Review: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked HeartsOur Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the eve of Ivy’s summer break, while her boyfriend is driving her home from a party, a mysterious figure darts into the road in front of them causing her boyfriend to swerve in order to avoid it.

There’s a minor accident as a result and Ivy’s face gets a little banged up. More concerning to Ivy however is the figure that caused them to go off the road in the first place. What was that?

They stop and pursue the figure into the woods. It’s a young woman and she seems out of place. The whole event is very strange, leaving Ivy feeling haunted.

Nevertheless, they return to the car and her boyfriend drives her home, where she proceeds to break up with him. Not the best start to summer break.

Making matters worse, she actually gets in trouble with her parents because of the accident.

As the hits keep on coming, she’s now grounded. This is going to be a great summer.

((Insert dramatic teen eye roll here.))

Soon Ivy is going to be wishing her lack of freedom were her largest problem as she starts being plagued by a series of increasingly unsettling events. The figure in the woods isn’t done with her. She doesn’t know how she knows this, she just does. It’s all connected.

That’s our present perspective. We also get a past perspective following Ivy’s Mom, Dana.

When Dana was a teen, she and a couple of friends had a real The Craft-moment happening. I’m not going to say one of them was Nancy, but one of them had some Nancy-leanings.

If you know, you know.

As the Reader it is very easy to become immersed in both of these timelines. Equally interesting is how they are connected and watching the two of them eventually bleed into one another.

I thought Albert did a great job telling this story. There were a couple of aspects that lost me a bit, some scenes towards the end had a fever dream-type quality to them and that’s not necessarily my favorite to see in a narrative.

With this being said, overall I found this story to be intriguing as heck.

The moody, dark atmosphere was definitely a plus for me. I loved how full of magic it was. Witchy vibes for the win!

Also, I really enjoyed the relationship between Ivy and her Mom. It’s complicated for a number of different reasons and watching Dana come to accept her daughter’s strength and power was beautiful to me.

Even though I didn’t agree with quite a few of Dana’s choices as a mother, I could definitely sympathize with her. I feel like Albert built her character out enough that it was easy to understand her motivations.

This was a highly anticipated release for me and it did not disappoint. I definitely recommend it to all who enjoy a dark, magical story with a bit of a mystery.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. The audiobook is fantastically done!

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Review: Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach

Dark CirclesDark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olivia Reed is a fairly successful actress on the brink of middle age. When she has a very public meltdown in Manhattan, captured by the paparazzi of course, her manager, Jess, suggests some R&R.

Jess picks out a Wellness Center in the Finger Lakes region of New York for Liv to attend. A Wellness Retreat sounding more palatable than Rehab, Liv agrees to go.

Thus, leaving her sweet little dog, Richard, with Jess for the time being, Liv heads off to the House of Light. How bad can it be, anyway?

Liv is unsettled when not long after her arrival, a body is discovered in the water near the House of Light. After some discussions with another retreat member, Ava, Liv learns that this isn’t the first young woman to have been found in similar circumstances near this location.

In fact, young woman with connections to the House of Light seem to ‘commit suicide’ with shocking regularity.

No one seems to believe the House of Light is connected with these mysterious deaths, but Ava does. After hearing all of the evidence Ava presents to her, Liv is not so sure.

Liv decides to investigate on her own and start a new project, a podcast that will look into these deaths, all of which happen to fall on pagan holidays. Coincidence or not?

This book follows Liv’s time at the Center, as well as her investigation into the women’s deaths and the production of her podcast, Vultures. Full podcast episodes are also included.

I’ll admit to being a little nervous going into this one. From what I had read, it was receiving mixed reviews and even though the synopsis contained a lot of buzzwords for me, it’s always hard to tell which side of the fence you are going to fall on. Hit or miss?

Luckily for me, this was a hit. I really enjoyed my time with this story. I was totally invested with Liv. Loved her as a main character.

Even though the narrative is a slow burn that never quite hit bonfire proportions, I was completely captivated!!

I did actually end up listening to the audiobook and loved it as a medium to take in this story. The podcast sections were freaking fantastic. Completely realistic and fascinating.

Additionally, I loved Liv. I know that some Readers will not be into her, but I like this type of main character. What can I say? I like characters that are flawed. Maybe they drink too much, maybe they’re a little selfish or rude, but they’re always interesting and they have a lot of room to grow.

The House of Light, or HoL, as Liv calls it, has a very distinct cult-like vibe. This was super interesting. I always think I am going to enjoy books revolving around a cult and I often am disappointed.

This one was probably one of the most interesting books that I have read involving fictional cult-like activities. Many of the aspects of HoL reminded me a lot of Scientology, which was even mentioned in the book; the fact that the two were similar.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It’s the type of story that is going to sit with me too. Very well done by, Dolan-Leach. A little long-winded, but a super fun journey nevertheless.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I am looking forward to picking up more from this author!

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Review: Never Coming Home by Kate Williams

Never Coming HomeNever Coming Home by Kate Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Unknown Island made its presence known via social media, it hit hard. An isolated, luxurious island vacation destination where young people, of a certain caliber and follower count, will get to stay free for a week at a time.

The claim is that an angel investor is funding the exclusive destination as a way for the best young minds to come together and share ideas. It’s invite only and no one over 21-years old will be included.

The initial marketing push is strong and everyone wants to be involved. If they can’t go in person, they’ll be watching it unfold via social media.

Who wouldn’t want a free vacation that the whole world is watching? The potential for publicity is off the charts. For some young influencers, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s so good, they can taste it.

After the First Ten are selected, the chosen ones slowly and complicatedly make their way to the remote island location.

Once they arrive, they quickly discover something is off. The scene they find is not what the promotional materials advertised. What the heck is going on?!

It’s soon exposed that these fresh-faced travelers weren’t invited to Unknown Island because of their individual follower counts. They were invited for the terrible secrets they hold. Someone knows and is looking to expose them.

Worse than that, it seems whoever is behind Unknown Island is hellbent on revenge. Will any of them be able to make it home alive?

I really like what Williams did with Never Coming Home. She gave me a classic-feeling mysterious slasher set on an abandoned island with a plucky group of diverse and unlikable characters.

That’s exactly the vibe I wanted going in and it’s exactly what I got. There were a few places when it dragged a little for me, but overall it’s a super fun Summer Chiller!

In addition to the fabulous horror elements, I enjoyed the underlining modern themes running through this one. It’s social media taken to the extreme, but it was interesting to think about.

Of course I couldn’t help but think of Fyre Festival with the set-up of this one. It definitely gives off that same sort of skeevy feeling. These poor kids was what I was initially thinking, but once the bodies started dropping, I stopped caring as much.

Williams kills were creative and a few definitely left me picking my chin up off the ground. She held nothing back!

This is the perfect quick read for a Summer Scare. I would definitely recommend it to people who love a good old fashion slasher. It checked all those boxes for me.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Delacorte Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had a lot of fun with this one and hope that Williams continues in this lane with her future work!

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Review: Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Weather GirlWeather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ari Abrams has been fascinated by the weather for as long as she can remember. She grew up in Seattle watching Torrance Hale, the local meteorologist, and idolizing her the way other kids idolize sports stars or other celebrities.

As an adult, Ari is so close to achieving all her dreams. Torrance Hale is now her boss and while Ari loves her job, she wishes she were allocated more responsibility and more challenging stories.

Half the problem is that Torrance is too distracted by her turbulent relationship with her ex-husband, Seth, the station’s news director. It seems most days she barely notices Ari at all.

Ari is growing increasingly frustrated and finds someone to confide in at the office. Russell Barringer, a sports reporter, is also frustrated with the toxic atmosphere at the station created by Torrance and Seth’s constant fighting.

In the aftermath of a calamitous office Christmas party, Ari and Russ come up with a plan to get Torrance and Seth back together. The Parent Trap is referenced, so you get the deal.

From that point on, Ari and Russ spend progressively more time together as they plot and scheme to get the ex-couple reunited.

Weather Girl is really touching. Much like the weather, this story has both dark and light aspects. I enjoyed all the characters so much and it felt particularly good watching Ari and Russ open up to one another.

Rachel Lynn Solomon is such a gifted writer. I will continue to pick up every single thing she ever offers; YA or Adult, it doesn’t matter, it’s all incredible.

I know a lot of people have mentioned in their reviews that this one wasn’t as light-hearted as they were expecting and that may have decreased their enjoyment level a bit.

Ari does suffer from depression and works through a lot of issues relating to that. I thought it was handled really well though. One thing I always enjoy about RLS’s work is her inclusion of mental health issues.

I feel like having her characters mentally working through those types of things makes them more believable and relatable. I can understand how some Readers may not want so much of it included in a book they are expecting to be a light Rom-Com though.

For me, I found Ari to be extremely realistic. She recently went through a break-up from a long-term relationship and is still processing that dissolution.

Ari’s mother also has battled depression for decades and wasn’t always there for her children. As you can imagine, that has had a lot of impact on Ari’s life.

Russell has his own insecurities that he is working through. I enjoyed learning about his life. Russ isn’t your stereotypical leading man and I loved him all the more for it.

The banter between the two, in RLS’s signature style, is witty and engaging. I was rooting for the two of them from the start. They had such a sweet dynamic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. The mix of serious and fun was compelling, thought-provoking and heart-warming. While this isn’t my favorite of Solomon’s work, it’s still wonderfully done.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I look forward to Solomon’s next release!!

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Review: The Clackity by Lora Senf

The ClackityThe Clackity by Lora Senf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

After a childhood tragedy, Evie Von Rathe moves to the town of Blight Harbor, the 7th-most haunted town in America, to live with her Aunt Desdemona, the local paranormal expert.

When we meet Evie, she is a happy little girl, on the cusp of her summer holiday. She enjoys working at the local library with her Aunt’s best friend, Lily, and has a fantastic relationship with her Aunt Des. These things help her deal with the pain of her earlier trauma.

Additionally, Evie is quite interested in paranormal goings-on and the fact that this is her Aunt’s line of work excites her to no end. Frankly, I get it. Desdemona is intriguing.

One rule Des has always had is to not hang around the local abandoned slaughterhouse. Makes sense to me. Apparently, once upon a time, a local serial killer John Jeffrey Pope worked there. It’s not giving off good vibes.

When Evie discovers her Aunt is exploring the old slaughterhouse for work, she wants in on it and promptly follows Des there.

Over the course of their investigation into the slaughterhouse and it’s sordid history, Aunt Des disappears and shortly thereafter Evie meets the Clackity.

The Clackity tells Evie that Des has been transported into a dangerously magical other realm and only Evie has the power to save her.

It offers up a deal, saying if Evie retrieves the spirit of serial killer John Jeffery Pope for it, Aunt Des will be saved. The killer is also in this magical other realm, putting Aunt Des in terrible danger. The clock is ticking.

Even though it is quite clear that the Clackity isn’t something you want to be making any sort of a deal with, what choice does she have? That’s right, none.

Thus, Evie begins her dangerous quest to save Aunt Des, meeting challenges, obstacles and scary beings head on. Evie is one strong and determined little girl. We love to see it!

The Clackity is such a fun Middle Grade story; non-stop spooky goodness from beginning to end. It channeled heavy Neil Gaiman vibes for me and I was eating it up.

Quests are one of my favorite tropes and I would argue this fits the bill perfectly. Add in the level of eeriness carried throughout and you pretty much have a perfect story for me.

I loved how the quest was presented. There were different steps, or challenges, Evie had to pass before moving on to the next. It was simple and easy to understand, while also being ridiculously well-imagined and described.

This story absolutely filled my heart. I loved the characters, relationships, humor and horror-filled imagery so much. It’s incredibly dark and creepy, the perfect example of why I love this subgenre of Middle Grade with my whole being.

I definitely recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a classic-feeling Spooky Middle Grade story. The Clackity is an absolute gem.

Thank you so very much to the publisher, Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review. It was an true delight.

The Clackity releases this coming Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

🦇❤️🖤💀❤️🖤🦇❤️🖤💀❤️🖤🦇❤️🖤💀❤️🖤🦇❤️🖤

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Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending (MurderTrending, #1)#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Gretchen McNeil’s futuristic YA Dystopian novel #Murdertrending drops you straight into a world where the federal government has privatized part of the prison system.

After that decision was made the Postman app was launched.

Essentially the app turns capital punishment into a lucrative business by broadcasting death row as the ultimate reality show. Survivor has nothing on this, trust.

In addition to following the inmates, viewers can also follow their favorite executioners, collectively known as the Painiacs. There’s fandoms involved. It’s a whole thing.

The executions are also broadcast, with each executioner coming up with their own creatively brutally ways of taking someone out.

We follow Dee, who after being convicted of killing her step-sister is sent to Alcatraz 2.0, the most famous prison island, to serve out the last of her term. She is set to be executed, but you never know when it will happen.

That’s half the fun, am I right?

The inmates in Alcatraz 2.0 live fairly freely on the island itself. They have jobs and can socialize with one another. Because of this, Dee ends up making some friends.

The friend group is dubbed DRBC, the Death Row Breakfast Club, through social media. Since they all claim to have been wrongfully convicted, they desire to uncover the truth behind Alcatraz 2.0.

But what is the truth?

#Murdertrending is a unique and interesting read. I enjoyed the themes explored regarding the criminal justice system and social media’s effect on society.

It did take me a wee bit to get my bearings with this one because you are literally plopped down in the middle of Dee’s world. I just had to relax into it and trust that McNeil would ultimately reveal everything I needed to know about the world and she did.

I enjoyed learning about the inmates and executioners. The executioners all had special names that reminded me of the type of punny names people use in roller derby, which added to the air of over-the-topness. It was fun.

I also enjoyed the mystery surrounding the Postman app. You can tell there is some sort of conspiracy happening, but how far does it reach? I tend to enjoy evil corporation vibes and this one definitely channeled that.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the final reveals. I really wish it had gone in another direction, but that is simply personal taste.

With this being said, even though it lost me a bit in the end, I am so happy that I finally made time for this one. I don’t think that I will be continuing on with this series, but am still happy to have read this one.

Thank you to the publisher, Freeform, who actually provided me of a copy to read and review back in 2018. My apologies for not getting to it before now. I should have because honestly, I had a lot of fun with it!

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Review: The Dinner Guests by Kiersten Modglin

The Dinner GuestsThe Dinner Guests by Kiersten Modglin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Piper, Beth and Lakynn have been best friends since childhood. They now all live on the same quiet street and enjoy spending a lot of time together.

Since the neighborhood is so quiet, when anything changes it’s a big deal. For example, when the most luxurious home on their street sells, they can’t help but spy on the new neighbors. Who are they? What’s their story?

When the ladies traditional methods of reaching out to the new neighbors fail, they’re at a loss. Are these people intentionally ignoring them?

Then the construction begins; a ginormous concrete wall quickly goes up surrounding the property. And the cameras! What the actual heck?

Weeks later, out of the blue, the friends receive very formal invitations to a dinner party at the now fortified mansion. Even though the invitations arrive last minute, they can’t say no. They’ve been itching to get into that house.

Thus, that Friday night Beth and her husband Leo, Lakynn and her husband Henry, along with Piper and her love interest Shane, all walk together to the mystery dinner.

After introductions, it is clear this isn’t going to be a normal evening. The couple is strange, the discussion topics are strange, the atmosphere is strange. It’s a whole thing.

As the dinner portion of the evening draws to a close, the friends discover there’s no way out. They’re forced to play a game, hoping if they win, they’ll be set free.

How do I best explain the experience that I had reading The Dinner Guests?

Let’s just say it was like being served a well drink when you are used to drinking top shelf.

It just was not for me; at all. I had never read anything by this author before, but have heard a lot of positive reviews for her previous works. I was fully expecting to enjoy this, maybe even love it.

I was actually surprised at how bad this turned out to be for me. It just seemed ridiculous. I could not get behind anything that was happening.

Let it be known that I frequently enjoy books that you have to suspend belief in certain areas, so it’s not that. It was everything else, the writing, the characters, the reveals, the ending…

I think maybe Modglin’s work just isn’t for me. I am glad I gave it a shot, but will most likely not pick up anything further from this author.

If this synopsis sounds fun to you though, you should definitely try it. Reading is completely subjective and just because something didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

Thank you to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for providing me with an audio-copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: Beneath Cruel Waters by Jon Bassoff

Beneath Cruel WatersBeneath Cruel Waters by Jon Bassoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holt Davidson essentially fled his hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, as soon as he was old enough.

After he receives news that his estranged mother has committed suicide, he decides it has to be done; he has to go back for the first time in over twenty-years.

The dread he is feeling about returning is substantial, but he’s also hoping to maybe fill in some pieces of his murky childhood memories. He wants to finally be able to make peace with it all and put it behind him.

Until this point, Holt has been haunted by his past, but it’s actually unclear as to why.

Once he returns to Thompsonville, he even stays at his mother’s home in his old bedroom. Alone in the house, he begins exploring, searching for clues from the past.

Instead of your typical nostalgic childhood items, however, Holt discovers a gun, a mysterious love letter and a picture of a dead man lying in his own blood.

These aren’t the type of things you can ignore, so Holt begins an investigation. He’s determined to discover the secrets of his past, whether he’s going to like it or not.

He enlists the help of his mother’s oldest, dearest friend and gains a lot of useful information from her, including insight into his sister who has been institutionalized since she was a teen. It’s not long before Holt’s own traumatic memories begin to resurface.

One of my favorite tropes in a Thriller is when a main character returns to their hometown after an extended absence, so in theory this was the perfect set-up for me.

Luckily, the theory was proven correct in this case. I enjoyed this one a lot. Once I started I didn’t want to put it down.

I found Bassoff’s writing to be highly readable. It was fast-paced and smooth, with just the right amount of details. I love the POVs coming from both past and present to help to piece the truth together.

I thought the reveals were well handled. Although predictable, it still managed to keep me fully captivated so it didn’t really influence my opinion of the overall story.

I was really surprised by this one and definitely recommend it to fans of Crime Thrillers, especially if you enjoy the use of both past and present perspectives together.

Thank you to the publisher, Blackstone Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m looking forward to reading more from Bassoff!

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Review: My Summer Darlings by May Cobb

My Summer DarlingsMy Summer Darlings by May Cobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

My Summer Darlings begins in a very intriguing way. You get the perspective of a woman lying in the woods, bleeding profusely, contemplating her death.

You don’t know who she is or who has harmed her, but it is clear she ended up in her predicament by nefarious means.

You are then sent 6-weeks back in time to follow the perspectives of Jen, Kittie and Cynthia.

The trio have been best friends since childhood and even though Jen moved away for a bit, once she returned to their East Texas town after a messy divorce, they picked up right where they left off. They’re thick as thieves through all the ups and downs of their bougie lifestyles.

The women each have their own personal concerns of course, Jen for example, post-divorce is actually really struggling financially. Luckily her friends and parents never mind helping her out. They’re just happy she is finally away from him.

Cynthia and Kittie are both very well off and their husbands are great, but you know life.

When Will Harding moves to town, a drop-dead gorgeous man who ends up in the most luxurious home in the neighborhood, the three women are intrigued.

Will could be exactly the type of man Jen needs to move past her divorce. Will’s presence in town however stirs things up for the trio more than they ever could have expected. We’re talking secrets, lies and shady alibis.

There is no denying that May Cobb has a knack for writing rich people drama. With this novel, as with The Hunting Wives, once I started, I could not put it down.

I loved the set-up; the way it began and then going back to piece together what had lead that mystery woman to that point, it was so engaging.

While I was addicted to the drama, however, there were a few things toward the end that I found to be a touch too convenient for my tastes. Hence the 3.5-stars rounded up.

Regardless, that is still a great rating and it’s undeniable that I really enjoyed this. It was a ton of fun. If you enjoy over-the-top, reality show-levels of ridiculously entertaining drama, you have to check this one out.

I think if you go into this expecting a strict to the genre Thriller, you may be disappointed. Just know this is more of a Domestic Drama centering around the friend group, with a touch of mystery running throughout.

At this point, I am sold on May Cobb. I love the risqué drama she’s serving up. I’m here for it and will continuing coming back.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I appreciate it and look forward to seeing what crazy hijinks Cobb comes up with next!

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Review: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolá Okogwu

Onyeka and the Academy of the SunOnyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Onyeka is a twelve-year-old girl living in the U.K. with her Mom. They moved there from their native Nigeria when Onyeka was very young. In fact, she was so young she doesn’t remember anything about her life in Nigeria where they lived with her father.

All Onyeka knows is that when they moved to the U.K. it was just the two of them. Onyeka’s Mom keeps their past shrouded in mystery, preferring to ignore the topic rather than answering any of Onyeka’s questions.

This sounds sad and if she dwells on it, sometimes it does make Onyeka a little sad, but overall her and her Mom have a great relationship.

Her Mom is a strong woman who only wants the best for Onyeka. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but you can tell the two love each other fiercely even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye.

When our story begins Onyeka and her best friend, Cheyenne, are visiting the local public pool on a hot day. Even though Onyeka doesn’t adore swimming, for Cheyenne she’s willing to join in the fun.

However while they are both playing in the water something happens and Cheyenne ends up in distress. Onyeka, not a strong swimmer to begin with, cannot sit by while her best friend drowns. She has to help her, thus she learns the magic power of her hair.

Yes, you heard that right. The only thing saving Cheyenne and Onyeka that day was the power of Onyeka’s hair.

After the very public spectacle at the pool, Onyeka gets home to a Mom that is not happy. Through their heated discussion regarding the days events, Onyeka’s Mom reveals that Onyeka is a Solari, a child with special powers.

Before she can even wrap her mind around all this new information, Onyeka finds herself, along with her Mom, on a private jet being whisked off to Nigeria. Their destination is the Academy of the Sun, a school developed just for Solari.

Arriving at the School, Onyeka is overwhelmed by it all. She has to learn about this entire hidden world she knew nothing about before.

Crazier still is that she’s one of them and she’s powerful. Her hair, that has always been a nuisance to her and a frustration for her mother, is actually her greatest strength.

She just needs to learn to control it.

The Reader gets to go along with Onyeka as she learns all about the Solari, their history and challenges. She trains with other students, who although all Solari, have very different powers from one another.

It was a lot of fun to be in a magic school setting. There were a lot of interesting characters and Onyeka learned so much about herself from interacting with the others. She made some close friends and was able to really be herself for the first time.

I absolutely adored this story from the very first chapter. Getting to know Onyeka, she is such a special character, the kind who is easy to root for.

The story is action-packed, with a slight mystery-edge to it. I loved the themes explored, such as embracing the hidden power within yourself, letting your uniqueness shine and so much more!!!

I would definitely recommend this book to any Middle Grade Reader, particularly if you are looking for diverse, culture-filled, immersive OWN-voices stories.

You can’t go wrong with this absolute ray of sunshine. It filled my heart reading this.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I truly hope this isn’t the last story I get to read following this lovable protagonist. Onyeka has so much more room to grow and I want to be there for every moment of it!

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