An edgy and haunting debut novel about a group of friends who reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance.
Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return. But Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and she feels in her bones that her best friend is out there, and that one day she’ll come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.
The Return by Rachel Harrison was un-put-down-able.
I had so much fun reading this and stayed up way too late more than once to reach the end of the story. The Return was everything that I wanted in a modern horror, mystery novel: it’s murky, compelling, hypnotic, and slowly ratchets up the tension with a masterful hand. If you like horror, or even if you like thrillers or mysteries and want to try something new that isn’t too gory, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it.
This book is ultimately about friendship. As dark, mysterious, and grisly as it gets, what makes this book so great is the emphasis of the strength of female friendships through it all. If you’ve had a group of girlfriends for a long time, you know how far you would go for them. Or do you? Regardless, The Return makes you face this question over and over and over again as Elise, Julie, Molly, & Mae have to figure out the answer to this question themselves.
The friendships and characters alone were enough to keep me reading. The book shifts POVs occasionally, but I most loved and related to the primary POV character: Elise. She was broke and a little bit judgemental, sarcastic and a little crass sometimes, while giving in too much in others. She was, more than anything, just so relatable. All of her feelings, thoughts, and choices that she has to face in the story after her missing friend returns after so many years, they felt real and natural, like how I would probably react myself. Their friendships are real and deep, despite their struggles and so much time apart. Anyone who’s tried to reconnect with an old friend after too many years will find so many of their most painful moments so relatable. Mostly, I enjoyed that a group of women friends were center-stage for this story. Especially in the horror genre, I find that to be a beautiful and powerful thing in its own right.
More than anything, The Return was just engaging as hell. Even if I hadn’t known it was a thriller, each page felt like it turned itself as I couldn’t stop reading. Reading about them trying to reconnect after such an odd and all-consuming trauma was fascinating in its own right, before anything spooky even begins. After that– well, I couldn’t have put the book down then if I’d tried. Once the shadows start to recede in this mystery, this book breaks out the insane, dark and deadly in such fine form and it was a real treat to read.
Check out The Return when it releases on March 24th, 2020!
Thanks so much to Edelweiss+ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.
Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?
It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.
Well, what can I say? I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
I had no expectations when I picked up Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall. I had never read anything by Marshall before, YA horror was a genre I hadn’t read for years, and I had won this book in a contest before it was published, so- at the time, I didn’t even really know what it was about. I can now say that absolutely none of that mattered. I picked up Rules for Vanishing on a Tuesday night and finished it on a Wednesday afternoon. And not on purpose, mind you, but something about the eerie beginning of this story swept me up almost immediately.
Rules for Vanishing was everything I want around this time of year: eerie, mysterious, spooky, and full of questions.
There were so many things I liked about it that I’m just going to make a list:
One. The format of this book was so much fun to read. Rules for Vanishing is sometimes written like a traditional, first-person novel, but only in some chapters. Most chapters are something different: transcripts from videos found on various characters’ phones, interviews with police, school assignments. This changed the angle of perspective constantly throughout the book which only added a deliciously disorienting effect to an already mysterious story. If this was an homage to the trend of found footage in horror movies in the last few years, it was executed with a very thoughtful eye. It was compelling as hell.
Two. I liked all of the characters. Okay, some of them more than others, but- given they’re a group of teenagers, I feel like that’s only fair. I really felt for all of the main circle though and I feel like Marshall did a great job at giving each of them a unique and relatable vulnerability. They were teenagers, to put it quite simply. Some of them were vain or pretentious or dramatic, but they were also great friends. Their histories were varied and riddled with complications and old wounds and, because of this, their reunion through the story had a sentimental, electric effect. This book made me remember running around with a group of kids at that age, only never in such dire circumstances. I rooted for them.
Three. The main character, Sara, was particularly competent in a way that just makes me so happy. I love reading a character, especially when she’s a woman, that does the best they can and generally doesn’t do anything supremely stupid, barring normal human error anyway. People are flawed, and so is Sara, but it can also be refreshing to read about a character who is driven, prepared, and competent to do what they’re doing. Or- for the most part, at least. Especially in YA, I liked seeing her fortitude and drive being front and center.
Four. Damn, Kate Alice Marshall did a fantastic job of rendering The Road in all of its mysterious, terrifying, glory. The environments in this story are often shrouded in darkness or lost to the unknown, but the way that the author chooses to render them to the reader was done particularly well. Marshall’s descriptions were focused on all the right things to bring you right into the moment that these characters are living and forget about the world around you. I couldn’t put the book down, mostly because I just couldn’t stand not knowing what insane, spooky obstacle would come up next. The plot and the atmosphere are drenched in fog and confusion and malevolent spirits and I loved every twist.
Five. I love horror, scary movies, scary books, and all things Spooky Season so I’m not an easy scare. While I wouldn’t say this book “scared” me per se, it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, wanting more. Too often with YA horror/thriller it feels like something is being held back, either in the writing or in the topics, but I didn’t feel that here. Marshall took me to some dark places, both in the story and conceptually, and I genuinely enjoyed myself along the ride. I commend her for taking those risks because they paid off.
So- I guess I really recommend this book. Especially if YA is your thing and/or spooky books are your thing! This book had a little bit of all of that and then a little more, and a ghost story on top of the whole thing. Rules for Vanishing is on shelves now! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Thank you so much to BookishFirst who provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
After an attack on earth, all reflective surfaces become weapons to release monsters, causing a planet-wide ban on mirrors. Despite the danger, the demand rises, and 17-year-old Marty Callahan becomes a distributor in an illegal mirror trade―until he’s caught by the mayor’s son, whose slate is far from clean. Both of them are exiled for their crimes to one of the many abandoned cities overrun by fog. But they soon realize their thoughts influence their surroundings and their deepest fears begin to manifest.
With fast pacing and riveting characters, this is a book that you’ll finish in one sitting.
Refraction by Naomi Hughes was an intense, compelling, ultimately fun read that I kept itching to pick back up. During work or driving home, I’d be thinking about where I left off and what theories or guesses I had about the story. Ultimately, I enjoyed this a lot. Another win for YA Horror in 2019.
First and foremost, the characters felt real and so did their connection. They felt like people: engaging, likable and flawed. I still rooted for them. I wanted them to survive. Marty’s drive to get to his brother and Eliot’s need for approval were so relatable, honest, and human that my empathy survived through every fumble, twist, and turn.
I also loved that there wasn’t a romance in this book. I don’t mind romance, usually I enjoy it, but because it seems to be in absolutely every story lately, this was— a refreshing change of pace. It was nice to not be distracted for once, especially in a story where it would have felt forced. It wasn’t needed. The story kicked ass on its own.
The plot was wild, dark, and frequently terrifying. I’ve always been particularly creeped out by scary stories involving mirrors and this one took that trope and ran with it. The author does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing and the reveal(s) took me off guard more than once.
Not everyone likes an open ending, but I do. This one left just enough room for the imagination, while providing enough of a foundation to still be satisfying. I’d love to read a sequel, if that’s in the cards. Who knows?
Ultimately, I enjoyed Refraction a whole lot. I have high hopes whenever I dive into a YA scary story, and this mix of horror and sci-fi was the perfect tone to set my spine tingling. I loved the focus and detail the story was written with, and it was just unbelievable enough that I was swept up along for the ride. If this genre is your jam, don’t miss Refraction this year.
Hey! I’m Naomi Hughes, writer of quirky young adult fiction (usually involving physics and/or unicorns). I live in the Midwest US, a region I love even though it tries to murder me with tornadoes every spring. When not writing, my hobbies include reading (of course), traveling, and geeking out over Marvel superheroes and certain time-traveling Doctors. My debut YA sci-fi standalone novel, Afterimage, is available now from Page Street Publishing. My next novel, Refraction (also a standalone YA sci-fi), comes out in Nov 2019. I also offer freelance critique services at naomiedits.com.
She’s posed on a swing on her boarding school’s property, dressed all in white, with no known cause of death. Whispers and rumors swirl, with no answers. But there are a few who know what happened; there is one girl who will never forget.
One year earlier: a new student, Violet, steps on the campus of Elm Hollow Academy, an all-girl’s boarding school on the outskirts of a sleepy coastal town. This is her fresh start, her chance to begin again in the wake of tragedy, leave her demons behind. Bright but a little strange, uncertain and desperate to fit in, she soon finds herself invited to an advanced study group, led by her alluring and mysterious art teacher, Annabel.
There, with three other girls–Alex, Grace, and Robin–the five of them delve into the school’s long-buried grim history: of Greek and Celtic legends; of the school founder’s “academic” interest in the occult; of gruesome 17th century witch trials. Annabel does her best to convince the girls that her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals, and that they are just history and mythology. But the more she tries to warn the girls off the topic, the more they drawn to it, and the possibility that they can harness magic for themselves.
Violet quickly finds herself wrapped up in this heady new world of lawless power–except she is needled by the disappearance of a former member of the group, one with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance. As her friends’ actions take a turn for the darker and spiral out of control, she begins to wonder who she can trust, all the while becoming more deeply entangled. How far will these young girls go to protect one another…or to destroy one another?
I am loving the “female rage novel” trend, aren’t you??
The Furies by Katie Lowe is another compelling addition to this developing genre. Following the new girl at the notorious Elm Hollow Academy, the Furies reads like The Craft, Mean Girls, and The Secret History all had a meeting and wrote a book together. It’s dark, explores the intense sides of humanity and female friendship, throws in a dash of witchcraft, and all for an enthusiastic Young Adult crowd.
I am always fascinated when a book explores female relationships as a primary plot point and this book definitely does that in spades. The girls in this book are sometimes brutal, mean, or downright wild but they are all one thing at their core: human. I loved the way the author played with mortality and fear and the ways we compete with each other whether we’re in competition or not.
Lowe’s writing style sets the perfect tone for this kind of story. Her descriptions are detailed and full, the plot is tight and interesting all the way through, but what I liked most was the way she wrote characters. Lowe’s eye to humans and their relationships is nuanced and examined and thoughtful, which gives the whole book an eerie speculative feel. The Furies does an excellent job of making the reader wonder what is going to happen next and if we really know the characters as well as we think we do.
Overall, The Furies was a great debut and an excellent contribution to the recent growth of “rage-lit.” It was fun, brutal, twisted, and consistently kept my attention on every page. I enjoyed feeling, raging, and going wild with the girls in The Furies, and I very much hope you will too.
Hey all! I am so excited to share with you my stop on the Angel Mage Tour. I’ve got some creative content for you, a review of this awesome new book, and a giveaway down at the bottom! Hope you enjoy. x
“More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.
A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.
Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.
But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.
The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfill her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else. . .”
When I heard that Garth Nix was releasing another book, I was SO excited. Then even more excited when I earned an advanced copy and a spot on this tour!
If you don’t know this about me, I used to read Nix’s Old Kingdom series when I was younger and it was one that I consistently went back to as I grew up. Starting with Sabriel, the Old Kingdom series was like quicksand for me, it sucked me in and never let me out again. But the wonderful thing about the way Nix writes is that it seemed to almost age with me: I noticed new things, I understood the relationships and complex world even better, it was a whole new experience.
Suffice to say, because of all this, I had high expectations for Angel Mage. After all, this is the same world as the Old Kingdom series…only 100 years later. If you’re familiar with the Old Kingdom series, you’ll recognize and enjoy callbacks and references to parts of the world you remember. But the real joy of the way Nix has written this book is that it can also stand alone. You don’t need any credentials to pick up and enjoy this book, aside from wanting to.
And Angel Mage starts off with a bang. Nix throws us into this insane world without warning and with plenty of action. Given that Nix has a writing style that not everyone finds easy to read, I was pleasantly surprised by how fast-paced, action-packed, and tight this book really was. The plot moves quickly and I found myself waiting, on the edge of my seat many times, just to find out what was going to happen next.
It wouldn’t be possible to talk about a Garth Nix book without pointing out what a beautiful job he does with the world-building and mythology in his work. The World of Angel Mage is so full of fascinating things to latch onto, question, and wonder about. The magical and ‘religious’ and/or angelic pantheon system that Nix has created in this story is immense and complex and so unique. I’ve yet to read anything else like it and it was one of my favorite parts of the book, figuring out how this fascinating new system of fantasy worked.
Another thing Nix always delivers well is a solid, character-driven story. Despite the plot moving full speed ahead, the characters that we travel with throughout this story have not been forgotten about in the least. I loved to hate the main character in the weirdest way: I empathized with her, felt so deeply for her, and also constantly wanted to shake her by the shoulders. Her drive and stubbornness are such a deep part of her character and mission that she felt alive.
Even Angel Mage’s side characters, of which there are four of note, are all unique and full and tangible. I felt their friendship for each other, which is another feat I appreciate so much in books, it felt so real. Their complex histories and personal drives were all so rich and woven into the story so as to dangerously intertwine at just the right moment.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Angel Mage was gripping, character-driven, quick, and wonderfully magical. Once you ease into the style of Nix’s writing, the world is immersive and beautifully written and I think anyone, adult or young adult, who enjoys fantasy might enjoy this too.
Sound interesting? I thought so! In fact I LOVE a good book that can take something so big and vast and complex as the topics of Angels and Gods and turn it into something fresh, original, and new.
Here are a few more of my favorite books that delight in showing off the most original facets of the Divine:
This might be my favorite take on angels today. (Yes, its also my favorite series, so I am biased, but still.) I hesitate to say too much here, for the simple fact that you might be reading this series and not have gotten to and/or realized the bigger picture of this bizarre and fascinating urban fantasy world. If not, you are in luck; there are huge, shocking, wonderful, horrible twists ahead for you. Butcher uses a myriad of references and entities to weave a bigger story into his narrative and it continues to blow me away. If you like your Angels and Demons smart, subtle, and truly old-as-time, this is the series for you. (Adult, Urban Fantasy)
Is there another book that uses gods and angels and higher beings so creatively? I’m not sure. American Gods is a big, wandering, complex book that is a wild ride to read, I’ve enjoyed it many times. What I love most about it though is how it uses America, a country that’s (ideally) known for being a ‘melting pot’ of different beliefs and cultures, to show a new side to how that might affect those gods being believed in. What happens to a god when their worshippers are driven from their homes and have to find a new way of life? What happens to a god when their people have to assimilate into a new culture? What happens to a god when they are forgotten about? There are so many questions, and so many more, that American Gods both answers and poses, but if these questions interest you then the book will too. If you like your Angels and Demons a little bit gritty, jaded, and all varieties of pissed off, this might be the book for you. (Adult, Urban Fantasy)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Gaiman made this list twice. But given that these two list entries could not be more different from each other, I’m going to say its a fair count. Good Omens is the antithesis of American Gods in many ways, but also it’s just…its own wonderful thing. Good Omens is funny and irreverent, smart and clever, and full of Gaiman’s trademark profundity and Pratchett’s beloved sense of humor. The two of them come together to create something that is, all at once, a thriller, a coming of age story, a cosmic battle between good and evil, and also just a story of a boy and his dog. This book is hilarious, beautiful, sad, and sweet, and most of all, just a great time. If you like your Angels and Demons to be equal turns snarky and adorable, human-loving and rule-breaking, really into their organizations and maybe a little bit in love with each other too- this book is for you. (Adult, Fantasy)
I didn’t expect this series to have anything at all to do with gods or angels or the like, but Megan Whalen Turner has a way of surprising me in everything she does. While these books center on political and royal intrigues for the most part, the reader can’t deny that a bigger picture starts forming early on. The main character, Eugenidies, doesn’t want the gods’ attention and didn’t ask for it, but he seems to have it. Between being sent dreams, his fate being turned at a whim, and even direct contact, Eugenidies can’t ignore the very real truth that the gods want something with him. And they want something bigger, too. As each book builds on itself and his life changes in ways he couldn’t imagine, the picture starts to become clearer and so many things hinge on his trust in his gods. If you like your Angels and Demons subtle but direct, amused, and willing to change a person’s fate to meet their own ends, this may be the series for you. (MG/YA, Fantasy)
Tamora Pierce has been a beloved author of mine since I was young, and I’ve read all her books. She’s written multiple series, but all of them fall into one of two worlds: Tortall or Emelan, named after the countries these stories spend the most time in. Each of these series are different, with different protagonists, struggles, and even magical and religious systems across the two worlds. There is so much variety in the way the people in these worlds worship, which gods they worship, and especially how magic factors into it all. In one world Pierce paints her gods as distant but accessible, benevolent. They exist but on a more practical, worldly level that each character can turn over and decide how it makes them feel. It feels fresh and honest and magically fascinating, and if that sounds like something you’d like be sure to check out her books in Emelan. In Tortall, the gods may feel distant for some but they are ever so very, very present. If you like your gods and angels and spiritual entities meddling and emotional, personal and relational, and potentially able to visit, that might be the series for you instead. Pierce has so much to offer in this arena.
This series is relatively new; its a trilogy but only two of the books have been published so far, Furyborn and Kingsbane. I enjoyed them both. The most fascinating part for me, in both of them, was the way that Legrand writes this world: magic and religion and angels and science all wrapped up together into one complex thread that cannot be unraveled. If you like your Angels and gods to span centuries and stories, to do whatever it takes to complete their mission, this might be the series for you.
All of the books from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
Oh, Tolkien. How could I not include Tolkien? I don’t know about you but I am a huge fan of Middle-Earth and all of its stories. Tolkien’s work may be dense, but what makes up for it, especially when it comes to angels, demons and gods, is the immense amount of culture and world-building that he manages to fit into every story. Tolkien’s world has gods and beliefs and cultures that go back so far into the history of Middle-Earth that most people on real Earth don’t know the half of it. If you like your Angels and Demons to be distant, more mythological than personable, more story than entity, this is the right world for you. There are so many facets to explore.
I had so much fun reading Angel Mage and honestly I had so much fun making this list. I could ramble on here about more ideas for the rest of the day, but I hope I’ve at least given you some new titles to check out for your next divine read. What a wild world it is.
Garth Nix has been a full-time writer since 2001, but has also worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve.
Garth’s books include the Old Kingdom fantasy series, comprising Sabriel, Lirael; Abhorsen; Clariel and Goldenhand; SF novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes; and a Regency romance with magic, Newt’s Emerald. His novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series and others. He has co-written several books with Sean Williams, including the Troubletwisters series; Spirit Animals Book Three: Blood Ties; Have Sword, Will Travel; and the forthcoming sequel Let Sleeping Dragons Lie. A contributor to many anthologies and magazines, Garth’s selected short fiction has been collected in Across the Wall and To Hold the Bridge.
More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, they have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today and his work has been translated into 42 languages. His most recent book is Frogkisser! now being developed as a film by Twentieth Century Fox/Blue Sky Animation.
“Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic… and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.
When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.
But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?”
Stargazing is one of those books that I would love to hand to every kid in the world. And every adult, for that matter. This charming story about friendship, feeling alone in the world and defining who we are is a wonder of nostalgia and something that feels so original. I’m a huge fan of Jen Wang and she did not disappoint. One of my first reviews was another graphic novel by Jen Wang, The Prince and The Dressmaker, and I cannot recommend either of these books highly enough.
There are so many good things to say about this book that I don’t know where to start. The characters are real and relatable, their problems and fears are important and I felt their falls and victories like they were mine. Wang does an incredible job of bringing her own experiences and authenticity to Stargazing and it pays off in spades.
I loved so many things about Stargazing. Particularly, I loved the unique perspective that Moon brings to the story and the journey she undergoes. Though not for the same reasons, I too felt that I didn’t belong here as a child, that I was secretly from somewhere else and might one day go back there, where it all made sense and I fit. I felt her loneliness at learning that she is a child of this earth the way that we all are. I felt her loneliness at learning that some of us are always going to be looking upwards, looking for something fantastic, no matter how grown up we become.
Christine, the other primary character in Stargazing, takes us on a different but just as valuable story, in trying to figure out how she’s supposed to be. From painting her nails, to the music she listens to, to her values and the friends she chooses, Christine is at an age where we all asked ourselves so many of these same questions. Do I fit in? Do I have to be who my parents/community/expectations tell me to be? Do I like who I am? Who do I want to be? Her journey was so relatable, especially so for those living in a community like Christine’s where she feels there is a “right” and “rewarded” way to be, like everyone else.
I was so excited when I requested this ARC from Netgalley, and so lucky to have gotten my hands on it. Jen Wang has impressed me again with this beautiful, sweet, whole-hearted story of two new friends trying to find their way in the world. Stargazing is about friendship, forgiveness, and feeling otherworldly, but its also a powerful story of growing up. To anyone who has felt alone, that they don’t belong, or that there might be something greater waiting for them, don’t miss out on Stargazing. You won’t regret it.
I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This one hits shelves on September 10, 2019!
“We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the way we hurt the ones we love, and try to do better.”