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

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

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher – Blog Tour Book Review

The Synopsis:

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.

My 5/5 Star Review:

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for inviting me on the blog tour 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.

The Debut Author:

Follow Ashley Schumacher’s journey on social media! She is supportive, kind, and talented, and I cannot wait to see what she does next!
Twitter: @AshWritesBooks
Instagram: @AshWritesBooks
Website: http://www.ashwritesbooks.com

An Exclusive Excerpt:

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!

Mayhem by Estelle Laure – Blog Tour Book Review

Synopsis:

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with this information!

The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.

Review:

5/5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the early copy of Mayhem, and to Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour! I had gotten an email recommending that I read the novel, and after I saw the blurb about it being The Lost Boys meets The Craft, I was so IN. Being raised by my mom who was a total 80s girl gave me a love of a lot of media from the time, but none so much as anything that had to do with supernatural happenstances or magic. These tales made the world feel much bigger, more exciting, and like anything could happen in our own reality. This book had the exact same vibe as we followed Mayhem on her journey to discover herself in a society that is desperate to keep her, and those like her, down. It is amazing to watch her metamorphosis from a demure, hopeless teenager to a vibrant and self-assured woman who is done watching and waiting for life to get better. She takes her own existence by the horns within these pages, and by the end she is riding astride it.

Mayhem is born to a mother, Roxy, from an infamous family in California. Due to reasons beyond her ken, Roxy stole them away one night after May’s father’s passing, leaving the comforts of home and ending up in the arms of a southern gentleman, or so he seemed. Years go by, and Mayhem endures much suffering in Taylor, Texas. She never feels as though she fits in, and she sees her mother beaten again and again by her abusive step-father. Finally, it goes too far, and the two women take off again, but this time they return back home. Roxy’s twin sister has kept up the family home and taken in foster kids that feel like her own. She welcomes the runaways in with a full and gracious heart. Mayhem is desperate to mesh in her new surroundings, and so she finds a place within the circle of Neve, Jason, and Kidd, and despite Roxy and Elle’s warnings, the four of them careen to the point of no return.

These kids that Elle has taken under her wing have found out the secret of the Brayburns, and share it with Mayhem. There is a kind of magic that has always been awaiting her in her veins, and once she unleashes it, she can see herself and everyone else with clear eyes. This sight threatens to fracture her relationship with her mother, but ends up saving them both. It also comes with a heavy responsibility; for years Brayburn women have used it to rid the earth of evil, and it’s something that Mayhem must come to terms with, along with the fact that the power is an addiction, and it’s one that is eating her friends alive. Our protagonist navigates these waters with the skill of a newborn sea turtle–instinctively and like it was what she was born to do. She has always had the strength within her, and it has been waiting for her to wake up.

I love this book not only for the supernatural elements, but that in spite of this, it is a book about finding your power and unleashing it. It is an anthem to all the women who have been silenced by society, men, themselves– and how far we have come even in four or so decades. It is a plea to know that sometimes you don’t have control over the things that happen to you. Everything that happens in your life is for a reason, even if it seems like complete chaos. There does come a point, however, where you have to choose to be complacent or if you want your voice to be heard, and Mayhem’s story makes you want to yell from the rooftops. It reminds you to treasure your friends, the people by your side that push you and help you to grow, and love your family fiercely, but to remember to turn those things on yourself as well. Listen to the whisper from the sea that there IS magic in the world if you know where to look, and some of it is there, waiting for you when you peer in the mirror. Give this novel a try if you’re feeling less than or out of sorts. It will bring you back to your body with renewed purpose.

Author:

Find Estelle on social media below!
Twitter: @starlaure
Instagram: @estellelaurebooks

Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.

Words by the Author and Surprise Sneak Peek:

Please enjoy a preface to the content of this riveting release as well as a look at the beginning of the novel!

What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin – Blog Tour Book Review

Synopsis:

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with all of this information!

Lex was taken–trafficked–and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.

Review:

5/5 stars

I’m overwhelmingly grateful to NetGalley for the eARC of this hard-hitting and devastating novel; and to St. Martin’s Press for including me in this blog tour! I haven’t ever really researched much into sex trafficking; but I did vaguely know of the horrors within. It is a terrifying reality that countless kids are thrust into, but it is a topic that remains mostly untouched whether it be in fiction or nonfiction. Kate not only does an excellent job of opening the door to conversations about this scourge, but in doing so, she brings readers a story that gives us an unapologetic look at the lives of these young adults that have been irrevocably changed forever while also inserting a spark of hope. There is the ever-present threat of danger, the fear of being too broken, and the struggle of returning to a normalcy that has since left you behind– but the protagonist shows us all how strong the human spirit is, and no matter what your circumstances, you deserve happiness.

Alexa, better known as Lex, was taken by a man she thought she could trust and was then coerced to transform into Poppy; a girl who, along with several other ‘flowers’, was forced to have sex with many different clients. She watched captured girls come and go, made bonds with a few, and attempted to maintain a sense of self while being plied with drugs and beaten to keep her docile and submissive. She never thought she would see anything else but the hotel she was confined to, and she was almost resigned to that fact. Then, one day, the police arrived. They brought her to a nearby hospital to be examined, and when she is eventually discharged, she is taken in by an estranged aunt who facilitates her recovery. Lex endures rehab, makes new friends, trusts the wrong boys, loses people she loves, becomes the center for gossip at school, and maybe even begins to fall in love for the first time– all while wondering how much of it she deserves, or even how much of it is real.

I found Lex tremendously powerful as a character because she has been through so much and yet is still able to see the good in people and persevere through so much pain and trauma. She loses so much after she leaves the hotel, and both in spite of and because of that, the development that she has from page one to the end of the book is like night and day: the reader watches her build her self worth back and though it takes a long time, she also finds a sense of security and belonging that she had never felt before. This novel truly shows the magic of a good support system, as Lex is surrounded by love from her aunt, Krys, from her release on. In addition, all the people she meets afterwards act as a wall around her, protecting her from setbacks and hardships. All of these stalwart figues let her find out who she is in her own time, but love her every step of the way. Their influence reminds readers to treat those you meet in life fairly, as you never know what scars lie just beneath the surface.

Upon learning Lex’s history, readers and fellow characters alike will make snap judgments about her. Those people could never know her penchant for books and research, her affinity for public speaking, her strength, or the love she is capable of. She is a truly captivating protagonist, and though this story is heart-wrenching, just know that it is also a beacon of hope. Sometimes saving yourself will be the hardest thing you ever have to face. If, instead of discovering your own value, you’re taught your ‘worth’ at a young age, it’s going to be hard to overcome that, but it is always possible to change. You have the power to defy the world as it tries to take you down. It is cold and it is unforgiving, but you can find your people and yourself through it all. No matter how broken you feel, we are all stronger than we know. Lex’s tale is sure to remind us all what unbreakable looks like; and if you look in the mirror, I know you’ll see it too.

Author:

Find Kate on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/alterkates

KATE McLAUGHLIN likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.

Early Praise:

Check out what others have to say about the novel!

“With unflinching honesty, What Unbreakable Looks Like exposes the injuries and scars we wear on our skins or in our souls. Hidden damage is tragically common, but helpful others who dared embrace hope invite Alexa to step onto the healing path. This novel may offer a springboard for a reader’s own healing or foster empathy for life’s walking wounded.” – Liz Coley, author of international bestseller Pretty Girl-13

“Raw, unflinching, and authentic, Kate McLaughlin’s thoughtful What Unbreakable Looks Like carefully crafts a story exposing the vulnerability of underage trafficked girls and what it takes to begin the process of healing from sexual trauma.” – Christa Desir, author, advocate, and founding member of The Voices and Faces Project

“This is a powerful book about a sobering topic that I found myself thinking about for days after I completed it. It is wonderfully poignant, painfully real, and even laugh out loud funny at times. Not everyone can truly wrap their minds around the trauma these victims endure and yet somehow, despite all of it, are still just regular kids. But Kate McLaughlin gets it. ‘Lex’ is truly what unbreakable looks like and you’ll fall in love with her spirit.” – Tanya Compagnone, Trooper First Class

“Sex trafficking continues to seep into all our communities. In this novel, Kate McLaughlin brings to life the trauma that transpires in youth who forced into the life of sex trafficking. Her novel is a reminder that each of us can make a difference in someone’s life.” – Dina R. St. George, MSW, Juvenile Re-Entry Unit OCPD

Sneak Peek

Click below to preview the first chapter of this riveting YA debut!