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“The Bone Witch” by Rin Chupeco

I have high hopes for this series. I was immediately drawn into this beautifully-described world of ashas, characters with varying levels of magical powers that can be used to alter appearances, manipulate surroundings, and for Dark ashas like Tea, fight. The different cities of this world have their own people with their own beliefs and judgements. In the city where asha are trained, Dark asha are respected and celebrated, but in her hometown, they are feared, possibly persecuted. It is in this world that Tea now navigates, learning what it means to be a Dark asha and adjusting to an entirely new life.

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“Harvest of Thorns”

Harvest of Thorns was one of those novels that took me by surprise (in a good way). I’m having trouble classifying it at the moment – it’s certainly mysterious, and there are thrilling elements to it, but it’s not a choppy, adrenaline-rush, insert-tough-male-detective-here novel series. It has this flow, and Addison’s writing has a journalistic quality to it. Given the topic, the story certainly could have been a lot darker, and while the base of the novel consists of the shocking and disgusting conditions in the global retail supply chain (and America’s role in cultivating those conditions), Addison does not sensationalize it. The emphasis is on the characters and the plot and had me feeling like I was reading a NYT or Post news article, again, in a good way. I felt for the victims, but I was so interested in what the characters were going to do about it that I didn’t dwell on it. I can see that others may interpret this aspect of the story as unemotional or robotic, but it felt energetic and proactive to me. With the exception of Cameron’s overall “plan” throughout the story (seemed a little too far-fetched), it all felt very realistic, and while I was reading, I found myself wondering if Addison based his plot on a real company and their supply chain (in his notes, Addison confirms the base plot is based on real events).

“Tell Me Three Things” by Julie Buxbaum

Three things I loved about this YA novel: (1) It was adorable. You couldn’t help but to love the characters, and simply put, it was a treat to read. (2) It reached my inner high-schooler. I only venture into YA from time-to-time, and despite it’s focus on the death of a parent, TMTT was lighthearted enough to remind me of the joy of high school love. I squealed along with Jessie at the prospect of Ethan and SN. (3) It has a good balance of humor and death. Jessie is still mourning the loss of her mother and dealing with a new school, new friends, new love interests. But she is able to laugh at herself and have witty conversations with SN and other characters, which for me, was the highlight of the novel.

“My Girl” by Jack Jordan

My Girl is a solid, intense read. The plot felt overly condensed, but still clear and engaging. I actually liked the short, quick chapters – it kept up the suspense and made it easy to digest in a single sitting. Even though I was slightly reminded of Rachel in The Girl on the Train, I came to admire Paige, and I felt that Jordan did a good job creating the detached and damaged female character. Unfortunately, the character development did not go much beyond Paige; there simply wasn’t enough time to feel anything about anyone else.

“Saving Sophie” by Sam Carrington

I know I am completely overgeneralizing here, but hear me out. Someone once told me that Americans have this need for hope in their television shows, some sign that things are going to get better. In contrast, British television has no problem showing the darker, more realistic side of life. This is why the American version of the popular television sitcom The Office needed to be tweaked to illustrate more positive relationships and outcomes to appeal to American audiences. I’m sure I could do some research and find a more eloquent way to explain this, but I don’t want to steer too far from my point. And this isn’t a research paper, so no, I will not cite any sources, Mrs. Flannery.

“The Good Girl”

Wow, the reader ratings on this one are all over the place, and I can totally see why. If I had to pick three words to summarize this novel, I would say intriguing, predictable, and inconsistent. I chose these words carefully; first, intriguing, but not for the intended reason. As most readers imagined, the marketing and synopsis of The Good Girl made you think you’re getting a dark, suspenseful thriller. Moreover, the structure of the novel tells you from the very beginning that Mia had been recovered, which led me to believe, OK since we know she’s been found, something crazy is going to happen in between. Sadly, not entirely true. In place of a mysterious twist, we received a prolonged, shifting narrative of the developing relationship between Mia and her captor, Colin (or as she knows him, Owen). While I was surprised at the focus of the novel, I was actually intrigued by the potential to spin a plot in which you sympathize with the captor. While many have criticized the juvenile relationship (due, in part, to poor character development), I still feel there was fertile ground for a dramatic take on such a relationship.

“Livia Lone”

In truth, it was Livia’s character that first captured my attention; her brief description in the synopsis had me thinking of Olivia Benson from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I was expecting some insight into a fictional sex crimes unit, but what I got was a well-researched and intriguing story of revenge. Although I would classify this novel as thrilling, it wasn’t the crazy-surprises-at-every-turn kind, but the thoughtful kind that pulls you in, making you want to consume as much as you possibly can as quickly as you can. This story is not for the faint-hearted; Livia Lone provides a personalized (albeit fictional) account in human trafficking and all the horrifying details around the transport and destruction of a family, including the sick and twisted minds of the buyers and sellers.

“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things”

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is the novel I’ve been waiting for all year. Unconventional, poignant, and complicated, I was left spinning with my emotions—whirling between anger and discomfort, hope and compassion. There is more than one way for family and relationships to be dysfunctional, and in the end, I was left to digest my own conflicting feelings about Wavy and Kellen’s relationship.

“The Butterfly Garden”

The Garden that Hutchison creates is twisted and dark, and at the same time, enchanting and elegant. Ironically, I simply could not escape this story once I started. The Gardener and his Butterflies are described by a headstrong girl known as Maya as she is interviewed by the FBI upon her escape. At first, I thought the structure of the story was a little too simplistic, flipping back and forth between Maya’s narrative and the view of the head FBI agent over the span of a couple of days. However, once you get a feel for Maya and some of her background, the story just flows, and I actually found myself enjoying the back-and-forth perspective, reminding you of the underlying conversation and mimicking the difficulty of the agents in getting a straightforward answer out of Maya. This continuously reminded me of the passing of time as I progressed further in her story, and left me with a feeling of urgency to uncover the full truth.