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Staff Book Reviews

Devos, Kelly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Cookie Vonn is fat. And while she doesn’t want her weight to rule her life, she’s interested in fashion design. And in fashion, size is everything. Her dreams of getting out of Scottsdale, attending Parsons, an elite fashion design school, and becoming a fashion designer for women of all sizes might not work out if she can’t lose the weight.

Fast forward two years. Thanks to insane self-control, and the power of NutriMin (a stand in for Weight Watchers) Cookie has lost the weight. And the opportunities do start to roll in. She’s offered the chance to meet her idol and cover his fashion show for NutriMin. Better yet, after a breakfast meeting with him, she gets an offer to design a special plus size line that will be released as a preview for his upcoming Winter/Spring Collection. But even as Cookie’s life seems to be exactly what she wanted, she finds being skinny isn’t a panacea, and that somewhere along the way, she might have lost not only the weight, but herself.

This is a great new adult coming of age novel that I ate right up. It’s not my normal fare – I typically don’t read YA romances unless the protagonist is a person of color. While Cookie is white, she is fat, and that is definitely an underrepresented group of people in most modern literature, so I decided to take a chance on this one, and I’m really glad I did. I think some overweight readers will balk at the idea of this being a Cinderella story, but that’s not what this is – a lot of the book really centers on Cookie realizing that while her weight might be part of her identity, its not what makes her Cookie, and that realization is what makes this a strong coming of age tale.

The book switches back and forth between past and present Cookie (fat and skinny), a literary device that worked well here. We know Cookie gets skinny, but we learn why and how in the “fat” chapters, and we get to learn how she reaps the fruits of her labor in the “skinny” chapters. I wanted to know what happened to both versions of Cookies, and I found myself staying up way too late one night reading this. Cookie herself is a smart, resourceful young woman, and while she makes some seriously stupid decisions, they all seem in character and are the sort of decisions an inexperienced young woman might make – especially when the adults around her were sometimes giving her awful advice. I hated both of her relationships, but they seemed pretty realistic, and hopefully young women can learn from Cookie’s mistakes. I wish she had cut both guys out of her life as they were both toxic (one of them gets off way too easily), but that is my really my only major complaint.

I really liked this one, and I think new adults and older teens who enjoy contemporary reads will as well. If you like Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella or Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, this book is definitely for you. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Teen for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Fat Girl on a Plane is available for purchase now, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Book of M
Peng, Shepard
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Book of M is a beautiful dystopian novel about the power and beauty of memories and the pain that comes from losing them.

One day in a market in India, a man loses his shadow for no apparent reason anyone can explain. Shortly after, the man begins forgetting everything he ever knew, but in its place receives a strange and new power. This phenomenon of the lost shadow, soon becoming known as The Forgetting, spreads throughout the world and transform it into a strange dystopian world that is hardly recognizable.

The two main characters, Ory and Max, have escaped The Forgetting so far until one day, Max loses her shadow. Fearing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, she flees across a dark transformed world. All the while holding a tape recorder, on which she records her thoughts and feelings of the journey, and her experience of forgetting. Meanwhile Ory, not wanting to give up the little time they have left, follows her, embarking on a strange journey of his own.

The novel swivels back and forth, every other chapter, between his journey and hers. Max’s chapters to me were the most poignant, the most powerful. The recordings of her experiences on her journey, and the emotions she experiences as she fights against this inevitable loss, and slowly forgets everything, made me want to mourn with her for all she was losing. The emotions portrayed by Max’s character came across so real and raw, and anyone dealing with someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s will be able to sympathize with this very real portrayal of what it’s like for them to forget everything about who they are. This novel is a tear jerker for sure!

Meanwhile Ory’s desperate attempt to find the woman he loves, is a testament to his hope in their survival and his belief in renewal, both for his wife, and I think on a deeper level, the world that was ravaged by the Forgetting. However, as his journey progresses, he is confronted with the reality of this new and dangerous world, and as he begins to adapt to this new world, he realizes that nothing will ever be the same again.

Filled with beautiful prose, strong character development, and peppered with details of a classic dystopian novel, this novel is a testament to the dystopian genre. Peng Shepherd does so much more than just tell a classic dystopian story, though. While it has all the classic elements of dystopian story, her portrayal of Max’s character almost made the novel read like a memoir but feel like a psychological thriller. Yet the existence of magic, and the way it shaped much of the spine of the story, took her novel into the realm of magical realism. The portrayal of war and action took her novel into the realm of an adventure story. Yet the stories focus on the female main character of Max, took the story into the realm of woman’s fiction. However, Max’s musing on her loving relationship with Ory, made the story delve into the realm of a romance. Taking her readers across a large geographic space, different cultures, different people, and different genres, she attempts and succeeds in a telling an ambitious and complicated story that seeks to display the power of the human spirit and ask what it is, to be human.

This story is beautiful, poignant, powerful, dark, filled with adventure, romance, and magic. The long story short, it has something for everyone. This book comes out June 5 but you can put it on your holds list today! If you haven't, please do! You won’t regret it!

Thank you to William Morrow a imprint of Harper Collins Publishers for an ARC of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Agresti, Aimee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Every four years, presidential candidates and their staffers travel the country searching for funding and votes. Campaign Widows follows five people who have been left behind by their partners as they work for electoral victory. But don't kid yourself - these "widows" have lives of their own. There is Cady, a newcomer to DC who is producing a show that is sagging in the ratings, Reagan, a speechwriter who is now doing freelance work as the recent mother to two twin girls, Birdie, a media mogul and DC taste-maker, Madison, whose husband Hank is in the running to be president, and Jay, whose partner Sky who got quickly upgraded from the "culture" section of the Queue (think Huffpost) to "politics" due to a staffing shortage. The book covers each of these dynamic characters as they live their own lives and effect the election in their own ways - with or without their partners' support.

This book is the perfect summer beach read, which is to say that its a light, fluffy read that would be great for any vacation (no beach necessary). The premise and setting were unique - I've not read a ton of women's fiction that is politically centered or even set in DC, and that really added to the title's value for me. All of the characters were well drawn and interesting in their own way. Often, when I read a book with multiple POVs, I find myself more invested in certain stories and then race through the chapters I don't much care for, but that was not the case here. Everyone was likable and engaging.

On the downside, I wanted more political satire than I got. While there definitely was some satire (Hank is a Trump stand-in, for example), and some dream scenarios (a three person dead heat race), I wanted more. Everyone's arcs were tied up a little too neatly for my taste, and it also made the book feel a bit less realistic.

Overall, I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys the genre and likes happy and easy reads. It reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians in tone and style, so if you liked that book, give this one a try! I hope it gets made into a TV show or movie, because it'd be excellent in either of those formats if the drama and comedy were both amped up a bit. If you are looking for a light summer read, look no farther. 4 stars - its a stand-out in its genre!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Graydon House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Campaign Widows became available for purchase on 22 May, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: Furyborn
Legrand, Claire
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Rielle and Eliana live centuries apart, but they do have one thing in common: the ability to control all elements. Typically, folk can control just one, but Rielle and Eliana could boast mastery of them all – that is, if Eliana was aware she had powers. Rielle’s powers manifested at a young age and led to a great tragedy that her family did everything they could to cover up. However, once Rielle’s magical prowess comes to light, she finds herself at the mercy of the king and his magical trials to determine whether or not she’d use her power for good, or evil. Eliana, on the other hand, is pretty transparently evil. She’s an assassin for the crown in a kill-or-be-killed world. When an atypical assignment sees her switching sides to help the rebels, she ends up on the run. Both women find themselves caught up in a centuries long war, and they are the key to its outcome.

This ended up being a pretty fun read! The book starts off with a bang as we witness Rielle’s (probable) death. I really liked that storytelling device, as we now know where Rielle ends up but get to find out how she got there. Rielle’s story was definitely my favorite of the two – she’s a flawed but interesting character, there were magic trials involved, and there’s a Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur style romantic dilemma (gender swapped). Romance in YA can be very hit or miss for me (let alone a love triangle), but I really liked this one. But my favorite part was probably the magic trials, we got to witness all of them (many times in books there’s a montage of sorts) and they were creative and sounded horrible but were ultimately really fun to read.

Eliana, unfortunately, was not quite as fun to read. She’s a really unlikable, one-dimensional character who is only looking out for herself and her brother. She consistently makes the worst decisions without talking to anyone about them. She lets people she ostensibly “loves” die with few qualms. Developments at the end (one of which you’ll see coming) make me think that she might be a bit more tolerable in the next book, but I definitely found myself racing through her chapters to spend more time with Rielle.

Normally, I’m not one for angels unless they are evil (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) or silly (Good Omens). I am happy to report that while there are angels in this book, they definitely (mostly) fit in the evil category, so I really enjoyed the rich, complex worldbuilding. There’s also actual cursing in this book, which is something I think we need more of in YA – teenagers curse, y’all. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book is sex-positive!

Furyborn is a pretty inventive YA fantasy with solid worldbuilding that makes good use of a semi-rarely used plot device. I think older teens, especially fans of Sarah J. Maas, will really like it! I know I enjoyed it. 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Furyborn will become available for purchase on 22 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Smoke Thieves
Green, Sally
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tash hunts demons for their smoke, which is illegal and highly dangerous. As smoke can be sold on the black market for a pretty penny, Tash does not care.

Catherine is the daughter of a cruel, bloodthirsty king who is soon to leave to marry a prince she’s never met, even though she’s in love with Ambrose, her royal guard. His love for Catherine is dangerous, and he faces losing his head for his infatuation.

March is the servant to yet another prince in another kingdom. His people were destroyed in a war that happened during his childhood, and he wants nothing but revenge.

Edyon is the child of a trader. While his mother’s livelihood depends on her ability to sell her goods, he likes nothing so much as to steal.

Unbeknownst to these five teens, their paths and destinies will cross as they try to save their kingdoms from an evil tyrant.

This is a perfectly good YA fantasy novel, but it was nothing special. The worldbuilding and characters are not at all new; in fact, it really reads like a watered down Game of Thrones for the younger set. Like GoT, the teens start off in separate kingdoms, there’s a lot of politics, and each chapter follows a different person. It’s also fairly bloody – there was a lot more killing than one might expect in a YA novel, and I’ll admit, I kind of liked it. Most of the deaths weren’t impactful, because it’s hard to develop side characters in a book with five mostly separate main characters, but it was refreshing to read a book where characters actually die instead of all of them improbably surviving. The romance between Ambrose and Catherine was tortured and annoyed me and of course, a bit of a love triangle develops, but another romance develops later in the book that I found a lot more promising.

Overall, this is a solid YA fantasy. I may check out book two, because I suspect it’ll be better (this book was largely introduction and worldbuilding) but I’ll probably skip it. The Smoke Thieves was somewhere between 2 and 3 stars for me, but I’m going to round up to 3. It was pretty good.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The Smoke Thieves is available now and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
I was Anastasia
Lawhon, Ariel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This dual-timeline story novel twists and turns until you are racing to the finish line. It tells the story of the Romanov family from the point of view of Anastasia. You travel with her from the revolution in 1917 to the family's assassination in July 1918. At the same time, you meet an elderly Anna Anderson, who is still trying to prove that she is the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. Anna's story is in reverse so as you are reading, she is moving back through her travels, various sponsors, lawsuits, and incarceration. The two stories meet at the end, solving the mystery as to what exactly happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia. The author is a beautiful writer and you will be transfixed by the story, no matter how well you know history! Another great title from Ariel Lawhon (if you haven't read her previous title, Flight of Dreams which is about the Hindenburg, I highly recommend it!).

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Sanchez, Erika L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Julia was happy that her older sister Olga fulfilled the role of "perfect Mexican daughter." Prim and proper, Olga always did what she was told and followed the rules. During Julia's junior year in high school, Olga was run over by a semi-truck and killed. After Olga's death, Julia is surprised when she finds some scandalous items in Olga's off-limits room. As Julia tries to learn more about her dead sister, she finds herself learning more about her family, friends, and ultimately, herself.

YA contemporary fiction is not really my thing - I went on a reading spree of this genre recently as I was reviewing my Goodreads "read" list from 2018 and realized that I have read zero books in this genre. Because I need to read it for work, I decided to go with award winning books and/or authors from a different background than myself. This book, a National Book Award finalist about the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the US, met that metric and appealed to me on the diversity front. I gave it a go, and was quite pleasantly surprised.

Julia is an extremely sympathetic character, and not just because she does fairly well in the face of a lot of adversity. Her voice is at times raw and honest and at other times snarky and hilarious, which really worked for me. Even though we don't have a lot in common, I was able to connect with Julia and I really cared about her and her story.

There's a lot of character development as Julia slowly learns more about her family members and their pasts, and there's just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning.

In addition to being a good coming of age story, this book covers some really important topics. Obviously, there's a lot about grief and how we grieve differently. Julia is suffering from depression, and the book is not shy about discussing her mental illness. The end of the book is followed by a section entitled "Mental Health Resources." Moreover, I learned a bit about some aspects of Mexican culture, and I got to take a peak into the lives of folks who had recently immigrated into the US from Mexico.

Considering this wasn't really my thing in the first place, I quite enjoyed it! Readers of contemporary YA will like this one - its got a touch of romance, a likable protagonist, and loads of substance. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Underground Railroad
Whitehead, Colson
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I listened to this book on audio, so I'm sure I missed bits and pieces. Cora's life as a slave in Georgia and through her journey on the underground railroad was fascinating. The depiction of the underground railroad as actually being an underground railroad was odd to me, but I'm sure there's some symbolism or other literary device that escapes me. Probably the most interesting part of this book was the section that took place in North Carolina. It was so indicative of the Third Reich that it was chilling. I found the ending to be abrupt, but still overall an interesting read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
The Luster of Lost Things
Keller, Sophie Chen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dreamlike magical realism which combines beautiful prose and thoughtful insight into a young boy's life with a motor speech disorder and the shadows cast by the disappearance of his father. An enchanting read for fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
Genres:
Ash Princess
Sebastian, Laura
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Theodosia was just a child, she witnessed the murder of her mother, the Queen of Astrea, at invaders’ hands. Those invaders took her country and killed or enslaved all of her people. For the next ten years, Theo was the Kaiser’s puppet – trotted out at banquets wearing a crown made of ash or enduring cruel beatings to represent the oppression and obliteration of her people. But her time with the Kaiser in her old palace was not totally idle.

The whole time, Theo collected information about her enemies. So when a friend from her Astrean past shows up, Theo finds herself embroiled in the machinations of revolutionaries as she has to decide how much and who she is willing to sacrifice to save her people and recover her kingdom.

While this has a fairly typical YA fantasy premise, the execution was a bit different. Usually this sort of fantasy would go what I’m going to call the Throne of Glass route – lady warrior kicks a bunch of butt and saves the day against all odds. This was not that. Theo was more of a politician or a spy. She’s willing to do what she has to save her people, yes, but this book is all intrigue and plotting. The reader is kept on a knife’s edge as Theo and the people around her are constantly close to what is sure
to be terrible death. The book manages to somehow be compulsively readable
but also hard to read at the same time. I found it to be really intense in
the best way possible – I really cared about and for Theo and wanted the best for her and her people. The book ends on an intriguing note (though I found the epilogue to be weak and unnecessary and I hope it got axed before the book was published) which ensured that I’ll be back for the next installment.

I was expecting an enjoyable but generic YA fantasy, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s being marketed to readers of The Red Queen and/or An Ember in the Ashes, but in this reader’s opinion, this book is far superior to either of those. Ash Princess, if not completely original, is a brutal, intense book that I’ll be recommending to teen and adults who enjoy fantasy novels and spy thrillers. If you like your fantasy to be vicious with a healthy side of political intrigue, check this one out. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Thanks to Delacourte Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC which
I received for review consideration. Ash Princess will be available for
purchase on 24 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Metro Girl
Evanovich, Janet
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I can honestly say, this is the worst book I have read in 2018. I couldn't believe it was written by Janet Evanovich. It lacked her usual wit and laugh out loud moments. I actually thought I would love it since I enjoyed the graphic novel. But no. I didn't care about any of the characters.
I thought the story line plodded along and at the end, I just didn't care. I was hoping a canister of nerve gas would just destroy every copy of this book so no one else who's thinking of reading will suffer.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Every Note Played
Genova, Lisa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

As with all of this authors' novels, this book was beautifully written. I honestly didn't like either of the main characters in the beginning, but as they came to accept the changes in their lives and atone for wrongs they committed to each other I felt more and more empathy for what they went through. This disease is absolutely awful and it is painful to read about its progression, but I'm glad Ms. Genova continues to shed light on illnesses such as this in a way that is accessible. Highly recommended (unless you are feeling blue, then you might want to try something a little lighter!).

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The Belles
Clayton, Dhonielle
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Camellia is a Belle - a person in the fantastical world of Orleans who has magical powers that allow her to change the appearance of others. These powers, and the way she uses them, puts her in high demand, and rich folks clamor to use the Belles' services. There is one Belle, the favorite, who serves royalty. Camellia's dearest ambition is to be the favorite, like her mother. After a few mishaps, she achieves this goal only to discover that the position is not all it's cracked up to be. Royalty is demanding, and Camellia soon finds herself being asked to do morally reprehensible things - things she can refuse only at her own peril. She must decide what means more: fame and beauty, or doing what is right.

To call the worldbuilding in this book "lush" or "complex" would be a disservice. The author invents a unique new world and mythology that, for me, were the strongest point of the book. If you've seen a Baz Luhrman movie, this world is set in that kind of magnificent, wondrous, almost over-the-top opulence that delight's one's imagination. The luxuriant worldbuilding does lead to something of a slow start, but if you are like me, you'll be so immersed in the marvelous new world that you won't care the the story takes a minute to get going. Once the story does get going, several quandaries and mysteries and introduced, and I found myself racing towards the conclusion. Camellia is a likable character that I think a ton of young women will relate to as she's very much a sixteen year old trying to make her place in a big scary world. She's a bit naive, but has deep seated convictions and is constantly rebelling against rules and regulations to show case her creativity and do her absolute best.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations based on a number of positive reviews from Goodreads, professional journals and the like, and I think those expectations may have hampered my enjoyment of the read, at least somewhat. Not to say this isn't an enjoyable read - it absolutely is. I had to physically stop myself from devouring it all in one go. It just felt more like a guilty pleasure read instead of a read of substance. The book should have been really creepy. When the Belles change a person, they change everything. We're talking like body shape/size, shaving off bones, eyeballs out of sockets, and other sorts really gross stuff that should have been horrific. For whatever reason, the creepiness factor never connected with me, but if it had, I think I would've loved this one. There's a female friendship in here that also didn't really land - we're told more than shown that the girls are close. It never felt believable. There are a few plot points that are introduced that are seemingly abandoned or never fully realized though I imagine they'll factor into future installments. I saw where the romance was going immediately, and also figured out the mystery of the sick princess early on in the story. On the whole, I found the book to be rather predictable.

I did enjoy this one, and I'll definitely be coming back for the sequel. I hope it provides a bit more substance, but either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'd recommend this to readers who liked The Selection, Caraval or The Red Queen (although let me be clear: this book is better written and conceived than any of those), and I'll be adding it to several reading lists as well as booktalking it. 3 stars - I liked it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Thunderhead
Shusterman, Neal
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

Reviewer's Name: Philip
Blood Water Paint
McCullough, Joy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Let me show you
what a woman can do."

Artemisia Gentileschi is a painter. But because she's a painter in Rome in the early 1600s, she cannot take credit for her work. All of the credit goes to her father, who is a painter himself, though not a good one. When her father solicits the help of fellow painter Agostino Tassi to develop Artemisia's perspective, she thinks that finally her work might get taken seriously. But after Tassi brutally rapes her, Artemisia must decide whether she wants her life to continue as close to "normal" as possible, or if she wants to speak her truth and risk her painting career or worse: death.

Unbeknownst to me until about halfway through the book, this story is actually based on a true one, which makes what is already a beautifully written gut-wrenching book all the more poignant. Artemisia is a woman unhappy with her unfair lot in life, and she uses her art to express that by depicting Biblical women (primarily Susana and Judith) realistically instead of through the male gaze. Judith and Susana's stories as told to Artemisia by her late mother are sprinkled throughout the book, and are the only parts not written in verse.

Blood Water Paint is so timely. It's primarily about a woman's ability to speak her truth, and as we live in the time of the #MeToo movement it all feels so horribly relevant. As terrible things are happening in the book, you can see them mirrored in today's society. But ultimately, even as it's depressing (and it is brutal), the book is empowering and inspirational, and Artemisia is the quintessential example of a strong female character - her strength in the face of insane adversity is even more affecting given that it's based on a real woman.

I can think of no better book to read for National Women's History Month (or really, at any time). I'd strongly recommend this to both teens and adults, and I won't be surprised should it garner several nominations and/or wins when book award season rolls back around. This is one that is not to be missed. 5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Dutton Books for Young Readers for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Blood Water Paint is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
To Kill a Kingdom
Christo, Alexandra
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lira steal's princes' hearts. Literally. She lures them into a trance-like state with her siren song, and drags them down to the bottom of ocean where she rips out their hearts. After failing to steal Prince Elian's heart, the pirate prince also known as the "siren killer", Lira's mother, the Sea Queen, turns her into a human in punishment, and commands that she retrieve Elian's heart, or stay a human forever.

Are you getting Little Mermaid vibes from that description? Good, because there is a definitely Little Mermaid inspiration here, though it's definitely more Anderson than Disney (for examples, sirens turn into sea foam a few moments after they are killed). There's also some Greek mythology (I feel like this is the origin of sirens, but I only say that because of the Odyssey), but the influences, while noticeable, are integrated nicely, and the world-building game in this book is super strong. Elian and Lira travel to several different kingdoms, and each kingdom has its own flavor and customs. There's also some cool mythology around sirens vs. mermaids vs. mermen, and I really loved where she went with the mermaids in particular. It was a version of mermaids that I had never read before.

Elian and Lira are both complex but likable characters (if you like your heroes of anti- or bloodthirsty variety, which, I DO). Initially, Lira is a stone-cold killer. She was raised to be one, and the fact that she could be anything but a stone-cold killer after her upbringing is kind of magical. As the book develops, she learns more about humans and begins to *gasp* kind of like them. Her character development and growth are a main theme throughout the book, and Lira's maturation is slow enough to develop seems plausible.

Elian was also fine; he mostly serves as a foil to Lira, and it's fun to see his opinion of her change as he slowly learns more about her. There is a bit of romance between them, but as they are at odds for most of the book, its kind of a forbidden romance which is a trope that I love when done right (needless to say, it was done right here).

Amazing worldbuilding, great characters, no sequel - what's not to love here? If you are into pirates or mermaids or lux worldbuilding, you'll enjoy this book. 4 stars - I really liked it!

Thanks to Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for the eARC for review consideration. To Kill a Kingdom will be released on 06 March, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Holidays on Ice
Sedaris, David
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I listened to this book, most of which was read in a nasally, whiny voice. The initial stories about working as an elf at Christmas-time had tears of laughter pouring out of my eyes, Unfortunately, the book rapidly went downhill. This satire started out funny, but it kept going too long as if the author didn't know when to end the story. There were also some disturbing images that added absolutely nothing. The stories were sarcastic, but the bitterness in them really turned me off. Can't recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Robin
The Train of Lost Things
Paquette, Ammi-Joan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Where to start? This book was poignant, beautiful, lovely and dealt with the subject of loss, through a child’s eyes, in a way that pulled at my heart strings, big time. This beautiful tale follows a young kid named Marty as he deals with the pain and loss that comes when someone close is dying and there is nothing you feel you can do about it. When Marty’s precious possession is lost, his jean jacket scattered with buttons that represent his fondest memories with this person, at first he is devastated, but then he hears the tale of the train of lost things and he goes on a quest to find it and retrieve the precious thing he lost. Along the way he comes across two others, both on similar journeys, and discovers that what matters is not the objects themselves but the memories they represent and the love that he shares with his loved ones.

Paquette’s character Marty, approaches the subject of loss and death with a childlike curiosity. Yet throughout the story, Marty also displays the strong denial that comes with facing loss and death, questioning whether or not what is happening is really true. Marty’s love for his loved one and his need that, retrieving this jacket would make things all better, is what kept his character going. Yet in the end he realizes that life and death are not always that simple. But memories and love have a stronger power over death and loss and sometimes to overcome them you just need to escape reality to really understand that.

I don't usually pick up kids books but I picked up and read this book in one day! That is how good it was! I love this book in every way and I highly recommend it! Even though this book is for kids, I also recommend it for older people, or anyone dealing with loss, as the lessons learned can be applicable for anyone.

Thank you to the publisher Philomel Books for a ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book doesn't come out till March 20 but you can put it on your hold list today!

Reviewer's Name: Anonymous
Book Review: The Higher Power of Lucky
Patron, Susan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very good book. I listened to it on audio and the narrator was fantastic. The climax of the book takes place during a dust storm, which is a classic case of the natural elements reflecting the story line. A bit contrived, yes, but good for young readers. The conclusion was textbook, but also okay for younger readers. If you'd like to read a good story with no surprises, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Tess of the Road
Hartman, Rachel
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Tess Dombegh is ruined. When she was quite young, she met an ambitious young scholar who took advantage of her and left her in the family way. Since then, her main goal has been to find her twin sister, Jeanne, a husband that will save their family from their dire financial straits. Tess successfully finds Jeanne a husband, and after getting extremely drunk at their wedding and embarrassing herself and their entire family, she decides to run away.

Notice that I got through this description with nary a mention of dragons? There are dragons in this world. But only barely, hence the reason I didn't need to mention them in my synopsis. This is actually, I think, the weakest point of the book, but I'll come back to that later.

I am more conflicted about this book than I've been about any other book in recent memory. Tess, our main character, is insanely unlikable and unsympathetic, especially at the beginning. However, she's intentionally unlikable and its entirely because of the circumstances of her world are similar to that of Edwardian England in terms of how the ladies are treated. As Tess travels further down the road - often painstakingly slowly, the unnecessary and at times boring digressions in this book are legion - she learns more about who she is, who she wants to be, and how she can make her way in a world that sees her as less than a person because of her gender.

Those parts, the introspective philosophical parts, I liked. Unfortunately, they were few and far between and were including in those aforementioned digressions that had nothing to do with the plot at large. My interest in the book would wax and wane in huge swings. I did finish it, and I even liked the ending, but wow, this was often a slog.

The thing that bothered me the most about the book was almost the complete waste of the worldbuilding. There were dragons and quigutl (sic), which are like the small, less ferocious cousins of dragons, and while a quigutl was a main character, that character could have easily been a jaded staff member, or really anything else. The fantasy world didn't add to the story, and sometimes, it distracted from Tess' character development, which, at the end of the day was the point of the entire novel. I think making this book pure historical fiction (and I loved the worldbuilding and fantasy setting in Seraphina, the companion series) would've made it a more impactful, better book.

Anyway, complaints aside, at times, I found myself really loving this book, mostly on the strength of Hartman's writing and the very important messaging regarding women's rights. Overall, though, the execution left something to be desired, at least for this reader. I won't be coming back for the sequel if there is one (everything was tied up nicely, but there definitely is room for another book), but I would definitely read another book by this author. 2 stars - it was ok.

Thanks to Random House Children's and Netgalley for the eARC that I received for review consideration. Tess of the Road is released on 27 February, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
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