I actually read The Beautiful last year, soon after it first came out, but I didn’t end up reviewing it on here. Why? I’m not quite sure, to tell the truth. I readily acknowledge that I don’t do a full review for every book I read, but I usually take the time to at least acknowledge that I read a book and to give it a stars rating on my Goodreads account. My best guess is that I was on a tear with my reading, finished it really fast, and it just kinda slipped through the cracks. Trust me — it was definitely not anything to do with the quality of the story!
If you are a fan of vampire books but prefer Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles over Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, this is a series you are going to need to check out. La Cour des Lions, in late 19th century New Orleans, is such a sumptuous backdrop for this tale of murder, mystery, and romance. My only complaints are that (1) I can’t fully keep straight what happened in book one and what happened in book two (so I can’t really say much without getting “spoilery”), and (2) I can’t find any indication of when I should expect to get my hands on the third book in the series!!!!!!!!! Suffice it to say that this would be an excellent book to add to your Halloween and/or #TeenTober book lists.
Kiera Johnson is unique in many ways. Not only is she one of the very few Black students at her elite private high school, but she is also a female who excels in math and computer programming. There are a lot of reasons why she doesn’t feel like she belongs when she is at school, but she is grateful to have a place where she feels right at home — in the virtual world of SLAY. Nobody in her “real life” circle knows that Kiera has created/designed this game. Heck, they don’t even know that she plays! She is particularly concerned with how her boyfriend might react because he believes that video games are a tool that contributes to the “downfall of the Black man.” She isn’t quite sure how she could explain to him (and her other friends and family) quite what it means to have a place where she can simply be herself without worrying if she will seem “too Black” to some people or “not Black enough” to others. But that is exactly what SLAY provides for her and all of the other players from around the world.
When a teenager in Kansas City is killed over an altercation related to SLAY, though, Kiera finds herself torn. Should she reveal her identity and actively defend the game now that people are blaming SLAY for his death? Could she actually be sued for discrimination over the fact that the game is only intended for Black players, as conservative pundits seem to believe? Would it put a strain on her relationship with friends and family members? This story does an excellent job exploring racial dynamics in America, particularly the idea of racism and exclusion as it applies to Black people wanting safe spaces in which to explore and celebrate their collective history. One of the most important ideas that this book puts forth is that Black experiences are unique and varied, and that idea is summed up very well by one of my favorite quotes from this book:
I think I love SLAY so much because we’re a mutually empathetic collective. As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your Black is not my Black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.
Mayhem is a Brayburn. That family name meant a lot to the people of Santa Maria, California, but Mayhem herself didn’t really understand the significance of her lineage until she and her mom finally returned to their hometown. They had left town more than a decade before when Mayhem’s father died, presumably by suicide, and ended up settling in a small Texas town. And though Roxy was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her new husband, Lyle, that wasn’t the main source of the chronic pain that she always seemed to be trying to escape with booze and pills. Mayhem had no idea what caused this pain, though, because Roxy refused to talk about it — or, really, about their past at all.
This book is touted by many as a female-led, feminist retelling of The Lost Boys, and that definitely got me interested to check it out in the first place. As I was reading it, though, I couldn’t help but think of The Tear Collector by Patrick Jones. Why? The Brayburn women were very powerful creatures — almost like vampires, but not quite. They were mysterious and seductive, and absolutely deadly if left unchecked… But they didn’t feed on blood and had an alternative source to their mystical powers. Does that have you curious? If so, this is a good book to add to your TBR list.
Margot didn’t know really know anything about her mother’s past. All she knew was that she and her mother have seemingly always been on their own. Her mom never discussed the past, so Margot knew absolutely nothing about the family and/or town from which her mother came. Their day-to-day struggle to survive was all Margot truly knew. She and her mother lived in a rundown apartment and had hardly enough to keep on living, though her mom occasionally pawned some of her posessions to get extra money for food or bills. The weirdest thing was that her mom has a habit of pawning her things and then buying them back — like she just couldn’t bear to part with the physical reminders of her past, even though she refused to talk about it. So, one day Margot decided to go to the pawn shop alone. She knew it was against her mother’s rules, but she just had to see if there was anything that would give her any clues about the past. And that was when she found the Bible.
Inside the Bible, Margot found an inscription from her grandmother and a photograph. On the back of the photograph was a phone number, so she mustered up all the courage she had and called. After speaking to her grandmother, she decided she was going to make her way back to her mother’s hometown to finally meet and learn about her family… But, she had no idea the strange horrors that would await her. This story had one of the most bizarre twists I’ve ever discovered, and it will surely stick with me for a long time to come. If you enjoy mysteries, horror, and magical realism, you’ve gotta check this story out.
Reading stories like this simply makes my heart ache. I cannot fathom the idea of purposely hurting my child — let alone so systematically and over the course of an entire childhood. The scariest thing is that people with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP) don’t even see the wrong in what they are doing. For more information about MSBP, so that you can better prepare yourself for what you will read in this story, I recommend this page from the University of Michigan.
I’m not gonna lie. When I first saw this book, I was leary that it might be a rip-off of a “ripped from the headlines” TV series I had watched [The Act]. In that series, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, was a chronically ill child who, as it turned out, actually had a mother who suffered from MSBP. Thankfully, though, the rest of this story [aside from the MSBP and the coincidence of “Rose” being a part of her name] stood very much on its own. Though MSBP could never be truly “understandable” to me, the flashbacks to Patty’s childhood helped me to better understand the factors that contributed to her mental health issues. Likewise, flashbacks to both the childhood of Rose Gold and the time when she was first on her own, after her mother went to jail, helped me to see how Rose Gold had been shaped into the woman she had become and to make the choices she made. Yeah, I am a little hauted by this story. But, I am also eager to see what else Wrobel will publish and hope it won’t be long until I see another book listed on her Goodreads page…
(Disclaimer — This book is technically considered a book for adults, but I see this having crossover appeal for young adults, since the story primarily takes place during Rose Gold’s teen and “new adult” years.)
Can you guess why Barbara Gordon is one of my favorite people in the DC Comics universe? Aside from the fact that I relate to her as a headstrong, curious, and nerdy girl/woman, I love the fact that Batgirl’s alter ego is a librarian! In addition to being Batgirl, Barbara Gordon is also known as Oracle — and this graphic novel is an Oracle origin story.
In this story, readers are introduced to a teenaged Barbara Gordon (aka Babs) who becomes paralyzed in an accident. The accident happens in the very beginning of the story, though, so the majority of the action takes place while Babs is working to recover from the accident at the Arkham Center for Independence. I appreciated how there was a lot of focus placed on the specific limitations that a person would suddenly experience as a result of a major injury like this and how grueling the physical and occupational therapy regimen would be. I also appreciated that this information was worked into the story seemlessly instead of appearing as clunky asides. I’d like to wish a happy book birthday to this awesome story, and also wish for some further Oracle adventures from Nijkamp and Preitano in the near future…
Oh. Em. Gee! Not only did this thriller of a murder mystery have me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading it — but it even left me there at the end. My biggest complaint about this book, in fact, is that I don’t think there will be a sequel that explicitly tells me what happened next. While I am learning to live with books like this, I thought it was worth mentioning in my review in case it would be a deal-breaker for anyone else. But, yeah. This book was intense! There were so many twists and turns that it kept me guessing, and second-guessing myself, for nearly the entire time.
So, what happened that we readers DO know? Well, we know that Mackenzie found two of her friends dead, in a pool of their own blood, on what was supposed to be a fun weekend getaway to Josh’s cabin. And though she wasn’t Josh’s biggest fan, and knew that some of the others in her small group of friends were less than enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend with him, Mackenzie couldn’t imagine that any of them could have murdered Josh. Let alone his girlfriend, Courtney. Was she just collateral damage? Because everyone seemed to love *her*… The strangest thing is that everyone seemed to sleep through such a violent murder. Surely Josh and Courtney must have screamed, right? So how did no one realize what had happened until the next morning?
In Seriden, bloodlines do not determine the passing of the crown. Anyone can become the next ruler. Well, mostly anyone. All that is required is for the king to speak their name before he dies. So, that means the Nameless — the bottom rung in a three-tiered caste system consisting of Royals, Legals, and Nameless — are out of the running. Pretty much everyone assumed that the king would name his daughter to be the successor, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. No one will know for sure whom he has chosen until that person chooses to reveal the magical tattoo that appeared on their shoulder after the king died. This is where it gets super weird, though… because Coin suddenly has this tattoo. Coin is the name she goes by on the streets, but that is just because the Nameless have to have some sort of a way to identify one another. (She was an orphan who was raised on the streets and likely ended up with her nickname because she was a good pickpocket.) How in the world, then, could the king have named her his heir if she doesn’t even have a name? And how will this tattoo be anything more than a death sentence, since the Royals and Legals will surely oppose a Nameless ascending to the throne and will likely to anything in their power to transfer the magic of the tattoo to themselves?
Though there is always the possibility of a sequel, this book was technically written as a standalone, so you won’t be stuck waiting 5 years to see how it all ends! Aside from the ability to find out how it all ends, I also really appreciated the way this author explored class and how it relates to power and politics. Want a book with a powerful female protagonist to give you a little inspiration heading into the new year? Look no further!
Annie Boots has one year left in the system, and then she will finally be able to live her life on her own terms. It’s just too bad that one year can feel so dang long. Though Annie is in a long-term foster care placement with a loving family, the Howards, things have become very strained. In fact, she is afraid that her ongoing connection to her bio-family has been straining her relationship with Pop Howard so much that she might not last another year in that house. Pop Howard is always arguing with Momma Howard about how to handle Annie’s rebellious behavior and lies, and he thinks they should just completely cut ties with the entire Boots clan. Annie is torn, though, because she is holding out hope that she can somehow save her mom and sister from themselves and their self-destructive choices so that they can be a family again — especially since her nephew, Frankie, is in the mix. Thank goodness she has a strong support system (including her foster brother, a few close friends, a social worker, and a local youth services librarian) to help her navigate the chaos in her life.
One of the things I love most about Chris Crutcher’s books is just how real all of his characters feel. It’s not truly surprising to see how accurately he portrays young people in his books, though, when you take into account his experiences as a family therapist and child-protection specialist. He’s not just guessing at how kids and teens might react to these terrible sitations; he has been in the trenches and seen kids and teens living stories just like these. This novel is relatively short and weaves in sports, action, and mystery, so it has multiple doors through which to attract readers. Best of all, the heaviness of this story is balanced out with humor and a sense of hope.
Alif was really excited to spend the summer working on her father’s archaeological dig site. She had always enjoyed the painstaking work, even if some people would find it tedious. Even better? Four of her best friends were coming along! The five friends weren’t totally sure what the summer had in store, but none of them could have guessed the truth. I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movie franchise and the Lost TV series, and I was thrilled to find this book reminiscent of both. I can only hope someone turns this into a movie quickly!
When a man wandered into the camp, delirious and near death, Alif tried to make sense of his ramblings but everyone else assumed it was nonsense. And, then, the sandstorm came. Alif, her four friends, and her father’s (super cute) research assistant were separated from the rest of the camp. The six of them wandered in the desert, certain they would die — but then they came upon a mysterious oasis. Though they were seemingly saved by the oasis’ food and water, there didn’t seem to be any way out. And then some really strange things began to happen. Could that man have been in the oasis before them? And could his ramblings have any clues that would help them?