Awakening (Commune’s Curse Book 1) by Lucy McLaren

4 stars

The cover of Awakening by Lucy A. McLaren.

This well-written fantasy novel by Lucy McLaren centers on the story of Evelyn, a teen-aged orphan, and Raif and Rose, two young siblings who end up in her care.

One of the things that made this multi-point-of-view book so interesting is the central role that two children play in the story. It’s unusual for young characters to have such complex backstories, and deep relationships and to be portrayed with layered emotions. In most of the fantasy books I’ve read, the children are background characters who are mentioned briefly. It was refreshing to see them have a lead role. 

The pacing was a little slow in this book, especially toward the middle. What it lacked in action, it made up for in strong characters and appealing themes. I love books with strong female characters and sibling relationships, and this book has both. The strong-willed Evelyn was easy to connect with – I couldn’t help but root for her to overcome her inner battle with herself and gain more self-confidence. I also appreciated the found family theme and the bonds that develop between Evelyn, Raif, and Rose. The 14-year-old Raif’s fierce sense of responsibility and protectiveness over his 6-year-old sister made him an appealing character.

The book ends in a way that is both satisfying and leaves you wanting more, setting readers up perfectly for book 2 in the Commune’s Curse series.

Thank you to the author and the Santa Fe Writers Project for providing me with a free e-ARC of the book. The opinions expressed in the story are my own.

Awakening is available on Amazon and a variety of other outlets. Visit McLaren’s website for a full list of places to purchase the book.

The Guidal: Discovering Puracordis by Roxy Eloise

4 stars

The Guidal by Roxy Eloise

In this YA fantasy book, 16-year-old Aurora lives in the Boulderfell Institute where she and the other adoptees must adhere to a strict set of rules. The story starts with Aurora moving up from the Mustards, the children’s section, to the adult quarters (Navies). Her move makes her eligible for the Unity ceremony, an annual ceremony where disciples are matched to each other.

Eloise creates an intriguing character in Aurora, the strong-willed, white haired leading lady. Aurora grows more relatable throughout the story as we learn more about her past and she navigates her way through change, love and loss. At one point, Eloise accurately describes the disembodied experience of grief, when Aurora recalls, “I didn’t remember much of the past seven days because I wasn’t there to live it.”

With each chapter of Eloise’s debut work, I became more invested in Aurora’s journey and wanted to understand the unique world she was immersed in. Supporting characters, including Tayo, the juvie assigned to her care, and the beloved Nanny Kimly add heart to the story

The Guidal, which releases on April 2, 2022, ends with several unanswered questions, which hopefully means Eloise is planning a sequel.

The book is available through Eloise’s author website. For an extra treat, you can listen to Eloise read Chapter One on her YouTube channel.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a free e-ARC of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by receiving a free copy.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

4 stars

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes we have no clue, yet we push it just the same.”

Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why
Cover of the book Thirteen Reasons Why

In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker is a high school student who commits suicide. Before she dies, she creates a series of tapes outlining what led up to her decision and makes arrangements for them to be sent to the people who played a role.

The author used the tapes to create a unique storytelling structure. Readers get the perspective of Clay Jensen, a guy who worked with Hannah and had a crush on her, as he listens to the tapes and reacts to what he hears. 

This structure was creative and it added to the suspense. However, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish whether I was reading Hannah’s voice or Clay’s thoughts. I needed more than italics to keep the two perspectives straight. I felt that Clay’s perspective could have been more distinctive.

I’ve read other reviews that have criticized Hannah’s character for being self-absorbed or vindictive or questioning whether what happened to her was enough to cause her to make the choices she did. (Personally, I thought she endured a lot at a young age). But, to me, judgments about Hannah and her reasons miss the point of the book. This story is about how the choices we make and what we say or don’t say can have a profound effect on someone else.

The book isn’t perfect, but it provokes discussion. I admire the author for tackling a difficult subject that isn’t discussed enough and for creating a memorable story that makes us think about our impact on each other. 

The story as a whole reminds the reader, “When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.”

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

3 stars

A hand holding up the book A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.

Everyone has been talking about this Holly Jackson series featuring a smart, driven young woman as the main character. I love books with strong women, so I decided to give it a try.

In this first book in this young adult (YA) mystery series, high school student Pip Fitz-Amobi decides to investigate a 5-year-old murder for her senior project.

As someone who thrived off Nancy Drew books as a kid, I was completely drawn in by the premise of a modern-day teenage sleuth. One of my favorite elements of this book is the way Pip’s research notes and interview transcripts are incorporated. I was worried at first that these would be distracting but found myself enjoying them even more than the traditional narrative parts of the book. 

The biggest drawbacks of this otherwise enjoyable book for me were the high-risk situations that Pip naively gets herself into and the big leaps that she makes in the last third of the book. The mom in me was in a constant state of concern and disbelief.

There were a few points where I just couldn’t buy that this seemingly sheltered teen was able to outsmart some pretty devious individuals in her first investigation. 

Even with these flaws, I am likely to read the next book in this series, where I hope to see more sides to Pip’s character. I am also interested to see what becomes of her partnership with Ravi.

Anywhere Else by Kayla Hicks

4 out of 5 stars

Anywhere Else is my most recent book discovery from participating in the Twitter #writingcommunity. 

Self-reliant Leena, a pick-up truck driving young woman with an alcoholic mother, is the main character of this YA novel.

Through this story, we see Leena navigate romantic relationships, figure out how to live on her own, and learn how to trust others. I enjoyed reading Leena’s story. She is easy to connect with and you want to see where her journey goes. 

This book relies on the classic love triangle for much of its storyline but it is well done. To me, the book was like comfort food — it uses your favorite ingredients and satisfies your craving. It is not a life-changing book but it is charming and delivers on your expectations in a pleasing way. 

I will be reading another book by this author. In fact, I have already purchased a copy of her novella, The Back-Up Superhero.

Thank you to the author Kayla Hicks for providing a free ARC of Anywhere Else in exchange for my honest review.

Liam’s Town by Marissa Dike

4 out of 5 stars

Liam’s Town was the first book I discovered through a writer’s lift on Twitter, and I’m really glad I found it.

This YA book centers on Liam, who, like most fifteen-year-olds, lives in a world of his own. His world consists of working for his grandfather and spending as much time as possible hanging out with his three friends, Trinity, Jenny, and Fender.  

At first, you think the book will be a typical story about Liam’s life in a small town, his friendships, and his burgeoning love life, but you quickly realize that things are not what they seem on the surface. The book grew on me with each chapter and had several twists that I didn’t see coming. One of the things I loved most about the book was Liam’s voice. Dike created a lovable character in Liam —  you can’t help but root for him throughout the story. 

I would definitely be interested in reading more books by this author.