Mini Reviews: Sadie + A Room Away From the Wolves

MiniIn October, I did my best to pick up as many thrillers/mystery novels as I could. I usually go for more horror-themed novels during this time of year, but I heard such great things about the following two books, I just had to check them out myself. I read Sadie, but after hearing everyone praise the audio book, I kind of regret not listening to it. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll at least check out the podcasts the publisher made available to readers. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Series: N/A
Pages: 311
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: September 4th 2018 

      “Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.
      But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.
      When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.”

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“I live in a place that’s only good for leaving, is all that needs to be said about it, and I don’t let myself look back. Doesn’t matter if I want to, it’s just better that I don’t.”

Courtney Summer’s Sadie cleverly alternates between two timelines. In the first, Sadie Hunter’s little sister Mattie has been murdered and although the police have run out of leads, she hasn’t. She’s determined to find the person responsible and make them pay. A year after Mattie’s death West McCray, radio personality who focuses on small towns, receives a phone call from May Beth Foster, the girls’ surrogate grandmother. Sadie’s been missing for months and she’s hoping that he may be the one person out there who cares enough to look for her. As Sadie moves from one town to another, in search of her sister’s killer, she leaves behind a trail of blood and uncovered secrets. As a reader you’re drawn into Sadie’s story, her traumatic past and the rage that bubbles underneath every decision she makes. She’s never been an open person and Mattie has been her whole life since the day she was born. When their mother left them years ago, it was Sadie who picked up the pieces, but the girls’ relationship hasn’t always been easy, especially when they have such stark views of their mother. For Sadie, Claire Southern has never been the kind of mother she needed her to be. Her alcoholism, drug addiction, and compulsory need to always have a good-for-nothing man in her life, has made it impossible for Sadie to not resent her. But for Mattie, Claire was her mother and whatever flaws she might have had, she never questioned her mother’s love for her. Though Sadie and West’s timelines are separated by months, Summers has a way of writing that makes it feel like West is only two steps behind Sadie. So in the moments where Sadie is in real danger, you can’t help but hope West can be fast enough in his search to help her before it’s too late. Sadie is not a pleasant story, it’s incredibly violent and heartbreaking. It has a lot of triggering content, mostly due to with mentions of sexual abuse of children, but if you can handle the heavy-heartedness of the story, Summer’s has written a compulsory mystery that will leave you contemplating Sadie and her story long after you close the book.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: A Room Away From the Wolves
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Series: N/A
Pages: 315
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: September 4th 2018

      “Bina has never forgotten the time she and her mother ran away from home. Her mother promised they would hitchhike to the city to escape Bina’s cruel father and start over. But before they could even leave town, Bina had a new stepfather and two new stepsisters, and a humming sense of betrayal pulling apart the bond with her mother—a bond Bina thought was unbreakable.
      Eight years later, after too many lies and with trouble on her heels, Bina finds herself on the side of the road again, the city of her dreams calling for her. She has an old suitcase, a fresh black eye, and a room waiting for her at Catherine House, a young women’s residence in Greenwich Village with a tragic history, a vow of confidentiality, and dark, magical secrets. There, Bina is drawn to her enigmatic downstairs neighbor Monet, a girl who is equal parts intriguing and dangerous. As Bina’s lease begins to run out, and nightmare and memory get tangled, she will be forced to face the terrible truth of why she’s come to Catherine House and what it will take for her to leave…”

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“I hear myself cry out and stand to take it, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. The girls have grown countless arms in the dark. The trees themselves have joined in. I can’t fight them off, can’t keep them away”

Nova Ren Suma is one of those authors whose books I go into thinking I’m going to enjoy them more than I actually do. I love how strange and eerie her stories are, but always find them more than a little confusing. A Room Away From the Wolves is beautifully written with an interesting protagonist at its center, but I found myself scratching my head more than once trying to figure out exactly what was going on. When Bina is basically thrown out of her own home, she goes to the only place that makes sense to her: Catherine House, where her mother once sought refuge. But almost immediately upon her arrival, she notices something strange about the place and the other young women who are renting rooms. Part ghost story and part mystery, A Room Away From the Wolves, like its protagonist, keeps its secrets close, revealing only a little at a time. Although I enjoyed the writing in this one, I’m still left with a lot of questions. Bina isn’t the most reliable narrator, but I was still hoping to get a full picture of what her life was like before she leaves her home. There are a few flashbacks, but I often felt that Nova Ren Suma was only giving us a few pieces of a puzzle and we as readers have to accept that we’ll never see the full picture. I did like how atmospheric this one was. There are a few creepy scenes that made me sit up in my seat, but I wanted a more complete understanding of who Bina was and wanted to know more about the mysteries of Catherine House.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Mini Reviews: The City of Brass + Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

MiniI have a set of very different books for you for this round of mini-reviews. These are both titles that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’m glad I finally found the time to pick them up. Everyone has been raving about S.A Chakraborty’s The City of Brass and I’m so happy to have finally met these characters. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero has been on my TBR for years. With the start of Latinx Heritage Month coming, I wanted to finally get to this one in early September. I am very disappointed in myself for not picking it up sooner. You can read my thoughts on these two titles a little more in depth below. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #1
Pages: 533
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 14th 2017 

      “Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
      But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
      In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…”

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“A hot breeze swept past her cheeks, and Nahri lifted her eyes. The cliffs were on fire; the wet trees snapped and cracked as they burned. The air smelled poisonous, hot and seeded with tiny burning embers that swept across the dead landscape and twinkled above the dark river.”

S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is an all-encompassing fantasy with great characters and a world that’s spellbindingly brilliant. Orphaned and penniless, Nahri has managed to survive on the streets of Cairo, stealing and swindling her marks out of money. When she inadvertently summons a dangerous djinn, Nahri discovers the fantastical stories she grew up hearing are rooted in truth. Chakraborty’s world is deliciously multilayered and I loved that with every page, we discovered something new. Nahri was an easy character to like. She’s cunning and resourceful; she wants more than what life has dealt her and is willing to do what is needed to get it. I really enjoyed Dara, not just because he’s the kind of brooding character I’m immediately drawn to, but because like Nahri, he is also thrown into a world he doesn’t quite understand. The world as Dara left it has shifted. His people are no longer in control of the city of Daevabad; instead, the Qahtani, a djinn family, have taken over. The royal family have tried to find a balance in their city between djinn, daeva, and the shafit (offspring of djinn and humans). Their methods are not always humane. Ali is King Ghassan’s second son, both a scholar and a warrior; his own convictions often pit him against his own father. Ali was often times a frustrating character. I liked that he wanted to be better than the example his father and often his brother gave him, but his self-righteousness and naivete made me want to shake him by the shoulders. Chakraborty does a fantastic job giving voice to every side in this story. The internal conflict in Daevabad is not new and the characters’ decisions have far reaching consequences. The City of Brass is a perfect read for those looking for a dynamic fantasy and complex characters.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Gabi,a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Series: N/A
Pages: 284
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14th 2014

      “Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
      July 24
      My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

I am mentally kicking myself for not picking up Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces sooner. This contemporary features one of the most genuine voices I’ve come across, handling difficult issues with honesty and care, with representation that spoke directly to this Latina reader. Gabi Hernandez is many things. Best friend. Daughter. Sister. Fat girl. Mexican-American. In her senior year of high school, Gabi is trying to juggle all her different identities while simultaneously not disappointing her mother and not letting her father’s meth addiction take her whole family down with him. Told in diary entries, Quintero’s novel feels intimate and personal. Gabi feels fully-fleshed out; she’s candid, self-depreciating, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. So many of these characters felt familiar from the eccentric tía to the judgmental mother. The novel addresses teen pregnancy, homophobia, being the child of an addict, and gender roles in the Latinx community. I loved that Gabi found a creative outlet in her poetry and found it really rewarding to see how her poetry matures over the course of the novel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the kind of novel I wish I had as a teen as several of Gabi’s hopes and fears felt like my own. TW: homophobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, rape, and drug use.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Mini Reviews: Daughter of the Siren Queen + Every Heart a Doorway

MiniI’ve had this set of mini-reviews in my drafts for over a month and couldn’t quite find the time to fit it in. I finally have a chance to share a few thoughts on Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, the latter of which I’m so glad I finally got to. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Daughter of the Siren Queen
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #2
Pages: 341
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 27th 2018 

      “Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.
      When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.”

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“Warmth envelopes me. The sea enfolds me into the world’s most gentle caress. I am one of her own, and she missed me during my long absence.”

Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen, conclusion to her swashbuckling duology, excels in its entertainment value much like its predecessor Daughter of the Pirate King, but still falls short when it comes to world-building and sometimes characterization. I loved seeing Alosa with her own crew in this sequel. Her father Kalligan has yielded a tremendous amount of power over Alosa, having shaped her into a ruthless and loyal pirate. Captaining the Ava-lee has been the one place where Alosa has had control over her own life. She’s put together a crew made almost entirely of women and one of my favorite parts about this book is when we get to see them working together. Still, I wanted more, especially from the vast array of minor characters. It also would have been nice if most of the conversations Alosa had with her close female crew members didn’t always revolve around men. I’m glad we got to learn more about Alosa and her siren side, but do feel like there was a missed opportunity when it came to her mother. I wanted more interaction between these two, but every meeting was so truncated. Part of the fun of the first book was the banter and growing tension between Alosa and Riden. Levenseller is able to maintain this often entertaining rapport while also pushing her characters outside of their comfort zones. The most rewarding part of their relationship is watching them learn to open up to one another. Daughter of the Siren Queen could still do a little more flushing out with its world-building. I enjoyed finally becoming acquainted with sirens, but I still wanted to know more about this world that Alosa and company occupy. If the first novel didn’t blow you away, you probably won’t be taken by surprise by the second; but if you found the first to be a really enjoyable read, there’s plenty to look forward to in this sequel.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1
Pages: 357
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: April 5th 2016

      “Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
      No Solicitations
      No Visitors
      No Quests
      Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
      But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
      Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
       But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
      No matter the cost.”

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“Hope hurts. That’s what you need to learn, and fast, if you don’t want it to cut you open from the inside out. Hope is bad. Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

Seanan McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway poses an interesting question: what happens to the children who return from their adventures from places like Wonderland? At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, students are learning to cope with returning to the “real” world. For some, the transition is difficult. How can you accept your place in the world when you always want to return to another? For others, the transition feels impossible. Why stay in a world that does not see you for who you are when you can go home to the place that let you be yourself instead of a version forced upon you by others? McGuire’s novella is enchanting and haunting. I loved that each child had their own world that they escaped to, that made sense to them even when it didn’t to those with similar experiences. There are dark Underworlds and bright ones, some with logical foundations and others that thrive on nonsense. While Nancy is the protagonist of this short story, I was really drawn to Jack. She’s such an animated character. The fact that she apprenticed for a mad scientist and carried all these eccentricities back into this world made her such an interesting character. The mystery in this one felt short-lived, but that’s understandable for a novella. The ending was not what I expected. I thought Nancy had gotten to a place of acceptance and so I was surprised by the conclusion. All the children’s stories were so intriguing, I wouldn’t have minded a full-length novel and am happy to discover the next novella in this series covers Jack and her sister Jill’s story. I’d recommend Every Heart a Doorway to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories that involve hidden doors and portals to unseen worlds, and who ever wondered what happens to those who come back.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: These Ruthless Deeds + These Vengeful Souls

MiniIt doesn’t happen often, but I love when you revisit a book that you didn’t love the first time around, only to discover how enjoyable it is upon a second reading. I reread Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks a couple of months ago because I had bought the second from Book Outlet and didn’t want to give up on the series even though the first didn’t blow me away. But with a reread, I ended up falling in love with the story and characters. And after finishing the second, I felt the pressing need to buy the third. It only seems appropriate to pair the final two books together in this edition of mini-reviews. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: These Ruthless Deeds
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: The Vicious Masks, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: March 14th 2017 

      “England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.
      As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…”

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“Perhaps grief was my companion now, to be dragged behind me as intrusive and burdensome as a heavy trunk.”

I recently revisited Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks and ended up enjoying their historical fantasy debut so much more the second time around, so much so that I immediately dove into the second installment, These Ruthless Deeds. Upon discovering that she, along with others, are gifted with special abilities, Evelyn Wyndham soon discovered the lengths people will go to to control those with unusual powers. Still reeling from the loss her sister Rose and the disappearance of the enigmatic and alluring Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn throws herself into doing the only thing she is sure of: rescuing others like herself. Her mission leads her to the mysterious Society of Aberrations, a team of gifted individuals who recruit those like Evelyn and help them develop and control their abilities. With new and old friends at her side, Evelyn soon discovers that nobody, including this Society, is what it seems. I love how willful and stubborn Evelyn is. She can’t afford to be easily taken in because of what happened to her sister, but still holds out hope that those like herself can find a place in this world. Sebastian remains one of my favorites in the series. Tormented by his ability to absorb energy from others, causing illness and even death, Sebastian is always trying to outrun himself. The prospect of learning to control his abilities is almost too good to be true, but Sebastian is desperate. I loved every scene with Evelyn and Sebastian. Not only do their powers cancel the other’s out (Evelyn having the ability to heal), but their personalities compliment one another. Evelyn and Sebastian have an undeniable chemistry that had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for them to finally figure things out between the two of them. Another standout character for me is the charming Mr. Kent. I loved all the humor he brought to the story and though I do wish he would have realized sooner that Evelyn only wanted friendship from him, his presence brought much-needed lightheartedness to the novel. These Ruthless Deeds ends with quite a bang which had me scrambling to buy the third. Please note that a character does contemplate suicide in this installment.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: These Vengeful Souls
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: These Vicious Masks, #3
Pages: 304
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “England, 1883. On the run with the grieving Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn wants two things: to be reunited with her friends, and to get revenge on the evil Captain Goode. Not only has he misused his and Sebastian’s powers to rack up a terrible death toll, but he’s also completely destroyed any hope of Evelyn or her friends regaining the life they once knew.
      Evelyn is determined to make Captain Goode pay for what he’s done, but is her revenge worth risking the lives of Sebastian and her friends? Or is it better to flee the city and focus on staying alive? And with the Captain spreading lies about Sebastian in an attempt to flush them out of hiding and turn the populace against them, does she even have a choice at all?”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

These Vengeful Souls, the final book in Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s historical fantasy series, These Vicious Masks, is packed with action as Evelyn and company make one last stand against the nefarious Captain Goode. There’s an added wrinkle in this final book where the public has become aware of individuals with these amazing and dangerous abilities. Goode uses people’s fears to turn them against Sebastian in particular and the handful of allies he has left. Both Evelyn and Sebastian carry loads of guilt; Sebastian because his power was manipulated, resulting in ballroom full of dead people and Evelyn because she had a chance to stop it, but chose to save her sister. Evelyn wants to put an end to the war between Goode and those who no longer wish to be his pawns. Unfortunately, Evelyn is prone to rash decisions, driven by love and a need to protect those around. She often chooses to go in alone rather than put her friends in danger. Despite mistakes Evelyn makes in this one, I loved that she eventually got to a place where she learned to trust those around her to help her in taking down Goode. Seeing Evelyn and minor characters like Rose, Mr. Kent, Miss Chen, etc, come together and work as a team was really rewarding. It’s a testament to their development as characters. I feel like Sebastian never really got a moment to breath throughout this series and I really wanted this for him. It’s hard to blame him for brooding all the time when he never really had much to celebrate. I really wanted to see him get a handle of his powers and in general, I wanted to see more happy moments for all the characters, but that probably says more about my attachment to them than anything else. Overall, this has been a really enjoyable historical fantasy series that I’d recommend to fans of the genre.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★