I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston – Review

From the New York Times bestselling author of One Last Stopand Red, White & Royal Blue comes a debut YA romantic comedy about chasing down what you want, only to find what you need…

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Casey McQuiston’s newest triumph. I have been an avid fan of hers since ‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ came out— and with each release, I love her work more and more. I Kissed Shara Wheeler hit me where I live in the most beautiful of ways. As a queer woman from the middle of nowhere in Alabama, I felt as though this story was written for me. Chloe’s experience and my own differ in so many ways, but our hearts are the same. It was from the very first page that I was bound to the narrative, and that bond only strengthened as I made my way to its end.

Chloe Green has her life uprooted when her two mothers (Mom and Mama, as she calls them) move back to her mama’s hometown of False Beach, Alabama. Her mama was the talk of the town as a budding high school lesbian, and Chloe— already having discovered that she’s bisexual— enters into the same Bible-based school system. She finds a group of friends who support her, and she is wholly and unabashedly herself, much to the chagrin of the principal. While Chloe is unbothered by him, she is suddenly enraptured by his daughter— Shara Wheeler. This seemingly perfect girl corners Chloe and kisses her… right before she goes missing. We follow Chloe, Shara’s boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s ex-best friend as they attempt to decipher notes that Shara has left behind to lead them toward her final destination. This opens up all three of them to new experiences and unexpected relationships.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler explores sexuality, high school trauma, and the pros and cons of living in a small Southern town. Near the end of the novel, Casey writes, “But she also knows Alabama is more than Willowgrove. And if that’s true, maybe faith can mean more than Willowgrove, too”. I find this to be one of the most important lessons within these pages. People are so quick to write off the South because they think they are all close-minded conservatives. In the same vein, other people are ready to treat all persons of faith as though they are one of the few who use the written word of their god as an excuse to hate others. Humanity, such as the characters in this novel, is varied and more than you can see at a glance. I want to use Chloe’s tale to be kinder, to judge less. Because as Casey says in her Author’s Note, “There’s room for the good parts and the bad, the funny and painful and everything in between”. We contain multitudes, and Casey highlights this beautifully.

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

It Will End Like This by Kyra Leigh – Review

For fans of The Cheerleaders and Sadie comes a psychological thriller that reminds us that in real life, endings are rarely as neat as happily ever after. A contemporay take on the Lizzie Borden story that explores how grief can cut deep.

Charlotte lost her mother six months ago, and still no one will tell her exactly what happened the day she mysteriously died. They say her heart stopped, but Charlotte knows deep down that there’s more to the story. 

The only person who gets it is Charlotte’s sister, Maddi. Maddi agrees—people’s hearts don’t just stop. There are too many questions left unanswered for the girls to move on.

But their father is moving on. With their mother’s personal assistant. And both girls are sure that she’s determined to take everything that’s theirs away for herself.

Now the only way to get their lives back is for Charlotte and Maddi to decide how this story ends, themselves.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this unrelenting take on the Lizzie Borden mystery. I was totally expecting it to be a closer tie to the infamous story, a la ‘See What I Have Done’ or ‘Miss Lizzie’, but I was pleasantly surprised with what turned out to be an exploration into what may have been Lizzie Borden’s mindset at the time of the crime, as well as the open-ended whodunnit that has stumped investigators and interested parties for decades. These focuses created a narrative that was so addictive that I absolutely could not put it down. I’ve had a hard time reading this year– but I think It Will End Like This has reignited my passion.

We begin the journey into madness by meeting Charlotte and her sister, Maddi. Their mother recently died, but even before that, the family had been falling apart. The stress of a miscarriage caused the household to fall into grief, but none more than the matron of the house. The girls were told that her heart had just stopped– but neither one believed it. Charlotte fell into a deep depression after her mother’s death, and she quit therapy, school, and herself. It caused a sort of split in her mind; one that Maddi tried to glue together. When she was finally able to pull her back out into the real world, the two began to find clues that led them to believe their mom may have not died from natural causes at all. They suspected murder.

It is in this vein that this twisted and heartbreaking view into a broken home continues. There is no one to trust; not the sisters’ friends, not their dad, and definitely not their mom’s personal assistant who has now taken up her role in the household. Paranoia runs rampant, and the stress wears down on both Charlotte and Maddie. The mental exhaustion manifests differently in both, and we get an honest look on how tragedy alters life. And at its climax, we are left wondering what truly happened to the matriarch– and also who penned the grisly end of this tale. I was impressed with the amount of raw emotion poured onto these pages, and how easily I was sucked into the dark mystique. This is well worth the read, not only for any follower of Lizzie’s story, but also for those searching for an honest look at just how messy human lives (and deaths) can be.

5/5 stars

You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow – Review

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces comes a breathtaking story about a town, its tragedies, and the quiet beauty of everyday life.

For all of Emory’s life she’s been told who she is. In town she’s the rich one–the great-great-granddaughter of the mill’s founder. At school she’s hot Maddie Ward’s younger sister. And at home, she’s the good one, her stoner older brother Joey’s babysitter. Everything was turned on its head, though, when she and Joey were in the car accident that killed Candy MontClaire. The car accident that revealed just how bad Joey’s drug habit was.

Four months later, Emmy’s junior year is starting, Joey is home from rehab, and the entire town of Mill Haven is still reeling from the accident. Everyone’s telling Emmy who she is, but so much has changed, how can she be the same person? Or was she ever that person at all?

Mill Haven wants everyone to live one story, but Emmy’s beginning to see that people are more than they appear. Her brother, who might not be cured, the popular guy who lives next door, and most of all, many ghostie addicts who haunt the edges of the town. People spend so much time telling her who she is–it might be time to decide for herself.

Inspired by the American classic Our Town, You’d Be Home Now is Kathleen Glasgow’s glorious modern story of a town and the secret lives people live there. And the story of a girl, figuring out life in all its pain and beauty and struggle and joy.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the eARC of this novel! I have devoured Kathleen’s other two works, and they have absolutely ruined me in the best way. So, when I saw this one up for request, I jumped at it, knowing that I needed her raw lens of the world right now. I connected to Girl in Pieces because of the self-harm aspect, as well as the protagonist’s need to figure out who she was and gain her agency back. I related to How To Make Friends With The Dark because I too have needed my family and friends to help me out of the all-consuming darkness I was facing. I wasn’t sure how this particular novel would speak to me, but it may have hit harder than the other two combined.

I saw myself in Emory, this soul longing for connection. I have felt her invisibility, her instinct to hide and pretend. I have been that girl who chased after boys who ultimately wanted nothing from her in the same way that she wanted from them. I threw myself into theatre in college and it was an undeniable escape. Watching Emory do the same as her life was crashing around her, whether she took it voluntary or not, took my breath away. Simon, the theatre director, tells her that she’s ‘invincible in someone else’s skin’, and that in itself is a kind of addiction. Which, as you may have guessed by the cover, is the driving force of this story. It mainly follows Emory’s brother, Joey, and his dependency on opioids– but the inhabitants of Mill Haven are riddled with their own vices if you know where to look. Emory’s dad struggles with alcoholism. Her mom, with power, money, and control. Luther Leonard with revenge. Gage Galt with secret rendezvous. The list goes on and on and on.

This is a powerful story that shows you just how many ways one can grapple with this life that we’ve been thrust into. Life is not always that happy song– it is sometimes a slow and menacing dirge. Some of us find healthy ways of coping, but others are not as fortunate. If you are only able to take away one thing from Emory’s tale– I hope it’s the plea to be kind to the homeless person on the sidewalk. The kid who wears a scarf indoors and in any sort of weather. The girl who made a mistake with a boy that she thought saw her. The brother who tried his best but still fell short. Kathleen’s novels are hard to describe, but what I do know is– they shy away from sugar-coating and are more genuine than any other novels I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this book.

5/5 stars