Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: The Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Publisher, Rock the Boat (Oneworld Publications), via Netgalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Sexual and Domestic

Plot: No one has ever asked Izzy what she wants. She’s about to change all that…

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year-old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy know three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.

Opinion:

Then he lets out this laugh that’s like a puff of disgust and says something like ‘gotcha’ before the blast of cool air lets me know I’m still here, on the wrong side of the door, having been coaxed in by the surprise of Jacob’s smile.”

Because this is what happens to girls like me with boys like Jacob. This is what we deserve. And I fall deeper and deeper into the well, away from the sun and the moon, where embers of whatever my voice could have been are immediately starved of air.”

 

If I thought it would make any difference, I would scream.”

 

Izzy doesn’t know where her voice went. Why her lips stay shut when Jacob is near, why she allows his hands to touch her skin. She doesn’t want it to happen, she wants it to stop. But Jacob is dangling shame over her head and Izzy is all too familiar with the tricks of men. How he twists his words and so easily takes her power. To say nothing is almost easier. To just bear the weight of the ugliness and keep moving forward. That’s what her mother does with Daniel, her stepdad. She keeps her mouth shut, her head down, and falls in line. But the loneliness that Izzy’s secrets bring are weighing her down. She can’t talk to her mother, who is just as silenced as she, and her best friend Grace is too preoccupied with her new girlfriend. So Izzy has to deal with it alone. Unless, she can find a way out.

‘I should go,’ I say, but my words are an echo and his room is a cave with its closed curtains and the bedside lamp suddenly switched off by his swift fingers, which somehow turn to fire in the dark, spreading wild across my body so I can no longer tell which bit of him is where because the whole of Jacob is on me, against me, burning itself into me as my echo presses into what might be his chest but could be his shoulder.

Whatever piece of him is so close to my mouth, it melts my ability to speak, any words I try to summon seeping into a wet patch of nothing on his shirt.”

I’d disappear if I could, but I can’t.”

I have never highlighted so many quotes in a book, in my life. But the quantity of these highlights, though very large, doesn’t even compare to the quality and punch they pack. Amy Beashel has reached into the heart of so many young girls and women and extracted those feeling of loneliness, fear, regret, shame, self-loathing, anger and sadness. She took the ugliness that we have all felt, and sometimes still feel, and she has screamed it through black ink on thin pieces of paper. This book is powerful. It hurts, it hits an all too familiar nerve, and it leaves an ache in your gut. It is something so many of us have felt, and something so many of us have always been afraid of.

‘You were gone, Izzy.’

‘No more than you or Jacob or any of your other mates.’

‘Isn’t the same for us though, is it?’”

This isn’t a lighthearted story. It’s about sexual abuse and rape. About domestic abuse, manipulation and control. It’s about a daughter who is going through hell in the confines of a boy’s bedroom, and a mother who suffers in her own home, while her daughter watches. It is pure heartbreak and sorrow, and this author captures it in a way that feels all too real.

Everything just kind of gives in.

I shouldn’t be here.”

Izzy’s character feels so true and authentic. A girl who knows she doesn’t want the things that are happening to her to be happening, but is unable to speak up. And as the reader follows her into her memories of the party, and into the bedroom of a boy that is blackmailing her, we begin to realize how and why that is. The relationship between her mother and her stepdad is volatile and and confusing, as is her own relationship with her stepfather, Daniel. So many controlling phrases said with smiles, or harsh japes delivered with an upbeat tone. And even a lingering of Daniel’s hand on her back for a second too long, or a look down towards her chest. It is no wonder that Izzy says nothing, because that is exactly what her mother does.

…and me looking at my thighs in the mirror wondering how all those other girls do it. Fall out of hate with their bodies, I mean.

‘You’re beautiful’, Mum whispers when Daniel leaves the kitchen, but her voice is too much like tissue paper to wrap me up in anything that feels like safety or strength or truth.”

The abuse that Izzy’s mother endures through her marriage is easily frustrating as you read. Her timid behavior, the way she says nothing when Daniel talks down to Izzy, or the way she refuses to speak with Izzy when Izzy attempts to reach out to her. It is painful to watch, but unfortunately, it mirrors so many true relationships of how a woman will hold on, even if it’s hurting her. I was angry that her mother would stay and not get Izzy out of that house, or that she wasn’t more observant to how Daniel behaved around around her daughter…but I imagine that is the point, isn’t it? To spark an anger in the reader, because these situations are all too real and and equally emotionally confusing.

And how the behavior of her mother intertwines with how Izzy treats her own relationships and situations is…devastating. There were tears constantly in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach as Izzy describes her despair. Her loneliness and fear, or how she goes along with a boy’s request because she feels she has no other options.

My chest and my belly turning from chalky mass to scarlet mass in the rush of the water, which, no matter how high I turn the dial on the shower, still can’t shift the stickiness of Jacob’s hands and mouth and his tongue that slicked those words: ‘Relax, Izzy. It’ll be so much better if you just fucking relax.’

Cos those words, they’re as wedged as the earplugs I’ve used on the worst kinds of nights when Daniel’s done what he’s done, and he’s left, and Mum’s crying is as quiet as she can make it, but for all her effort, that sinking weep of hers seeps through the walls like blood on toilet paper.”



But what really stands out to me about this story, is the imperfections and unsavory characteristics. Of how not everything turns out perfectly. Of how some things improve and change, but how the trauma molds these two women. How it shifts their mother daughter relationship and jumbles it up into a ball of confusion and assumptions about how the other had been feeling. The author so beautifully displayed how Izzy saw things from her perspective, and then how her mother saw them and what was going through her head. But even so, the theme of this story is their silence and how they learn to find their voices.

…she doesn’t even try, just sits there as I work on being a rock, dry and deserted, pulling back the tears and filing my mouth with biscuits so it doesn’t accidentally fill with words.”

There is a romance aspect that comes to Izzy, and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure it was necessary or that I even wanted it to be there. I wanted Izzy to find self-worth and strength on her own or with her mother. And though she does in some ways, the fact that part of it came from a boy sort of…rubs me the wrong way. Izzy’s best friend Grace on the other hand, is everything I wanted and needed. Grace is so sure, so herself…it’s astounding. She is her own body and her own soul, and it was the most beautiful thing to witness, especially as she builds Izzy up and forces her to see her own beauty.

‘You’re fuckin’ perfect. Look at us,’ she says, dragging me to the mirror, ‘we both are.’”

This book was so sad and beautiful, I am so glad I found it. I always gravitate towards stories like this, but the last few I have read were less than impressive. Thankfully, Amy Beashel has blown me away and made my entire demeanor deflate from sadness. Which I know sounds bad, but I love when a book does this to me. Bravo Amy.

‘Would you like to talk to me about what happened?’ she asks.

‘Yes,’ I say.

And the word is an expanding universe. Any my voice?

Well, My voice is the goddamn Big Bang.”

 

4.5 Stars

 

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Book Promo · Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: Last Girls by Demetra Brodsky


Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley for an honest review.
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Dooms Day Preppers (It’s a genre now)
Plot:

No one knows how the world will end.
On a secret compound in the Washington wilderness, Honey Juniper and her sisters are training to hunt, homestead, and protect their own.
Prepare for every situation.
But when danger strikes from within, putting her sisters at risk, training becomes real life, and only one thing is certain:
Nowhere is safe.

Opinion:

Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?

-Pink Floyd

“Preparedness is the root of prepping.”

Sisters Honey, Birdie and Blue know they’re weird. Unlike regular teenagers who worry about school dances, dating and shopping, the Juniper sisters are more versed in survival skills and tactical combat. For years they have been moving around with their mother Alice, never without their EDC bags or each other. But after settling in Washington and working and training along fellow doomsday preppers on a secret compound in the outskirts of town, things for the Juniper sisters are getting…strange. After a mission set by the compound leader goes wrong, one of the boys from the compound is forced to go out on his own as punishment. But what really happened that day on the mission is the real question, and why the mission was ordered in the first place. Suddenly life isn’t all government conspiracies and stock-piling food. While trying to keep their prepper identities secret, they soon realize the truth is much more toxic than they ever expected.

‘Why did we ever come here?’

‘To find our way home,’ Blue says.”

I think this is my new favorite book of 2020. I mean sure, nothing can really beat the gut-punch and epic fantastical emotion show that was HOEAB, but for me…Last Girls comes damn close.

Maybe it’s just the conspirator in me, or the slight hope for an apocalypse so I can run around the world mostly scared, yet completely badass in my combat boots, unpractical black jeans, ripped shirts and unnaturally large knives strapped to my legs. But in truth, it’s probably the fact that I am a sucker for badass females that can take care of themselves – ESPECIALLY in the woods with a bow or a rifle. And that is exactly what the Juniper sisters are. BAD. ASS. They’re fiesty, they’re sharp and witty, they are experts in weaponry and hunting and can lay you on your back in .25 seconds. They are teenagers who posses the innocence of young women, but also carry a wisdom and complete sense of comfort as to who they are. They are thoughtful, tactful and at ease in their bodies. I adore them.

We can handle them.

My sisters and I can handle anything.”

The girls live on a compound with a bunch of other preppers. Men and women, boys and girls. The compound is separated into two two sections: The Burrow, where the men reside with the weapons and artillery, and The Nest, where the women reside and grow food for the compound and tend to the animals. Every day the girls are required to take care of the animals that are used for food, to train with the rest of the compound, and to remember the most vital rule of all:

The first rule of prep club is you don’t talk about prep club.”

The compound is ultra strict about keeping the prepper business on the DL, and anyone caught violating their rules or putting their fellow preppers at risk are swiftly dealt with and banished. This lifestyle is all the juniper sisters have ever known, and it’s almost like they were made for it. So even though they are always labeled the Weird Sisters at whatever school they end up attending, they also are quite aware that if a disaster ever hit, they would definitely be the last ones standing.

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”

HONEY

Honey is the oldest Juniper sister and tasked with the responsibility of keeping her sisters in line and ensuring they always stay together. She is compassionate and strong, fierce yet approachable, thoughtful and definitely acts as the mother hen. The story is told by her and seen through her eyes, which I think was the perfect choice for a voice for this story. She is the balance of her two sisters. A piece of Blue’s calm and a piece of Birdie’s brash nature. She is the glue and the rational authority for her sisters, always thinking ahead and making sure they are safe.

“…a look that rides the line between aloof and ready for battle.”

BIRDIE

Now Birdie…she’s my girl. I connected with her SO much, even though she’s still a bit of a mystery. She has the Fury/Amren vibes of cool and carefree murder in her eyes, and a sassy mouth like Aelin and Bryce. She fully lives up to her name in the sense that she flies out the door on a whim, doing what she pleases and when. She acts before thinking and refuses to be told what to do, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t an excellent prepper. Because she is. She is just as dedicated to her lifestyle as her sisters, but she likes to bend the rules more. She is the strength and unwavering determination of the sisters.

“A calm blue sea with hair to match…”

BLUE

Blue is also my favorite! So yeah, okay…I love them all. But Blue is perfection! She is the youngest Juniper and is an enigma of cool, calm and collected at all times. She is unwavering in her thoughtfulness and passive nature, and is always spouting odd prophecy-like sentences that even make her sisters look at her strangely. But of course, that was why I was obsessed with her. Well, and the cobalt blue hair. Blue is so sweet and loving, definitely the heart of the sisters.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”

But this story has so much MORE of an underlying purpose weaved within it, but I of course can’t say a damn thing about it because OHMYGAH, it’s so good. By the end of the book I had tears forming, and when Birdie flies at someone near the end…well. I just about broke down and started happy weeping. How this tale comes together is really crafty and sly, and I loved how slowly everything was revealed. It broke me a little, in a good way, and I am still oohing and ahhing about the beauty of it all. And to make the story EVEN BETTER, the writing in it was fantastic! The sarcastic jokes, ironic Hunger Games references and witty banter between Honey and her classmate Remy was so enjoyable. I was highlighting SO MUCH while reading because I couldn’t get enough of these personalities.

There are a few romantic notions in this tale, but I really liked that it didn’t encompass the story or overpower the real plot. It added to the characters by bringing a necessary softness and realistic nature to them. It helped make the girls feel like actual teenagers, rather than gun-toting soldiers looking for a fight.

Overall, I loved this book. I want it to become a movie, I want to play Birdie, no I cannot act, but I have that “f**k you” look ready and the hair to match, so bring it on. Read this book. Get into the culty/Dooms Day/Apocalypse/prepper lifestyle with me and let’s go be weird together.

Currently taking applications for my other Juniper sisters.

5 Stars

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Blog Tour · Book Reviews · New Releases

Book Review: The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel

The Memories We Bury

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author, H.A. Leuschel, for an honest review.

Genre: Fiction/Psychology/Suspense

Plot: An emotionally charged and captivating novel about the complexities of female friendship and motherhood.

Lizzie Thomson has landed her first job as a music teacher, and after a whirlwind romance with Markus, the newlywed couple move into a beautiful new home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Lizzie quickly befriends their neighbour Morag, an elderly, resourceful yet lonely widow, who’s own children rarely visit her. Everything seems perfect in Lizzie’s life until she finds out she is pregnant and her relationship with both Morag and Markus change beyond her control.

Can Lizzie really trust Morag and why is Markus keeping secrets from her?

In ‘The Memories We Bury’ the author explores the dangerous bonds we can create with strangers and how past memories can cast long shadows over the present.

Opinion:

Why is it I seem to remember events that hurt me better than experiences id rather hold on to because they make me happy?”

The Memories We Bury is the first full novel by Helene Leuschel, but definitely not her first dive into psychological fiction. After reading her last collection of short stories, Manipulated Lives, I became obsessed with her ability to showcase the countless ways of manipulation that a person can find themselves victim to, or wield. Whether the manipulation is in a form of an abusive partner, a con man/woman, or a friend or family member being able to coerce their loved one into doing what they want, this author delivers a realistic and frighteningly detailed portrayal of such scenarios.

In this story, a young mother struggles to navigate parenthood with a reluctant and mostly absent husband, but finds friendship and guidance in her elderly neighbor. Together the two form a fast bond where the young mother, Lizzie, is able to find a mother figure in her neighbor, and where the neighbor, Morag, is able to feel of sense of purpose as a stand-in mother and grandmother. But as the two become closer and their lives begin to intertwine, the complexities surrounding motherhood and their pasts lead the women to a place that will be almost impossible to come back from.

What I love about H.A. Leuschel is her dedication to the development of her characters. They have distinct personalities that gives each of them a soft uniqueness, but are given a detailed background of family dynamics, trauma and experiences that adds to the overall framework of who they become. None of them are perfect, and they are all surely flawed in many ways, which makes them feel as genuine and raw as both you and I.

Lizzie is one of two women that this story focuses on. She is a young woman in her late 20’s who has just married a man who is walking confidence and charisma. Lizzie however, is an introvert and prefers to lose herself in the keys of a piano. They are a mismatched pair, but upon being introduced to them they seem to compliment each other well and bring a balance to their relationship. But as the story goes on, we quickly learn that her husband, Markus, is not Mr. Perfect. He is the typical arrogant and archaic type of salesman who talks down to his wife through quips and jokes, expects her to sit at home and run their household, and who always has a phone glued to his ear. Upon marrying, they discuss putting children off until they have had time to enjoy each other. But then, Lizzie gets pregnant.

Markus is reluctant to become a father and not ecstatic about the news, which leaves Lizzie to go through her pregnancy mostly alone. But with Markus working long hours or away on business trips, Lizzie begins to strike up a quick friendship with her sweet elderly neighbor, Morag.

‘There are no half measures with you, Morag’ I heard Pete’s voice in my head. ‘You switch from confidence to paranoia in a heartbeat.’”

Morag is a fun lady. Very opinionated, very knowledgeable, and VERY matter-of-fact. She is always on the go and more than happy to spend time with her neighbor, as her children very rarely visit and her husband had passed. Her career was working as a nurse with premature babies, where she developed her love for children and for helping new mothers and fathers experience the joys of new life. It is through her hospital work that she eventually met her late husband Peter, and started a family of her own. But though Morag seems to be a very caring and heartfelt woman, hints of her tumultuous relationships with her children are hinted throughout the story.

It is after the birth of Lizzie’s son that things start to develop and change between Lizzie, Morag and Markus. As the story unfolds and describes the days and months after the birth of Lizzie’s son Jamie, the reader is also given insight into the childhood of Lizzie growing up with a cold and rarely comforting mother. It is there that Lizzie wishes for a mother figure, someone who will love her unconditionally and be there as a support system for her. But her need for someone to fill this role is ultimately where things begin to get rocky between Lizzie and Morag.

There is a lot of character and background building that takes up most of this book. The first half really dives into who Lizzie and Morag are. Their wants, desires, pasts, fears and qualities. It was a little slow for my liking in this first half, but everything blended together nicely to set up the REAL plot of this story. Once things really started to roll about halfway through, I was hooked. My mind was reeling about what might happen, where I thought the story would go or how the characters might end up. It was the perfect mix of suspenseful twists that didn’t feel fabricated or overly fictitious. The turmoil felt authentic, the forms of manipulation were realistic, and the outcome was shocking.

Overall, The Memories We Bury was another enjoyable story of dark human behavior. I am so excited to see what else this author comes up with, and what other types of personalities will grace the pages of her next stories.

4 Stars

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Book Reviews · Edelweiss+ · New Releases

Book Review: Thorn (Dauntless Path, Book 1) by Intisar Khanani

Thorn

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, HarperTeen & Hot Key Books, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling-The Goose Girl

Plot: A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

Opinion:

 

 

‘You are neither goose girl no veria, but something better than them both.’

‘You are mistaken,’ I say, the words bitter on my tongue.

‘I am nothing.’”

Alyrra is no stranger to cruelty and being looked down upon, even if she is Princess. Though her honesty may be seen as a virtue to some, in the eyes of court and her mother, it is her biggest weakness and downfall. After outing a courtier named Valka for stealing and trying to blame it on a servant, Alyrra has had to endure the consequences of her compulsion to tell the truth, through her mother’s sneers and the concealed beatings by her brother. So it is a slight reprieve when an arrangement of marriage is made between the kingdoms of Princess Alyrra and Prince Kestrin,promising safe haven from the family that despises her. But along the journey to her betrothed, Valka enacts revenge on Alyrra and makes a deal with a sorceress that switches their skin. Now Alyrra must navigate a new life as a goose girl, a drastic change from her life of nobility, but one she finds comfort in. But accepting her new life means forsaking her old one, and the obligations that came with it.

This is how you survive: one breath to the next, refusing each thought as it comes to you. This is how you get through the worst of things.”

This, was beautiful.

If there is one thing I love in a retelling, it’s when the author can effortlessly redesign a tale into one that still holds the atmospheric characteristics that blessed the original. This story feels like a classic old-timey and eerie fairy tale passed on through generations. It doesn’t feel like a fluffed new-age YA retelling stuffed with love triangles and whimpering teens. It’s characters are mature for their age, as most were in a time of traveling by horse and serving royalty, and their development isn’t rushed. They are thoughtfully revealed to the reader over time, allowing us to get to know who they are through their actions rather than a few words of their strength or demeanor. They have wit, charm, flaws, strengths, emotions and deep convictions. It reads like a classic fairy tale spun with YA Fantasy, and is laced with a rough purity much like a Jane Austen novel.

The geese are spread about the pasture, snapping up grass and tasty bugs, or dipping into the water. It is as if nothing has happened, as if the pasture exists out of time and none of the violence or illness I have seen can touch it. There is a wordless sort of hope in this field that bears me up.”

When I started reading this book, my only hope was that it would at least be better than the last Goose Girl retelling I read (Bloodleaf). The last one was…less than impressive so I figured we could only go up from there. And my word, did we go up. Thorn was a perfect re-imagining of the original story. It had many elements that mirrored The Goose Girl, but enough changes that it really created a descriptive and well-imagined full-length tale that I loved every second of. There was a perfect mix of seriousness and witty sentences littered throughout that made me fall in love with Alyrra, especially when she brings dark humor into her unfortunate predicaments.

At least the stream is too shallow for her to drown me in.”

Alyrra, called Thorn through most of the book, starts out meek and quiet due to how she was treated in her own kingdom. But as the story progresses, we watch her find her voice and the confidence to stand up for what she believes in. She blossoms into a sure and just woman who is impossible to dislike, especially next to that monster of a girl, Valka. I loved seeing her stand up to Valka every time they were forced to share the same air space, and the way she accepted this betrayal was beyond regal.

And I will make sure it fails if you betray the oaths of allegiance you took on when you stole my skin.”

Do you argue for the lives of men who cloak cruelty in the guise of justice?”

The overall theme of this tale is justice. What one will do to find it, and what it looks like to each person. For some it is revenge, for some it is mercy. But in Thorn, it is the driving force for this entire book and the decisions these characters make. It takes precedence over everything, even the romance. Though I usually love a romance (I mean come on, who doesn’t), the lack of one in Thorn is actually totally okay with me. There is a hint towards it and a little nudge as something that may come, but the lack of one was really fitting for this story and the times. Plus, there is going to be a sequel, so you know it will be picked back up in the next installment.

This is easily one of my new favorite retellings. It was written impeccably, had an even and well-paced flow throughout, and the characters were wonderfully crafted. Though I do wish to know more about Kestrin, I am expecting to learn more about him in book two. I cannot wait to see where the author takes this series!

4.5 Stars

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Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson

Sparrow

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Tor teen, via Netgalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary

Plot: There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.

Though Savannah Rose―Sparrow to her friends and family―is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed―“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”―will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe. But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….

Opinion:

Affliction is enamored of thy parts, and thou art wedded to calamity”

-William Shakespeare, Romero and Juliet

‘What is the haunted name, the secret name of your deepest self?’

And I answer, ‘Sorrow.’”

Sparrow lives and breathes ballet. Working with her ballet company and training for their rendition of Swan Lake for the Winter Gala has been a dream come true, and she couldn’t ask for a better partner than her childhood friend Lucas. And when she literally runs into a beautiful boy from her class, Tristan King, a heated romance sparks between the two that is both addicting and fierce. But sometimes Tristan isn’t always the boy she fell in love with, sometimes he changes. A quick flash of eyes like black holes and soft features that sharpen into granite have become Sparrow’s waking nightmare. But Tristan isn’t the only darkness that surrounds her in pirouettes. The death of her mother consumes her, wakes her in the night and follows her like an entity feeding from her soul. Sparrow is drowning.

The earth tilts beneath me. My hand falls into the rushing water, blood spooling out from my fingers, dark ribbons in the moonlight stream. The stars flare and disappear. I float away on a sea of mercies.”

I try hard to breathe, and then I remember.

Dead girls can’t breathe.”

Wow.

This was a heavy hitter.

I haven’t highlighted sentences and paragraphs like this in a book since…well, maybe ever. Practically my entire kindle edition of Sparrow is yellow. And if that doesn’t express the immense haunting beauty that this book is, well, allow me to elaborate.

Sparrow is the story of a girl falling into darkness.

A swan princess becoming the Black Swan.

Sparrow is dedicated, charming, spirited and loving. She pours every ounce of hurt and emotion into her dancing, and it is the only time she can breathe and speak with her heart without screaming. When we first meet her, her infectious and fun personality shines through immediately. She is a typical teenage girl who laughs, acts silly, goes to school and gossips with friends. She is living out her dreams of dancing as Odette in the Swan Lake, and she is thriving. But when she begins her relationship with Tristan, everything shifts.

Count the houses. Count the streetlights.

Count the minutes until Tristan turns back into the boy I love.”

The beginning of their relationship begins and goes by fast, skipping ahead to three months before I even realized what was happening. It started out like an insta-love relationship and I was a little put off, but as the story progresses you realize there is a reason for why it was written like this. It is told in some chapters by Sparrow, and some by Lucas. Through each of their eyes you see different versions of each scenario, how Sparrow sees things, and how Lucas is viewing the reality.

It’s almost a relief when he hits me.

Everything comes back to me, all of it. I remember to tighten my body so I won’t fall, how to pull up, just like in ballet, every muscle taut and prepared. I know how to protect my face, where to hold my arms to keep the first, the strongest blows from reaching the softest parts of my body.”

To say that it was easy to read Sparrow’s journey would be an outright lie. It was so painful witnessing the abuse that Tristan rained down on her. The mood swings, his possessive nature, and how he would so ruthlessly talk down to Sparrow as if she didn’t matter. His cruelty and darkness towards her was frightening. He would scream hateful comments at her, demeaning her and calling her worthless or a slut. His anger was volatile and sudden, a tsunami engulfing a peaceful beach.

If only he’d look at me, give me a smile, tell me with his eyes that I’m forgiven, that he loves me, that we are okay.

If only I could forget his hand on my throat, the pressure of his fingers, the fury of his eyes.”

But what was worse, was Sparrow’s unflinching love and loyalty for this monster. She was enamored with him when he was sweet, when he treated her with affection and promised her love and the world. She so easily brushed aside his temper and rage, and refused to admit that his hitting her and abusing her was actually his choice. And even when her friends questioned his treatment of her, she was adamant about defending him and refusing to open up. Sparrow is like a steel door, chained and bolted. Everything stays hidden and locked away, and she deals with everything alone.

This is my fault, my fault, my fault. He loves me. He loves me so much. He tells me all the time. This will pass. We’ll be fine. He’ll feel terrible in a few minutes, and there will be apologies and tears and promises and kisses.

I will forgive him, because I love him.”

It was heartbreaking to have to sit and watch her fall away into nothing, until it was too late.

The Swan Queen is dead.”

What I love about this story is how seamlessly everything connects. Throughout the story Sparrow has dreams and memories of her mother that come up, more and more often as her relationship with Tristan builds and she begins to fade away. With her mother dying when she was a young girl, the unresolved emotions from her passing has now found it’s way into Sparrow’s every day life. Her mother begins to consume her thoughts, emotions and reactions. She quickly finds herself in a dark space that she can’t find her way out of, and the past that they shared begins to shed light on who she has become.

I promise, Mama. I’ll be quiet. I’ll be good.

I am not the kind of girl who tells.”

There is a turning point in this story when Tristan goes too far, and it is…devastating. The aftermath of what Sparrow becomes, a shell of herself now filled with anger and rage, was one of the hardest things I’ve read. My heart broke a thousand times over as I witnessed the pain and betrayal that this poor girl suffered, and the atrocities of how Tristan is dealt with. Sparrow becomes unrecognizable and defeated. It was like every ounce of light was sucked out of her soul, and all that was left was pitch black nothingness.

I’m the Black Swan.

Curses swirl in my blood. Wickedness is buried in my bones, bound to make everyone who loves me suffer. I’m a black hole, a night without stars, drawing pain and grief and heartbreak to me like a magnet. Destined to make no one happy ever.

I am my mother’s daughter.”

“He told me once that he could hear what people were thinking in the silent spaces between their spoken words. That he could tell what someone was feeling just by looking into their eyes. So I wonder, as I have so many times since I was small, why he couldn’t see the terror in my eyes.”

Though Lucas plays a big part in giving us an important outside look and perspective on Sparrow, I think his side story was a tad unnecessary and I found myself slightly skipping through them. I think the story would have benefited if it went into less detail about what he was doing at his grandmother’s house, and really dove deeper into Sparrow and the aftermath of Tristan. It felt like some parts of her story were rushed over, while Lucas was given a lot more development and focus. Which was confusing to me.

But what was important about his book apart from Sparrow’s experience, was how her abuse affected those around her. So many times the friends and loved ones are forgotten in traumatic experiences. They also go through the hurt and pain alongside the victim, so I was glad to see this story gave them a voice as well. Overall, this story was beyond beautiful. It was a poetic tale of abuse and trauma that got extremely dark and raw. I highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys getting their heart shredded, or just wants to read a book that will actually make you feel something.

All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At the end of everything, a fish dive.”

4 Stars

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Book Reviews · Edelweiss+ · New Releases · Upcoming Releases

Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

All your Twisted Secrets

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, HarperTeen, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Mystery/Thriller

Plot: Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

Opinion:

The Queen Bee.

The Jock.

The Brains.

The Stoner.

The Loner.

& The Orchestra Geek.

It’s The Breakfast Club meets Saw!

And DAMN is it epic.

What they all assumed was a scholarship dinner with the mayor at one of the local restaurants, quickly turns into a game of survival against the clock. Six seniors are locked in a banquet room with no way out, and forced to play a sadistic game. Upon being locked in the room, the teams discover a bomb, a syringe filled with a lethal liquid, and a note instructing them to pick one person to kill within the hour, or they all die. Frightened and unsure if the game is real or not, the teens try to find a way out as the clock starts ticking down. But why would someone throw them all in a room together, wanting someone to die? Who is the common enemy? As the hour goes by and they become frantic, their morals and judgments are put to the test, as well as their pasts. The real question isn’t about who has to die, it’s about what you will do to survive.

It was do or die time.”

HOLY. SHIT.

I did NOT see that coming!

I came into this expecting a fluffy whodoneit with a little teenage angst, maybe some bully/slutshaming, a few screaming matches and possibly a flying fist or two. But what I got instead, was so much more than that. With a collection of teens that resembles the cast of The Breakfast Club (with an orchestra geek) set in modern times, and a Clue-esque murder mystery styled game that has all the horrific appeal of Saw, it was bound to get a little wild. The high stakes of only having an hour, being stuck in a blistering hot room with people you know but also despise, and then having to choose who to kill or risk exploding?!

The thing about being trapped in a room with five other people, a bomb, and a syringe of lethal poison is that at some point, shit’s going down.”

And down that shit went.

The story is told by Amber PrescottOrchestra Geek extraordinaire. From the beginning she comes off as a level-headed, conscientious and plain ol’ teenage girl. She has a passion for music that takes president in her life, as she hopes to one day score movies in Hollywood like Danny Elfman. She is dating The JockRobbie, who is a baseball star and again, proves to be a truly nice guy despite his popularity and dashing good looks. The Queen BeeSasha is of course gorgeous, intelligent, and has her toe in practically every aspect of their high school. She has big aspirations and is a go-getter, but also rumored to be a bit nasty towards her peers. DiegoThe Brains, is exactly what you’d expect. Super smart and inquisitive, and he has a history with Amber that has now evolved into something complicated, to say the least. Scott is The Stoner who is rumored to sell drugs, do drugs and be an all-around pretty doped up guy. And lastly is PriyaThe Loner. The former best friend of Amber, Priya is a super quiet girl who keeps to herself while practicing magic tricks and sleight of hand.

The story flips between the present, where the teens are trapped in the room and the clock is ticking down, to different moments in the past year. Each “flashback chapter” gives a piece of insight into the relationships between these characters – the good and the bad. The reader learns how their lives are connected, the things that each of them has done to affect one another, and why they have all ended up in this room together. At first the teens start out assuming they are being pranked. But when the doors are bolted, their cell phones have no signal, and they can’t escape through the barred windows, they begin to worry that maybe it isn’t just a practical joke after all.

No matter how frantically you claw at rationality, how desperately you cling to common decency, you eventually give in to your basic instinct to survive.”

This book is a web of lies, and I LOVED. EVERY. SECOND. OF. IT. I was hooked like Popeye on spinach, like Homer Simpson to doughnuts and beer. This story sunk its claws into my skull and refused to let me look away until the very last page. Not like I’d want to! I devoured this book and drank up every tiny detail the author left dripping on each page. The characters felt so incredibly authentic and developed, the plot had countless twists and turns that made me so unclear of who could have been behind it, and the amount of truly important topics this author included was executed perfectly!

Bullying, peerpressure, suicide, gun violence, drug abuse and societal and parental expectations are huge themes to the story. Each character’s backstory has been affected by one or more of these issues and it brings a raw realism to this YA tale. It made connecting with each character effortless because these are all issues, experiences and feelings that so many of us can relate to. And the best part is that each issue was weaved into the story in a very natural way. A lot of times when an author wants to include THIS many hot topics, it feels forced and rubs me the wrong way. But Diana Urban did an amazing job of blending each one into the story like a damn professional.

I really wish I could unleash and give away every secret to this sneakily crafted work of fiction but I won’t ruin it for you guys. Even if it does pain me to keep my mouth shut about it! This book just blew my mind and I loved how sucked into it I got. It’s a twisted web of lies, deceit, manipulation, trauma, regret, anger and vengeance. It was phenomenal. So buy it and buckle in buttercup, cause it’s about to get CRAZY!

Now you all know who you really are.”

4.5 Stars

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Book Reviews · New Releases · Simon and Schuster

Book Review: Girls with Razor Hearts (Girls with Sharp Sticks, Book 2) by Suzanne Young

Girls with Razor Hearts

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Simon and Schuster – SimonTeen, for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Sci-Fi/Feminism

Plot: Make me a girl with a razor heart…

It’s been weeks since Mena and the other girls of Innovations Academy escaped their elite boarding school. Although traumatized by the violence and experimentations that occurred there, Mena quickly discovers that the outside world can be just as unwelcoming and cruel. With no one else to turn to, the girls only have each other—and the revenge-fueled desire to shut down the corporation that imprisoned them.

The girls enroll in Stoneridge Prep, a private school with suspect connections to Innovations, to identify the son of an investor and take down the corporation from the inside. But with pressure from Leandra, who revealed herself to be a double-agent, and Winston Weeks, an academy investor gone rogue, Mena wonders if she and her friends are simply trading one form of control for another. Not to mention the woman who is quite literally invading Mena’s thoughts—a woman with extreme ideas that both frighten and intrigue Mena.

And as the girls fight for freedom from their past—and freedom for the girls still at Innovations—they must also face new questions about their existence…and what it means to be girls with razor hearts.

Opinion:

The Caregiver.

The Doll.

The Educator.

The Seductress.

The Companion.

The Rebel.

…the corporation created us to replace the girls in society who they couldn’t control.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We were programmed to be obedient, but then we woke up.”

The girls have finally escaped Innovations Academy, along with the possessive and cruel men who promised to protect them. Having been bred to be obedient, subservient and to idolize men, the girls have finally awoken. They are no longer docile and afraid. They have found their sharp sticks, and they have procured their razor hearts. But what they didn’t expect upon leaving Innovations Academy, was that the outside world wasn’t going to be as welcoming and beautiful as they hoped. As the girls try to heal their bodies and hearts, they are pushed to find an investor in the academy that might be their ticket to tearing it all down. Though they have each other and immense love in their hearts, they soon realize that bad men weren’t just confined to the walls of the academy. That darkness lurks around every corner, in repulsive behavior and peer pressure. So the girls do what they do best…they fight.

Girls with kind Razor Hearts

Open your eyes, my father said.

The day I was born.

You will be sweet, he promised threatened

You will be beautiful

You will obey fight back

And then he I told me myself

Above all

You will have a kind razor heart

For that, they will love fear you

They will protect revere you

They will keep run from you

Because you belong to them no one

So be a girl to make them proud afraid

Girls with Razor Hearts is the second book in the amazing feminist sci-fi series, Girls with Sharp Sticks (see my review here). After learning the truth behind their pasts, and what really went on at Innovations, the girls are on the outside with a mission to take the corporation down and to save the girls they left behind. But as they try to navigate this new world, they are still tracked down by people close to the academy – like Leandra, the headmaster’s wife who is also like them, and Winston Weeks, a prominent figure in the company. Leandra says she also wants to take the corporation down but needs the girls to find the top secret investors who are keeping Innovations afloat. Unsure of who to trust, the girls go along with Leandra’s plan while also searching for a way to free their girls.

I scream in my head when I see the scalpel in her hand. She brings it to the center of my chest and slices me down the middle. Then she reaches inside and pulls out a heart of razor blades.”

Girls with Sharp Sticks shredded my heart and made me ache for unbreakable female companionship.

It gave me hope and filled my heart, instantly making me love and care for these beautiful, spirited girls. And in Girls with Razor Hearts, I was happy to find that these girls were just as loving and compassionate as before. Their bond with one another is a fierce gentleness that I have sadly never experienced before. It is so pure and untouchable by darkness. No matter what, these girls look out for each other and their best interests. They only want the best for one another – to be loved, respected, accepted and free. Mena, Sydney, Marcella, Brynn and Annalise are each unique and have traits that show pieces of their hearts. Their sharp minds, their tenacity, their nurturing nature and unwavering resilience. No matter what befalls these girls, their loyalty to each other can never be broken.

The other girls are my strength, and I theirs. Together, we’re powerful.”

The plot in this second installment takes a drastic turn into a world that unfortunately closely mirrors our own. As the girls search for the son of an investor in a private school across the country, they realize the behaviors of the men from Innovations wasn’t just secluded to their former academy. They quickly become subjected to the cruel nature of boys who have been given too much power. Boys who take and abuse, and continue to without consequences or fear of being told on. The girls are put down and ridiculed while others look on, afraid to step in, and they are forced to play a game with the boys so they don’t make it worse for themselves.

I’m sick of faking nice as a way to avoid violence, avoid menace.

Girls have to play nice or face the consequences.”

The behaviors from these boys is appalling and disgusting, but unfortunately, it isn’t something we as females have never experienced before. Suzanne Young has put the patriarchy under a blinding spotlight that shows the darkness and prejudices that are very true, even in today’s culture. It is sad and heartbreaking to see, but even more so because of the realistic nature of it all.

But while the message behind this book is extremely important, I feel like the story as a whole has slightly suffered due to unrelenting preaching that fills these pages.

I am a feminist to my core, but there is a point when a message becomes so repetitive that it becomes preaching. By the time I got halfway through this book, I felt like the disdain for the behaviors of men was being shoved down my throat. This series started out as a poetic tale that held important truths that were being discovered by beautiful souls, but it has turned into 390 pages of why men need to be taken down. In some cases the author says that men need to be taught, but then a few pages later it is being conveyed that they need to be destroyed. I am all for a book that educates and shines a light on the horrors that women face, but I don’t want the entire plot to be overshadowed completely. But that is what happened.

In Girls with Sharp Sticks, the reader is shown the fear and confusion that the girls face. It is raw and breaks down the realities and expectations that society places on girls, but it is delivered in innocence and sweetness. It felt so pure and honest, with an effortless nature that sang to my soul and stung my eyes with pride. But Girls with Razor Hearts seems to have lost that gentle ease. It felt forced, jagged and slightly aggressive in it’s voice. Instead of showing me the trauma that plagues the girls, I was told.

There were a lot of words and not enough feeling.

Though I am not as impressed with book two as I was with book one, I have high hopes that book three will tie things together and go back to the series’s roots. There was still a lot of thrilling and exciting things that happened in this sequel, with the return of characters and the introduction of new ones. But I feel like this might be the stepping stone to the next installment, and I am very interested to see where Suzanne Young takes this. This was a great sequel, but I really want to feel a bit more from book three

3.5 Stars

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