Review: You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

You Must Not MissYou Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

I think about this book ALL THE TIME but still am at a loss for how to adaquately review it.

I implore y’all to please read this book. If you are not sold on it simply by the fact that this is written by Katrina Leno, how about that it one of the most solidly unique and hella dark YA stories that I have ever read. This is literally a revenge thriller at its most bizarre.

There’s really no way to easily describe what this book is. I would say the following:

It’s horror like Stephen King’s Carrie is horror.

It’s fantasy like Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is fantasy.

It’s moving like Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay is moving.

It’s like so many other things while simultaneously being like nothing at all.

Katrina Leno’s writing is so great. This story drew me in immediately. Magpie is a high school girl who feels silenced, like her power has been stripped from her by others. This is about her taking that power back.

I was surprised how dark this got but in such a creative and beautifully written way. I love dark stories so this meshed with my tastes perfectly.

I would highly recommend this to people who like dark plots but also to anyone who enjoys a solid contemporary story with a deep magical realism component. I need everyone to give this a shot!!!

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Review: Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas

Wild and CrookedWild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

This is the story of the friendship of Kalyn Spence and Gus Peake. Two kids whose stories were tragically intertwined before they even knew that the other existed.

You see, Kalyn’s Dad is in prison, accused of murdering Gus’s Dad. When Kalyn moves to Samsboro, into her paternal Grandmother’s home, she is forced to attend school under an alias for fear of repercussions if people knew she was a Spence.

She tries to fly under the radar but finds her new found persona exhausting. She befriends Gus, who definitely stands out in a crowd, and finds his honesty and quiet demeanor refreshing.

Gus has lived in Samsboro his whole life with his Mom, who has never fully recovered from the loss of his father, and her wife, Tamara. Gus, who has cerebral palsy, spends most of his time with his best friend, Phil, but longs for a bigger life outside of Samsboro.

Once Gus and Kalyn begin spending time together, they grow close rather quickly and are both shocked when they discover how their lives are tied together.

Soon the kids are uncovering long-held, small-town secrets and exposing evidence that has never before been brought to light.

I really enjoyed this story. I don’t think Leah Thomas could have fit more hard-hitting topics in here if she tried!

This is a story of identity, perceptions, reality, love, hate, forgiveness, moving on; in short, it’s about life. The characters are great. I loved Kalyn and Gus both so much and even Phil, self-proclaimed antisocial personality disorder and all.

I was pleasantly surprised when the book took a mysterious turn and the kids started their own investigation. I had a lot of fun reading that aspect of the story.

I need more people to read this and be talking about it. I think there is a lot of really great rep in here and the various stories were so honestly told. It was really moving. So, yeah, if you are into Contemporary, pick this one up! It’s so worth it!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Bloomsbury, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading more from this author!

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Review: Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

Call It What You WantCall It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Rob, a once super popular lacrosse player, has fallen from grace but not on account of his own actions. His father, the local financial planner, was caught red-handed swindling from clients and everyone suspects that Rob knew. He did work as an intern at his father’s office but swears he had no clue what was happening.

As everything begins to be taken from his family, his father attempts suicide, leaving him in a state where he requires 24-hour care. Now a social pariah, Rob finds himself at rock bottom.

Maegan, a classic overachiever, has been living in her older sister’s shadow for years. Feeling pressured to succeed, Maegan cheats while sitting for her SAT causing consequences for everyone in the room.

Branded a cheater, Maegan sees her social standing slump as well. She now keeps her head down and just tries to make it though each day without too much embarrassment.

When they are matched together for a calculus project, neither Rob nor Maegan are happy about it. Begrudgingly, they begin to meet up to start their project and pretty quickly learn that you cannot always believe what you hear about people.

They begin to confide in one another and discover they have more in common than they ever could have guessed.

Nobody writes teenage angst quite like Brigid Kemmerer. She puts her characters through hell but the growth they are able to achieve is truly a beautiful thing.

Rob and Maegan’s relationship has its complications but it is also sweet, kind and pure. The writing is smooth and highly readable. The friendships were so well done. Rob and Owen. So many feelings.

There are a lot of hard-hitting topics included in this too. So much. The thing that I found most moving was the idea of learning to forgive yourself; of not letting one mistake define who you are. I think a lot of us should be reminded of that. Be kind to yourself. We are all human, we all make mistakes and it is okay to let go of that and move forward.

There was also a strong narrative between Maegan and her sister. As with many sisters, they certainly were not lacking in the drama department. I did like how much their relationship evolved over the course of the story and how they learned to see one another as they are, not how they imagine each other to be.

Overall, I felt this book has a lot to offer and is quite moving. I would definitely recommend it to readers looking for a hard-hitting contemporary. Kemmerer is an autobuy author for me and yet again, she did not disappoint! Well done.

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Review: Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Final DraftFinal Draft by Riley Redgate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aspiring scifi writer, Laila Piedro, is in her senior year of high school. Her main focus is her creative writing class, taught by her favorite teacher, Mr. Madison. He loves her work and is quite encouraging regarding her future prospects for success.

He is a scifi geek himself and they really bond over the same books and shows. Unfortunately, Mr. Madison is hospitalized after a horrible accident and cannot finish out the school year. With just 3-months remaining until graduation, how bad can the substitute be?

Turns out, pretty bad. Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, gets selected to take over Mr. Madison’s creative writing class. She has never been a teacher and her methods are…

…not the best. The first time she grades the students stories everyone fails. Laila is shocked. She had never received a grade such as this and was mystified by how this could happen. Mr. Madison always loved her stories.

After a few chats where Nazarenko basically tells her she needs to live life in order to correctly write life, Laila takes this direction to heart and begins to actively try to shake herself out of her comfort zone. She becomes fixated on gaining Nazarenko’s approval and this leads to distance from her friend group and a string of risky decisions.

I picked this book up as part of the Dragons & Tea Book Club. It was their June pick and since it had been sitting on my TBR since it was released, I was excited to join in. I like so much of the content in here, such as:

~great family dynamic = wanted more
~exploring sexuality = wanted more
~squad goals/strong friendship group = wanted more
~examination of identity/culture = wanted more
~relationship with Hannah = wanted more
~Laila’s writing progress = wanted more

Do you see a theme?

While this was a good story, I wanted so much more of all the things! Redgate has a smooth, intelligent way of writing but this honestly could have been 100-pages longer. Anytime I was getting attached to a topic, it would end and we wouldn’t really revisit it.

Even with Nazarenko, in the end, she just kind of faded to black. It made the whole interaction seem inconsequential. Maybe that was the point. It’s high school creative writing; the real lessons were learned outside the classroom.

Overall, I am happy I read this and I would read more by Redgate. The writing is worth a second chance even though this one didn’t blow me away.

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Review: Listen To Your Heart by Kasie West

Listen to Your HeartListen to Your Heart by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When summer comes to an end, Kate Bailey is bummed she has to return to spending her days in a classroom instead of on the lake at her parent’s marina. Kate is a lake girl through and through and struggles to see herself anywhere else.

This year, however, is going to be all about getting Kate out of her comfort zone.

At the behest of her best friend, Alana, Kate has signed up for a podcasting class where she ends up becoming a cohost of an advice show of her creation.

Being such a private person, Kate prefers to fly under the radar, but she soon finds herself taking on a sort of celebrity persona around school.

Alana gets to be in marketing and we meet a few other kids in the class as well. Victoria, Kate’s cohost, is an absolute doll and her rival, Frank, adds a slightly sinister, bad boy element.

Stealing the storyline however is Alana’s crush, Diego.

Cute, cute, cute — this boy is even grabbing Kate’s attention. But Alana is her best friend and it’s totally against girl code to go after your BFF’s crush.

I mainly picked this book up because I had been told there was a strong podcast storyline in it. That is a big selling point for me.

I have never read a Kasie West but figured, why not? It sounded so cute and fun and it’s summer! The perfect time to pick up a book like this.

I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed listening to this story. Sure, it’s cutesy and sugary sweet but that is exactly what it marketed itself as and that is what I got!

There was miscommunication, drama, funny characters, a cook-off, great family dynamics — the list goes on and on.

I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a quick, adorable YA Contemporary read. I can also see people of all ages enjoying it. I will absolutely be picking up more of Kasie West’s books this summer. Really good stuff!

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Review: On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come UpOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ANGIE THOMAS!!!

I am so in love with your words.
Damn, she’s good.

This story follows, Bri Jackson, who also lives in Garden Heights like Starr from THUG. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Bri lives with her mother and her older brother. Her father, a once successful rapper, was gunned down in the streets, a victim of gang violence. Bri’s mother is a recovering addict who is doing her best to be able to provide for her children alone.

Bri has plans to follow in her father’s footsteps but she definitely wants to do it her own way and struggles to find her identity apart from him.

She is a super talented rapper and spends most of her time thinking of rhymes and putting together lyrics. She is singularly focused on finding success in order to better the living conditions of herself and her family. To make them ‘good’.

Bri is a great kid but she does have a short fuse. She puts a lot of pressure on herself and I enjoyed getting some insight into her thought process and how she sees the world around her. There is always something that seems to be going wrong in her world. It’s tough. Troubles at school, troubles with bills, being behind in rent and she feels compelled to do something to make it different.

I loved this story. The incorporation of Bri’s lyrics gave the story such depth. I loved that angle, seeing her try to make it and channel her talents for good. Learning to stand her ground and be true to herself. I love stories with music or musicians and this one utilized that trope so well.

I have read some reviews where readers commented on not enjoying this story as much as THUG. That doesn’t surprise me at all but for me, I sort of feel the opposite. I think I actually enjoyed this one more. While Bri, as a character, may seem contentious, to me, she was perfect.

As a 16-year old, many aspects of your life can be extremely frustrating. You can feel like you aren’t being heard, like your desires are pushed aside or seen as not important, and that may cause you to act out in socially unacceptable ways. I get that. Bri was struggling with some heavy shit and she let it get the best of her sometimes but that happens when you are a kid.

I liked how this book focused on a variety of hard-hitting issues that can often be brushed over or ignored. The reality of living in poverty is something that millions of Americans, and people around the world, deal with on a daily basis, and while it isn’t pretty, it is important to shine light on and discuss.

Examples: the fact that Bri’s mom was a recovering addict. The fact of the limits that places on her options to provide for her family. The way Bri, and other black and brown kids, were treated at her school. The lifestyle Bri’s aunt lives and how that affects her entire family. Bri’s brother’s options for a job after college.

All of these things are tough issues. I appreciated how much substance Thomas put into this. This was far from a one issue story. This was the whole cake and I was eating every bite!

I can see why this format may not sit well with everyone. It punches the whole way through but it is an exceptionally told story.

Thomas is a true wordsmith. Her writing leaps off the page with realness…is that a word? Realness?

You know what I’m saying.

As you can tell, I loved this. I want everyone to read it and seriously, I am on the EDGE of my seat until Angie Thomas puts out another book. I am really hoping for another story set in Garden Heights!!!

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Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While attending a Spring Break party, Starr Carter, runs into her best childhood friend, Khalil. They haven’t seen each other in a while and Starr is happy to catch up with him. They used to be real close but drifted apart once Starr started attending a private school out of their neighborhood.

After a violent incident erupts at the party, Khalil offers to give Starr a ride home, which she accepts. On the way, they get pulled over. A nightmarish scene then plays out in front of Starr’s eyes. Khalil removed from the car and ultimately gunned down in the street by a police officer. Badge number 1-1-5.

The rest of the books follows Starr in the aftermath of this killing; what she goes through, what her family goes through and what her community goes through.

There is nothing that I can write that hasn’t been written before in regards to this book.

It’s so important, so well written and so needed.
I loved it beginning to end.

Believe the hype. If you haven’t picked this up yet, please do.
I’m so glad that I did. As an aside, I listened to the audiobook while following along in my hardcover edition. As I already knew, but maybe you don’t, Bahni Turpin is a goddess. She is such a great narrator, bringing stories to life.

I will definitely be picking up On the Come Up very soon! Thank you for writing this, Angie Thomas.

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Review: Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Anger Is a GiftAnger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an absolutely engrossing story.

I don’t think I will ever ‘review’ this.
I don’t think it is my place to review this.

This is a hard story to read but one that needed to be told and heard.

This one will be going on my ‘books everyone should read in a lifetime’ list.

Taken from the synopsis on Goodreads: “A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.”

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Review: In Another Life by C.C. Hunter

In Another Life: A NovelIn Another Life: A Novel by C.C. Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

When Chloe Holden moves to Joyful, Texas, with her mother, her once perfect life is in shambles. Her mother is in remission from her cancer but still very sick. Her Dad, who she has always considered her super hero, has cheated on her mom and left her for a much younger woman. They’re not speaking at all and using Chloe as a go-between.

In spite of all of this, Chloe is doing her best to hold it all together. Her mom is in the throes of a terrible depression and most days, Chloe functions more as a parent than a child. With her mom’s utter lack of being able to get out of her own way, Chloe is left to deal with a lot of stressful things by herself.

When Chloe bumps into Cash Colton at a local convenience store, he has an unexpected and far from friendly reaction to her.

Cash believes Chloe is lurking in town to scam his foster parents, the Fullers. They had a baby girl who was kidnapped when she was three years old and Chloe looks exactly like an age progression photograph that has been used to scam them before.

This would seem ludicrous except for the fact that Chloe is actually adopted. She remembers nothing of her life prior to being surrendered by her bio parents. Well nothing except for one vague memory that his been haunting her: her 3-year old self in a princess dress, sitting on a dirty sofa, crying and having a scary man tell her, your momma and daddy don’t want you anymore.

As you can imagine, this memory frightens her so she does her best to suppress it. As her and Cash eventually strike up a friendship, then begin to grow closer, he confesses to her what he fears. As they begin to explore the idea that she could actually be the missing girl, Emily Fuller, Chloe begins to remember more details.

In Another Life is a solid YA Contemporary story. I had moments in the beginning that gave me pause but as the story continued, I felt myself drawn in more and more. Chloe and Cash’s relationship was enjoyable. It was interesting to me to have two main characters who were part of the adoptive/foster care system. Both Chloe and Cash are struggling with issues stemming from that, Chloe definitely less so, and I found those topics interesting to explore.

Cash’s back story was very interesting and when I would find myself getting frustrated at some of his choices and behaviors, I had to remind myself of how he perceived the world differently than myself.

I did have a slight issue with Chloe’s mom. She was annoying AF and I think we had a bit too much of her. Her constant issues sucked me out of the story by taking the focus off of Chloe and Cash. I found her distracting, TBH. Also, I wouldn’t classify this as a mystery/thriller. I have heard some people talking about it and I think if you go into this with that assumption, you will be disappointed — at least if you read a lot of thrillers, which I do.

Overall, I enjoyed my time reading this story and would definitely pick up more works by this author. Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity.

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Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

SadieSadie by Courtney Summers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Reaction:

Alternating between a Serial-type podcast, researched and narrated by a man named West McCray, and Sadie’s perspective, this book is a gut-punching tour de force of modern-American noir.

By the time she is in her teens, and maybe even before, Sadie has accepted the fact that she is the sole person responsible for the care and upbringing of her little sister, Mattie.

Although at times infuriating, she does love Mattie with her whole heart and has done her best to provide her with a safe and constant environment. Their mother, a junkie whose biggest concern is what man she’ll be shacking up with next, never truly provided the care the girls needed.

Sadie has never felt loved by her mother and this lack of connection displays itself through her outlook on the world. Jaded and cynical, Sadie has good reason to be, her situation only made more difficult by the severe stutter that has plagued her since early childhood. Her stutter makes it challenging for her to express her feelings and she feels people judge and underestimate her because of it.

After her mother runs off, seemingly for good, Sadie’s fate is sealed. She is left to provide for Mattie around the clock. After a fight regarding their mother’s whereabouts, Mattie runs off one night, only to be discovered later, murdered.

Sadie, rocked by her loss and overcome with anger and despair, is determined to track down Mattie’s killer and bring him to justice. Her own. She knows who killed her and won’t rest until he pays.

As sad as this story is, it is boldly realistic and I respect the fact that Summers never shied away from tough, taboo topics. I am not going to go into them here, but if you are a sensitive reader, you may want to check other reviews for trigger warnings.

I listened to the audiobook for this, while also reading the hardcover version. The audiobook is definitely worth listening to. The podcast sections were particularly well done and listening to it enhanced my reading experience.

While I did enjoy this a lot, I wasn’t as blown away by it as others seemed to be. It was really well told and the topics were well handled. I just think the hype made me expect a little more. I read a lot of gritty, dark stories, so nothing about this surprised me or felt particularly groundbreaking besides the format.

Overall, the story is depressing but important and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly the audiobook.

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