m positive that you have books all over the house. Track down one genre at a time and look through them. Are you going to read those? Or would they be better off being donated to a classroom library?

Step 5: Tidy in Order

The KonMari method has a checklist and so should you. No one knows your tastes better than you do so list out your top five genres and move through your books in that order. Don’t be afraid to separate them into sub-genres. Space sagas and futuristic dystopias are both sci-fi, but they aren’t the same.


After you’re done combing through the books you might read, take a look back at the ones you have read. If you find that you don’t need to keep those, consider donating them to any number of charities who give books to lower income schools and families.

Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

28962906A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murder cases, right up there with the Black Dahlia, and tackling that case or even that time period is a difficult feat for any writer given the amount of prejudices readers will bring along with knowledge of the case.

I am always worried about historical fiction acting more like a museum that new characters are walking through as they explore a story that isn’t there own. But Maniscalco did a wonderful job adding her own characters and making this their story.

Perhaps my only real gripe is figuring out who Audrey Rose’s Jack was, and the subsequent half a chapter which tightly wrapped up any and all problems she encountered outside the brutally murdered women. I won’t tell you who it is so don’t worry, but I will discuss the end.

Throughout the story, Audrey Rose’s father constantly scolds her about living up to her place as a woman born into high society and looks down on her for studying forensic sciences with her uncle. Then–right at the end–poof! He’s totally fine with it. Even sends her off to a school to study it…

IN ROMANIA!

Along with her love interest.

It completely broke with the character that was built up for Lord Wadsworth and popped me right out of the story. Which, I’m not griping about as strongly as I could because it happened at the end of the book, but it definitely ruined what could have been five stars.

I definitely recommend Stalking Jack the Ripper, even with its terrible ending, because the rest of this book is amazing and beautifully written.

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House of Furies ★★★★★

houseoffuriesAfter escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house. But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.

Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure whom to trust?

Roux uses language like Austen and plots like Brontë. House of Furies is simply amazing and if you think it isn’t up your alley-you’re wrong. Do not smile. Do not frown. Do not, under any circumstances, put this book down.

Episode #32: An Interview with Chelsea Sedoti

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http://bookedallnight.podbean.com/e/episode-32-an-interview-with-chelsea-sedoti/

Listen to this episode and other episodes of the podcast on Podbean.

It’s interview central around here this month! Joining us this week is Chelsea Sedoti, author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett and the recently released As You Wish. We had a wonderful discussion about anxiety and writing and how we all handle the pressure.

Episode #31: An Interview with MarcyKate Connolly

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http://bookedallnight.podbean.com/e/episode-31-an-interview-with-marcykate-connolly/

Listen to this episode and other episodes of the podcast on Podbean.

This super special (totes late but you’ll love it) episode we were joined by none other than MarcyKate Connolly, author of Shadow Weaver, Monstrous, Ravenous, and more! If you’re unfamiliar with her work we highly recommend Shadow Weaver. You can, of course, listen to us gush over it in Episode #25 (which we also recommend).

Join us as we talk about middle grade literature, writing, Shadow Weaver, and play a little game of Burn, Re-write, Re-Read.

Episode #30: Double Feature

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This week we saw a double feature of Love, Simon and A Wrinkle in Time. Do you like to read the book first? Have you ever watched the movie and then read the book? Well that’s what we did for this episode.

http://bookedallnight.podbean.com/e/episode-30-double-feature/

Listen to this episode and other episodes of the podcast on Podbean.