Book Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

A powerful collection of short stories that gave me the creeps and Girl Power feels all at once.

4/5 stars


synopsis for reviews 2

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

This was my first time reading a short story collection, and Slasher Girls & Monster Boys made it a good experience. I read the stories across the month of January and the beginning of February, and every time I came back to the anthology, the haunting stories sucked me back in.

My favorite part of this anthology is the strong Girl Power themes throughout. The stories really do pit Slasher Girls against Monster Boys, and though the end results are creepy as hell, they were also strangely comforting and empowering. I also loved how each author interpreted that idea a different way, creating a complex collection of Monster Boys and Monster Girls’ revenges.

My only problem with this anthology was that it was not consistent in its horror aspects, sometimes confusing me. The first two stories were deeply, deeply creepy—so much so that I almost stopped reading. But the next few stories were lighter, scary in a different way. By the end of the anthology, I liked that authors had taken different approaches to writing horror, but in the beginning, I was disappointed by the constantly changing tones. I don’t read a lot of horror, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the darkest, and I felt let down by some of the stories that were not as horrifying.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma

4/5 stars

The first story launched me into the anthology really well. This story creeped me out with a combination of paranormal and real-world terrors. Though it was a little predictable, I loved the satisfying vengeance at the end.

In The Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan

4/5 stars

By far the most haunting story in the anthology. Even now, thinking about it makes the hair rise on my arms…but also makes me smirk. The story started with a good main character and a creative monster and grew to a genuinely horrifying reveal. I wanted a little more from the writing itself, but the story was ingenious.

Emmeline by Cat Winters

4/5 stars

This was one of my favorite stories. Set in a bombed-out house in France during WWI, the story was defined by its clear and emotional setting. The story was less aggressively terrifying than the previous two, creating a gently scary story that made me feel mournful more than anything else.

Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo

3/5 stars

One of the most vivid stories in the anthology. It had a clear voice and a strong premise, building an emotional, complex and gritty story. I liked the pop music angle; putting the horror in a fully contemporary setting worked really well for the writing style and the story itself. But while this story definitely gave me the creeps, I felt like the paranormal elements were underdeveloped, keeping me from having that “aha” moment that I expected.

Hide-and-Seek by Megan Shepherd

3/5 stars

This was both one of my favorite stories and least favorite stories. I loved the premise—playing hide-and-seek with death in order to escape dying yourself—but it did not feel like it fit in this story collection. “Hide-and-Seek” was a great story to read: fast-paced, surprising, and original, but it just wasn’t creepy like the rest of the anthology. Also, it lacked a Slasher Girl, removing the agency of revenge from the female protagonist.

The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige


Yeah, I hated everything about this story. The set-up was painfully cheesy and cliche, relying on the “smartest girl must be a loner” trope—my least favorite trope in the world. It’s “analysis” of Frankenstein was weak and obvious, starting the book on a bad note while trying to prove the main character’s social-life-killing brilliance. Add a cringey romance and vague dream sequences I didn’t stick around to see the horror part develop.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke

4/5 stars

I loved this story. It was dark, heart-wrenching, stressful, and deeply distributing all at once, with vividly drawn characters and an emotional premise. I was impressed with its deft use of flashbacks and compelling characterization, as well as by the fact that it actually acknowledges that girls the get into Harvard have to work their asses off (if it hadn’t, I might have DNF-ed the story). Coming from the organizer of the collection, this story has one of the most interesting interpretations of the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys theme, making it a stand-out.

Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry

3.5/5 stars

The main character was the most fascinating part of this story. In the space of a short story, the author created a conflicted, complex protagonist that I was never completely sure would not turn out to be the monster herself. I loved the writing style, but the horror elements were really obvious, never giving me that reveal that I craved. Still, the ending was pleasantly surprising and uplifting.

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff

3/5 stars

Another story I am extremely conflicted about. The good: this was by far the most surprising and horrifying story in the collection. It kept growing and twisting, shocking me over and over again. The bad: it was incredibly problematic, using the “I’m not like other girls” trope, the phrase “kiddyqueer” (like…what???), and kind of male slut-shaming. Also, while I did read this anthology to get scared, I don’t feel like I signed up for the terrifying date-rape vibes of this story. If you want to be scared by a really effective piece of horror, this story does that, but it is so dark that I don’t know if I would actually recommend reading it.

M by Stefan Bachmann

2.5/5 stars

This story could have been powerful, but it felt like the author never pushed themselves. Everything ended up being predictable or obvious, which in a story that centers around a murder mystery is the exact opposite of what I wanted. It had a good setting and was a nice mystery, but a lot of the story felt like Plot™, rather than an actually captivating story. Additionally, the main character was blind, but the author’s approach to her character made it clear he had chosen that disability purely for the horror effects without really considering the larger implications for her character.

The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu

3.5/5 stars

This story transformed as I read, starting with sympathy and ending with pure hatred for the main character. It was not creepy so much as darkly satisfying. Honestly the most terrifying part was how deeply I hated the main character by the end, how effectively the author got me to root for his downfall.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman

3/5 stars

This was one of the less effective stories for me, mainly because it lacked that hard core Girl Power feeling I had come to expect. I enjoyed the pacing of the story, but the constantly changing POV was a lot to handle in such a short story. Overall, it was more bittersweet than creepy.

Stitches by A. G. Howard

4/5 stars

This story was a perfect penultimate tale for this anthology. The writing was gorgeous, with a powerful use of imagery to create a creepy (yet readable) story. The reveal was surprising, and the ending was strangely healing—not just for that story, but for the anthology as a whole. I loved the new angle on Girl Power and the successful re-imagination of Frankenstein.

On the I-5 by Kendare Blake

4.5/5 stars

This story killed it. The writing drew me immediately and unfolded well, with no jarring exposition at all. It had a gorgeous take on Girl Power, focusing on solidarity between victims and (of course) revenge. Creepy, but not too dark, the story was the perfect ending for this anthology. It spoke up for all of the girls that didn’t beat their Monster Boys the first time around, helping me heal from the emotional roller-coaster that was this anthology.

Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While this collection is not overwhelmingly problematic, it definitely is not perfect. Some stories use mental illnesses and disabilities as a plot devices. As discussed above, “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff was incredibly problematic for me.

Trigger warnings: Nearly everything. Strong TW for sexual violence/assault, physical violence, and abuse. If you’re curious about a specific trigger, comment or email me and I can confirm/deny it.

Book Review: Headless by Tristram Lowe

A sinister murder mystery that slowly reveals its paranormal secrets, set against the vivid backdrop of Japan.

3.5/5 stars

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Being a photographer at a Tokyo newspaper is no walk in the park—unless you’re Akio Tsukino and only get assigned to shoot parades and park festivals.

All that changes when a serial killer starts chopping off heads in nearby Kofu. Akio maneuvers his way onto the assignment in order to prove himself and get closer to enigmatic staff writer Masami Sato. When the investigation takes a supernatural turn, the unlikely partners find themselves caught between solving the mystery and saving their own lives.

In this thrilling and imaginative debut by Tristram Lowe, getting the story may cost them their heads.

See it on Amazon (paperback or Kindle) or the author’s website

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I was given a copy of Headless by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.

Headless started out your standard murder mystery but ended a distinctly creepy paranormal story. Though I am usually not a fan of contemporary stories turning paranormal, there was good balance between the two elements throughout the novel that allowed me to enjoy it.

I loved the setting of Headless. Most of the books I read are set in the US or a fantasy world, so it was refreshing to read a book set 100% in Japan. I felt like I got a really good sense of not only the individual places the characters visited, but of the culture.

The story was told in third person, alternating between Akio’s and Masami’s POVs. Akio’s POV told the bulk of the story. Both characters had strong voices and interesting personalities that brought the story to life.

Akio‘s character was interesting for me. He was young and awkward, with a clear idea in his head of who he “should be” without any hope of becoming that ideal. He could be annoying at times, but I was willing to forgive him because I understood where his character was coming from. His voice was clear throughout the novel, reflecting the growth Akio experienced.

Masami was my favorite character. She was the take-no-shit reporter who has a lot of hidden talents and absolutely no patience for Akio’s idiocy. Though we got to see a lot of her development and personality from Akio’s perspective, I loved the chapters told from her POV, and wished there were more of them.

Akio was slightly obsessed with Masami (trying to find the ice queen’s “human” side), while Masami had zero patience for Akio. The chemistry between them never developed, but I actually loved that. They were thrown together by circumstances and developed a working relationship, but they were never going to become best friends.

The mystery unfolded nicely, starting off simple and gaining complexity as it sucked me in. From the first chapter, the reader (if not the characters) has a sense of who the killer is, but as the story progressed, I found myself surprised by the details that fleshed out that initial idea. By the end of the book, I was engrossed with the mystery, loving the combination of supernatural and historical details.

The only problem of the book is the pacing. In the part of the book where the characters are still looking for “real world” explanations, the pacing dragged a little. However, about halfway through it picked up, and by the end, I was completely engrossed in the story. The transition from a normal murder mystery to a paranormal thriller felt natural, and helped grab my attention.

I would recommend Headless to anyone looking for a murder mystery with a supernatural twist and a unique setting. Though the book had undeniably dark and creepy moments, the humor helped balance it out. Ultimately I will remember it for the fascinating mystery and historical angle, not just the number of people who got beheaded.

Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me In A Haunted House

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is a Halloween-themed freebie. I thought about featuring horror/thriller novels…and then I remembered I am a total scaredy cat and that I don’t read horror/thriller novels.

Instead, I am imagining that some of my favorite characters and I have been dropped in a haunted house. I’m not talking about a touristy, fun haunted house; I mean a literal, oh-my-gosh-I’m-in-the-middle-of-a-paranormal-novel haunted house. (Not that I believe in hauntings, but they’re fictional characters, so anything is possible.)

So that they would protect me

1. Lysandra from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Okay, so I’d want the entire cast of TOG by my side. But if I can’t have all of them, I want Lysandra. I think her particular skill set would be really freaking useful.

2. Vin from the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I’m not going anywhere near something unpredictable and scary without a Mistborn by my side.

3. Katsa from Graceling by Kristen Cashore

And as long as I’m surrounding myself with fantastical warriors, I might as well bring Katsa with me. She would 110% make sure that I survived.

So that someone could talk to the ghosts/monsters

4. Suze from The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

It just seems pragmatic to make sure that I have a person who can talk to ghosts with me in a haunted house. Plus, Suze has dealt with a lot of crazy stuff, so she’d be able to keep her cool.

5. Gemma from the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray

Gemma doesn’t talk to ghosts, per se, but she has dealt with a TON of paranormal craziness, so I think she’d be helpful for dealing with the haunted stuff.

 So that someone would figure out how to get us out

6. Gansey from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Am I the only person who would want Gansey’s obsessive research brain with me in a haunted house? Because it sounds like a solid plan to me.

7. Lilac from the Starbound Trilogy by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

Lilac took a while to grow on me, but now I appreciate her for what she is: a total badass. She has been through it all and she’s brilliant, so I would definitely trust her to get me out of there.

To counter my fear with intense sarcasm

8. Shazi from The Wrath and the Dawn by Rene Ahdieh

So, yes, Shazi’s archery skills would also be nice, but honestly, I just want her their to keep making jokes to distract me from everything else. Also the idea of Shazi sassing a ghost is funny enough that I would endure a haunted house to see it.

9. Adina from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Adina’s deadpan, take-no-shit personality would totally calm me down.

So that I would not be the only one screaming

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10. Carmen from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

I can’t be the only person freaking out, looking like an idiot among a ton of battle-hardened fighters, right? I just read this book, and I am 110% sure that all of the characters would do just as badly in this situation as I would. I’d take Carmen because I liked her personality the most.

So what do you think? If you were in this situation, who would you want with you?

Book Review: Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray

An amazing continuation of the Gemma Doyle series with creepy paranormal elements and even stronger characters.

4/5 stars

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Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

Rereading this series was honestly so much fun. I love knowing that the books that blew me away when I was younger are still impressive, even after I’ve read hundreds more books.

The defining characteristic of these books is the idea of imperfection. If you like stories where the characters make the right decisions and everything fits together nicely…this isn’t your book. But honestly, imperfection is so much more interesting.

Gemma and her friends are as imperfect as always in this book. They have the power to bring magic into the real world and they use it to make their lives better, even if it’s an illusion. It’s somewhat frustrating to read, because as the reader you know that magic won’t solve their problems, but I have to admit, I would do exactly the same thing in their place.

We get to see Gemma’s character grow more. She is trying to be a better person, taking on responsibilities in the realm and being a nicer daughter in the real world, but she cannot get over her jealousies and fears completely. She has magic, and she’s a teenage girl, and she’d rather have everything seem perfect than have to deal with life’s imperfections. I don’t blame her for her weaknesses, though, because her character is written so vividly that I could feel exactly what emotions drove her to make her choices.

Ann’s character becomes a larger part of the story in Rebel Angels. Her dreams of being accepted into rich society come true—with magic, of course—and it reveals fascinating parts of her character. As with Gemma, Ann has her pettiness and her fears, but they are portrayed so well that I understand her instead of hating her.

The realms become more sinister in this book, no longer the flowering garden that Gemma discovered. Pippa returns to the story, giving the plot creepy, uncertain undertones. Dead but alive, Pippa brings both joy and fear to the plot, and Gemma’s distrust of her threatens the group dynamic.

Gemma’s new task in the realms is to find the Temple, where she can bind the magic and restore order to the realms. New visions and a friendship with an insane girl named Nell help Gemma on her search while keeping the reader on their toes, uncertain of who they can trust. The search for the Temple is a good mystery that adds suspense and terror to the plot.

As with the first book, however, Rebel Angels is about more than the realms. Gemma’s life in the real world is just as important a part of the story as her quest in the realms. I loved that Gemma leaves Spence for the winter holiday; this changed the focus of the story from her education to her place in polite society and showed a different side of Gemma. She is simultaneously desperate to be accepted and disgusted with the society.

Her courtship of Simon Middleton was one of my favorite parts of the book. More than just a love interest, Simon represents a crossroads for Gemma, forcing her to choose between being the Good Girl and being herself. Simon’s own imperfections are an interesting commentary on rape culture—something I missed the first time I read this series but that I appreciate now.

Gemma’s father’s addiction is a major part of this book. The plot line is unforgiving and painful, showing Gemma the worst side of her family right when she wants nothing more than for everything to be perfect. These scenes were some of the most emotional ones of the whole book.

My only complaint about this book would be that it is a little long. It is paced well, but that pacing is a long walk to the climax. I love that the length of the story allows every character to develop and every subplot to be complex, but it also makes the book a little slow at times.

I would recommend Rebel Angels to anyone who read A Great and Terrible Beauty. The story gets creepier and realer, destroying the few remaining niceties that existed in Gemma’s life. The combination of paranormal and historical plot lines makes this series unique and a must-read.

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libba Bray

This book was one of the first YA books that I ever fell in love with, and rereading it made me remember why I love this series, this author, and this genre so much.

4/5 stars

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Gemma Doyle, sixteen and proud, must leave the warmth of her childhood home in India for the rigid Spence Academy, a cold finishing school outside of London, followed by a stranger who bears puzzling warnings. Using her sharp tongue and agile mind, she navigates the stormy seas of friendship with high-born daughters and her roommate, a plain scholarship case. As Gemma discovers that her mother’s death may have an otherworldly cause, and that she herself may have innate powers, Gemma is forced to face her own frightening, yet exciting destiny . . . if only she can believe in it.

*I took this synopsis from the Random House website because I did not like the Goodreads one.*

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my thoughts for reviews 1

This was my fourth time reading A Great and Terrible Beauty. Even so, I hadn’t read the story since I started high school, so it was strange experience because I simultaneously remembered nothing and everything.

I absolutely loved Gemma as our protagonist. She was a perfectly imperfect main character. She tried to be a good person, but she also had jealousies and insecurities; she could be charitable and spiteful in equal measure. However, even when she did something ridiculously stupid, I always understood why she was making that choice, which for me is the most important part of writing a protagonist. She is trapped between wanting to be the perfect daughter society wants and wanting to figure out who she really is.

I also adore the setting of this book. After watching her mother be murdered inexplicably, Gemma leaves her home in India and is sent to a British finishing school to be transformed into a proper British lady. Bray’s depiction of turn-of-the-century England is gorgeous and unforgiving, capturing both it’s charms and its faults. Spence, the school Gemma is sent to, has an unmistakable atmosphere, equal parts strict discipline and eerily supernatural.

And then there are the characters Gemma meets at Spence: Ann, the shy scholarship student; Pippa, the spiteful and jealous beauty; and Felicity, the harsh and power-hungry queen bee. Each of them begins the story with a simple persona, but as Gemma gets to know each girl better, their hidden layers are revealed.

Truly, these girls are some of the most “alive” characters I have ever read. The way that their moods shift depending on small events or subtext, the way that each character has a different dynamic with each other character—they feel real in a way that other characters just don’t.

It is not a perfect friendship, or even a particularly healthy one at at times. The four girls are bound together by secrets and jealousies as much as they are by genuine affection. However, they are also intensely close with each other, craving each other’s company. This creates a group dynamic that is nothing like the cheery, all-for-one-and-one-for-all friendships I typically see in YA.

Warning time: this book totally has girl-girl hate, spitefulness, and bitchiness. If that is not your thing, I respect that…but I would ask that you do not write off this book immediately because of it. Unlike a lot of Mean Girl-type characters, every bitchy girl in this book has a reason for their actions, whether that be society’s prejudices or their own secret fears. Because of this, their hatefulness makes sense and helps develop the story and their characters instead of existing just to have an evil clique for the protagonist to conflict with. In all honesty, I 100% did not mind the girl-girl hate in this book (but if you did, I understand where you are coming from).

Finally, the supernatural side of this book. From the moment Gemma’s mother is murdered, Gemma knows that something is not right with her. She starts having over-powering and terrifying visions and ends up discovering a magical and dangerous place called the Realms.

I LOVE the paranormal side of A Great and Terrible Beauty. As the title suggests, the magic Gemma discovers is both wonderful and horrible. This book has some incredibly creepy scenes, but it also has girls turning leaves into butterflies. From this, the book—and the entire series—explores the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, in a really interesting and creative way.

There is a little bit of romance, but it does not dominate the plot at all. Most of the “romantic” parts of the book are really just Gemma discovering herself and breaking away from her society. I really appreciate that the author chose to have Gemma go through a sexual awakening without falling in love. It’s different from the standard YA mold and it makes more sense with Gemma’s character.

A Great and Terrible Beauty has at its heart the themes of rebellion and self discovery. Even though the girls were raised in an extremely conservative society, they rebel and dare to wish for forbidden things. Still, every character has a reason for their rebellion, something that makes their rebellions so much more poignant.

I would recommend A Great and Terrible Beauty to fans of historical settings and paranormal stories who also want to read about the day-to-day discoveries of Gemma and her friends as they suffer through finishing school. It is an emotional, well written story that asks the reader questions that it does not always have the answer for.

Top Ten Books I Meant to Talk About More

Hey everyone! I just reorganized my bookshelves yesterday (I’m on spring break and I needed to add a lot of newly read books…don’t judge) and I realized that there were a lot of books that I love, but that don’t get mentioned often on this blog. And since that was this week’s TTT topic, I decided to take part in this meme again this week.

As always, TTT is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books I meant to Talk about more

1. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

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I read this book a really long time ago and remember loving it. Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough to talk about it more on this blog. But still—you should read it…and I should reread it.

2. A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson

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I went through a phase of just reading Eva Ibbotson’s books a few years ago. All of her stories are really romantic and heart-wrenching, but their endings are always perfect. This book was my favorite out of all of them that I read.

3. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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I read this book last year and was really impressed by the way it handled the characters. I don’t feel like I’ve talked about it recently, though, which I weird.

4. Angel Burn by LA Weatherly

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I love this series—I think I’ve read the first book three times (maybe four). It’s a different side of the paranormal genre than what I usually see, which I appreciate. The premise is great, and the story had a great arc throughout the series.

5. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

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This book was weird…but in a good way. I had a lot of fun reading this quirky story…and the romance is awesome.

6. The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson

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This is the first book in a series of murder mysteries. I haven’t read them in a while, but I remember being drawn to the main character and captivated by the mysteries. They’re pretty short, definitely a nice afternoon read (if you don’t mind being creeped out a bit).

7. The Archived by Victoria Schwab

I LOVED the premise of this book. And the characters. And the romance. Basically everything. Just go read it if you haven’t.

8. Indelible by Dawn Metcalf

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This series is interesting. I’m not in love with it, but I can’t get rid of them, and I want to see where the story goes. In terms of originality, I’d say that this series is one of the most unique paranormal series that I’ve read.

9. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Another book that I should have reread a while ago. I enjoyed this take on the human-dragon-mutant idea and I want to see what happens in the second book. Full disclosure, both books are really long, and I haven’t had the dedication (I know, that’s the worst).

10. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

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This book is wildly different from what I usually read—a lot darker and a lot less appropriate. But the story is so powerful.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones caught your eye?

Happy Tuesday!

Also! If you haven’t seen yet, 52 Letters got a well-needed redesign yesterday. I realized that my design aesthetic for my graphics had changed, and that the blog look should change with it. I love the new look, and I hope you do too!

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

A modern fairy tale that combines knighthood and high school with swoon-worthy romance and fairy princes.

5/5 stars

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Goodreads Description

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

My Review

This book captured my imagination from beginning to end. The faerie elements in the setting were simple but interesting, just creepy enough to give the story an ominous edge. The descriptions of the different fae were always gorgeous and captivating, and I loved that even though the world building for the faerie court was simple, it painted a picture of a much more complex society.

Even though the town is filled with magical occurrences, the contemporary setting was realistic as well. A lot of books try to combine magic and high school, but this book actually succeeded.

This book created not one, but two unique protagonists. Hazel’s character was a new twist on the (now somewhat stereotypical) YA badass female. She was a fighter, and had been since she was a child, but there was a clear reason (and some psychological damage) for her need to be a “knight.” The juxtaposition between being a warrior child and an intensely normal teenager was bittersweet and relatable (in a loose sense); we all wish we were as amazing as we thought we were as children. In Hazel, I saw a strong female character whose power came from inner conflicts and growth, not just her ability to wield a sword.

Hazel’s brother, Ben, was unique in his own way. He wasn’t badass—not by any stretch of the imagination—but he was still complex and real. I loved his relationship with his musical side, as well as the fact that he wasn’t brave or reckless the way so many YA protagonists are. Though I’d love to be as strong as Hazel, I have to admit I’d act more like Ben, and I love that Holly Black was willing to create such a lovably flawed character.

The romance in this book was perfect—it never overpowered the plot, but it was always there, pushing the story forward and helping the characters grow. Though there could have been an incredibly awkward love triangle, there wasn’t one, which I loved. Jack and Hazel are perfect for each other, and I loved the slow-release way that the reader realized how much they liked each other. Ben and the faerie prince’s romance was almost instalovey, but in the end, I understood their emotional connection, and I shipped them just as hard as I shipped Hazel and Jack.

The only part of the book that I had a problem with was the pacing of the plot. The first half dozen chapters are mainly exposition, and throughout the book, much of the story is told through flashbacks. The pacing isn’t bad—it kept me reading—but if you are expecting a rapidly paced book, this isn’t one.

I kind of was expecting a more dramatic plot, but once I settled into the way the story was being told, I loved it. The flashbacks always revealed new information, even the ones later in the story. There were a lot of OH MY GOD moments, and I loved the way that all of the layers of the story wove together. Every character got to have their own plot line, their own struggles, and their own growth; the story was able to tie everything together into a powerful and whimsical plot. Holly Black’s writing is simple but gorgeous, perfectly conveying the sinister but fairytale mood of the story.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for the elusive mix of really good contemporary characters with the darker elements of fairy tales. Each of the characters is vividly portrayed, and though the plot doesn’t race along at a breakneck pace, you won’t be able to put the story down.

Book Review: It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah J. Schmitt

I am so conflicted about this book. It has a sassy MC, but a weak plot and message.

2/5 stars

cover its a wonderful death


Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?

But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. Too quickly, RJ finds herself back in limbo, her time on Earth once again up for debate.

My Review

*This review has mild spoilers, sorry!*

I wanted to love IAWD. The premise was intriguing, and I loved the cover. Unfortunately, IAWD didn’t live up to my expectations.

Let’s start with the positives.

From the first pages, I loved the main character, RJ. She was spunky, stubborn, and unafraid to make waves. Where a lot of people would cower, RJ instantly started fighting to get her life back. If you like sassy main characters, RJ is perfect for you.

I also liked the world building of the Afterlife. IAWD feels like Mean Girls meets Percy Jackson, the latter emphasized by the eccentric and wacky choices the author made about the characters in the Afterlife. Death Himself wears Hawaiian shirts and Saint Peter is friends with Cerberus. Everything about the Afterlife is a quirky take on the original Christian story, and it made for an entertaining story (if not one that I really took seriously).

Unfortunately, the rest of IAWD didn’t work for me. The entire story revolves around RJ realizing that her Mean Girl ways have hurt people; it becomes clear that a second chance at life would have to be used to fix the mistakes that had led her down that selfish and (let’s be honest) bitchy path.

RJ and her ruling clique were incredibly unrealistic for me. Everything about them was exaggerated. Yes, they were incredibly awful human beings, but they were almost too awful. Maybe it’s just that I have never experienced (or heard of people at my school experiencing) the type of bullying that her clique was doing, but the characters in this book felt more like the creation of someone who watched Mean Girls instead of actually pulling on their own high school experiences (or those of others).

PSA: I go to a massive high school (about 3000 people in total). We have popular kids, but there are too many people for a distinct ruling clique to emerge. Most of the popular kids got there by joining ASB and being naturally out-going and social people. Are they great people? Not really, in my opinion. A lot of them are fake and shallow—but they aren’t the stereotypical Queen Bee bullies. Also, because my HS is so big, there isn’t a clear group of “uncool” kids to bully. Because of this, I had a really hard time with the entire set up of RJ’s world. I honestly don’t know if RJ’s story would feel realistic to someone who had a different HS experience from me—but I kind of doubt it.

I said earlier that I loved RJ’s character, and I did. But I never felt like the RJ whose head we were in during the story was the RJ who would stomp all over other people to get to the top. We were told that she was selfish and uncaring, but inside her head, she felt honest and emotionally aware. The fact that she easily took on the redemption tasks only emphasized the disconnect between the RJ the reader knew and the awful RJ that supposedly existed. It was like once the story started, RJ was already redeemed, she just had to realize it; this made for a weak character arc.

This gets to the heart of my problem with IAWD: everything is too easy. RJ realizes her character flaws and changes. People accept her changes. She is quickly and clearly able to save other people through her actions (even from things like depression). Though the synopsis implies her life changes for the worse when she goes back in time and changes things, her life actually improves.

In her acknowledgements, Schmitt describes IAWD as a “save a cheerleader” story. I don’t have a problem with this initial set-up, but I’m disappointed that Schmitt never took the idea further. We’ve all seen this story before; no “new life” was breathed into it, beyond the addition of other stereotypical plot elements.

Because of this, the themes of this book are obvious and lack complexity. The discussions of death/life/morality/the universe that took place during the book were mildly interesting but not ground-breaking. My world view hasn’t changed after reading this book. IAWD came off as stereotypical and cheesy, and a sassy MC and quirky back-up characters wasn’t enough to save it. 

I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. It was a fast read, and halfway through the book, I was reading just to finish it instead of from actual curiosity about the plot. I think the plot would have actually benefited from some romance (I thought it would be there, but it never showed up), if only to add another layer to the story. If you don’t mind plots that come off preachy—or if you had a very Mean Girls high school experience—IAWD might be worth reading.

Book Review: Angelfall (Penryn and End of Days #1) by Susan Ee

An interesting dystopian novel that suffered from less-than-great writing.

3/5 stars

cover angelfall

Amazon Description

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

My Review

I’ve actually had this book for over a year, but I never picked it up. I’ve been in a phase where I don’t really want to read dystopians, and there didn’t seem to be anything special about this book. I’ve seen some positive reviews for this series, though, and I was in the mood for books with fight scenes, so I finally picked it up.

At first, I wasn’t sold. The whole evil-angel premise wasn’t terribly original, and the set-up reminded me of the Angel Burn series (which I love, btw, go check it out if you haven’t read it). I was disappointed that it wasn’t more unique, and the plot took a little while to get interesting.

I enjoyed Penryn’s character from the start. She was simultaneously stubbornly sarcastic and kind of awful at insults—(sort of) a unique combination for a YA heroine. I loved that there was a logical explanation behind her having taken a ton of self-defense classes (her mom’s paranoia). Her love-hate relationship with her mother was fascinating, and her love for her sister was palpable. (The whole mom-with-schizophrenia thing was really interesting, adding a lot of awkwardly funny-but-sad moments to the story.)

Raffe had his own quirks. He definitely fit the brooding male mold, but he also had a humorous side that caught me off guard. I wish that we had gotten to know more about his character in Angelfall, but he is a pretty reticent character for most of the book.

The plot of Angelfall is semi-free form. Basically, Raffe and Penryn agree to travel north together to get Raffe back to his home and to help Penryn rescue her sister. Most of the plot comes from the various things they encounter on the road, as well as their developing relationship. As far at plots go, it wasn’t the most gripping or well-paced one in the world, but it was a good framework for their budding romance, and there were enough fight scenes to keep me on edge. I wanted to keep reading to find out where the plot would go next, and it ended up going to Creepytown. Seriously, the climax of the book was so creepy and amazing and GAH I need the next book!

It took me a surprising amount of time to get on board with the Raffe-Penryn romance. It wasn’t until the climax of the book that I really started to feel their bond; before that, their relationship seemed more like a random crush than anything deep. Possibly with better writing, I would have felt Penryn’s affection for Raffe earlier, but it doesn’t really matter, because by the last pages, my heart was breaking over their relationship. 

My biggest problem with this book is the writing. Honestly, it was bad for a lot of the book. I am honestly frustrated, because this could be a new favorite book if the writing were better quality. As it is, I kept getting distracted by the awkward sentences and telling (as in not showing) of Penryn’s emotions. Side characters were cliche, and nothing about the world building struck me as new or surprising (until those creepy scenes at the end).

Also, a lot of the thing that happened in the plot were overly convenient. Like, inexplicably convenient. In a post-apocalyptic world, it is ridiculous that certain items they found would have been left in people’s houses. Again, I expected more from the author, and the story would have been stronger if certain plot holes had been sewn shut.

Angelfall is pretty good. I wasn’t amazed, but I also didn’t DNF the book. The ending was a great cliffhanger, and I really want to read the second book. The prevalent good/evil conflict with the angels was intriguing, and I want to know more about the angel politics. Honestly, I wish that the last quarter of the book had been stretched out to be half of the book, and that some of the beginning had been trimmed down.

Have you read Angelfall? What did you think? If you’ve read the rest of the series, does it get better?

Book Haul #8: September

book haul

September was a great month for me in terms of getting new books! After not having bought myself books since July, I decided to treat myself to some of the books that I’d seen floating around the bookish blogosphere.

book haul 8

Books Bought:

(Click each link to go to their Goodreads page)

Initial Thoughts On Each

cover everything everything

Everything, Everything seems like it will be an extremely bittersweet and inspiring read. Also, look at that cover! It’s gorgeous!

cover the fill in boyfriend

I bought this book because it looked adorable and hilarious. I’m reading it right now and it is exactly as fun as I expected!

cover reborn

After binge-reading the Shadow Falls series, I can’t wait to try out the spin-off series that I never read the first time I read the series. I loved Della as a character, so getting an entire series dedicated to her is basically a godsend.

cover accident season

I love the premise of this book: kinda creepy with just enough originality. Plus…that cover!?

cover hello goodbye and everything in between

Again, I needed cute romance in my life, and this one looked like it would fit the bill. I expect it to be more bittersweet than The Fill-In Boyfriend, but I still think it will ultimately put a smile on my face.

cover queen of shadows

Do I need to explain this? THRONE OF GLASS BOOK FOUR. I bought it as soon as it came out.

cover court of thorns and roses

It’s another book by Sarah J. Maas, this time with Fae? How could I not buy it for myself?

Have you read any of these books? What books have you bought for yourself recently?