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: 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: Only a Monster (Monsters #1) by Vanessa Len

Only a Monster (Monsters, #1)Only a Monster by Vanessa Len
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only a Monster is an engaging start to an all-new YA SFF trilogy. Admittedly, the first thing to attract my attention to this book was the gorgeous cover.

I’ve definitely fallen victim to the infamous cover buy on more than one occasion. Sometimes that works out and other times, not so much. I am happy to report, in this case, the content is just as fun as the cover.

This story follows 16-year old, Joan, who recently moved to London to live with her late-mother’s family, which includes an eccentric Grandmother and cousins.

Joan has secured a job she likes and has even managed to make a few friends. One of those friends is a handsome boy, Nick, who she happens to work with. When Nick asks Joan out on a date she’s so excited and nervous.

She’s been crushing on him for a while, so is elated that her feelings may be reciprocated.

As the date approaches, however, a wild and crazy thing happens to Joan, causing her to miss her date. That’s devastating, but worse than that, this event reveals the secret truth surrounding her family.

They’re monsters with hidden powers.

Part of their power is the ability to travel through time, which really throws Joan for a loop. It’s hard to wrap your mind around something like that out of nowhere.

Joan’s Grandmother had mentioned before that they were monsters, but Joan never took that seriously. She can’t believe it. Her world has been flipped upside down.

As the plot escalates, Joan finds herself under attack from a monster hunter, who happens to be the cute guy, Nick. Just her luck, am I right?

Joan is forced to pair up with Aaron, a boy from a rival monster family, to try to stop Nick and avenge their families.

I really enjoyed the world Len created here and am excited to see this narrative expanded upon in the next book. It was fast paced and ended up drawing me in a lot quicker than I anticipated.

I found the monster aspect of her family fascinating. They are never given a specific name, they are simply called monsters throughout, and I liked that obscurity.

Once you put a label on something, like zombie, werewolf or vampire, you put certain parameters around what those monsters can do. We all know what those creatures are supposed to be like, so to me it made sense for Len to write Joan’s family the way she did.

If I had to compare them to anything, I would say vampires would be the closest, but using time versus blood. If you’ve read Doctor Sleep this won’t be a foreign concept to you.

I did think the time travel element was done well. It was very interesting. There’s a lot covered in this book and I think it was a good foundation.

I definitely think there is still a lot of room to grow with this story and I am looking forward to seeing where Len goes with it.

I would recommend this to YA Readers, particularly if you like time travel, or a darker tone to your stories.

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Misrule (Malice #2) by Heather Walter

Misrule (Malice Duology, #2)Misrule by Heather Walter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Misrule is the sequel to Heather Walter’s 2021-release, Malice; a darkly creative retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

I have been highly anticipating this second book as I really enjoyed Malice. I found it completely immersive, with wonderful world-building and a fantastic magic system.

As this is the second book in a duology, I may mention some details here that some might consider spoilers. I will try not to reveal too much, but if you’re concerned, look away now.

You have been warned…

This story is set 100-years after the culminating events of the first book.

Alyce has reached her potential and become ruler over the kingdom that once ridiculed her. The Dark Grace known to the Briar Kingdom is dead and now Alyce lives as Nimara, ruler of the Dark Court.

The Dark Court has become a welcome home to creatures who were vilified and hunted by the prior kingdom. Vila, goblins, imps and demons live together within the castle walls in chaotic harmony.

For her part, Aurora remains in an enchanted sleep, locked away in a tower room. Her existence more the stuff of legend than actually memory.

Could a random human boy named Derek, washed ashore and pledged to serve Nimara, be the key to breaking the enchantment holding Aurora in her endless sleep?

There’s so much more to this story than that, including a centuries long battle against the Fae, but I am going to leave it there. If you want to know more, which I think you do, you have to pick up this duology.

Heather Walter’s writing is so readable and digestible. At times Fantasy stories can require a lot of concentration; filled with hard to pronounce names and places, as well as complex histories and magic systems to try to figure out.

While this is a detailed and multi-layered story, it is written in such a way that makes it accessible and addicting. It stands out to me in that regard.

Overall, this was a fantastic conclusion to a highly-underrated YA Fantasy duology. I look forward to seeing what Walter releases next. Personally, I am hoping she stays in the lane of retellings. She nailed this.

Frankly, I’m sad it’s over. I’ll miss this beautiful world and all of the compelling characters.

Thank you to the publisher, Ballantine, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had been highly anticipating this release and it didn’t disappoint for a moment!

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Review: When the Corn is Waist High by Jeremy Scott

When the Corn is Waist HighWhen the Corn is Waist High by Jeremy Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When the Corn is Waist High is confounding to me. I have had the most difficult time trying to determine what my final rating will be. Jeremy Scott, you have left me confused, surprised and at a loss for words.

This story follows our narrator, Solomon Lancaster, who is a Catholic Priest, as well as the Sheriff for his Indiana County.

Although Lancaster seems slightly unprepared to run a murder investigation, he’ll be the first to remind you that the Sheriff is in fact an elected position.

He’s not actually a trained criminal justice professional. He’s definitely more comfortable in his role listening to the confessions of his congregation.

So when bodies start dropping in his community of Crooked Creek, he begins bumbling around like a cowboy at his first rodeo. While the initial body was surprising enough, after the second and then the third, it’s clear the community has an active serial killer on their hands.

The FBI gets called in and they aren’t impressed by Lancaster’s skill set. Nevertheless, he manages to keep himself involved in the investigation.

This book was interesting. I listened to the audiobook and appreciated the narrator’s classic storytelling voice, as well as Scott’s no-nonsense writing style.

I made it through the story in a day and had some highs and lows, but I was never bored. I was definitely intrigued, with one major twist dropping my jaw and having me question everything I thought I knew.

After that point, the intensity continued to climb for me as I began to see things in a whole new light. In my opinion, that was really well played by Scott.

I loved how I was sort of lulled into a sense of complacency, feeling like this was just a normal Police Procedural, but it’s sure as heck not!

Additionally, I did love the ending of this. It left me with that devious little smile on my face I love so much; more than satisfactory. I am wondering if this will be the start to a series, or if this is where Scott is going to leave it?

Generally, I am not a huge fan of religious elements being involved in my stories, and I know others may be turned off by that, but I really don’t see how this story could have worked otherwise.

Thank you to the publisher, Turner Publishing and Dreamscape Media, for providing me with copies to read and review. This was my first novel by Scott and I look forward to picking up more in the future!

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Review: Fortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn #1) by K.J. Sutton

Fortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn, #1)Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Fortuna Sworn is the last of her kind. It was her and her brother, Damon, but he went missing two years ago.

Since that time, Fortuna has spent her days blending into the human world while searching for him at night. On one of her searches she gets captured by goblins and brought to the market to be sold.

Luckily she’s able to escape the whole being sold thing, but she did catch someone’s eye whilst at the market; a very powerful faerie named Collith.

Before she knows it, she’s receiving a proposition, her hand for the possibility of getting her brother back. I am putting it simply, but you get the gist.

The story follows Fortuna as she enters the world of the fae, hoping against all hope that she’ll be able to find what she’s looking for.

But if she finds her brother, will he even want to be rescued? And what is she sacrificing in the process?

This was good. I liked it. A solid foundation for the start of a series. I don’t read a lot of fae books, in fact, I have only read a handful that I can think of, but I liked how this one was constructed.

Additionally, I’m very intrigued by the ending and will be continuing on to the second book.

I won’t claim I understand everything going on here, but I loved Fortuna as a character and want to learn more about her and this world.

Fortuna is a creature known as a nightmare, which I have never come across before. Basically, she can make people see, or experience, their worst fears just by touching them. She wields this power as a weapon and I got to say, it’s pretty badass.

As stated above, I’m definitely on board to continue on with this series. I listened to the audiobook and thought it was a great way to take in this story. The narration was fabulous.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for providing me a copy to read and review. I’m so happy I finally had the chance to check this one out. It sucked me in!

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Review: Black Tide by K.C. Jones

Black TideBlack Tide by K.C. Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth is a bit of a hot mess and she’s the first one to admit it. She drinks a tad too much and has been known to flee in the face of responsibility; at least before.

Lately though, Beth has been turning things around. She’s been pet-sitting and feels like she is getting good at it. She’s even getting referred to new clients by happy patrons.

That’s how Beth ends up at a beach house on an empty stretch of the Oregon coast on the day the world ends.

She is staying with the best good dog, Jake, and all has been going well. She’s been spying a little bit on the man next door, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it?

He’s handsome, in a mysterious, scruffy sort of way. He seems lonely. Beth is all kinds of curious about this mystery man.

So, when she sees him drinking expensive champagne on his deck one evening, she heads over to introduce herself.

His name is Mike and he is a film producer. The two hit it off and spend the evening enjoying each other’s company in every way you can imagine.

That night, at Mike’s place, Beth doesn’t sleep well. Her drunken dreams are full of horrifying images that are still rattling around in her brain upon waking.

She finds Mike and Jake together on the beach. Apparently, Mike had gone to the dog’s rescue. Beth can’t believe she left Jake alone in the house next door overnight.

That’s what the booze can do; great decision-making, Beth.

Mike tells Beth all about the insane meteor shower he witnessed from the beach. There’s still evidence of the destruction it wrought. Plus, there’s the thing that he found.

The power is out, so they have no way of listening to any news. How wide spread was the event and what exactly was it?

They decide to drive up the beach and investigate where they believe one of the meteors actually struck. Maybe there will be someone around who knows more of what’s happening.

Black Tide is the most intense book I have read in a long time. Edge of your seat doesn’t even begin to describe it.

From that very first night, as the meteors start to fall, the tension begins. Driving down the beach the following day, they become stranded and the circumstances continue getting worse for the trio; yes, I am counting Jake.

The entire thing was a nail biter. I was yelling at the book, advising them what they should do: protect Jake at all costs!!

I love Sci-Fi Horror and I found this one to be incredibly fun. The concepts were unique, the character development was great and the build-up of intensity was fantastic.

It had such a claustrophobic feel. Oh My goodness, I am squirming even thinking about it!

I grew to really care for these characters. In particular, Beth and Jake. I felt like I was able to relate to Beth so much. It made the stakes feel a lot higher for me. I just wanted them to be safe.

I would definitely recommend this to any Horror Reader, but particularly to those who enjoy a lovely blend of Sci-Fi and Horror elements.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Nightfire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. Black Tide releases on May 10, 2022.

Be sure to add it to your Spring TBR!!

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Review: Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester

Such a Pretty SmileSuch a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Lila Sawyer, at 13-years old, is grappling with many things. One of the largest is coming to grips with her own sexuality. This issue is constantly at the forefront of her mind, but there are other things too.

Someone is taking and murdering girls in her area; girls that are about her age. Because of this her Mom, Caroline, has become really paranoid and strict about Lila’s whereabouts and movements.

It’s more than that though. It’s like her Mom knows something about what is going on and she’s keeping it, and her entire past, secret from Lila.

It appears that the killer, dubbed The Cur by media, has struck before. Lila hears her Mom talking about it; something about the past, about New Orleans.

Caroline Sawyer is a single-mom and successful artist, whose macabre sculptures composed of artifacts from nature, such as twigs and leaves, is heavily disturbed by the murders of the young girls.

She desperately wants to keep her daughter, Lila, safe. This monster has affected her life before and she can’t have it happen again.

Such a Pretty Smile follows the perspectives of both Lila and Caroline; Lila in 2019 and Caroline mainly in 2004. The narrative alternates until past and present slowly begin to merge into one horrifying showdown.

I really enjoyed this story. I found it to be wildly creative, brutal, bizarre and extraordinarily thought-provoking. DeMeester’s got a lot to say and she’s not afraid to say it.

She’s clearly not going to just be quiet and smile pretty. We’re here for it.

While I recognize this won’t necessarily be for every Reader, for me it was an impressive display of feminist Horror. The biting social commentary, my word, I doff my cap.

DeMeester’s writing is incredibly rich with dark, evocative imagery. I was essentially watching this entire story play out in my mind. I loved how she revealed certain aspects of Caroline’s past and how that played into their present.

This is the first that I have read from this author, although she has been on my radar for a while. I actually own a copy of her short-story collection, Everything That’s Underneath, and definitely plan to pick that up this year.

If you like dark, no-mercy stories, with vivid imagery and brain-rattling social commentary, you should absolutely give this one a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This story will stay on my mind for a long time to come!

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Review: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

All of Us Villains (All of Us Villains #1)All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once every generation, in the city of Ilvernath, seven families must choose a champion who will represent them in a tournament where the contestants fight to the death.

The prize is an inexhaustible supply of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world. The family whose champion wins, gains control over that magick for their family until the next tournament.

Obviously, this is extremely important and puts a whole load of pressure on the contestants.

With this tournament in particular, thanks to a recently released tell-all book, the contestants are thrust into the spotlight like never before.

Will the contestants be able to use this difference to their advantage, or will it distract them to the point of death? Can anything ever change the cycle of the Tournament? Does their world have to be this way?

All of Us Villains is basically The Hunger Games if it were fought exclusively by members of Slytherin House.

Well, Slytherin and maybe one Gryffindor.

If you read this statement and you’re thinking, why would I want to read that? I’ve read those stories. I want something new. I will just stress, this is something new!

Even though it channels those vibes. Particularly, the vibe of Knockturn Alley at night in the midst of a thunderstorm, this is its own thing.

I loved how the authors formatted this, with the Reader finding out who the champion of each house would be along with the rest of the citizens of Ilvernath.

Following some of the contestants perspectives, we get to know each one of them and the challenges they face in pursuit of their goals. There’s plotting, scheming, strategizing and like a good season of Survivor, a lot of alliances.

The writing in this story is just beautiful. It’s exceptionally detailed, lush and dramatic.

I could definitely feel both Foody and Herman within these pages; the darkness, monsters, violence, despair, but also highly developed and likable characters, even in all their antihero-ness.

Honestly, these two authors working together is everything I have ever wanted. I feel like they have created something truly memorable here.

You may be wondering after all of my gushing, why I only gave this 4-stars, as opposed to 5. For me, I don’t think I ever truly understood the magic system.

I am not sure if it is because I was so distracted by the characters themselves, that perhaps I missed out on some details, but I feel like there was something missing.

With this being said, I still really enjoyed this story and would love to read it again actually. Most likely, before the next book is released, I will do so.

Basically, this book is the love child of Draco Malfoy and Katniss Everdeen. It’s amazing and feels like a dark fantasy reader’s dreams come true. Yep, that’s right.

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

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. I cannot wait for more collaborative efforts from these authors!!!

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