Review: Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Tristan Strong #3) by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching (Tristan Strong #3)Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching is the third and final book in Kwame Mbalia’s courageous Middle Grade Adventure series.

This was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2021 and unsurprisingly, Mbalia DID NOT DISAPPOINT!

In this installment, which I won’t get too far into because it is the third book in the series, we see all of our old favorite characters return, including the absolute star, Gum Baby.

Unfortunately for Tristan and friends, however, we also see the return of one of the most heinous villains to ever grace the pages of a Middle Grade novel, King Cotton.

Starting at a family reunion, heading to New Orleans, then up the mighty Mississippi all the way to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago, this story is never want for action!

In addition to great action, these books contain enormous amounts of heart and humor. Mbalia doesn’t shy away from exploring important societal issues as well, making this a great book for parents to discuss with their children.

Looking back at the series as a whole, I am so impressed with Tristan’s growth as a character. He seemed to have a lot more introspective moments in this finale and I think those moments will be highly relatable to a lot of young Readers.

Mbalia’s ability to blend the serious moments with laugh out loud humor is really unmatched. If you want a action-packed series that will make you laugh, make you bite your nails in anticipation and make you think, look no further, Tristan Strong is where it’s at.

While I am really sad this trilogy had to come to an end, I am so happy with how it turned out. The Epilogue filled my heart to bursting.

I highly recommend this series to Readers of all ages. It’s a ton of fun, but more than that, it provides a necessary voice and an equally important hero for our time!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I am a huge fan of this series and will carry it in my heart for a long time to come!!

View all my reviews

Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

The Death of Jane LawrenceThe Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars rounded up**

Jane Shoringfield is a practical, independent woman, but she unfortunately lives in a time when that is sort of frowned upon; when it is expected for all women to marry and care for a home.

In order to best get by, Jane decides she does need to find a husband, yes, but she wants it to be a marriage of convenience. One where she will still be able to work and maintain a portion of her current independence.

She sets her sights on a handsome, yet reclusive, doctor, Augustine Lawrence.

Jane presents her plan to the good doctor and to her surprise, he accepts. He does have one condition, however, that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his decreipt manor on the outskirts of town.

Jane agrees, but when a freak accident strands her on the manor steps in the middle of night, Augustine must relent and let her in.

Jane is disturbed by the state she finds him in. He seems a different man, scared and paranoid. What is going on here?

By morning, Augustine seems to be back to his old self. Now that Jane has been introduced to the sinister mystery of Lindridge Hall, however, she wants to know more.

What makes this place so frighteningly special to Augustine and why didn’t he want her here?

As Jane goes deeper into her husband’s history, as well as that of Lindridge Hall, she is introduced to whole new worlds she never even knew existed.

The Death of Jane Lawrence has a super intriguing premise. It’s dripping in dark, gothic atmosphere and for that, I applaud it.

I appreciated the incorporation of occult ideas explored, as well as the build-up to the craziness.

With this being said, it got a little too crazy for my tastes. It felt too addled; like a non-stop fever dream. There was almost too much going on to be able to sink in and enjoy that rich gothic atmosphere. It just lost me.

I will admit to being a bit let down by this one. I was so looking forward to it and wish I could have connected with it more.

In spite of my slight criticisms, Starling’s writing style is quite pleasing. It has a nice flow and as mentioned before, it definitely delivers on atmosphere. I know a lot of Readers are really going to love this one.


Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies of this to read and review.

The narrator for the audiobook is fantastic, so I definitely would recommend giving it a listen if you have that option!

View all my reviews

Review: All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

All These BodiesAll These Bodies by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Summer of 1958, a string of unsolved murders, dubbed The Bloodless Murders, plagued the Mid-West.

In each case, the bodies are found completely drained of blood. Defying explanation, there is also no blood to be found anywhere at the scene, or any other evidence, for that matter. How is the killer getting away with this?

In September of 1958, the spree ends in a small Minnesota town with the killing of the Carlson family. 15-year old, Marie Catherine Hale, is found at the scene absolutely covered in blood.

Initially mistaken for a survivor, it turns out, none of the blood is hers and Miss Hale didn’t previously know the Carlsons. She is the only lead.

Michael Jensen, the Sheriff’s son, soon gets pulled into the investigation when Marie declares that he is the only person she is willing to tell her story to.

Michael can’t believe his luck. With dreams of becoming a journalist, and leaving his small town behind, Marie’s story could be exactly what he needs to help him reach that goal.

However, it’s more than that. He’s drawn to Marie. The pretty girl is not like other girls he knows. She fast and world-wise. He can’t help but be intrigued by her.

Over the course of several jailhouse confessionals, Marie Catherine reveals a tale to Michael that includes a bit of a supernatural twist to the killings.

Certainly, there’s nothing more to that than the active imagination of a young girl trying to avoid blame for truly heinous acts, right?

Nevertheless, Marie couldn’t have acted alone, so who was her accomplice? Will the police be able to locate him based on the information Marie Catherine has put forth?

You’ll have to read it to find out! Y’all, this was really good. I enjoyed it so much.

When I first started, I was instantly reminded of Truman Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The whole 1950s-era Mid-Western feel channeled that, for sure. If you are unaware, ICB is my favorite True Crime book of all time.

My In Cold Blood vibes were definitely not far off, as the Author’s Note at the end did mention the Clutter murders and Truman Capote.

Overall, I found All These Bodies to be unique, compelling and fast-paced. I loved how Blake built-out the relationship between Michael and Marie Catherine.

I also really enjoyed the pace at which Marie Catherine’s story is told. It kept me completely focused and engaged.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Quill Tree Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I will remember this one for a long time to come.

Definitely recommend!

View all my reviews

Review: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Summer SonsSummer Sons by Lee Mandelo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew and Eddie were best friends, closer than brothers. Their level of attachment to one another went above and beyond what you would even expect of the closest of friends.

When Eddie left Andrew behind to begin his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it was unsurprisingly a tough transition. At least from Andrew’s perspective.

Six months later, just before Andrew was getting ready to join Eddie in Nashville, Andrew receives news that Eddie has died, an apparent suicide.

Now Andrew has inherited Eddie’s house in Nashville, complete with a roommate he doesn’t know, or necessarily want. Andrew is also left with the haunting suspicion that Eddie’s death isn’t as cut and dry as the authorities are making it out to be.

As Andrew begins to settle into the Nashville house, becoming involved in Eddie’s University studies and his friend group, he learns there was a whole side to Eddie he didn’t know.

Street racing, hot boys, late nights, hard drugs, ominious topics of study and dark family secrets; Andrew doesn’t understand how all of this could have been going on with Eddie without him knowing it.

The deeper he gets into Eddie’s secrets, the more out of control he feels. Not helping matters is the strange presence haunting him, wanting to possess him.

Summer Sons is a Queer Southern Gothic story incoporating a cut-throat academic setting with the dangerous and exciting world of street racing. With this description in mind, this should have been a great fit for my tastes.

I did get some of the Southern Gothic vibes I was hoping for, as well as a desirable level of angst and grief. I also got a touch of academic atmosphere. Unfortunately, I also got bored and confused.

I did end up listening to the audiobook, which I actually feel is the only way I was able to get through it. I may have given up otherwise.

The narrator was fantastic. I loved how he had the accent to fit the story; that’s always a plus for me. I definitely recommend if you are interested in checking this one out, that you give the audiobook a go.

Overall, I think this just wasn’t the story for me. The writing is strong, and I can get behind the ideas that set the foundation of the story, the execution just fell flat for me.

I know a lot of Readers are going to absolutely adore this story, however, you can tell that already by the reviews!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I am glad I gave this one a shot and look forward to seeing what else Mandelo comes up with in the future.

View all my reviews

Review: The Violent Season by Sara Walters

The Violent SeasonThe Violent Season by Sara Walters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

There’s a local legend in the town of Wolf Ridge, Vermont, that every November its citizens are struck with a sudden hunger for violence.

Wyatt Green knows first hand that its more than a legend; it’s true. Last November her mother was brutally murdered in their home and the culprit was never found.

Wyatt, who was the first to find the body, has been living with the shock and grief ever since.

But there is more in Wyatt’s life causing her emotional stress and grief than her mother’s untimely death. There’s also her relationship with the cute and volatile, Cash.

He’s the bad boy who swept into her life and became a sort of obsession. She doesn’t know who she is without him and no matter what happens between them, she is still drawn to him. She has to be near him.

After getting paired with Cash’s nemesis, Porter, for a school project, however, Wyatt’s outlook begins to change.

The closer she gets to Porter, the more her past seems to come into focus, including her relationship with Cash. Has she been wrong about him all along?

As the violent season deepens, the truth about Wyatt’s mom also comes to light, forcing her to face her own dark reality.

If this sounds a little bleak to you, you’re not wrong. It is, but it’s also addictive. I listened to the audiobook and once I started, I couldn’t stop.

It tackles some fairly serious topics, including toxic/abusive relationships and drug/alcohol abuse, so if you feel those could be triggering for you, please tread with caution.

Overall, I would equate this to a Lifetime movie, or one of those old After-School Specials. There’s nothing super groundbreaking about it, but while you are reading it, it will capture your attention and should keep you entertained.

I liked it. It’s definitely a good story. I think for some Readers, who may have experienced certain things similar to Wyatt, it could be even more impactful.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for providing me with an audio-copy. I would definitely read more from Sara Walters.

View all my reviews

Review: Cackle by Rachel Harrison

CackleCackle by Rachel Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤🕷🖤

After Annie’s live-in boyfriend, Sam, breaks up with her, she’s devastated. Sure, she figures maybe they have gotten a little too comfortable lately, but she cannot imagine ever being with anyone else.

As a school teacher, she knows she can’t afford to live on her own in Manhattan, and at 30-years old, she’s too old to get a roommate. Sam is keeping their apartment and Annie agrees she’ll move on.

She applies for a teaching position in a small town in Upstate New York and when it is offered to her, she accepts.

After that, things begin to fall into place rather quickly. She ends up finding the perfect apartment, minus the tiny spider infestation, and the entire town seems warm and inviting.

Unfortunately, as Annie tries to settle into her new life, she is still just as heartbroken as the day she left the city and her old life behind. She can’t stop thinking about Sam and running endless what-if scenerios through her head.

Then she meets Sophie, a confident and mysterious local woman, who seems to have the entire town in the palm of her hand.

Intrigued from the start, Annie begins to spend a lot of time with Sophie; pretty much every spare moment. The good news is, Sophie is great at helping her take her mind off of Sam and her aching heart.

But when Annie can no longer ignore mysterious traits about Sophie, her circumstances begin to tip a toe into the ominous unknown.

I absolutely loved this story with my whole heart. It truly has such a powerful message. I think it will resonate with a lot of Readers.

It’s for anyone who has ever had a broken heart and found themselves on the other side, or anyone who needs to find the other side, pick this book up. You’re stronger than you know!

The way Harrison wrote Annie, what she was going through after the dissolution of her long-term relationship, it was extremely relatable. I was feeling every emotion she was feeling.

After she met Sophie, it was indeed distracting. I was equally intrigued by Sophie. What was going on with her? She was completely enchanting, mysterious, sexy, addicting; I wanted to know everything about her. I think I would have fallen for her as quickly as Annie did.

The small town, spooky vibes are on point throughout this story. It’s one of those stories where small town citizens act a little strangely around the new girl and you want to know why!

This is the perfect book for Autumnal vibes for someone who maybe doesn’t want to get too scary. Although, I will say, there were at least a couple of scenes in here that gave me legit chills.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I finished this at the end of August and it is still fresh in my mind.

I have no doubt this will be on my Favorites list for the year. Cackle is releasing on Tuesday, October 5th, so be sure to add it to your Spooktober TBR!!

View all my reviews

Review: Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy HollowHorseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Sleepy Hollow is back in this cleverly-imagined Historical Fiction Horror novel from Christina Henry!!

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow is set twenty-years after Ichabod Crane’s run-in with the infamous, Headless Horseman.

The legend is still told in town, but with that many years separating the incident from reality, people’s belief in the accuracy of the story, and the Horseman himself, have begun to dwindle.

Even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there on the night in question, passes the story off as village gossip. Nevertheless, Ben still enjoys playing Sleepy Hollow Boys in the local woods with his only friend, Sander.

Ben, born a girl, has never seen himself that way and chooses to live the way he feels, as a boy, regardless of how much his grandmother, Katrina, fights him on it.

It’s on one of these occasions, playing in the woods, that the first body is discovered. A local boy, missing his head and hands. Ben feels a dark energy permeating from the woods; could the Horseman be back?

When more victims start to be discovered, Ben doesn’t understand how people can continue to deny the ominous presence lurking just outside the village.

Discovering his own parent’s deaths may not have occurred how his Grandparents relayed to him, Ben now realizes he has a mystery to solve. Something is going on in his town and he needs to do whatever he can to protect the ones he loves.

Horseman sets a spooky tone from the very start; perfect material for this time of year, I have to say. If you are a fan of previous Sleepy Hollow content, including the original tale, I really feel this one is worth checking out.

I am always impressed by Henry’s dark imagination. While this is a bit of a slow burn, I had a great time reading it.

In my opinion, the story was original and fresh. The paranormal/spooky elements were well-constructed and I enjoyed getting to know Ben as a character.

As a 14-year old, Ben was strong-willed and courageous. Spurred on by the mysteries circling the town and his family, Ben was willing to do anything to get to the bottom of it all. I was definitely able to get behind that level of determination.

This is the perfect type of tale to pick up as we get closer to Halloween, but really, aren’t spooky stories perfect all year-round?

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

Horseman releases today, Tuesday, September 28th!!

View all my reviews

Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #1)A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two girls destined to die have their fates crossed, perhaps altering their once doomed outcomes, in this whimsical modern-day reimagining of Sleeping Beauty

Due to an industrial accident, Zinnia Gray, was left with a rare and fatal condition. The prognosis of which means she won’t live to see her 22nd-birthday.

As bleak as that is, Zin has had a great life, surrounded by people who love her so much. Including her best friend, Charm, who decides to throw Zin a Sleeping Beauty-themed party for her 21st-birthday, complete with tower and spinning wheel.

Zin, not really in the mood to party, goes along with it nevertheless. Charm put in so much effort. As the festivities come to a close, Zin pricks her finger on the spinning wheel at midnight, and is thusly transported into another world. It happens to be where the real Briar Rose lives.

It is there that the two women’s lives become intertwined, as they work together to try to save themselves from their fates.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but I never give up on an author off after only one try. This story is the perfect example of why. Oh, my goodness!

Wow, holy smokes. I am floored by how different my opinion of Harrow’s writing is now; after only 128-pages. Alix E. Harrow redeemed!!!

As mentioned above, this is a fairly short novella, but no less impactful because of it. It is a rollicking good time, with adventure, friendship, danger and just the right amount of hat tipping to the original story.

I loved the feminist undertones woven throughout, as well as the relationship formed between Zin and Briar Rose. The dynamic between them was just so fun. Because they were from completely different worlds, they had a lot to discover about one another, but Harrow kept it so witty and fun!

I’m really interested to see if Harrow tackles other fairy tales in this format. If so, I would definitely be willing to pick them up.

Thank you so much to Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy to read and review. I listened to it all in one night and had an absolute blast doing so!!

View all my reviews

Review: The Heron’s Cry (Two Rivers #2) by Ann Cleeves

The Heron's Cry (Two Rivers #2)The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Heron’s Cry is the second release in Ann Cleeves’ Two Rivers series, following DI Matthew Venn and his team.

The first book in the series, The Long Call, was a standout Mystery for me in 2019, so I was highly anticipating this next installment.

Unsurprisingly, Cleeves did not disappoint. This woman could teach a master class on writing an engaging Police Procedural.

This particular Mystery kicks off when Venn is called to a crime scene at a rural home occupied by a group of artists. A man has been killed, stabbed in the neck with a shard from one of his glassblower daughter’s vases.

Dr. Nigel Yeo, the victim, is a dedicated public servent, a loving father and valued member of his community. It’s perplexing as to why anyone would want him dead.

His daughter, Eve, the glassblower, is particularly distraught, as is Venn when he discovers Eve is actually a good friend of his husband, Jonathan. Of course, sometimes it seems everybody knows everybody in a small community.

The detectives discover a line of inquiry Yeo was following with regards to his work for the health ministry. It involved the suicides of two young men and the possible failure of the health system in providing them appropriate care.

Could someone have been meaning to silence him?

When another body is discovered, killed in the same fashion, Venn and team fear they may have stumbled across something larger than they initially anticipated.

I really enjoyed my time with this novel. Being back with DI Venn and learning more about him and his team, it felt comfortable. Cleeves has created a great cast of main characters for this series. I enjoy how she includes a few different perspectives.

The coastal community in North Devon provided an insular, small town atmosphere, which I tend to enjoy in my Mysteries. I loved learning all about the town’s secrets; the underbelly of an otherwise picturesque place. Every community has things they would prefer to keep from the outside world.

I also enjoyed how this story incorporated a group of artists, randomly thrown together into a sort of communal living situation. That whole subculture feel was quite interesting.

I’m not sure if there are going to be more books in this series, but I truly hope there will be. I could picture this one running for a long time. If that’s the case, I will be so happy that I got in on it early.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out this series yet, and you love Police Procedural Mysteries, you really should. Now is the time!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I highly recommend the audiobook. It’s completely absorbing.

I am definitely looking forward to more Ann Cleeves!

View all my reviews

Review: Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

Let Me Hear a RhymeLet Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Quadir and Jarrell’s best friend, Steph, is killed, the boys are in shock. Steph was the best of them, a real good guy, who was also super-talented. Why did it happen?

But as the boys know, violence doesn’t often make sense and talent certainly doesn’t protect you. The year is 1998 and in their Brooklyn neighborhood, the murders of Biggie Smalls and Tupac are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

After Steph’s funeral, family and friends gather at Steph’s Mom’s place to show their respects and remember him. Getting away from the crowd, Quadi and Jarrell head up to Steph’s room, a sanctuary to which they have never gained access to before.

Inside they find his little sister, Jasmine, also seeking solace from the crowd. Additionally, they find the room plastered with images and memorabilia of his favorite musical artists. The boys knew Steph was real into his music, but they didn’t understand the passion went this far.

While innocently poking about Steph’s room the trio discovers he had been in a studio recording. Now they have tracks they need to share with the world. They won’t let Steph’s legacy die with him. He should be remembered for his greatness.

It becomes their mission. Steph, who they dub, The Architect, will take the scene by storm, they just know it, but how the heck they gonna pull it off?

Pick it up to find out! Things get a little crazy, but this group of teens definitely have their hearts in the right place. Will it be enough? And can’t they end up in trouble for this?

Seriously, pick it up!!!

Tiffany D. Jackson can do no wrong in my eyes. This was a superbly-crafted story. She drew me in from the very start.

Her characters always have depth. It is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. It is easy to become attached to them; to the point where you are willing to fight for them, cheer them on, cry with them and celebrate their victories.

I highly recommend the audiobook as a way to take in this story. I just feel like the voice work by all three narrators amplified and energized this narrative. It was so addictive to listen to!

While this story does tackle some heavy topics, obviously as it revolves around the murder of a teen boy, it was still a fun story. Quadi, Jarrell and Jasmine have to get creative in order promote Steph’s music; it was a trip.

I will pick up anything Jackson writes. This was such a powerful story; I loved the setting of the 90s and the incorporation of the music.

It was fantastic. Jackson never fails! How’s it even possible?! I’m super excited to read more from her! I still have Grown and White Smoke to look forward to; definitely picking both of them up soon.

View all my reviews