The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

A magical, tragic fantasy!

Frances works in a sewing factory in 1911 America. Working and living conditions aren’t very good. She’s working late one night so she can finish an order that’s scheduled to be delivered the next morning when her boss rushes in to steal money from the till and then notices Frances. He tries to force himself on her and he’s choking her to hold her still. Frances is struggling for air when she suddenly feels an odd sensation in her fingers and hears a whoosh sound. Her boss gasps and lets her go because her scissors have somehow ended up embedded in his neck. It takes Frances a minute to catch her breath and notice that her scissors have killed him. She panics, throws up and decides that the only way to get out of this situation is to stage a crime scene. Her supervisor helps her. She’s picked up by two strangers taking her to a sanitarium but they’re actually witches taking her to a training school. Haxahaven is a school that helps young women use their magical skills to help them become better wives and mothers and conform to the early 1900’s society. Many of these girls also want to learn how to use their magical abilities to protect themselves. Frances and a couple of others sneak out to venture and meet Finn who says he’ll help them train and help Frances figure out what happened to Will, her deceased brother. An entire world opens up to the girls and they get involved in much more than they bargained for. 5 stars for this magical, tragic fantasy!

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 Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, authentic read!

Starr lives in a rough part of town and after one of her best friends gets shot in a drive by shooting when they’re ten, Starr’s parents have her attend a private school that’s safer. Now Starr is sixteen and she witnesses her other childhood friend getting fatally shot by a police officer. Her friend did nothing to provoke the shooting. This is a powerful novel about much more than racism. It’s also about choices, bravery, integrity and helping others. This book has a lot of swearing which is authentic to the lifestyle of the character’s surroundings but the message of empowerment makes it a must read. 5 stars for a novel that will stick with me.

Likes/dislikes:
I liked how the author shows reality and brings her characters to life to make the readers care about them. I like that two different worlds are brought together by two teens living in both and experiencing the stark differences in each. Character development is abundant and bravery and integrity are a huge factor in the main character’s life and family. I love how the main character’s family is open to discussing everything instead of keeping secrets from each other.
Mature content: PG-13
Underage drinking, marijuana use
Page 81 foreplay (boyfriend touching of girlfriend’s pubic region)
Page 376 arousal (the boyfriend had a bulge in his pants when he kissed his girlfriend)
Violence: PG-13
Fatal Shooting at a party. Police brutality and fatal shooting of a teen male. Riots, gang beatings, starting fires.
Language: R for 100+ swears and 54 f-bombs

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-hate-u-give

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

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing!

Kya lives in the marshlands of North Carolina with her poverty stricken family. Her father is abusive and, one by one, her siblings leave and, eventually, so does her mother. Her father stays and he seems better for a time, even kind. Then he falls back into his old ways again and ends up leaving too. Kya tries school for a day but after being bullied, she doesn’t return. She makes it completely on her own and digs mussels to sell to the local store to bring in money for food. Tate, a boy a few years older than Kya, loves to explore the marsh. They become friends and he teaches her to read. With reading, she discovers and teaches herself to be literate and all about the marshlands and its nature. She illustrates and collects samples of everything she finds in her marsh area. Tate leaves to attend college and becomes a biologist and works in the marsh. He submits Kya’s illustrations and notes to a publisher and she becomes a published author several times over. She adds comforts to her house and lives well by her own wealth. She lives simply but she gets electricity and running water and other basic comforts that she’s never had. When Tate went away to college, he realized that his life would be difficult for Kya. So, he doesn’t visit her for years. While he’s away, the local and popular Chase moves in on Kya. He tricks her into thinking he’s going to marry her, all the while dating other women. Kya eventually sees his engagement article in the local newspaper and ends it with him. Later, he attacks her, trying to rape her and he beats her up. She fights back and escapes. His body is found later and it looks like he fell from the fire tower in the marsh. Since he was a local celebrity, the police are pushed to investigate for foul play. Kya is arrested and faced with a murder trial. The whole time I’m reading the part after Chase attacks Kya, I’m hoping she killed him but I also don’t want her to be found guilty. The suspense builds to intensity and I couldn’t put the book down! Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing! 5 stars!

The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

Appalachian Trail Mystery!

Abby works at the Passage resort that sits next to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. This resort is known for the disappearance of a group of four men twenty five years ago. Since those four friends went missing, three separate disappearances have happened, two women and a man. The latest disappearance, Landon West, occurred four months ago and his brother Trey just came to stay at The Passage. He wants to search for information about his brother and hopes to find answers. Abby and Trey both end up finding items that belonged to missing people. This makes her suspicious and a little creeped out. The story of the missing fraternity four is interesting and eerie but I would have liked more details of the last three crimes. I do feel that the ending was somewhat rushed. 4 stars!

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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Secrets and Folklore!
Thanks to Bookish first, Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield!
Twists and turns and many characters along with their stories bring Once Upon a River to life. The book opens with a background of the setting and builds up to the present when a four-year-old girl is found and brought to the Swan, where storytelling is at its finest. The man who brought the little girl in is very injured and he loses consciousness, so no one can ask questions. The storytelling begins by the regular inhabitants of the Swan and continues to build with speculation. Everyone falls in love with the little girl and their hearts warm to her. Because of the girl’s appearance in the community, many lives are changed and things that have been hidden for years come to light. A food for thought story full of folklore and secrets, 4 stars!

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

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Deeply moving!
Thanks to Edelweiss+, NetGalley and Simon Pulse for the opportunity to read and review A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti!
This story captivated me with it’s mysterious, traumatic event and the strength of the main character and supporting characters. Also, the charm and humor of family and all the quirks that go along with that wonderful six letter word. The story is somewhat difficult to follow; I’m sure that was on purpose by the author because the back and forth, scattered thoughts represent the stress of the main character very well. A heartbreaking and inspiring story that fully reveals the event by the end of the book. 5 stars for this deeply moving realistic fiction!

Tradition by Brendan Kiely

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Realistic fiction with food for thought!
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review Tradition by Brendan Kiely!
The book opens as Jules is recovering from an attack that she’s trying to wrap her head around. She decides she needs to get up and walk home. Next, James is helping a teen girl to her dorm after he found her unconscious in the woods. Part One: Before- introduces James to Fullbrook, his new school, his dorm and fellow sports players, then Jules as she is trying to hand out women’s health pamphlets to students, since it’s move-in day. Mothers are extremely offended and some are angry about this. As school begins for the year, inequality is apparent in many ways and it’s the way things are and always have been at Fullbrook. James is trying to fit in and mentally recover from a football accident last year that had his Iowa hometown reeling and Jules wants to change the inequality to help more people feel comfortable and accepted. Jules becomes friends with Aileen, a loner, and Javi, who has been her friend throughout high school. The three of them hang out with James and realize they have a lot in common because none of them are snobby, rude, bullies or pushy people. They are relaxed around each other and completely accepting of each other’s differences and they have a great time sneaking out of their dorms and into a college party together. Part Two: The Night at Horn Rock- tells us about Jules’ attack and the girl that James helped get to her dorm and brings the inequality to light in so many ways. Part Three: After- shows the aftermath of the attack and how Fullbrook sweeps problems under the rug for certain people. Part Four: The Winter Ball- brings a new group of freshmen girls into the Senior Send-Off Tradition with all of their naivety and innocence. Tradition addresses many controversial issues intelligently and without being too graphic about any of them. 5 stars for a realistic fiction book and its food for thought!