Harriet Spies Again by Helen Ericson

Genre: Middle grade fiction
CW: tricky families
Rep: autism coding
Rating:

I have divided feelings about this book. At first, I was happy to discover more Harriet the Spy books. Where were these when I was a kid, I wondered. But when I started reading, I discovered two things: First, all the books after the original Harriet the Spy, which was written in the 1960s, were written in 2002 or later, and they were written by a different author. While Helen Ericson holds true to the original story by Louise Fitzhugh, I didn’t think this book was quite as good. I questioned her choice to write out Jainie, one of Harriet’s best friends, and instead add in the strange Annie Smith, a compulsive liar in desperate need of therapy.

I found most of the twists in this book to be a let down, but then again it is intended for a much younger audience. I just felt that they were extremely obvious, and it was a betrayal to Harriet’s observant mind to miss so many obvious clues.

Ericson did, however, do a very good job of blending the new series into the feel of the older one. It wasn’t until I was several chapters in that I realized the author was different, or that this book was much more recent. There’s no mention of cell phones or modern technology, but neither does the story feel old fashioned. It has a “timeless” quality that matches the original, and that I really appreciated.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery
Secondary Genre: Historical
CW: Violence, abuse, sexual assault
Rating:

This dual-timeline novel was not what I was expecting when I saw the name Simone St. James, but it definitely lives up to her reputation.

The book follows Fiona, a journalist in modern day New England. Years before her sister was murdered on the grounds of an abandoned boarding school. When she finds out the school has a new owner who plans to restore and reopen the property, it sets her on a quest to uncover the history of the place–and she soon discovers one murder isn’t enough for the creepy old place.

The second timeline features five students in the 1950s, just before the first murder occurs. Through research and interviews, the past and present begin to intertwine, and Fiona gets the first lead on her sister’s unsolved murder in 20 years.

This book is dark, visceral, and disturbing. It was very hard to read in places, and delved into some very dark subjects (see content warnings above; I don’t want to give too much away here). The girls at the school are “trouble makers” with no where else to go. Some of them don’t have families; some of them have been cast off by their families due to mental or physical health issues. In most cases, the girls are paying for the crimes of their parents and family members, and the teachers and community make sure they know it.

The Broken Girls is both drastically different from St. James previous books, while still holding true to her brand. If you have the mental fortitude to handle the issues mentioned above, it is well worth a read.

A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: sex and gender
CW: language, sexual content, female genital mutilation, discussions of rape
Rep: African, Asian, 1st nations, sex workers
Rating:

I loved this book. Just going to put that right here. Beginning to end, cover to cover, it was perfection.

Lister covered views on sex, sexual health, and gender the world over, discussing everything from how it is celebrated in some cultures to how others have tried to control and destroy it. She looks at how sex is used to empower and liberate, and also to enslave. From toys to treatments, prostitutes to prophylactics, she covers the world over.

Each chapter is packed with images, footnotes, and links to further reading. And on top of having first rate research to back everything up, her writing is just hilarious. Well, it’s hard to take things too seriously when you’re talking about dildos, right?

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about gender sexuality and how it is viewed through history, or anyone who thinks they should be able to tell someone else what to do or not do in their own bedroom.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Genre: Historical mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
CW: mental health
Rep: violence against women, mental health
Rating:

One thing I love about Simone St. James’ work is that all of her book, though stand alone, are set in the same world. There are often references to other books or events.

In this particular volume we follow Joanna, a dejected war widow who has no choice but to work for her husband’s selfish, horrible relatives. Officially she’s Dot’s companion–her husband’s aunt–but later transitions to being more of a secretary. Dot treats everyone like garbage, probably because her husband is a horrible man who hates her and she’s the type of person who takes it out on everyone around her.

Anyway, it’s not until returning to the family home that Joanna learns Dot’s mentally unwell daughter died several years earlier, by “jumping” off the roof (it’s never specified what she suffered from, but it’s implied she was a high-support autistic). In the nearby village, however, rumor fly ranging from murder to an aborted German invasion during the war, to all sorts of paranormal explanations, including a ghostly dog that can be heard howling in the woods at night.

It would seem that her ghost has a message for Jo, and she keeps appearing at the most inopportune times. Already near an emotional breakdown, Jo is half convinced she’s going crazy.

While this wasn’t my favorite Simone St. James novel, I did really enjoy it. I love how atmospheric her books are, but she does definitely have a type when it comes to heroines: poor, lonely, and depressed. But that is one thing I really love about them–they start at rock bottom and always find their strength through the book. It did mean I found this book a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the reveals.

Competence and Reticence by Gail Carriger

Genre: Steampunk
Secondary genre: Romance
CW: violence
Rep: LGBT+, POC (multiple), autism coding
Series: The Custard Protocol vol. 3 & 4
Rating:

I love Gail Carriger. I’ve reviewed her books before. That being said, these are probably my two favorites of hers so far, excluding Soulless.

I don’t want to delve too much into the plot of these books, since they are sequels and it would give away the secret sauce. Suffice to say that these two volumes focus on Primrose and her twin brother, Percy, and the specific challenges they face in seeking romance.

Much to my surprise, while Primrose had previously been a character I really liked, I found myself liking her less when the story was told from her brother’s perspective. Either I was mistaken in my judgment of her, or Carriger is just so fantastic at writing from multiple voices that I picked up Percy’s feelings for her instead. I might have to go back and reread the series all in one go at some point to decide.

I love Carriger’s imagined world, and the way technology works within in, particularly her re-imagining of Tokyo. She has such a diverse group of characters, especially in these books, and it’s really a breath of fresh air. She manages to balance cultural sensitivity with the humor that naturally arises from cultural and personality clashes.

I am reasonably sure that Reticence is the last book in this series, and as a finale it’s wonderful, pulling together characters from all of the Parasol-verse series, an wrapping up the dangling threads (tassels, anyone? Inside joke. You’ll get it after you read Competence), but not so tidily as to be dull or predictable.

And my favorite character is and will always be Footnote the cat.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: Current affairs, BLM
CW: language, mentions of drug use and gang violence
Rep: Black, poverty, LGBT
Rating:

While Angie Thomas’s books are not classified as a series, they are all set in the same world. You do not need to have read The Hate You Give to enjoy this book, though there will be some familiar faces and background information that might enrich the reading.

I’m not a fan of rap music, but I knew that was a big part of this book (Angie Thomas was a rapper in a previous life) to the point that it included lyrics, so I made sure to get the audio version of this book, and I highly reccomend it.

The Garden–the fictional neighborhood where Thomas’s books are set–has seen better days. Now it is a poverty-stricken neighborhood where gang violence rules the day, cops shoot first and ask quesetions later, and there are more boarded up shops than open stores–that the ones that are open usually have a shotgun under the till.

Yet this is where Bri calls home. Her mother, a former drug addict, works hard to send Bri to an arts high school in another neighborhood. But when her mother gets laid off, things are more than dire for Bri and her family. With the heat and power shut off and little in the pantry, Bri longs to use her voice to bring her family finacial freedom. Sick of taking handouts, she enters the ring–a weekly rap battle run by a local DJ that has spawned world famous rappers. It even kicked off her dad’s career, before a gang shooting ended it and his life.

But Bri’s words go further than intended and take on meanings she never intended. Now the school is threatening to expel her, the cops thing she’s a danger, and the gang that killed her father has put it’s sights on her. Fame and fortune can’t come fast enough, but even if they do, will they be enough to get her out of the Garden?

While this isn’t the usual type of book for me, I love Angie Thomas’s writing and I found her first book to be incredibly moving. While Bri and I come from vastly different backgrounds, I still found her extremely relatable. She is an absolute Queen, though she learns a lot through the course of the book. I would actually love to see a follow up story about her and the colorful cast of characters from this book.

Miss Violet and the Great War by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: paranormal/war
Format read: audiobook
CW: violence
Rep: mental health
Rating:

Leanna’s books are so hard for me to review, because I know her personally. We attend the same con, work on the same panels, chat over Twitter, and exchange the occasional letter or email. I love her personality, her vibrancy, and the messages she includes in her work.

That being said, we have vastly different storytelling styles, and while I like the broad strokes she paints, the line-by-line details aren’t really my cup of tea, mostly because I keep thinking about how I would edit the book differently (this is a hazard of being an author; it’s hard to read for pleasure without thinking about how you would change a book).

Set on the eve of the WWI, Violet represents the third generation in the Hieberverse. Her parents fought evil and won. Time for the happily ever after, right?

But since childhood Violet has been plagued by horrible nightmares of men in pits, explosions, and gunfire. It’s not until war breaks out between England and Germany, however, that she realizes these dreams are her calling: to stop the evil her parents defeated from leaking back into the land of the living, she must travel to France and the epicenter of the fighting and attempt to put it to rest once and for all.

Filled with a host of characters readers will recognize from her earlier novels, Miss Violet and the Great War is a part stand alone and part sequel. There’s no need to read the previous books, but you will get more out of this one if you are familiar with the Percy Parker series.

My biggest complaint when reading this was the winding path it took. I’m more action oriented in my books, so I thought, being a war book, this would be a lot punchier from the start. If action isn’t your thing, though, you’ll enjoy the emotional arc of this story as it works through Percy’s childhood, up through the war.

Waterfall by Lisa T Bergen

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: romance/adventure
Format read: audiobook
Series: River of Time vol. 1
CW: violence
Rating: planchet-3

My mom and I do not have similar taste in books. Her favorite author is Nora Roberts. I would gleefully fire all of her books into space. I like reading creepy books with fierce women. My mom “doesn’t get it.” If it isn’t in the mass market romance section at Half Price books, she basically doesn’t read it.

So I was shocked when she recommended a book to me that was not only young adult, but not horrible.

I used to live in Italy (Florence) so I tend to be drawn toward books set in the country, especially in the 1500-1600s (Renaissance art was my area of study).

Gabie and her younger sister, Lia, get dragged after their mother, an archaeologist, to the hills outside of Sienna to study an Etruscan burial site. While hiding from Italian authorities bent on taking over the dig, Gabie is somehow sucked back in time to the 1300s, where she’s nearly murdered, then is rescued, kidnapped and mistaken for a spy all in one go. Meanwhile, she has no idea where Lia has disappeared to. Is she sill in present day? Has she also been pulled back in time and caught in the heat of battle? Or worse?

Determined to find her sister and get home, Gabie weaves lie after lie to avoid telling her captors-turned-hosts the truth, afraid of what the consequences might be, even if someone believes her. Though these lies, she becomes swept up in the messy politics of the time and era, disrupting treaties and arranged marriages in the process.

I thought this book was great fun from a history perspective, however I did find the romance predictable and I did not like Gabie’s love interest. In my notes, I nicknamed him “Gladiator Ken,” because through about half the book that’s how much personality he had. There were actually two other people I would have preferred to see her with that were not only more dimensional as characters but less…Controlling? Bossy? Misogynistic? Annoying? Take your pick.

I’m still on the fence on whether or not I want to read the next two books. I have them saved in my Overdrive wishlist, but haven’t checked them out yet. What do you think? Have you read them?

Ghostly Tales

Genre: classic lit
Secondary genre: paranormal
Format: hard copy
CW: mental illness/hallucinations, mentions of suicide

Authors: M.R. James, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, F. Marion Crawford, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Amelia B. Edwards.

I received this anthology as a gift, and was super excited to read it. I love classic lit, and ghost stories, and I had no idea that Elizabeth Gaskell had even written a ghost story.  I’m usually not a big fan of anthologies or short stories in general, but this one was quite a good read. I think the stories got better–and creepier–the further I got into the book. The Screaming Skull was by far my favorite.

If you’re looking for some lesser known works by some of the 19th century’s most famous writers, then this is definitely a good book to pick up–and read on a dark and stormy night by the fire, with a cup of tea and a nice fuzzy blanket. Just don’t turn out all the lights.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Genre: YA romance
Secondary genre: Islamic/Muslim
Format: audio
Rep: Muslim, Afghani
CW: child abuse, sexism, child death, murder, victim blaming, violence
Rating: planchet-5

This Muslim version of Romeo and Juliet is an intense read from start to finish. I think I listed to it over the course of two days, and while I tried to take a break, I just couldn’t–I had to know what happened next. It’s the definition of “Well, that escalated quickly.” It starts off so sweet, with Fatima reconnecting with her childhood friend, Samiullah. When they were kids, things were easy. But now that they’re in their teens, things are much more complex.

Set during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the teens must not only determine what their feelings are for each other, but also how to handle them when they are from distinctly different classes and tribes, and the new regime won’t let them be together. Not only that, but their own families are determined to keep them apart. Fatima in particular, as the lower class and female in this equation, becomes the target of harassment and violence, even from her own mother.

It takes a lot of spoons to finish this book, no lie. But if you can manage it? It is so worth the read. If you need a spoiler, keep reading below the cut.

 

 

 


If “Afghani Romeo and Juliet” has you worried, it’s okay: No one commits suicide, and they get their HEA.