[Book Review] The Pathfinders Society (Books 1 and 2)

Book Cover for The Pathfinders Society: Mystery of the Moon Tower

Title: The Mystery of the Moon Tower & The Curse of Crystal Cavern
Author: Francesco Sedita, Prescott Seraydarian, Steve Hamaker (Illustrations)
Genre: MG graphic novel; adventure; quest; mystery
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Book 1: The Young Pathfinders is a graphic novel adventure story featuring a diverse group of kids thrown together in a summer camp project. Researching their town’s history leads to a mysterious, abandoned castle that was once home to an eccentric inventor, and may still be home to great treasure.

Book Cover for The Pathfinders Society: Curse of the Crystal Cavern

Book 2: Fresh from their hair-raising adventures in The Mystery of the Moon Tower, Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate are now hot on the trail of something big! A secret staircase leads down into the unknown, setting them on an exciting chase for clues left by the wealthy explorer Henry Merriweather, who was rumored to have hidden away a priceless treasure. Are the legends real? Where will the five friends end up? And what dangers will they encounter along the way? Because as they’ve come to learn, everything comes at a price… 

Review: 3 stars

These were fun, MG graphic novels. The first book picks up en media res and then jumps to the present where we’re introduced to the new kid, Kyle. He’s quickly taken in by other Pathfinders at a summer camp and they become friends. There’s a rating scale on who can talk to who (cute and funny) and then all of the sudden, C rating kids are talking to A ratings kids with no problem. The actual camp life is not developed much at all because almost immediately, this new found friend group of 6 are all thrown onto this quest for a treasure that really isn’t introduced.

The rest of book 1 (TBC’d in book 2) is about said quest. They go all around the town, looking for clues and end up at the millionaire town-founder’s mansion. Here they learn that the last living descendent is stuck trying to find enough money to save the mansion, or risk handing it over to some quarry developers.

There’s a fun element of magical realism that begins here, sort of. The gang is able to see the past, in these really cool visions at just the right time in their journey. This element of past brought into the future is really interesting to me. I like that the dead speak to the living, even if the kids aren’t sure why or how.

This magical realism is never really developed, or explained, the kids just kind of go, “Uh, sure, this is what life is now, right?” and continue on with the quest.

The quest itself is very scavenger hunt. I like that aspect too. It could be realized in a school setting or a small town to be repeated if someone had enough time. The kids all have their own skills that aid in the quest (Kyle can sketch and draw anything they see, one of the girls has a knack for numbers, the other girl is a history buff, the two other boys are 1. comedic relief and 2. kind of a builder / maker). This allows for everyone to A.B.R (always be ready) for whatever comes next.

I would absolutely read the 3rd book in the series, just to see how the quest turns out! Can the kids save the town, or will it end up in the hands of developers hoping to modernize it?

[Book Review] Anya’s Ghost

Book Cover for Anya’s Ghost

Title: Anya’s Ghost
Author: Vera Brosgol
Genre: graphic novel; ya fiction; mystery; horror; paranormal
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part.

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Review: 4 stars

One of my students told me to read this because I’d really like it. When I started reading it, I understood why. It’s dark, it’s sarcastic, and it’s full of horror-adjacent content. I didn’t think it was scaryscary, but the concepts within it (falling in a deep hole with no one around to save you or hear you scream, becoming haunted by a ghost, and then being chased by one) are all in there.

The student who told me to read it is a first generation immigrant from Russia. This book hit home for him, because Anya goes out of her way to get rid of her FOB status and become “American.” My kiddo recognized that in himself. The way Anya develops over the course of the book, from trying to be cool by smoking and thinking everything is lame, changes when she’s confronted with “everything she’s ever wanted.” She realizes that sometimes appearances are deceiving and not everything is as it seems.

What struck me the most is Anya’s crush, and how that storyline plays out. I was not expecting him to be a player and for his uber popular girlfriend to literally be standing outside the bedroom door while he hooks up with another girl. That was rough. But that’s really what turned everything around for Anya, a really cold bucket of water over her head.

I loved the way things got out of control. It was a slow spiral that ended up being almost fatal to her family. But that’s when she takes back the control and does what she needs to in order to protect herself, her family, and kind of everyone else at high school.

My student really liked it, but the one thing he really hated was that Anya smoked. “That’s gross.”

[Book Review] The Girl from the Sea

Book Cover for The Girl from the Sea

Title: The Girl from the Sea
Author: Molly Knox Ostertag
Genre: graphic novel; ya fiction; LGBTQ fiction; young adult romance
Synopsis: (From Goodreads) Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not. 

Review: 4 stars

This was a really cute coming-of-age and coming out story. Morgan is an honest and sweet protagonist. She’s stuck on a small island and afraid of what coming out will mean for her family, her friends, and the people on her island. When she meets Keltie, she struggles with throwing caution to the wind and just being herself. It takes a lot for that to pass.

I loved the way the writer created the storylines and used the texting in a group chat to make it feel very teen-forward.

I wasn’t expecting a selkie when I purchased this, but that lore was fun to dive into also, even though they don’t go too in depth on the history and mythology. Keltie the Selkie made me laugh a little. She was a fun character who spoke her mind, did what was right, and even though she was super black and white to start, she started to figure out how her own humanity fits in with others, a little.

The little brother’s story arc is faint, but there, and I liked how that developed after he out’d his sister (not cool at all). The friction between the two siblings felt very real for me. I didn’t grow up in a divorced home, like Morgan and her brother, but I grew up in a single-parent home, and there were times (too many) when we tried to use secrets against one another to be on mom’s good side longest. That felt super real to me.

Overall, I think this will be a great addition to my classroom library.

[Book Review] House of Sky and Breath (2/? of Crescent City)

Book Cover for House of Sky and Breath

Title: House of Sky and Breath
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: new adult fiction; fantasy; romance; paranormal; magic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal―they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode―and the people who will do anything to save it. 

Review: 4 stars

(If you’d like to review my review for book 1, click here.)

This is book 2 of a SJM series, so I walked in with some expectations – first and foremost that the ones we see the most of in Book 1 change their spots and we don’t like them as much in Book 2. That’s what I was hoping for with the Bryce and Hunt dynamic. I was a cynical reader for every passage involving the two, and was overly annoyed at Hunt the whole book. I wanted what happened in (SPOILER) ACOTAR to happen with Hunt. And then it didn’t, and I was supremely let down.

I couldn’t get over Bryce trying to sell herself to Sandriel for Hunt after he’d spent the whole Book 1 with her, letting her tell him her deepest darkest secrets. After she was so anti-alphahole but still fell for it (and so did we, despite the dual POV, another annoying plot point in Book 1), and wanted to sell herself into slavery. And so walking into Book 2, I was hoping for a deeper fallout, when all the adrenaline of the moment dissipated. NOPE. The two of them joke about it instead, on more than one occasion. This upset me.

But thankfully, Book 2 is about so much more than Bryce and Hunt. It’s also about some new additions and old favorites. I was so glad to see some of the familiar faces come back and get a deeper storyline – particularly Tharion and Ruhn. Tharion’s entire character is developed in such a strong and interesting way. For a lot of the book, you’re hoping he’ll be loyal to Bryce and the gang, but there’s a part of you thinking he might sell them out to his Queen. I also spent a lot of the second half wishing he’d make different choices, but that’s probably just me.

Ruhn’s glow up was impressive. He went from plot point half-brother to bestie and I REALLY enjoyed this. His own crew was fantastic, and when Ithan comes into it, I particularly liked how Ruhn went big-brother to protect Ithan, even from his own feelings. Ruhn’s humility and protection are his best traits. He’s talked up as this bad boy, full of tattoos and an “I don’t care” attitude, but in the end he wants what’s best for everyone, and it’s clear all the way through that he’s going to fight with Bryce. I love his own personal growth outside of Bryce too, with Agent Day, we see a really amazing side of him that I hope is expanded on in Book 3.

The new faces were fun. I really enjoyed following the mystery and meeting new people who pushed that mystery plot point along. The Hind and Cormac were my favorite. Cormac comes in hot, (descriptive and action wise) and reminded me a lot of Rhysand in the dark and broody fae type way. I thought for a long time that we’d see another Tamlin/Rhys style fight with Hunt and Cormac, but that was not to be. Sad.

I loved that we didn’t know if we could trust Cormac from literally his introduction until the ocean. He was crucial to Bryce’s character (and power) development but at what cost? What a good character!

I’m interested in seeing where this story goes, especially with the last few pages. Very, very interested. Overall, I liked this book more than the first, I didn’t need to wait 100 pages to really get into this one like Book 1, but I’m still salty about Bryce and Hunt.

[Book Review] Priest

Book Cover of PRIEST

Title: Priest
Author: Sierra Simone
Genre: contemporary romance; erotica; new adult
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There are many rules a priest can’t break. 
A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.

I’ve always been good at following rules. 
Until she came. 
My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again. 
I am a priest and this is my confession.

***Priest is a standalone, full-length novel with an HEA.  For mature audiences only.***

Review: 3/5 stars

** spoiler alert ** 

It was okay. I picked it up because it was (over)hyped on Twitter. I don’t regret it, necessarily, but it was just okay.

The storytelling and character development didn’t do it for me. There’s a small town parish, and then we meet the MCs and then the sex begins. And then there’s backstory. And then the drama. And then it ends with a sexy HEA. Idk. It fell into the smut too quickly (gasp) and it didn’t build up to any real conflict or character development to make it mean something.

But it seemingly TRIED to. So it wasn’t just smut for smuts sake.

Tyler’s character was very impulsive and for someone who had this higher calling, he was very “act first, beg forgiveness second” — like that was how it worked. Maybe it does? Idk. It didn’t do it for me. He’s so relatable and so hot and so manly and so godly. If he’s all these things he’s none of these things, and it’s proven false immediately.

Poppy had so much potential. She could have been this amazing character but instead she is just kind of meh. We’re told she is Ivy League. We’re told she did charity work. We’re told she did CPA work. We’re told she likes good sex. She doesn’t ever really grow as a character and she doesn’t ever unfold as a character. She just is. And then martyrs herself (sort of) for a man. BS.

I liked Millie. She was cool.

[Book Review] The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

Book Cover of BORN ON THE WATER

Title: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Author: Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renée Watson
Illustrator: Nikkolas Smith
Genre: children’s picture book; poetry; history; social justice
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The 1619 Project’s lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson.

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived. 

Review: 5/5 stars

Hannah-Jones and Watson craft a beautiful and poetic historical narrative that allows young children to recognize and learn about a horrific practice in a way that helps them process and learn from a place of power instead of trauma. The authors, as well as illustrator Smith, craft this beautiful, powerful, honest story about the United States that forces everyone who reads it to pause and take a second look at their own histories.

I remember those family tree assignments well. I hated them, but for a very different reason. For this narrative to be crafted around that assignment is a testament to power in and of itself. For the families of the enslaved, their histories in this country are only traceable for so far back, if at all. The way the grandmother tells this story of a proud legacy of survival and resistance.

I really appreciated the differentiation of the “immigration story.” It was so well stated, beautiful and poignant, but also easy to grasp for kids.

This is one of those essential children’s books.

[Book Review] A Spell of Rowans

Book Cover for A SPELL OF ROWANS

Title: A Spell of Rowans
Author: Byrd Nash
Genre: fiction; fantasy; paranormal mystery; contemporary romance;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Rachel Rowan could sniff out secrets and her antique shop, Rosemary Thyme, was a front to torment the residents of Grimsby. When she dies, her children are faced with the deadly fallout of blackmail, murder, and magic.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free.

A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings.

And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.

Review: 5/5 stars

Content warnings: childhood abuse, neglect, violence, and trauma; rehashed childhood trauma as an adult; assault; attempted rape.

Nash has created one of my favorite books of 2021. This book is an exciting magical mystery that could easily be turned into the next Netflix series. I enjoyed the characters, the sibling dynamic, and the plot development from page 1 all the way until the end. Even the short epilogue was great!

The Rowan family story is told through a first person perspective, so we get Vic, the middle daughter’s account of the goings on after her mother’s death— but there’s so much more to it than an old woman dying.

Death is only the beginning of this entire plot line. It just gets better as mysteries are unraveled and new characters are introduced. Vic as two siblings, Pip and Liam, who are also trying to survive after their mother’s legacy. Enter Hunter, a big city lawyer, and Reed, an FBI agent / Vic’s high school boyfriend and then things get interesting.

There always seems to be a few characters that can’t get past an old grudge, like a decade’s old grudge right? Well, that’s Reed’s dad— the town’s old chief of police.

Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone’s truth, and that’s what makes this book so, so good. There’s mystery, murder, betrayal, love, and intrigue until the very end.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[Book Review] Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Book Cover for Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Title: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Author: Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
Genre: nonfiction; history; race; social justice; YA
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) A remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning for ages 12 and up.

A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America.

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This is a remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, winner of a National Book Award. It reveals the history of racist ideas in America and inspires hope for an antiracist future.

Stamped takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative, Jason Reynolds shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

Review: 5/5 stars

There’s an old adage that says something like “If we don’t learn our history we are doomed to repeat it” or something similar. While reading this book on my own and with students, I found myself thinking about that over and over again, because this “not history book” taught me so much about the intentional cyclical nature of American racism. While times have seemingly changed, policies and practices written and built against people of color have not – they’ve adapted and gotten more slick.

This book is so digestible and so full of content that I thought I knew about it. I consider myself a pretty well-informed person, and while I knew quite a bit about some of the current policies in place, but I didn’t really comprehend the larger implications of the historical precedents set up from the foundations of this country. The way Reynolds breaks down such difficult and troubling concepts so that anyone can understand them is brilliant.

When you read this, there’s a charge at the end – what will you do now that you know what you know? For me, that question is so crucial to what the book is all about. You’ve learned the history, now how are you going to make a change for the present, and your future? For me, it’s to pass this book on to as many people as I can, talk to them about it as they read, and to continue to engage in those tough discussions.

[Book Review] Unsteady

Book Cover for Unsteady

Title: Unsteady
Author: Nicole Northwood
Genre: romance; novella; contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend attacks him outside of the bar where he works, he doesn’t expect the confrontation to be thwarted by a baseball bat-wielding nursing student from the Collège de Saint Laurent.

As Molly Catherine takes Lincoln to her apartment and treats his injuries, a surprise New Year’s Eve storm sets in and turns the city of Duchamp into a blanket of snow and ice. Downed tree branches and power lines cut off electricity, and in the dark of the long night, MC and Lincoln quickly connect both emotionally and physically. When the power finally comes back on and the plows begin to dig out the city, MC and Lincoln are left to decide what will melt first: the snow, or their instant connection.

Review: 3/5 stars

Content Warning: physical partner abuse (the ex).

This was cute! A super quick 50 page read with two likable main characters. I don’t typically read romance novels with first person point of view, and even more rare – alternating firsts point of view. That said, I think Northwood created two characters that create a sweet, albeit fast, relationship.

While reading, I was looking for something a little deeper to grasp onto with both of their characters. Lincoln has more backstory than MC gets, but I was still hoping for a little more. There were quite a few things attached to both their characters that went past trope and landed into cliche territory. There’s 100% a place for cliche in romance (I mean that in a great way), but some of the expected pieces in romance, in my opinion, just did’t get fully developed.

There was a crazy ex, cheating, a bartender, a will they-won’t they, a love at first sight line, a “are they even into me?”, a “you can’t go out in that storm”, a text breakup, and drunken (maybe not) a one night stand. I absolutely love these tropes but in only 50 pages, they didn’t get a whole lot of page time.

There was also repetition in the little details – “cranberry” is one that comes to mind immediately. “Gin” is another. There were a lot of reminders that both MCs liked gin, and that Lincoln smelled like the cranberry juice from the bar – where he made cranberry vodkas all night.

All that said, I honestly really enjoyed the slice of life style of a novella. The intimacy is sweet and nervous and full of cute banter. The hookup felt authentic, and it was just a fun read all the way around.

I received a free copy of this book from the author and am provided an honest review.

[Book Review] Nimona

Book Cover of NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Genre: graphic novel; fantasy; LGBT; found family; humor; adventure
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it “a deadpan epic.”

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Review: 4 stars

I loved the humor and the humanity in this graphic novel. Mimosa and Blackheart are the ultimate dynamic duo that everyone needs to read about. In the end, this is just a great story. End stop.

I loved the characterizations, the pacing, the flashbacks. I wanted a little bit more of the Nimona backstory, and a little more depth from the Institution— but honestly— would 100% recommend this story so much.