Thank you to Mascot Books for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
While Loukas is playing his flute at the seawall one day, he befriends a mysterious talking, dancing snake that rewards him with fortune and favor. Some years later, tempted by freed and pride, Loukas loses all his riches and his family. He must now set off on a treacherous journey through a frightening forest filled with suspense and strange creatures to find Destiny; her son Ilion, the Sun; and her daughter Luna, the Moon. These celestial guardians will surely allow him to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they?
A reimagined Greek Folktale, Loukas and the Game of Chance is illuminated with dramatic and evocative pen and ink drawings that provide an ideal backdrop for the dark intrigue that fills this haunting story of human struggle, courage, and resilience.
Loukas and the Game of Chance totally surprised me! To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting a picture book, but I ended up enjoying myself and had a good reading experience nevertheless. I know some of you are probably skeptical on reading picture books past a certain age, but I think they’re a breath of fresh air in between books with heavier content matter.
This lively, informative book with wonderful illustrations is great for any reader seeking a fun Greek folktale. I was a bit thrown off by the illustrations—some pages were illustrated, others weren’t, and the book ends up being around 70 pages regardless—but they are still beautiful. Full of beautiful imagery of life on the Aegean Sea, I could easily imagine Loukas’ journey and the beautiful landscapes he encounters.
Loukas himself is a sympathetic character: he understands the importance of kindness and humility, as taught by his parents, but he falls victim to his pride, loses everything, and must work to regain his family. Following his failure, he puts in the effort to plead his case in front of Destiny and her children, celestial beings who decide the fates of humans. There were times when Loukas thought about turning around and wallowing in shame, but he persevered on his quest, demonstrating the importance of determination and sacrifice for the people you love.
The plot is full of adventure and mysterious beings, some of whom may not have the best intentions... but ultimately it is up to Loukas whether or not he is able to rejoin his family. There’s a great message in the story about the dangers of greed and pride, and how it is important to live life with dignity and, as the kids would say, not “let the haters get you down.”
Overall, Loukas and the Game of Chance is a light folktale that’s worth a read. 4/5 stars.
Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf BFYR for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review!
She’s the beauty, I’m the bold one–together, we are the perfect girl…
Aphra Brown is bold and outgoing. Her best friend, Bethany, is achingly beautiful. Individually, they could both do a little better in the self-esteem department, but together? Together, they have what it takes to win over Greg D’Agostino, a proverbial “ten,” who happens to be fluent in six languages–seven if you count the language of smoldering gazes . . .
What begins as an honest mistake turns into an elaborate deception, wherein Bethany goes on dates with Greg while Aphra coaches her on what to say, and texts him in the guise of Bethany, trying and failing, all the while, to tamp down her own hopeless crush. It’s only a matter of time before things come crashing down. The question is: What will happen when Greg finds out? And can Aphra and Bethany’s friendship survive the fallout?
From the author of We Regret to Inform You comes a witty, warm-hearted exploration of love in all its forms, and a cris-de-coeur for self-acceptance when the pressure to be perfect is overwhelming.
First, I want to apologize for the extreme lateness of this review. I am deeply grateful to Knopf for sharing a copy of We Are the Perfect Girl.
We Are the Perfect Girl is a must-read of 2019. Featuring incredible character development, complex families and friendships, and a little bit of romance (if you squint at the end), it’s one of my new favorite novels. From the beginning, I was intrigued by the fact that this is a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. I love reading YA novelizations of plays. It’s interesting to see how authors interpret characters and translate the themes into a modern setting. Silverman completely succeeded in capturing my attention.
I had to reread this book twice before I could write any sort of review. I cried both times—I have little in common with Aphra, but I identified with her just the same, and couldn’t help but love her by the end. She’s incredibly complex, and though sometimes she makes questionable choices, you can’t help but root for her. I loved reading about how she viewed herself in relation to her loved ones. A big part of this novel is about self esteem, and Aphra learning to both stand up for herself and also think about other people, which is an easily relatable struggle for readers. She is simultaneously assertive and selfless, and it hurt so much every time Aphra chose to prioritize someone else over herself. Characters like Aphra, who who learn from their mistakes and self reflect over the course of a novel, are easily some of my favorites to read because they give the reader a chance to understand them in a way we often can’t with other real-world people.
As she’s written, Aphra is a really natural teenager. I noticed this especially in her crush on Greg—her observations, the things she remembers and references about him might seem inconsequential to anyone else, but those details matter so much to her. That’s very authentic, and Kaplan has truly captured a teen voice in Aphra. A high point of the book is its humor. Aphra's chat transcripts were genuinely funny, as was much of the narration. I laughed out loud at the “eat-the-pilot” scene, as well as many others. The clever writing and fresh dialogue hit the mark every time, which is especially important in this story and balanced out some of the heavy emotions and raw insecurities that Silverman explored.
I love the balance between Aphra, her friendships, and her family. Each relationship is so complex and given equal attention. I think my favorite dynamic is between Aphra and Bethany. They are the main characters, but I think a great choice of narration is the first person perspective solely for Aphra. It truly emphasizes some of the more unhealthy aspects of their relationship, as well as giving a window into all the good times they’ve had together. Aphra makes some questionable choices, but while I was reading I could tell the foundation of their friendship was solid. This gave me constant hope that Aphra and Bethany would be honest with each other and learn to properly communicate, which would make for an even better best-friendship.
Aphra’s family seems tough to live with, but I enjoyed seeing her relationship with them grow through the book. The sibling relationships especially got me. Kit is a super cute younger brother, and I liked that he and Aphra had a good relationship. She and Delia, however, is another story. They have a fraught relationship that turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the book, showing how family members’ choices can have a real effect on people. I was constantly rooting for Aphra and Delia to communicate and work towards understanding one another.
In terms of plot, the natural tension of whether Bethany and Greg will find out about Aphra’s deception is fantastic. Kaplan has such a great way of turning up the dial every time you think Aphra’s off the hook. I waffled between savoring every scene and wanting to find out what happened next, every time. Of course, some plot points are easy to predict because of the retelling aspect, but Aphra is a great character and narrator, and it was a joy to read her perspective on the events. That made the book feel new and original.
My favorite part of the book that isn’t about character or plot is probably the positive representation of mental health professionals. I liked that Aphra went to therapy and respected her need to be there. She also showed real improvement, which is positive messaging in and of itself. I like the notion in novels that young adults can’t solve every mental health problem themselves. One thing that always angers me is when characters try to love each other out of their issues. No! Therapy! Talk to adults! Silverman totally gets this, and Aphra is all the better for it. I think mental health professionals are extremely underrepresented in YA books, but I hope that trend is coming to a close.
I cried throughout the last two chapters of this novel. The ending is so emotionally resonant, and I think readers leave Aphra in a fantastic place. I grew to love her so much over the course of the story, and it was so rewarding to watch her grow and display vulnerability in the way she ends with. Finishing the novel, reading those last few pages… I felt like I was in a world of my own. By the end, loving Aphra felt like self-love, in a way. I couldn’t help but adore how Silverman closed out the story, but I also wished I could have more! I will definitely be rereading We Are the Perfect Girl for years to come. It earns 5/5 stars for me. My only regret is that I can’t rate it higher.
Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it's kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she's good at it.
And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let's just say she owes some people a new tree.
Enter Cassandra Heaven. She's Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme's babysitters club?
The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra's mother left her: "Find the babysitters. Love, Mom."
Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they're about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.
I remember reading The Baby-Sitters Club books as a kid (I wanted to be Claudia), because of their adventurous yet responsible spirit. The Babysitters Coven revitalizes the series for the 21st century, adding elements of magic and high school life. The main similarity between the two series is the group of girls who form a babysitters club. Other than that, The Babysitters Coven is completely different, and I love it.
Esme is a fun narrator: she babysits, she's learning how to drive, she's awkward in front of her crush, and she's got a lot going on at home. Her narration was funny and quirky, which I appreciated. It set the tone for the rest of the novel. I also liked reading about her friendship with Janice, who is the other member of Esme's Babysitters Club. Love female friendships! The girls went thrifting together, planned out outfits, and hung out after school. It’s so refreshing to see characters commit to a friendship and make it work, even when it’s not a main focus of the story.
Cassandra was a great character. She was chaotic to Esme’s rational, which was a good balance. She did get the pair in trouble a couple of times, but I thought she was fun to read about and her actions moved the story along nicely. I don’t necessarily think she’s a good person all the time, but I liked reading about a character in a contemporary setting who makes those same mistakes, and has good intentions that don’t always help everyone.
I had a great reading experience when I stopped taking the plot seriously. It's not a grave high fantasy, but a campy, witchy book about high school demon-fighters that's perfect for Halloween season. Watching Esme and Cassandra learn about their powers was hilarious, because of the specificity of some spells. There’s a spell for everything—even bad hair days!
My main fault with the book is that I wanted to know more about the Sitters: the history and structure of the organization, and to meet other members, for example. Basically, I wanted more world-building.
Overall, The Babysitters Coven is a fun fall fantasy that makes a great read for anyone—even if you’ve never babysat before! 4/5 stars.
Thank you to Random House BFYR and Netgalley for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.
Two girls vying for the prince's heart.
This is the story of the American royals.
When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren't just any royals. They're American. And their country was born of rebellion.
As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America's first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she's breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn't care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there's Samantha's twin, Prince Jefferson. If he'd been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.
Like The Thousandth Floor, McGee’s first series, American Royals thrives on a character-driven plot, with lots of gossip and drama that has the reader choosing sides immediately. I knew who I would be rooting for from the very first chapter, but as the perspectives deepened I found myself sympathizing with all of the characters. This is a fantastic historical re-imagining that takes readers on a whirlwind journey through the minds (and hearts) of the fictitious American royal family.
I love Beatrice. McGee did an excellent job portraying the struggles of growing up with a crown in her future, and how Beatrice both loved and felt trapped by her job. Obviously there are no American princesses in the present day, but I could easily imagine how celebrities might feel the same way as Beatrice did—she was controlled by her image, which is hard for a young person, who of course has their own interests and must balance that with a duty to their fanbase or, in Beatrice’s case, her citizens. If you’ve ever wondered how movie stars really feel, I think American Royals gets a lot of it right. Of course, I’m not famous in any way, shape, or form, so take my advice with a grain of salt and read this book for fun anyways!
Beatrice’s romantic storyline also hooked me. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I will note that there is a love triangle of sorts and that I love the internal tension that caused. It’s a lot easier for me to read than drama of the gossip and blackmail sort, so I was very invested in the outcome of Beatrice’s love life.
I also enjoyed reading about Beatrice’s relationship with her younger twins. Beatrice is the heir, and Samantha and Jeff won’t rule in all likelihood, so of course there were some interesting emotions there, especially between the sisters. American Royals had a fair few moments of sibling rivalry, but there were also some sweet moments that I loved.
Nina, Samantha’s best friend, was such a sweetheart, and I loved reading about both her friendship with Samantha and her relationship with Jeff. I’m always a sucker for friendships that get a lot of page time, as well as friends-to-lovers romance storylines, and I liked Nina’s perspective throughout the novel because I got a fresh dose of both! Nina herself is amazing, and I’m very happy with the choices she made throughout the novel. She isn’t royalty, so it was interesting to see a “commoner’s” perspective on the madness of the royal lives.
Lastly, that ending? I just CAN'T. I'm so glad American Royals is the start of a series, because I need to know more. That being said, I expected there to be more resolution at the end of the book. I felt like the story would continue for another fifty pages or so, because new questions were still being introduced when the plot should have been wrapped up. The novel now becomes reliant on its sequel for the full context of the story.
Overall, I’m giving American Royals 4/5 stars for a neat concept and sympathetic-yet-scheming characters! Pick it up!
Thank you to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
The spellbinding tale of six queer witches forging their own paths, shrouded in the mist, magic, and secrets of the ancient California redwoods.
Danny didn't know what she was looking for when she and her mother spread out a map of the United States and Danny put her finger down on Tempest, California. What she finds are the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they're ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn't just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: she can bring back Imogen, the most powerful of the Grays, missing since the summer night she wandered into the woods alone. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. Lush, eerie, and imaginative, Amy Rose Capetta's tale overflows with the perils and power of discovery — and what it means to find your home, yourself, and your way forward.
The Lost Coast was released May 14, so I extend many apologies for my belated review.
This book... you guys, look at that cover! It's so shiny and pretty and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. Part romance, part mystery, part celebration of queerness--The Lost Coast has it all. I'm having a hard time putting words together to describe how I felt when I was reading it.
First of all, Capetta absolutely struck the right balance between character and plot. I became so invested in the lives of Danny and the Grays, as well as their quest to save Imogen. The group dynamics drove this story, and I loved seeing Danny and the Grays interact and bond. What was especially interesting to me were the moments when the Grays chose to include or exclude Danny, who was at once an outsider and vital to their quest. She could find Imogen, but only if the Grays trusted and shared with her. I love a good squad forming, and this was perfect. Capetta is a master with words. Her descriptions of each of the Grays distinguishes them so quickly from each other. After only one chapter, I already felt like I knew all about them from their clothing, the way they touched and supported one another, and each of their relationships to Imogen. Seeing them relax and just exist in the woods, casually interacting with magic and the world around them was so heartwarming and freeing. Of course, they are still quintessential teens: they hide things, keep secrets, and take on too much alone. Later, seeing Danny herself interact with Imogen was emotional as well. I loved Danny setting aside everything to help her new friends, girls she felt she belonged with. All of the group scenes were so moving, and I loved the friendships in The Lost Coast. All of the characters were so complex and real.
Danny was a great narrator. Most of the chapters were from her POV, and I loved it. Her thoughts were so organic, and I wanted to get to know her. Watching her discover her magic, exploring her connection to Rush, and balancing her past with the new life she’s leading was all so natural. I especially enjoyed reading Danny’s thoughts about Rush—her temptation was tangible, and I loved how Capetta wrote their romance.
The pacing and plot were just as great as the character development. I liked how the mystery unfolded and connected with the elements of magic in the story. World-building is top-notch as well: I felt at home in the redwoods, and vivid descriptions helped me picture the landscape and feel a part of the scenery was with me as I read. I've been in the redwood forests, and they are absolutely the right setting for the magic in this story. The descriptions of the Grays interacting with the forest are breathtaking. Dense and lush, the atmosphere is quietly energetic and bleeds through the page. This novel is a very beautiful escape. Every sensory aspect is so clear, so even if the reader has never seen a forest, they know exactly how it feels to stare up at branches and leaves and want to climb among the needles. The energy surrounding the whole book makes it so easy to start reading and lose track of time. I liked how multiple POV was used to build the atmosphere and plot. The story is told in patches that are mostly chronological, so there is no info-dumping and I always had context for the events in the present. The redwoods also get a point of view, which adds to the sentiment of the forest as a living entity.
Some important themes of the book resonated with me, particularly about how power and emotion are tied to one’s effect on the universe. Magic is tied to intent as well as ability, and I liked the rule that whatever a witch does returns upon her threefold. Of course, as with all themes, the darker side is interesting as well. Finding the space to be seen and to be yourself is different from wanting attention, or to be noticed.
An epic conclusion drives home the importance of finding yourself and standing in the place where you belong. The Lost Coast is about embracing otherness and making people feel seen, as well. I felt that the story wraps up perfectly, and I am delighted that I don’t have any lingering questions. Overall, I give The Lost Coast 5/5 stars for its beauty. It is a powerful addition to Capetta's body of work, and I hope it earns a place on your shelf.
Andria’s twin sister, Iris, had adoring friends, a cool boyfriend, a wicked car, and a shelf full of soccer trophies. She had everything, in fact—including a drug problem. Six months after Iris’s death, Andria is trying to keep her grades, her friends, and her family from falling apart. But stargazing and books aren’t enough to ward off her guilt that she—the freak with the scary illness and all-black wardrobe—is still here when Iris isn’t. And then there’s Alex Hammond. The boy Andria blames for Iris’s death. The boy she’s unwittingly started swapping lines of poetry and secrets with, even as she tries to keep hating him.
Heartwrenching, smart, and bold, Dreaming of Antigone is a story about the jagged pieces that lie beneath the surface of the most seemingly perfect life…and how they can fit together to make something wholly unexpected.
I have some complicated thoughts about this book, so I’m going to start with what I found most engaging, and then talk about the hard things. I liked the astronomy connection—it’s an awesome hobby for Andria to have, and is really interesting to read about. I liked the exploration of how epilepsy affects Andria’s life: her seizures standing in the way of her driver’s license, and ability to make friends through sports like Iris did. Speaking of friends, Andria’s were awesome. Natalie was super-cute especially (her mom’s baked goods sound so delicious, too!). I loved that Trista and Natalie never made Andria feel like an outsider even though they were more Iris’ friends. Their supportiveness really spoke to me. Andria, in return, became a good friend and always reassured them and made an effort to hang out and socialize, which I liked.
Even though we didn’t meet her, I LOVE Iris! I wish she was in more scenes, but from the way Andria talks about her I really liked her character. The “flashback” moments to their conversations were adorable. She was so complicated, and a great character. As much as Dreaming of Antigone is about friendship, romance, or astronomy, it is more about sisters. I truly felt for Andria when she learned more about Iris’ life and how she found out all of the secrets that Iris had kept.
All of that being said, there were a number of things about the story that truly didn’t sit well with me. Firstly, I was blown away that Andria thought it appropriate to date her dead sister’s boyfriend, especially because of how Alex and Iris got involved with drugs together. I think the romance was out of character for Andria, but also odd in the context of the novel and it didn’t sit well with me.
I didn’t love how the book talked about addiction. I think the mentality of being able to love someone out of their addiction (“his demons could fight mine” and “I could save her”) is truly harmful. Addiction is a real illness that needs to be treated by professionals and can’t be healed by a couple of dates.
Andria’s attitude towards everyone in her life seemed to change in every scene, especially her parents. She could be fighting with Mom then hugging her, calling Craig a good step-dad then calling him a dork/insulting him in the narration. Her opinions seemed to reset often, and overall I disliked the lack of narrative consistency.
There were so many storylines packed into the book. I think it would be easier to form emotional connections with the characters and story if it had just one or two central themes/plot lines: addiction, family/sisters, romance, sexual predators, and Andria’s epilepsy, to name a few. Because Dreaming of Antigone tackled all of these issues, I could see twists coming from a mile away and I wasn’t very shocked when I read some of the big reveals.
Overall, although I liked some aspects of Dreaming of Antigone, I give it 3/5 stars because I couldn’t get past some of the faults I found. That being said, maybe you will find a new favorite in this book! Give it a try!
Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Words have always been more than enough for Ken Z, but when he meets Ran at the mall food court, everything changes. Beautiful, mysterious Ran opens the door to a number of firsts for Ken: first kiss, first love. But as quickly as he enters Ken's life, Ran disappears, and Ken Z is left wondering: Why love at all, if this is where it leads?
Letting it end there would be tragic. So, with the help of his best friends, the comfort of his haikus and lists, and even strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken will find that love is worth more than the price of heartbreak.
The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart is a quirky literary love story, centered around the story of Ken Z while he discovers love and heartbreak in his island nation.
However... I would hesitate to call it a "novel". To read this story, you have to appreciate multi-media compositions, and possess patience in spades. Ken Z's story contains so many important themes: classicism, LGBTQ+ advocacy, banned books, and heartbreak, to name a few. But they aren't consistent throughout the book, which could be serious on one page and lighthearted and quirky on the next. (If I use the word "quirky" twenty times in this review, it is only because I couldn't find a good synonym. Forgive me.) This, combined with the varied formatting, made the story feel less a novel and more a collage. All of its emotional power felt theoretical, because the characters and setting were only metaphors for the real world.
Which is why I was not surprised when Ken Z stumbles into Oscar Wilde on the sidewalk, his hero coming to life and giving him advice. I wish I could do that! Oscar comes in sometimes, telling Ken Z about the truths of the heart and sharing words of wisdom. I can't decide if this makes the novel magical realism or if it's just disconnected realistic fiction.
Nevertheless, I liked Ken Z. His love for Oscar Wilde, his tendency towards romance, his habit of bunburying. Life in South Kristol is hard--the nation is cut off from everywhere except the privileged and elite North Kristol, but Ken Z persists in his literary life. He reads and dreams and writes. He fell in love so hard it almost hurt, and he turned to Oscar for explanations, and he always believed. I like a character who has hope, and Ken Z has it in abundance. He wants to think the best of Ran, and everyone, and when he was disappointed, I felt punched.
The concept of Ran as a love interest was promising, but I could never shake the feeling that he was taking advantage of Ken Z. He's from North Kristol, and despite hearing how militaristically oriented his life is, I couldn't understand why he would spend so much time with Ken Z but not do anything meaningful. Part of me wishes there were flipped POV chapters so we could see the romance unfold from both Ran's and Ken Z's perspective, and understand how their feelings develop. Because Ken Z is such a romantic, I couldn't help but feel bad for him and his unanswered-text and missed phone call anxiety.
My favorite characters were Ken Z's best friends: CaZZ and Estelle. They're funny and sweet, and they love him so much, which made me wish all the more that they had more page time. I love reading about supportive best friends, because they really do make a character's world shine. The right friend is the difference between a happily ever after and a tragedy, and it's no different in this story. Even when CaZZ and Estelle are frustrated with Ken Z, they still want to forgive him and support him. They are really good best friends, and I am one hundred percent here for it.
Overall, I would give The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart 3/5 stars for its sweetness and its characters. I would recommend it to fans of Adam Silvera and Elizabeth Acevedo, but with the note that while the emotions drawn out are similar, the writing and characters are "wilde"-ly different.
The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India's youngest CEO and visionary.
Rex- One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.
Tunde- This 14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.
Painted Wolf- One of China's most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father's new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.
The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run.
I really wanted to like Genius: The Game. It had a fast-paced, adventurous plot, and characters I could root for. Unfortunately, a couple issues hindered my enjoyment, and I wasn’t able to fall in love with the story.
Let’s start with the good:
And now for the... less good:
All in all, Genius: The Game is a good competitive sci-fi novel, but it wasn’t for me. Maybe a reader interested in coding and engineering will find it engaging. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review. I apologize immensely for the delay in my review and thank you for your patience.
Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud - a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
I loved The Red Ribbon for its honesty, bravery, and surprisingly? Its beauty. Adlington is a talented writer, giving readers a vivid and heartbreaking insight into life at Birchwood. The novel is well-researched and executed, with the historical atrocities of the Holocaust rendered accurately with the lens of a teenage prisoner who has (and deserves) dreams bigger than Birchwood.
In the first few chapters, two main things struck me about Adlington's writing. First, the significance of colors: Ella sees Birchwood with a dressmaker's eyes, so even in the greyest and muddiest places, she sees shining colors and inspiration for her dream dress shop. I loved how each chapter was linked to a color, which would then be pointed out in thoughtful comparisons and linked thematically to the plot. Secondly, the descriptions of food were particularly striking, and I could tell that the intent was to emphasize the emptiness of Birchwood in contrast to the saturation of Ella's former life. A girl's sharp nose "could've cut cheese." Brown pattern paper, like the kind sausages came in, "plump sausages with bits of chopped onion." A green coat becomes an apple, from the tree in Ella's yard. Baked into "apple crumble flecked with caramelized sugar, flaky pastry apple turnovers, and even apple cider." I was not expecting the novel to make me hungry!
I fell in love with Ella and Rose instantly. Ella's dreams of being a designer and owning a dress shop seemed far-fetched, but I wanted so badly for her to have them. I wished with all my heart that she would find her grandparents again, and I loved her memories of sewing and designing with her grandmother in their house. Her strength and willing to do whatever it takes to survive is a testament to the horrors that went on inside Birchwood.
And Rose. Rose, with her stories and countess palace and the kindest heart in the darkest place. I cried when she went to the Hospital and smiled every time she shared her rations with someone. I loved her friendship with Ella, and how the two girls stuck up for each other even through their incredible obstacles.
Everything about this novel was stellar. I would recommend it thoroughly to every reader. 5/5 stars.
Thank you to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.
Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.
Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.
I haven’t read any YA goblin fantasy books, and I think White Stag was a pretty good place to start. I’m not really knowledgeable on goblin mythology, but I like how Barbieri articulated the differences between human and goblin society, and the pull Janneke felt between her found home in the Permafrost and her human self.
During the hunt, Janneke knew that if Soren was killed, she would be bound to Lydian again, the goblin who had tortured her, but she also knew that if she wanted to stay with Soren, she would have to give up her humanity and let go of her past. I loved her growth and every part of her journey. That being said, I think her story would be more impactful if we knew more of what her life would like before she came to the Permafrost. I know Janneke longed to keep her humanity, and I know she was abused and tortured, but we can't feel the loss like she does if we don't know what she misses.
I loved the darker psychological aspects to this story, having to do with humanity and monstrosity, and how we regard ourselves and the choices we make. The whole book was intriguing and I was interested through to the end. Part of Janneke's struggle is her romance, although sometimes I wished it wasn't included. The romance felt contrived at times, and I didn’t love the whole “I own you, but I’ve been nice” aspect. Janneke had a certain amount of agency, but we were always reminded that she was indentured to Soren, which doesn't lead me to think that she had freedom. We also see their relationship beginning at a hundred years, so they are already in love, and we don't see how they came to like and love each other, or why. A lot of their relationship seemed to be previously established.
Some of my favorite scenes were the action scenes. The concept of killing the stag to be king leads to a fierce and ruthless hunt where Janneke must use her best fighting skills. She is human, but she keeps fighting even when she's a lesser fighter than her goblin opponents. Her origin does not hold her back, and I admired that about her.
For anyone seeking a dark fantasy romance, White Stag is for you. 4/5 stars.
Hey, I'm Shreya! I love to read, write, travel, and drink coffee.