Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Apologies for disappearing again, I just had some stuff to work out school-wise. I’ll probably be back to semi-normal for some of this week and next week, but I’ll probably be more infrequent in April and May because of the SAT and AP exams.

Anyway, I recently received this eARC but put it off for a few weeks, knowing I had to review it…and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. For although The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. wasn’t without its flaws, it was a quirky and fun blend of historical fiction, mystery, and contemporary fiction. With more than a few awesome goths added to the mix, of course.

Enjoy this eARC review!

The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. - Dundurn

The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. – Colleen Nelson

Frankie Doe doesn’t remember much of her childhood, but what she does remember is the constant bouncing between foster homes. But lately, she’s been having the same recurring dream, in which the ringmaster of a circus beckons for her to join him.

As her dreams grow more vivid, Frankie finds her way into the mystery of a 100-year-old sideshow and the strange cast of characters who inhabited it. But behind the curtain lurks a more sinister story, one that may hold the key to her missing memories.

GIF darkroom after hours of editing beetlejuice - animated GIF on GIFER -  by Milrajas
Frankie at any given moment

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Dundurn Press for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

TW/CW: childhood trauma/PTSD, bullying, brief mention of sexual assault, fire

This is my first taste of Colleen Nelson’s writing, but I’m already a little sad that The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. has such a low rating on Goodreads at present (3.48 at the time I’m writing this review). There were certainly flaws, for sure, but this novel was one that shouldn’t be missed, a mystery cloaked in circuses and dreams.

Frankie wasn’t the most likable of protagonists, but for the story she was in, she was the perfect fit. She’s certainly more than a little dramatic, and for the first part of the novel, she definitely fell into the dreaded “not like other girls” trope; I would’ve certainly rated Frankie D. lower if it had continued, but luckily, with the introduction of Jessica’s character, Frankie learned a lot from her past mentality, and although it wasn’t entirely cured, it was a step forward that I was so grateful for. I also loved seeing some of the story come alive through her personal graphic novel and the art that filled her sketchbook.

The plot was easily the most compelling aspect of this novel. Frankie’s world oscillates from present day to a 100-year-old circus filled with all manner of unusual denizens, and although we only got small glimpses of all of them, it was so fun to see them all characterized! The historical aspect of the world felt wonderfully fleshed out, and there was clearly so much care put into it.

Adding onto that, I loved seeing the mystery of both the fate of the circus and Frankie’s origins unfold before my eyes. The various twists that came together were both clever and added a fascinating layer to the story. The conclusion was a bit too neatly wrapped up for my taste, but most of the story leading up to that point mostly made up for it.

All in all, a fresh and inventive piece of genre-bending YA with circuses, immortality, and mystery. 4 stars!

68.media.tumblr.com 29d5f32d43a76564b5b2ae8e81d4a858  tumblr_o7p35eFBZO1ukk0b1o1_400.gif | Creepy carnival, Creepy, Carnival

Expected release date: April 13, 2021

Today’s song:

My friend and I made playlists for each other on Friday and it was so fun πŸ₯Ί this was one of the songs off of the one she made for me

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews

eARC Review: Sisters of the Wolf

Hi again, bibliophiles!

I have a little bit of extra time on my hands this evening, so I figured I’d use it to review the second eARC I got accepted for recently. Even though the writing and the dialogue wasn’t the best in this one, I’ll 100% vouch for the fact that Sisters of the Wolf boasts a premise unlike anything I’ve seen in YA historical fiction!

Enjoy this review!

Amazon.com: Sisters of the Wolf (9781459747524): Miller-Schroeder,  Patricia: Books

In the time of the Ice Age, every day is a race for survival, and the lives of Shinoni and Keena are no exception. Keena, hailing from a clan of Neanderthals, and Shinoni, the daughter of a Cro-Magnon shaman cross paths after a Neanderthal hunter wreaks havoc on both of their lives. Alone and lost in an unforgiving wilderness, the two girls must set aside their differences and fight for their lives – and the chance to return home once more.

Best Wolf Howling GIFs | Gfycat

TW/CW: loss of loved ones, violence, death of small children, animal death, racism/xenophobia (Neanderthal discrimination against Cro-Magnons and vice versa), sexism

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Dundurn Press for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Writing historical fiction takes loads of research. Writing historical fiction set in a time before written records and where the only clues we have to what life was like is the fossil record and cave paintings…that’s another feat entirely. I guess that’s why I haven’t seen many novels set in the Ice Age before this one, if any at all. So I’d be all for giving a huge round of applause to Patricia Miller-Schroeder for taking the risk, because even though Sisters of the Wolf wasn’t without its flaws, it was unlike any piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read.

There was so much care put into the worldbuilding, and every page was evident of it. Everything from the terminology and colloquial slang used by both Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon to the wildlife that the girls encountered was clearly well-researched, making for a very immersive and well-thought-out story. As someone who spent much of my childhood tagging along with my brother’s prehistoric life videos on TV, I had a lot of fun experiencing the world that Miller-Schroeder created.

That being said, the worldbuilding was the best element of Sisters of the Wolf. The writing felt rather bland, almost devoid of any interesting prose that would have made an otherwise decent story far more engaging. It wasn’t bad, I’d say, but it was just…somewhere in the middle. And normally I’m not fond of too much pontificating and excessive purple prose, but…that was kind of what this book needed.

I also found the dialogue to be a little bit stilted and corny. It leaned into almost Disney territory at times, and I found myself cringing a little bit at the way the onomatopoeia that was written most times. This, combined with my issues with the writing, took me out of the story at times, but I managed to stay somewhat engaged throughout most of the novel.

Everything that I’ve seen Sisters of the Wolf show up on has listed it as YA, but I honestly think that it would be just as suitable for middle grade level readers. That’s not a criticism of it in any shape or form, though; both of the protagonists are 13 years old, and it’s light enough for someone in the 8-12 age range to swallow, but dark enough that it stands out from a younger demographic. It would be a great intro for a pre-teen/early teen who’s just starting to get into YA books and needs a sort of transition book, a middle ground between the two genres. I certainly needed those books when I was that age, and I’m happy that books like Sisters of the Wolf exist for kids like I was.

All in all, a bold and original historical fiction novel that was bogged down by bland prose, but made up for some of it with exceptional worldbuilding. 3 stars!

Snow Forest GIF by Living Stills - Find & Share on GIPHY

Expected release date: August 24, 2021

Sisters of the Wolf is Patricia Miller-Schroeder’s YA debut, but she is also the author of several nonfiction science books for children.

Since I’ve already posted once today, check out this week’s Goodreads Monday for today’s song.

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: A Dark and Starless Forest

Happy Saturday, bibliophiles! I can’t believe it’s almost March…

Last week, I got approved for not one, but three eARCs (!!!) which are all loaded up on my Kindle at present. I recently got around to reading the first of the three, and I’m SO EXCITED to see it go out into the world! A Dark and Starless Forest is just the kind of diverse dark fantasy that we all need.

Enjoy this eARC review!

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell

A Dark and Starless Forest – Sarah Hollowell

Derry is one of eight magical lost children living in the woods. Though they are not related by blood, they all possess different types of magic, and they all live under the roof of their caretaker, Frank, who helps them hone their Alchemist abilities. But when Jane, the oldest of the siblings, goes missing in the dark woods beyond their home, Derry is determined that she’s still alive. As she tries to get to the bottom of Jane’s disappearance, she and her siblings confront dark secrets about their upbringing, and that their caretaker may not be the kindly man he makes himself out to be.

Spectacular Time-Lapse GIFs of Flowers Blooming

TW/CW: Death/disappearance of loved ones (siblings), fantasy violence, body horror, frightening situations

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and HMH Books for Young Readers for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

I was intrigued by the premise of this one, but wow, I didn’t expect to be blown away as much as I was! A Dark and Starless Forest was such a rich and dark fantasy, and a page-turner in every sense of the word.

First off, I was so glad to see all of the representation in A Dark and Starless Forest! Derry, our protagonist, is plus-sized, and among her siblings, there’s several Black and Latinx characters, a nonbinary (they/them pronouns) character, a trans girl, and several Deaf characters; and beyond that, it’s implied that most of them (if not all of them) are queer, and two of them were confirmed to be on the asexual spectrum. It was such a joy to see such a diverse and unique cast of characters as the stars of the show in this novel, and I’m sure that I’ll be recommending this one to lots of people!

What also stood out to me was the unique relationship shared by all of the siblings. Most of them aren’t related by blood (save for two sets of twins), but they’re such a tight-knit community, in tune with each other’s comings and goings no matter what. Each of the characters had such distinct personalities, and there was clearly so much care put into each and every one of them. They were all so caring towards each other, and they stuck together until the end.

Beyond the characters, I loved the dark fantasy aspect of A Dark and Starless Forest! It’s more of an urban fantasy (real-world, but with fantasy aspects woven in), but there’s no shortage of gripping suspense and creepy plot twists. Without spoiling anything, there was definitely a sensibility about it that reminded me of some of the darker X-Men storylines, and I loved seeing how the story unravelled. (I guess the X-Men parallels go beyond that – the relationship that the siblings have is certainly akin to the denizens of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Mutant and proud.) Hollowell hits a perfect balance between showing the tender side of the siblings’ magic and showing the darker, more body-horror side to it.

At its heart, A Dark and Starless Forest is a story of sibling-hood, a story of resistance and uncovering hidden truths, and a story of sticking together against all odds. It’s a beautiful found-family story, and even though the ending was more bittersweet, it made me feel so warm inside at some points.

All in all, a dark but tender story of family and magic that’s sure to enchant so many readers. 4.25 stars!

yay allison! | Tumblr
* and one nonbinary sibling

Expected release date: September 14, 2021

A Dark and Starless Forest is Sarah Hollowell’s debut novel, but her work has also been included in The (Other) F-Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce anthology.

Today’s song:

OKAY LITTLE OBLIVIONS IS SO GOOD AND I PROMISE I’LL REVIEW IT SOON

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: The Brighter the Stars

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

I haven’t done an eARC review in a little bit, and it was nice to see this one pop up after I’d forgotten about requesting it. It was a quick read for me, but although there was clearly a lot of care put into the worldbuilding, much of The Brighter the Stars fell flat for me.

Enjoy this eARC review!

Image result for the brighter the stars bryan prosek

The Brighter the Stars–Bryan K. Prosek

At only twelve, Jake Saunders witnessed the murder of his uncle by Romalor, the tyrant of a distant world. His death shaped him for years, eventually leading him to the Legion, the intergalactic military. For years, he has sought revenge, but only now does he have the chance to avenge his uncle. But when Diane, an ambassador to Earth and a close friend to Jake, is captured, he must find a way to rescue her–and right the wrongs of the murderous Romalor.

Image result for space gif tumblr

TW/CW: violence, loss of a loved one

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and CamCat Publishing for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Wait, so we’ve got a protagonist who witnessed the murder of his Uncle Ben in his formative years? Wait a minute…[PETER PARKER INTENSIFIES]

(Kidding, kidding…)

Image result for spiderman gif

I always feel pretty bad giving more indie books low ratings. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and especially since this one has hardly any reviews or ratings on Goodreads as of now, it did pain me a little bit to give The Brighter the Stars a lower rating. But hey, I’m supposed to give an honest review here, and to be honest, this novel really wasn’t my cup of tea, even though I’m a huge fan of sci-fi.

Let’s start off with the positives. What stood out most to me about The Brighter the Stars was the worldbuilding; the author clearly put a lot of work into making a fleshed-out, intricate world, and for the most part, he succeeded. Although there were several instances where I felt like the information was being info-dumped, the futuristic world that Prosek crafted was one that felt very lived-in.

I also liked the dynamic between Jake, Cal and Diane. They had great chemistry together as a trio, and even though Jake’s and Cal’s personalities/voices were almost indistinguishable, I liked Diane’s character.

What bothered me most about The Brighter the Stars was the writing. It was often very choppy, with long clumps of sentences that were almost the exact same length. Within at least half of the paragraphs, most of the sentences seemed to start with the same word(s); this, combined with the lack of variation for the sentence length, made for a novel that didn’t really flow. I can usually just scan the pages if the sentences have differing lengths, but even the action sequences failed to flow. Additionally, the descriptions leaned quite a lot on telling instead of showing–there’s a whole lot of “was,” “[they] felt,” “[they] knew,” etc., which also contributed to the lack of fluidity throughout the story.

There’s an interesting combination as far as genres go; The Brighter the Stars is pretty hardcore sci-fi, but there’s some clear Western influences on it. (I really don’t know much about Westerns, so take this all with a grain of salt. I guess The Mandalorian was pretty Western-inspired, soooo…) There were quite a few nods to the latter throughout, and I did kind of like the desert/saloon planet, but plot-wise, it still felt quite flat. It was fast-paced, but everything felt far too easy for Jake (ex. beating the supposedly “unbeatable” fighter in the arena, another plot point that I won’t spoil). Now, I’m all for good triumphing over evil in the end, but there seemed to be little to no struggle for Jake to get over the obstacles in his path. He was definitely more of a Gary Stu-type protagonist, which…mmm, nope.

Overall, a sci-fi that clearly took time to create a fleshed-out world, but suffered from dry, choppy writing and unrealistically skilled protagonist. 2 stars.

Image result for meh gif

Release date: November 10, 2020

Today’s song:

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: Mortal Remains

Happy Wednesday, bibliophiles!

Due to all the academic craziness that went on in October and November, I laid off on requesting any eARCs. But now that everything’s calmed down a little bit (right before it picks back up…please have mercy on my soul, future finals…), I requested a few more. This one came in recently, so I read it on my Kindle. And while it certainly had its flaws, Mortal Remains was a darkly funny paranormal tale!

Enjoy this eARC review!

Mortal Remains by Mary Ann Fraser

Mortal Remains–Mary Ann Fraser

High schooler Lily McCrae’s worked for the family business since she’s been old enough to work–she’s part of her family’s funeral home. She loves her job, but the funeral home may be going under. What’s more, her social life (if you could call it that) is disappearing quickly–her brother Evan is too busy polishing up his college applications, and Mallory, her only friend, has elected to spend time with a different crowd. Her only solace is in her clients–but they’re all corpses.

Lily’s life is further upended when a neighbor’s house is destroyed in an explosion, seemingly killing all inhabitants inside. But in the rubble, she discovers a bunker, and inside of that bunker is a boy. His name is Adam Lassiter, and he seems to have little memory of his past life.

Thing is, the Adam that used to live in the destroyed house went missing years ago. As Lily spends more time with him, she realizes that she may have opened herself into a complicated supernatural conspiracy with Adam at the center. And she might just be falling for Adam…

Edward scissorhands GIF - Find on GIFER
πŸ₯Ί
Edward scissorhands GIF - Find on GIFER
Because it would be criminal of me to not put these two GIFs together…

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Sterling Children’s Books for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Again, here we have an eARC that would have been the perfect read for October…

Mortal Remains was darkly funny at best and a bit sloppy at worst, but overall, it was a decent paranormal read.

Let’s start off with the good. The strongest aspect of Mortal Remains, for me at least, was the characters. Lily was a charmingly quirky protagonist, and the perfect character to drive the story. She had a very distinct voice and personality, and I loved all of her little mannerisms and attitudes towards working at the funeral home. Bits of her backstory (namely, the bullying she suffered in her early years of high school and the names she got called) weren’t terribly authentic, but I was able to brush that part aside. (I mean, what kind of high school bully calls somebody “Ghoul girl?”) However, I will say that Lily escaped the dreaded “Not Like Other Girls” trope; she was definitely a bit degrading of Mallory and the more “basic” crowd, but she reconciled it near the end of the book, which I appreciated. So we definitely dodged a bullet in that respect.

The synopsis on Edelweiss+ compared Mortal Remains to Edward Scissorhands (one of my favorite movies), and the comparison definitely showed through in Adam. Maybe a little…too much. Adam was charming to a point, but other than his backstory, I found him a tad bit bland. I liked his little outbursts in Latin, though. For me, at least, the twist about his origins and his backstory were a tad bit too similar to Edward Scissorhands, but it was different enough that it wasn’t plagiarism. The romantic subplot between him and Lily felt veeeeeeeeeeery forced, though. That really wasn’t necessary. Not that I don’t mind a romantic subplot every once in a while, but this one didn’t work for me. (Plus, there’s no way you can ever come close to Edward and Kim.)

The writing and plot were decent; it definitely feels like a YA debut, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing–it’s a good first try. There were sizable chunks between the 40-60% mark (I read this one on my Kindle) that felt like filler, and really didn’t contribute much to the story. The plot moved quickly, which was both a blessing and a curse; it lended itself to a story that kept me fairly hooked, but Fraser had the tendency to gloss over and understate some of the more climactic moments. There were definitely portions that could have been cut out (368 pages, so not too bad), but for the most part, it was somewhat compelling.

Even though Lily is supposed to be 18, Mortal Remains still reads like a novel on the younger teen spectrum of YA. And that’s not a bad thing at all–other than some dark elements, some mild swearing, and some violence, I really think this would be a great book for an 11-12 year old to get introduced to YA. The plot’s not too complicated, but it’s a bit more mature than your average children’s or MG book. So this would be suitable for a fairly wide age range, which I can’t necessarily say for a lot of YA books that I’ve read.

Overall, a darkly humorous paranormal YA that lacked in certain plot aspects and a believable romance, but boasted a unique heroine and a simultaneously lighthearted and spooky atmosphere. 3 stars!

Black and white johnny depp edward scissorhands GIF on GIFER - by Cosius

Expected publication date: February 2, 2021

Today’s song:

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!