Book Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Title: Anatomy: A Love Story
Author: Dana Schwartz
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 18, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction / Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

I have to be honest — I was 100% drawn to this book because of the cover! I mean… gorgeous, right? Unfortunately, my impression based on the cover led me to expect something intense, dramatic, perhaps tragic… and while there’s a lot that works about this book, the initial impressions don’t really pan out.

Anatomy takes place in Edinburgh in 1817, presenting a view of the state of medicine and society at that time. The wealthy and titled live comfortable, oblivious lives, while the poor suffer and starve, and sickness spreads through the city without much in the way of effective medicine to stop it.

In this world, physicians may be respected, but surgeons certainly are not. Their work is considered only steps above butchery. To learn the art and science of surgery, anatomists must rely on “resurrection men”, grave robbers who dig up fresh corpses to earn a living.

Jack Currer is one such resurrectionist, a teenaged boy who supports himself through this gruesome and dangerous work, while dreaming of a better life. 17-year-old Hazel Sinnett is a young lady, niece of a viscount, comfortably settled in her family’s gorgeous home, pampered, and expected to marry her cousin, to whom she’s been unofficially engaged since childhood.

But Hazel nurtures a secret dream of becoming a physician, and she’s determined to pursue it, no matter the obstacles. Disguised in her late brother’s clothing, she begins attending classes at the Royal Edinburgh Anatomists’ Society in preparation for the physicians exam, but is soon discovered and tossed out.

Undeterred, she decides to continue studying on her own. With the rest of her family conveniently away for several months, she arranges for Jack to bring her bodies to study, and soon opens the doors of her family home to any poor people who need medical attention. While her practice flourishes, she gains skills and knowledge, and is soon a doctor in all but certification.

But something sinister is happening in Edinburgh. Other resurrectionists of Jack’s acquaintance have gone missing, and the business of digging up graves becomes more dangerous by the day. Amidst the danger, Hazel begins joining Jack on his work in the graveyards. As they spend time together, they develop trust and friendship, and then stronger emotions, although their difference in social station would seem to be insurmountable.

I was excited to read Anatomy, as the early history of modern medicine is truly fascinating. This is not the first book I’ve read set in this time and place, with a similar focus on the work of anatomists. However, while I expected that the plot would be mostly about the challenges of a young woman pursuing a career in science — something off-limits to her because of her gender and her social status — that’s not really what the book delivers.

Instead, the book takes a turn toward more of a thriller, with disappearances and sinister deaths, and there’s a supernatural/fantasy element that I wasn’t expecting — and honestly, that threatened to ruin the story for me. I loved reading about Hazel’s burning desire for an education and to do good in the world, but the climax and resolution negate the sense of historical reality established earlier in the book.

Also, this may be my own fault, but I assumed this was adult fiction. Only as I got further along did it occur to me that this might actually be YA — and yes, it’s listed as such on NetGalley, so I suppose I just didn’t notice that ahead of time. Maybe this is why the plot ended up feeling a little trite and simplistic to me. I wanted rich historical fiction; instead, I got a watered-down historical setting that focuses on romance and a fantastical element that’s just weird.

As for the romance — well, Hazel and Jack are both very likable characters, and I appreciated that they could develop feelings for each other, but their first kiss is anything but romantic:

Hazel pressed her shoulders up against Jack, partly to avoid the chill leaching from the moist earth through her jacket, but partly because his warmth — the solidity of his presence — made her less dizzy with fear. It anchored her. They were there, together. Whatever — whoever — was out there, neither of them would have to face it alone.

Wondering where this is taking place?

She had kissed Jack Currer in a grave, and he kissed her back, and even with everything else they had faced, that moment was the hardest Hazel’s heart had beaten the entire night.

I think if I’d realize this was a YA book, I might have had more tolerance for it as I was reading it. As it was, I felt a little let down by the realization that the intense, presumably adult drama I’d been expected had turned out to be a teen-aged love story with an otherworldly twist.

I would read more about anatomists in the early 1800s or historical fiction about Scotland in that time period or about women trying to study medicine at a time when they weren’t permitted to do so — in a heartbeat! Sadly, this book didn’t deliver what I’d hoped for.

Anatomy has a great setting and interesting premise, but the overall structure and content of the story was a letdown for me. It’s not a bad read at all, but this is a prime example of expectations getting in the way of enjoyment. Perhaps if I’d more accurately anticipated the tone and content, I might have appreciated it more.

I’m going to be looking forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on this book. It did keep me turning the pages, even though I found many aspects borderline ridiculous. Your mileage may vary.

Book Review: When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord

Title: When You Get the Chance
Author: Emma Lord
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.

There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

Millie Price is a LOT, and she knows it. Almost 17, done with junior year of high school, and completely obsessed with musical theater, Millie is ecstatic when she finds out that she’s been accepted ot a competitive “pre-college” (a combination senior year of high school plus four-year undergraduate program) that claims to have huge success in turning wannabes into Broadway stars. The problem? She never told her dad that she’d applied, and he’s absolutely opposed to her going.

But Millie is nothing if not determined, and she decides to convince her dad to let her attend in the weirdest way possible: After stumbling across her dad’s awful LiveJournal musings about his sad college romances, she decides to track down her mother — who, she’s sure, will back her up on this pre-college thing, since one of the few things Millie knows about her is that she was also a performer.

On her quest, Millie ends up taking an internship at a talent agency, where she’s forced to work side-by-side with Oliver, the grumpy stage manager from her high school theater department with whom she’s had a serious battle of the wills (not to mention ongoing very loud conflicts) for three years now. But working together, she finds out there’s more to Oliver than she realized.

When You Get the Chance is a cute story, sure to appeal to anyone who (a) loves New York and (b) loves musical theater — but even if you don’t happen to love either of those, Millie’s out-there personality, her relationship with her father and her aunt, and the madcap search for her mother are sure to charm you anyway.

Millie’s extroverted personality, in person, would make me hugely uncomfortable. She’s someone who craves the spotlight, and her big emotions and reactions are constantly on display. While these traits carry her where she needs to go, she also steps on people’s toes and gets into all sorts of awkward situations, not to mention hurting the people she loves most by not talking to them directly instead of carrying out her wild schemes. Still, as a fictional character, she’s funny and charming, and we readers know that her heart is in the right place, even when her actions are over the top.

There are a lot of cute and engaging elements in this story: Millie’s search for her mother, based on the sparse cues she and her best friend find, take her all over the city and introduce her to people who all enrich her life in various ways. The mother “candidates” are interesting women who share some traits with Millie (and whose scenes with Millie are very entertaining), and the travels around New York are lively and enjoyable. Also, Millie’s aunt owns the Milkshake Club, a performance space that serves amazing milkshakes, which is such a fabulous concept… and now I desperately want a huge milkshake of my own!

The family conflicts and drama get resolved in satisfying ways, the romantic element is sweet (and I appreciated that the romance doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story), and as a musical theater fan myself, I appreciate all the silly ways that various lyrics, plotlines, and characters get woven into Millie’s daily conversations and thoughts.

When You Get the Chance is a engaging read with an entertaining (and occasionally exasperating) main character. It releases the first week in January — what a fun way to start the new year!

Shelf Control #295: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Wicked Deep
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Published: 2018
Length: 310 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition about two years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I picked up a copy of this book after reading the author’s 2019 novel, Winterwood. I loved the writing and the storytelling in that book, and was eager to read her earlier book.

As far as the plot of The Wicked Deep, I’m always up for a good witchy story, and this one sounds sinister and spooky and full of malice. Long-dead witches seeking revenge? I’m in! I really like the sound of the contemporary elements of the story, with a teen girl having to try to find a way to break the cycle. Reading the synopsis once more time as I write this post, I’m intrigued all over again!

I think this book is on my mind right now because I’m taking a look at my upcoming ARCs, and I’m planning to read the author’s next release, A History of Wild Places, in December. Here’s hoping The Wicked Deep and A History of Wild Places are both just as good as Winterwood!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Have fun!

Audiobook Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Title: Tokyo Ever After
Author: Emiko Jean
Narrator:  Ali Ahn
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Print length: 336 pages
Audio length: 9 hours, 33 minutes
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after? 

If you’re a fan of The Princess Diaries, have I got a book for you!

In Tokyo Ever After, Japanese American high schooler Izumi stumbles across her long-lost father’s true identity — he’s none other than the (George Clooney-esque) Crown Prince of Japan! Raised by her single mother in a predominantly white small town in California, a place where Izzy always felt like something of an outsider, she suddenly finds herself whisked across the ocean to meet her father and be introduced to life as a member of the Japanese Imperial family.

Talk about whiplash.

Izzy’s casual, self-deprecating, none-too-serious approach to life does not help her succeed in Japan. Suddenly, her every move is scrutizined by the imperial-obsessed press. From her unscheduled airport bathroom break to her leggings and sweatshirt to her failure to wave to the crowd, Izumi is picked apart and criticized, literally from the moment she steps foot in her new country.

Nothing is easy. Her clothes, her manners, her gestures — all have to be replaced with behavior and looks befitting a princess. Not to mention the fact that despite being descended from Japanese immigrants to America, she grew up speaking English only, so language lessons are a must as well. And while Izumi’s father is warm and eager to get to know the daughter he never knew he had, certain members of the household are not thrilled by this new arrival, and will do anything to undermine her.

Tokyo Ever After is a delightful listen, with an entertaining mix of modern teen angst, humor, and texting with an entirely new culture and way of life. As Izumi learns more about Japan and life as a royal, so do we. The lessons and introduction to the imperial family are never dull or heavy handed; as Izumi experiences each new fascinating sight and taste and wonder, we readers/listeners get to experience it along with her.

Izumi herself is a wonderful character, not perfect by any means, but full of hope and willing to give this new twist in her life a real chance. She’s flawed (not a very good student, no compelling hobbies, not all that much going on in her life outside of her amazing set of friends — known affectionately as the AGG, the Asian Girl Gang), she’s not intentionally disobedient but has a hard time with the level of compliance required of young princesses, and she’s not entirely okay with putting up with slights for the sake of etiquette.

There’s a love interest, of course — the super attractive young Imperial Guard assigned to head Izumi’s security team. Akio is introduced as stiff and surly, but Izumi soon discovers the sensitive, poetry-loving soul hidden beneath that gruff (and muscled) exterior. A relationship between a princess and a commoner is not okay as far as Japanese tabloids are concerned, and when their budding romance is exposed, the plotline of the book comes to a head as Izumi must decided where she belongs and where her future lies.

The key themes of the book — family, fitting in, understanding identity, finding a way to belong without giving up who you are — are all well developed, but the writing never hits us over the head screaming important message here. Instead, through Izumi’s adventures and challenges, we’re along for the ride as her journey helps her find her own voice and figure out what matters, and how to stay true to herself while also welcoming tradition and family expectations.

The audiobook narration by Ali Ahn is just terrific. First off, it’s so much fun to hear the bits and pieces of Japanese dialogue, as well as Izumi’s attempts to learn the language. Also, the narrator’s voices for Izumi and her friends are really distinctive and well-done, giving each a shot of personality and conveying their humor, even while reading aloud their text exchanges.

Overall, Tokyo Ever After is a treat to read and listen to. The story is fun and upbeat, yet includes emotional connection and thoughtfulness too. Highly recommended.

The sequel to Tokyo Ever AfterTokyo Dreaming — is due out in May 2022, and honestly? It can’t come soon enough. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Izumi!

And finally… can we just take a minute to appreciate the gorgeousness of these covers??? These might be my favorites this year!

Book Review: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Title: All of Us Villains
Author: Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: November 9, 2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world–one thought long depleted.

This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice – accept their fate or rewrite their story.

But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

All of Us Villains, like a certain incredibly successful YA book trilogy, centers on a fight to the death. Participating families each choose a champion, and their tasks is simple: Kill all the other champions, or be killed yourself.

For centuries, the seven key families of Ilvernath have participated in the tournament, a deathly serious competition that occurs once each generation, heralded by the arrival of the Blood Moon. Each of the seven families chooses, by their own means, the person to represent the family interests. The winning family gains control over high magick, which is available to no one else — in fact, none but the victorious family can even perceive it, yet alone use it.

With such high stakes, it’s no wonder that the families are obsessed with winning. Some families groom their offspring from childhood with a single-minded focus on victory at all costs. Some engage in desperate attempts to curry favor with the spellmakers and cursemakers whose devices and enchantments can mean the literal difference between life and death for the competitors. And there’s one family who has never, ever won, but still they compete — and it’s rumored that this family is the one which did the unthinkable and shared the secrets of the tournament’s existence through the scandalous book, A Tradition of Tragedy.

Now the whole world is watching to see the newest round of the tournament unfold, and the champions are under immense pressure and scrutiny like never before. Additionally, government agents from outside Ilvernath seem to be very, very interested in the tournament and its outcome… and meanwhile, seven teens from seven families are preparing to face their fears and kill their opponents in a bloody, unbreakable competition.

In All of Us Villains, we gain entry to this strange and dangerous world through four main characters. As we alternate chapters between these characters’ points of view, we learn more about their families, their backgrounds, their own personal stakes, and most importantly, just how far they’re willing to go to stay alive and win glory for their families.

The tournament, as described in this fast-paced, thickly-detailed novel, is disturbing and dark and incredibly dangerous. The champions are all skilled, to one extent or another, in casting spells and curses, and must rely on their magical talents, as well as their wits, their ability to manipulate, and their powers of persuasion, to both form alliances and yet make sure they’re the last one standing. (Kind of like Survivor, but with death and magick.)

In The Hunger Games, the districts’ tributes are chosen at random, forced to compete as ongoing punishment by the Capital. No one actually wants their children to compete. Not so in All of Us Villains. Here, it’s all about power. The seven families are party to the curse that created the tournament so many centuries earlier. Without the tournament, the high magick becomes unreachable to everyone, something the families cannot tolerate — so they groom their children and celebrate their selection as champions, then send them out to win or die.

What kind of people think it’s an acceptable loss to put forward their own children in the hopes of attaining power? Clearly, none of the families could be considered good-hearted, although the champions’ own weighing in on the scale of good vs evil is up for debate.

I found myself completely captivated by this compelling, dangerous fight to the death. The story is so dire, and the contestants are all so doomed. There’s no way out, and they know it. They also all know that their families are sending them into this tournament to kill or be killed, and no matter how confident some families are about their chances, the fact remains, six of the seven will be dead before the tournament ends.

The action is non-stop, but there’s compelling character development too — at least for the four characters whose points of view we get to experience. As for the other three competitors — well, it’s hard to care about them too much when we only see them from the outside, and while we get hints of personality, they’re clearly not the ones to pay attention to.

While I couldn’t put the book down, there are a few reasons why this doesn’t quite rise to 5-star level for me:

  • It’s a bit over-complicated. We need to learn the distinguishing characteristics of the seven families, keep the competitors straight, learn about the tournament’s Relics and Locations, understand the difference between common magic, raw magic, and high magic, and keep track of an endless list of curses and spells. It’s a lot. I’m not usually a fan of character lists or glossaries at the start of books, but here, it would have been helpful.
  • The four main characters have a tendency to blend together. Their motivations and backstories are important, but pieces seem to shift too often — and maybe this is really just part of the previous bullet point, but it gets to be too much to track.
  • This is not a complete story!! This is perhaps my biggest complaint. I didn’t know before I started, and there’s nothing on the cover or in the description to state this… but this is only book 1! The book ends, but the story doesn’t conclude. We end at a turning point, but it feels just like a random stopping point in the action rather than the end of a section. As of the end of the book, the tournament is still ongoing! Book #2 (no name yet, as far as I can see) is listed as due out in 2022 (per Goodreads), but it’s a little frustrating to get this absorbed in a story and then have it abruptly… end. Argh.

Of course, if I didn’t feel invested, I wouldn’t mind so much that the story just stops. So, my response is decidedly mixed: I really got into the story, but I’m really frustrated that this is only the first part!

One more minor quibble: I have the hardest time with the book’s title! It nibbles at my comfort… it doesn’t quite feel grammatically correct to me, but I suppose that depends on how it’s meant. Is it the start of a sentence — “All of us villains… went to the supermarket”, for example? In that case, it’s wrong. Is it just a description of the group — “all of us villains” — kind of just hanging out there as a phrase? I don’t love it; don’t know quite what to do with it. Is it a more elegant statement of who they are — “All of us. Villains.” or “All of us, villains.” I could live with that, but then the title is missing punctuation. Someone stop me. I know I’m being ridiculous.

In any case…

Overall, this book is one to read in one huge sitting, if you can. It’s easy to become obsessively involved with the intricacies of the plot and the complex inner workings of the characters. There is such a sense of doom hanging over the whole thing — this is the least cheerful YA story I’ve read in a long time! Still, it’s a terrific read, and I suppose my intense frustration is just another sign that I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

Will I remember the details by the time the sequel arrives? Probably not, but that’s what re-reading is for.

If you’re looking for a weird tale of magic and murder, set in a world that’s very similar to our own in so many ways, but with a deadly difference, definitely check out All of Us Villains.

PS – For more about All of Us Villains, check out this discussion with the authors over on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. So interesting!

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Buy now at Book Depository – Bookshop.orgBarnes & Noble

Book Review: Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson

Title: Any Sign of Life
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult – Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When a teenage girl thinks she may be the only person left alive in her town—maybe in the whole world—she must rely on hope, trust, and her own resilience.

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future—they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior, so she pushes through her fear and her grief. And as she gets through each day—scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety—Paige encounters a few more young survivors. Together, they might stand a chance. But as they struggle to endure their new reality, they learn that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.

Any Sign of Life opens to a scenario that hits a little too close to home in 2021, when we still can’t say that the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. In this YA sci-fi novel, our current pandemic is a memory from the past for the characters. As the book begins, we meet main character Paige Miller as she awakens from a coma to confront a world wholly different from the one she thought she knew.

Paige wakes up to discover an IV in her arm and her family’s dead bodies in her house. As she ventures out away from the horror, she encounters nothing but more horror. Every home in her neighborhood contains dead people — she appears to be the only one left alive. After liberating a neighbor’s dog from their locked house, Paige and Emmaline set out to scrounge for supplies and figure out if anyone else has survived.

What seems from the beginning to be a story about a horrific virus that’s wiped out nearly all of humanity takes a turn as Paige starts to realize that this virus couldn’t have been naturally occuring. As far as she can tell, it killed people worldwide in only a week, and that just doesn’t make sense. When Paige meets Trey, another teen survivor, they start to put the pieces together, and realize that humankind didn’t just die out — it was exterminated.

Figuring out how this happened, and desperately fighting for a slim chance at survival, Paige and Trey’s journey leads them to a handful of other survivors and a small chance at making a difference in what seems to be a losing battle to hang onto a world that might still be fit for human life.

Any Sign of Life is both a story of the end of the world as we know it and a tale of a fight for survival. There are exciting action sequences as well as plenty of strategizing about how to survive — and whether there’s a reason to survive. The author gives the characters individuality and personality, as well as giving them each a backstory and inner depth.

Paige, as the POV character, is strong-willed and capable, but also carries the pain of her lost family with her always. Trey is also a great character, and all of the characters we meet are mourning someone they loved.

While the action sequence toward the end of the book is a little confusing, it’s still gripping to read, and I couldn’t help holding my breath while rooting for the good guys to succeed. The book ends on a positive note, but the future still looks grim — and I couldn’t help wondering whether a sequel will be coming along at some point. The ending works, but there’s plenty of room for more of the story to be told.

Any Sign of Life is an engaging read, once I got past the fact that what I thought would be a story about surviving a worldwide plague ended up being about a different sort of threat completely. Not giving too much away, the revelations about the cause of the virus and what the future might hold didn’t wow me, because I feel like I’ve read plenty of stories along these lines already,

Still, I liked the characters and the particular episodes involved in their survival, and have no problem recommending this book to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

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Buy now at Amazon – Book Depository – Bookshop.org

Shelf Control #288: This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: This Is How We Fly
Author: Anna Meriano
Published: 2020
Length: 480 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who–after getting grounded for the whole summer–joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing.

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window.

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans.

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs.

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control–Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle version at the end of last year.

Why I want to read it:

I mean… Quidditch, obviously!

That’s really what drew me to this book when I first heard about it, but I do think the synopsis sounds really charming. There’s so much to explore when it comes to the transition from high school to college — leaving old friends, finding new ones, realizing that BFFs may want completely new experiences, following one’s passions… This book seems to take on these issues within the framework of playing Quidditch, and I am so there for it!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Book Review: The Pick-Up by Miranda Kenneally

Title: The Pick-Up
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: September 7, 2021
Length: 250 pages
Genre: YA contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When Mari hails a rideshare to a music festival, the last thing she expects is for the car to pick up a gorgeous guy along the way. Mari doesn’t believe in dating–it can only end with a broken heart. Besides, she’s only staying at her dad’s house in Chicago for the weekend. How close can you get to a guy in three days?

TJ wants to study art in college, but his family’s expectations cast a long shadow over his dreams. When he meets Mari in the back of a rideshare, he feels alive for the first time in a long time.

Mari and TJ enter the festival together and share an electric moment but get separated in a crowd with seemingly no way to find each other. When fate reunites them (with a little help from a viral hashtag), they’ll have to decide: was it love at first sight, or the start of nothing more than a weekend fling? 

Miranda Kenneally, author of the terrific Hundred Oaks series, is back with a fresh new stand-alone YA novel. The PIck-Up is a quick read with sweet romantic moments as well as more serious reflections on family and damaged relationships.

When TJ and Mari meet in a ride-share, their immediate attraction gives each a fresh burst of hope and excitement, and as they spend time together at the music festival, their connection seems instant and electric. At first, seeing them separated by the crowd and trying to find one another again, despite not exchanging contact info, I thought we were in for a story about missed connections and long searches. But thankfully, this wasn’t that!

Instead, TJ and Mari do manage to reconnect, thanks to the intervention of their friends, and commit to spending more time together over the weekend.

They each bring baggage, though. TJ is in Chicago for the weekend staying with his older brother, to whom he always compares himself and finds himself lacking. TJ’s family expects him to study business when he starts college in the fall, but he secretly yearns to pursue his passion for art.

Meanwhile, Mari is staying with her dad, stepmom, and stepsister for the weekend before returning to her home in Tennessee. Her parents divorced after her father’s affair with the woman he ended up marrying, and Mari’s mother is so consumed by anger and bitterness that she takes it out on Mari. Her verbal abuse has taken a frightening turn to the physical, and Mari both wants to stay with her father and is scared to mention it, for fear that it’ll just make things with her mother even worse.

As TJ and Mari spend time together, they each experience the highs of early attraction and emotional connection, but each also has to contend with their own fears and insecurities.

The story is told in chapters that alternate between TJ and Mari as narrators, and it’s a really effective way to show how their perspectives on the same events can be different and still make sense to the person experiencing it. While they’re both struggling with family issues, Mari’s are much more serious, and her scenes of confronting her father with her feelings and her fears are deeply affecting.

While there are plenty of serious matters portrayed throughout The Pick-Up, there’s also a lot of fun, from scenes at the festival to a Ferris wheel ride to goofy beach shenanigans. Mari and TJ have chemistry, and I really enjoyed Mari’s stepsister as a character as well.

Miranda Kenneally has a gift for creating well-drawn teen characters who feel real. They’re not idealized — they’re complicated and messy and emotional, and that’s what makes them so compelling to read about.

I really enjoyed The Pick-Up, just like I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve read by this author. Check it out!

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Travel reading wrap-up (fall 2021): A batch of mini-reviews — high school drama, Aztec vampires, and classics retold

I’ve just returned from a one-week trip (which was all sorts of awesome), and realize that I’ve fallen way behind on my reviews. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away (and the week before, when I was already in pre-trip mode). As always, a mix of genres, topics, and new vs old.


Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado: A YA story starring a plus-sized Latina high schooler who dreams of a first kiss, even while feeling like she’ll never measure up. The story emphasizes the importance of true friendship and trust, as well as body positivity. Charlie experiences a first relationship, has her relationship with her best friend tested, gains confidence as a writer, and learns to stand up for herself and not let others’ negativity undermine her belief in herself. While there are some plot points that I found frustrating (such as a mother whose toxicity about Charlie’s weight is never truly resolved, and unnecessary break-ups with both her boyfriend and her best friend), I loved the lead character enough to make this a really enjoyable read overall.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is my 3rd book by this author, but it definitely won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is a gritty, noir-ish story of vampires, gangs, and drug runners in Mexico City. The main character is a teen boy who devotes himself to helping a lone Aztec vampire escape the city and the various other clans of vampires who want to see her and her people wiped out. It’s a fascinating spin on the world of vampires, and while I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the origins and natures of the different vampire species, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s dark, fast-paced, and surprising.

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: I guess I should have read the full synopsis, instead of deciding after just the first sentence that this book sounded like fun. The main character wakes up alone in a Las Vegas hotel room with a vague, hung-over memory of having married an adorable woman the night before. All she has to go on is a note left by the woman with a radio station listed. Grace decides to track down the mystery woman… but for the most part, despite the potential rom-com set-up, this is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, figure out who she’s meant to be, and understand her relationships with family and friends. Maybe because I went into it with incorrect (or incomplete) expectations, I was mostly frustrated and annoyed by the depth’s of the main character’s introspection and occasional selfishness.

Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle: This YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet offers a fresh perspective — that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Here, the teens are seniors at an upscale California high school. Rose has been looking forward to reuniting with Rob, her best friend and boy next door since they were small children, especially since their near-kiss right before he left for his summer job. But within a few days of school starting, Rob dumps Rose for the new girl in town — the mysterious Juliet, who also happens to be Rose’s cousin. I really liked the way the author turned the classic story into a contemporary YA drama, and found her portrayal of Rose very thoughtful as well as being a creative twist on a tale that’s been told and retold so many times. When You Were Mine follows some, but not all, of the original’s storyline, and the little differences keep this book fresh and engaging. Sure, I have a few quibbles and would have liked to see a few plot points handled differently, but overall, this is quite a good read.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi: Another classic retold! This twist on Pride and Prejudice centers on the “Bennet Women” — the young undergraduate women living in Bennet House at Longbourn College. EJ (the Elizabeth stand-in) is a senior studying engineering and the RA of Bennet House, who holds the values and standards of Bennet House dear to her heart. Her best friends are a trans woman, Jamie, who’s our Jane stand-in, and Tessa, who has a smaller role and seems to be taking the place of Charlotte Lucas. While hitting the major plot beats of P&P, it’s a fresh take full of woman power and feminism, with a nicely diverse cast and some clever approaches to the expected storylines. I really appreciated how EJ’s education and aspirations were given prominence. Here, marriage isn’t a goal or even talked about much — it’s about finding love and respect while also finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and not giving in to the many ways the world outside of Bennet House might want to limit their opportunities or pull them down.

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

That’s my reading round-up! And now, back to all the ARCs and other books calling my name…

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Book Review: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Title: Instructions for Dancing
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: June 3, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

In this romantic page-turner from the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star, Evie has the power to see other people’s romantic fates–what will happen when she finally sees her own?

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

This YA book made me so, so happy. It’s sweet and sad, and makes me want to dance!

To understand Evie, the main character, you need to know a few key facts: Evie is a high school senior, and a former fan of romance novels. Evie is also the daughter of recently divorced parents. A year ago, Evie’s parents split up, and Evie discovered that her father was having an affair. Now she lives with her mother and younger sister, bottling up her anger at her father and refusing to see him, and she’s absolutely sworn off romance and love stories.

What I’ve learned over the last three weeks is that all my old romance novels ended too quickly. Chapters were missing from the end. If they told the real story—the entire story—each couple would’ve eventually broken up, due to neglect or boredom or betrayal or distance or death.

She’s seen it in real life — two people who were supposedly in love end up with nothing but pain and betrayal and ashes of a relationship. Why should she believe in happily ever afters?

Given enough time, all love stories turn into heartbreak stories. Heartbreak = love + time.

Through a strange set of circumstances, Evie winds up with a dancing instruction book that leads her to the La Brea Dance Studio, a small studio whose main clientele seem to be pre-wedding couples trying to master their first dance. The studio is owned by an older couple who are magnificent dancers and who’ve clearly been in love all their lives. While there, Evie meets X, the couple’s teen-aged grandson who’s recently dropped out of his senior year of high school and moved to LA to pursue a music career.

When Fifi, the domineering dance instructor, ropes Evie and X into being partners in an upcoming amateur ballroom dance competition, the two become friendly and then eventually acknowledge their chemistry, which grows along with their hustle, salsa, and tango skills.

“Anyway, you can play to thank us. Every good bonfire needs a hot guy playing guitar.” “You don’t have to play,” I tell him. “But you still have to be hot,” Cassidy says. “I don’t mind doing both,” he says with a grin.

Meanwhile, Evie has come into a strange gift: When she sees a couple kiss, she gets a flash of their entire romance — how they met, how they are in that moment, and what’s to come. This means that she sees the end of the relationships, not just the swoony romantic bits. And for Evie, that’s just further proof that love doesn’t last… so why even bother?

It’s not hard to predict that Evie and X will get together, but I won’t ruin things by going into further detail on how they connect, what obstacles they face, and how it turns out. Let me just share some observations instead:

I loved that this isn’t a by-the-numbers romance, with a meet-cute, initial attraction, getting together, obstacle/break-up, and happy ending. Yes, some of these beats are included, but the overall flow of the book is different enough to keep the reading unpredictable.

Evie’s family life is given equal weight to the romance elements, and this is critical. Evie’s perception of love and commitment have been perhaps permanently scarred by her parents’ divorce, but as the novel progresses, she learns more about long-term love and relationships, and learns that situations aren’t all one way or their other. By learning to let go of her bitterness, she’s able to start allowing some shut-off family connections back into her life, and she can’t help but acknowledge that this is much healthier for her.

“You think because your father and I didn’t last, our love was any less real?”

A harder lesson for Evie is X’s approach to life — saying yes to experiences, living in the moment, and grabbing joy when it’s in front of you. Evie is so consumed by endings that she’s unable to appreciate the middle parts — all the smaller and larger moments that make time together so valuable, no matter how long or short that time might be.

It doesn’t matter that love ends. It just matters that there’s love.

I feel like this would make a great movie, since my one complaint about the book is that I wanted more dancing scenes! At the same time, I have to acknowledge that it’s hard to make a written dance scene compelling, and while the author does a great job with this, I could only satisfy my need by diving down a dance video rabbit hole on YouTube.

Instructions for Dancing is a moving, well-written, thoughtful YA novel with some beautiful moments as well as heartbreak. With captivating characters, a hint of magic (that goes unexplained, but somehow doesn’t distract from the contemporary feel of the plot), great dance moments, and even some humor, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed!

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