Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle, #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

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ARC provided by Knopf Books in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Synopsis:

From the internationally bestselling authors of THE ILLUMINAE FILES comes an epic new science fiction adventure.

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.


This review is going to hurt me, and I feel awful I even feel this way. I want to preface this by saying I really enjoy these authors’ previous works, and I think Amie and Jay are awesome humans who write amazing stories.

But… I was so disappointed by this book. I am trying very hard not to compare this to the Illuminae Files, but it’s hard not to when this is yet another story set in space featuring a group of young cadets.

This book follows six cadets who come together when their squad leader, Tyler, rescues a girl who was cryogenically frozen. Aurora doesn’t understand why she woke up 200 years later than anticipated, because she was supposed to land on a planet called Octavia III. But then we quickly find out Aurora has inherited some strange and deadly powers, so Squad 312 must escape in order to save her and themselves.

Here is Squad 312 at a glance:

Tyler – The Alpha and squad leader. His level of attractiveness and dimples are mentioned so many times it’s going to make you roll your eyes into the back of your skull.

Scarlett – The Face (aka the diplomat) and Tyler’s twin sister. She is described as having firey red hair and just as stunning as her brother.

Cat – The Ace, pilot. She’s tough as nails and loyal to Tyler and Scarlett.

Kal – The Tank, Syldrathi, a Legolas-lookalike according to Aurora, but with darker skin and silver braids. The Syldrathi have a war history with the Terran people.

Finian – The Gearhead, Tech Division. He is Betraskan, so he appears “alien-like”; skin is white and he has to wear contacts which makes his eyes appear all black. He’s bisexual and presents with a disability for muscle weakness, nerve damage, impaired mobility.

Zila – The Brains, Science Division. She is described as having dark brown skin and curly black hair. She’s also very serious and matter-of-fact. I believe she may be on the autism spectrum but this is not my lane so I would love to see others chime in in regards to this.

Aurora – A Cryogenically girl frozen for the last 200 years and was supposed to wake up on Octavia III. She is Asian, described as having short black hair with a white streak, and freckles across her nose. She can do some serious damage but cannot control these new, strange powers.

I think what threw me off from the very beginning was that this was marketed as, “They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find.” Maybe it’s just me, but that quote made me assume we were going to be presented with a ragtag team of misfits who are subpar at their jobs but must come together to fight the good fight. When in reality we already have the best-of-the-best Legionnaire, his sister, his best friend, and three other legionnaires who are good at what they do.

So I’m already rolling my eyes at how misleading that was. However, I just could not get past how boring everything was. Part 1 showed us how the squad escaped with Aurora, Part 2 took us to the World Ship where a very long, unnecessarily drawn-out heist took place, and then Part 3 turned into a very bad sci fi movie rip-off.

And usually I can get over a mediocre plot, but when the “action” was putting me to sleep? I just had such a hard time picking this book back up. Also I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. Aside from Kal, everyone was extremely one-dimensional. There’s a cringey “mating bond” that appears between two of the characters, which honestly made me want to DNF right then and there.

Here’s the thing: Even though Illuminae isn’t my favorite series of all time, the friendships in those books were palpable. You felt connected to them. But in Aurora Rising? There were SO MANY POV’S that I couldn’t even keep track of who to care about. Every single squad member had their own POV (that’s SEVEN!) and they were all told in first person. Sorry, not a fan of trying to figure out whose POV I left off on if I had to put the book down in the middle of a chapter.

I know this book has already received a lot of early praise, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. I just can’t get over how messy everything was, how bland the characters were, and how much I just wanted everything to be over.

twostarsBuddy read with Stephanie!


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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….


I’m quite surprised by how much I loved this? Honestly, I went in pretty much blind. I avoided all the reviews. I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t try to over analyze everything. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I really felt like this book has the perfect blend of darkness, mystery, and twists.

I can see why some people may have not liked this book, and if you read a ton of thrillers, then you may think this book was just okay. I took a break from thrillers but I made it my goal to read more thrillers this year. The Silent Patient was a great start for me, and I really do recommend this book if you’re wanting something dark and fast paced. Also, I think it really helps that the chapters were so short, because it truly made the reading fly by!

So here are the basics: Alicia is arrested for shooting her husband in the face several times. She doesn’t provide an explanation, and she remains silent throughout the entire investigation process and trial. So she’s sentenced to a psychiatric hospital called the Grove, where she continues to remain silent for the next six years — until psychotherapist Theo joins the staff, and he wants to help Alicia speak once again.

What I wasn’t expecting was this book to be (almost) entirely from Theo’s perspective. And while there are bits of Alicia’s journal entries sprinkled throughout the book, we get a lot of investigative work as Theo tries to dig up Alicia’s past and follow any breadcrumbs that could expose Alicia’s motives.

And even if you were able to predict the twists and outcome, I still felt like it was a rabbit hole that was well formulated, and the path we took to the conclusion was superbly done. I also loved how Greek mythology and art was a strong theme throughout this book.

Some things that I did find bothersome was the use of ableist terms such as “crazy” when referring to patients in the Grove. I know that’s expected in a psychological thriller that takes place in a psychiatric hospital, but please use caution if mental illness topics is a trigger for you. Also Theo likes to mention how he wants to “fix” Alicia, which is just language I find gross.

I also want to note that I listened to this book on audio and read along the book at the same time. I loved the cast in the audiobook and I truly felt like that overall enhanced my reading experience. Plus, Louise Brealey is the voice of Alicia, and I loved her so much from Sherlock (BBC)!

Possible spoilers (but not really) in trigger warnings below.

 

Trigger warnings: ableist terms such as “crazy”, talks of suicide, mental illness, depression, stalking, cheating, loss of a parent, abuse from a parent.

fourstars

Buddy read with Stephanie and Amber!


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No Exit by Taylor Adams

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A brilliant, edgy thriller about four strangers, a blizzard, a kidnapped child, and a determined young woman desperate to unmask and outwit a vicious psychopath.

A kidnapped little girl locked in a stranger’s van. No help for miles. What would you do?

On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside, are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers.

Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate.

Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her?

There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one?

Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape.

But who can she trust?

With exquisitely controlled pacing, Taylor Adams diabolically ratchets up the tension with every page. Full of terrifying twists and hairpin turns, No Exit will have you on the edge of your seat and leave you breathless.

Okay, I had a really hard time deciding what to rate this book. I was sitting at 4-stars for a while but then things got a bit too outlandish for my liking.

I will say, this book is incredibly fast paced and doesn’t hold back any punches. And the trigger warnings. Lots and lots of trigger warnings. I feel like that’s pretty much a guarantee when it comes to a thriller, but just use caution if things like child abuse/sexual abuse are big triggers for you.

We follow Darby, a college student driving to Utah to visit her sick mother in the hospital. While she’s driving through Colorado she gets stuck in a blizzard and has no choice but to pull into a rest stop to wait it out. There are a few other people stuck there as well. They mostly keep to themselves, but soon they realize the weather isn’t going to let up, and without a cell signal, they have to prepare to stay the night. Small talk ensues, card games are played, but Darby doesn’t let her guard down.

Then while she’s outside in the parking lot she discovers a horrific scene: inside the trunk of a van is a cage, and inside the cage is a little girl. So, who inside the rest area is responsible for this nightmare?

This really is such a page turner, and if you’re a fan of a small cast stuck in one place (a la Agatha Christie) then this is the book for you. I really love whodunnits where everyone is trapped in a room and we must figure out the mystery. It’s like a game of Clue. But in reality this book was more like a gory, murder-infused-rage game of Clue. Sounds kind of fun, right?

Well, let’s just say the “bad guy” was really over the top, moving straight into campy mode. I don’t really mind gore or disturbing crime topics, but I expect them to actually be written well and to… have a point. The “bad guy” here was so careless, cheesy, and had zero plan of action. It was such a mess.

I think this book would’ve been better adapted into a movie. On the page, it just didn’t wow me like I expected it to. But I do recommend this book if you’re looking for a fast paced thriller that will leave you wanting to keep reading once you finish a chapter. It really will hook you in!

threestars


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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

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Read during March for the Dragons & Tea Book Club!


Goodreads Synopsis:

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore.

I LOVED the idea of demon-fighting bartenders, and I actually still enjoyed the premise very much! This book follows Bailey, a Chinese-American college graduate who just moved back home to live with her parents. She’s still searching for a job; her parents keep nudging her toward a career path, but Bailey ends up reconnecting with an old friend (and crush), Zane, who presents her an opportunity to work in his bar.

But Bailey soon learns tending a bar is more than just mixing the perfect cocktail. In fact, when you do mix the perfect cocktail, it turns into a magical drink that gives the consumer special powers. These powers depend on the drink, and there are fun recipes with the history of the ingredients all throughout the book. Some of the special powers include super-human strength, invisibility, and telekinesis.

We find out Zane is part of an underground network of monster-fighting bartenders. There is an entire hierarchy and court system; rules to play by. It’s all very political, and Bailey gets thrown into their world when she inadvertently makes a cocktail that gives her powers to fight off a monster. You see, monsters called tremens lurk in the night among Chicago’s streets. They usually hunt alone, in the shadows. But something is provoking them to start hunting in packs.

So, the thing is… a lot of points in this book missed the mark for me, but I still really appreciate all the things Paul Krueger included, so I’m going to list all the things I liked and disliked.

What I liked:

  • The fact that this book is ownvoices, written by a Filipino-American author.
  • It’s new adult, which is a genre I rarely see boosted. As a 30-something-year-old, I like to see books that feature characters who are in their mid-late 20’s (or older) because I instantly connect with them so much better.
  • The Asian rep. Bailey is Chinese-American and her parents are Chinese. I was able to relate to the “Asian family expectations” story line so much.
  • Diversity rep for a trans character, gay relationship, black side character, and rep for blind/visually impairment.
  • The pub settings were always my favorite parts!
  • The idea that it’s ok to not know what you want to do after you graduate from college. That it’s ok you’re still trying to figure things out.
  • The history behind the magical cocktails and ingredients. Those parts were so humorous and I’d love to read an entire book on just the drinks alone!
  • I am a sucker for any book that takes place in Chicago.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I didn’t feel connected to the world building, and wasn’t a fan of how the monsters were utilized in the story.
  • Zane. Ugh. Zane! He was the worst and I don’t like how Bailey was totally fine with forgiving him.
  • The death of a certain animal. Like… I can’t.
  • As the story progressed I felt like it derailed from being monster-fighting-centric. I wasn’t sure why Jess was even introduced, and I found that story line really irrelevant.
  • I just became really bored by the 50% mark and just… wanted it to be over.

I’m so sorry I didn’t end up enjoying this book as much as I had hoped, but I am so glad I picked it up! I would’ve never read this if it wasn’t for the book club Melanie and I started, and I’m so thankful we got to read it with so many people!

twostars


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A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

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Read in February for the Dragons & Tea Book Club!


Goodreads Synopsis:

She’s the town pariah. He doesn’t give a damn.

In Ruth Kabbah’s world, comic books are king, silence is golden, and human contact is a pesky distraction. She doesn’t like people, which works out just fine, because the people in this small town don’t like her. The exception to that rule? Evan Miller, her way-too-charming next-door neighbour…

Ex-military man Evan is all tattooed muscle on the outside—and a big, cuddly teddy bear beneath. He’s used to coaxing prickly people from their shells, but he’s never met a woman quite like Ruth. Blunt, sarcastic, and secretly sad, she’s his exact opposite. She’s also his deepest desire.

Soon, Evan’s steady patience and smouldering smiles are melting Ruth’s reserve. But when small-town gossip from her past begins to poison her future, she’s forced to make a choice. Should she trust Evan completely? Or is her heart safest alone?

Please be aware: this book contains mentions of intimate partner violence that could trigger certain audiences.

I had never heard of Talia Hibbert before, but the second I found out she’s a romance writer who is always boosting body positivity and consent, I WAS THERE FOR IT. Now I want to own every single book by her. Please, if you want to support an independent, ownvoices author, pick up her books! I truly think you’ll be in for a real treat.

This book follows Ruth, a black, plus sized woman who creates web comics and prefers to stay home and keeps to herself. She lives in a small town called Ravenswood, where she’s been labeled a “pariah” and rumors about her are constantly flying. But she’s just trying to move on from her past where she was involved in an abusive relationship. Ruth is also autistic and she tends to not trust new people. She is only close to her sister and mother, but that all starts to change when Evan moves in next door.

Evan is white, ex-military, and he’s very soft spoken and incredibly loyal. He also has a past where he was hurt, and he’s just trying to move on. He’s kind and constantly giving to others. He notices Ruth and slowly befriends her. After he sees Ruth’s horrible diet and learning her cooking skills are… nonexistent… he starts cooking her food every day and brings it over. AND OMG MY HEART.

There’s nothing I love more than two people connecting over food, and I just loved how understanding and patient Evan was with Ruth. He never pressured her to confront him about her past, and once their relationship evolved, there was always so much consent and body positivity.

What I really loved about Ruth was that she was so fiercely loyal to her family, and she knew how to stand up for herself. But she also completely shuts down when any mention of her ex was brought up, because she was always so focused on guilt and blaming herself for the abuse. This topic is brought up a lot, but Talia Hibbert really does such a tasteful job at addressing it. Ruth’s anxiety is also so relatable, and I just know so many people are going to understand and just GET her character. Also? Her favorite attire is pajamas and that is such a mood.

Please use caution going into this book if you are a survivor of abuse. And there are triggers for anxiety, slut shaming, and ableism language toward autism. But I seriously can’t recommend this book enough if you are looking for a good book in the romance genre. Trust me, I don’t read a ton of romance (where there is a whole lotta steam!) but this one was so incredibly well written and you will fly right through it!

fivestars


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This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Sloane isn’t expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that’s exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera’s twin brother and the most serious person Sloane’s ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins’ late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins’ lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.


At the recommendation by my friend Julie, I knew I had to pick This Adventure Ends as my first Emma Mills book. I’m so glad I did!

This is one of those coming-of-age YA books that feels like a blanket enveloping you. It is mostly character driven, but driven by some of the best characters I’ve ever read. I truly loved Sloane and her group of friends. I even loved the adults, which I know can be hit or miss sometimes when reading YA.

So this book stars Sloane, a high school student who moves from New York to Florida. Her father is a famous author (very a la Nicholas Sparks) but he’s fallen into a career slump. Her parents’ marriage also isn’t doing so well. But then Sloane befriends twins Vera and Gabe, Remy, Aubrey, Bree, and let’s not forget my favorite… Frank (a bisexual mixed-race student!)

Early on we learn that Vera and Gabe’s mother passed away, but she was a very famous painter whose paintings are highly sought after. But through a fluke accident, the one painting Gabe truly wanted to keep got sold. Sloane becomes determined to find that painting. Not so much because she’s slowly developed feelings for Gabe, but because she knew how much he was hurting and she thought this could be the one small thing to set things right.

However, looking for the painting isn’t the main focus of this book. We get to watch Sloane’s relationship evolve with Remy, who is helping her track down the painting. We also see her friendship bloom with Vera, and it is, hands down, one of my favorite platonic ships of all time. I also loved her dynamic with Frank, who is basically the king of hosting parties. Seriously, the friendship was so outstanding, it truly made me feel like I was part of the group.

But this book also highlights struggles the parents go through, such as marriage strains, career roadblocks, and just day-to-day life. I really loved Sloane’s dad, Mike, who found refuge and inspiration in a teen show (and writing fan fic). I also really loved how he confided his work in Sloane.

I also loved how Sloane was written. She was complex, and oftentimes her personality really reflected my own at that age. I was moody, sarcastic, and knew when to deflect to make light of a situation. I really really got her. And Vera? OMG. Vera gets the BFF Award of the Year. I loved her colorful personality so much, and it was an extra bonus she had another ‘life’ as a famous social media star. Of course, I loved Gabe, who is serious and broody and mysterious most of the time. I wanted to learn so much more about him!

So what did I not like? Well, I actually wasn’t too keen on the fan fic parts, and I also didn’t really like how Vera and Gabe’s stepmom was portrayed as the “bad guy.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just tired of the “young beautiful woman marries an older guy and gets pregnant so she must be the bad guy” trope. Like, I totally get being a teenager and finding out your new step mom is super young would feel weird, but I think her character could’ve just been written better.

I still really loved this book, and I honestly cannot wait to read more by Emma Mills!

fourstars

Buddy read with Jen!


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Blog Tour: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.


About the book:

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.


My review:

I’ve been having difficulty forming my thoughts after finishing this book. This is definitely a quiet, slow-burn of a story. There is a romance, gorgeous writing, a unique magic system, and lots of dark politics.

Wicked Saints mixes politics, royalty, and godly powers. There are two rival nations: Kalyazin and Tranavia. We follow Nadya, a cleric who has been trained to communicate with a plethora of gods, wielding their powers through the touch of prayer beads. Then there’s Serefin, the prince of Tranavia but also a powerful blood mage. And then there’s Malachiasz, who, in my opinion, stole the story. He’s a rebel blood mage who allies with Nadya as they both flee from Serefin’s army. He’s the “dark and mysterious” type which immediately caught my attention.

While there are two POVs in this book (Nadya’s and Serefin’s) their stories cross early and soon Nadya, Serefin, and Malachiasz realize they all have the same goal: to dethrone the King of Tranavia (aka Serefin’s father.) Y’all, this is a very densely political book, where oftentimes I felt it overshadowed the magic system…

Which leads me to say that I wish Nadya played a bigger role. I expected Nadya to be the main character in this book, but instead she felt more like a side character to Malachiasz and Serefin’s motives. In fact, most of the time Nadya just went along with everything Malachiasz did, and I kept wanting her to unleash her fury. But instead, she dwindled into a naive love interest. She quickly went from being a character I admired to being one of my least favorite characters in the book.

I actually enjoyed Serefin’s chapters the best, because we really got to see and feel his horrible relationship with his father. The King of Tranavia is… how do I say this… a real piece of sh*t. He’s abusive and is totally fine with sacrificing his own family in order to possess the power of the gods. I also think Serefin had the most character development, and I loved his dynamic with his two guards, Kacper and Ostyia. I would read an entire book about this trio!

I wish I could say I liked Malachiasz. I did in the beginning, as he was low key reminding me of the Darkling from The Grisha Trilogy, but then I just stopped caring about him. He is supposed to be mysterious, so I am not going to say any spoilers, but I just didn’t like how his story played out. It felt really cheesy and there was no build-up to the finale.

I think I would’ve enjoyed this book more if we got to see more of Nadya communicating with the gods and seeing her use that power. She was a pawn in a man’s story, which just feels kind of bad. I was so frustrated during the last 10% of the book, but I am now high key needing the sequel ASAP!

I think the politics is super fascinating, and I adored how each of the gods Nadya communicated with all have their own personalities and quirks. The book starts out with a bang and while there may have been some issues with the characters for me, I felt like it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Duncan’s writing is incredibly beautiful and creative. I am still genuinely impressed with how she built this world, and how she created each of the gods. This was some high-fantasy level stuff that still tackled important themes for a young adult audience, and I think so many people are going to love this book.


Emily A. Duncan

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.


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fourstars

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

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Goodreads Synopsis:

When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she’ll finally face what lies behind her—the miles and love and loss…and what is to come.


If I could recommend one book to read this year, it would be this. I loved it so so much, and it will stick with me for a very long time.

Things start out a little vague but slowly picks up as we begin to learn so many things about Annabelle and her past. Due to a very traumatic experience, Annabelle decides to pursue a daunting task: running cross country from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC. It is a five-month journey with her running from town to town, with her grandfather following her in an RV, and she meets many supporters along the way. But the reason isn’t instantaneously clear to us, the reader. All we know is that she is doing this out of many emotions: grief, guilt, remorse, and with the hope to heal.

I don’t usually gravitate toward books where, from just reading the description, sounds like a “journeying” story. But oh my god, I am so glad I did. This is so much more than journeying from point A to point B. You see, we also learn that Annabelle is trying so hard to move on from the pain created by a nameless individual called The Taker, and as she continues, mile after mile, she slowly begins to shed the feelings of guilt. She wants to make a change. She has to do something.

I also want to mention that it is addressed in the book that the type of long distance running Annabelle is doing isn’t recommended. It puts way too much stress on your body, no matter how well trained you are at long distance running. So, while it may not be truly realistic, it is mentioned several times she doesn’t push herself to run too long, and she gets lots of food/drinks via local supporters and her grandfather in their RV. Plus, her brother and friends are just THE BEST, and they plan out safe routes for her and arrange any sort of accommodations she needs.

I know I am being rather vague but I don’t want to give any hints of spoilers, because I think this book will be so much more impactful if you jump right into it. But it does deal with a lot of heavy themes such as toxic masculinity, especially how much women have to be so cautious when we are nice to someone or fear we are giving mixed signals. And also the importance of taking someone’s pleas for help seriously. Y’all, my copy of this book is so heavily tabbed because I could not relate to it more! So many times me and my friends went through similar experiences in high school (and this was back in the early 2000’s) and just seeing Annabelle go through the same things made me so angry and exhausted. It just makes me so sad this is something we still have to deal with today.

Alright, I know I wasn’t extremely detailed in my review but if I could recommend any book to read RIGHT NOW it would be this. Yes, the topics are heavy, but I promise you it is so worth it. It is a story about healing and how running not only helped heal Annabelle, but also brought a whole community, a whole nation, together.

Read further for minor spoilers and trigger warnings:

And, honestly… in light of some recent tragic news in the US in association with gun violence… I just feel this book is so important now more than ever.

Trigger warnings: Unwanted touching, stalking, gun violence, murder, PTSD.

fivestars

Buddy read with Sophie!


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You Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook

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ARC provided by HMH in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Kim gets more than she bargained for when she is set up for murder. Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying, E. Lockhart, and Gillian Flynn.

17-year-old Kim never expected to plot a murder. But that was before her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. Now, Kim’s stuck on a class trip to London with him and his new soulmate and she can’t help wishing he was a little bit dead, even if she’d never really do that.

But when Kim meets Nicki, a stranger on the plane who’s more than willing to listen to Kim’s woes, things start to look up. Nicki’s got a great sense of humor, and when she jokes about swapping murders, Kim plays along—that is, until Kim’s ex-boyfriend mysteriously dies.

Blackmailed by Nicki to fulfill her end of the deal, Kim will have to commit a murder or take the fall for one.


I knew I had to read this the second I found out Eileen Cook was releasing a new book! I have been a fan for a very long time, and I love how Eileen’s books always incorporate a thrilling/mysterious theme.

You Owe Me a Murder follows a similar type of story in line with Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, which was then made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. The format goes like this: Two strangers meet, in this case, on a plane. One person expresses that they want someone in their life *gone*, and the other person expresses the same wish. Together they formulate the perfect crime; they swap murders so the crime cannot be linked to themselves.

We first meet Kim, a high school student sitting in an airport waiting on her flight to London. She’s traveling with a small group of students on a 2 week study-abroad, but she’s not in good spirits because her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend are going, too. Noticing how lonely Kim is, Nicki, a stranger, sits beside Kim and they form a sudden kinship. Soon they’re both getting tipsy on stolen vodka on the plane, and they both express how much they’re hurting: Nicki claims her alcoholic mother is ruining her life, while Kim is angry with her ex, Connor. Nicki convinces Kim to write down all the reasons Connor “should die”, and in her drunken stupor, Kim agrees. Then the conversation turns serious and Nicki asks Kim to kill her mother. Kim is stunned, but doesn’t agree to it.

When Kim wakes up from her vodka-induced sleep, the plane has landed in London and Nicki is gone. Thinking it was all just a silly conversation, Kim continues on her school trip — until early on, Connor ends up dead and Kim finds a horrifying note linking Nicki to his death.

Kim also pairs up with a cute boy named Alex, and an insta-love romance blooms. I actually don’t mind insta-love tropes, but one thing that I wasn’t really fond of was when things went into… “unreliable narrator territory.” There are some twists that throw Kim under the unreliable narrator bus, and I just wasn’t loving it. I was also getting frustrated by how poorly Kim was handling everything and how unrealistic Nicki was as a “villain.”

However, I also want to talk about WHY I think Kim reacted the way she did. Sure, it may have annoyed me, but it’s also important to remember that she was in a foreign country, and we all know what happens when young American women start to fall under suspicion by law enforcement. (*Cough* Can we say Amanda Knox? Which, by the way, I feel is now a good time to boost With Malice, because Eileen Cook drew lots of inspiration from Knox’s case for that book.)

But I always enjoy a good whodunnit mystery, and I loved how their investigative adventures took them all over London. I will forever read anything Eileen writes because she has such a knack for writing amazing YA plots and characters. I am always a sucker for any books that take place in Europe.

I think if you want something more adult, then I’d recommend picking up The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. The strangers-meet-to-swap-murders set-up is similar but with more mature content. But I truly think You Owe Me a Murder is great for younger readers, and it has just the right amount of murder, adventure, and romance!

Trigger warnings: Talks of suicide, alcoholism, cheating, stalking, death of child.

threestars


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In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire

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ARC provided by Tor.com in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Synopsis:

This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.


This is the fourth installment in the Wayward Children series and, once again, Seanan McGuire transported me to such a magical, and yet brutal, realm. I cannot recommend this series enough.

I was always curious about Lundy’s background ever since she made her first appearance in book one, Every Heart a Doorway. In that book, she is an older therapist who works alongside the director of the school. However, she looks like a child. When I learned In an Absent Dream was going to be about Lundy, I was actually a bit nervous because I had a feeling it was going to break my heart.

And it pretty much did. Katherine Lundy’s story here is a prequel to book one, and we follow her from the very first time she found her door. She opens a door to the goblin market, where she quickly learns everything has its price, and that everything that’s traded must be fair value. But what one may consider fair may not be fair to others. It’s a vicious game of paying a toll, and it is a system that Lundy accepts so she can keep visiting the goblin market again and again.

Lundy also meets Moon, someone whom she quickly befriends and is the driving force for her to want to stay in this world. But Lundy also feels tethered and obligated to stay in her mortal world, with her family. Even though she hates that her life is pretty much mapped out for her, she feels deeply torn about leaving her sister. However, she can’t shake the desire to return to the goblin market because it’s the one place where she feels she truly belongs.

This book takes a look at what price we are willing to pay, or what we are wiling to exchange, in order to have the life we want. A life that’s fair for Lundy, who only wants to be able to live with Moon at the goblin market, but still return to visit her family in her mortal world. But Lundy learns so many lessons along the way, and they are horrible, and brutal, and honest — that nothing is fair value even when you’re led to believe otherwise.

I may not have 100% connected with this story as much as I did with Down Among the Sticks and Bones (which is still my favorite) but getting Lundy’s backstory was everything for me.

fourstars


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