I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick is a mystery thriller that follows a girl named Anna Cicconi who gets a job nannying in a wealthy, small town in the Hamptons for the summer. However, she soon learns about the disappearance of a local girl, Zoe Spanos, months prior to her arrival who she happens to bear an eerie resemblance to. Anna continues digging and learning more about the case, until she becomes convinced that her and Zoe are connected. Flash forward, we know Zoe is dead and we watch Anna confess, however when Zoe’s body is found, it is clear that there are holes in Anna’s confession. So we spend the length of the novel wondering, what really happened to Zoe Spanos?

    There were multiple aspects of the novel which made it unique and intriguing. For one, I really enjoyed the then and now split timeline. We jump back to then when Anna was nannying the summer after Zoe’s disappearance, to now after Anna’s confession leading up to her trial. Each storyline gives new information and new perspectives for us to theorize with. I also enjoyed the inclusion of a podcast to this story. It provided an interesting source of information about Zoe’s disappearance. I haven’t personally checked out the audiobook, but I’m sure the podcast aspect along with the full-cast recording could make it an interesting way to experience this novel. However, I must admit I’m more of a physical book lover myself, especially with this novel’s beautiful yet mysterious cover art and the blue sprayed page edges.

I must admit I don’t read many murder mysteries or psychological thrillers, but I truly could not put this book down and I ended up reading it in one sitting. This novel had me constantly on the edge of my seat and theorizing the truth, and the ending truly surprised me. There were certain things that were easy enough to puzzle out on your own, however there were also bits that I didn’t see coming. This is honestly one of my favorite recent reads and I would highly recommend this entertaining story.

Faith Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

A lot of people have told me over this quarantine that they’ve gotten into things that they previously weren’t as interested in. Whether said interest was a new Netflix show, virtual yoga, or becoming a less-than-expert chef, the common theme seems to be that people are trying something new. And as I am no exception, my “new thing” during this pandemic has been superheroes. I was always more of a fantasy person, but recently I’ve become obsessed with these heroic stories. However, as I watched every Marvel movie available and read every comic strip in the house, I noticed something common about every hero pictured in these stories. Almost every single one of them seemed to be straight, white, and thin. And that’s where Faith Taking Flight comes in. 

“Faith Taking Flight” by Julie Murphy is the first in a duology that tells the origin story of superhero Zephyr from the Valient Comics universe. Faith is a pretty average 16 year old, who spends her time volunteering at the local animal shelter, writing for her school’s journalism club, and hanging out with her two best friends, Ches and Matt. However, she has a secret, and it’s a pretty big one- she recently discovered she is able to fly. Throughout the story, Faith must learn to control her newfound powers in order to save everyone she loves from a mysterious group wreaking havoc on her town. 

Faith is a hilarious and witty protagonist, and in addition to her charming personality, she’s also plus-size and queer, two things that are scarce in the superhero realm. And the best part is that these two traits aren’t the main focus of the book. It was really refreshing to see a story about an LGBTQ person where their sexuality isn’t the main focus. Murphy did a great job of making sure readers would see representation, while also making it clear that Faith’s weight and sexuality doesn’t define her. And it makes for some pretty cute LGBTQ romance, too!

Although the beginning of the book was a bit confusing, I really enjoyed Faith’s story. It is rich with suspense, mystery, and action, and although the plot twists were slightly predictable, I appreciated them all the same. I personally can’t see myself rereading this book, but I really liked the diversity and charm it brings to the superhero world. And I really hope to see most superheroes like Faith in the future!

 

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats is a historical fiction novel set in Wales in 1109. That fact alone was enough to draw me in. I have never read a book set in this time period, let alone heard much history about Wales at all, so I immediately wanted to pick it up. This book is about a girl named Elen who, to quote the synopsis on the back of my copy, “must live a precarious lie in order to survive among the medieval Welsh warband that killed her family”. Reading the full synopsis does give away a lot of information, including some details which take a long time to be fully explained. So, because of that, I am going to keep my description vague in case you wanna skip the details and go in blind so as to be more surprised by certain aspects.

In my opinion, the novel was quite a bit lacking in depth in everything from the plot to the characters. That said, I still found the story itself very intriguing. After I read it, I was surprised to learn that this is based on a real woman and story in 12th century Wales. Obviously the book is fiction, so some portions were embellished or added to make for a more compelling story, but I still find it incredibly cool that Elen and Nest were real women, and that Owain ap Cadwagan was a real Welsh prince. It was so interesting to learn the history of all the chaos in Wales and its relationships with other countries, however, what I found the most interesting was the accurate portrayal of women during this time period. Nowadays, we are so used to having strong independent powerful heroins as lead characters, so much so that the whole time I was reading, I was expecting Elen to start embodying that. However, I am very impressed by Coats’ decision to write the female characters correct to the time period, almost entirely powerless, because it made the book feel that much more real, as historical fiction novels should.

All in all, although it was a bit lacking, this was still a good book because of its’ unique inclusion of a very interesting lesser known piece of history. If you are a fan of historical fiction and you maybe haven’t read a book from this time period or if the story has just drawn you in like it had me, I very much suggest giving it a try.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

 Namina Forna has created an intriguing and captivating world in her novel The Gilded Ones. A world in which women are subjugated to men, and monstrous deathshrieks roam the land. When Deka is revealed to have the cursed gold blood, marking her as a demon, her only choice is to join the emperor’s army and be trained as a soldier to fight the deathshrieks. However, what she learns there changes her world forever. Maybe the deathshrieks aren’t the monsters she was taught to believe?

I give props to Namina Forna for creating an original, and exciting storyline. While areas of the story and characters may have been underdeveloped, it’s impressive the amount of action and plot she managed to get through in 400 pages. I also enjoyed the strong female heroines, and sense of sisterhood Forna added to this novel. In a world dominated by men, she shows the strength, perseverance, and intelligence that only comes from bringing women together.

Throughout the book Namina held my attention, and while I don’t see myself rereading it, I enjoyed it. The Gilded Ones is a fun, light read for those obsessed with fantasy, adventure, and discovering new worlds.

Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is an extremely compelling novel about an alternate history of 1800s Paris. Upon opening the book you are immediately thrown into a world with a type of magical technology and a crew, made up of long time friends with different specialties, who find themselves on a heist. This world is so lush and detailed and complex, but my only criticism is that there were times when I got a bit lost in all of the information while reading it. However, this is made up for with the beautiful and vivid imagery, as well as the misfit gang of enjoyable characters it follows. The book is written in such a way that you can get a glimpse into the minds of each member of the diverse cast, while also getting an understanding of their makeshift family. The story takes you on a ride of twists and turns, constantly leaving you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to say too much so as not to spoil it, but I would highly recommend this book, and I sincerely look forward to the rest of the series.

A previous review of this book by a different reviewer can be found here.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Let me preface this review by saying that this is not a YA book. However, as an older teen, I think that it is a perfect book for someone transitioning out of YA, as I myself am. It must also be said that it has trigger warnings for violence and sexual assault. If these statements do not exclude you from potential readership, please do read this book. The Power by Naomi Alderman is epic, terrifying, unflinchingly honest and utterly brilliant. I am of the firm opinion that it should be read by everyone.
Let’s rewind a little. The premise is simple: one day, girls and young women start exhibiting the strange new ability to generate shocks like electric eels. These girls are able to wake up the same power in older women (there is a scientific explanation for this, so the book falls firmly into sci-fi rather than fantasy). Suddenly, with women holding an inherent biological advantage over men, the balance of power in the world shifts. It starts slow, a woman winning an important election in America, a new branch of religion with the Holy Mother at its center growing in popularity from South Carolina. It spreads and strengthens from there. Revolutions are built off of women banding together to use their newfound power to change the world they live in. But what starts off as a fight for equality, for autonomy, soon tips too far.
The Power follows four point of view characters, Margot, an American politician; Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a British crime boss; Allie, a foster care kid turned religious leader who hears a voice a la Joan of Arc; and Tunde, an aspiring photojournalist who captures one of the first scrap of footage of the power being used. Together, the four protagonists— I hesitate to call any of them heroes— let the reader follow the slow progression of different parts of society as the world changes. The characters themselves have amazing development— although admittedly not always for the better. While some of the characters develop into what you might call heroes, others continue past that, and change from victims to heroes to oppressors. The hard part is that you care about all of them, even as you are horrified by their actions, and herein lies Alderman’s strength: she writes about humanity. She writes flawed, complicated, scarred characters that you care about because they feel inherently real, even if sometimes you can’t like them as people. But she also understands the relationships between those people, the different dynamics in groups and cultures and as a result, her book feels terrifyingly plausible.
If that wasn’t enough, it is also an excellent novel. The Power is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I would argue that Alderman’s book is superior, for the simple reason that it is more easily readable. I personally think that Handmaid’s Tale, while an important book and a fascinating culture study, wasn’t written in a way that people could read it easily, especially those who don’t read very much. The plot was meandering, the main character was complacent, and her understanding of the world was negligible. While I understand while Atwood chose to write it as she did, I was simply not invested in the story other than academically. The Power, however had an engaging plot, captivating characters, and an excellent study of the world we live in today.

The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa De La Cruz

Shadow is a young girl, living with her two aunts in a small cottage (definitely gives off Sleeping Beauty vibes) training to be a noblewoman meant to go live in the castle with her mother – although it is never mentioned who her mother is or why she’s training, although, the “who” and “why” is pretty clear from the start of the story, if paid close attention to.
However, Shadow is not in the mood to be all noble and dainty. She’d rather join and become a member of the Guild – a network of spies/assassins working for the Queen of Renovia – and fight for her country.
Caledon Holt/Cal is the Queen’s deadliest, most feared assassin who does his job with utmost perfection, no wonder he’s the queen’s favorite. However, Cal didn’t want to be a servant of the kingdom but was forced to take up the job, because of a blood promise made by his father. Now all Cal wants, is to find the scrolls that Queen wants and free himself from his duty and promise.
When Cal kills the King’s brother, Grand Prince Alast, whilst saving Shadow (whom he doesn’t know at the time), he is deemed a traitor and is sent to prison by the Queen. Shadow sees this as a way out of her imperial duties and hatches a plan to save Cal, by freeing him from prison and posing as his apprentice to help him in his mission. What she doesn’t know is that Cal is just feigning the whole arrest, so as to complete the plan laid out by the Queen herself.
Unbeknown to each other’s secrets and purposes, they both set out together to find the scrolls that hold all information regarding the magic in the country, and what could either be the uprise or the downfall of their kingdom, depending on who gets it. Along the way they’re going to have to battle evil monks, suspicious hosts, each other, especially when it comes to their own feelings for one another that just seems to be growing…
Albeit a confusing start, the book manages to grasp the reader’s attention within a few chapters. What I appreciated most about the book was its fast-paced plotline, diving straight into who the characters are, what they want, and how they are going to get it – the adventure starts off almost instantly, keeping your attention entirely fixed on every word. If you are a fan of fast-paced, fantasy books, this one is definitely an add-on to your TBR list.

B Witch By Paige McKenzie and Nancy Ohlin

B Witch represents the intrigue of a murder mystery and the imagination of a fantasy world all rolled into one spellbinding story– both literally and figuratively since the book is about witchcraft! The novel takes place in a town called Sorrow Point, where a new student is forced to keep her identity as a witch secret because of her country’s anti-magic laws and the emergence of a violent, witch-hating group known as the Antima. Luckily, she discovers she is not the only witch at school. In fact, there are two rival covens who are actually competing with each other to get her to join their side. When one of their fellow witches is murdered, however, the covens are forced to desist from their feuding and join together to uncover who the killer is, before they become the next victims.

This book is both quirky and charming, making it a quick read that was both short and sweet. The plot is a little slow to start off, with most of the novel seeming to be exposition until the end when more of the action occurred, which I found to be the part of the book where I was truly hooked. It also took me a while to get adjusted to some of the language and writing choices, like the use of texting abbreviations in place of phrases like “in real life” and the fact that one character uses Pokemon cards to perform magic. Once I got used to it, however, the language choices just made the book seem almost relatable to its teen audience, and even more relevant to our own world, even though it’s technically a fantasy novel.

I’d recommend B Witch to fans of Pretty Little Liars and to anyone who loves fantastical settings, charming female protagonists, or high school drama mixed in with a whole lot of magic.

Lie to Me by Kaitlin Ward

Lie to Me, by Kaitlin Ward, is a mysterious story about a high schooler named Amelia who fell into a river and is now seen as the extremely clumsy girl. She was dangerously close to death, but her friend found her stuck in a tree with a broken arm and a concussion. After Amelia got out of the hospital, she thought about the incident a lot. Her mind took a dark turn because her gut kept telling her that her fall wasn’t an accident. Was someone trying to kill her? Why would they do that? While her best friend Sky, her brother Hunter, and her new boyfriend Liam all obsess over her health, Amelia tries to figure out who did this to her. She learns new things about herself and about the people she surrounds herself with. The mystery and suspense of not knowing is difficult for her, and she becomes distrusting and suspicious of everyone in her life– despite how much it hurts to not be able to count on the people she loves.
Ward writes a realistic and heartbreaking story about the scary happenings of teenagers and small towns. Filled with enough normalcy to keep you on your toes in real life and enough twists to keep you guessing, Lie to Me is a short and powerful read that shows how important trust and instinct are.

Coral by Sarah Ella

The book Coral, by Sarah Ella, is an emotionally heart-wrenching story about a girl, a boy, and a mermaid. The girl, Brook, has extreme depression and anxiety. She is put in a facility to help her cope with it, though she doesn’t think it will help. She isn’t planning on staying long anyway, she wants to kill herself. The boy, Merrick, has a hard time with his father, the owner of a very successful company in San Francisco. His father is controlling and is too hard on Merrick and mean to his little sister, Amaya, and his mother. When Amaya tries to kill herself, Merrick feels it’s his father’s fault. He feels like he isn’t in control of his own life. The mermaid, Coral, is different than everyone else around her because she has the Disease. The Disease is emotions. Mermaids are supposed to be soulless creatures who kill sailors. She stands out in a society where blending in is vital. She feels even more alone when her oldest sister, the only one who really understands her, is at risk of being taken away by the Red Tide. When all three meet, they must save each other in order to truly understand themselves. Merrick must talk Brooke off the ledge. Brooke must help Coral see that she is not alone in the world. Coral must help Merrick understand that his father might not be the problem.

I really liked this book a lot. I thought the view that the author took on mental illness was really interesting and made it easier to understand. There was a quote in the book that I couldn’t find but it was along the lines of; you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just get over it, so why do people tell this to people with mental illnesses? I have firsthand experience with this because I have anxiety and depression and I have been told to “get over it”. It really helps to have a good support system of family and friends who you can rely on to be there for you and help you through the hard stuff. Brooke feels very alone until she meets Hope who helps her by reminding her that “You are not nothing, and neither am I”.

Coral, by Sarah Ella, is magnificent and definitely tear-inducing. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a mental illness or wants to learn more about what it’s like to live with mental illness every day. I would also recommend this book to anyone who likes an emotional love story, and mermaids.