First Lines Friday – 15 January 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

First Lines

“My banged-up spoon scrapes the bottom of a barrel that should’ve held enough dried beans to last for three more months. No, no, no. There has to be more.”

And the book is…….

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez!

Goodreads Synopsis: A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history. Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight. When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place. She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

What are you reading this weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Book cover for The Unspoken Name

Review- The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

Goodreads Synopsis: What if you knew how and when you will die? Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power. But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Genre: Adult Fiction, High Fantasy, LGBT

Date of Publication: February 11th, 2020

Publisher: Tor Books

Length: 464 pages

My rating: 3.5/5

Csorwe was meant to be a sacrifice, but fate had other plans. Instead of fulfilling her destiny with the Unspoken One, she chose instead to flee in secret with Belthandros Sethennai and train as his assistant. Together, they plan to take back Sethennai’s stolen title and home, and search the worlds for the Reliquary of Pentravesse. Their journey has them cross paths with both friend and foe, and Csorwe’s loyalties will be tested more than once. A chance encounter with a young Adept named Shuthmili will open Csorwe’s world even further than she could have imagined. 

This is one of those High Fantasy sagas that requires a set of crib notes to keep track of everything. The detail that went into the world building was unfathomable, and I commend A.K. Larkwood for their dedication. The list of characters alone is daunting, but thankfully they are introduced at a reasonable pace so you don’t get too overwhelmed. I appreciated the diversity of the characters as well, especially Csorwe being Oshaarun, which is essentially a sort of orc. 

The plot of The Unspoken Name is extensive, to say the least. I had finished reading what I thought was the climax and falling action of the book when I noticed I was only 20% into it. Unfortunately, this is where the book lost me. The amount of twists and turns and plot changes, the whole sets of new characters, it felt like I was speed-running a whole trilogy condensed into one book. This amount of information cramped together had me mentally exhausted, and unfortunately it ultimately lost my interest. 

I think that the story has real promise, and maybe the sequel, which is set to come out this year, will renew my interest. I admire the amount of work that went into the plot, the characters, even the language that is used in the story. Any book that has a pronunciation guide and character listing at the beginning clearly had an obscene amount of work put into it. Veterans of High Fantasy sagas may fair better with this book than I did, and I would still say to give it a chance if you appreciate a well-written challenge. 

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Memory Collectors by Kim Neville

Goodreads Synopsis: Perfect for fans of The Scent Keeper and The Keeper of Lost Things, an atmospheric and enchanting debut novel about two women haunted by buried secrets but bound by a shared gift and the power the past holds over our lives. Ev has a mysterious ability, one that she feels is more a curse than a gift. She can feel the emotions people leave behind on objects and believes that most of them need to be handled extremely carefully, and—if at all possible—destroyed. The harmless ones she sells at Vancouver’s Chinatown Night Market to scrape together a living, but even that fills her with trepidation. Meanwhile, in another part of town, Harriet hoards thousands of these treasures and is starting to make her neighbours sick as the overabundance of heightened emotions start seeping through her apartment walls. When the two women meet, Harriet knows that Ev is the only person who can help her make something truly spectacular of her collection. A museum of memory that not only feels warm and inviting but can heal the emotional wounds many people unknowingly carry around. They only know of one other person like them, and they fear the dark effects these objects had on him. Together, they help each other to develop and control their gift, so that what happened to him never happens again. But unbeknownst to them, the same darkness is wrapping itself around another, dragging them down a path that already destroyed Ev’s family once, and threatens to annihilate what little she has left. The Memory Collectors casts the everyday in a new light, speaking volumes to the hold that our past has over us—contained, at times, in seemingly innocuous objects—and uncovering a truth that both women have tried hard to bury with their pasts: not all magpies collect shiny things—sometimes they gather darkness.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism

Publication Date: March 16th, 2021

Publisher: Atria Books

Length: 400 pages

My rating: 4/5

Thanks to the author, Atria Books and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book. 

Ev and Harriet are two very different people, but they share a similar gift. Both women are able to feel emotions left behind in objects, the good and the bad. Ev sees this ability as a curse, and uses it only to sell items in Vancouver’s night market. Harriet sees this ability as something more, and she hoards especially powerful items in her apartment, much to the detriment of her neighbours. Harriet has an idea to transform her treasures into a museum that everyone can enjoy, but Ev isn’t so sure this is a good plan. She knows more than anyone that items with negative emotions can do harm, and they can even rip families apart. 

I really enjoyed this concept of emotionally imbued objects. Kim Neville took the idea of items carrying sentimental or emotional value and it made it into something magical and thoroughly entertaining. The writing style is inviting, like a favourite blanket, and it pulls you into the story right from the beginning. Kim Neville was able to covey feelings of loneliness, longing, anticipation and claustrophobia wonderfully, so the reader is completely immersed in the story. 

Evelyn and Harriet as main characters are two interesting perspectives on a unique ability. It was a bit like having an optimist and a pessimist as narrators, which brought another layer of depth to the story. The side characters were equally well developed. I thought everyone had a very interesting and layered storyline, and they were all flawed in unique and colourful ways. I appreciate well done character development, even if it is negative development.  

I think the Memory Collectors is a great debut novel to add to 2021 reading lists. It is full of engaging characters, the plot contains unexpected twists that keep you interested, and as a fun bonus it’s set in Vancouver, Canada! It’s a good choice for anyone looking for an exciting and yet comforting read, as well as fans of magical realism. Pre-order or purchase on March 16th, 2021.  

First Lines Friday – 8 January 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

First Lines

“I sit in the corridor with my dog in my lap, singing him to sleep. My throat stings with magic as the words of the spellsong tumble from my lips. ”

And the book is…….

Ruinsong by Julia Ember!

Goodreads Synopsis: Her voice was her prison…Now it’s her weapon. In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding. But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.

This book is on my TBR pile, and hopefully I will get to read it before the end of January.

What are you reading this weekend? Leave a comment and let me know!

Review: The Descent of the Drowned by Ana Lal Din

Goodreads Synopsis: She is bound to serve. He is meant to kill. Survival is their prison. Choice is their weapon. As the sacred slave of a goddess, Roma is of a lower caste that serves patrons to sustain the balance between gods and men. What she wants is her freedom, but deserters are hunted and hanged, and Roma only knows how to survive in her village where women are vessels without a voice. When her younger brother is condemned to the same wretched fate as hers, Roma must choose between silence and rebellion. Leviathan is the bastard son of an immortal tyrant. Raised in a military city where everyone knows of his blood relation to the persecuted clans, Leviathan is considered casteless. Lowest of the low. Graduating as one of the deadliest soldiers, he executes in his father’s name, displaying his worth. When he faces judgement from his mother’s people—the clans—Leviathan must confront his demons and forge his own path, if he ever hopes to reclaim his soul. But in the struggle to protect the people they love and rebuild their identities, Roma’s and Leviathan’s destinies interlock as the tyrant hunts an ancient treasure that will doom humankind should it come into his possession—a living treasure to which Roma and Leviathan are the ultimate key. Set in a colonised Indo-Persian world and inspired by pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a tale about power, identity, and redemption, and what it takes to hold on to one’s humanity in the face of devastation.

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

Publication Date: March 15th, 2021

Publisher: White Tigress Press

Length: 360 pages

My Rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the author, White Tigress Press and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book!

Life is simple for Roma, she is meant to dance and serve as a slave for the goddess, and take patrons to ensure balance is maintained in the world. But is it really the goddess she serves? Roma wishes for freedom from both the gods and the men that rule her life, and wants to protect her younger brother from the same fate she had. Leviathan is a vengeful man, determined to find out what happened to his mother, even when it means defying his father, the all-powerful Firawn. He wants to protect the people of the clans, his blood, who are ruthlessly mistreated by the Wardens and the members of the higher zaat. Roma and Leviathan’s lives collide as they both fight to do what’s best for the people they care about.

The Descent of the Drowned was my first read of 2021, and it’s going to be a tough act to follow. Wow did I ever love this book! The writing is superb, Ana Lal Din has a poetic way of describing things that really paints a picture in your mind. The plot is very intriguing, and I enjoyed the way it developed and became more complex as the story went on. The world is rich and full of intricate details that really pull you into the story. Roma and Leviathan are very different characters, but the way their stories slowly become more entwined holds the readers attention and leaves you wanting more.

“It was easier to rule a people once you put the fear of gods in, once you convinced them poverty was a divine punishment, not the consequence of men’s greed.” 

There are a lot of strong themes in The Descent of the Drowned, and the plot tackles some pretty heavy content. Ana Lal Din manages to strike a perfect balance, exploring these themes in depth and shedding light on some unsavoury topics without losing focus or overpowering the plot. There is a lot of mention of the caste system throughout the story, which I thought was excellently depicted. The topics of prostitution as tied to religious worship, and the mistreatment of the Hijra (transgender or third-gender) community are mentioned as well. I have not read a fiction novel that previously addressed either of these topics, and the way Ana Lal Din brought them into the story was well executed. Darker themes of ethnic cleansing and human trafficking are also broached, and I thought they were handled very well. This is definitely a book that will stay with you after you are finished reading it. 

I would not call this a happy story. It is dark, and powerful, and hauntingly poetic. You will feel several different emotions as you read it, but I think the strongest emotion will be the desire for a sequel as quickly as possible. I highly recommend this debut novel for any and all fantasy lovers, it is a must read book that will be available March 15th, 2021. 

Review: Daughter of the Salt King by A.S. Thornton

Goodreads Synopsis: As a daughter of the Salt King, Emel ought to be among the most powerful women in the desert. Instead, she and her sisters have less freedom than even her father’s slaves … for the Salt King uses his own daughters to seduce visiting noblemen into becoming powerful allies by marriage. Escape from her father’s court seems impossible, and Emel dreams of a life where she can choose her fate. When members of a secret rebellion attack, Emel stumbles upon an alluring escape route: her father’s best-kept secret—a wish-granting jinni, Saalim. But in the land of the Salt King, wishes are never what they seem. Saalim’s magic is volatile. Emel could lose everything with a wish for her freedom as the rebellion intensifies around her. She soon finds herself playing a dangerous game that pits dreams against responsibility and love against the promise of freedom. As she finds herself drawn to the jinni for more than his magic, captivated by both him and the world he shows her outside her desert village, she has to decide if freedom is worth the loss of her family, her home and Saalim, the only man she’s ever loved.

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Adult Fiction

Date of Publication: February 2nd, 2021

Publisher: CamCat Books

My Rating: 3.5/5

Thanks to the author, CamCat Books and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book!

Emel’s life is less than ideal, as an ahira her only role is to use her wiles to provide a useful alliance for her father the Salt King. Her only hope of freedom is to be chosen as a visiting noblemen’s wife. One day, a surprise attack on the Salt King allows Emel to uncover the secret to his success, a jinni. Now, as one of the jinni’s masters, Emel has the power to wish for anything she wants. Jinni magic is tricky and volatile, and as she learns more about Saalim, she’s no longer certain what she wants. With a violent rebellion growing in the village, Emel must choose between her own freedom and something she’d never before considered, love. 

Freedom is a multi-layered concept, which Daughter of the Salt King explores at length. This story is an interesting take on the mythos of the Jinn. Instead of the vehicle with which to find love, the jinni Saalim is himself the love interest. The setting of this novel is mainly the Salt King’s village and his palace, found in the middle of an unforgiving desert. A.S. Thornton creates an intriguing and harsh environment for her characters. The main character, Emel, is part of the ahira, which is essentially a harem of the Kings daughters who get outsourced to visiting noblemen. These men get up to three nights with the daughter of their choosing, and if they like them they can marry them, providing the Salt King with a new ally. Daughters are given until their 23rd birthday to find a husband, after which they are banished from the palace and forced to live in exiled squalor. The lives of Emel and her sisters are essentially a mix of slavery and prostitution, so it’s really no wonder that Emel wants out. 

I appreciated how dangerous the magic of the Jinni is depicted, it stays true to the mythos of how unpredictable the jinn can be. Saalim however is not an unstable god, but instead comes across as a slave in his own right, forced to grant wishes for whoever controls him, whether he wants to or not. Saalim’s background is very interesting, and I would’ve liked to learn more about his past and where he came from. The length of the book is quite daunting for a romance, and at times I felt it got a bit repetitive. I would’ve liked to see more growth in Emel’s character, and more depth to her and Saalim’s romance. The rebellion plot was more to the forefront for me, and the romance felt almost secondary at times. 

For a debut romance novel, I think A.S. Thornton did well. Potentially, the length of the book could be shortened, and more time could be spent developing the characters, but overall it was an enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to romance lovers who are looking to try a new author. I think it would also serve for people who like fantasy novels and are looking for a lighter read. Daughter of the Salt King is available for purchase on February 2nd, 2021. 

Review: Wings of Ebony by J. Elle

Goodreads Synopsis: In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry–and with evil sinking its claws into humans and gods alike, she’ll have to unearth the magic of her true identity to save both her worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games. “Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghazan—a hidden island of magic wielders. Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghazan’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life. Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghazan—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighbourhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Date of Publication: January 26th, 2021

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 368 pages

My rating: 4/5 

Thank you to the author, Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book! 

Rue is a normal teenager living in East Row, getting on as best she can with her sister Tasha and her mother. Her life is upended suddenly when her mother is shot dead and her dad whisks her away to a far away land called Ghazan. It turns out that Rue is half-human, half-god, and is begrudgingly brought into Ghazani society and given access to their magical powers. When Rue finds out her sister Tasha is in trouble back in Houston, she breaks several of Ghazan’s rules to get back to her, and in doing so sets off a chain reaction of events that puts the lives of everyone she cares about in danger. As Rue discovers more about her ancestry and the history of Ghazan, she begins to realize that the problems in East Row are more connected to her new life in Ghazan than she thought. 

“Moms raised a diamond, and diamonds don’t crack.” 

What an absolute powerhouse of a debut novel. The author J. Elle manages to take the classic story of ‘human brought into a magical world’ and flip it on it’s head, bringing new life into the tried-and-true genre. Rue’s story is captivating right from the beginning, and the action-packed plot kept me hooked from start to finish. While largely a fantasy novel, J. Elle manages to inject a lot of real-world situations into the story, making this a very topical read for 2021. The way J. Elle mixes social commentary into the other-worldly plot of the book adds to the powerful message of the story and helps to form a deeper connection with the reader. 

As a main character, Rue manages to shine both as a powerful heroine and as a fun and relatable narrator. The book includes a lot of teenage slang which helps bring focus to Rue’s age and highlights her identity, and overall it fits quite naturally into the story. I really liked the side characters that made up the community of East Row, and I hope we get to see them develop more in a future sequel. I will admit I did enjoy the parts of the story that took place in Houston and East Row the most. While Ghazan was an integral part of the book, I found myself eagerly awaiting the next foray into the ‘real world’. 

Wings of Ebony was a great blend of fiction and real life, with a main character who fits well into both worlds. I’m looking forward to reading more from J. Elle, and especially a continuation of Rue’s story. I would recommend this book to lovers of Young Adult Fantasy, especially anyone who wants a refreshingly new take on the classic ‘Harry Potter’ style fantasy novel. Available for pre-order or purchase on January 26th, 2021. 

Review: Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Goodreads Synopsis: A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Climate Fiction

Date of Publication: January 19th, 2021

Publisher: Erewhon Books

My rating: 3/5

A big thanks to Olivia Chadha, Erewhon Books and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book!

The world is dying; bombs and pollution have made the air toxic and the sea has swallowed up whole cities. In the South Asian Province, the lucky few who are deemed worthy get to live in Central, a climate-controlled biodome with fresh air and technology that can keep them young and healthy. The rest of the population live in the slums surrounding it, struggling to survive by any means necessary. Ashiva, a member of the revolutionaries fighting for the citizens, and Riz-Ali, a hacker living in Central, seem like an unlikely pair. Together, they will fight to protect their communities at all costs, even if it means going head-to-head with their province’s government. 

I was excited to read my first climate-fiction book (cli-fi as I recently learned). The premise was intriguing; secret revolutionary groups in a dystopian future, cybernetically enhanced people, biodomes to fight toxic pollution, it all sounds fascinating. I think that the author Olivia Chadha put a great amount of effort in building a vibrant futuristic world affected by human-made climate disasters. Ashiva is a strong female character, and I loved that she is not some perfect cookie-cutter heroine. She is a war-torn and resilient as you would have to be when living in the slums surrounded by death and poverty. Riz-Ali was a great contrast to Ashiva, being one of the privileged citizens living in Central and having grown up in wildly different circumstances. The story Olivia Chadha built and the characters she filled it with is wildly imaginative and full of potential. 

I wasn’t a big fan of the multiple perspectives we switch through between chapters. It made sense to move between Ashiva and Riz-Ali, but there were also chapters featuring Taru, a third character I was not expecting. I found that it became a bit tricky to follow each storyline, especially with all of the details and secondary characters that are included in the book. At certain points it was hard to follow exactly what was happening, because there were so many other details to remember in order to keep the story straight. The sheer amount of detail Olivia Chadha managed to pack into this first book is incredible, I just had trouble retaining it all at once, and this made it difficult to immerse myself in the story. 

The Rise of the Red Hand is a book with many levels. It is rich in cultural elements which brings the futuristic South Asia to life. The author’s exploration of climate change, class disparity and rebellion against governmental agencies is nuanced and thoroughly explored. Maybe it’s my personal inexperience with science-fiction that made it harder for me to get through this book. It might potentially take me a second read-through to really appreciate it to it’s full extent. I will still recommend this book to Science-Fiction enthusiasts who are looking to start a promising new series.

Review: Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Goodreads Synopsis: In the tradition of Wrench and Twelve Years a Slave, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia. Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Brown was promised her freedom on her eighteenth birthday. But when her birthday finally comes around, instead of the idyllic life she was hoping for with her true love, she finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where slaves are broken, tortured, and sold every day. Forced to become the mistress of the brutal man who owns the jail, Pheby faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect her heart in this powerful, thrilling story of one slave’s fight for freedom.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Expected Date of Publication: January 12th, 2021

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 4.5/5

A big thank you to Sadeqa Johnson, Simon and & Schuster and Netgalley for the digital ARC of this book. 

Pheby Brown did not have a perfect life, but her mother had raised her with one promise, she would be a free woman on her eighteenth birthday. This promise would not come to pass. Her path takes a turn for the worse when she is sold to the Jailor who owns the Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where people are beaten and sold to the highest bidder. Sacrifices have to be made, and Pheby will need to make hard choices to protect herself and the ones she loves most. 

A mother’s love knows no bounds. Yellow Wife is not a feel-good book. This is a ‘rip out your heart and stomp it to pieces’ book. That being said, I highly recommend it. There were some parts that I really struggled to get through, and a few times I had to put the book down and just take a breath for a moment. This story will gut you, it will sink into your soul and stay there long after you are finished reading. Prepare to cry, and prepare to feel a lot of pain while you read this book.

Sadeqa Johnson does a phenomenal job with the story of Pheby Brown. Her character is strong and resilient, and it’s very easy to understand the actions she takes, no matter how heartbreaking they are. I found it extremely interesting that this story is based off of real people who had lived in Richmond, Virginia. I’m thankful to the author for providing a narrative to a piece of history that otherwise might not have been told, simply because it’s not as ‘big news’ as other historical events.

The story itself is very engaging, and Sadeqa Johnson really pulls readers into life on the Devil’s Half-acre. No punches are pulled, and we are given the good and the bad with equal detail, no matter how horrific. The emotions felt by Pheby Brown are portrayed so intensely you can’t help but feel them too. Her spirit is unbreakable, and the fierceness of her love and dedication to the ones she cares about is a wonderful thing to experience. 

If you are a fan of historical fiction I recommend this book, and if you don’t have much experience with historical fiction I recommend you start here. Yellow Wife is not a happy story, but it is a piece of Southern US history that needs to be seen. This story will eviscerate you, but in a good way, I promise. Make sure to pre-order, or watch for it’s release on January 12th, 2021. 

Review – The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Synopsis: Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised… and curious. Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family’s past is. The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

Publication Date: December 1st, 2020

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Length: 337 pages

My rating: 4.5/5

Nothing says family like secrets and lies. The Story family is broken; after the death of their father, the four Story children were promptly disinherited by their mother and forbidden from visiting her. The mystery deepens when, out of the blue, Mildred Story invites her three grandchildren to visit her and spend the summer working on the island where she lives. Milly, Aubrey and Jonah, each with their own agenda and their own secrets, soon find out that nothing on the island is quite what it seems. 

Family drama sure is fun when it isn’t your own! The Cousins was an exciting read, packed with mystery that kept me on my toes until the very end. Karen M. McManus did a great job of creating a story with a lot of twists and turns, each one more shocking than the last. I have found that sometimes mystery novels can lose my interest too quickly if they reveal too much right away, or if the author keeps me in the dark too long. Karen McManus found the perfect middle, revealing just enough to keep me hooked without giving away the big finale. 

The characters were all well developed and unique. Shifting points of view between the three main characters was a fun way of getting different perspectives on the story, and I appreciated how their individual voices came through to tell . I particularly enjoyed learning about the dysfunctional Story children, and how they grew up from spoiled rich teens to bitter adults, each one affected differently by their mother’s rejection. Characters don’t necessarily have to be perfect to be relatable, and it was nice to find that Milly, Jonah and Aubrey acted like fairly typical teenagers, even when their bad decisions made me cringe at times.

The way the author revealed parts of the story using both the past and the present was very enjoyable, and I liked the subtle clues that were left for the reader to use to piece together the truth. There was a good balance struck between the narratives in the past and in the present, so one didn’t dominate over the other. Karen McManus built an engaging world on the small island where the Story’s grew up, and every little detail was meaningful in some way or another. I would say that this Young Adult fiction book is on the ‘younger’ end of the spectrum, every so often I got some strong Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy vibes from the characters. This isn’t a bad thing, if anything I think it opens up the readership for this book to a larger group of people. I would go so far as to say it could be classified as Teen/Young Adult for that reason. 

I enjoyed this book from cover to cover, and would definitely recommend it to any mystery-lovers I come across. The Story family mystery was riveting in its entirety, and you can’t help but want to know the truth about Mildred Story and her children. The Cousins is a very hard book to put down, and a great 2020 read. I look forward to checking out Karen McManus’s other books as well.