Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams

Completely Riveting!

Agnes resides within a cult at Red Creek but she doesn’t realize that she’s part of a cult. She’s the eldest of several siblings and is responsible for taking care of their family because their mother is severely depressed. Agnes sneaks to the Outside once a month to retrieve insulin for her younger brother Ezekiel, even though she knows it’s against the rules. Her sister Beth, the next eldest sibling, is a rebel and doesn’t like the rules. When Beth is caught kissing a boy, she’s disgraced by their father and the community. Agnes has been betrothed as a sixth wife to a middle-aged man and before she gets married, she has to teach Beth everything so she can then become the family caretaker. The middle-aged man decides to marry Beth instead of Agnes to straighten Beth out. In the meantime, a ferocious virus is spreading throughout the world and eventually arrives at Red Creek. The Prophet releases an infected dog during a church meeting and, after a few people are bitten, he tells them about his revelation; the Rapture has arrived and everyone must move into the underground bunker. Agnes escapes with Ezekiel and is heartbroken that she’s left the rest of her siblings behind. She knows that the bunker would be a death sentence for Ezekiel because there’s no insulin for him. This is a riveting story about cults, self-worth, self-importance, bravery, love, loyalty, and sacrifice. The author’s note explains the cult background information being from a nonfiction book of a survivor who escaped a true cult. A wonderfully written and all-encompassing story about love, sacrifice, and different faiths, 5 stars!

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson

Intense, suspenseful and genre-bending!
Amy returns home after six horrible years with her kidnapper. She was kidnapped along with her cousin Dee. A man obsessed with dolls, Kyle stalked twelve-year-old Dee and took the opportunity to grab her the first chance he got. He, Kyle, took Amy also, so he wouldn’t leave behind a witness. After Amy returns home, she struggles deeply with guilt, blackout episodes and trusting anyone enough to tell what happened during the six years she was away. This heartrending story mixes mystery, realistic fiction and horror together well to create a tale of brutality, psychopathic tendencies and coping skills. 5 stars for an intense read!

All These Monsters by Amy Tintera

In a world being endangered by scrabs (human killing creatures), Clara is ready to do anything to get away from her abusive father, so she decides to join a scrab fighting army. The privately funded army has recruits across the globe. Clara goes to Paris and London with her team. She trains, battles scrabs and builds relationships. One of her relationships turns out toxic while others feel like she belongs to a good family. Dynamics between characters and the world-building create a mix of intrigue, danger and suspense. The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger so I’m struggling to wait for the second book of this duology. 5 stars for a dangerous adventure ride!

Overcoming Gaslighting by June Presley

When I was first approached about reading and reviewing this book, I didn’t know the term for the actions of manipulative people. Now I know gaslighting means exactly that. This book is a helpful and logical guide to recognizing, dealing with and overcoming the manipulative behavior of gaslighters, those narcissistic people that bring toxicity to everyday life. Examples are given of workplace scenarios and family situations to help identify the behavior.The next section delves into the questions of how and why people become manipulative. Then into the types of gaslighting. Some gaslighting occurs with intent while others can be unintentional. Gaslighting techniques are explored and discussed to help identify this behavior. Common signs of a gaslighting victim’s actions are listed also, to help readers recognize if this is happening to themselves or someone they know. Gaslighting is a “tool” of narcissists, who manipulate those around them. Effects of gaslighting on the victim can alter and inhibit normal life. Loss of self esteem, confidence, friends, emotional expression, feeling anxious and depressed, trust issues and submissive behavior are some of the results or effects of being a gaslighting victim. Being a victim can also take a huge toll on physical well being, since stress can cause health issues. Luckily, we can deal with and overcome gaslighting. First, recognition is the key and trusting yourself will help you gain the confidence needed to put the behavior out of your life. Self-affirmation exercises can help you gain your confidence back and mindfulness and meditation can help you strengthen your resolve and deal with and stop being a victim. Self-help for building awareness and regaining confidence!

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

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More than what I expected!
The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski tells the story of Nirrim, an orphan that lives with other women that don’t have anywhere else to go. They all live under the care of Raven, who treats them like money-making slaves. Nirrim found and captured a priceless bird and was put in jail where she meets Sid. They talk back and forth but they’re in separate cells and low light, so they can’t see each other clearly. Somehow Sid gets them both released and Nirrim is surprised to find out that Sid is actually a woman when she thought Sid was a man during her stay in jail. Sid is a traveler, which is rare in Nirrim’s kingdom. The two befriend each other with a wary trust. The two travel together until a visitor brings Sid worrisome news and she has to return to her home. Then all Nirrim wants is the truth behind the history of her kingdom. What she discovers is much more than she bargained for. The ending left me speechless and was so much bigger than I expected it to be! Different types of abuse and manipulation are touched on as parts of Nirrim’s life. I appreciate the author addressing these issues and helping readers understand the perspective of the abused and used. A complex world with complicated characters, 5 stars!

Under the Moon by Lauren Myracle and Illustrated by Isaac Goodhart!

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Awesome backstory!
Thanks to NetGalley and DC Ink for the opportunity to read and review Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle; illustrated by Isaac Goodhart!
This graphic novel is divided into three sections: The Dark, The Light and Under the Bright White Moon and tells Catwoman’s origin story of abuse and neglect. She lives with her single mother and various boyfriends throughout the years and, the last straw is when her cat is killed by the latest jerk boyfriend. Selena leaves home and after being homeless for a while, she makes friends and finally feels like she belongs somewhere. 5 stars for this riveting graphic novel!

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Based on the true events of Florida’s infamous reform school!
Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the opportunity to read and review The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead!
Historical fiction novel based on the real reform school that horribly mistreated the boys who resided there. Traumatized young men were left to deal with the abuse on their own. The story focuses on Elwood and we learn about other boys’ stories through his eyes as he witnesses them. The prevalent racism harbored hatred to the point of punishing innocent people and sending them to this terrible reform school where even harsher acts of racism occurred. The abuse went on for decades and through several headmasters. After reading this novel, I felt compelled to research the truth behind the story and was sickened at the amount of violence and abuse that young boys had to live through. Some didn’t survive. I truly don’t understand how the adults took part in or witnessed and kept quiet about any of the abuse. What’s their excuse? The Nickel Boys is tremendously powerful, enlightening and tragic, 4 stars!

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

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Dynamic Fantasy!

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian.
A six-year-old Theodosia watches her mother as her life is taken from her. Her mother tells Theodosia that she’s the only hope for their people. The story jumps ahead ten years. Theodosia is a prisoner in the palace with the man who killed her mother, the Kaiser’s second in command- the Theyn. The Kaiser and the Theyn keep her with their own children in the palace, except she receives frequent whippings to remind her of their cruelty and her kingdom’s weakness. The Kaiser also gave her new names, Thora and Ash Princess. The Kaiser summons her to kill a rebel. This man used to be her guardian and he’s also her father. He pleads with her as his queen. He tells her to remember her rightful place as a princess and now a queen. He also tells her to kill him and she fulfills his request knowing that the guards will drag out his death but she will make it quick. The Prinze escorts her to her room and she vomits because of the trauma she’s just been through. Her maid helps her get undressed and puts ointment on her whip marks. Hoa, the maid, can’t speak because her mouth has been sewn shut. The stitches are cut every few days to allow Hoa to eat, then her mouth is sewn back up! There are no words to describe how horrible and deplorable that is. Thora is bolstering herself up to do what both her mother and father asked of her, to be their queen and she knows it’s up to her now because there’s no one left to rescue her. She discovers that a childhood friend is in the palace, Blaise, and he gives her hope once again. Blaise and two other rebels take the place of Thora’s private guards and together they plot the death of the Kaiser, the Prinz, the Theyn and his daughter. Pressure and learning more about the violent crimes towards her people make Thora determined to be the queen she was meant to be. 5 stars for this dynamic fantasy full of strong, interesting characters!

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

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Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down!  So good, I actually read it twice already!
Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Book Group for the opportunity to read and review Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart!
Serina and her family await Signor Pietro to make his choice of one of the community’s young women who will travel to Bellaqua, join others from different provinces, and vie for the opportunity to be a Grace for the royal Heir. Sera’s mother is thrilled when she’s the one who’s chosen, but her siblings Nomi and Renzo seem to feel otherwise. Sera’s unsure how her father feels. Sera has learned to be happy with the lack of options given to women in Viridia but Nomi openly hates the idea.
The Heir, Malachi, chooses three Graces every three years. This will be his first year of choosing Graces. The Superior has forty Graces and everyone assumes he will step down and let the Heir rule Viridia. At the ball, Nomi wanders into a palace library and notices a beautiful copy of the book Renzo taught her to read with, when they were younger. Reading is forbidden for women but Nomi loves to read. She slips this book into her clothes and as she’s going back to the ball, runs straight into the Heir and his younger brother Asa. The Heir demands to know what she’s doing and she coyly answers that she was using the restroom and if he needs it she points to where it is. Nomi can’t fathom how she could have been so rude to the Heir and she’s sure she’s going to be sent home. Sera is the only young woman the Heir dances with at the ball. He makes his decision afterwards, choosing two women and then Nomi instead of Sera! Grace and Fury is fast paced and full of intrigue! This magnificent book twists and turns with suspense that kept me on the edge of my seat! Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. Fantastic writing, unique storyline and intriguing characters make Grace and Fury a must-read- 5 stars!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell is a heart-wrenching mystery! The prologue pulled me right in, making me want to unravel what happened to Ellie. The story alternates between Ellie’s past leading up to her disappearance… and her mother Laurel’s present. A few more points of view are added in eventually, helping the reader discover more about Ellie and the other characters. I enjoyed the English setting and the author’s vivid descriptions, especially of smells. I became absorbed in the mystery and the harsh reality of tragedy caused by others and how the story comes full circle, 5 stars!