blog tour · fiction · science fiction · YA

#TheWriteReads Blog Tour Presents Catalyst by Tracy Richardson

Hey guys! Welcome to the latest stop on TheWriteReads’ Blog Tour for Catalyst (The Catalysts #2) by Tracy Richardson (Brown Books Publishing Group, 2020). I’m your friendly first chapter review guide, so buckle up and I’ll introduce you to our narrator, but you’re going to want to don your tinfoil hat before we take off.

Meet Marcie. Upon first glance, she may seem like your average young woman, set to spend the summer helping her mother on her archaeological dig at Angel Mounds with her brother Eric and his girlfriend Renee. Not a bad way to spend a summer, right? But Marcie’s…different. She’s had some experiences with things not of this world, including a one-time connection with the spirit of a Native American girl that she was never able to recreate, but that always left her open to more, and wondering.

Almost the second Marcie steps foot onto the dig site, she recognizes that something’s up, something that not everyone is aware of. Zeke and Lorraine, two of the grad students, seem to be able to communicate with her just by thought, something that jars her and sets her on edge, especially because Zeke leaves her feeling uneasy. There’s something about them that’s maybe not quite right. It might be a long summer at this dig site…

Okay, I’m definitely intrigued. While I’ve never been a huge reader of paranormal books, when I was young, one of my favorite reads was The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts, about a young girl who can move objects with her eyes and who eventually comes across other kids like her. That’s the kind of paranormal stuff I enjoy reading about, and with Marcie being able to both communicate with spirits and hear other people’s thought communication toward her, I want to know more.

This first chapter invites a whoooooooooole lotta questions: What exactly is being dug at this dig site? What’s the deal with Zeke and Lorraine? Where did they come from and what’s their story? Are they dangerous? How can they communicate via thoughts, and why Marcie and no one else? What makes that possible? What’s the extent of their powers, and of Marcie’s? Are there more than just these varying ways of paranormal communication? Is there a how-to at the end of this book? (Yes? Please say yes.)

My reading time right now is so much more limited than usual, but this is definitely one I’ll be coming back to when I’m not trying to get through other stacks of books. From the blurb, this novel also pulls in environmental themes, which is *so* important, and I’m glad to see this cropping up in various genres of fiction. I’m curious as to how it plays out and if it manages to inspire the reader to be more proactive about caring for the environment without verging too far into the dystopian. Guess I’ll find out when I’m able to dive in further, but if you’re intrigued by characters with special powers (and seriously, aren’t we all, at least a little? Who doesn’t want to read minds and move things with their eyes and maybe fly?), Catalyst may be the escapist fiction you need right now.

Thanks to Dave at TheWriteReads and Tracy Richardson for including me on this tour!

Visit Tracy Richardson’s website here.

Follow her on Instagram here.

Follow The_WriteReads on Twitter here.

fiction

Book review: American Royals by Katharine McGee

This is the best part of reading challenges right here, finding new-to-me authors and new books that I love, especially ones that I might not have looked twice at if I hadn’t been prompted to pick them up. The only reason I even knew of American Royals by Katharine McGee (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019) was because it appeared as a suggestion for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge‘s prompt of a fiction or nonfiction book about a world leader. While I’ve enjoyed a few books about characters learning they’re actually royalty, I don’t know that I would have picked this up based on the title or the cover, but upon reading the synopsis, I was definitely intrigued.

Imagine that instead of becoming President, George Washington instead chose to serve as America’s first king. And instead of the American populace electing a (potentially new) leader every four years, the throne passed from father to son, until the law changed in order for the throne to allow women to reign as queen.

The Washingtons, America’s royal family, are the fascination of the country, especially since daughter Beatrice is set to succeed her father, the first future queen after a long line of kings. She’s prepared her entire life for ascending the throne, but despite her privilege, her lack of options in life are beginning to feel restrictive. Her younger sister Sam, known for being the wild child to Beatrice’s more uptight personality, has spent her childhood doing all the things Beatrice can’t; far from feeling free, she chafes at being the spare (being, of course, four minutes older than her twin brother Jeff).

When Beatrice’s parents reveal that she needs to pick out a husband, a series of events are set in motion that will pit sister against sister, reveal tragic secrets, and lead both sisters to fall deeply in love. But for royalty, the crown must come first above all other things, and difficult choices will need to be made by all.

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.

Ms. McGee tells the story of young adult royals in a multiple third person narrative that will have you turning the pages so quickly you develop a nasty case of tendinitis in your right hand and wrist (okay, maybe I can’t fully blame her for this, ow, but it didn’t help! Still worth it, though). Her characters are all so very well-rounded that they practically leap off the page and seem like real people you could actually Google. Over and over again, I wondered if maybe having a monarchy would have been the right choice; if it had led the country to a family like the Washingtons, it just might have been.

Beatrice is cool and regal on the surface; on the inside, she’s torn between her duty and responsibility to her country and her growing love for her guard, Connor. Sam is jealous of her older sister, but never so much as now, when Beatrice seems to be getting everything Sam always wanted. Nina, Sam’s best friend, is in love with Jeff, but can she ever fit in to palace life? And Daphne, Jeff’s scheming socialite ex, is always skulking on the edges, desperate to claw her way back into Jeff’s life and into a position as his future princess.

Ms. McGee has created deep, complex emotions behind these royal characters, but she writes them in a way that feels natural and never forced. It’s an amazing, fictional deep dive into about the most entertaining ‘what if???’ scenario I’ve ever read. It ends on a serious note, and I am HERE for the sequel, Majesty, which is due out in September 2020. I’ve already added it to my TBR, and for someone that’s not much into series, that alone should tell you how much I enjoyed this book. Racing the through palace halls, sitting down for a chat in the study, digging through the vault of Crown Jewels, waltzing at a ball, the settings for every chapter are fabulous and Ms. McGee puts you right there in the DC palace that you’ll wish were real from the first page.

While American Royals is classified as YA, I feel that it reads the same as adult fiction. The characters who narrate it are all in their very late teens or early twenties, but the style reads as easily as any adult contemporary fiction. If you’re not usually interested in young adult novels, don’t let that stop you here; this is a compelling story that deals with heavy emotional themes and makes for an enjoyable read for any age.

If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Was this a scenario you’d considered before? What led you to pick this book up? Are you interested in the sequel? If you’re American, do you think we’d be better off if Washington had made the decision to be king?

Visit Katharine McGee’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · horror · YA

#TheWriteReads Blogtour Presents: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Welcome to the latest stop on TheWriteReads’ blog tour for Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (Penguin, 2020). Harrow Lake is a young adult thriller, and you’re going to want to turn on every light in the house before you crack the spine on this one- or start reading long before it gets dark.

The book begins with an interview with Nolan Nox, famed horror movie director, whose daughter had gone missing a year before. Fall back in time and the story is now narrated by Lola Nox. After finding her father having been stabbed, Lola is unceremoniously shipped off to Harrow Lake, Indiana, to the home of a strange, distant grandmother she’s never met before, the mother of Lola’s own mother, who left, then disappeared, when Lola was five. Harrow Lake, the filming site of Nightjar, Nolan’s most famous film, is a spooky town. Collapsed mines that led to hundreds of deaths have provided the town myriad legends, including one resident-turned-mine-dwelling-cannibal, Mr. Jitters. Refusing to believe in stories, Lola begins to comb Harrow Lake for information, hoping to get to know the mother she barely remembers, but her search is impeded at every step.

Creepy townfolk. Eerie abandoned, caved-in mines with a collapsed church inside. A grandmother that seems half-mad on her best days. A mysterious figure who always seems to be watching Lola. Tiny hand-carved wooden insects that skitter and chatter on their own. Ominous shapes that move behind the wallpaper. NO INTERNET OR PHONE SERVICE. It’s every horror movie you’ve ever watched packed into one spine-chilling book, and Lola will need to gather all her wits about her if she wants to really learn the truth about Harrow Lake and what happened to her mother.

EEK. This was SUPER creepy. I haven’t read horror in years, but I loved it as a kid, and I deeply loved horror movies when I was young, so this was a flashback to my younger days. The hand carved wooden ‘jitterbugs’ in Lola’s mother’s room creeped me the HECK out, as did the constant references to Mr. Jitters. Harrow Lake seems about the worst vacation destination ever, and the weirdo townspeople add the perfect touch. Kat Ellis has really created a terrifying place- not quite Children of the Corn weird, but Gatlin and Harrow Lake could be sister cities.

Ms. Ellis really knows how to keep the reader guessing. It’s cliched to say that there are twists and turns on every page, but it’s the absolute truth here. Weirdness abounds in Harrow Lake and Lola, who is trapped there, is constantly thrown off by someone’s odd behavior, a strange noise, the phone lines not working, something else terrifying happening in the woods. It’s a mark of good horror writing for the reader to have their guard up THIS often because the terror never stops, and I don’t know how many times I said some version of, “OMG, just get on the road and WALK back home!”

The ending is as twisty as it gets, with a majorly satisfying conclusion that I found to be absolutely brilliant (and will remember Lola’s friend’s tactic should I ever need to use it!). Harrow Lake is a wild ride through a town I never, EVER want to visit. I’ll stay at home, where there are no collapsed-mine-mass-graves-with-creepy-cannibal-monster-people. But if you enjoy edge-of-your-seat horror that will keep you guessing until- I’m not at all exaggerating here- the very last pages, you’re going to want a copy of Harrow Lake.

Harrow Lake is set for release on July 9th, 2020.

Thanks to Dave at #TheWriteReads, NetGalley, and Kat Ellis for including me on this tour!

Visit Kat Ellis’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

(If you dare! *spooky laughter*)

fiction · YA

Book review: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

And back to work on my reading challenges from the comfort of my kindle! The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge list is in the front of my reading binder, so I’m going down that list first. A lot of their prompts have to do with the 2020 Olympics, which have been postponed until at least next year (and rightfully so; I can’t even imagine having that many people crammed into an Olympic village, along with all the spectators gathering together. FAR too dangerous right now), and next on the list was to read a book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics. What I’m able to easily get my hands on factors as heavily into my choices as much as what interests me, and since my library had a ebook of Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006, originally published in 1992), which was set in Sydney, Australia, that went on my list (this also meant I was able to add a pin to my map of the world, which I update every time I read a book set in a different country. I have fourteen pins so far this year!). I started reading the book, a large portion which deals with the main character’s illegitimacy, and I was confused. Do people still care about that? Is that an Australian thing? After a few chapters, it dawned on me after reading a line about the ongoing AIDS epidemic and realizing there hadn’t been any references to things like the Internet or cell phones, and off I went to check the Goodreads page. Sure enough, the book was originally published in 1992, when being a single mother was still very much looked down on, especially in certain communities. That made more sense. I adjusted the setting of the story a bit in my mind and carried on.

Josephine Alibrandi has lived her entire seventeen years with her illegitimacy hanging over her head everywhere she goes- at her fancy private Catholic school, where she’s a scholarship student and the other students constantly remind her she’s a bastard and not *really* Australian; among her large extended Italian family, especially her grandmother, who never let her mother forget her sins; among the wider Australian community, who looks down on her for both not having a father and for her ethnic background. But things are changing in her final year of high school. Josie’s met her father for the first time in her life. She’s dating a boy who challenges her as well as infuriates her. And her strained relationship with her judgmental grandmother is about to be pushed to its breaking point.

Josie’s quick to fly off the handle, but she has a lot to learn about life, about her family, about the secrets of the past and how we all carry them, and about how to handle life’s major ups and downs. Her grandmother isn’t quite who Josie always thought she was, her father might not be the demon she expected, and Josie…well, she’s still figuring out who she really is, and that’s exactly as it should be.

So. I didn’t quite love this, and part of it may be that it’s so…I don’t want to say old or dated, neither seem right, but it very much fits in with the style of how I remember YA being when I grew up (and I’m, uh…not quite old, but I’m getting there!). The story skips over major events, main characters tend to do a lot of shouting and throw tantrums (I get that teenagers do that, I have one myself, but older YA books lean towards their characters lacking a certain maturity, whereas YA today is far, far better about that and is way more teen-centric). Josie tends to go from zero to freak out at the drop of a hat in a way that didn’t feel natural to me. Though her relationship with her father vastly improves over time, something about it seemed off to me as well. I understood that she would harbor a lot of resentment toward his missing out on all the rest of her life, but she was forward with him in a way that didn’t feel authentic either. I also didn’t care for her relationship with Jacob. He pressured her far too much for sex, they fought more than they got along, and he occasionally dropped ethnic slurs at her, which should have been an immediate dealbreaker. I don’t know. A lot of this missed the mark for me personally.

There were parts that I enjoyed, however. I had no idea that Australians interned Italian-born citizens, especially men (and citizens of other nationalities, including Japanese, Italian, and even British), during the second World War. Josie’s family still harbors a lot of trauma due to this, and she discovers a major family secret that stems from this time period, which helps her to eventually better understand why her grandmother is the way she is. I know that Australia has problems with racism toward the Aboriginal communities, but I hadn’t realized that this extended to other ethnic groups as well. Apparently in the 1990’s, Italians weren’t well-liked in at least certain parts of Australia, and Josie suffered through fairly constant slurs toward her and her community. I’ve never understood that. Dislike someone for how they act or how they treat other people, but for where they’re born or their ethnic background? Something over which they have no control? That’s senseless. (And I’m not singling Australia out here; the United States has no room to talk on this matter.)

Content warnings: there are a few mentions of rape and one near-assault, and there’s a suicide near the end of the book, by a character who displays obvious (to the reader, especially to the modern-day reader) red flags through the entire story, so if these are sensitive topics for you, this may be one to avoid.

Looking for Alibrandi was an interesting story that didn’t fully capture me, although I’m always happy to learn new things and get a new perspective on the world. I’ve heard excellent things about Ms. Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road, however, so that’s still in my plans to read in the future.

Visit Melina Marchetta’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Not If I See You First- Eric Lindstrom

My favorite part of reading is getting to live in another person’s head for a while, to experience life from their perspective and see how it differs from my own. It’s fun to meet characters who are just like me, but I prefer it when they’re different from me in some major way and I can see the world anew. That’s definitely something I found in Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom (Poppy, 2015), which I found as a suggestion for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge prompt for a book with a character with a vision impairment or enhancement (a nod to 20/20 vision, something I definitely do NOT have).

Sixteen year-old Parker Grant’s life probably isn’t what she pictured it would be when she was little. Blinded completely at the age of seven in a car accident that killed her mother, her aunt, uncle, and cousins have now moved into her house after her father’s death via accidental overdose. She’s strong, though. Hasn’t cried yet, and she won’t. Her friend group helps to support her, and running- by herself, in the very early morning!- keeps her sane.

To throw more complications in the mix, her ex-boyfriend Scott, who is an ex for a MAJOR reason, is back in her life, though she’s doing a good job at replacing him with Jason, the nice guy from the shoe store who sold her her latest pair of running shoes. Parker can try all she wants, but she can’t outrun her past or the drama of her present for too long…

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Parker is…blunt, and that’s putting it kindly. Her personality comes off as brash and inconsiderate, and while I kept reminding myself that this was a teenager who had only recently lost her last surviving parent, it seemed as though this had been part of her personality her entire life and wasn’t a new quirk caused by grieving and trauma. I don’t mind a character with a sharp, snarky personality (such as Julia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter; I felt Erika Sรกnchez created in Julia a character whose struggles with depression and anxiety played out well in her sharp mouth and shortness with other characters), but Parker’s constant irritability and lack of tact as her sole personality trait grew tiresome to read. While I would expect a teenager who has experienced so much loss in her life to be belligerent and sharp-tongued, we’re rarely given a chance to see any other side of Parker, even in her own thoughts. A little more vulnerability would have gone a long way for me.

That said, I did feel that Parker’s blindness was covered well, and it almost became a character itself but without being a Major Issue. Her blindness just IS, it’s not something to overcome or struggle with, and that was something I definitely appreciated. Her independence (and occasional struggle for it) is strongly featured and was a pleasure to read. A friend once related a conversation she had with a parent of a blind child, and the parent had said the general rule she lived by was that if she expected something of a seeing child that age, she would expect it of a blind child as well. Thus, if she expected her seeing six year-old to scrape off her dinner plate in the trash and rinse it off in the sink, she would expect the same of her blind six year-old. I kept this in mind as I read and was pleased to see that play out, both in all the things Parker can do, the things she *does* require help with, and the nervousness with which her aunt handles her. Her aunt, who probably never expected to be raising her blind niece, doesn’t seem to have done any research or consulted with any experts on how to be her niece’s advocate and ally, and is a character who will get your hackles up in Parker’s defense. Her same-age cousin, however, doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s almost a relief at how normal (though full of tension!) her interactions with Parker are. Her regular friendgroup, however, is perfection.

The two love interests had me scratching my head a bit. Scott, Parker’s ex, doesn’t seem to have much of a personality beyond his affection for Parker and his desire to help her. Remembering that their major connection occurred when the two of them were in eighth grade puzzled me a bit- I know, I’m an adult reading YA, but even when I was younger, I had the wherewithal to realize that relationships that happen when you’re 13 aren’t exactly the pinnacle of what lifelong romance should be, and so Scott’s dedication as a 13 year-old boyfriend and the way he’s maintained these feelings all these years seemed…a little farfetched. Jason, the shoe store employee, starts out strong, and then fizzles out pretty hard. I wasn’t terribly impressed by either of them, to be honest.

So while I liked this book, or at least parts of it, I didn’t love it as a whole, though I did love the chance to inhabit the world of a blind YA character. One of my favorite books as a child was The Seeing Summer by Jeannette Eyerly, about two girls, one of whom is blind, become friends and then manage to escape a dangerous kidnapping. It’s a middle grade novel, first published in 1981, but my reread ten or so years ago revealed that it had held up decently over time. Other books I’ve read that have featured blind characters or focused on blindness itself include Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings (YA fiction), Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto (nonfiction), and For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney (nonfiction). If you’ve got any recommendations here, especially by blind authors, I’d love to hear them! (I know that author Kody Keplinger is legally blind; she’s a fabulous author and a great person in general!)

Visit Eric Lindstrom’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Two books by Nicola Yoon!

The parent education series that brings authors, clinicians, speakers, and other experts to our area is one of my favorite things about where I live- at one of the last events I attended, the director let us know that they’d just confirmed booking Tara Westover, author of Educated, for next year! Super excited about that. But next week, young adult author Nicola Yoon will be here, and since I’m never one to miss out on an author event, I prepared by reading both of her books.

First up was Everything, Everything (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015), because I own a lovely hardcover copy which I snagged at a used book sale last summer (right after I learned she’d be coming here). Madeline is stuck in the house- literally and quite permanently, a victim of SCID, commonly referred to as Bubble Boy disease. Her mother, a doctor, cares for her with the help of a visiting nurse; the house is equipped with an airlock, a mega-air filter, windows never open, and almost no one ever visits. Madeline does her schoolwork mostly online and spends her days reading, until a new family moves in next door. Olly, the cute teenage son who catches Madeline’s eye, begins to awaken in Madeline the desire for a bigger life, a life outside her bubble, but the risks she takes will end up revealing some long-buried secrets and truths about the health of her family.

After I finished that, it was off to the library to grab their copy of The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press, 2016). In a novel that’s reminiscent in certain ways of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, two teenagers with different backgrounds and ways of looking at the world meet and fall in love in the twenty-four hours before one of them is due to be deported. It’s a race through New York City, a journey to the heart and soul of identity, family, culture, home, and what it means to fall in love and make yourself vulnerable to another person.

Between the two books, I preferred Everything, Everything, even though I called the twist pretty early on. Madeline is a sympathetic character, and I loved the premise of a character who isn’t allowed to live in the normal world. Carla, her nurse, was my absolute favorite; without her, the story would never have gotten legs, and her willingness to take a chance, to defy Madeline’s mother (and her exasperation with her teenage daughter!) made her complex and realistic. Olly’s situation lends even more credibility to the story, and the culmination of it all is nearly perfection.

The Sun Is Also a Star was enjoyable, but I didn’t love it quite as much. While I respected Natasha’s commitment to science and logic (and understood her reasons for doing so), at times, her denial of the importance of emotion annoyed me, and her constant chirping of science facts was tiresome. Daniel is pretty great all around, but just like Nick and Nora, I didn’t find the premise of the book to be entirely realistic. I’m well aware of and remember acutely from my own teenage years the huge emotions that adolescents are capable of, but having these two fall that hard for each other so quickly, when Natasha is trying to square up her family’s situation…I couldn’t *quite* buy that she’d have the mental space for that at that particular time.

So now I’m ready and prepared to listen to Ms. Yoon speak next week! (That is, if coronavirus or the stomach virus with which my daughter is currently plagued doesn’t take us all down…) I’m glad I got these two read beforehand, because once again, I’m so far behind in my reading. I do have these two books and my library book discussion group book done for the month, though, so there’s that, which is nice. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Are you often able to attend author events? I used to go to them fairly frequently when I lived in the Nashville area, especially when the Davis-Kidd bookstore still existed and hosted them (*pours one out for Davis-Kidd, which was an excellent store*). There’s a local-ish store here that plays host to a ton of amazing contemporary authors as they pass through on book tours, but I haven’t managed to make it over there yet; most of the author appearances are at times when traffic would make it difficult for me to get over there. But one day… Most of the events I attend now are through this parent education group (anyone of any age is welcome to attend; it’s not just for parents), so I very much appreciate its existence!

Visit Nicola Yoon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

blog tour · fantasy · fiction · YA

The WriteReads Presents: Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls Blog Tour!

Welcome to the latest stop on The WriteReads’ Super Awesome Blog Tour for Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls (Brown Books, 2018, first published 2016). I’m happy to be a part of this! Urban fantasy isn’t my usual genre, but I’m always willing to challenge myself and read outside my normal box, and this was definitely outside- but in a good way.

Rune and Ryker are twins, but they’ve grown apart over the years, and Rune is bothered by this. She’s still there for her brother, who takes far too much delight in bullying Grey, the trenchcoat-wearing misfit from their hometown who ended up at the same college as them, but she’s none too happy with his recent behavior. Beyond that, Ryker has bizarre reactions to the supernatural just as Rune does- rage, mostly, and she can’t understand why.

Grey’s obsessed with everything supernatural and has been ever since that terrifying night years ago when he was attacked by creatures he’d never seen before. When they reappear in his life, just as Rune is starting to realize the two of them may have more of a connection than she previously expected, the two of them are whisked away to the safety- relatively speaking- of another dimension, where they learn the truth about their existence. Everything supernatural, every mythical creature and thing that goes bump in the night, is real, and Grey, Rune, and Ryker, who was kidnapped and taken elsewhere, are Venators, some of the last of their kind, a group once tasked with protection but overtaken by their own rage to the point of devastation of the world around them. The council demands their help, but there are serious games afoot, and Grey and Rune can never be sure who they can trust. Fairies, vampires, werewolves, goblins, shapeshifters, they’re all out there and they all have their own agendas. And where is Ryker???

ACTION. MAJOR ACTION EVERYWHERE. This isn’t one of those fantasy novels where the characters spend 90% of the book trudging through the woods (*stares in Tolkien*). Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) is high-stakes action and the pressure is ON. Grey (who is a fabulous character, an ugly ducking who becomes a swan and stands up for what’s right, even when it puts his own life at risk) and Rune are in the middle of it on every single page, fighting, running, jumping off cliffs (thanks to their newly discovered Venator powers!), sneaking through musty-smelling servant passageways to escape the castle in the dark of night. Ryker’s a full-on douchebag, but the novel isn’t focused on him; let’s hope he improves as the series progresses. I’m wildly curious to know his reaction when the camera pans to him in the next book!

I enjoyed the cast of magical characters: the terrifying, bloodthirsty werewolves, the manipulative fairies, the slick vampires, but my favorite character was Beltran, the shapeshifter who often appears in the form of a crow. He’s definitely got his own agenda, but there’s more to him than meets the eye, and I enjoyed every scene he appeared in. His appearance totally made the last major action scene.

Whenever I step outside my normal genres, I like to examine why I don’t read that particular genre more often, and I did come to some conclusions I hadn’t considered before while reading this- interestingly enough, it’s related to something my husband and I have been discussing recently. My husband is a very visual thinker; he’s a scientist and can usually picture exactly how any experiments he runs will work, because he can picture the mechanisms by which everything should function. This serves him well in computer programming as well. I can’t think in pictures like this. Even when I think something random like, “Okay, I’m going to picture a cereal box on the counter,” I can kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind of make a sort of mental picture, but I can’t hold it. I can kind of picture what my counter would look like if there were a cereal box on it, but only a brief glimpse. It’s fascinating how our brains work in completely opposite ways.

That said, I think that’s why I don’t read more fantasy (and it’s a genre my husband likes!): I can’t quite picture these magical creatures in my head, nor can I picture the settings that involve castles and labyrinthine mountain passes and forests. They’re not places I’ve been or creatures I’ve seen. With fiction, I can mentally set those stories in houses, in restaurants, in museums and shops and parks that are familiar to me and that I have a map of in my head. I can assign the characters physical traits of people I’m familiar with. Fantasy? Not quite so much; I can’t picture a green-skinned person in my mind because it’s not an image I’m familiar with in my everyday, boring life.

Isn’t that wild? I’ve never thought of it that way before, but I think I’ve got the answer as to why this isn’t one of my preferred genres, even though I LOVE seeing how excited other readers get over it! So it really does pay to step outside your boundaries now and then. You might learn something new about yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you’re into fantasy that doesn’t skimp on the action one single iota, Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) is worth a look- it’s a series, people! Devri Walls seems to be a wildly prolific author, so check out some of her other work as well on Goodreads.

I’m told that Ms. Walls will be answering questions in a video post after the tour, so if you’ve got questions, ask away in the comments! (Seriously, how cool is she for doing this???) I have a question! Ms. Walls, are you able to think in pictures and easily imagine all the fantastic supernatural creatures you write about, or does your brain work in a different way?

Thanks to TheWriteReads and Devri Walls for including me on this fabulous blog tour!!!

Visit Devri Walls’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

How to Disappear- Sharon Huss Roat

This book right here? This is why I enjoy reading challenges so much. Without the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge prompt for a book about or involving social media, I probably wouldn’t have heard of How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat (HarperTeen, 2017), nor would I have been drawn to it via title alone if I had caught a glimpse of it on the shelf while browsing the library shelves. Its title makes it sound a little on the thriller side of things, but this in-depth examination of the devastation anxiety can wreak upon a teenager’s life and the lengths one goes to in order to work around it and feel seen, is in a category of its own. This novel is brilliancy in book form.

Vicky’s on her own. Her lifelong best friend Jenna, the person she used as a cover and her safety in all social situations, has moved away, and as Jenna shows signs, via text and other online conversations, of moving on, Vicky feels as though she’s been thrown to the wolves. She has no other friends, and her terrible social anxiety has her hiding out in the bathroom rather than attend class (it’s that bad). After she overhears a pocket dial phone call where Jenna calls her pathetic, Vicky uses her Photoshop skills to provide photographic evidence that she’s more than just the sad, terrified girl Jenna used to know. But why stop at just one photo? Soon, Vicky’s ‘shop-ing herself into fantastical situations- riding Buckbeak’s back, attending a Foo Fighters concert in the 90’s, dancing with Ellen on the set of her show. And then her Instagram, which she’s named Vicurious, blows up.

People are connecting to Vicurious in an amazing way. Suddenly, Vicky realizes she’s not the only one who feels alone and afraid; even some of her classmates, who don’t realize that Vicky and Vicurious are one and the same, are commenting on her digitally enhanced photographic creations. For once, Vicky feels seen, and she responds by helping others recognize those around them who are hurting as well. Scary new changes are happening for her socially as well, but it’s when tragedy looms that Vicky will grasp her newfound power of Vicurious to save everything and learn that courage doesn’t mean being fearless.

I. Loved. This. Book. I understood Vicky so well. I didn’t make many friends on my own during high school; I never really hung out with anyone on my own whom I didn’t already know from early, early grade school. Yeah, thanks, anxiety. I’m still garbage at making friends, because I can’t get past the voice in my head telling me how awful I am and how not worthy I am of every new situation, but I’ve at least started pushing myself to try new things despite all of this (and it’s STILL scary!). All that’s to say that Sharon Huss Roat writes the struggle and manifestation of anxiety, both generalized and social, exceptionally well. Vicky’s scenes of sitting in the bathroom rather than go to class, fumbling her way through interactions with other students, and panicking over class projects resonated deeply with me, because they’re still all so very real for me.

Vicky losing her best friend to a cross-country move is painful, and their distancing even more so. Her mother tries hard to push her to become more social, and it’s clear from the start that she doesn’t understand anxiety or how it’s affecting her daughter. Her character is also spot-on; my mother, who wasn’t cursed with a terrified brain, acted in similar ways. They both acted from their own place of (mis)understanding and were doing what they thought was best, however frustrating it was for Vicky and me. Their intentions were good! Lipton, the classmate who becomes Vicky’s love interest, is a million forms of adorable. He misses the mark a few times but is accepting and encouraging only in the way that adorable YA love interests can be, and once again, if you’re looking for a swoony, super-sweet sidestory romance, this subplot is a fantastic reason by itself to pick this book up.

The social media aspects of How to Disappear absolutely shine (and made me want to re-download Instagram again! I had to take it off my phone when I was running out of space). Only hoping that Jenna would notice her Vicurious account and rethink who her best friend is, Vicky uses her Instagram not only to help herself feel better, but to reach out to others, to make them feel seen, to make them feel heard and noticed and not so alone. Not only does she start a revolution of kindness, she does so in a way that’s careful of her own mental health, instinctively stepping away when the pressure builds or when her newfound (yet anonymous) massive popularity becomes overwhelming. Never does she let it go to her head; she always maintains a certain distance and the proper perspective about it, and I think that’s an extremely important message in an era when we’re all constantly checking for likes and new followers.

How to Disappear contains talk of anxiety on almost every page, and there’s a frantic scene towards the end that speculates about another character’s potential suicidal ideation, so be careful if these aren’t things you can handle reading about right now.

But if you’re up for it, How to Disappear is an amazing ode to the difficulties and the painfulness of life with anxiety, what it looks like, what it feels like, and how we can exist and even thrive despite it. Take it from me, who has dealt with anxiety my entire life: this book is the real deal, and Sharon Huss Roat gets it. I definitely feel seen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Visit Sharon Huss Roat’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Let’s Call It a Doomsday- Katie Henry

I’ve loved Katie Henry ever since I read Heretics Anonymous last year, so I was super excited to read Let’s Call It a Doomsday (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019)- as soon as I learned of its existence, it went straight onto my TBR, despite the fact that its pub date was months in the future. I’ve been looking for it at the library for ages, but it had always been checked out (which is good! I never mind waiting; I’m happy that other people are enjoying the books I too want to read, and I always have a list of books I want to read that unfurls, rolls out the door, and heads for the Pacific Ocean, so, you know. No hurry). But this time, BINGO. It was in, and into my stack it went.

Ellis Kimball is obsessed with the end of the world. Nuclear disaster, earthquake, massive snowstorm, fires that wipe everything out, plague, she knows them all and she’s prepared for each scenario, keeping go-bags stashed at home, in her backpack, and in her locker. But her obsession is affecting every part of her life, including her family, and it’s after a session with her new therapist that Ellis meets the mysterious Hannah, who claims to have been having visions of the end of the world- visions that involve Ellis.

Buoyed by her acceptance into Hannah’s friend group, Ellis helps Hannah search for a young man she refers to as Prophet Dan, all the while preparing for the massive snowstorm that Hannah claims will bring the end of the world as we know it. But things get a little more complicated when Prophet Dan’s identity is revealed, and Ellis’s need to inform the world of its impending doom becomes urgent. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but faith, new friends, and the family who has been there for her all along might just be the answer to avoiding certain doom.

There’s so much to love about this book. Katie Henry obviously knows well what it’s like to live with anxiety (if not personally, than through excellent research and a deep sense of empathy), because there were quite a few times I was reading along and stopped to chuckle because Ellis sounded so much like what my brain does when I don’t stomp it back down. Her fears aren’t necessarily mine, but the thought processes are so similar, along with the constant negative self-talk, that I understood her well- though there are times when she and her mother, who is frustrated by a daughter she doesn’t understand and doesn’t know how to help, get into it, and Ellis eventually handles it in a more understanding and mature way than I would have. If your anxiety does center around disaster scenarios or the end of the world, however, Let’s Call It a Doomsday might either help or set off your anxiety, so please be careful.

I loved that Ellis’s faith and religious life- she and her family are active members of the LDS church- is woven into every aspect of the story. Family Home Evening is discussed multiple times, her family’s lax (so she feels) attitude towards food storage plays into her fears, multiple scenes are set before, during, and after church services, and how her religion may add to and help her anxiety is a huge theme throughout the novel. It’s not too often that you read stories where a character’s religion just is, without the novel having any ulterior motive, so I really appreciated this look at a religious teenager doing her best to live out her faith because of and in spite of her mental health challenges.

Hannah’s friends are great people; they’re smart, helpful, kind guys who protect the members of their group well, and this is demonstrated in multiple scenes, starting off when Ellis is warned in the beginning about Hannah having been through a hard time recently, and later on when Ellis overhears one of the boys trying to get Hannah to back off of something she and Ellis are doing that’s affecting Ellis negatively. The scenes with the guys were some of my favorites simply for eliciting such warm fuzzy feelings of friendship and trust. Tal, especially (who made me realized that the singer Tal Bachman’s first name is actually Talmadge, which I’d never considered before!), elicits a lot of warm fuzzies. The book is worth the read alone because he’s such a great character. That said…

I didn’t care for Hannah at all. I figured out her schtick almost immediately, and while I felt for her, she seemed too manipulative and sneaky to care as much about her as I did everyone else. To me, it felt like she was using Ellis and taking advantage of her anxiety to further serve her own needs, and that left a terrible taste in my mouth. Had I been in charge of the story, I would have changed how their friendship stood at the end, but I also understand why Ms. Henry let it play out as it did, and that didn’t change my enjoyment of the book itself.

Let’s Call It a Doomsday is a great read, to be read with some caution if you struggle with anxiety, but overall, to be enjoyed for the story of growth and self-acceptance that it is. Since it was published in August, it fits the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge prompt for a book published during your birthday month, so I can check another one off that list!

Visit Katie Henry’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Full Disclosure- Camryn Garrett

It makes my reader heart so happy when books on my TBR match up with prompts in reading challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to learn about new books and new authors; that’s the whole reason I participate in these challenges! But I’m also deeply invested in taming my TBR beast and keeping it under control (*nervous laughter* let’s not talk about how many books I added to the list this month…), so it made me ridiculously excited to find Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019) on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge list for the prompt about a book featuring one of the seven deadly sins (lust, in this case). I added this to my TBR the second I learned about it last year and this was the first time it’s been available at the library when I’ve checked for it.

Simone Garcia-Hampton is doing her best to settle into her new school. She’s made two new best friends and has been named the director of Rent, the school musical. It’s a big change from her last school, where, when word got around that Simone was HIV-positive, the ostracism and hatred, even from the parents, was too much for her to bear and she was forced to leave. She hasn’t told anyone from her new school yet, not even her best friends, but Miles, the handsome lacrosse player, is making her think that someday soon, she’s going to have to speak up in the interest of honesty and full disclosure.

That day may be sooner than she wanted. Simone’s been receiving threatening letters in her locker, letting her know that someone out there is fully aware of her positive status and doesn’t want her hanging around Miles. If she doesn’t break things off with him, her secret will be out of the bag. Simone’s scared, angry, panicked…and worried about what being HIV-positive really means for a long-term future with someone she loves.

I loved this. Camryn Garrett’s voice is fresh and modern (there’s an offhand comment in the book where one of Simone’s friends talks about her dog eating her DivaCup, and I love that menstrual cups are well-known enough amongst teenage girls for this to appear in a young adult novel!), and Full Disclosure is well-researched, timely, and important. I’m old enough to remember the days when HIV was a death sentence, sometimes a rapid one, and the fact that Simone is able to take a single pill per day and live a completely healthy life, her viral load eventually becoming undetectable (undetectable viral load means the virus is untransmissable, as the novel states many times), seems pretty miraculous (yay for science and the hardworking researchers who made this possible). HIV, when treated, is more of a chronic condition these days than the harbinger of doom it once was, and Ms. Garrett really drives that point home in a novel that feels vibrant and alive. It’s education that doesn’t feel like education; it just feels like a really great story, with the added bonus of learning an awful lot about what daily life with HIV looks like.

Despite being HIV positive, Simone is just like any other teenager, worrying about sex and relationships, her future, friends, her teachers, her responsibilities at school, and her parents’ relationship. Though the story centers around her condition and what it means for her immediate and long-term future in terms of romantic relationships, she’s no different than her friends with her concerns and cares. Her best friends, who belong to the school GSA (one is…I can’t remember off the top of my head if she’s lesbian or bisexual; the other is ace- my first time seeing an ace character in a novel, which I appreciated!), are loving and accepting in all ways, and Miles, Simone’s love interest, displays more maturity and acceptance than his parents. As a parent, I understood their concerns, but very much appreciated Ms. Garrett’s showing that younger generations are often far more easily accepting of difference than adults are. I see this often in my daily life, and I work hard to fight it in myself. I don’t ever want to stop learning, stop understanding new information, and become stuck in my ways and refusing to grow and change with the times. The kids are alright, I think, and I’m hopeful for when my son’s and daughter’s- and Camryn Garrett’s- generations take charge.

I’m so looking forward to reading more from Camryn Garrett in the future. Her voice is fabulous, and her characters are so complex and full of life. Her ability to craft a story that demands the reader’s attention while cramming them full of important information is #goals all the way. Keep an eye on this author, folks- only seventeen years old when she sold this book? She’s amazing, and she’s here to stay.

Visit Camryn Garrett’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.