Review | Keeping it Real by Paula Chase

Marigold Johnson is looking forward to a future full of family, friends, and fashion–but what will she do when it all explodes in her face? When she discovers that her entire life is a lie?

Paula Chase, the author of So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point, explores betrayal, conformity, and forgiveness–and what it means to be family–in this stand-alone novel perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Rebecca Stead, and Ren�e Watson.

Marigold Johnson can’t wait to attend a special program at her family’s business, Flexx Unlimited, for teens who love fashion. But Mari quickly realizes that she’s out of place compared to the three other trainees–and one girl, Kara, seems to hate her on sight.

As tension builds and the stakes at the program get higher, Mari uncovers exactly why Kara’s been so spiteful. She also discovers some hard truths about herself and her family.

Paula Chase explores complex themes centering on friendships, family, and what it means to conform to fit in. Keeping It Real is also a powerful exploration of what happens when parents pick and choose what they shield their children from. Timely and memorable, Paula Chase’s character-driven story touches on creativity, art, fashion, and music. A great choice for the upper middle grade audience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I haven’t read anything by Paula Chase before, but I fell in love with this one. I really enjoyed that this is more of an upper middle grade age, which is something that you don’t see a lot. The writing style and overall narrative voice were well crafted and had a really good flow, I didn’t really have any spots where I felt like the pace slowed down.

The characters were also well crafted and I really enjoyed the portrayal of different aspects of familial and friend relationships, different youth experiences based on class regardless of friendships and the cultural aspects in the novel. While there were definitely parts of this story that I personally couldn’t identify with, it was still a beneficial story for me to read and experience. Overall this was a great story, with a few twists that were heart wrenching, but so wonderful to read. I will definitely be checking out more of Chase’s writing in the future.

Happy reading!

Review | The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

A fantasy about a kingdom beset by monsters, a mysterious school, and a girl caught in between them.

If no one notices Marya Lupu, it is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost I really enjoyed the world that Anne Ursu created in this story and could see other stories set in it, the world building and setup were really wonderful (even if the society didn’t have the best standards or norms when it came to the place of females). I enjoyed the theme within this book where Marya isn’t will to accept what society expects of her and other females. It very much lends to breaking expected gender role and challenging societal norms. She’s not willing to just go along with things and is constantly questioning the expectations set upon her.

Ursu’s writing is beautiful and while the pace isn’t super fast, the language used and phrasing is a pleasure to read. There were a few sections that I felt were a tad slow, but the writing more than made up for that. The characters are fully fledged and have multiple layers to them, making them seem more real and easier to identify with.

This story is full of strong themes of feminism, knowledge is power and bucking societal norms, which was nice to experience in a fantasy setting. Though it is longer than most middle grades, it is a great story that I’m sure younger readers will devour.

Happy reading!

Review | Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay

In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to MeNot That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.”

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This should go without saying (and I knew this going in) but anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape is likely to be very triggered by the stories told in this book. It took me a while to get through because it was so triggering. In it we get a wide range of stories including stories of people who were assaulted as children to people who were assaulted or harassed as adults. It is a very hard read and in some ways crafted to be uncomfortable, but it is a valuable and important collection of experiences. Some of the stories were more clinical or journalistic in a way, but the ones that touched me the most were the personal experiences. As a survivor myself who heard plenty of “it’s your fault,” reading the experiences of people with not necessarily the same experiences but many of the same emotions and thoughts was a comfort even while I hurt for these other people. Again, it’s a very hard read, but it’s also a very important one.

Happy reading!

Can’t Wait Wednesday | 10/13

Can’t Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings based on the meme Waiting on Wednesday by Breaking the Spine. In this weekly post people share a book that they’re excited about being released.

I just heard about this anthology coming out in December and want it in my hands since it sounds so fun.

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre.

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet.

Happy reading!

Review | The Mermaid Queen by Alane Adams

Abigail and Hugo have just helped restore the balance of power in Orkney by defeating the powerful alchemist Vertulious when Abigail discovers that Capricorn, the mermaid queen she trusted to help them, has unleashed the powerful Midgard Serpent named Jormungand―who, years ago, encircled the world of mankind and held it captive until Odin banished it to an underwater prison. Capricorn is determined to force Odin to make her goddess of the seas over Aegir, and she’s ready to use the massive serpent to bend him to her will―threatening all of Orkney. Abigail and Hugo must embark on an adventure across the seas to Odin’s island sanctuary to find a way to stop Capricorn and return Jormungand to his watery cell. But when Abigail finds that her powers are not enough, she has to tap into her dark magic again and again. As she is drawn further down this path, a dark presence makes itself known to her―one that may alter her path forever.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost, make sure you check out my reviews for the last three books in the series:

Also, happy book birthday to The Mermaid Queen!

This book picked up almost immediately after the ending of the 3rd book, so things in Abigail’s world were pretty bleak while no one else thought anything was wrong. It was great to see her friends band around her to lift her spirits and find out what is wrong. While Abigail was still the main character, it seemed like her friends were able to take on more central roles which was nice. I also liked that with each book we seem to get more figures from Norse mythology. I really enjoyed the story and feel like this series with its mythology driven story will be loved by younger readers. Abigail is easy to identify with, especially with how human she is with her emotions, self doubt and more – but other characters such as Hugo, Calla and yes, I guess even Endera have qualities that can be identified with and understood. Another fast paced and exciting installment to this series – I can’t wait to read more!

Thanks so much to SparkPress for sending me the books in this series so I could review them all. Happy reading!

Review | Witch Wars by Alane Adams

Abigail’s second year at the Tarkana Academy has been an all-out disaster. She’s just unwittingly helped Vertulious, an ancient he-witch and powerful alchemist, destroy Odin’s Stone and restore his powers, and now all of Orkney is caught up in the threat of war as the witches prepare to destroy the helpless Orkadians. Determined to set things right, Abigail and Hugo set off for Jotunheim, the land of the giants, to find a weapon to restore the balance. All they have to do is track down the God of Thunder and convince Thor to turn his hammer over to them.

When their former-friend-now-foe Robert Barconian arrives with a band of dwarves, intent on stopping them, Abigail and friends must unite to prevent a war that will destroy them all. But has Abigail made the biggest mistake of all by trusting in the wrong ally? 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So far this is my favorite book of the series. While Abigail, Hugo, Endera and others are still children, their emotional depth has grown as is really evident in this story. Abigail especially is struggling with the weight of what her decisions and actions have contributed to and suffers from a lot of personal guilt – while Hugo is steadfast in helping her and being her lifeline. Once again they go on an exciting adventure in order to set things right, which tests the bonds they have with each other and others. We see some familiar characters, but also some new ones along with way, as well as more figures from Norse Mythology which I thought was a nice touch. As with the other books in the series the book was fast paced and a fun read.

Happy reading!

Blitz | Lingerie Wars by Janet Elizabeth Henderson

Lingerie Wars
Janet Elizabeth Henderson
(Invertary, #1)
Publication date: January 1st 2013
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance

Englishman Lake Benson loaned his life savings to his dippy sister so that she could buy a shop. It was a big mistake. His sister has been steadily flushing his money down the drain – and now he wants it back. Years in the special forces taught Lake that if you want a job done, do it yourself. So he steps in to make the shop profitable, sell it and get his money back. The only problem is, the business is an underwear shop. And all Lake knows about underwear can be summed up in how fast he can unsnap a bra. To make matters worse, the tiny highland town already has a lingerie shop. A successful one, run by an ex-lingerie model. A very gorgeous ex-lingerie model, who’s distracting him from his mission more than he’d like to admit. If Lake wants to get his savings back, and get out of Scotland, he only has one option – wipe out the competition.

Kirsty Campbell has spent years rebuilding her life after she woke up in hospital in Spain to find her body scarred, and her ex-fiance had run off with all her money. The last thing she needs is a cocky, English soldier-boy trying to ruin all she has left. Her home town is only too happy to help her fight the latest English invasion, although Lake is beginning to sway them with his sex appeal and cut price knickers. With the help of her mother, and the retired ladies of Knit or Die, Kirsty sets about making sure that her shop is the last one standing in Invertary.

It’s Scotland versus England as you’ve never seen it before. It’s lingerie war.

The complete series:

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

EXCERPT:

Lake Benson’s midlife crisis lasted exactly twenty-four hours. In that time, he quit his career with the army and bought a lingerie shop. All things considered, he was glad the crisis hadn’t lasted longer.

“I told you,” whined his little sister. “I can do this myself. I have a business plan. You’re only interfering because you’re bored and don’t know what to do with yourself.”

“That’s not the point,” Lake told her as he looked up at the sign on the front of the shop. “The point is, you obviously need my help. You’re hemorrhaging money. My money.”

He hadn’t even set foot inside the shop and already he could see a problem.

“That”—he pointed at the sign—“has to go.”

Rainne twisted a strand of her long hair, a dead giveaway that he wasn’t getting the whole story.

“I can’t get rid of the sign,” she said at last. “It’s part of the town’s heritage.”

Lake folded his arms tight across his chest. Heritage his hairy backside.

“You also didn’t tell me how isolated this place is,” he said.

“It’s busy during the tourist season—you know, summer.”

For Scotland that was about two weeks in August.

“And you neglected to mention that we have competition.”

He cocked his head towards the lingerie shop, which sat opposite them on the high street. Unlike the shop that had eaten all of his money, the one over the road actually looked like people would buy lingerie in it.

“Ah, yeah,” his sister said as she toed the pavement with her pink Doc Marten boot. “But Kirsty’s shop has a different clientele than ours.”

“One that buys underwear?”

She missed the sarcasm.

Grab Lingerie Wars for FREE for a limited time only!


Author Bio:

Janet is a Scot who moved to New Zealand fifteen years ago. Among other things, she’s been an artist, a teacher, a security guard at a castle, a magazine editor, and a cleaner in a drop in center for drug addicts (NOT the best job!). She now writes full-time and is working on her 19th book. Her books have won several awards, including the Daphne du Maurier award for excellence in mystery and suspense. When she isn’t living in her head, she raises two kids, one husband, and several random animals. She survives on chocolate and caffeine.

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Review | The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams

Abigail has just started her second year at the Tarkana Witch Academy and is already up to her ears studying for Horrid Hexes and Awful Alchemy! Worse, Endera’s malevolent spellbook has its hooks in her, whispering in her ear to use its dark magic. Meanwhile, the entire school is talking about the Rubicus Prophecy; a sign has arrived that the chosen witchling is among them, the one who will one day break Odin’s curse over them. When an Orkadian warship arrives carrying troubling news, Abigail and her friend Hugo are swept into a new mystery after a young boy from the ship, Robert Barconian, asks for their help retrieving a missing item.

Along with the former glitch-witch, Calla, the four friends end up deep in the catacombs beneath the Tarkana Fortress—a place where the draugar, the living dead, wander about. Abigail discovers there is more to the Rubicus Prophecy than anyone ever imagined. Can she stop it in time before she and her friends are destroyed?

Filled with magical spells, spine-tingling ghosts, and visits from the Norse gods, The Rubicus Prophecy pits Abigail against a sinister power greater than anything she has ever imagined.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Blue Witch, and I liked this one just as much if not more. I was a little worried that it could suffer from being a bridge book, but it definitely different. In this book we definitely see a lot of growth (both good and bad) in the characters. I felt like Endera definitely solidified in her character in this book, but after the events of this book we will see what happens with her in the future. Abigail is definitely struggling between good and evil, feeling the draw of the darkness, but knowing that it’s not what she wants. In this book we saw her friends (old and new) more cemented around her and supporting her, which was really nice to see even as they dealt with their own issues. As in the first one, Adams’ writing style flows really well and made this a quick and exciting adventure.

Happy reading!

Review | Daughter of Kali: Awakening by Shiulie Ghosh

Monsters are real. And I might be one of them.

Kaz Deva definitely has her demons. She’s a half-Asian teenager with a chip on her shoulder and a home life she desperately wants to escape. But then she witnesses the impossible – her mother killing a monster without breaking a sweat. And suddenly her world is turned upside down.

Kaz discovers she comes from a long-line of demon-slayers stretching all the way back to the Goddess Kali herself. An ancient deity who seems to have plans for her.

Kaz is dragged right into the middle of a supernatural war, and everything she thought she knew turns out to be a lie. Except her feelings for a guy she can never have.

As she learns the truth of who she is and where she comes from, something awakens inside her. Something cold and ruthless. It could make her almost invincible. But it could also drive her to darkness.

With the battle between Warriors and demons becoming ever more deadly, Kaz must find a way to survive her destiny and save the people she loves.

Can she embrace her power and become the Warrior the world needs?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this one but wanted to read it based on the synopsis. This was a really fun read that moved at a good pace with serious Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes. Kaz as a character definitely had a lot to adjust to and deal with which is not always an easy thing – but was very compelling, even when her behavior wasn’t the best. The side characters also had depth and felt dimensional, which was great to see, especially in a debut. The writing style kept the book moving at a good pace and felt very polished. Overall it was a fun and fast read.

Happy reading!

Blitz | Calling Quarters by Jen Stevens

Calling Quarters
Jen Stevens
(Beacon Grove, #1)
Publication date: October 7th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult

I was raised to believe that towns full of witches were only in movies, and those spell books my aunt studied were just a silly pastime. I had no idea of the important role I play in a coven with zero knowledge of my existence, or the sacrifice my parents made by leaving behind everything they knew to protect me.

In the wake of my aunt’s mysterious death, I have no other choice but to return to my birthplace for answers. But Beacon Grove is a twisted place where distrust spreads like cancer, lies fester, and the truth is nearly impossible to find.

One thing I’m sure of is the danger that Remy Winters and our inexplicable connection pose to me as one of the Quarters of the Watchtower coven. Through painstaking research and placing my trust in this man who has been trained since birth to hunt me, I learn that my family is far more intertwined with the tight-knit town than I originally thought.

I could be exactly what they need to save their beloved Quarters, but admitting what I am to those who have been brainwashed into fearing me could put my life at risk.

Calling Quarters is a twisted tale of corruption, lies, and a love story written in the stars.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

My courage grew wings and flew away as soon as I stopped my car and shifted into park. Fear took its place, as if finally, my brain had kicked into gear and realized how dangerous it was for me to be there. In the mouth of my predator’s den.

I walked to the beach instead of going to the front door like I originally planned, my eyes avoiding the beautiful sprawling mansion that overlooked it in fear of finding those coal black eyes gazing out at me. The ocean waves lazily nipped at my feet, somehow feeding the frenzy that was my mind.

I wanted to scream every frustration I had built up inside of me at it. To see the water split and shift with the sound waves as they vibrated off me, releasing every negative feeling into her depths.

A monster had grown inside of me, green with envy and red with fury. He fed off me for so long—my fears, my weaknesses, my complacency—that he managed to become a being all on his own.

I’d grown tired of other people making decisions for me. Of being at the mercy of everyone else for information about myself and where I came from.

There was a mystery surrounding my identity and why I was in Beacon Grove. I could feel the weight of curiosity in every stare as I passed by the town’s locals.

Could they tell that I was just as clueless as they were? Was it obvious that while I’d spent a lifetime as a girl named Storie Graves, I had no real idea who that person was?

A piece of me was always missing, even as a child. A hole of ignorance about my purpose in this world that no one wanted to fill in.

So, he filled it.

This fiery, jealous, raging monster.

At first, I was afraid to acknowledge him. I thought if I ignored him, he’d shrink away to nothing and disappear into the darkness inside my mind with the rest of the parts of me I was taught shouldn’t see the light of day.

It wasn’t until I befriended my monster that I gained clarity.

I saw my oppression for exactly what it was, and I would become a threat to everyone who wanted to keep me under their thumbs.

They had no idea how dangerous I’d become when I had nothing left to lose. If anything, what happened between me and Remy on the beach solidified that. Because we were very clearly connected in a way that no one wanted to admit—myself included. I was realizing that maybe that connection was more significant than I could have ever imagined.


Author Bio:

Jen Stevens was born and raised in Michigan where she enjoys the weather of all four seasons in a single day. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree, she quickly realized the corporate world wasn’t for her and instead took on the daunting role as her daughter’s snack maid. Reading has been an obsession for a long as she could remember, while writing has always been an escape. Jen could quote The Office word-for-word and proudly refers to herself as a romance junkie. She could live off anything made of sugar and has recently obtained the title of Lady. Most of all, she loves connecting with readers!

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