Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

They Both Die at the End ★★★★★

33385229Holy mother of feels, y’all. I was warned this one had a lot of heart-smashing, toe-curling feels to dish out, and even thought I knew what was going to happen (because, regardless of how hard you hope, the title tells you everything you need to know about the ending) I still cried like a baby.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

I really really really wanted this title to be a lie. I wanted to have Mateo and Rufus survive and be happy and together forever and the entire time I had hope that the title was wrong and that I wouldn’t cry forever.

I’m not a fan of contemporary. I don’t hide that fact. But this was just enough fantasy to pique my interest and I was hooked. The ways the characters and the story intersected was amazing. I loved the little details that tied it all together.

Though the closer I got to the ending, the more I despaired. I was sure the ending was going to happen a certain way and then it didn’t, and Mateo’s and Rufus’s actual deaths were fitting and just so goddamn painful to experience. I was barely able to read with all that rain coming out of my eyes.

I did have a lot of unanswered questions about Death-Cast and how that came to be and how it all worked. I wanted more out of the story in a world building way that I didn’t quite get.

So, in summary: feels on feels on feels on feels.

Witchtown ★★★☆☆

30971734A mother-daughter witch duo that pulls heists as they travel across the continent seems like it would have been exciting, magical and engrossing. Instead, Witchtown was slow, vague and a bit of a let down.

When sixteen-year-old Macie O’Sullivan and her masterfully manipulative mother Aubra arrive at the gates of Witchtown—the most famous and mysterious witch-only haven in the world—they have one goal in mind: to rob it for all it’s worth.

But that plan derails when Macie and Aubra start to dig deeper into Witchtown’s history and uncover that there is more to the quirky haven than meets the eye.

Exploring the haven by herself, Macie finds that secrets are worth more than money in Witchtown.

Secrets have their own power.

That blurb alone made Witchtown, the haven Macie and her mother arrive in, sound like it was going to be creepy or deadly or something more than the dusty, plain small town it ended up being. Witchtown promised a lot but my expectations sort of fell immediately when the opening to the book started with a history lesson that toed a lot of lines, particularly when it referenced a massive systematic oppression that hearkened to a lot of what we’re seeing both today, regarding queer people and people of color, and what we’ve seen in the past, like in the times of Nazi Germany or the colonization of America and the subsequent, and still going, oppression of Indigenous peoples.

There’s a lot to unpack that wasn’t even mentioned in the first few pages of the book, and we haven’t even met our main character yet.

It took me a long, long time to get into the book. Call it what you will: a slow and boring start, a main character I wasn’t interested in, lackluster worldbuilding; but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Macie or the story until I was halfway through the book.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like WitchtownIt was a decent book, but it felt all over the place, tied through several unfinished and unexplored subplots, rather than one main thread.

I had expected a heist story, but that fell through almost immediately. Then I expected a mystery, where Macie tried to find out what was causing all the accidents and attacks. Then I expected Macie to start coming into her own power, but that never happened until the literal last few pages.

So little is actually explained and we’re only given poor vague reflections to try and orient ourselves. Not to mention that the town is so lackluster, I only imagine the town square and then a void surrounding it all. This is a town that’s supposed to be full of nothing but witches, it’s supposed to be quirky and different and full of people who come together as refugees from the outside world of non-witches, but it’s so boring.

Throw in a creepy, lying Prince Charming looking love interest and you have Witchtown.

If the story was really about Macie breaking from her mother’s heists to be with her new found friends, I might have liked it more. But it felt like a mishmash of different ideas hastily tied up that just sort of falls apart if you look at it too long.

I wanted to love Witchtown. I love magic and witches and twists and fun quirky towns. But it had so little of that, that I’m not quite sure what to call it. My favorite, though, definitely not.

Witchtown publishes July 18th, 2017. Pre-order it here!

Follow Me Back ★★★☆☆½

I love the cover. I love the format. And I love the alternating viewpoints. But I don’t love the third viewpoint or where it gets added.

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Follow Me Back was everything I wanted with experimental formats. Conversations are formatted to look like tweets, the accounts actually exist online (see @TessaHeartsEric and @EricThornSucks), the platform itself is used correctly and not altered for the sake of what is needed for the story, and the police transcripts add just the right amount of tension.

I loved all of that.

Follow Me Back accurately depicts the real struggles of those with anxiety disorders. Geiger did a wonderful job with Tessa’s character, always showing her high levels of anxiety and letting us know her feelings on it. There was a never a moment when Tessa didn’t acknowledge that her anxiety was irrational.

These characters are their own, which is so important given the viewpoints are short and we switch from Eric to Tessa after as few as two paragraphs.

When Tessa and Eric’s relationship starts to get serious, we finally get the third viewpoint. And – I think it could have been left out. When I got there-I had no interest in this new character, and only a few sentences in I had strong suspicions as to who it was, and I was correct. I don’t like being correct when I read thrillers – it takes all the fun out of it.

I very strongly recommend that this book finds its way to your shelves, even with its extra character. You won’t regret it.

Stealing Candy Spotlight & Giveaway

stealing.candy.coverCLICK HERE TO ENTER

Candy hates boarding school. As a junior, graduation is still eons away, and making films is the only way to survive the boredom.

Until she is kidnapped.

Candy panics. Along Came a Spider, Ransom, Taken, Cellular… Candy knows how these movies end. The only reason anyone would abduct her is to get a payout from her rock star father. Except Candy and her father are estranged. There’s no way he’s going to pay.

But with every hour that passes, Candy’s fear slowly recedes. Being on the road is freeing, not to mention great material for a new documentary. And the more time she spends with her mysterious and handsome captor, Levon, the more she learns the whole scheme is not just about ransom. It’s about revenge. What began as a kidnapping is spiraling into a crazy road trip adventure as Candy and Levon find a lot of wrong ways to do the right thing.

image003About the Author: Stewart Lewis is a singer-songwriter and radio journalist who lives in D.C. and western Massachusetts and frequents New York City. Stewart has had two YAs published by Delacorte (You Have Seven Messages in 2011 and The Secret Ingredient in 2013). Visit stewartlewis.com.

Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound

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The Hate U Give ★★★★★

32075671.jpgAngie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights, a predominant black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Angie Thomas’s Website

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Windwitch ★★★★☆

1I’ve got so many emotions about this one guys, I was a wreck reading it from start to finish. I loved Windwitch, and it definitely lived up to the high bar Truthwitch set up.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

It was a little weird to start Windwitch off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t exactly read Truthwitch. And before y’all get mad, I first listened to the audiobook. This was back when I first started commuting back and forth to school, so on my daily three hour car ride, I’d get through a lot of books. And Truthwitch was one of the ones I picked up one day. And I loved it so much I rushed out and bought a hard copy when I was done listening to it.

And now Windwitch is here and I actually read it. Listening to a book and reading a book are two completely different experiences. For instance, I never knew Kullen’s name was spelled with a ‘K’ (I always thought it was a ‘C’) and every time I read Iseult’s chapters, I heard the narrator’s voice (which was cool).

But Windwitch is a story that works in whatever format you consume it. Mainly, because it consumes you with emotion. I have so many feels about this story, about Merrik and Safi and Isuelt and Aeduan. I just want to hug all of them and tell them it’s going to be okay. The writing was immediately grabbing, the action had me staying up all night just so I could find out what happened, and let me tell you how much I fell in love with all the POV characters.

Windwitch is the sequel you don’t want to miss. This entire series is something you 100% need on your shelves. Plus, the third book, Bloodwitch, will be coming out soon! Not soon enough, mind you, but eventually!

Susan Dennard’s Website

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The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455If there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
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