Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 3rd 2017

      “For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
      The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

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“Fireflies lit the flowers, drawn by the damp air and mild scent of azaleas and dahlias. During the hottest summer months, Estrella and her cousins slept in the afternoons and woke at dusk, gardening by the lightning bugs’ glow.”

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty is as complex as it is beautiful. Estrella and her cousins are part of a long legacy of Nomeolvides women who have cultivated the La Pradera gardens for the last century. Flowers bloom and flourish under their fingertips at will, but their enchanting gift is not the only inheritance passed down from mother to daughter. For the Nomeolvides women, their love is a curse upon the men they love. They either watch them disappear, some vanishing right before their lover’s eyes, or watch them walk away, never to be heard from again. When Fel, a mysterious boy, appears in their garden with no memory of who he is, the Nomeolvides women believe his arrival may mean the return of their past lovers. But Fel’s quest to discover who he is will uncover dark truths that will change the Nomeolvides women’s lives forever.

McLemore once again dazzles with her storytelling ability. With lush and intimate descriptions, the gardens of La Pradera come to life. The setting is equal parts magical and strange. There is both darkness and light in the Nomeolvides’s world that the author is expert at exploring. The women in Wild Beauty are well-rounded and engaging. I loved how the author let’s the reader learn more about these young women as they learn about themselves. When the novel opens, Estrella and her cousins are desperate to outrun their family curse. Though history says that it is only men that disappear, none of them want to take the risk when it comes to Bay Briar. Bay has been a part of their world forever and ever since she lost her grandmother, who owned the land the Nomeolvides have cared for for generations, they feel even more protective of her. When they all discover that each of them has fallen a little in love with her, they take action, sacrificing their greatest treasures to La Pradera in exchange for Bay’s safety. McLemore focuses on the alienation these young women experience because of their gift, but she also explores how the possibility of finding love can alienate them from one another. It’s a consequence predicated on the idea that love is something that will eventually caused them pain.

Fel adds another wrinkle to the story. The ease at which the Nomeolvides women welcome him into their family filled me with so much affection for them. Though sadness is ingrained in their world, it is their love for one another that motivates and drives them. There’s a growing affection between Fel and these women. They care for him like one of their own and he in turn feels the need to protect them. He wants to discover who he is, but there’s a part of him that is afraid of the truth and what this will mean for his relationship with these women. Estrella and her family are an ensemble I’d like to see more often. There are three generations of Nomeolvides women under the same roof who are joined by and large by their shared grief, but are inevitably separated by experience. While the older generations know grief intimately, the younger ones have not yet lost someone they love. The older women have walked this life for decades. They know what it’s like to love and grieve, to watch those closest to them crumble under the weight of loss, and what it’s like to give everything to the land that has both blessed and cursed them. Estrella and her cousins are only beginning to learn what it means to be a part of the Nomeolvides family.

Wild Beauty is a multi-layered story that will have readers enthralled from the very first page. McLemore has crafted a novel that devastates readers both with its beauty and sorrow in equal parts. If you’ve never picked up this author’s novels, you are missing out on some of the most profound and stunning writing published in recent years.

5/5

★★★★★

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Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Bad Blood
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #4
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 1st 2016

      “When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.
      The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.
      They’re being hunted themselves.

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“The smell of burning flesh never really leaves you. Ash scatters. Skin scars. Pain subsides. But the smell is always there.”

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals series coalesces into a thrilling conclusion with Bad Blood. Cassie Hobbes’s world turned upside down with her mother’s gruesome murder. Years later, recruited by the FBI to be a part of a team of gifted teens that assist in the investigation of unsolved murders, Cassie has forged a new kind of family for herself. But the past refuses to let go and Cassie’s world is once again turned upside down when she discovers her mother is alive. Cassie will do anything to find the people who have kept her mother captive all these years including going toe to toe with a dangerous organization of serial killers who’ve be wreaking havoc across the country for decades. The hunt for answers will brings Cassie closer to her mother, but will also bring her and her team into the crosshairs of a group of killers who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Barnes’s series is how well she balances plot and character development. Hunting serial killers means the stakes are always high and sometimes they become personal. Much of Cassie’s motivation stems from guilt for having failed her mother in some way. These cases bring out the best in Cassie’s ability to profile the killer and sometimes even the victim, but they also have an emotional toll. In Bad Blood, Cassie is desperate to find her mother, but it may turn her into someone she no longer recognizes and cost her the people she’s found a home with. Of the five members of The Naturals, Dean Redding, son of an infamous serial killer, may be the most well-adjusted. The earlier novels focus more on his story and him having to constantly prove to everyone that he isn’t like his father. His relationship with Cassie is one my favorites in the series as the two of them play off each other so well. I missed seeing more of this dynamic and would have liked the author to show how both characters are learning to be vulnerable with the other despite their pasts.

Standout character for the second book in a row goes to Lia Zhang. Probably the most well-rounded character in the series, Lia isn’t always open to sharing who she is. In those rare moments of vulnerability, we see a girl whose been emotionally manipulated and who had to make tough choices at very young age. She’s adopted the art of lying as a means of survival, but this often means that even those closest to her don’t know her entire story. Michael comes from an abusive home and is more likely to hide behind a cocky smile than give any indication of what he might really be feeling. I wasn’t a big fan of the Lia and Michael dynamic, not because I didn’t think they were compatible, but because they quarreled more than they built each other up. I think it would have gone a long way to see these two take things slow (their history aside) and learn how to communicate in an open and honest way–not just for their relationship’s sake but also for their individual development. Sloane is used to being the odd one out and after the events of the last book, it becomes vitally important to her to feel like part of the team. Not just as someone who can crunch number or hack into an FBI secured laptop, but as a valuable member of this makeshift family. It is Sloane who I see as making the most strides when it comes to expressing her emotions in a group rapt with dark pasts.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Bad Blood is just as compelling as its predecessors with dark twists that will keep the reader on their toes from start to finish.

4/5

★★★★

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

Title: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You
Author: Lily Anderson
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: May 17th 2016

      “Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West–and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing–down to number four.
      Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben’s, including give up sleep and comic books–well, maybe not comic books–but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it’s time to declare a champion once and for all.
      The war is Trixie’s for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben’s best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben’s cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie’s best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they’re on–and they might not pick the same side.

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“The very idea that Ben West and I had ever been anything other than bitter rivals was the most horrifying aspersion ever cast upon my character. Even worse than West himself accusing me of being a ‘fake geek girl’ back in sixth grade. “

Lily Anderson’s The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is the modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing that you didn’t know you needed. Trixie Watson and Ben West have been mortal enemies since grade school. To say that they hate each other’s guts would be an understatement. At Messina Academy for the Gifted, students are pushed to their academic limits. Trixie is determined to end her senior year by beating Ben in the rankings. Their verbal battles are notorious at school. Desperate for peace, their friends secretly hatch a plan to get the two to reconcile. When Trixie and Ben’s tenuous new friendship begins to evolve into something more, Trixe’s best friend is accused of manipulating the senior class rankings. Now Trixie will do anything to prove her friend’s innocence, but it may cost her her new found friendship with Ben.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is a smart and funny contemporary. Trixie’s personality jumps right off the pages with her cheeky insults and nerdy allusions. I love how unapologetically geeky Trixie is and enjoyed reading about an entire group of nerdy teen friends. Trixie isn’t always a likable character. She remarks that Ben’s insults always go just a little too far, but Trixie is just as guilty of taking low blows. She’s sometimes more interested in taking a jab at Ben than recognizing her insults can be really harmful. I really admired Trixie’s unwavering loyalty to her best friend Harper. She sets aside her own interests and regardless of the consequences did everything she could to clear her friend of any wrongdoing. Despite her flaws or maybe because of them, I came to really love Trixie as a character. She makes mistakes, but more importantly she learns from them and grows.

The novel is told in first person which limits readers’ insight into certain characters. While I enjoyed the verbal sparring between Trixie and Ben, I was so happy when they were able to spend some time together without feeling the need to bite each other’s heads off. More alike than either of them would dare admit, Trixie and Ben get along surprisingly well. Bonding over comics, sci-fi shows, and graphic novels, the two learn to appreciate each other’s positive qualities. With that being said, I would have liked to have seen these two characters open up more with one another. Ben has some family issues that came up that I wanted more insight into and their relationship would have been a good access point.

With witty banter and steadfast friendship at its center, Lily Anderson’s The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is a delightful retelling that had me invested in the main relationship from start to finish. I cannot wait for more novels by this gifted writer.

4/5

★★★★

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Title: Spellbook of the Lost and Found
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date: August 8th 2017

      “One stormy summer in a small Irish town, things begin to disappear. It starts with trivial stuff—hair clips, house keys, socks—but soon it escalates to bigger things: a memory, a heart, a classmate.
      Olive can tell that her best friend, Rose, is different all of a sudden. Rose isn’t talking, and Olive starts to worry she’s losing her. Then diary pages written by someone named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing development. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they’re holding tightly to painful secrets.
      When a tattered handwritten spellbook falls into the lives of these six teenagers, it changes everything. The spellbook is full of charms to conjure back that which has been lost, and it lists a part for each of them to play in the calling. It might be their best chance to set everything back to rights, but only if they’re willing to pay the price.”

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“Moss became fur became dead animals on the floor of the forest. The trees became the spaces between the trees. We three held hands and made noises that weren’t words, but that Holly said later were a calling. A calling for the lost to be found.”

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Spellbook of the Lost and Found has a great cast of characters, but at times becomes convoluted because of said characters. After the night of the traditional bonfire, Olive wakes up unable to remember the night before. She isn’t the only one, her best friend Rose can’t remember either. Then important items begin to go missing around town. Whispers of a thief in town is the first conclusion everyone reaches. For Laurel and her friends, the world begins to shift beneath them when their diaries go missing. In a desperate attempt to get them back, they cast a spell to find what was lost, but it may have unforeseeable and lasting consequences. Hazel and her brother Jude are running from their pasts, but secrets don’t always stay hidden and these teens’ lives are about to collide.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the amount of characters involved. There are three separate stories unfolding at once, three separate narrators, and three groups of characters needed to keep track of. Early on, it was almost impossible to tell which characters were essential to the plot and which I could dismiss. Not only is it important to create narrators with distinct voices, which I discuss next, if you have a large cast of characters, it’s important to show early on who the readers should spend time investing in. Olive, Laurel, and Hazel narrator this book in alternating, first-person chapters. Their voices however are far too similar, especially early on. I had to often turn back to the beginning of a chapter or refer to my notes to remind myself which character was narrating.

I did really like characters like Olive and Rose, who felt more fleshed out than the others. More minor characters like Ivy and Holly, who did ultimately have roles to play, did not feel quite as well-rounded. I loved that this novel features so many female characters. There are arguable two relevant male characters compared to seven essential female characters. I also appreciated the different female relationships found in this novel. There are close friendships that are put to the test. Loyalty is tested and sometimes characters fail to do what is right. There are unrequited crushes where wandering gazes only end in broken hearts. And then there are characters who experience love for the first time, where the giving of oneself is both scary and exhilarating.

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s writing is just as lyrical as her debut The Accident Season, but didn’t quite cast a spell over me like the first. Still, if you enjoyed her previous work, you may find yourself charmed by Spellbook of the Lost and Found.

3/5

★★★

Mini Reviews: The Hearts We Sold + The Women in the Walls

MiniI didn’t plan on putting together more than one set of mini-reviews for this month, but ended up with these ones. The Hearts We Sold is a mini-review from last month and The Women in the Walls is one of my final reads of October. They both have a horror feel to them, so they’re perfect for my final reviews of the month. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Hearts We Sold
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Series: N/A
Pages: 381
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 8th 2017 

      “When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.
      With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

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“Magic was just another fantasy. It was something she created to comfort herself. There were no fairy tales, no knights in shining armor. Just herself and her own wits.”

The first thing about Emily Lloyd-Jones’s The Hearts We Sold that caught my attention was the premise. The idea that demons have not only made themselves known to the world, but that they grant wishes in exchange for part of a person is potentially horrifying. Despite the unique premise, the world-building still left something to be desired. The ending really threw me for a loop. The “twist” could have been established earlier on and its consequences explored which would have help with the world-building. I really appreciated reading about Dee. I’d like to see more protagonists who have to deal with their parents’ addictions. As the child of alcoholics, Dee feels incredibly isolated. She internalizes a lot of negative thoughts about herself and others. This is a theme that runs throughout the entire novel and affects all of her relationships. At first, it’s easy to scoff at the idea of giving up your heart to a demon for anything, but Dee’s desperation really comes through and it’s hard not to in some ways support with her decision. The side characters in this one were enjoyable, but never felt fully realized. Aside from Dee, James was the one character that stood out. It’s always nice to get a love interest that isn’t a clichéd brooding male. He’s so full of life and lent a dose of levity to the Dee’s world. The Hearts We Sold is good novel for those looking for a darker fantasy with an unusual premise, but probably won’t blow you away in the end.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Women in the Walls
Author: Amy Lukavics
Series: N/A
Pages: 278
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: September 27th 2016

      “Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
      When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

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“Lucy,” I suddenly hear, a pleading, muffled voice coming from the wall. “You won’t believe how much it hurts to be dead.”

Amy Lukavics’s The Women in the Walls is one of the creepiest books I picked up this October. I went into this not expecting too many thrills as the reviews for this one have been on the negative side. I’m a big fan of build-up and think tension is essential for any horror story, so I was put off at first when we are thrust head first into this story. There is also a lot of telling rather than showing and while I do think the book improved as it went on, this was one of its shortcomings. I do want to mention that this novel does deal with suicide and self-harm, both of which I was not expecting. The protagonist is already buckling under familial expectations when the people around her begin acting strange. Lucy’s aunt disappears into the woods surrounding their estate and her cousin Margaret’s behavior becomes erratic. With her aunt gone, her cousin Margaret pulling away, and an emotionally absent father, Lucy begins to come apart. The pacing really picked up once I was halfway through. Once Lucy starts to hear voices from the walls herself, I had to continue reading. If you do decide to pick this one up, there are plenty of spine-tingling scenes that will both terrified and delight the horror fan.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Mini Reviews: Hunting Prince Dracula + And the Trees Crept In

MiniHello, friends fiends (see what I did there?). It’s been a while since I posted a set of mini-reviews. I’ve been busy reading creepy books this month (I’m excited for Halloween, can you tell I’m excited for Halloween?) and so it’s only appropriate to pair these two together for mini-reviews. Hope you enjoy. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Hunting Prince Dracula
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2
Pages: 434
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: September 19th 2017 

      “In this New York Times bestselling sequel to Kerri Maniscalco’s haunting #1 debut Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?
      Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

      But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

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“Chills invaded the cracks of my emotional armor, sliding their icy fingers along my skin. I gave in to their prodding and shivered in the waning morning light.”

Kerri Maniscalco’s Hunting Prince Dracula is an action-packed historical thriller that had me guessing at every turn. Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are quickly becoming one of my favorite literary pairs. Their relationship continues to evolve in this one and I really liked how the author balances this with both characters learning important lessons about themselves as well. Audrey Rose is still haunted by the events from the first book and isn’t sure she still has what it takes to pursue a career in forensic studies. Thomas is concerned for her well-being and often oversteps, but I love how assertive Audrey Rose is with both him and her new classmates at the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science. Thomas was a bit of an enigma in the first book, so I was happy to see him get backstory as well as becoming acquainted with his sister in this one. The majority of the novel takes place at Bran Castle and I loved the dark and dreary descriptions. The eerie atmosphere and murderous mystery is reminiscent of Gothic literature and made a perfect read for October.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 6th 2017

      “Stay away from the woods…
      When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

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“The terror is like a foghorn in the darkness. Like a spotlight pointed at me, notifying the monsters of the world exactly where I am: exposed, armorless. ”

Dawn Kurtagich’s And the Trees Crept In is a novel I’ve really been looking forward to this October. Like Kurtagich’s previous novel, The Dead House, Kurtagich’s uses various methods to tell her story. There’s first person narration, diary entries, and flash backs. All these work together to bring the reader into the story and the mystery of La Baume, the home of Silla and Nori’s aunt. The story opens with Silla and Nori arriving at their aunt’s doorstep in search of refuge. We quickly learn that both these girls have been on the receiving end of their father’s violent outbursts and while little Nori’s wounds are very visible, Silla’s injuries are more emotional and psychological. As their aunt’s behavior grows more and more erratic, Silla begins to suspect that there is more to La Baume and the surrounding woods. Her aunt speaks of the Creeper Man, lying in wait for any who may enter Python Wood. I really liked the growing tension in this book and in many ways it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel. Silla is tormented by the isolation of the house, the lack of food for her and her sister, and unexplained behavior of her aunt. And the Trees Crept In isn’t a perfect horror novel. I liked the beginning more than the latter part of the story. At times it felt a little too long and the ending is cliché, but if you’re looking for a novel that might make you think twice before walking down the hall in the dark, then this is one you’ll want to check out.

Rating: 3/5

★★★