Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
In prep for reading my ARC of Namesake I re-read Fable & I was struck again by how lush & gorgeous it is. It’s a thrilling adventure.
Namesake picks back up with Fable, West, the rest of the Marigold crew, Saint, et al. & it’s another wonder-ful offering from a prodigious talent. I’m so excited by Adrienne Young’s writing—what stories she’s already put into the world & what will come—but Namesake doesn’t quite live up to Fable in my heart & imagination.
Hopefully I won't spoil too much of Namesake’s plot in this review but it feels more circuitous to me—as does Fable & West’s romance, which is tested by the same mistakes they make over & over again.
While Fable often questions West’s decision-making in this book—she considers how far he’s gone, how far he’s willing to go—there’s a moment where I feel like he goes too far & Fable kinda drops it. He crosses too big of a line for me.
Like Fable, Namesake has beautiful, evocative language & moving storylines about family & place in the world. I love its moments of tenderness & Young’s writing can stop me in my tracks. But overall I have some issues with Namesake that leave me having enjoyed it but not falling in love as I did with the first book.
4⭐️. Namesake is available 03/16.
Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: did you ever go to a camp? I went to a church camp once when I was a kid & got stitches on my chin after trying to show off for a boy on the see saw. He was not impressed 🥴.
I thought Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute was adorable & I couldn’t *wait* to get my hands on You Have a Match.
Featuring Abby Day, a grieving 16 year old who’s also trying to recover from the humiliation of having feelings for the best friend who doesn’t have feelings for her, You Have a Match takes it one step further on the emotional scale by having Abby learn her family’s biggest secret after taking a DNA test: she has an older, biological sister named Savvy.
Abby & Savvy make plans to get together at the same summer camp where they’ll try to figure out what happened: how their parents know each other & why they haven’t known anything about the other sister until after the test.
At camp, Abby will also try to put the Big Embarrassing Incident—when she tried to kiss her best friend Leo—behind her, a feat made more difficult by the fact that he is in fact at camp with her.
This is a heart-stirring & emotional YA contemporary that takes place in the charming locale of a summer camp. Seeing Abby make new friends while getting into hijinx, form a strong bond with her seemingly total opposite sister, figure out what’s going on with Leo, & take charge of her photographer dreams is really sweet. It just is.
My only real quibble with this one is that the situation with the parents after they find out what their kids know feels so big & I wasn’t entirely satisfied by how it plays out on the page. Not that it wasn’t well done; I just wanted something more—especially with Savvy—because there’s so much emotion there.
Lord has a deft way of writing stories that pull me in & make me invested, & while Tweet Cute is still my number 1, You Have a Match cements Lord as one of my fave YA contemporary authors.
4.5 ⭐️. YHAM is out now.
Q: have you ever gone to a different country? Which one(s)?
Today I’m coming to you with the most special treat of a book: Laura Taylor Namey’s YA contemporary A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea & Tomorrow.
Told in writing that’s often lyrical, ACGGtTaT is both a story of grief & celebration as Lila Reyes copes with suffering three recent big losses & being sent away from the loving arms of her family to live in Hampshire, England for a summer.
After her beloved Abuelita dies—the woman who taught Lila how to bake—& her long-time boyfriend breaks up with her, & her best friend changes their graduation plans & moves to Africa for work instead, Lila is unmoored. Her protective, loving family decides that the best thing for her is a temporary new environment.
Lila leaves Miami, her family bakery, & her family (internally) screaming. But spending time with some of her other family in England, running the kitchen in their inn, & becoming friends with the local tea shop owner’s son, Orion Maxwell, make her see that her life & heart can follow a new map .
This beautiful book gives such love to place whether it’s Miami or England. Vivid descriptions; characters who delight in the world around them & the things they create; & food-rich scenes—mostly of Lila baking Cuban and/or English recipes—make for a sensory feast.
Lila’s confidence is inspiring & her relationship with Orion, their friendship that doesn’t stay just a friendship, is so sweet & banter-filled. While I did have a slight problem with the romantic timing of it all—esp given that Lila had just gotten out of a 3 yr relationship—her relationship with Orion moves so slowly, so gradually, that I was okay with it. And honestly, they’re so great together. So.
This lovely contemporary gave my heart the boost it needed last week. I highly recommend it & I’ll be singing its praises for a while into the future.
5⭐️. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I don’t even quite know what to make of Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury. I think I started with certain plot & character expectations & the book kept blowing them up. This made for a reading experience that was both captivating & somewhat disorienting & I didn’t feel like I had quite found my footing until the end.
Beginning in Normandy in 1792, A Golden Fury tells a story centered around alchemy.
Thea has long worked for & with her famous alchemist-mother Marguerite. They’re very close to creating the White Elixir & then hopefully the Philosopher’s Stone when her mother cuts her out of the process & kicks her out of their lab.
Thea has never looked to her mom for kindness but this last betrayal is huge.
On the same night that Thea discovers that her mother has figured out how to create the Elixir & the Stone, her mother seems to have gone mad & tries to murder her.
Out of other options Thea travels to meet the father she’s never met before but not before grabbing some of the White Elixir. She will make the Stone on her & cement her reputation as the foremost alchemist.
But things never go as one hopes...
Inventively plotted & featuring complex characters, A Golden Fury is intriguing. I love the focus on female alchemists, how Thea constantly rises above the narrow expectations men have for her & forges her own way again & again.
This critique likely reveals my own biases, but while I loved that Thea is often unlikeable, there are times that I find her unadmirable & hard to connect to as well. Ditto for most of the other characters, who rarely do “good” things & who live in a world that mostly feels dark & unsettling until the end--which feels a little too hopeful to be entirely believable to me.
(Just to be clear: I don’t have to like and/or admire characters to love a book but in this one the individual characters seem portrayed unevenly & I had a difficult time emotionally connecting to them & to the book itself.)
On balance, I appreciated how unpredictable this book is, how it took me for a thrilling ride that wasn’t afraid to venture into dark territory, but I also didn’t feel overly invested in any of the characters or their fates, & that's a bit of a disappointment to me.
3⭐️. A Golden Fury is available on 10/13. Thanks to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: what’s some of your fave YA fantasy lit.? Drop them below and help a woman out!
Wow. I’m going to start with some of the typical words I see in fantasy reviews but honestly, Adrienne Young’s Fable *is immersive. I did feel transported. And a little awed, tbh.
Like the other books of Young’s I’ve read, Fable features a strong young woman (major understatement) who has to fight for herself. Her food. Her shelter. Her life.
Years before, after her mother died, the man that no one knows is Fable’s father dropped her off on a thieves’s island & never came back. Now she’s a dredger, someone who dives underwater & finds pyre that she can sell to traders. Every block she brings back to the surface is working toward her ticket off the island & back to her father.
When things go pear-shaped Fable makes an earlier exit than she planned—on the ship of West, a helmsman who regularly purchased her pyre & the closest thing she has to someone she can trust (but that’s still a long way off). He & his crew want nothing to do with Fable. But they’re all drawn together in ways they probably don’t want to be.
Some fantasy books have the worldbuilding down beautifully but they lack the emotional component that makes a book really stick for me. But Fable has both & her story grabbed at my heart.
I love love love that Fable is a female character who makes her own way, even as my heartstrings were pulled at what she’s gone through & how visceral those images are. Her life’s been all about strategy & survival since her father left her but she’s still soft in some ways. Still able to be shocked. Still able to care.
The only aspect of this book that feels a little thin to me is her relationship with West. I watched it develop rapaciously & gobbled up every little sign but I’d love to see more emotional intimacy between them. Hopefully that will come in the second book!
Fable is far from a lighthearted read. It’s sometimes violent & sad & scary, but it also made my heart happy.
Fable is out on 09/01. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
🥇Q: what superlative would you give your high school self?
I randomly started Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Today Tonight Tomorrow one day last week when I thought I couldn’t get into any books. Then I couldn’t stop.
Rowan Roth & Neil McNair have been battling over high school achievements since freshman year & now that graduation is almost here, the ultimate prize—valedictorian—will be revealed. Rowan doesn’t get it, and when she realizes that she also hasn’t met any of the goals on her Guide to High School Success, she hinges all of her hopes and dreams on winning a Senior scavenger hunt.
Today Tonight Tomorrow has:
⭐️ A prickly heroine (but only with the hero. TBH, there is one occasion when I thought: ooof harsh). Rowan secretly wants to be a romance novelist & has lots of interesting—and relatable—thoughts on why women are shamed for reading and writing them.
⭐️ A highly freckled cinnamon roll hero with lots of secrets.
⭐️ Fantastic Jewish rep. Both leads are Jewish, something they discover in the book.
⭐️ A slow burn and a love letter to Seattle.
Today Tonight Tomorrow is sex-positive and funny, and might have you sagely nodding your head in agreement with its lovable characters’s observations. Highly recommended for fans of Jenn Bennett & Julie Buxbaum, Solomon’s book wooed me ardently and I can’t wait to read more.
Today Tonight Tomorrow is out on 07/28. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Marisa Kanter’s contemporary YA What I Like About You is super cute and also hard-hitting, like that one pocket-sized woman on Friends who Joey dates and who fiercely punches him when she laughs.
On her mega popular bookstagram and Twitter accounts she’s Kels, an amazingly inventive YA reader who pairs books with cupcakes and whose best friend is Nash, whom she’s never met in person. IRL she’s Halle, who’s very uncomfortable in some social settings, doesn’t have many (any?) friends except her brother, and stumbles across Nash at a library in a town she’s just moved to. She should just tell him who she really is—his online BFF Kels. But feelings.
As they start spending more time together, things predictably get confusing. Her own budding feelings for Nash are complicated by the fact that Nash actually has a crush on Kels, which he’s never revealed to her, and she actually is Halle & Kels, even if the guy she really likes doesn’t know that.
Yikes. Though the beginning of this conflict feels kinda thin to me—Halle doesn’t really seem to consider the long-term effects of her deception—by the middle and end I was agog, waiting to see how she and Nash would get over the hurdle. I had hope, but Halle really does some questionable things throughout the book that merit quite a bit of forgiveness. And I actually loved that.
But while Kanter really brings our sweet & snarky Halle to a moment of reckoning, she also shows how it’s possible for someone to take solace in social media anonymity, to hide their true opinions behind it, and to step away from their phone when things start feeling too hard. That’s the temptation of online life.
Kanter also gets major points for featuring a diverse cast of characters, engaging with mental and emotional health from panic attacks to grieving, and tackling general conversations surrounding YA books, like matters of audience.
This is a romance but even more than that, it’s a self-mance (this is me running with that word) and I was there for it.
4.25⭐️. What I Like About You is out on April 7, 2020. I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
When I read a Julie Buxbaum YA book the feelings flow, whether the book’s related to losing a parent (the amazing Tell Me Three Things) or the recent college admissions scandal. The latter’s the topic of Admission and Buxbaum makes it hurt, overtly wrestling as the book does with themes like low self-esteem, uncertainty over the future, especially when one can no longer 100% trust one’s parents, and the deleterious nature and effects of white privilege, whether someone’s actively trying to sustain it or trying to ignore its very real existence in their own life—even as they benefit from it.
Chloe Berringer is the daughter of famous actress Joy Fields. It’s time to apply to college and Chloe realizes how difficult it’s going to be to get into the right school with average grades and an average SAT score she hasn’t been able to bring up. Her parents hire Dr. Wilson, a consultant who’s going to help her apply. With his help Chloe gets into her dream school...and then it all comes crashing down.
Admission's told from a Then and Now perspective and comparisons of Chloe and her family across that time-span give the reader a lot to chew on. I’ll be honest: I really like this book but I can see how the moments when Chloe’s painfully “oblivious,” short-sighted, or stubbornly forcing her head to remain in the sand, when she’s so soft and can’t even think of an application essay topic because she isn’t sure what bad life event or circumstance she can draw on—could easily frustrate, alienate, and/or anger a reader. Or the times when Shola, her Nigerian American friend, has to hold Chloe accountable for the things she says and the way she lives her life...like she “deserve[s] everything.” And then there’s the general premise that Chloe and her family are rich and her parents are so not satisfied with their already tremendous advantages that they’re willing to pay a humongous amount—and commit fraud—to orchestrate Chloe’s acceptance to a specific school.
Buxbaum gives us those moments.
She also gives us Chloe’s self-awareness and her general awareness of how her family did wrong. Chloe’s determination to be better and do better. Her secret pain—that she’s not enough—that pops up again and again in harsh ways, even in the book’s final chapters—no matter how much her parents love her. How she wrestles with the fact that she's "betrayed" people, too, even though her parents were the ones actively seeking Dr. Wilson's help.
It’s those aspects of Chloe’s story—coupled with my own past (and to some degree present) as a sheltered, protected, spoiled girl who benefited from white privilege (and still does) and who said (and to a much lesser degree, says) things that reveal my own complicity in white privilege that made me connect to her.
Chloe’s mother Joy seems loosely based on Lori Loughlin and her actions help drive the book. But her daughter Chloe is the focus here, the one arguably most affected. The one whose future is dashed on the rocks, who loses people and things, and who—like her guidance counselor suggests—has the most opportunity to grow. If she takes advantage of it.
I don’t think that this book will be loved by everyone. The topic, the main character, the family, are too polarizing for that. But I love how Buxbaum boldly tackles the topic of white privilege and the admissions scandal, how she shows the unattractive bits of Chloe and her family humanely, without writing them off for good, and how she portrays the consequences of it all. Some of those aren’t pleasant but like Chloe says, the view from the bottom can be pretty good.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for my complimentary ARC of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
The Magnolia Sword—a Mulan re-telling written by the inimitable Sherry Thomas—is a kick to the senses. It’s an evocative trip to ancient China told in the voice of a very resourceful, very brave woman, Mulan.
Mulan follows the dictates of her father and lives her public life in the guise of her long-dead twin brother. She’s the person who’ll represent her family in the long-held duel between her family and an enemy family, the Pengs, to determine which family will win a set of coveted blades, and she’s the person from her family who volunteers for the draft when soldiers come calling for men to protect their Empire.
No one can know her secret or she risks bringing dishonor on her family and making them lose the reduced possessions they have left. But it’s hard to keep a secret like this in the army when quarters are tight and conditions are rough, and the princeling who leads her into war might be the same man she’s responsible for dueling at home.
Sometimes hidden identity stories get kind of ridiculous because the author might attempt to maintain a story’s suspense by allowing her/his characters to look naïve/silly/incapable of seeing what’s right in front of them forgodssake. But I love how Thomas does it in The Magnolia Sword: how Mulan is questioning and skeptical regarding the identity of the princeling without being overly paranoid; how some questions are answered fairly soon but others are left in mystery until the end.
The revelations unfold in a way that makes sense for Mulan’s character, just as they make sense in terms of the princeling’s.
And speaking of the princeling, his characterization is divine. I never knew how much we need to read about heroes who are physically strong/willing to take on almost any threat and also freely admit their many fears until the princeling. His sensitivity—and my response to it—was at times surprising and feels refreshing.
Thomas’s powerful depiction of women in the story—chief among them Mulan—is even more nuanced. Some of them can nurse grudges as faithfully as they can nurse children. I love how astutely Thomas chooses when to put Mulan’s specific insecurities/pride/worries regarding her identification as a woman and her set of circumstances at the forefront, and when to put them in the background.
Mulan’s eyes are repeatedly opened throughout The Magnolia Sword and we’re reminded of truths with her. This book tells the story most of us (many of us?) have heard before, about a woman-soldier in disguise who fights for her empire, but it’s also a story about how words have an impact and how language and history matter, whether we’re talking on a personal level or a global.
In the end, The Magnolia Sword has flash and adventure and quite a lot of sweetness, but it also has the gorgeous impact--the whatagreatwriter moments--that I’ve come to associate with reading a Thomas book.
4.25 out of 5 stars.
(A note that felt out of place earlier in my review: I also appreciated how diverse the story is relationship-wise, and how Thomas doesn’t shy away from at least the suggestion of same sex relationships among men and relationships among people of different classes.)
Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary copy of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
If there’s ever a book to get lost in, it’s Jenn Bennett’s The Lady Rogue.
First of all, that title. Second, nearly every other thing about the book.
I’m not kidding: this cross-Asia-and-Europe adventure of thrilling proportion—set in 1937 and featuring an intrepid heroine and hero on the hunt—is so great. The Lady Rogue seems to have been created with maximum entertainment in mind, from the journal excerpts to the legends to the Big Bad Ring itself, and it succeeds beautifully. It’s sassy, smart, and bold, like the heroine herself.
Theodora (Theo) Fox can’t believe it when her father Richard “Damn” Fox abandons her with a companion so that he can search for a magical ring believed to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. But her father doesn’t return when he’s supposed to. Instead, Richard sends Huxley Gallagher, or Huck, in his stead, with his mysterious journal and warnings about the danger his search has put them all in.
Theo’s great quest takes off with her looking for her father, who is looking for a ring, while she’s accompanied by the young man, Huck, who broke her heart.
Bennett makes these characters come alive. Their motivations, quirks, and insecurities are blissfully and skillfully made clear, and I felt like I came to know them. Also like I would love to read a book written by nearly any one of them, or perhaps join them for tea on a very long train ride.
And you can see history’s charisma in The Lady Rogue, too: it’s in the description of the hotels and trains, the towns Theo and Huck visit, the caravan they stay in, the stretches of wilderness they pass through, and it feels cinematic in nature. Like one of those gorgeous classic films, when everything was done in a big way.
Zingers fly between Theo and Huck but there's also an underlying camaraderie that can't be ignored, even if they were estranged for over a year before the book opens. The book is pretty chaste, but the passionate feeling between Theo and Huck explodes off the page.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporaries (if you haven’t read them yet, do that already), and I was so excited to see that she was writing YA historical fantasy and that she was super excited about this book. You can sense that excitement—that joy—from beginning to end. The Lady Rogue is fun, even as Theo and Huck are scared (nearly) witless, even as they try to figure out a way out of the messes they’re in.
And I'd follow them every step of the way, because Bennett makes it impossible to do otherwise.
Give me that HEA, please.
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