A Wilderness of Stars by Shea Ernshaw

Sci-fi fantasy!

An ominous prologue piqued my interest. Vega is with her fatally ill mother when she sees twin stars in the sky. Her mother has taught her to watch for these stars that only show up every one hundred years and when they appear, Vega needs to find The Architect for information on how to travel to the sea. Soon after her mother passes away, Pa shows up. He’s not Vega’s father but a family friend. She goes with him when he leaves so she can get started on her journey. They travel to a town and sell Pa’s cure-all tonic as three men watch them from afar. Later, these men and more find Pa and Vega and steal his horse and the supplies he has for making his tonic. Now he has nothing left for the future. They move on, finding a deserted farmhouse set in an orchard. They rest and head to the next town. Vega keeps asking around for The Architect even though her mother warned her to be discreet. That evening, Vega decides to head out on her own, leaving Pa behind. She enters a saloon and soon after four thieves enter also and demand money from the bartender for protection. A fight erupts. Vega gets knocked down and her constellation tattoo is revealed when her hair falls out of the way. Everyone is curious and wants to see her mark when a girl saves her, taking her out of the saloon. This girl, Cricket, takes Vega to The Architect and soon after the group is attacked and he’s killed. Noah then becomes The Architect and vows to help Vega get to the sea. Cricket, Noah and Vega travel together as a team to complete the mission of generations of astronomers and architects. They meet danger and adventure at every turn and have to fight for their lives. Sci-fi fantasy, 4 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I would have liked to have more insight into Noah’s thoughts and point of view. I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the blackness in the sky and the information passed down through generations of astronomers and architects. The bond between Noah and Vega is endearing.
I enjoyed the Old West setting and the mixed ethnicities.

Language: R for 31 swears and 4 f-bombs
Mature Content: PG-13 for saloon visit and kissing
Violence: PG-13 for Outlaws stealing, bloody stabbing and shooting

Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger

Quick read with a great twist!

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon Pulse for the arc of Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger! This suspenseful mystery thriller involves four friends who go away for the weekend. Rob, Liam, Galen and Mia all go to Mia’s family cabin in logging territory. They play the game Three Truths and a Lie and after that, strange things start to happen and they wonder if someone wants to cause them harm. The suspense builds and the mystery stays unsolved. The story winds itself around to the beginning of the weekend and all is explained. This book contains some explicit sex, just to be warned, but is psychologically twisted and maddeningly interesting and a wonderful mystery thriller read!

Second reading:
Four friends stay at the lake in Mia’s family cabin when they’re suddenly without a phone or vehicle because someone has tampered with them. They try to figure out who is doing the tampering while trying to protect themselves and stay safe. One by one, they end up dying and the killer is revealed. Quick read with a great twist, 3.5 stars!

Likes/dislikes: I didn’t appreciate the overly detailed sex (this keeps the book our of school libraries.) I liked that it was a quick read. I enjoyed the twist at the end.
Language: R for 17 swears and 16 f-bombs.
Mature content: R for descriptive sex.
Violence: PG-13 for killing by a hard hit to the head, poisoning and strangling.

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer

A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining quick read with mystery and humor, 5 stars!

Enola is once again on the case and this time she’s trying to save a young woman with a dual personality, Cecily. Cecily was kidnapped in a past case and Enola helped her then and will help her now by saving her from the tyrant of a father that has locked her up, neglected and abused her. Cecily doesn’t know she has a dual personality but Enola notices that when Cecily uses her right hand, she’s submissive and when using her left, she’s brave. Enola and Sherlock discuss Cecily’s situation and the mistreatment of her father toward her mother, siblings and herself. Enola discovers that the tyrant has been committing crimes and wants Cecily to bargain with him for better treatment for her family. Sherlock doesn’t want any part of blackmail but admires Enola’s bravery and intelligence. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining quick read with mystery and humor, 5 stars!

No swearing
Violence- description of crimes but no details of the actions.

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

Political intrigue in 1930’s Orient with a mix of historical fiction and fantasy!

The prologue tells of a painful scientific experiment on a person that has been strapped down. Then the story starts as Rosalind is trapping a criminal who is a member of the group responsible for the death of her cousin Juliette during a past act gone awry. She’s exacting revenge on those who were part of it. Political intrigue, spies, agents, Communists and Nationalists describe the characters in this book. Her handler pairs her with another agent, Orion, who has family issues as well. The two of them have to pretend to be married so they can infiltrate the newspaper company and try to discover information on the serial killer murdering people with a toxic liquid in syringes. What they discover turns their lives around and, unbeknownst to Orion and Rosalind, the reader is given the true identity of a mysterious agent, Priest. The author’s notes on Oriental history during the 1930’s are fascinating. Well-written, complex, beloved characters build a fun historical fiction fantasy. 5 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I enjoyed learning about the history of 1930’s Orient. The author’s notes give readers a glimpse into her research and what’s based on facts and what’s completely fiction in this story. Rosalind and Orion are characters with depth and I had fun getting to know them.
Swearing: PG for three swears, no f-bombs
Mature content: PG for lgbtq transgender character mentioned
Violence: PG-13 for killing by poison, shooting, bloody shooting, stabbing, bloody stabbing

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

A supernatural mystery!

Luminaries are hunters of nightmares. Winnie, sixteen, is about to start the trials that lead to becoming a hunter. She lives with her mother and brother. After her father was exposed as a spy, their family lost everything, including him. Now they struggle to make ends meet. Winnie is bullied by classmates that call her traitor because of her father. She is excited to become a hunter and draws every creature she sees with her wonderful artistic skills. On her first trial, Winnie accidentally stumbles onto a banshee that’s immediately beheaded by someone or something else. She carries the banshee head back to headquarters, completely in shock the whole time. As soon as other hunters see her holding the banshee head, they assume she hunted and killed it. Super impressed, the hunters don’t let Winnie get a word in and she’s finding it hard to speak anyway. After that, she and her family are celebrated and treated much better. Winnie is able to attend hunter school and her brother Darian is promoted. In the meantime, Winnie asks Jay to train her because she feels extremely behind since she hasn’t had access to teaching or coaching for the last four years. Jay agrees but Winnie has difficulty reading him. He’s aloof, strong, and oblivious to the attention and flirting of Winnie’s peers. Jay’s training helps Winnie with the trials but she keeps seeing the Whisperer that no other hunter has seen. As Winnie builds her skills, she discovers a coded message from her father and the book ends with the shocking deciphered note he left for her. A sequel to look forward to! Supernatural mystery, 4 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I like the following:
-The quote from Grandpa Frank, “That’s why we’re called the Luminaries, Winnie, we are lanterns the forest can never snuff out”.
-The mystery of the Whisperer and the discovery of another mystery that leads into a sequel.
-I enjoyed the writing and that Winnie is an artist.
-I like Jay and the mystery surrounding his life.
Language Content: PG-13 for 16 swears, no f-bombs
Mature Content: PG-13 for underage drinking, mentions marijuana; LGBT side character
Violence: PG-13 for dead, ripped apart bodies, beheading

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins

Tugged at my heart!

Edie has been in foster care for three years since her mom passed away. Her mother’s sister, Norah, brings her to their home as her new guardian to improve her. Norah and her daughters, Maria and Julia, make it their mission to improve Edie through makeovers, new clothes and unsolicited advice. Edie doesn’t feel like she belongs or is even wanted other than as a project for them. Her long ago friend, crush and first kiss, Sebastian, lives next door but he has a girlfriend, Claire. Claire’s brother Henry is a player and he’s showing interest in Edie. Edie doesn’t trust him until he shows her that he’s actually a nice, sweet guy that truly cares for her. The relationship they build helps ease crush pains. She learns a lot about herself through her relationship with Henry and grows as a person. This book is more than I expected and it tugged at my heart. 5 stars!

Talk Santa To Me by Linda Urban

A cutesy Christmas story!

Francie helps her family with their Christmas business and all of the ups and downs that go with it. She’s trying to overcome her horrible, mistaken kiss and outlive the teasing that’s occurred ever since the boy shared the details with his friends. He told everyone it was like kissing a stick. A few people have offered ways to overcome the bad kissing problem and only one person truly helps her, and helps her without judgment, by kissing her and offering sincere and honest critiques. Once that’s over, Francie gains some confidence and is able to go after her crush. A cutesy Christmas story, 3 stars!

Language Content: PG for three uses of the word dang
Mature Content: PG-13 for underage drinking, kissing
Violence: none
Ethnicity: mixed
Likes/dislikes: I liked the mixed ethnicities, the cute Christmas setting and the light humor. I didn’t like the length of time it took for the romance parts to appear in the book. I enjoy the service that the Christmas interns give by offering to buy books for a girl who only wants to finish reading Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, since the copy she had didn’t have the ending; it was missing. That’s her request in the letter she wrote to Santa.

Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne

A fun mystery!

The main character’s mom recently passed away and now Cecilia is moving into her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother, Maura, happens to be a famous author and lives in a large home with four floors. Maura has brought fame to the town after writing a fictionalized book about the murder of a classmate that occurred during homecoming when she was in high school. Maura continues to write mysteries and her fandom holds yearly conventions in town. Cecilia makes friends and ends up on the sidelines of their drama. Then she finds the body of another homecoming murder victim and it’s eerily similar to the murder all those years ago. She throws herself into trying to discover the killer as a way to distract herself from losing her mother. She ends up in the middle of trouble and has to fight for her life. A fun mystery, 4 stars!

Language: R for 139 swears and 101 f-bombs
Violence: PG-13 for Bodies found in school swimming pool. Strangulation mentioned. Serial killer in community. Premeditated murder. Punching.
Mature content: PG-13 for sex mentioned, no details, drug use mentioned.
LGBT content: bi mentioned, lesbian mentioned
Likes/dislikes: The swearing was too much. The main character, Cecilia, is wishy washy with her new friends. She expects them to immediately divulge their secrets to her because she wants to know but she’s completely disregarding their rights to privacy and gets upset if they ask her questions about her life. I was enthralled by the two mysteries, past and present, and wanted Cecilia to expose the twisted actions of the townspeople.
Ethnicity: white, brown, Filipino, Black

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany Jackson

Similar to Stephen King’s Carrie with added racial conflict!

The book opens with a devastating accident and a survivor covered in blood limping home. The opening is a report from a 2014 event that ruptured the town. Researchers are discussing the events before the accident to try to understand what happened. The non-linear timeline moves back and forth between events before the accident and the research discussion. Maddy is the focus of everything that happened. She’s been forced by her father to hide her African American roots because he’s white and their community is extremely racist. One day she’s running in gym class when rain starts to fall. Her perfectly and intentionally straightened hair goes into its natural Afro state. Gossip starts, bullies taunt and her dad whips her for revealing her secret. The town has kept somewhat segregated and still holds a white prom separate from a black prom. After a “bullying Maddy” video goes viral, some students want to prove that the town isn’t racist by holding one prom, all inclusive. After a horrible joke and an even worse prank, Maddy’s true powers come out, practically decimating the town.
Extremely similar to Stephen King’s Carrie but with added racism. 4 stars.

Ethnicity:
Mostly white with black minority
Violence:
R for Father beating Maddy with a belt, baton beating skull, bloody mist, man shooting himself with gun, explosion, body parts missing and bodies scattered.
language:
R for 100+ swears, including 35 f-bombs.
Mature content:
PG-13, alllusion of sex with no details
Liles/dislikes:
Kenny fell in love with Maddy too conveniently and easily. Maddy’s so powerful but she stands by doing nothing, holding Kenny’s hand the entire time, while Officer Ross beats Kenny with his baton.
Also, the comment made that lumps all American citizens into people that don’t understand or are dumb is rude but partially true: “Comprehension is key, and that hasn’t exactly been mastered by the citizens of this country”. Overgeneralization but that does show the high extent of racism in the book’s community.
The build up of suspense was what I liked the most.

Bake by Paul Hollywood

Baking winner!

Cakes, breads, cheesecakes, cookies, scones, pizzas and many other decadent eats from around the world fill this book beginning to end. A must-have cookbook, especially if you’ve enjoyed watching The Great British Baking Show! Clear, concise instructions pair with beautiful photographs to tempt bakers everywhere, 5 stars!