Reviews

The Vanishing Stair

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 


This review is heavily delayed, given that I read and enjoyed this book at the beginning of the year. The sequel, and final installment in the trilogy, is about to come out however…and I need to be ready. I also buddy-read this with Liz from This is Lit! (Check her podcast out here.)

To be honest, I was skeptical when I first read Truly Devious, the first novel in this mysterious trilogy, but I powered through and ultimately had a good time. The Vanishing Stair was a different story- I was sucked into this from the beginning. Vanishing Stair is a lot like its predecessor in many ways, but it also had a sense of urgency and action that I felt the first one lacked. This time around there was no slowing down.

My favorite thing about these books has always been their protagonist, Stevie. Her practical outlook on life, her struggles with her anxiety disorder, as well as her all-too-common variety of teen problems, have always come off as very relatable to me at their core. While the books might sometimes be over-the-top, or just over-the-top enough one could argue, Stevie is an anchor for the whole series. Her personality is whole and grounded and I enjoy watching her make decisions and figure out secrets at every turn.

I haven’t connected super deeply with any of the romantic stories in this series, but I honestly don’t think that the book needs it. The Vanishing Stair moves quickly and has detail and action a plenty, there is always something happening. I didn’t get bored, all the way up to the end.

I’m really looking forward to The Hand on the Wall, the finale to this trilogy. I can’t wait to find out who ’Truly Devious’ is and solve the mystery once and for all.

If you are someone who likes a good mystery without the gore or scares, these books are for you. They are eerie and mysterious, confusing and thought-provoking, even sometimes surprising, but its a gentler kind of murder mystery than I am used to. Personally, I think its a strength. This core has connected with so many readers and I whole-heartedly enjoyed my read so far. Check this one out for yourselves!


See you soon, friends! x

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ARC Reviews, Reviews

The Return

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.


See you all on Tuesday! x

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Reviews

The Necromancer’s Prison

She wanted to find her place in the universe. She never imagined it might not be on Earth.

When Emily Murphy over slept the morning of her college entrance exam, she thought missing her test was the worst thing that could happen. She never expected she would wind up lost halfway across the galaxy, battling aliens with laser guns and mages hurling lightning.

Like most seventeen year olds, Emily’s main concern had been navigating the perils of high school, not surviving shootouts and sorcery. That changed when her school was attacked and a student was kidnapped. While everyone else smartly fled from danger, she recklessly ran toward it mounting an impossible rescue that would lead her on a journey unlike anything she could have imagined.

Dropped into a strange world teeming with merciless criminals and ruthless aristocrats, surrounded by violence and betrayal, Emily must untangle a web of intrigue and deceit to solve the mystery behind the abduction, save her classmate, and discover the destiny which awaits her.

It is either that, or die trying…


What an absolutely fun read.

I had no expectations when I picked this one up, just excitement and hope. A debut novel that mixed three of my favorite things: YA, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi? Yeah, I was down for the ride, and I was not disappointed.

The Necromancer’s Prison has a lot of strengths going for it. For one, the mix of genres feels fresh and unique. More and more in YA, and fantasy in general, I see magic and aliens/technology being mixed and connected in some way. It’s such a cool effect. Because of this, there are tropes and plot points in the book that feel fresh if only because of this interesting perspective. The mix of genres also mixes the reader’s expectations and kept me on my toes the entire time, wondering what would happen next.

Second, I felt a particular fondness for the main character, Emily. She is a smart, strong, determined, young woman and even when she didn’t know what to do, I never felt that she (or the writer) were taking the easy way out with any of her choices. Even the side characters were written so well; the banter and spectrum of relationships between them felt so natural and real. At their core, Whitesell’s characters are relatable as hell and you find yourself rooting for them easily throughout the book.

Lastly, I have to commend the author for how he kept the pace of the plot moving throughout the whole book. Sometimes in big concept books like this the middle does this thing where it- drags, I guess. The exposition gets too heavy and things slow down. Not in this book. The Necromancer’s Prison kept things fast, tight, and quick. The plot was thoughtful and clever and I found myself reading faster and faster as I got through the book. The writing is compelling and engaging and, most of all, I think that’s what made this book such a fun and entertaining read.

Overall, this was such a strong debut novel for Whitesell and I enjoyed it a lot. The Necromancer’s Prison is creative and explosive, action-packed and full of faceted characters. If you’re a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, definitely go check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

A big thanks to Alec Whitesell for providing me with a review copy of his book in exchange for an honest review! I had so much fun reading it and I look forward to reading whatever you write next.


See you tomorrow, folks! x

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ARC Reviews, Reviews

Rules for Vanishing

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.


See you tomorrow! x

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ARC Reviews, Book Tour, Reviews

Refraction ( + Giveaway!)

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N


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.

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Enter to win a copy of Refraction by Naomi Hughes!

Giveaway is open to US residents and ends 11/19/2019.

Enter through this Rafflecopter form and may the odds be ever in your favor!


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ARC Reviews, Reviews

The Furies

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead.

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.


Happy reading, friends! x

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