Review: The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key #1) by Akshaya Raman

The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key Duology, #1)The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ruler. The Rebel. The Prisoner. The Unhappy Brother?

The Ivory Key is a lush and exciting debut YA Fantasy novel that took my breath away. I absolutely loved this story and highly urge every YA Fantasy Reader to give it a shot.

The story is set in the kingdom of Ashoka where magic is a key resource. It’s used for many things, but one of its most important functions is protecting the kingdom from outside forces. It literally courses through the walls at their borders; shielding them.

As magic begins to run low, Vira, the young maharani of Ashoka, is barely holding it together trying to keep the kingdom from war. It seems their neighbors can sense weakness and are just biding their time before they make their move.

Vira needs to find a new source of magic. Their known mines are dry, although she isn’t telling anyone that officially.

She believes the answer may be to find the Ivory Key, a mysterious object of legend, that is said to hold the secret to a new source of magic.

Vira can’t do it alone, however, so she pairs up with her three estranged siblings, Ronak, Kaleb and Riya, for the search.

That’s right. We have a quest. There’s a map, hidden artifacts, dangerous enemies and cut-throat sibling rivalries. It has everything.

It was hard not to think a bit of Indiana Jones while reading this. That’s how fun it is. I loved the relationships among the characters. I felt like even though the story had a ton of action, I really got to know the characters as well. It had a nice balance.

From the very start I was hooked into this story. I loved how Raman introduced the Reader to all of the characters and built the world. The kingdom and its magic system are well laid out, but the narrative never felt info-dumpy.

The stakes for this story are high, with each character having their own interests and motivations. I never once lost interest in where this was going or what was going to happen.

I cannot wait for the continuation of this story. I am sort of sad that I’ll have to wait so long, but the good news is, I’ll have time to read this one again before the second book releases.

Oh yeah, it’s that good. Don’t let this one pass you by, y’all. Get your copy today!!!

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Review: Spells Like Teen Spirit (Babysitter Coven #3) by Kate Williams

Spells Like Teen SpiritSpells Like Teen Spirit by Kate Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Spells Like Teen Spirit is the third, and purportedly final book, in Kate Williams’ Babysitter Coven series.

This entire series is a ridiculous ball of laughs that is part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and part Adventures in Babysitting.

Although, I will say, as the series progressed, the whole babysitting angle sort of dropped off a cliff. Luckily, the rest of it more than made up for that slight change.

In this installment, we again follow teen witches, Esme and Cassandra, as they continue their fight against the forces of evil and try to discover a way to end Esme’s Mom’s curse, all while protecting the town from an evil rock band.

While I didn’t have quite as much fun with this one as I did with the second book, it was still cute and hilarious. Nothing could really beat the chickens in the hotel room from For Better Or Cursed.

I really enjoyed being back with this group of characters, especially the girls we were introduced to in the second book and a certain four-legged companion.

The audiobooks for this series are so well narrated; I definitely recommend them as a medium if you choose to check out these stories.

Williams has a consistently good sense of humor. Her 90s vibe and references gave me life throughout this series.

While I can see this as an ending, I sort of wish it weren’t. I think there is so much left to explore for Esme and the rest of this fun-loving group of characters. I mean, there are still demons out there, who is going to defeat them if not Esme and Cassandra?

I’m not ready for it to be over. C’mon, Kate Williams, I know you have more in you!!

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Review: The New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto

The New GirlThe New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arriving at Draycott Academy, Lia Setiawan is thrust into a world she is completely unfamiliar with.

Draycott is a super prestigious private boarding school on the West Coast, one Lia can only attend due to the full-ride scholarship she has received to run track.

On the first day, Lia’s nerves seem to be getting the best of her. She is like a deer in the headlights amongst all the wealthy, confident Draycott students.

Track practice doesn’t get off to the best start either. The other girls seemed more threatened by Lia’s incredible speed, than they are happy to have a new teammate.

It doesn’t take long before heated words are exchanged and thinly-veiled threats bandied about.

Not all is a loss though. Lia does make a few friends, including a cute boy, Danny, who has a cultural background similar to her own. They share some sweet moments and for a bit, it seems like Draycott won’t be all bad.

Lia is never given the chance to get too comfortable in her new place, however. Through a rumor-style app known as Draycott Dirt, DD, Lia begins to be incessantly bullied by anonymous classmates.

It’s awful and unfortunately, doesn’t stop with online torment. Their hurtful comments and behavior continue into the classroom, with teachers doing nothing to stop it.

The whole school is a complicated, toxic mess, as far as Lia can tell. Even her English Lit teacher is corrupt. Lia suspects he is giving preferential treatment to certain students, while she is close to failing no matter how hard she works.

She needs to pass every class in order to keep her scholarship, but this guy is making it impossible!

The New Girl follows Lia through her tumultuous first days as a Draycott student. I’ll tell ya, there’s one hell of a learning curve to this Academy.

Y’all, this book had me transfixed. It is an absolutely bats#it crazy story, but man, did it keep me engaged!!! I had so much fun trying to figure out what exactly was going on in Draycott.

Sutanto has a great sense of humor, dry and a bit sarcastic, and even when tackling difficult topics that managed to shine through. There’s a lot going on in this narrative, but it never felt overly heavy or bogged down in details. It still felt fast-paced and intriguing.

There is a lot of intense depictions of bullying, so beware if that is something that could be triggering for you. It’s not for me and even I found it hard to swallow at times. It also explores wealth, privilege, classism, racism and addiction.

Even in its craziest moments, I was rooting for Lia the entire time. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of her choices, I can appreciate she is just a teen trying to do her best under really difficult circumstances.

She was quite literally stuck between a rock and hard place. She never gave up and I loved that about her character. A lot of people would have thrown in the towel after being treated the way she was at Draycott, but not Lia. It just made her fight that much harder.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who go all in for over-the-top YA Mysteries. Sutanto’s got a style all her own and I’m definitely buying what she’s selling.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: That Weekend by Kara Thomas

That WeekendThat Weekend by Kara Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the hospital, Claire is scared and confused. What day is it? What happened to her?

The last thing she remembers was the Friday night she spent at her best friend Kat’s family lake house. Kat’s boyfriend, and Claire’s other BFF, Jesse, was there as well. They were skipping prom.

Initially, Claire’s boyfriend was supposed to be there too. The group had planned to go hiking on Saturday. It was going to be a whole thing, but then they broke up.

As you can tell, things are not going well for Claire. Well, they’re about to get worse.

As mentioned above, Claire has no memories of the hiking trip on Saturday, or how she got injured. She was found bloodied on a mountain trail by a lone hiker; he was able to get her to safety.

Unfortunately, no one has heard from Kat and Jesse. They’re missing and the last known person to see them was Claire. The police consider her to be a suspect.

She’s shocked, but what could the explanation be? Why would she have ever left them and headed down the mountain alone? Did they get in a fight?

That Weekend was one of my most anticipated YA Mysteries of 2021. I mean, it’s by the Queen, Kara Thomas. Who wouldn’t be excited?

I finished this over a week ago and I’m still not confident on my feelings about it. I love the premise, I love the setting and the initial set-up of the mystery.

For me though, the mystery itself, what was actually happening, the root of it all, I just wasn’t sold.

Don’t get me wrong, I generally love wild, over-the-top plot twists, but this just was not fun for me. I didn’t buy it. I didn’t like the twists and overall, I was disappointed, as I truly expected to love this.

I also found Claire’s perspective to be very, very bland. As a protagonist, she bored me. Just being honest, she did.

I feel like I would have preferred to be following anyone else; towards the end, you do get some of that, so that was a nice perspective shift.

With this being said, just because this wasn’t quite as great as I was expecting, don’t let that sway you from reading it.

I had incredibly high expectations for this one going in and honestly, I may have set myself up for disappointment.

This is still a good story, well written and fast-paced. I know a lot of Readers will love this one.

As far as Kara Thomas goes, she’s fantastic; super talented. My opinion matters not at all in comparison to all she has achieved. I love her ideas, style and creativity. I will absolutely continue to pick up anything else she writes. Trust!

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Review: Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne

Feather and Flame (The Queen's Council, #2)Feather and Flame by Livia Blackburne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Feather and Flame is the second book is Disney’s The Queen Council series.

If you are unaware, this series imagines what happened post-happily ever after for some of our favorite Disney Princesses. Each book is the story of a different heroine written by a different author.

This story follows Mulan after her victory on the battlefield at the end of the animated film.

As the story begins, Mulan is living a quiet life at home. Well, quiet if you consider training her own female militia quiet. But China is at peace and it is a good feeling.

When Shang arrives with an invitation to the Imperial City, Mulan has no idea that her entire life is about to be flipped on its head. Again.

Once there, Mulan is treated to a private counsel with the ailing Emperor. He tells her he has a plan for his succession and it is her. She will be named his heir to the throne.

Unfortunately, the transition occurs more quickly than Mulan would have preferred. She is terrified, but must do what she can to rule her country to the best of her abilities.

With enemies lurking around every corner and the Huns sensing weakness, will Mulan’s reign be doomed from the start?

Mulan is filled with doubt and she’s scared. She feels alone. What if she can’t do this? There’s so much at stake.

Luckily, the Queen’s Council is there to help Mulan find her true destiny. What is the Queen’s Council, you may be asking?

I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just call it Mulan’s Spirit Advisor. Not spiritual advisor, mind you, SPIRIT advisor.

I had a lot of fun reading this story. It was great to be back with Mulan and to get an extension of her story that I think was greatly needed.

I have always loved Mulan as a character. She has such a quiet grace about her. She is humble, strong and determined in the face of danger. I was so happy to see that she kept all of these wonderful characteristics throughout this story.

This is a highly political story, so for those of you who maybe don’t enjoy a lot of political maneuverings in your stories, you have been forewarned.

For me, I love political fantasy, so this worked for me. I would have been happy with a bit more depth, but overall, I was quite pleased with this one!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books. I look forward to getting the next installment of this series!

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Review: Seafire (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire (Seafire, #1)Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars heavily rounded up**

As Caledonia and her best friend, Pisces, are on an island searching for provisions, everyone aboard the ship they call home is slaughtered by the corrupt warlord, Aric Athair, and his army of soldiers, known as Bullets.

After the tragedy, Caledonia and Pisces are left to fend for themselves. It’s a devastating loss, the one silver lining being that they still have each other.

Years later, Caledonia finds herself Captain of her own ship, the Mors Navis, with Pisces operating as her First Mate.

The two women head a crew of girls, who have also lost loved ones at the brutal hands of Aric Athair and the Bullets.

Together these women are hellbent on stopping Aric’s murderous reign once and for all.

But after Pisces gets briefly taken captive and then freed by a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia has to question all she thought she knew. Bullets are never to be trusted, right?

I’ve had Seafire on my shelves since it first released in 2018. As part of my effort to check off some of my backlist, I decided to pick it up in December 2021.

The Prologue was incredible and the first few chapters had me extremely interested, after that however, it completely went off the tracks for me.

I almost feel like I wish the beginning hadn’t been quite as strong because ultimately, I was let down.

The non-stop dramatic conversations between Caledonia and her crew just started wearing on me. I know you need drama in order to progress a plot and I’m the first to admit I love drama, but this seemed like Caledonia being stubborn and over-the-top for no reason.

Her character ruined this for me. I was becoming annoyed with everything she did. I barely even remember the second half because I just wanted her out of my life.

I can absolutely understand why some Readers may really enjoy this. It definitely had some great sea-faring vibes and I did enjoy the steampunk feel of the ships and technology they were using.

Who knows? Maybe I was just in a bitchy mood and I’m being dramatic and over-the-top about the whole thing.

I’m really glad that I gave it a shot. I would pick up more from Natalie C. Parker, as I believe she did a great job in creating the world for this story.

As far as this series is concerned, I am done for now and will be donating my copy of the first two books to my local public high school.

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Review: In Every Generation by Kendare Blake

In Every GenerationIn Every Generation by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A new Slayer for a new generation…

I’ll admit, like a publisher’s dream, that tagline got me. As soon as I read it, I knew that I needed to pick up this book.

The Buffy television series premiered when I was in college and quickly became part of my weekly routine. My best friend and I absolutely loved the show and would always watch it together.

Therefore, the series holds a lot of nostalgia for us. Sarah Michelle Gellar was our Queen. Those were good times.

In Every Generation follows Willow’s daughter, Frankie, who is a Sophomore at New Sunnydale High School.

Willow has been slowly introducing Frankie to magic, as long as Frankie promises always to use it for good. Frankie, it seems, is all for that, being quite ecologically-minded.

Willow’s dark times still haunt her and she doesn’t want her daughter to have to go through the nightmarish things that she did as a young adult. We all want better for our kids, Witches or not.

When Vi’s younger sister Hailey shows up in Sunnydale, she comes bearing bad news. It appears the annual Slayer convention has been attacked and all the Slayers in attendance, including Buffy, Faith and Vi, may be dead.

This leaves a major Slayer vacancy and therefore a new Slayer must be called. Hello, Frankie.

Frankie would be the first ever Slayer-Witch, but first she needs to learn to control her powers in order to be effective.

Unfortunately for Frankie, she is a little pressed for time, what with the hellmouth threatening to be reopened.

Together with a whole new group of Scoobies, Frankie must try to figure out what happened to the old Slayers, as well as defeat the forces of evil before it is too late.

Y’all, I had so much fun listening to this audiobook. I’m not going to lie, I was laughing my foolish head off while listening to this.

The narrator has great comedic timing and I feel like Blake definitely nailed, or should I say staked, that classic Buffy-humor.

While I know this won’t be for every Reader, for me it held just the perfect blend of old with new. It doffed its cap at the original series without going into copycat territory.

Also, I feel like Blake did a great job creating new characters to care about and root for. This fulfilled my hopes for a nostalgic read, but still felt fresh and modern. I would love to read more adventures with this cast of characters.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion and Disney Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

In Every Generation releases on January 4th and would be a great way to kick off a new year of reading!!

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Review: The Red Palace by June Hur

The Red PalaceThe Red Palace by June Hur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1758, Joseon-era Korea, 18-year old, Hyeon works as a palace nurse, a position she has worked very hard to attain.

As the illegitimate daughter of a powerful man, Hyeon really didn’t have a lot of options. She enjoys her profession, however, and hopes that through it she may one day earn her father’s approval.

Hyeon keeps her head down, does her job and tries to avoid any conflicts that would reflect negatively on her, but when she and a fellow nurse are called to the bedside of the Crown Prince Jangheon late one night, Hyeon is thrust into a wicked web of palace intrigue that she cannot avoid.

That very same night, at the same time she is in the Prince’s chambers, a viscous attack occurs at the Hyeminseo that Hyeon used to attend. The attack leaves four women brutally murdered.

When Hyeon’s beloved mentor, Nurse Jeongsu, gets arrested for the crime, Hyeon knows there’s been a mistake. There is no way her caring teacher, a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others, could possibly be capable of the callous brutality of this massacre.

Hyeon’s desperate to save Jeongsu from the clutches of the police force, known for their brutal interrogations, and she doesn’t have much time. Therefore, Hyeon decides she needs to begin her own secret investigation into the murders.

Along the way she meets Eojin, a young police inspector, who teams up with her to uncover the truth behind the Hyeminseo Massacre, but will anything they find actually make a difference?

In the face of the dark secrets they begin to uncover involving every level of palace politics, Hyeon and Eojin seem so small, young and inconsequential. They’re both willing to take incredible risks in the pursuit of justice though and that should count for something.

The Red Palace grabbed me and never let go. This was such a surprising read for me, a little outside of my comfort zone, but such a delightful way to spend the weekend.

Hur 100% succeeded at sweeping me away to another time and place. I felt transported!

There are so many things to love about this book that I fear I may just begin swooning here. Let’s start with Hyeon. She had such incredible depth of character. I felt like I knew her. I had such empathy for her and her situation.

In spite of her challenging family life though, Hyeon showed such strength and dedication to task, even in the face of terrible danger. It was admirable.

Then there is Eojin, speaking of swooning. Calm, quiet, strong and respectful of Hyeon, he made a great partner for her during the investigation.

Eojin had his own complex backstory and motivation for wanting to get to the bottom of these crimes, which added to the general mystery. I enjoyed his steadfast nature and the evolution of their relationship was so satisfying.

Lastly, let’s talk about the atmosphere. I can’t even describe how great it was for me. The dark, dangerous streets. The secrets of the royal family hidden around every corner.

As I said earlier, I was transported. When I was reading this, I could picture it all playing out in my mind. Granted, I’m no cinematographer, but I think Hur did an incredible job leading me on my imaginative journey into the heart of this story.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Feiwel & Friends, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I enjoyed this so much and cannot wait to pick up Hur’s other two novels. Apparently, YA Historical Mysteries are now my thing!

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Review: You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

You'll Be the Death of MeYou’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

After high-strung teenager, Ivy, loses the student council election at Carlton High to the class clown, Boney Mahoney, she’s horrified. How could this happen?!

The following day, Boney is supposed to be giving a speech addressing the school, thanking them for his victory.

Ughhhh, Ivy can’t face that.

Luckily, that morning she runs into her two estranged best friends, Cal and Mateo, in the parking lot before class and the three decide to skip school together and head into Boston for the day.

In a way, they are hoping to recreate the ‘best day ever’, a day they skipped school together and went into the city that happened to coincide with a celebration parade after the Red Sox had won the World Series.

But in truth, they’re all just hoping for an escape. A way to avoid facing all the things that are bringing them down.

When they get into the city though, Ivy spies Boney! What is he doing skipping out on his speech?

She sees red and decides to follow him, with the hopes of an epic confrontation. However, what she gets instead is the honor of stumbling upon a crime scene with a newly murdered body.

From that point forward, their potential best day ever turns into the craziest day ever as the trio attempt to avoid the cops, the media, the killer and suspicion. Oh yeah, they’re also hoping to solve the crime.

Taking place over the course of a single-day, this is a fun story, but I gotta say, probably my least favorite out of all of McManus’ prior works.

I can’t really put my finger on what it was about this one that didn’t vibe with me. Perhaps I just built it up so much in my head, anticipating it for so long, that it was destined to disappoint.

If I had to point to any one thing, I think the mystery just wasn’t compelling for me. I didn’t feel invested in it at all.

I did enjoy Ivy, Mateo and Cal; learning about their friendship, what drove them apart and their current woes. I found them to be interesting, just not the crime itself.

Regardless, the ending did have McManus’ signature final twist, which I always appreciate and because of that, I was leaning toward rounding this up to 4-stars, but have decided that just wasn’t enough.

With all of this being said, this is still a fun book. I think it will work for a ton of Readers and would be a great introduction to the YA Mystery genre. If you’ve read all of McManus’ other books, however, this one could seem lackluster in comparison.

Overall, McManus is an autobuy author for me and I will continue to pick up everything she writes.

Even though this isn’t my favorite of hers, I will still proudly display it on my shelves!!!

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Review: When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord

When You Get the ChanceWhen You Get the Chance by Emma Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

High school student, Millie Price, dreams of becoming a Broadway star.

She lives in New York City with her slightly-dweeby, single-dad and fun-loving, Aunt Heather, but she has her sights set on a competitive precollege program that will take her out of state next year.

Her Dad isn’t happy when he finds out about Millie’s plan. He doesn’t understand why she can’t finish up school at home. She’s steps from Broadway, why would she need to travel across the country to help her future career prospects?

It’s clear to Millie that he just doesn’t get it and probably never will. ((Our Millie is nothing if not dramatic.))

What Millie needs is an ally to sell this precollege program to her Dad, but where to find one?

Although she knows next to nothing about her birth mother, an untouchable topic in their household, Millie does know that her Mom was a huge fan of musical theater.

Perhaps if Millie can find her, she can recruit her onto Team ‘Let Millie Go To Precollege’, thus swaying her Dad.

Going off clues found within her Dad’s embarrassingly honest LiveJournal from 2003, Millie and her best friend, Teddy, begin the hunt in earnest.

They narrow their candidates down to three women living within New York City. All Millie needs to do is get close to them and insert herself into their lives, until she can figure out which one is her Mom.

When You Get the Chance swept me off my feet from the very start. It’s a beautifully engaging love letter to musical theater, featuring one of my favorite YA Contemporary protagonists of all time.

I absolutely adored Millie. Her moods, dreams and insecurities all felt incredibly real to me. I’m basically her Aunt Heather now. I love her so darn much.

Emma Lord does a fantastic job of mixing cutesy-YA Romance, with quite serious family issues. This seems to be a trend in her work that I really appreciate.

Millie has a lot of questions surrounding her Mom that unfortunately, she doesn’t feel comfortable asking anyone. She can tell by her Dad’s reaction anytime her Mom does get brought up, that he doesn’t want to talk about.

This leaves poor Millie to struggle on her own with a lot of unanswered questions. While her Dad is super loving and supportive of her, there’s just a lot left unsaid.

I loved how this wildly fun and hilariously witty story was wrapped around this serious, dramatic core.

It’s fun, sweet and fast-paced, while also having true substance that should resonate well with a lot of Readers.

If you pick this one up, and I definitely recommend that you do, please take the time to read the Acknowledgements at the end. I think it gives great insight into Lord as a writer and her inspiration for this story.

At this point, I will pick up anything Emma Lord writes. I love her brand. I’m sold!

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

I look forward to adding a hard copy to my growing Emma Lord collection. Her writing absolutely fills my heart with joy and I just can’t get enough of it!

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