April 6, 2023 · 2:08 pm
Phoebe Walton knows a lot about sex. As the researcher and writer for a fact-based blog on sexuality known as Pom, Phoebe’s site has come under fire from a local politician who finds the frank discussion too controversial for young minds.
As Phoebe tries to stay one step ahead of the aggressive campaign to reveal her online identity, she also struggles with discovering who she is as her senior year in high school unfolds. Julia Whalton’s On the Subject of Unmentionable Things starts out with a terrific hook and first-person narration by Phoebe as she navigates difficult waters — some she’s created for herself and others she encounters through the living of her life. As her small town and friends become increasingly polarized over reaction to her blog, Phoebe debates whether or not she should confess to Pom and the consequences it could bring to her life — both intended and unintended.
Walton doesn’t pull a lot of punches in the story and it’s nice to see a story that addresses human sexuality (teen or otherwise) in a mature, level-headed fashion. There is no shaming of anyone here and Phoebe’s open-mindedness is refreshing. And while the novel steers into a couple of YA tropes like the love triangle (thankfully, quickly resolved though there are implications and ramifications over the course of the novel), it eventually unravels in the final act. Much of this stems from the YA trope of having teens who seemingly know more than adults and act wiser than their years would have you believe.
And yet, the novel is one that manages to touch on taboo subjects without necessarily getting heavy-handed about them.
In the end, like Phoebe, I felt a bit unsatisfied about how some of the events in the story played out. I still think this is a worthwhile read and one that could open some doors to interesting conversations for teens and the adults in their lives.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
May 6, 2022 · 10:53 am
June and Ryan have been rivals since high school, each trying to one-up the other in a never-ending series of pranks and gotchas. But twelve years have passed since that almost-kiss at graduation and both parties are looking forward to seeing each other as part of the wedding party for their best friend’s wedding.
June wants to rub it in Ryan’s face that she’s part-owner of a successful donut shop in Charleston while Ryan wants to see if the embers that have simmered for June all these years might just combust into something more.
And so begins Sarah Adams’ The Enemy.
What unfolds over the next several hours of this audiobook is alternating passages from June and Ryan’s points of view about driving each other crazy and maybe trying to admit there is more to this relationship than just being rivals. Early on, June comes across as a bit harsh and rough around the edges, but Adams wisely fills in the backstory of what’s led June to this point and her “one date” rule for all men. Ryan, it turns out, is almost too good to be true and if there’s one flaw in this story it’s that we never get any major or minor negative points for Ryan.
Adams knows how to simmer the ever-growing romance between these two, all while keeping the story pretty PG-13 along the way. There’s lots of kissing, pining, and description of Ryan’s abs and arms, but that’s where it ends. Adams wisely leaves some things up to the reader’s imagination. She also doesn’t have these two rush into things, allowing the embers to smolder over the course of the novel. She also manages to put in a few realistic speed bumps to the relationship that are completely grounded in her characters.
All in all, this one is a fun, diverting story that is probably different from my usual reading choices. But it was a nice break from murder, mayhem, spaceships, etc. and it kept my interest for the entire run time.
The audiobook features Connie Shabshab bringing June’s chapters to life and Lee Samuels bringing Ryan’s chapters to life. Both readers give an added layer to their characters, as well as create unique voices for the various other players in June and Ryan’s lives.
If you’re looking for a fun, slow-burn romantic read, The Enemy could be exactly what you’re looking for.
I received a digital audio ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
October 19, 2021 · 11:28 am
New takes on classic fairy-tales are nothing new.
So for Alex E. Harrow’s new spin on Sleeping Beauty in A Spindle Splintered to feel like it’s exploring an entirely unique take on the classic fairy-tale makes it something special.
Zinnia is approaching her twenty-first birthday and the end of her life. A rare condition that causes protein build-up in her body and rarely sees people live past twenty-one has loomed large over her life for as long as she can recall. So, when her best friend throws her the best birthday party ever for someone whose time is rapidly closing, Zinnia finds herself transported inside her favorite fairy-tale.
Harrow sells this one as Sleeping Beauty meets Into the Spider-Verse and she’s not wrong. But that elevator pitch doesn’t really indicate just how subversive and entertaining this take on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty really is. A great deal of the enjoyment stems from Zinnia’s first-person narration, which is equal parts jaded, cynical, and optimistic. This is a refreshingly new take on the material and one that was a pleasure to read.
In the interest of full disclose, I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
September 17, 2021 · 1:59 pm
Two years ago, Maria Fontana served on the jury of the suspected serial killer, Wyatt Butler. Ending in a mistrial that set Butler free, Maria’s life has been a whirlwind ever since that time as the world won’t stop hounding the jury, demanding to know who the dissenting vote was. When Maria outs herself as the lone juror who voted not guilty, things only intensify.
After a tell-all book by a possibly unscrupulous writer and being put on sabbatical due to her increasing instability, Maria is ready to get her life back on track with her fiancee and her two children. So, she books a cruise and looks forward to a week away and then entering the real world again. Alas, the two-year nightmare isn’t about to end for Maria. Instead, it’s about to get much, much worse.
A series of mysterious deaths on the ship, all connected to Maria and the trial take place. Could Wyatt Butler be on board and is his final target, Maria?
I’ve read and enjoyed the first couple of offerings from Impratical Joker James S. Murray and Darren Warmouth. Those novels weren’t exactly great literature, but they were still entertaining rides into horror. The Stowaway moves away from the horror genre and into the suspense area — and the result is a book that I couldn’t quite become as invested in. The characters are paper-thin and it feels like the suspense strung out a bit too long for my liking. We spend a long time wondering if Wyatt is on the ship, and, if so, where can he be hiding in plain sight. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in here as well — if you’re triggered by young victims in peril, this one might not be for you.
By the time we get to the final revelations and the twists, I’d pretty much guessed a good share of all of them.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible book. It’s just one that disappointed me.
It’s the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.
I received a digital ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
August 23, 2021 · 11:26 am
Sally Kilpatrick’s latest novel, Much Ado About Barbecue should come with a warning label that you’re going to crave some good barbecue. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing — unless you don’t have access to good barbecue, that is.
Emma Sutton and Ben Cates have been rivals all their lives. It started in kindergarten when Ben pulled the chair out from under Emma and continued throughout their educational history, including Emma’s underpants winding up on the school flag pole. So, when Emma returns to town after a series of disappointments in her life, she quickly finds the rivalry resuming thanks to Ellery’s barbecue competition. Both families own barbecue joints in town, each praised and respected for differing ways of cooking the meat. Ben has reluctantly embraced using a smoker, while Emma’s family still does whole-hog pit barbecue.
There is a bit more to the rivalry between Ben and Emma than the competition for who has the best barbecue and juvenile pranks. Emma has repressed large portions of junior high school due and she holds a deep secret about possibly raining on Ben’s dream of playing baseball at the next level. Needless to say, these two are probably the last two people you’d imagine ending up together.
And like the main dish of the book’s title, the potential romantic entanglement is one that roasts slowly, marinating in its own rub of family secrets, long-held resentments, and misunderstandings. Along the way, we meet a colorful cast of characters from Jeremiah, the long-time pitmaster as Emma’s family barbecue joint (and a character I’d love to see get his own novel) to Ben’s sister, Shero.
Between family secrets, the slow-simmering enemies-to-lovers story, and a colorful cast of characters (including several familiar faces from previous Ellery novels), Much Ado About Barbecue proves to be another winner from Kilpatrick. Filled with the types of characters you’d expect to me in a quirky small town, Much Ado works much like the barbecue does — as a satisfying, enjoayble meal that left me fully satisfied and yet somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for another bite or two.
Taking a page from Shakespeare (maybe you’ve heard of him), Kilpatrick gives us her spin on Much Ado About Nothing in her quirky creation of Ellery. As with her other novels, Much Ado About Barbecue is a delightful gem and most likely destined to end up on my list of favorite books I read this year.
Add this one to your to-be-read pile, folks. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. No bribing of barbecue was done or needed….
July 26, 2021 · 2:45 pm
Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.
After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.
What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading →
May 25, 2021 · 4:15 pm
Andy Weir has been hailed as a new shining star in the science-fiction universe.
The Martian was a character-driven, page-turner that burned quickly by and left you wanting more. Artemis was largely forgettable (so much so that I struggled to recall if I’d read it only a year or so after it was published).
Now, Weir is back with Project Hail Mary — and the result is somewhere in between. While not quite as compellingly page-turning as The Martian, Project Hail Mary has at least lingered with me after the final pages were turned, unlike a certain sophomore novel by Weir.
Ryland Grace is a middle-school science teacher, who wakes up in a stark white room with no memory of how he got there. Grace’s memory slowly starts to return (in convenient chunks at just the right time for the story’s dramatic purposes) and he recalls that Earth is facing an extinction-level event and that he was one of the three people chosen to be sent into deep space to save himself and our planet. Grace’s two colleagues have perished, leaving him to piece together not only where he’s been, how he got there, but also what he needs to do so hopefully save the planet. And he’s also got to make the first contact with a new alien race.
Grace may not seem like the most likely or likable choice to go on a mission to save humanity. And Weir does his best to make Grace a character we can sympathize with and root for. The problem is that I never quite developed the same investment in Grace that I did in Mark in The Martian. Mark was gifted in certain areas, but never came off as smarmy or overly smug, Grace does. I kept wanting to like Grace but I never found myself rooting for him in the same way as Mark.
Which is all well and good. I don’t expect an author to write the same book over and over again. But what I do hope is the author will find a way to engage me across each of his or her novels. Weir did that with The Martian but failed to do so in his last two books. The dilemma that Grace faces is intriguing enough. It’s just there are long stretches of the book when I feel like Weir is trying too hard to prove the science behind his science-fiction and not necessarily engaging the reader.
Project Hail Mary isn’t quite the triumphant return I’d hoped Weir would have. It’s good, it’s (for the most part) readable. But it never quite got its hooks into me in the way I’d hope it would. This one may drop Weir from my list of automatic reads.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
March 9, 2021 · 7:00 pm
Sarah Beth Durst’s latest stand-alone fantasy novel offers a unique magic system, some quirky characters, and a fantasy-take on the “getting the band back together” story.
Years ago, five heroes defeated the evil Elkor and went their separate ways, becoming the stuff of legend. Twenty-five years later, Kreya’s legend has become a bit darker — she lives alone in a tower, keeping alive her husband (who died in the battle) through the use of dark and illegal magics. Increasingly desperate to find a source of human bones to cast the spells and give her just a few more hours with the love of her life, Kreya hatches on a plot that will eventually involve her old crew getting back together.
Of course, there’s a reason some bands break up. And as the band gets back together in The Bone Maker, Kreya come to realize that maybe they didn’t defeat Elkor as utterly as the legends say.
There aren’t many times when it comes to fantasy novels that I wish the author had extended a series. That isn’t necessarily the case with The Bone Maker. While Kreya gets solid character work, the rest of the crew doesn’t feel as deep or as well realized. I kept wondering if Durst might have been better served by making this a duology, allowing us to have a bit more of an investment in the characters.
It would also give us a chance to enjoy her well-realized magical system. I enjoy fantasy where there are limits or consequences to using the magical system and that’s the case with what Durst has realized here.
The Bone Maker offers an intriguing magical system, some dark character takes and is a stand-alone fantasy that left me wanting just a bit more. An overall success and one that has me intrigued to give some of Durst’s other fantastic worlds a try.
I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
February 25, 2021 · 8:43 am
When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.
Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.
Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?
Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).
Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)
Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.
This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.
I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
January 12, 2021 · 2:32 pm
One of my great literary pleasures of 2020 was discovering Katie Henry’s works. Henry’s young adult novels feature quirky teenage protagonists facing issues and dilemmas that most of us would struggle with as adults. The characters are all frustratingly relatable because, as readers, we can see how they could and should change themselves to make interacting with the world a bit smoother and easier. But, like all of us, they can’t or aren’t ready to make that change just yet.
Henry’s third novel This Will Be Funny Someday may be her best offering so far, which is high praise given how much I enjoyed her first two novels.
Sixteen-year-old Izzy has always felt a bit out of place. In her family, she sees herself as the odd person out when it comes to the matched pairs — her parents and her older twin siblings. At school, Izzy is protected by her relationship with her boyfriend, though even that has come at the cost of alienating her best friend. Izzy has deep-rooted issues when it come to assigning herself value — whether it’s the (misconception) that she ruined her mother’s career when her mom discovered she was pregnant with Izzy or the emotionally abusive nature of her relationship with her boyfriend. Continue reading →
Filed under ARC, book review, books, digital arc, favorite, netgalley, review
Tagged as arc, ARC review, book review, Katie Henry, netgalley, review, young adult