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.

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Review: Soul of Cinder (Heart of Thorns #3) by Bree Barton

Soul of Cinder (Heart of Thorns, #3)Soul of Cinder by Bree Barton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Soul of Cinder is the final book in Bree Barton’s YA-Fantasy trilogy, Heart of Thorns.

Following the world-shattering events of the second book, Tears of Frost, we find most of our characters separated and unaware of who has survived.

After slightly bonding, Mia and Pilar, newfound allies, seem to be at one another’s throats once again. Together with the indefatigable, Nelladine, the girls are one their way, via sea voyage, to Pembuk in search of the Shadowess.

Prince Quin, unbeknowst to the ladies, has also survived and he is making his way home to reclaim his kingdom. He blames the lot of them for his current circumstances and is hellbent on revenge.

And what of Angelyne; Mia’s younger sister? Some would say she’s the impetus of these events, but where is she now?

I enjoyed this. I enjoyed this whole trilogy, although I won’t be memorializing it as a new favorite, I can appreciate it for what it did.

This entire trilogy is a beautiful examination of trauma, recovery and growth. Barton really did an exceptional job of exploring those topics and showing that everyone’s journey will be different. There is no one correct way to heal.

I also appreciate the feminist underpinnings woven throughout these three books. Autonomy, choice, the right to kick some butt, it’s all here. It was substantive; definitely well done.

I think this is a great series for Readers just starting out in the YA-Fantasy space. I sort of feel like, for me, I may have enjoyed this more had I read it three or four years ago.

I think as far as content goes, plot-wise, I have just moved past this point in my YA-Fantasy journey.

With that being said, this is a solid series, start-to-finish. Great characters, a lot of action and the examination of some fairly serious topics.

I will be donating my hard copies of this entire trilogy to my local high school library, where I know it will be enjoyed for years to come!

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Review: Scream All Night by Derek Milman

Scream All NightScream All Night by Derek Milman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dario Heyward receives a phone call from his older brother, Oren, inviting him to return to the home he fled three years ago, he is filled with trepidation.

Moldavia, the iconic castle that was Dario’s family home, also serves as the set, studio and home for the cast and crew of Moldavia Studios.

His father, the studio’s enigmatic director, is in poor health and apparently, there will be some mysterious, over-the-top ceremony to honor him and his first film, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue.

After being legally emancipated from his father, Dario has been living in the Keenan Group Home, where he has been steadily gaining in confidence and autonomy.

While he’s concerned about returning to Moldavia, he feels like he can finally face all that happened to him there. He needs that closure. Additionally, he’d love to see Hayley again, his childhood friend and crush.

At Moldavia, it seems to be life as usual. People buzzing around everywhere, working on strange projects. The whole scene like some sort of morbid hotel with quirky characters and equally zany props.

At the ceremony, true to his father’s normal drama, something horrifying occurs with disastorous consequences. Just like that, Dario is sucked back into Moldavia, and the life he thought he left behind. Now he needs to try to help save the floundering family business.

Scream All Night was a delightful surprise. A heartfelt, coming-of-age story for true Horror fans.

I loved the whole idea behind Moldavia Studios. The setting at the castle had such a vibe, macabre and eerie, made even more haunting by Dario’s early-childhood experiences there.

While this story does include some fairly heavy topics, including the abuse and neglect that Dario suffered while living with his family, as well as the death of a family friend, there was also a great amount of humor incorporated.

Milman had me laughing quite a bit. I loved his witty, sarcastic, dry humor and the way Dario thought about and processed the world around him. Dario is such a compelling character, one that is very easy to get behind and support.

Overall, I was really impressed with this. I fell in love with Dario and the setting of Moldavia. The tone and humor were creative and the storyline captivating throughout.

I definitely plan to pick up more from this author!

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Review: Cazadora (Wolves of No World #2) by Romina Garber

Cazadora (Wolves of No World, #2)Cazadora by Romina Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Cazadora is the anticipated sequel to Romina Garber’s 2020-release, Lobizona; both part of the Wolves of No World series.

I say series, when in reality, I have no idea how many books are set to be released in this world. I’ll tell you one thing though, after the stunning conclusion to this book, there’s a heck of a lot more story left to tell!

Manuela Azul, Manu to her family and friends, knows what it is like to be different and to be judged for her differences.

As an undocumented person living in Miami, Manu was constantly under stress of detection and persecution. Unfortunately, due to her hybrid nature, Manu is also judged and persecuted within the magical world of Argentinian folklore, a great part of her heritage, as well.

Whereas the first book had quite a bit of the narrative set in our world, this volume focuses more on the magical world and Manu’s place within it.

As her new-found friend group supports and builds her up, they are simultaneously being hunted by the authorities. Manu’s very existence challenges all the rules of their culture. She’s a threat and they’ll stop at nothing to capture her and take her out. Will Manu be able to evade them and keep those she loves safe?

I really enjoyed my time reading Cazadora and overall, found it to be an improvement over the first book. The magical world, in particular, was built out so much more and I felt the stakes were truly raised for Manu.

While the fantasy elements of this story aren’t necessarily my favorite, where Garber truly excels is in capturing emotion. Manu’s situation is extremely difficult and reading her working through it, oh man, I felt everything she was feeling. She is so tough, but everyone can feel vulnerable and defeated at times.

This is an inspiring story. Manu gains strength when she realizes the causes she is fighting for are so much larger than herself.

Garber did a fantastic job of weaving real-world issues into this otherwise fantastical tale; which is true of the first book as well. Stories like this are so important. I feel like Readers, who may have previously struggled to find themselves within the stories they are reading, can find themselves here and that’s a special thing.

I would love to see more in this world, with this phenomenal group of characters. The further I go along, the more attached I am getting to them all!

Thank you so very much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy of the audiobook to read and review. Romina Garber is a star and I know she is going to continue to grow with everything she writes. I am certainly willing to go along for the ride!!

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Review: The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep by Laurie Faria Stolarz

The Last Secret You’ll Ever KeepThe Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep by Laurie Faria Stolarz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep is a companion novel to Laurie Faria Stolarz’s 2020-release, Jane Anonymous.

While they are considered companions, you absolutely do not need to read Jane prior to picking this up. They don’t even share any of the same characters; you’ll see the connection in a bit.

In this novel we follow 18-year old, Terra, who like Jane, is an abduction survivor.

Unfortunately, in Terra’s case, the details are murky and a couple of months after she is able to escape, there’s still no concrete evidence. Because of this, the majority of people in her life do not believe her story.

Her Aunt, the Police, even the kids she goes to school with and considered friends, they all think she is making it up.

The only place she is able to find solace is an online forum for survivors. Any time of day or night, she is able to find people on the chat who will listen and understand. This forum was created by none other than, Jane Anonymous.

Alternating between Then and Now sections, just like in Jane, we learn about Terra’s abduction, her time in captivity, her escape and the aftermath.

Through the online forum Terra becomes close with another abduction survivor, Peyton, whose abduction situation sounds very similar to her own.

Both Terra and Peyton are experiencing odd occurrences that cause them to believe that their abductor may not be done with them yet, but is it possible their abductor is the same person?

When Peyton, one of the most frequent chat users, suddenly disappears, Terra becomes extremely concerned about her. She begins to look more into Peyton’s case and what she discovers leads her down a very dangerous road.

This is a tense story, that at times can be frustrating. It’s hard to read Terra’s perspective; not being believed. It’s a very difficult position to be in.

I really enjoyed watching this unfold. Learning about what happened to Terra and watching her try to cope with life after she is free. It’s gripping.

She’s stressed, she’s depressed and she seems to be spiraling. Proceed with caution if even this sentence sounds like it could be triggering for you.

Stolarz definitely puts it all on the page, as far as mental health goes. I like it. I am definitely intrigued by her storytelling. With this being said, however, the last quarter of this let me down.

It was so compelling most of the way through, but for me, the ending, in contrast to the rest of the story, felt forced; like how can we wrap this up quickly?

I don’t know, it just didn’t feel as serious as the rest of the story. It took a sharp right turn and left me scratching my head.

This is a good book though, for sure, so please don’t let that dissuade you from picking it up. I am sure the reaction to the conclusion will vary with each and every Reader.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it and will definitely pick up anything else Stolarz writes!

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Review: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and YouStamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America was first released in 2016.

Kendi, a Boston University Professor and founder of the BU Center for Antiracist Research, was awarded the National Book Award in nonfiction for the title. It’s also close to 600-pages by a man who can certainly run intellectual circles around me. For that fact alone, I find it intimidating.

Luckily for me and the rest of the world, Kendi decided he wanted to find someone who could take his ideas and write it in a way that would be more agreeable to a younger audience. Hence, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You was born.

It sounds like it took a little cajoling, but eventually Reynolds, a well-loved author of Children’s and Young Adult fiction, agreed to take on the project.

I chose to listen to the audiobook because I knew that it was narrated by Reynolds. I’m so happy that I did. I would have enjoyed it had I read a hard copy, but hearing it from him, in the way he felt it should be read, was a really special experience.

This book offers a concise history of racism, and the racist ideas that have been used to justify slavery and oppression of black people in the United States, from the time of the first slaves arrival to the country, up through the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s framed through three separate schools of thought: segregationists, assimilationists and antiracists. It explains how racist ideologies were constructed in a way to gain and keep power; how they led to the systemic issues prevalent today.

Reynolds states numerous times that this is not a history book, and you know what, it doesn’t feel like one. The way this is presented makes it feel like you are talking with a friend. It’s engaging, it’s forthright and it’s a must read.

The entire way through I was jotting down ideas, people and events that I want to learn more about. After reading this, I am no longer intimidated by Kendi’s original work. I want to read it and plan to by the end of the year!

I cannot recommend this enough. Particularly the audiobook. If you haven’t read this one yet, you absolutely should.

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Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to BeCracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**

Cracked Up to Be was originally published in 2008.

Early in 2020, it was reissued with a beautiful new cover matching Sadie. I fell for it like a Publisher’s Dream.

This novel follows Parker Fadley, who was once the perfect it-girl at her local high school. She has recently taken a huge swan dive from grace.

You can tell through Parker’s musings that there was a triggering incident in Parker’s which caused her sudden personality and behavioral changes.

Once cheerleading captain, she now watches from the sidelines as her frenemy, Becky, takes the reins.

Becky is also now dating Parker’s ex-boyfriend, Chris, even though Parker insists he is still in love with her.

A new boy, Jake, is definitely interested in Parker, although she doesn’t understand why. She’s certainly not giving him heavy encouragement.

Currently on academic probation, she is just taking one day at a time. She really wants to graduate and if she gets caught doing anything unseemly, she most likely won’t.

We follow Parker through the day to day, but also get flashbacks to the mysterious party that may have led to her downfall.

I got to say, I was intrigued by this.

I really wanted to know what Parker’s secret was.

Once I found out, however, I wish I hadn’t.

I don’t think I have ever instantly detested a character more.

There was also a whole plot line involving a dog that I definitely could have done without. After I was done, the more I sat with it and thought about it, the more I hated it.

I ultimately decided on a 2.5-star rating because for 3/4 of the book, I was really interested, but yeah, in the end I felt nothing but disdain for Parker.

Moving on.

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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueThe Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

With the tagline: A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget. I should have known this was going to happen.

The infamous book hangover.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is an experience. I don’t feel like I have ever been this beaten up by a book.

It was literally like Schwab was taking an ice pick to my heart and slowly chipping pieces away the entire way through.

There were times I had to set it down and step away.

I couldn’t be held accountable for my actions in those moments. It’s all a blur.

Addie LaRue is a character who has an extraordinary story to tell, yet no way to tell it.

In 1714, she entered into a Faustian bargain granting her eternal life. The downfall, she will be forgotten by every person she ever meets, unable to do even the simplest of things, like telling someone her name.

She flounders for years, trying to determine how best to live.

It is a struggle. Her only connection, the dark being who granted her wish, Luc.

These scenes of Addie grappling with how to survive, were hard to read. In fact, they were some of the most melancholy scenes I have ever read.

It was gripping and beautiful and painful, all at the same time. The writing was able to elicit such empathy for her position. I found it to be extremely powerful.

Addie eventually develops a semi-comfortable pattern for living, until one day, in 2014 New York City, a boy in a bookstore changes everything.

He remembers.

Intricately weaving together both past and present timelines, Schwab sweeps you away in a love story centuries in the making.

There’s love, sacrifice and tasty bites of food for thought the entire way through.

I loved the exploration of the power of the arts to transcend space and time. There’s an underlining theme of art, in many different forms, creating a sort of timeless influence.

It felt like a love story to artistic expression and I was so into that whole vibe.

Overall, I think this is a very special story. One that will have a great and lasting impact on a lot of people.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I will never forget Addie, or her story.

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Review: Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton

Tinfoil ButterflyTinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Tinfoil Butterfly is strange, heartbreaking, and beautiful.

Meshing real life horrors with subtle fantastical elements, there’s a lot to unpack for such a short novel.

Emma is hitchhiking across the United States, trying to reach the Badlands of South Dakota.

Along the way she gets picked up by a man named, Lowell. It doesn’t end well.

Fleeing for her life, Emma comes across an abandoned diner where she seeks refuge from an oncoming storm.

This is where she meets, Earl, a little boy whose face is hidden behind an odd tinfoil mask.

Earl ends up stealing Emma’s loaded gun and implores her to help him get rid of George.

Emma is stranded. Earl is her only contact and she gets pulled into his bizarre and dangerous world as the snow begins to fall.

This entire novel is steeped in an ominous atmosphere. As the reader, you go along with Emma as she tries to drag information out of Earl.

It turns out, he has lived a torturous life, the truth is hiding just under the surface, but you can’t quite get to it. Regardless of the past, Earl is scared to leave it behind.

Earl isn’t the only one with a dark past. Emma is on the run from her own. Damaged and broken, she is forced, while in the clutches of a crisis, to revisit each painful moment of it.

The truth of Emma’s past is admittedly difficult to read. Trigger warnings for: (view spoiler).

I loved the bond formed by Emma and Earl.

I though the evolution of that relationship over the course of the story was very special. It brought the humanity of the characters to life in a way that filled my heart with empathy for them both.

Paired with the beauty of their relationship, however, is equal amounts of horror. We’re talking horrific, realistic, painful content.

There were times I felt sick to my stomach, but honestly, the story is worth it.

The feelings of violence and fear boiling just under the surface really never let up, making this a tense read.

With this being said, it also feels quiet and subtle at times. I have no idea if I am explaining this accurately.

It’s almost something that you just need to experience for yourself.

I do recommend this for people who enjoy darker contemporary stories, or slow burns with equal parts violence and beauty.

You know who you are. Pick it up!

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Review: The Light Between Worlds

The Light Between WorldsThe Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Light Between Worlds is a much more complicated story than I anticipated. There’s a lot to unpack here.

If you’re expecting a light YA portal Fantasy, you’re wrong. This is a deep dive into codependency, mental health, guilt and trauma.

Broken into two distinct sections, this book follows sisters, Evelyn and Phillipa, and their complex, codependent relationship.

During WWII, the girls, along with their brother, Jamie, cowered in a London bomb shelter during a ferocious air raid. Somehow, whilst there, they are able to flee the shelter through a portal into a fantasy world known as the Woodlands.

They remain in this new world for five years, living amongst the creatures of myth and legend.

Ultimately they return to their world, where no time has passed at all. Jamie and Phillipa are ready to be back, but Evelyn, whose heart belongs to the Woodlands, finds it close to impossible to adjust.

Every day is a struggle for her. All she wants is to return to the Woodlands, which she considers her true home.

The first half of the book follows Evelyn’s perspective exclusively. We get present day portions, as well as various flashbacks to the children’s time in the Woodlands.

Through Evelyn, we learn more about her sister, Phillipa, who has since moved to America for University.

Evelyn is clearly struggling with Phillipa’s departure. She’s like a boat set adrift. She spends a lot of her time at her private school, Saint Agatha’s, exploring the woods on her own, hoping to find the portal to return to the Woodlands.

During Evelyn’s portion of the book, I developed one opinion on who Phillipa was as a character. I had the impression that Phillipa would be meek and mild, that she was scared to live in the Woodlands and that by going to America, she was running away.

Then the second half of the book is told solely from Phillipa’s point of view. It was a true perspective shift indeed.

It quite took me by surprise. What I thought I knew was flipped on its head.

The first half of the book seems choppy and random, although beautifully written, I found it a little disjointed and confusing. However, upon reflection, I believe that was intentional to set up the state of Evelyn’s mental health.

As we meet Phillipa, we discover she is bold and steady. Not at all how I expected. Evelyn is the one who is scared. She is afraid to live in the real world, where she suffered so much trauma, and was actually escaping into the fantastical world of the Woodlands.

When Phillipa receives a call from her brother, Jamie, she knows it is not going to be good news. She has been so worried about Evelyn, having cut herself off from her, and indeed, the news does concern her sister.

It appears Evelyn has gone missing and Phillipa must return to aid in the search.

Y’all this is a heart-breaking story. Once it starts to evolve, it’s so compelling. I couldn’t put this down once I figured out where it was going and what it was really about.

Please read the content warnings at the bottom of the synopsis before you pick this up. It certainly was much deeper, and more intricate, than I ever would have guessed in regards to trauma, PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation.

I felt the relationship between Evelyn and Phillipa was incredibly crafted. Their codependent relationship was one of the best I have ever read. It definitely reminded me mildly of The Wicker King. If you enjoyed that book, you would probably also really enjoy this.

This is one of those books that the longer I sit with it, the more I gain an appreciation for how well-written it actually is. Weymouth made some very clever choices with how she told this story.

The Light Between Worlds is so much more than your run of the mill, YA Fantasy, so if you like stories with a bit of depth and real world bite to them, you should absolutely give this one a go.

Just keep in mind, though the writing is beautiful, this story is very heavy. Be prepared.

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