Review: Death in the Family (Shana Merchant #1) by Tessa Wegert

Death in the FamilyDeath in the Family by Tessa Wegert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About a month ago, I received an ARC of the second book in the Shana Merchant series, The Dead Season, from Berkley Books. It is currently set to release on December 8, 2020.

Thank you so much for providing me with a copy, Berkley!

Although, I believe, like many Adult Mystery series, the books can be read as standalones, and do not necessarily need to be read in order, I still wanted to give this one a shot.

Upon completion, I am so happy that I did!

Shana Merchant is a veteran police detective, recently moved from the NYPD to a department in a quiet town in the Thousand Lakes region of Upstate New York.

She needed to get out of the city after a horrific incident involving a serial killer, so when her fiance suggested moving back to his hometown, she readily agreed.

Shana believes that with her move to a smaller community, she’ll be dealing with a lot less violent crime and may have an easier time coping with her return to work. Statistically she is correct.

When Shana and her new partner, Tim Wellington, get called to a private island to investigate a missing person case, however, Shana feels those old anxieties beginning to rise.

The island is owned by the wealthy Sinclair family, who made their fortune in American textiles.

Many members of the family happen to be on the island for the weekend when Jasper Sinclair goes missing in the middle of the night. Not only does he go missing, the bed he was sleeping in is drenched in blood.

It’s clear to Shana and Tim that Jasper has not left the property of his own volition, but how would he leave the property? It’s an island and all boats are accounted for?

When a vicious storm hits, Shana and Tim become stranded as well, and all remaining are now suspects.

This is a classically arranged locked-room mystery, a la Agatha Christie. As many of you may already know, this is my absolute favorite mystery trope.

I was swept up in the story from the very start and was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The Sinclair family, from the matriarch, all the way down to the youngest among them, felt completely real and each distinct in their own way.

I loved the toxic family dynamics and watching all their dirty little secrets come to light.

The pacing was fantastic to keep me intrigued the entire way through.

Although I felt a little let down by the actual whodunit; I can’t really explain why, I was just hoping it was a bit more devious than it ended up being, I genuinely enjoyed my time with this novel.

I really like Shana as a protagonist. She is quite a complex character and I cannot wait to find out more about her in the next novel.

This one left off at a fantastic spot as far as a lead in to a sequel. I am truly chomping at the bit to get into the next installment.

If you enjoy a taut, locked-room mystery with heavy Christie vibes, you should absolutely check out the Shana Merchant series!!!

View all my reviews

Review: Straight On Till Morning (Twisted Tales) by Liz Braswell

Straight On Till MorningStraight On Till Morning by Liz Braswell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Meg’s current ratings for the Twisted Tales series:

1. Reflection (Mulan): 4-stars
2. As Old As Time (Beauty & the Beast): 3.5-stars rounded up
3. Straight on Till Morning (Peter Pan): 3.5-stars rounded up
4. Mirror, Mirror (Snow White): 3.5-stars rounded up
5. Unbirthday (Alice in Wonderland): 3.5-stars
6. Conceal, Don’t Feel (Frozen): 3.5-stars
7. A Whole New World (Aladdin): 3-stars
8. Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid): 2-stars

In this twisted version of Peter Pan, we follow Wendy Darling, who though she has written many stories of Peter Pan and his escapades with the Lost Boys, she has never actually met him or been to Neverland.

However, Peter has sat many a night outside of the window to the nursery, listening to Wendy’s stories. On one such night, he accidentally leaves behind his shadow.

Wendy keeps his shadow, tucking it away in a drawer, and when she stumbles upon Captain Hook, she uses it as a bargaining chip to gain passage upon the Jolly Roger on a voyage to Neverland.

Unsurprisingly, Hook has more sinister plans in mind than he lets on to Wendy, however, and now Neverland’s entire existence is in jeopardy.

Upon discovering Hook’s true intentions, Wendy must work with a tiny and surprising ally, Tinkerbell, in order to correct her mistake.

What was she thinking trusting a pirate!?

Overall, I enjoyed this installment. There were some spots that felt a little slow, but mostly it kept me quite entertained.

I really loved the development of Wendy’s character. She is 16-years old here, on the cusp of adulthood, dealing with her parent’s expectations.

She’s not ready to enter womanhood in the way they would like her too. She finds it unnerving.

Her romp through Neverland is her last ditch effort to hold onto the carefree time of her youth.

If fact, that theme arises a lot, with Captain Hook also struggling with his lost boyhood.

In addition to the exploration of the shift your life can take as you grow older, I also enjoyed the evolution of the relationship between Wendy and Tinkerbell.

Tink and Wendy’s relationship, as we know it, was often steeped in jealousy and petty acts of sabotage.

While that is how it begins here as well, we also see the two of them growing to understand and ultimately, even care for one other. I thought that growth was very well executed by Braswell.

For fans of Peter Pan, I think this will be a lovely take on the original. It’s definitely worth at least picking it up and giving it a shot.

As always, I am looking forward to seeing what stories Disney chooses to twist next!!!

View all my reviews

Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will PayYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

UNDERRATED BOOK ALERT!!!

Oh, shoot. Wow. This book packs a punch.

I highly recommend the audiobook. It’s chef’s kiss.

Set in L.A., this novel examines racial tensions, grief and absolution, through the lens of two families tied together by a decades old crime.

Our protagonists, Grace Park and Shawn Matthews, aren’t even aware of their connection to one another until after Grace’s mother is shot outside of the family-owned pharmacy.

As Grace tries to grapple with why anyone would target her mother, she discovers a long-buried family secret.

Through this discovery, she learns why her sister, Miriam, hasn’t spoken to their mother in almost two years. Grace doesn’t know how to react, or how to deal with the fact that her mother isn’t who she thought.

Following a police shooting of a black teenager, as well as the recent release of his cousin, Ray, from prison, Shawn Matthews experiences a lot of painful memories coming to the surface.

In the early-90s, when Shawn was a kid, his beloved sister, Ava, was shot. After the beating of Rodney King by L.A. police officers, the city was in turmoil. Ava’s death occurred during that intense time period.

I’m trying to be very careful with what I write here. I don’t want to spoil a single thing for anyone who may want to read this.

I thought the choices Cha made in the format of this story were incredible. It is so well done. I became engaged extremely quickly, the characters definitely draw you in, and keep you wanting to know more.

I thought it was cleverly plotted, alternating between the past and present timelines, as well as between Park and Matthews.

While the historical aspects demonstrate that not much has changed, we are still fighting the same fights when it comes to racism, police brutality and cultural mistrust within cities, I also think there is a lovely underlining message of hope.

That change can come. That we can break the mold. That we don’t have to fall into the same patterns as those that came before us.

It really is a powerful message. One that I think is so important for a wide audience to ingest.

There were many times when a new fact would come to light where I would audibly gasp. It was rapid fire reveal, reveal, reveal, as it all comes together.

I felt so much for both Shawn and Grace, as well as their families. Imagining all they had been through, and the reasons why, really weighs on a heart.

This novel seems to be flying under the radar. I am really hoping this review will make at least one more person pick it up. The issues tackled are so topical and important.

Why can’t that person be you!? Seriously, particularly in today’s climate, this is such an important story. Grab a copy if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally, I was planning to give To Sleep in a Sea of Stars 4.5-stars and round up.

After having some time to reflect on my reading experience, however, I can give this nothing but 5-stars. I CANNOT STOP thinking about it.

This novel is quite the accomplishment for Paolini. If I am remembering the Author’s Note correctly, he worked on this project for nine years and it shows; as close to perfection as you can get.

In the beginning of the story, we meet and follow Kira Navarez, a xenobiologist, who discovers an alien relic while on a survey mission to an uninhabited planet.

The relic isn’t as dormant as it first appears and ends up contaminating and binding with Kira. This event has lasting repercussions, leaving her feeling responsible for some negative events that follow.

This is a story of first contact. I wasn’t aware of that going in, although it says it directly in the synopsis, I missed it somehow.

I love first contact stories. It’s actually one of my favorite subgenres of Science Fiction. It is so well done here, you can definitely tell that Paolini is a Sci-Fi fan himself.

This story is so vast, it is hard to give brief plot points that would sum up the entirety of this novel’s scope. There is so much that happens from the first time Kira comes in contact with the alien suit to the stunning conclusion.

Reading this, I became so attached to her and the other characters as well. The crew that Kira travels with, defending the Universe, are the perfect rag-tag group of lovable rebels.

I loved how Paolini incorporated humor and witty banter into this story. It made the characters seem so real; they were reacting how you expect people in real life to react to such crazy and dire circumstances.

I was so engaged throughout my time reading this. It did not feel like a close to 900-page story. I got through it way more quickly than I had anticipated.

I would note this is straight-up, good old-fashioned Science Fiction. If you are thinking this will be more SFF, based on Paolini’s past works, you could be disappointed.

If you do not normally enjoy Science Fiction, you may not like this. If you are a fan of Sci-Fi though, you will eat this up. The delicious science bits are woven throughout. Start-to-finish, the details are incredible.

Also, if you do pick this book up, be sure to read through the Appendices at the end. There’s definitely a lot of interesting supplemental material there.

My favorite being a timeline of events that lead up to the world as we find it at the beginning of the story. It basically fills in the blanks between our current world through Kira’s time. It’s not very long, but I found it to be a thoughtful addition to the story.

The audiobook is fantastic as well, if you think that would be a good option for you. At first, I was thinking, why didn’t they go full cast, as there are quite a few characters. After getting into it, however, I never thought of it again.

The narrator, Jennifer Hale, did an absolutely tremendous job bringing this story to life. She is such talented voice artist and I was shocked to learn that this is actually her first audiobook. Talk about coming out swinging!

I am going to be thinking about this story for a long time to come and would love to read it again someday.

Highly, highly recommend!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Books, for providing me with both an e-book and audiobook copy of this release to read and review.

I had so much fun with this story and hope Paolini continues to write Science Fiction for a long time to come!

View all my reviews

Review: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful surprise!

Since I have become an active participant in the Book Community in 2017, I have watched countless books set in the Shadowhunter world be released.

I have quietly watched from the sidelines as fans swooned about the continuation of the world and ongoing story arcs.

Looking forward, with The Wicked Powers series in the works for Cassandra Clare, I want to take part, gosh darn it!

So, now it is time for some catch-up. A lot of it.

I have previously read Clockwork Angel and really enjoyed it. Ultimately though, I decided that I want to start with The Mortal Instruments series instead, so here we are!

I’m not going to provide a short synopsis for City of Bones, as I usually do in my reviews, because honestly, everyone already knows what this is about.

For this first novel, I chose to listen to the audiobook and I adored it. I thought the narration was engaging and it kept me focused the whole way through.

I loved finally getting to meet characters that I have heard referenced so frequently, like Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle and Magnus.

I was pleasantly surprised at how witty the banter was between characters. I live for that.

It always gives me all the feels when a character can literally make me laugh.

In short, I guess I am a Shadowhunter fan now. Is there a special term for us that I should know?

Looking forward to continuing on with this world. This really did it for me!

View all my reviews

Review: This Coven Won’t Break (These Witches Don’t Burn #2) by Isabel Sterling

This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn, #2)This Coven Won’t Break by Isabel Sterling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

As this is the second book in the These Witches Don’t Burn duology, this review may contain minor spoilers for the first book.

Proceed at your own risk!

Now entering her Senior year of high school, Hannah Walsh just wants to put the pieces of her life back together and forget about the tragedy that happened last year.

Her father is gone, her home destroyed, but she still has her Mom, best friend and girlfriend, Morgan, to count on.

While struggling with her grief, Hannah matured a lot. Sometimes it was hard to remember that she was still in high school.

I love that she remained connected to her ex-girlfriend, Veronica, and that we got to learn so much more about the infamous NYC Blood Witch incident. That’s what I had been hoping for all along.

As Hannah tries to recover however, the Witch Hunters are actually increasing their activities and apparently, they are now nationwide!

Armed with a biological serum that can strip Witches of their powers, the Hunters are determined to clear the world of Hannah and others like her.

There was quite a bit of action in this installment and moving from place-to-place. For me, it lost a little of its charm compared to the first book because of this.

Odd, I know, but one of the things I enjoyed so much about the first book was the examination of relationships and I didn’t feel that as much in this.

With this being said, I do think this was a lovely conclusion and I definitely plan to pick up the prequel novella, This Spell Can’t Last.

I also will pick up anything else this author chooses to write!

View all my reviews

Review: Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moody, dark and secretive, just like me.

Ninth House was a delightfully intriguing start to the all-new, Alex Stern series by Leigh Bardugo.

I have been fascinated by the idea of this book for a while. What’s not to love about the Yale campus, secret societies and magic.

On a recent road trip, I finally decided to give this one a shot.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed the audiobook, particularly the two narrators, I think I may have enjoyed it even more if I had read a hard copy.

I feel like I may have been able to concentrate more on the story if I had been holding the book in my hands and there’s a lot to take in here.

A lot of details regarding the setting of the Yale campus, the magic system, the lore of the secret societies, as well as back and forth timelines, I think just got lost somewhere around mile marker 50.

I was intrigued by Alex’s character. Here was a girl who had a rough start at life, raised by a hippie Mom in California, who ends up at one of the most elite institutions in the world.

After a close call that could have ended her life, Alex instead ends up being offered a seat in the Freshman class at Yale, but why? Her academic transcript certainly wasn’t recommending her for the slot.

Regardless of any trauma experienced in her life, Alex is a survivor and a fighter. I loved that about her.

When she starts at Yale, Alex gets tapped for Lethe House; the ninth of the secret societies at Yale and the one with the closest ties to the occult.

It’s also the responsibility of Lethe House to oversee the other houses to ensure there are no bad actors.

Alex, as it turns out, is well-suited for her new house, as she has an arcane ability she has been struggling with her entire life. This allows her a close connection to the spiritual underworld surrounding her.

Essentially a murder mystery, this novel offers up a lot of darker real world topics for consideration as well.

One of these topics that I found extremely interesting, was the great amount of privilege on the Yale campus, and the way uneven power dynamics can contribute to an extremely harmful environment.

There is also quite a bit on page of drug abuse, sexual assault and rape culture in general. If you are sensitive to these topics, I would tread cautiously.

With this being said, I was impressed overall with Bardugo’s transition to the Adult space. This is definitely an Adult novel. There are some real dark scenes in here and frankly, I am glad that she went as dark as she did.

It made this seedy underbelly of a privileged world seem so incredibly real.

I think as the series progresses the stories will continue to get stronger and stronger.

I may even read this one again, my hard copy, before the second novel is released.

I would love to experience this entire story in a more controlled environment than an SUV whizzing down the highway.

Also, does anyone else want to go snoop around New Haven in the middle of the night now, or just me?

The atmosphere, as always with Bardugo, was really something to behold; loved that aspect so much. I am really looking forward to getting back into this world when the next book releases!

View all my reviews

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

In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4)In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Not going to lie, this sort of crushed my heart.

I found this story to be so sad, y’all. It truly hit me right in the heart.

The idea of childhood innocence and optimism being dashed on the rocks of reality.

You cannot outsmart the market; you cannot have it all.

In an Absent Dream, a prequel novella, tells the backstory of Katherine Lundy, Eleanor West’s Assistant.

Her world was a goblin market with the door first manifesting to her in a large, mysterious tree which appears in a place it had never been before.

Talk about every child’s dream!

A portal world accessed through a tree that probably only you could see.

The description of the goblin market itself, not just the vibrant atmosphere, but also the system’s function, was fascinating. I think a lot can be taken from that as a social commentary on our own economic system.

That’s one of the things I love about McGuire’s writing, the stories hold so many different layers depending on how far you want to look.

There’s something for every reader within the pages.

I thought this was a super solid addition to this series. I enjoyed the relationships and how Lundy got to travel back and forth between the two places.

I’m looking forward to continuing on my Wayward Children journey. I wish this series would keep going on forever and ever!

View all my reviews

Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black FlamingoThe Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!!!

The Black Flamingo is a novel written in verse. My first read ever in verse. Going in, I was concerned. I wanted to read it because of the subject matter, but I just wasn’t sure if the format would work for me.

My experience with poetry, of any sort, is limited, and those I have had, were not great. My mind just generally doesn’t work that way. Maybe I’m too literal, but I tend to have a hard time deciphering the meaning and I become easily frustrated.

I decided to try the audiobook because it is read by the author, Dean Atta, who happens to be a well-known poet, and I figured, who better to hear the words from, in the way he wants them to be heard.

Upon conclusion, I know that was the correct decision for me. I definitely recommend the audiobook for other readers who may be apprehensive about a novel written in verse.

It literally feels like you are sitting down to coffee with a new friend and hearing about their life thus far.

This story follows Michael, a mixed race, gay boy growing up in the UK. The narrative follows him from the very beginning of his life, up through his time at University; although the bulk of it does take place during his teen years.

He goes in depth into his thoughts and feelings surrounding his family, his heritage of being part-Greek Cypriot and part-Jamaican, his heartache over his absentee father, his discovery of his sexuality and many other topical issues.

As a reader, it completely sucks you in. I could not stop listening. I just let the words wash over me and take me into Michael’s world.

With this novel, I felt the same as I did with Kacen Callender’s, Felix Ever After, in that I was completely and whole-heartedly entranced by the main character’s story and emotions.

I think with both it has to do with the writing. You are reading from the main character’s perspective the entire way through and you get access to their deepest, most open thoughts. Thoughts they may never choose to vocalize to other characters.

I think due to this special insight and openness with emotion, it is very easy to become attached to them, as you know how precious they are and how hurtful the world can be. It made me feel protective of both Michael and Felix; it also opened my eyes to perspectives they discussed that I will never experience myself.

That’s the best way I can think to describe how this book made me feel. My apologies if that makes no sense at all.

My best advice, read it for yourself. I think you’ll understand after you do.

I loved the evolution of Michael’s character as he literally grows up and discovers the best ways for him to express himself and live happily. His character is very open to the experience of University life and takes in all the activities that may not have been available to him when he was younger.

When he joins the Drag Society he begins to gain the confidence he needs to finally be the person he wants to be. These sections, particularly the final scene with his performance, were incredibly moving. Applause for days!

In short, this is an amazing novel, one I think any person can read and take their own lessons from. I will definitely be more comfortable picking up novels written in verse in the future.

Let this be a lesson to you, read outside of your comfort zones!! You never know what GEMS you will find!

View all my reviews

Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

PetPet by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Angels can look like many things. So can monsters.

Wow, this book is a lot to swallow. It is heavy; there is so much here to process.

Pet is a wildly creative story following, Jam, a black transgirl, living in a sort of metaphorical utopian city called, Lucille.

In this futuristic-feeling city, the angels have gotten rid of the all the monsters. There are no monsters left, or so they say.

Jam lives with her parents, Bitter and Aloe. They are so loving and supportive of Jam. She is content.

That is until when night when she is alone in her Mom’s art studio, Jam accidentally cuts her hand and drips blood on one of the paintings.

Okay, no big deal, right? Her Mom won’t get that mad.

But then the painting starts to come to life!

A being is literally crawling off of the page and coming to life. He’s big, he has horns, he has claws; Jam can’t believe her eyes!!

This mess is certainly going to require a bit more explaining then a few drops of blood on a page.

Jam begins communicating with this new being. His name is Pet and he is here to hunt a monster from the House of Redemption.

How can this be? There are no monsters left and Jam knows Redemption.

He’s her best friend. She knows his whole family; there are no monsters there!

Pet is insistent though. He is not wrong and Jam begrudgingly agrees to help him in his hunt. She doesn’t think he will find anything, but she’s goes along with him anyway more to appease him than anything.

Jam and Pet work together to try to weed out the monster hiding among them.

As mentioned above, this book is heavy. Initially, I was under the impression that this was Middle Grade for some reason, but that can’t be correct. I would definitely classify this as YA and maybe the marketing even does that, I’m not sure.

Dealing heavily in metaphor, this story lays out a horrifying reality for Redemption and his family. I was moved by where this went and the vigilante justice that followed.

If you are looking for an impactful, unique, moving story to pick up this summer, with a ton of great rep and beautiful, metaphoric writing, you should ABSOLUTELY pick up Pet!

I am looking forward to reading more from Emezi!

View all my reviews