Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer – Review

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of Sherlock, is now living independently in London and working as a scientific perditorian (a finder of persons and things). But that is not the normal lot of young women in Victorian England. They are under the near absolute control of their nearest male relative until adulthood. Such is the case of Enola’s friend, Lady Cecily Alastair. Twice before Enola has rescued Lady Cecily from unpleasant designs of her caddish father, Sir Eustace Alastair, Baronet. And when Enola is brusquely turned away at the door of the Alastair home it soons becomes apparent that Lady Cecily once again needs her help.

Affecting a bold escape, Enola takes Lady Cecily to her secret office only to be quickly found by the person hired by Lady Cecily’s mother to find the missing girl—Sherlock Holmes himself. But the girl has already disappeared again, now loose on her own in the unforgiving city of London.

Even worse, Lady Cecily has a secret that few know. She has dual personalities—one, which is left-handed, is independent and competent; the other, which is right-handed is meek and mild. Now Enola must find Lady Cecily again—before one of her personalities gets her into more trouble than she can handle and before Sherlock can find her and return her to her father. Once again, for Enola, the game is afoot.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the eARC of the delightful and intriguing second installment of the brand new Enola Homes series. Just like the first, it is an empowering and feministic view of the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes’ time. Through Enola’s eyes, we see the progression of women as the series goes on; such as with clothing or securing employment. Despite this, there’s a long way to go, but our protagonist pays no mind to the difference. She is bound and determined to make her way in the world, and help everyone she can while she’s at it.

In this novel, we follow the plight of Enola’s best friend, Cecily. She has been imprisoned by her own father in her family home, and once the young detective learns of her predicament– Enola breaks her out. What ensues from there is a sibling rivalry (with Sherlock having been contracted by Cecily’s mother to find her), the mystery of the ever flighty lady (as Cecily runs from the prospect of being thrown back to her father), and questions regarding Cecily’s mental health.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is as follows: “My dear lady, to be oneself is not misbehavior, unless one is criminally inclined.” Sherlock recites this to Cecily as she fears being left-handed will cause her to be reprimanded. Because of this panic, the lady’s mind splits, but her support system works hard to find a way back to normalcy. It’s a heartwarming tale about finding and being yourself, and taking every avenue to do so– no matter who stands in your way. Told from Enola’s spunky narration, readers will enjoy laughs as well as tenderness. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

5/5 stars

Darling by Mercedes M. Yardley – Review

Darling has its demons.
Cherry LaRouche escaped the claws of Darling, Louisiana at sixteen. When she is forced to return after her mother’s death, Cherry and her children move back into her childhood home where the walls whisper and something sinister skitters across the roof at night.
While Cherry tries to settle back into a town where evil spreads like infection, the bodies of several murdered children turn up. When Cherry’s own daughter goes missing, she’s forced to confront the true monsters of Darling. 

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for the ARC of this novel that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘you can’t go home again’. Darling is anything but– and I mean this in the vein of the story as well as the town it’s named for. What Mercedes has created is an evocative peek into monstrous people and the places that make them. In these pages, we meet characters that pull your heartstrings; including some of the best representation I’ve seen for autistic children. We encounter broken people trying their best, and some who are trying to drag others down with them. There’s bullies, first loves, mysteries, killers, and bystanders. At the center of it all, there’s Cherry.

We meet our protagonist as she has received a haunting phone call from the city she grew up in, letting her know that her mother has passed away. This fact leaves Cherry unchanged; her maternal figure was unkind to her in her youth and they had not had a close relationship in some time. However, the news that Iris had left her daughter her childhood home rocked her world. Cherry has two children, and the house in Darling has been paid for in full (including all the bills) until five years time. She can’t say no to this prospect of giving her kids a better life as they are barely scraping by. Cherry runs into old friends, old enemies, and haunting memories once she’s back in Darling. The dark of the town doesn’t take long to seep into every nook and cranny of her home as children are going missing from all over– and one night, Cherry’s daughter joins them.

This whirlwind of a tale has so much heart and ferocity. Cherry has teeth and claws, and it is her strength that drives the plot. She endures so much between these pages, and it is a testament to a mother’s love, and the survival of spirit in the midst of trauma. Darling, the namesake, is a snapshot of how suffering can effect a person. Some, like Cherry, grow tougher for it. Others yearn for the taste of blood and to continue the cycle of hurt. In the end, it is those types that are the true fiends. I think that’s what Darling, the book, showcases best. You are not your anguish, but your reaction to it. The infection doesn’t waste any time infecting those around you.

5/5 stars

Trick or Treat, Alistair Gray by Lindy Ryan – Review

Award-winning picture book now an award-winning animated short film featuring narration by Mister Sam Shearon.
Alistair Gray loves Halloween.
When Alistair Gray attends his school Halloween carnival, he is disappointed to see his favorite night of the year has turned more silly than scary—all treats and no tricks.
But when he wanders alone into the dark the night before Hallow’s Eve, Alistair meets a spooky new friend that teaches him the holiday is about fun and fright…and that there’s more than one way to celebrate Halloween.

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for offering me this eARC in exchange for an honest review, and to Edelweiss for providing me with a copy! I am well past my childhood days and have not had children of my own yet, but these factors did not hinder my enjoyment of Lindy Ryan’s spooky prose and Timea Gazdag’s haunting illustrations. I’m as much of a lover of Halloween as Alistair is, and often feel his pain once the season arises and the cutesy fall decor of hobby shops overwhelm the scares supplied in Spirit Halloween. It’s easy to forget that everyone celebrates differently, and sometimes it takes a lumbering specter with a jack o’ lantern for a face to remind you of it.

Alistair is taken aback by the many princesses and fairies roaming the halls of his school’s Halloween carnival, and begins to feel stuffy in his mummy attire. He wants the creepy vibes in his heart to be seen and realized on this day that feels like home to him. I relate to his plight; I have always been the ‘weird kid’ who enjoyed horror movies and gore, and was dressed as a vampire in elementary school for five years while all the girls around me were cheerleaders and humanoid cats. I saw my young self in Alistair, and this is a story that I hope to share with the younger generation to show them that it’s okay to be different– and more than okay to accept everyone else’s ways of being.

This tale winds the spine-tingling landscape of a Tim Burton work and the elegiac lyricsms you would expect to find under Lemony Snicket’s pen– making a story that children and adults alike can enjoy. I love the repeating of the phrase “fun AND fright”, reminding us all what Halloween… and LIFE… is about. I can’t speak enough good things about Alistair, and I will treasure the experience of reading it for a long time to come. Thank goodness it’s already August, because I am desperate for October’s coming.

5/5 stars

Classic Monsters Unleashed by James Aquilone – Review

Stories of famous monsters in a new horror anthology edited by James Aquilone and featuring Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, and many others.

Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West—they’re all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre—including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon.

Thank you so much to Edelweiss and Black Spot Books for the eARC of this compilation of classic horror villains! I have to say, this was so much up my alley that I knew just from the title alone I would enjoy it. I didn’t know very many of the authors listed, but that was a feature and not a bug! It was so fun getting to know these storytellers in how they represented the monsters we all know and love! There are twenty-nine stories and one poem included in this novel; each with their own quirks and accomplishments.

The reader will find gender-swapping, modern issues, and many more surprises waiting in these retellings. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Headless Horseman lead the pack here, but there’s so many more spooks waiting in the wings. If you’re a horror fan, I recommend it with the utmost confidence. The art alone will keep you up at night! I don’t want to spoil anything about this anthology, so my review will be brief and succinct. It is a well-fleshed out collection, however, I was saddened by the low count of female authors. It could have used much more representation, especially in the stories with female leads.

Despite that, the included writers did an impeccable job with the source material. As someone who was a fan of these tales before– I understood what each section was meant to be– but for the enjoyment of less horror-obsessed readers, an introduction of the original story may have been a good idea. Even so, I think these readers will enjoy the tropes and characters; they will just be new content to them. Halloween is shortly coming up, and I think this novel will be a fun one to read by the fireside in the dead of night. Overall, I say this endeavor was a rousing success.

5/5 stars

Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler – Review

In this sweet and funny new f/f romance from the author of Cool for the Summer, a cheerleader and the school’s newest quarterback are playing to win, but might lose their hearts in the process.

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.

Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.

Dahlia Adler’s Home Field Advantage is a sparkling romance about fighting for what – or who – you truly want.

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this beautiful novel that puts the cheerleader/quarterback romance trope on its ear. There is nothing I love more than taking cliches and bringing them into the now– and Dahlia Adler succeeds so well with Jack and Amber. There are so many issues that come with this relationship, and the homophobia and misogyny that runs rampant in small Southern towns is heartbreakingly represented here. Even so, Dahlia managed to weave a lighthearted and captivating story through the perspective of our two protagonists. It is captivating and exciting, and gives me ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’ vibes but in Florida and with the teenage highs and lows of sports.

We meet Amber McCloud as she enters into her junior year of high school. She has high hopes to become captain of her varsity cheerleading team; a support for the football team who has just suffered an unspeakable tragedy. They lost their current quarterback in a car accident, so they have moved in a new one– Jack Walsh. To Amber’s (and the rest of the school’s) surprise, Jack turns out to be a girl. This knowledge causes chaos, and the cheerleaders and football players both rebel against her. Amber must then make a choice– does she riot with the rest of her team even if she doesn’t believe in what they’re rebelling against, or does she stick up for the compelling and adorable Jack? The sparks fly instantly between them, but can they rise above the teen drama so that their love can blossom?

I really loved this groundbreaking novel. It was amazing to see a girl on an all boy football team as someone who grew up in a small town in Alabama, always wondering why the guys were supposedly better than her. I wanted to have Jack’s confidence as a teenager, and her struggle to rise above all the red tape that stands in her way is utterly inspiring. There is so much representation in this book– not just for the LGBTQ+, but for anyone who has suffered from a miscarriage… AND frank conversation about sex and masturbation, which I think is incredibly important for YA readers to see. It doesn’t just normalize all these things– Dahlia writes them as they should be: just a part of life. We need more books like these, and I hope to read it in more of Dahlia’s work.

5/5 stars

Little Bird by Tiffany Meuret – Review

The skeletons in the closet have nothing on the one in your backyard.
Freshly divorced and grieving the death of her father, Josie Lauer has caged herself inside her home. To cope with her losses, Josie follows a strict daily routine of work, playing with her dog, Po, and trying to remember to eat a decent meal—and ending each night by drinking copious amounts of vodka. In other words, she is not coping at all.
Everything changes when Josie wakes to find a small shrub has sprouted in her otherwise dirt backyard the morning after yet another bender. Within hours, the vine-like plant is running amok—and it’s brought company. The appearance of the unwieldly growth has also heralded the arrival of a busybody new neighbor who insists on thrusting herself into Josie’s life. The neighbor Josie can deal with. The talking skeleton called Skelly that has perched itself in Josie’s backyard on a throne made of vines, however, is an entirely different matter.
As the strangely sentient plant continues to grow and twist its tendrils inside Josie’s suddenly complicated life, Josie begins to realize her new neighbor knows a lot more about the vines and her bizarre new visitor than she initially lets on. There’s a reason Skelly has chosen to appear in Josie’s suddenly-blooming backyard and insists on pulling her out of her carefully kept self-isolation. All Josie has to do is figure out what that reason is—and she has only a few days to do it, or else she might find herself on the wrong side of catastrophe.
LITTLE BIRD is a story about found family, no matter how bizarre.

Thank you so much to Black Spot Books for reaching out to me about the release of this short and captivating sophomore novel by Tiffany Meuret. I had never read anything by her before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the premise and the promise of a twisted fairy tale got my attention. It didn’t take long for me to be completely engrossed by the unique story and endearing characters, and I finished the novel in a span of a few hours. It was so hard to put down and I don’t think I took a conscious breath the entire time!

We enter Josie’s life just before it goes completely awry. She has a routine, a dog she loves, and a life that doesn’t take much effort. It couldn’t be said that she’s happy, but she’s making it along as best as she can. That is, until Skelly shows up. Josie notices a small shrub sprouting in her lawn one day, not thinking much of it. It isn’t until the vines that grow from it have completely taken over and brought a very odd visitor that our protagonist takes a secondary glance. An animated skeleton has taken up residence in Josie’s backyard, and it wants something from her. Skelly tells Josie she wants a story that she has never heard before told to her in three days… or else. Josie recruits the help of her new neighbor, Sue, and learns all she can about Skelly while also diving deep into her own mind. It is there that she finds the answers she seeks.

This book was a powerful read for me, as it dealt with the presence of trauma and the way that we cope with it. Josie, after her divorce and the death of her father in quick succession, had resigned herself to the life of a hermit. She hardly ever left the house; only ever speaking to Po (her chihuahua) and keeping the company of bottles of alcohol. With Skelly’s appearance, Josie has to take a hard look at herself– stripping down to her own vulnerable bones. She recounts the ultimatum her husband gave her before he left, the unanswered text that she sent her father after both men were gone, and how soulless her vocation makes her feel. Despite these things, she has arisen like a phoenix from the ashes and became everything her ex had asked of her– but for herself. Josie earned the nickname ‘Little Bird’. She was shoved from her nest and survived, but just needed to be taught how to fly. The once buried skeleton brought them both out of the shadows and into the light; making this the oddest and most beautiful found family novel I’ve read yet.

5/5 stars

In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power – Review

Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield. 

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of the first novel in a rich, lively, and absolutely unique series. I am such a huge fan of Rory’s; I look forward to her new releases every year now, and she never disappoints– yet ALWAYS surprises. While her past two novels have had a common thread of strong female characters placed in an unknowable situation that they must then claw and dig their way into and out of, In a Garden Burning Gold gives us an important family dynamic that has been built over centuries, and a girl who feels pulled to risk it all… to the detriment of her twin brother who is dying to keep the reign of their father afloat.

We meet Rhea as she comes back from her most recent voyage– a marriage to a man that she had to sacrifice in order to bring about the change of the seasons. Each of Rhea’s siblings are charged with a similar gift, but only her twin’s effects the world around them as hers does. Lexos manipulates the tides and the stars from the observatory of their home, but he has also been tasked with being their father’s right hand man. Baba, as his children refer to him, is a man with a guarded heart and an iron fist. He passed down the powers that each of the Argyros line have: Rhea; the flow of the divisions of time, Lexos; the control of the skies above and the waters below, Nitsos; the understanding of mechanical workings, and Chrysanthi; the heart and soul of the meals they consume. After having lost their mother ages ago, this family of Thyzakos count on each other to survive.

It is in this beautiful world with all-encompassing lore that we are deposited, and it comes alive around us. However, we are unable to find respite enclosed inside the Stratagiozi’s walls– there are problems arising from every side of not only the country… but also within the family. Rory builds tension delightfully, and from different perspectives in the ruling line. We are shown the hardships effecting the individuals, but also the threats to the entirety of the household. There are moments of joy, burgeoning relationships, traitorous plots, and mistrust in each and every corner. This novel is a breathtaking set up to what is going to be a brilliant series; one that already feels to me more alive than those that have come before. There is world-building, but also undeniable intrigue that will leave you desperate for more. Get in on this journey from the start! You will not regret it.

5/5 stars

I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin – Review

Lyrical and haunting, Hannah Capin’s I Am Margaret Moore is a paranormal thriller that tests the hold of sisterhood and truth.

I am a girl. I am a monster, too.

Each summer the girls of Deck Five come back to Marshall Naval School. They sail on jewel-blue waters; they march on green drill-fields; they earn sunburns and honors. They push until they break apart and heal again, stronger.

Each summer Margaret and Rose and Flor and Nisreen come back to the place where they are girls, safe away from the world: sisters bound by something more than blood.

But this summer everything has changed. Girls are missing and a boy is dead. It’s because of Margaret Moore, the boys say. It’s because of what happened that night in the storm.

Margaret’s friends vanish one by one, swallowed up into the lies she has told about what happened between her and a boy with the world at his feet. Can she unravel the secrets of this summer and last, or will she be pulled under by the place she once called home?

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the eARC of this haunting, sorrow-driven narrative. What I am coming to realize about Hannah and her work is that she gives a voice to downtrodden and wronged women everywhere. With ‘Foul is Fair’, it was a revenge story. It was nails on a chalkboard, it was a scream in the dead of night. Margaret Moore took a softer approach, but no less distressing. Margaret is a stifled cry for help, an unrelenting icy cold grip on your wrist. I could not put this story down; it went from a bond between friends, to a budding first love, to finally– a belated look in the proverbial mirror and seeing oneself for the first time.

When we meet Margaret Moore, she is reminiscing about her summers with her best friends at camp. The links between the girls are tested as Margaret gets closer and closer to one of the boys at the barracks. Margaret’s heart is taken advantage of, and soon she becomes one of the tragedies surrounding Marshall Naval Camp. As she attempts to unravel what happened the summer that changed her forever, Margaret found the voice that she lost in the storm of life. She speaks for the girls whose innocence were taken from them too soon, for those that have loved and lost, and the rest of the tongues that have been tied by families with money. The entirety of Deck Five is haunted by the mystery of Margaret, but not a one of them as much as her friends. Eventually, however, Flor, Rose, and Nisreen all move on; but Margaret never leaves.

It is with Hannah’s signature poetic prose that this tale of a girl’s life shattered as finitely as a wherry on rocky, choppy waters is woven into a truly devastating tapestry. I can’t stand to think of the young girls who are given no choice but to grow up too quickly. Hannah handles these plots with care, but with an overwhelming amount of venom that will course through your veins and make you want to act. I loved the supernatural twist in this book– it gives such a stunning twist to this already thrilling drama. I can’t wait to see what the next endeavor from Hannah will be. One thing I do know is that it will turn the tables on every masculine trope you’ve ever read.

5/5 stars

Daughter by Kate McLaughlin – Review

Scarlet’s life is pretty average. Overly protective mom. Great friends. Cute boy she’s interested in. And a father she’s never known – until she does.

When the FBI show up at Scarlet’s door, she is shocked to learn her father is infamous serial killer Jeffrey Robert Lake. And now, he’s dying and will only give the names and locations of his remaining victims to the one person, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Scarlet’s mother has tried to protect her from Lake’s horrifying legacy, but there’s no way they can escape the media firestorm that erupts when they come out of hiding. Or the people who blame Scarlet for her father’s choices. When trying to do the right thing puts her life in danger, Scarlet is faced with a choice – go back into hiding or make the world see her as more than a monster’s daughter.

Kate McLaughlin’s Daughter is a novel about trying right deadly choices that were never yours to begin with.

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the invitation to read this chilling release from one of my favorite authors! I fell head over feet for Kate after reading an ARC of ‘What Unbreakable Looks Like’, and the raw emotion I found there did not relent in this reading experience. Kate knows exactly how to weave striking tales around sensitive subjects that others are either too afraid to touch, or are usually seen from a totally different perspective. This one, specifically, calls to those who have grown up watching true crime shows– but is a love letter and a release for the victims of said crimes. Even more than that; it puts a special spotlight on the ones who’ve survived and must carry the name with them. Daughter explores the weight someone else’s shadow can put on you.

The daughter in question is Scarlet Murphy, who– up until a duo of FBI agents show up– has been living a normal life. She is in high school, has a group of girlfriends, and has just gotten a chance with the boy she likes. Then she learns she is actually Britney Lake; the only child of serial killer Jeff Lake. Everything falls down around her as she struggles with this news, finding out her mother has been lying to her for her entire life– but also seeing who her true friends and allies really are. Scarlet is given the chance to speak to her father, and she agrees. Despite who he is and how shocked she is, Jeff has told the FBI he will give his daughter the names of the girls he was never convicted for. Scarlet hopes to give the families peace– and that includes herself and her mother. 

I related to this novel in many ways, and I think that speaks to how intricate the themes are within it. On the surface, it is a shift in perspective– assuring that readers focus on the marks instead of the predator– but it takes only a scratch to reveal what’s underneath. We have Scarlet, raised by a single mother. She’s told all her life her dad left, and when she meets him, she wishes it were only so simple. There’s no denying how much it hurts feeling like you weren’t wanted, like you weren’t good enough for someone. What may be even worse, however, is knowing that the person who is supposed to love you, to be there for you… only has use for you when it benefits them. Despite that trauma, Scarlet finds first love, finds a dream, a purpose. This daughter’s story reminded me that my own is not over. In fact, both are just beginning.

5/5 stars

Full Flight by Ashley Schumacher – Review

Everyone else in the tiny town of Enfield, Texas calls fall football season, but for the forty-three members of the Fighting Enfield Marching Band, it’s contest season. And for new saxophonist Anna James, it’s her first chance to prove herself as the great musician she’s trying hard to be.

When she’s assigned a duet with mellophone player Weston Ryan, the boy her small-minded town thinks of as nothing but trouble, she’s equal parts thrilled and intimidated. But as he helps her with the duet, and she sees the smile he seems to save just for her, she can’t help but feel like she’s helping him with something too.

After her strict parents find out she’s been secretly seeing him and keep them apart, together they learn what it truly means to fight for something they love. With the marching contest nearing, and the two falling hard for one another, the unthinkable happens, and Anna is left grappling for a way forward without Weston.

A heartbreaking novel about finding your first love and what happens when it’s over too soon. Ashley Schumacher’s Full Flight is about how first love shapes us—even after it’s gone.

Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for inviting me to read this beautiful tale of first love– the kind that leaves a handprint on your heart for the rest of your life, be it for better or for worse. Ashley has a penchant for writing prose that will absolutely rip your beating heart out of your chest, as shown by the powerful debut of Amelia Unabridged, and she has not broken her streak here. Full Flight is a Happening. It is a four-wheeler ride on a country road. It is a call-and-answer duet where readers will hear the plaintive song of Anna and Weston, and add their song to the melody.

We find ourselves caught up in the life of the band kids in Enfield, Texas. It is rife with high school drama; be it failing grades, rumors, or new kids. In the midst of it all is Anna James. She has been given the opportunity of a lifetime– a standout duet with her saxophone, accompanied by the mellophone prowess of one Weston Ryan. He is Enfield’s ‘bad boy’: divorced parents, leather jacket, and the mouth of a sailor. Anna is the only one who isn’t deterred by the whispers surrounding him, and as such, she asks him to help her nail the duet. Through this interaction, Anna and Weston both find something in the other that they’ve been missing. They become each other’s safe space, even if Anna has to lie to her parents in order to continue seeing him. However, the truth always prevails, and as their love story seems to be rushing to a rapid ending, the pair change for the better.

There are themes in this novel of loneliness, grief, and self-discovery that I think readers of all ages can relate to. I for one have been drowning in the former for a long time now, and Anna’s musings in her journal as well as out loud to Weston made me feel like I had found a buoy of safety in the vast ocean I was lost in. It is also very obvious how much of herself that Ashley pours into her work– both Anna and Amelia have her lifeblood running through them– and in Anna’s escape into capturing her positive memories so that they can chase the shadows away, I see her creator. As such, it is a raw and genuine tale that will pull you in, hold you close, and remind you that we’re all under the same sky. It is as comforting and exhilarating as hearing the long extinct tune of someone just like you.

5/5 stars