Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards – Review

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

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Thank you so much to Edelweiss for the advanced copy of this thrilling novel! I am such a sucker for elevator-script type stories. Ones that stick to mostly one location, forcing the characters together for better or for worse. Sprinkle in the dire and emotional conditions of this road trip, and you’ve got a truly captivating adrenaline rush that you won’t be able to put down. This book you CAN judge by its cover. The staggering view on a lone car in the snow surrounded by the chaotic, blood-red description of the group we will be following for the duration of the narrative is a promise– one that is followed through and sealed with a gut punch.

We meet Mira as she is headed home to spend Christmas with her mom. It’s been a year since her aunt passed away, and she is dealing with grief but also guilt when she finds out that a snowstorm had headed into the area; making most modes of travel halt. Harper, Mira’s seatmate from the plane, decides to rent a car and rounds up a group of stragglers who are all desperate to get to their destinations for very different reasons. Against her better judgement, Mira joins them, and thus embarks on the most harrowing journey of her young life. Together, these five total strangers face not only the storm, but a possible impostor in their midst. It’s a race against time that you can feel, paced by the beating of your own heart.

I was very happy with the pacing of this novel. Many thrillers stretch out a slow burn, which is hit or miss for me. Here, we are introduced to our cast, the setting, and the circumstances and were immediately off to the races. It also kept me guessing the entire time. I had a million different theories about what was happening between these characters and none of them were right. The suspense built beautifully, and as the weather worsened so too did the resolve of our five explorers. Tensions rose higher and higher, culminating in a high stakes last chapter where all hell breaks loose. If you’re looking for something to pull you out of a reading slump, I recommend this book! It will make you hungry for more– and the atmosphere is perfect for December!

5/5 stars

In The Study With The Wrench by Diana Peterfreund – Review

In the aftermath of Headmaster Boddy’s murder, Blackbrook Academy has been thrown into complete disarray. Half the student body hasn’t bothered to return to campus—but those who have include Orchid, Vaughn, Scarlett, Peacock, Plum, and Mustard, now warily referred to by the other students as the Murder Crew. When another staff member is found dead and an anonymous threat begins to target the group, each of the teens’ opportunistic reasons for sticking around come to light. Orchid’s identity comes under question while Vaughn’s family life takes a turn; Finn and Mustard grow closer; and Scarlett and Beth struggle to turn over new leaves. All of this comes to a dramatic head at Tudor House with a cliff-hanger… 

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this sequel! I also received the first one via NetGalley, and I loved how it took the beloved board game and morphed it into a fun, intense, and suspenseful young adult novel. I was so excited to find out that it was going to be a series, and ‘In the Study’ did not disappoint! We have our ‘usual suspects’ back and murder seems to follow them. Despite there being familiar faces– the content is a breath of fresh air; a new exciting plot that will leave you speechless.

I thought that this installment was a good window into how life changes after trauma. The ‘Murder Crew’ try to go back to their normal lives, but the smell of death follows them like an obedient dog. The group rises to the occasion once another body is discovered, however, and new bonds are forged through it. There are so many twists and turns throughout and nothing is what it seems. Between the new background characters and the further development of the kids we have grown to know and love– this story is rich in humanity. Despite the fantastical air of it all, it is a novel that has a lot of heart in the midst of the spooks.

This is a perfect fall read– one that you can break out as the nights get longer and the weather gets colder. I can’t say much for fear of spoiling both this one and the previous release, but I will tell you that I am so excited for the third installment. There have been so many popular reimaginings of attractions from the past, but none of them have caught my attention the way Diana’s series does. If you like Clue, mystery, and/or the fun elements of YA novels (witty banter, the bittersweet taste of young love, the freedom of a life just starting to begin), then this book should be your next read. Just make sure you take in the ‘Knife’ first!

5/5 stars

We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu – Review

From debut author Cole Nagamatsu comes an atmospheric contemporary fantasy about three teens coming of age in the wake of a mysterious death.

Last summer, Link Miller drowned on dry land in the woods, miles away from the nearest body of water. His death was ruled a strange accident, and in the months since, his friends and family have struggled to make sense of it. But Link’s close friend Noemi Amato knows the truth: Link drowned in an impossible lake that only she can find. And what’s more, someone claiming to be Link has been contacting her, warning Noemi to stay out of the forest.

As these secrets become too heavy for Noemi to shoulder on her own, she turns to Jonas, her new housemate, and Amberlyn, Link’s younger sister. All three are trying to find their place—and together, they start to unravel the truth: about themselves, about the world, and about what happened to Link.

Unfolding over a year and told through multiple POVs and a dream journal, We Were Restless Things explores the ways society shapes our reality, how we can learn to love ourselves and others, and the incredible power of our own desires.

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Thank you to NetGalley for this eARC from an incredible debut author! A literary trope that I will pick up any time that I see it is impossible interactions through any type of phone function, and that is the reason that I was originally attracted to the synopsis of this novel. Little did I know that the conversations between Noemi and her late fling Link were only the tip of the iceberg. Link died mysteriously in the forest outside of Noemi’s house– it was ruled a drowning, but there was no water to be seen. We join Noemi, Link’s sister Amberlyn, and the new kid Jonas as they find their places in Shivery, Minnesota, and attempt to solve the riddle of the woods.

This is truly a coming of age story; fear, mysticism, and love run rampant through these pages. The magical realism lends itself very well to the transition between teenager to young adult, as well as the incomparable trauma that comes with losing a friend so early in life. There are so many variables, and the ground feels ever changing beneath your feet… or sometimes, you find a deep, dark lake that has inexplicably appeared in the midst of your safe space. All these metaphors for the uncertainty of life are beautifully woven between our narrators. Noemi deals with her guilt; not only over Link but because of the fact that she feels like she can’t get close to anyone, and because of that, she feels broken. Amberlyn begins to fill the hole her brother left behind as she spends more time with her friend Lyle, and figures out her sexuality at the same time. Jonas attempts to make a new name for himself in this town while he falls for Noemi but constantly feels the cold cast of Link’s shadow. All three come together to put their fallen friend to rest once and for all.

Without spoiling anything, I thought that the reveal of what was truly going on in the forest of Shivery was unique and beautiful. The build up to that release felt so heavy and foreboding, but by the end, you have a feeling that somehow, everything is going to be okay. All of the characters were so diverse and had their own journeys that they were working through, and as you learned more about them, you realized more and more not to judge a book by its cover. There was a lot of living put into these pages. As you read, the lives seem to jump off the page at you. The way that Cole included bits and pieces from Noemi’s dream journal made everything that much more personal, and it felt as though these people were your own personal friends by the last line of the novel. I think Cole created a harrowing, supernatural look at what it’s like to grow up– and beautifully captured the ugliness that exists therein.

5/5 stars

Everyone Dies Famous by Len Joy – Review

As a tornado threatens their town, a stubborn old man who has lost his son teams up with a troubled young soldier to deliver a jukebox to the wealthy developer having an affair with the soldier’s wife.

It’s July 2003 and the small town of Maple Springs, Missouri is suffering through a month-long drought. Dancer Stonemason, a long-forgotten hometown hero still grieving over the death of his oldest son, is moving into town to live with his more dependable younger son. He hires Wayne Mesirow, an Iraq war veteran, to help him liquidate his late son’s business.

The heat wave breaks and the skies darken. Dancer tries to settle an old score while Wyne discovers the true cost of his wife’s indifference and turns his thoughts to revenge. When the tornado hits Maple Springs, only one of the men will make it out alive.

“Everyone Dies Famous” is a story from the heartland about the uncommon lives of everyday people – the choices they make, how they live their lives, and how they die. 

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I was sent this novel from FSB Associates, and was already incredibly taken with the title before I even cracked the spine. One of my favorite Miranda Lambert songs, ‘Famous in a Small Town’, deals with the same concept; that when you’re from the smallest of communities, anything you do will be seen, heard, and scrutinized. Life in Maple Springs, Missouri is no exception. We are presented with a rural area on the verge of drawing life and visitors back to the area when disaster strikes. In the beginning chapter, a tornado rips through the sleepy area, and then we get to see the moments before tragedy. What follows is a beautiful character study divided into five separate voices, and in those accounts we see the hidden heart of Maple Springs, and the broken people keeping it alive.

I’ve lived in one small town or another my whole life, and so this novel felt like home to me. I recognized people I know and love in the faces of the jilted veteran, the grieving father, the girl and her beau with dreams far larger than the space they’re in. It was so easy to fall for these characters, and to care about each one. As they were woven into each other’s stories, you start to slowly see the connections tethering them, and how close some are to breaking. Joy has done a fantastic job of painting different shades of grief across this narrative; some with a yellow beacon of hope and others with the black tinge of despair. It was an emotional rollercoaster, especially knowing the horror that awaited these people who are trying to get their lives back together. It is extremely lifelike in that way; you never know how much time you have, and it certainly beckons the reader to rise above the waters of life that threaten to drown them.

Through its diverse cast of characters and the idyllic setting, this novel gives you stories that will live on long after you have read it. You will ache with wishes that these families that have been torn asunder will find themselves whole again. It’s a short read, but an important one. I think everyone deserves to die famous. I think Joy’s work shows that no matter what type of life you lead, there will always be whispers following you. However, it’s the people closest to you that will carry you with them. The running theme of Dancer Stonemason’s late son, Clayton, still being such a prominent figure in the hearts and minds of our narrators speaks beautifully to the book’s title, and the unlikely friendship between the father and a young National Guard soldier reminds you that even after loss, there is always another adventure to be had.

5/5 stars

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer – Review

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

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I have been a TwiHard for as long as I can remember. Having grown up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, supernatural creatures have always had a thrall over me, but none so great as vampires themselves. When I was a teenager, the Twilight Saga was incredibly popular, and as such, my self-proclaimed emo personality wouldn’t let me give into such basic pursuits. Then, the movies were released. Upon seeing Edward, Bella, and the rest of the motley crew living in Forks on the big screen lit up my curiosity. Thus, an obsession that would last me my whole life long was born. I have felt the void of the series for awhile now, longing for the tumultuous love stories of my childhood. So, when I heard that Stephanie was finally releasing Midnight Sun, I was overwhelmed with joy. Upon reading the novel, that only grew and grew.

YA readers of all ages know the story by now– the lion falls in love with the lamb and so on. However, what Midnight Sun gives us that the rest of the series never has is newfound insight to Edward’s thoughts throughout the events of Twilight. It adds much needed expatiation to the Cullen family– my favorite being that of Emmett Cullen. Through his interactions with his family and the telepathic conversations held with his brother, Edward, we seen his compassion and his humor. This extends itself through all of the characters: crowning Jessica Stanley the next Regina George, displaying Angela Weber’s pure heart, and the discordant notes of Renee and Charlie Swan’s thoughts that came together so perfectly to make the enigma that is Bella Swan. In addition, we finally get to see the mind behind the golden eyes. It gives the romance new life as we are allowed to see just how much Edward cares for Bella, and the motivation behind each of his decisions.

Yes, there have been a few re-tellings of Twilight that have come out since the series has ended, but I think that every one of them is important in its own way. Midnight Sun has been a passion project that Stephanie mostly wrote out for her curious mother– and the way she has grown as a writer through the years is undeniably apparent. The effect it all has had on the fandom in this time of uncertainty and chaos has been irreplaceable; and I speak from experience. Stepping into the comfort of these pages that I had long since left behind was just like the hugs I sorely miss. It was nostalgia and rebirth all at once. I think that it will lead new generations to the saga, and I hope that they find a home in it as much as I did once. I’m sure there are no plans to continue the series in this way, but rest assured, we fans are extremely interested. If you loved Twilight even a bit, take this monster on. You’ll let out a breath you didn’t even know you were holding. 😉

5/5 stars

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf – Review

In powerful, vivid verse, the master behind The Watch That Ends the Night recounts one of history’s most harrowing–and chilling–tales of survival.

In 1846, a group of emigrants bound for California face a choice: continue on their planned route or take a shortcut into the wilderness. Eighty-nine of them opt for the untested trail, a decision that plunges them into danger and desperation and, finally, the unthinkable. From extraordinary poet and novelist Allan Wolf comes a riveting retelling of the ill-fated journey of the Donner party across the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Brilliantly narrated by multiple voices, including world-weary, taunting, and all-knowing Hunger itself, this novel-in-verse examines a notorious chapter in history from various perspectives, among them caravan leaders George Donner and James Reed, Donner’s scholarly wife, two Miwok Indian guides, the Reed children, a sixteen-year-old orphan, and even a pair of oxen. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, select character biographies, statistics, a time line of events, and more. Unprecedented in its detail and sweep, this haunting epic raises stirring questions about moral ambiguity, hope and resilience, and hunger of all kinds.

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Most everyone knows the story of the Donner party– from historians to thrill-seekers alike. I myself am the latter; having always been morbidly interested in the humans that were so hellbent on survival that they made the hardest decision of their lives… which of course, was whether or not to feast on the flesh of their friends, lovers, and fellow travelers. Having read many a fictional account of this dangerous journey, I am always excited to see what a fresh eye will make of the tale. What Wolf has brought to the table that I have never seen before is a stunning amount of empathy woven into the most beautiful verse that actually made me take pause and consider the plight of these families instead of just satiating my gory curiosity. It was a brilliant show of emotion, history, and a dive into the ever-present eye of Hunger.

For those who may not be aware, the Donner party was made up of a hearty band of emigrants who were attempting to make it to California to settle untouched lands. They ended up using an untested route that was said to cut precious time off of their trek before winter hit, but through a series of mishaps and wrong turns, the group of farmers and their families soon found themselves stuck in the earliest snow any of them had ever seen. From there, things quickly became dire and dark. Companions were left behind, animals were sacrificed, and as the food started to run out and the pioneers themselves started to die from exposure and starvation– their loss was treated as the survivors’ gain. Man, woman, and child alike were carved into as if they were hogs led to the slaughter. It was because of this ultimate sacrifice that any of the remaining party made it out alive, as the rescue efforts to retrieve them were scantily outfitted and were only able to take a few members at a time.

I am such a sucker for unique storytelling devices, and Wolf’s triumph is littered with them. There are accounts from many prominent figures in the Donner party, all told in a form of poetry specific to them. My absolute favorites had to be Patty (the Angel), whose vignettes were all told through prayers, and the slowly deteriorating voices of Buck and Bright (Baptiste’s prized oxen) who sang a back and forth dirge. The flow between characters was seamless, and you truly fell in love with these characters. Each loss was heavily felt, and as their names were added to the snowfall between chapters, the rising tension was as present as the undeniable hunger. Which, speaking of Hunger, I thought that it was a masterful move to use the feeling as a narrator of sorts. Who better to tell the story of these wayward wanderers than the presence that fuels us all? It is in every decision we make. Our hearts hunger for connection, our minds hunger for challenge, and our stomachs hunger for sustenance in an undeniable animalistic way that cannot be ignored.

All in all, this saga of endurance and desperation that has trickled down through the centuries remains unchanged, but Wolf has breathed new life into it. Not only did he painstakingly use actual letters and accounts from the party’s own members, but he also took the time to lay these works out for the reader at the end of the novel– including some biographies of the surviving members to show how their lives progressed after the conclusion of the nightmare. It was such a personal thing to read, which I think the verse greatly lends itself to. There is a bevy of pain, loss, and longing within these pages that I couldn’t help but identify with, and for the first time, I feel like I am truly seeing these adventurers for who they are, instead of the acts that they committed. The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep is a calculated plea for empathy, which is something I feel like we all need right now. I recommend this book with full faith that readers with all kinds of hunger will enjoy.

5/5 stars

Gaijin by Sarah Sleeper – Review

The Japanese word gaijin means “unwelcome foreigner.” It’s not profanity, but is sometimes a slur directed at non-Japanese people in Japan. My novel is called Gaijin…

Lucy is a budding journalist at Northwestern University and she’s obsessed with an exotic new student, Owen Ota, who becomes her lover and her sensei. When he disappears without explanation, she’s devastated and sets out to find him. On her three-month quest across Japan she finds only snippets of the elegant culture Owen had described. Instead she faces anti-U.S. protests, menacing street thugs and sexist treatment, and she winds up at the base of Mt. Fuji, in the terrifying Suicide Forest. Will she ever find Owen? Will she be driven back to the U.S.? Gaijin is a coming-of-age story about a woman who solves a heartbreaking mystery that alters the trajectory of her life.

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Pictured: Author, Sarah Z. Sleeper

Thank you so much to Running Wild Press for the copy of this lyrical debut from ex-journalist Sarah Sleeper! The plot, when looked at for the first time, seems like a fantastical journey that would take a lot of effort to relate to. However, even though the novel is mostly set in Japan and is rife with other customs and lifestyles that readers may not be familiar with, it is, at its core, a story about finding your way in this thing we call life. Who among us can’t relate to that struggle of thinking you’ve found your path, only to end up drowning on dry land? Sarah’s protagonist, Lucy, shows us, in an incredibly creative way, how it is a human trait we all share.

Lucy decides to search for Owen, a man of Japanese descent that she had been teaching who disappeared from her life. She uproots everything to move to Okinawa, which is in the middle of a crisis. Between this stress and find out some possibly horrific news about Owen himself, Lucy is crushed. Nothing is turning out as she planned, and it’s up to her to figure out what she’s really doing in Japan. Is she only trying to solve the mystery that is this man she thinks she loves, or is she on a greater quest to understanding that perhaps other cultures are not as mystifying or different as some would have us believe. She ends up learning that maybe we’re all gaijin in a way; muddling our way through life and never truly connecting with others, just passing like ships in the night.

This book was beautifully written, and you could clearly tell that Sarah has been practicing her craft for most of her life. It flows incredibly well and makes this story a very quick read, and an insightful one. It shows the strength and intensity of first love. It explores the pain and the beauty of growth and change. It holds the term ‘outsider’ close and turns it into something to be celebrated. It reminds you to keep going and to follow your heart, even when all seems lost. This novel is a sad but uplifting tale, and it was very fun to see a side of the world that I may never experience first hand. See below for an excerpt!

5/5 stars

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher – Review

Sparks fly between two teens as they grapple with grief, love, and the future in this unforgettable debut novel sure to entice fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer E. Smith

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.

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Thank you so much to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the advanced copy of this truly inspiring YA release. From the whimsical cover with its title that mirrors my own name for my book blog to the plot synopsis that left me breathless– I had so many reasons to be deliriously excited about this debut. What I wasn’t prepared for was exactly how much the story would mean to me. All through my life, books have been my escape. I know that, comparatively, my life has been very privileged and easy, but growing up is always painful to some degree. Losing myself in a story lessened that, as well as helped me form bonds with like-minded individuals. So too did this narrative begin; with a novel that formed the groundwork of the friendship that would change Amelia’s life.

Our protagonist was looking for a way to leave her broken home behind for a bit as she stood in front of her local bookstore. A classmate of hers, Jenna, saw her through the window and recognized something in her. The two girls meandered the shop as Jenna picked up Amelia’s broken pieces and handed her the gift of literature. They returned to Jenna’s house that night physically, but the girls spent the night with their minds firmly planted in alternate universes spectacularly crafted by masters of the pen and page. This is when Amelia first visited Orman. ‘The Forest Between the Sea and the Sky’ resonated with Amelia in the way I’m sure any reader will recognize. We all have a book or a series that made us feel like anything was possible, like we were the heroes, and like we were seen and heard. The girls found their counterparts in the sisters written into the plot, and as their friendship blossomed throughout the years, so too did their fascination with the novel and its author, N. E. Endsley. When a plan to meet him goes awry, Amelia is left devastated, but soon learns the true meaning of the word. Jenna passes away, possibly leaving behind a mysterious copy of a book that shouldn’t exist, and Amelia follows the trail to put her friend to rest. What she doesn’t count on, however, is finding herself in the process. Against all odds this search leads her to Nolan, the boy behind N. E. Endsley. He is quiet, scared, and broken like her. The more she finds out about him and the Michigan town she’s spirited herself away to, the more alive she feels for the first time since Jenna left her side.

There are so many things that I love about this book that I don’t know where to start. Amelia is such a strong and relatable character, and I felt her pain as my own while she is suddenly loosened from the bonds that held her firmly to earth and seems to be floating aimlessly. Jenna was her rock; having taken Amelia into her family and planning both of their lives. It’s mostly the latter that haunts Amelia; and the look at just how damaging others’ expectations of you can be is so sobering. Not only does she want to honor the memory of her friend, but she doesn’t want to upset Jenna’s grieving parents even more than they already are, even if it means losing herself in the process. Nolan shows us how trauma effects someone long term, and it is painful, unpredictable, and easier when shared with others. The town of Lochbrook is incredibly charming, housing an exciting array of personalities from Wally, the bumbling horse of a dog to the spitfire piano teacher, Valerie. It would be a fairytale setting if not for the air of tragedy that surrounds it. Despite that, you can feel a clear change between the crowded and memory-ridden streets of Dallas and the whale-streaked skies of Lochbrook. It’s like the world goes from grey to technicolor as Amelia realizes she may have reached Orman after all.

Speaking of Orman, I always admire authors for creating a book within a book, and the lore included for this fictional narrative is intriguing and lovely; something I can see myself picking up in real life. I am head over heels for how the story was a vehicle for so much positive change in this world. Ashley Schumacher really shows off how much magic a novel holds. It has the power to bring you to tears, to mend your heart, to make you smile– all from words on a page. She knows that it is up to the readers to use those words, and that they will interpret them however they need them at that moment. So, as Amelia’s life turns from the fantasy she imagined, she begins to write an autobiography instead. It’s hard work, but she finds her way to living for herself, which I think is a huge message for readers of all ages. This book will remind you to keep that spark alive within yourself; the one that says ‘I am, I am, I am’ with beautiful imagery and chapters that are so easily devoured I could have finished it in one night. However, like Nolan, I despise endings, so I was loathe to let this one go. Just like in existence, though, all things come to an end, and I am a more hopeful soul after having been touched by this poignant story of love and life.

5/5 stars

The Mall by Megan McCafferty – Blog Tour Book Review

Synopsis:

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with the following information!

New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty returns to her roots with this YA coming of age story set in a New Jersey mall.

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

Review:

5/5 stars

Thank you so much to NetGalley for sending me this ARC and to Wednesday Books for inviting me on the blog tour! I was excited to read it the moment I saw it was set in 1991, which was my birth year. I’m a 90s baby, so of course most of my memories and formative years are set in the early 2000s, but I have a deep love for my birth decade and the music, pop culture, and fashion that came out of it. Growing up in a small town, the only ‘fun’ thing to do for miles was to go to the mall. I have since moved to another such rural area, and recreation opportunities have, not altogether unsurprisingly, remained unchanged since I was a child. Because of this grounding thread in my lifetime, I knew that no matter what year I was born in, I would relate to this story. Reading it, however, I found out that it was more than the place and time that I would find familiarity in. This novel is a coming of age story that will pull on the heartstrings of all its readers; no matter what generation they hail from.

We are thrust into the middle of Cassie’s seemingly perfect life. She has started a new job with her boyfriend of two years, and the two of them are planning their life together post-high school. Summer has arrived, so the joy of the inhabitants of this New Jersey city is at an all time high. It is a renewal that is much needed; especially for Cassie. She just got over mono, which knocked her out of commission for things like prom, graduation, and the first few weeks of life at her local mall’s America’s Best Cookie, so it finally looks to be the start of a beautiful season. However, she is accosted on her first day back outside of her home with an inordinate amount of change. These unexpected hurdles send her reeling straight out of her relationship, her job, and the person she thought she was. As she picks herself back up again, she finds a safe space within the halls of the Bellarosa Boutique; surrounded by Drea, her ex-best friend from fifth grade, and a treasure hunt that brings the two of them together. Through Drea’s encouragement and Cassie’s hard life lessons, we see this girl change before our eyes. She learns to love again, but this time– she’s loving herself.

I was overwhelmed by the consistent theme of being you, no matter what that means. For Cassie, it’s a complete overhaul; she realizes she doesn’t have to be the prim, proper, and perfect overachiever that her ex-boyfriend fell in love with. She starts to take risks, both mentally and physically, and is a better person because of it. For Drea, it’s understanding that she deserves to follow her dreams outside the mall. For Cassie’s parents, it’s figuring out who they are apart after years of being staplegunned to the other’s side. For Cassie’s maybe beau, the boy formerly known as Sam Goody, it’s stepping away from a life that has made him unhappy for so long to focus on the present. There are so many characters struggling in their own way within these pages, and despite the issues that they have, they find a version of happiness that suits them. It’s incredibly uplifting, and even at 28 I am still figuring out who I am, so it’s heartening to see that journey from ages 17 to 40-something in this book. It reminds you that you’re never too old to start again, to take risks, and to be happy.

The references in this book were fantastic; the treasure hunt alone was littered with relics of a bygone era, lyrics from shows and bands from the decade are strewn throughout, and there is a distinct smell in the air that the book just naturally exudes of denim, hairspray, and the chlorine from the mall fountain. It brought back the mall I remember from my youth which has now lost its own fountain and closed up many of the shops that used to be so prevalent then. The bookstore my grandmother used to take me to every weekend so I could pick out a new R.L. Stine novel may be long gone, but Spencer’s and Bath and Body Works are still going strong, and the food court is still the happening place on a Friday night. In this way, The Mall felt like home, and the hi-jinks that the varied cast of characters gets into reminded me of nights out with my best friends in high school; looking at things we didn’t have the money to buy, having scavenger hunts, and just being young and alive. There is so much energy in this novel. I felt electrified as I was reading it and just was not able to stop. I recommend this to any adult trying to recapture what it felt like to be unencumbered and surrounded by seemingly endless possibilities, and to any teenager grappling with the daunting task of growing up. There’s something here for everyone, just like the book’s namesake.

Author:

Find Megan on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/meganmccafferty

Megan McCafferty writes fiction for tweens, teens and teens-at-heart of all ages. The author of several novels, she’s best known for Sloppy Firsts and several more books in the New York Times bestselling Jessica Darling series. Described in her first review as “Judy Blume meets Dorothy Parker” (Wall Street Journal), she’s been trying to live up to that high standard ever since.

Early Praise:

Hear more buzz about this nostalgic tale!

“The Mall was to 1991 teenagers what the iPhone is to today’s generation: EVERYTHING. This delightful novel about that particular time and place is loaded with fun, warmth, intelligence, big hair and an even bigger heart. I loved it.” — New York Times bestselling author Rachel Cohn

“Both a laugh-out-loud pean to those bygone cathedrals of the 1990s, and a zippy coming-of-age tale, THE MALL is a delightful read for any generation. So tease your hair, grab your hotdog on a stick and prepare to have a freaking blast!” — Gayle Forman, New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay and I Have Lost My Way

“What a pleasure it is to spend time in a McCafferty universe. Her writing is sharp, smart, sexy and oh-so-real. I’ll read her forever.” — Rebecca Serle, New York Times bestselling author of In Five Years

“Totally rad! This former 1990s mall teen loved The Mall, an ode to tall bangs, boys with good taste in music, and female friendship, set in the only place that mattered. What a joy to have a new book from Megan McCafferty, who knows exactly how to make us laugh, cry, and fall in love with her characters.” — Amy Spalding, author of The Summer of Jordi Perez and The New Guy

“A delightful, funny, sweet and affecting real life adventure with such a big heart, it’ll make you cry the happiest tears. The Mall is something special.” — Courtney Summers, New York Times bestselling author of Sadie

Sneak Peek:

Click below to read the first chapter and prepare to finish the excerpt wanting more!

The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal by Clint, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy with art from Carey Pietsch – Review

START YOUR ENGINES, friends, as we hit the road again with Taako, Magnus and Merle, the beloved agents of chaos from the #1 New York Times Bestselling books The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins and The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited.

Our boys have gone full-time at the Bureau of Balance, and their next assignment is a real thorny one: apprehending The Raven, a master thief who’s tapped into the power of a Grand Relic to ransack the city of Goldcliff. Local life-saver Lieutenant Hurley pulls them out of the woods, only to throw them headlong into the world of battle wagon racing, Goldcliff’s favorite high-stakes low-legality sport and The Raven’s chosen battlefield. Will the boys and Hurley be able to reclaim the Relic and pull The Raven back from the brink, or will they get lost in the weeds?

Based on the beloved blockbuster podcast where three brothers and their dad play a tabletop RPG in real time, The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal has it all: blossoming new friendships, pining for outlaw lovers, and a rollicking race you can root for!

Click cover to buy

I have been anticipating this book since December 2019, which is when I preordered it from Books-A-Million. It was one of my favorite arcs of the Balance campaign, and I was excited to see not only the excitement of the race come to life, but I was also anxiously awaiting being kicked in the heart again by the love story between Hurley and Sloane. Alas, I seem to be getting ahead of myself. This series is close to my heart, and I was overjoyed when they started to make these graphic novels. The boys and Carey Pietsch are a dynamic quintet; her gorgeous art paired with their masterful retelling has made for a refreshed and renewed look at the audio storytelling that is so loved within the Dungeons and Dragons community. This installment is no different, and may even be the best of the series so far.

I am always floored by how well this tale has transcended its medium, and it has given the boys a chance to right wrongs they made in a different time. I assume most of the readers of these novels have listened to the podcast, so I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that in the source material, Hurley and Sloane didn’t exactly have the happiest of endings. I was very glad to see that this was re-imagined within these pages as a later-in-the-campaign ‘twist’ happens much sooner than expected. It felt very natural, and I was very happy with the outcome. Most of the changes to the other graphic novels have been for copyright or narrative flow reasons, so it was interesting to see them play around with the plot. I think too, that this arc was best suited for the graphic novel treatment, as the race took on a new life within the art. Not only was seeing Garyl, the binicorn, a life changing experience, but just the heightened excitement from page to page was exhilarating, and I loved having Griffin as our faithful announcer through it all.

I so hope that they continue to make these, as this tale that this family weaves just gets deeper and richer, and the story is just about to break loose. This podcast has gotten me through a lot of hard days, and got me into the world of Dungeons and Dragons, which has become one of my favorite things within the last year. So, it means a lot to me, and so do these good good boys. I love how they are constantly bettering themselves, and they really are such kind and goodhearted people. When I say they deserve your time and attention, I mean it. Not to mention that the art inside these pages will make your eyes bleed from the pure heavenly nature of it! I’m ready for The Crystal Kingdom now– how long must I wait!?

5/5 stars