The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik #bookreview #YA #fantasy #magic #TuesdayBookBlog

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . 

Friends in my bookclub highly recommend this series, so when I saw the second book for request on NetGalley, I quickly requested it. Then I had to hustle to read the first (I listened to an audiobook) before diving in.

This school, The Scholomance, is a nonstop Hunger Games kind of place. Students’ lives are constantly threatened by hidden creatures, alliances are made and broken – and that’s just to get downstairs to the cafeteria where food often runs short. Graduations are traditionally a bloodbath, with students required to fight their way out a monster-filled pit. Even making it to senior year is nothing short of a miracle. Definitely a survival of the fittest scenario.

If you’re as big a fan of snark and sarcasm as I am, you’ll immediately fall for main character El. She doesn’t hold back her feelings – unless it comes to chosen one and her maybe boyfriend (she keeps denying it) Orion. The conversations and interactions between the two of them are sometimes awkward, occasionally combative, and always entertaining. Initially a loner, El now has friends and allies and is determined they all survive their final year. She and Orion may be the only people capable of ensuring that happens.

This story is told from El’s POV and while I love her voice, there’s very little dialogue throughout the novel. It’s a writing style I haven’t come across often, and I admit to veering off the path of the story while El’s thoughts ramble before making their way back to the original point. Pacing in the first half of the novel isn’t as brisk as I’d expected, but around the 75% mark, the action really takes off like a rocket. And that ending! For some reason I thought this was a duology, but clearly there will be a third book – there better be – and I’m almost scared to see the direction it takes.

If you’re looking for a darker magic academy type of story with incredibly dangerous and life-threatening stakes, this is a series I’d recommend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune #bookreview #fantasy #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

After reading The House in the Cerulean Sea, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this author’s newest release. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Once again, this author has left me awestruck. It’s hard to convey how much I loved this book and the feelings it evoked in me, but I’ll give it a shot.

Wallace is not a nice person. At all. He’s a workaholic who cares very little for the employees at his law office. After he dies of a sudden heart attack in his 40s, all he leaves behind is a failed marriage and his firm – no family or friends, not even a pet. At his sparsely-attended funeral not one person has a kind word to say about him. There, he meets a feisty reaper who escorts him to a peculiar tea shop to meet the ferryman. The tea shop is a kind of layover for the recently deceased until they’re ready to move on. Here, Wallace experiences the five stages of grief – anger is a big one for him – and eventually has some earth-shattering moments of self-realization. He may have been alive, but he never really lived.

Besides the ferryman and reaper, there are a couple other characters at the tea house, and I fell in love with all of them. They felt like family by the end of the story. As with The House in the Cerulean Sea, humor is still prevalent along with plenty of heartfelt moments. I’m not a person who cries easily over books or movies, but I’m batting a thousand with Klune.

This novel is about love, grief, friendship, family, a wide variety of teas, and truly living. It’s also about death and what might come after, but it’s dealt with in a light-hearted, thought-provoking, moving, and beautiful way. As with The House in the Cerulean Sea, it’s a book I’ll recommend to everyone I know, reader or not.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Last Beautiful Girl by Nina Laurin #bookreview #YA #horror #gothic

BLACK MIRROR meets Darcy Coates in this exploration of the dangerous, dark side of beauty in the digital age, with a gothic, haunted-house setting.

When Izzy is dragged from Brooklyn to a tiny town for her parents’ new job, she’s not thrilled. The silver lining is the gorgeous old mansion she’s moved into: the former home of an artist’s muse who died tragically in a fire. But the house has its quirks: whole floors are closed off, paintings are covered up, and cell reception is nonexistent.

Izzy throws herself into starting an Instagram fashion account using the gowns and jewelry she finds hidden away in the house. She looks perfect in the photos–almost unnaturally perfect–and they quickly go viral. Soon she’s got a new best friend, a potential boyfriend, and is surrounded by a group of girls who want the photoshoots and fame for themselves. But there’s a darkness in the house, and a darkness growing in Izzy, too. When girls start dying, it’s clear that something–or someone–in the house is growing in power, with deadly intentions. 

I have to admit – I would have passed up this book if it hadn’t mentioned Black Mirror, Darcy Coates, and a gothic, haunted-house setting. The cover didn’t scream horror to me.

The descriptions of the old mansion Izzy and her family relocate to paint a picture of a beautiful home that’s falling into ruin. I could easily imagine the architectural details and understand Izzy’s unexpected delight when seeing it for the first time. This haunted house had the potential to offer those delicious spine-tingling chills horror fans chase after, and I was excited to delve into its darkness. Maybe I’ve read so many books in this genre that I’ve become immune, but I never felt the chills. There are some eerie moments, but when the situation really starts to become intense, the scene never plays out. Something would interrupt it, leaving Izzy to rationalize what happened. Without giving away spoilers, the reader isn’t given much time to get to know Izzy before she moves into the house, and it was difficult for me to emphathize with her – she’s a difficult person to like. The final scene builds up to a tension-filled, creepy climax, but then ends abruptly and leaves several questions unanswered.

Kudos to the author for an admirable job of calling attention to the dark sides of vanity and obsession with social media and the effects both can have on a person. While this is an enjoyable read, I’d recommend it for the younger YA crowd.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley #bookreview #YA #fantasy

As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…​

She cannot die.

Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.

To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.

If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten. 

I always enjoy a Victorian London setting, and the description of the Tournament of Freaks sounded like a mashup of The Hunger Games and X-Men. There’s no way I could resist requesting this book from NetGalley.

After the macabre opening scene of this book, I was all in. Adam comes across as a cunning assassin with plenty of closely held secrets. I wanted to know exactly what they were and what his connection to Iris was. While I understood Iris’s need to discover her identity and origin, her character didn’t appeal to me as much – but three of the male characters are completely enamored of her. The love triangle – square? – pops up early in the story, but the competition between her suitors grows tiresome pretty quickly. I’ve never been a fan of that trope, but that’s just me.

I was anxious to get to the Tournament, but it doesn’t make an appearance until around the halfway mark and isn’t as much of a plot element as I’d expected. The clues send the teams on life-endangering searches all over London, and the rules state the winner will be the player still alive within the team left standing. Love the high stakes. And there’s no shortage of creepy characters on these teams. I liked the fact that Iris and her team had plenty of stiff competition, but the disadvantage of that was the sheer number of characters to keep straight. Many times I came across someone I couldn’t remember.

While the world-building and plot are unique and well thought out, the story features a strong female MC, and there are several plot threads to follow, I struggled with the pacing (nearly 500 pages) and skimmed through some sections. Reviews are split on this, and many readers enjoyed the longer length of the novel – it just comes down to personal perference.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Battle of the Bands – an #Anthology of YA Authors #bookreview #music #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

Fifteen young adult authors and one real-life rock star band together for one epic—and interconnected—take on a memorable high school rite of passage.

A daughter of rock ’n’ roll royalty has a secret crush. A lonely ticket taker worries about his sister. An almost-famous songwriter nurses old wounds. A stage manager tires of being behind the scenes. A singer-songwriter struggles to untangle her feelings for her best friend and his girlfriend. In this live-out-loud anthology, the disparate protagonists of sixteen stories are thrown together for one unforgettable event: their high school’s battle of the bands. Told in a harmonic blend of first- and third-person narrative voices, roughly chronological short stories offer a kaleidoscopic view of the same transformative night. Featuring an entry from Justin Courtney Pierre, lead vocalist of Motion City Soundtrack, Battle of the Bands is a celebration of youth, music, and meeting the challenges of life head-on. 

As a devoted music fan and someone who was briefly in a band in high school, there’s no way I could pass up requesting Battle of the Bands. It’s been on my radar for quite a while.

This book was so much fun. If there had been a Battle of the Bands when I was in high school, you can bet I would have been there. Fifteen amazing YA authors contributed to this anthology, but the overall feeling is one cohesive story. Some characters make brief appearances or are casually mentioned in other stories. I can’t imagine the level of coordination and organization that went into this. At the beginning of the book is a list of the participating bands and their members – something that was very helpful. Some of the creative and unusual band names and their songs sure put a smile on my face.

Most of the narratives are about finding love, but stories of revenge, self-realization, sibling disputes, finding your people, and a heartwarming coming out are also included. The character diversity is outstanding, and one of my favorite aspects of this anthology. Being high school students, a lot is going on with these teens, and not every disagreement or doubt is left behind once they take the stage. You can feel the vibe of excitement over the event from every musician and the enthusiastic audience and the determination of each band to win. I had my favorites and couldn’t wait to see who took the prize at the end. Not every story is about the musicians. Some feature the students who work behind the scenes at merch tables, on tech/lighting crews, and the stage manager. Even being short stories, it was so easy to get invested in these characters and their lives.

As with all anthologies, readers will enjoy some selections more than others, but this is a pretty quick read. I had a difficult time putting it down after finishing a story, and I’m thrilled someone finally put together a book like this.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates #bookreview #horror #thriller

Sometimes the dead reach back...

Leigh Harker’s quiet suburban home was her sanctuary for more than a decade, until things abruptly changed. Curtains open by themselves. Radios turn off and on. And a dark figure looms in the shadows of her bedroom door at night, watching her, waiting for her to finally let down her guard enough to fall asleep.

Pushed to her limits but unwilling to abandon her home, Leigh struggles to find answers. But each step forces her towards something more terrifying than she ever imagined.

A poisonous shadow seeps from the locked door beneath the stairs. The handle rattles through the night and fingernails scratch at the wood. Her home harbours dangerous secrets, and now that Leigh is trapped within its walls, she fears she may never escape.

Do you think you’re safe?

You’re wrong.

I’ve read a few Darcy Coates novels, but this one is unlike any of those I’m familiar with. It’s creepy, chilling, and guaranteed to have you leaving lights on all over the house – but the premise is something I haven’t come across in other horror novels. Which is why this review will be brief since I don’t do spoilers.

I’m not the first reviewer to say they almost DNFed the book, but most of those reviewers also encouraged readers to stick with it, and everything would soon make sense. The beginning is slow, filled with the monotonous details of Leigh’s everyday life interspersed with some terrifying moments that didn’t seem to make sense. I couldn’t imagine why the author chose to begin the story this way. Trust me when I say you’ll be rewarded with a jaw-dropping reveal later on. Everything will click.

Something else resides in Leigh’s house with her. The doorknob of a locked closet under the stairs rattles at night when whatever is on the other side tries to get out. It watches while she sleeps – if she ever manages to get any. Then there’s the harrowing encounter with sharp tools in a gardening shed when the door mysteriously slams shut and traps her inside. There’s no shortage of gripping scenes that may have you holding your breath while reading. Coates draws the reader in and makes them feel as if they’re right beside Leigh experiencing every terrifying moment with her.

Surprisingly, the story also contains some bittersweet and heartfelt scenes – and I can’t say that about most horror novels I’ve read. Part of the ending shot out of left field for me, but it comes with an explanation. If you’re looking for a different spin on the haunted house tale, give this novel a chance. Just remember to hang with it a few chapters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach #bookreview #mermaids #fantasy #paranormal #TuesdayBookBlog

The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.

The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.

Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.

With the author posting an occasional teaser from this book on her blog, I’ve been anticipating it for quite a while. It was absolutely worth the wait.

Having read several other books by this author, I knew it would be a treat to immerse myself in the world of the merrows and kingdoms of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick. Her lavish descriptions always make me feel like I’m experiencing everything right alongside the characters – the salt spray across my face while sailing the high seas, the rolling of the ship as it crosses the Deep, and the graceful beauty of the merrow. In spite of Callum’s attempt to save the life of the Sea Witch’s daughter, she dies. After killing the rest of the crew responsible for her death, the Sea Witch spares his life for his kindness. It’s a bargain he can’t refuse but considering what he’s forced to do, Callum may wish he perished with the crew. My heart went out to him immediately after he’s put in an incredibly difficult position. He has no choice other than to take a human life every time he crosses the Deep and spend his life caught between two warring nations unless he sacrifices royal blood.

The characters are wonderfully flawed and well-drawn. Some I had a love/hate relationship with, not knowing where their loyalties fell until nearly the end. They kept me guessing – which I totally enjoy.

Warring nations, deceit, lies – it’s impossible to trust either nation, but it soon becomes evident Callum has something precious worth saving and fighting for. Don’t assume you’ll accurately predict the path of this plot. Alexa read this to me from my Kindle, and I had to stop and immediately rewind (more than once!) to make sure I’d heard correctly when some astonishing twists spun the story in a different direction.

Exciting battles, long held secrets, treachery, and deadly bargains – this novel engaged me from the first page. The ending was everything I’d hoped for these characters. I can’t go without mentioning the incredibly beautiful cover. Easily five stars!

The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith #bookreview #YA #historical #fantasy

The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined? 

The comparison to The Last Magician is what made me request this book from NetGalley, plus I seem to be on a witch reading binge this summer.

I don’t read a ton of historical fiction, but when I do this seems to be a popular time period for me. After her mother is taken to an insane asylum and her brother is murdered, Frances is on her own in NYC. After she’s attacked by her boss, who somehow winds up dead with her scissors in his neck, Frances learns she possesses magic. She’s taken to Haxahaven Academy, a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium. While she’s thrilled to learn more about her powers and meet more young girls like herself, she’d hoped to do more with her magic. Haxahaven teaches girls how to control their magic – a good thing – but to primarily use it to ease the burden of household chores – not so exciting. Frances isn’t having it, and she wants more. When her brother’s friend Finn reaches out (he’s a dreamwalker), he teaches her more about magic than she’s learned at Haxahaven. After more bodies of young men turn up, Frances is convinced their deaths are connected to her brother’s, and she and Finn find themselves in the midst of a mystery.

While I liked the 1911 setting, it really doesn’t play a large part in this story. Most scenes take place at the school, brotherhood, or in the forest. The magic system is interesting – males and females have different types of powers and abilities with varying degrees of talent. Frances’s popularity level waxed and waned on my scale. She has very little at the beginning of the story, and her situation is dire, but soon after arriving at the school and making new friends she thinks nothing of asking them to take risks for her without considering the consequences for them or herself. Needing to know the identity of the murderer kept me turning the pages, but I’d guessed who was involved pretty early. The last 20% of the book takes an unexpected direction – dark and kinda creepy to say the least – but fans of morally gray characters will probably cheer. Even with the different path, the ending was a whirlwind and felt rushed to me.

This novel has wonderful diversity and representation (especially with Lena and her backstory) and also deals with topics of feminism, racism, and sexual assault (trigger warning). I’m not sure if it’s a standalone, but the ending sure felt like a second book is in the works. It had some highs and lows for me, but if you’re looking for a witchy historical fantasy that leans more on the fantasy than the history, this is a book I’d recommend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland #bookreview #YA #contemporary #romanticcomedy #TuesdayBookBlog

Jenny Han meets The Bachelorette in this effervescent romantic comedy about a teen Korean American adoptee who unwittingly finds herself at the center of a competition for her heart, as orchestrated by her overbearing, loving family.

Jasmine Yap’s life is great. Well, it’s okay. She’s about to move in with her long-time boyfriend, Paul, before starting a nursing program at community college—all of which she mostly wants. But her stable world is turned upside down when she catches Paul cheating. To her giant, overprotective family, Paul’s loss is their golden ticket to showing Jasmine that she deserves much more. The only problem is, Jasmine refuses to meet anyone new.

But…what if the family set up a situation where she wouldn’t have to know? A secret Jasmine Project.

The plan is simple: use Jasmine’s graduation party as an opportunity for her to meet the most eligible teen bachelors in Orlando. There’s no pressure for Jasmine to choose anyone, of course, but the family hopes their meticulously curated choices will show Jasmine how she should be treated. And maybe one will win her heart.

But with the family fighting for their favorites, bachelors going rogue, and Paul wanting her back, the Jasmine Project may not end in love but total, heartbreaking disaster. 

Yes, you’re at the right blog. I read a romantic comedy. If you regularly read my reviews, you know this isn’t a typical genre for me. For whatever reason, when the publisher sent me a widget I decided to play outside my usual sandbox and give it a try. After finishing this delightful book, I would have kicked myself if I’d passed it up.

Recent high school graduate Jasmine has dated Paul the pig (my name for him – trust me, it’s well-deserved) for the past four years – they even have plans to move in together when college starts. While the early years might have been happier, Paul now points out skinny burritos on the menu at a restaurant they frequent (and she’s never enjoyed) and suggests she order diet sodas. And now you agree with my nickname for him. After a hurtful incident occured in middle school, Jasmine’s self-esteem plummeted so far that she considers herself lucky to have her pig boyfriend and plans to pursue a career in a profession that’s considered more stable instead of her dream of becoming a chef. Stability and safety have become her mantra.

Enter her ginormous (50+ strong – and that doesn’t count all the cousins), intrusive, well-intentioned family. They reminded me of the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and I adored them all. They want Jasmine to learn her worth, to see herself as they do and realize that she deserves so much more. Naturally the way to do that is to screen teen bachelors until they come up with three worthy candidates to date her. It’s not difficult to figure out what happens when their well-meaning intentions spiral out of control. At least their hearts are in the right place.

From the first page, I adored Jasmine’s voice and laughed out loud so many times at her internal thoughts. Some chapters are first person in her POV, but several chapters are the text conversations between her family concerning the contest – utterly hilarious. This novel has so many important messages for teens and adults alike – pursuing your dreams, living life instead of watching from the sidelines, valuing yourself, and not conforming to someone else’s expectations just to name a few.

From start to finish, The Jasmine Project is a charming, entertaining read – an outstanding debut by this author. I’d be shocked if someone doesn’t snatch this up for a movie. I’d recommend this to fans of romantic comedies and readers like myself who want to step outside their comfort zone. Easily a crossover.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

For fans of Us and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comes a witchy story full of black girl magic as one girl’s dark ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, while revealing to her an even darker future.

Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?

However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.

But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late. 

Seems like I’ve come across several witchy books lately, and they’re a favorite of mine when it comes to paranormal. Raising the dead can’t come without consequences, so I was anxious to see how Katrell dealt with these dark forces.

Trell is the teenager in her family, but essentially the only responsible adult. She works thirty hours per week, attends high school, buys groceries, pays the bills and rent, and gives money to her unemployed mother and her mom’s deadbeat boyfriend. He physically abuses Trell, works a part time job, and refuses to contribute to the household financially. Every interaction with her mother and boyfriend made me so angry I wanted to reach into the pages and choke them. Trell has been homeless more than once in her life, and if not for her job at a restaurant and the kindness of her best friend’s mother, she’d go hungry much of the time.

For reasons that are never explained, Trell is able to write letters summoning the ghosts of clients’ family members so they can speak to them. Suddenly her power changes, and she’s able to raise the dead and return them to her clients. For a price, of course. I would have liked an explanation for where her powers came from, how she discovered them, why they changed, etc., to better understand her magic. Maybe I missed an explanation, but I wondered why no one discovered the empty graves after the dead rose. Seems like it’s something that would have turned up on the news. Trell’s goal is to make enough money from raising the dead to support her and her mom for a year. After her hours are cut at the restaurant, the pressure is on to earn even more to keep them sheltered and fed. Soon the money is rolling in and Trell begins to lose sight of her goals. She ignores the advice of best friend Will and a concerned school guidance counselor, and her life rapidly spirals out of control.

Although she’s brave and loyal to a fault, Trell is also incredibly frustrating. She’s blind to her mother’s actions, and you’ll want to yell at her many times over her consistently bad decisions and wonder how she’ll ever fix the disasters she’s created.

Between the dead walking around, Trell’s personal struggles, and her determination to better her life, you’ll want her to somehow find a happily ever after, but it’s something that won’t come easily. This novel does a wonderful job of raising awareness of homelessness, poverty, and physical abuse, and the author discusses her own experiences before the story begins. It also stresses the importance of getting help and finding a support system. Some readers may want to heed trigger warnings. Overall, a strong debut novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.