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Review: Twin Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber

Twin Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber

Twin Crowns (Twin Crowns #1)
Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber
Balzer + Bray
Published May 17, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Twin Crowns

Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister’s place in the palace. Trained from birth to return to the place of her parents’ murder and usurp the only survivor, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Or she would, if only a certain palace guard wasn’t quite so distractingly attractive, and if her reckless magic didn’t have a habit of causing trouble…

Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility. Marriage into a brutal kingdom awaits, and she will not let a small matter like waking up in the middle of the desert in the company of an extremely impertinent (and handsome) kidnapper get in the way of her royal duty. But life outside the palace walls is wilder and more beautiful than she ever imagined, and the witches she has long feared might turn out to be the family she never knew she was missing.

Two sisters separated at birth and raised into entirely different worlds are about to get to know each other’s lives a whole lot better. But as coronation day looms closer and they each strive to claim their birthright, the sinister Kingsbreath, Willem Rathborne, becomes increasingly determined that neither will succeed. Who will ultimately rise to power and wear the crown?

My Review

Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper series is one of my favorite middle grade series ever, so when I saw that she was co-authoring this new YA series, I knew I had to check it out. Bonus: it’s about sisters! My favorite kind of story.

To start, I really liked the premise, and both Wren and Rose as characters. I felt like they were both pretty believable in the roles they’d grown up in. They were also different yet similar enough that I had no problem believing they were sisters.

I liked the pace of the story, too. At first it looks like Wren’s challenge will be keeping up the charade that she’s Princess Rose for thirty whole days. Then, when she realizes the kingsbreath’s true plan, the pressure reverses, so that it feels like she’s right up against a deadline with so much to do to stop her enemy and take the throne.

I only stumbled over a couple of things. One is the balance of romance to the quest for the crown. I think I expected the romance to be more of a subplot and to have the girls and their adventure be more centerstage. There were moments when I felt like the romance kind of overshadowed what was happening in a way that pulled me away from the rest of the story.

The politics also tripped me up a little bit. The story really builds up the strong prejudice against witches. They’re executed if found. People pray to the Protector if they think they’ve seen one. People worry they’ve been cursed if they have a string of bad circumstances. Those bad feelings seemed to unravel really easily, though. I found that hard to believe after the initial setup.

Honestly, all it meant for me was that I turned up my suspension of disbelief, because I really enjoyed the sisterhood and the magic and adventure elements that made up the rest of the story. I’m definitely going to continue on with this series.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are white. Shen is from a desert kingdom. Celeste has brown skin. She and a couple other minor characters are queer.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Brief reference to sexual arousal. In one scene, a boy takes off his shirt and a girl loosens her dress as they make out.

Spiritual Content
Wren and other characters have the ability to perform magic and are called witches. Rose’s people worship the Great Protector, a historical figure they’re taught saved them from the witches. In her kingdom, witches are executed.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. A boy battles a giant beetle. A girl tries to kill another by stealing her breath and using wind to shove her off a cliffside. A girl relives memories from a battle long ago and watches as witches are slain on the battlefield. References to the torture of witches. A man kills a woman by cutting her throat. A battle destroys a building and kills several people present. A leopard attacks a girl, severely wounding her.

Drug Content
Some characters drink alcohol until they’re drunk.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: Something Close to Magic by Emma Mills

Something Close to Magic
Emma Mills
Published June 13, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Something Close to Magic

A baker’s apprentice reluctantly embarks on an adventure full of magic, new friendships, and a prince in distress in this deliciously romantic young adult fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson and Gail Carson Levine.

It’s not all sugar and spice at Basil’s Bakery, where seventeen-year-old Aurelie is an overworked, underappreciated apprentice. Still, the job offers stability, which no-nonsense Aurelie values highly, so she keeps her head down and doesn’t dare to dream big—until a stranger walks in and hands her a set of Seeking stones. In a country where Seeking was old-fashioned even before magic went out of style, it’s a rare skill, but Aurelie has it.

The stranger, who turns out to be a remarkably bothersome bounty hunter named Iliana, asks for Aurelie’s help rescuing someone from the dangerous Underwood—which sounds suspiciously like an adventure. When the someone turns out to be Prince Hapless, the charming-but-aptly-named prince, Aurelie’s careful life is upended. Suddenly, she finds herself on a quest filled with magic portals, a troll older than many trees (and a few rocks), and dangerous palace intrigue.

Even more dangerous are the feelings she’s starting to have for Hapless. The more time Aurelie spends with him, the less she can stand the thought of going back to her solitary but dependable life at the bakery. Must she choose between losing her apprenticeship—or her heart?

My Review

I’ve read a couple of books (FIRST & THEN and THIS ADVENTURE ENDS) by Emma Mills, and I loved them both. They’re both contemporary stories, so I was really excited to see how this author writes fantasy.

I loved this. It’s got all the things I love about her contemporary stories (complex, likable characters, great dialogue), plus palace intrigue and an interesting magic system.

There’s a writing device in which the story’s main character starts out believing a lie. The plot of the story forces the character to challenge that lie. SOMETHING CLOSE TO MAGIC might be the best example I’ve ever seen of that particular storytelling method.

Prince Hapless has been told so many times that he’s silly and basically useless that he believes it and doesn’t stand up for himself when people continue to put him down or ignore his ideas/needs because they assume he’s being ridiculous. And Aurelie works for a domineering (and abusive) woman who takes every opportunity to remind her that she’s valueless, especially without the apprenticeship in the bakery. Aurelie knows her boss isn’t a good person, but she does believe those words about her value and about how people will treat her based on that lie.

The story is packed with snappy dialogue. I loved that so much. It’s got an upbeat feel to it mostly, but I definitely cried in the scenes where Hapless and Aurelie are confronted by the lies they believe in all their ugliness. Those scenes were really heartbreaking.

I loved the four central characters: Hapless, Aurelie, Iliana (the bounty hunter) and Quad (the troll). Quad is awesome. Every time something frustrates me or is annoying, I want to dismiss it with, “Mortal invention,” the way she does. Ha!


All in all, this book was such a breath of fresh air. I’ve loved the last two books I read, but I needed the lightness of this one. I’m so glad I read it, and I can’t wait for Emma Mills to write more, whether it’s contemporary or fantasy!

Content Notes for Something Close to Magic

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Iliana is in love with a woman. It’s unclear whether Hapless has some kind of learning disability. It’s never specified, but kind of hinted at?

Profanity/Crude Language Content
A few instances of mild profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to perform magic. A couple characters are not human.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. The prince’s carriage is ambushed, but no one is harmed. Someone forces people to perform magic far beyond their capabilities, causing them harm. A man stabs someone in the chest.

Drug Content
References to drinking alcohol. Hapless tells a story about his brother getting drunk at a party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of SOMETHING CLOSE TO MAGIC in exchange for my honest review.

Review: MacKenzie’s Last Run by Gayle Rosengren

MacKenzie’s Last Run
Gayle Rosengren
HenschelHaus Publishing
Published September 1, 2022

Amazon | Goodreads

About MacKenzie’s Last Run

Thirteen-year-old MacKenzie (Mac) Lawrence secretly blames himself for his father’s death in a mall shooting. In his grief and guilt, he has pulled away from everyone, even his twin sister Tessa. When their mother announces her plans to remarry barely two years after Dad’s death Mac is furious and runs away in an attempt to force her to break off the engagement.

Unfortunately, nothing goes as Mac plans. He ends up seriously injured, miles from home, unable to reach out for help, while clues he inadvertently left behind suggest he’s been kidnapped—possibly by Mom’s fiancé—and set his twin sister Tessa on a desperate search to find him. But she’d better hurry, because the clock is ticking, and Mac is running out of time.

My Review

The first thing I saw as I opened MACKENZIE’S LAST RUN to read it was the article from the paper reporting on his disappearance and police believed he was a victim of kidnapping. I thought it was an interesting choice from a writing perspective to start with that. So that, as a reader, I was kind of anticipating that event at some point. I worried that it would make the story anticlimactic.

But as I read, I found myself only more deeply hooked into what would happen to Mac and whether Tessa would be able to find him before it was too late.

I read the book in one sitting. I kept reading one more chapter all the way until the end, when I finally felt I could breathe again.

For me, not only could I not put the book down, but the story pulled me in despite its beginning. To overcome a reveal like that on the first page or use it in such a clever way made me feel even more like this book was worth reading.

I loved the way memories about Mac and Tessa’s dad were dropped in to critical moments in the story, and the way Mac’s adventure helped him face some of the things he’d been, well, running from. Both Tessa’s and Mac’s characters drew me in and had me rooting for them. Each chapter is told from Tessa’s or Mac’s point of view. I loved the balance that brought to the story and the exploration of their relationship as twins who’d lost their dad.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book, and I hope the author writes lots more.

Content Notes for MacKenzie’s Last Run

Content warning for brief descriptions of gun violence. Some descriptions of injuries from a knife and a fall.

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Mac and Tessa are twins whose father was killed in a grocery store shooting.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content
Tessa’s mom makes her and her brother attend church with her. She says Mac “needs it.” Tessa is okay with church, but doesn’t seem to feel much of a personal connection to faith. In one scene she tries to pray for Mac, but worries she’s doing it wrong because she forgot to say, “Amen,” so she starts over.

Violent Content
Some description of the shooting that killed the twins’ dad.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of MACKENZIE’S LAST RUN in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis

The Hollow Inside
Brooke Lauren Davis
Bloomsbury YA
Published May 25, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Hollow Inside

Phoenix and mom Nina have spent years on the road, using their charm and wits to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

After Phoenix gets caught spying, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets, she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth?

My Review

So much happens in this book. Every time I felt like I knew what was going to happen, new things surfaced and I had to recalculate my predictions. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d like Phoenix. She seemed like a really hard person at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I started to see how much she was fighting to keep her world together and how much she wanted to be a good person.

I liked the way THE HOLLOW INSIDE is set in this small town with these larger-than-life personalities: the bestselling author and town hero; the fire and brimstone preacher who just might have a soft heart underneath his judgmental, controlling exterior; the snarky, outsider daughter and her loveable, sweet brother. It was easy to picture them in the little town sprawling out from a roundabout with a huge tree at its center.

You’ve probably already guessed that this is a pretty dark, angsty story. And it is! It’s suspenseful and twisty. Phoenix finds herself caught in a tug-of-war between uncovering the truth and delivering revenge. For the most part, I got completely swept up in the drama and emotions of the story.

In one part, though, a character does something drastic really publicly and says he has to do it because he has to silence someone. I was kind of confused because, like, that scene happened in public? I couldn’t see how his decision would actually do anything but create a bigger mess, so I didn’t understand why he did what he did. I guess it was really supposed to be a desperate move and maybe he was supposed to be pushed so far he wasn’t thinking clearly. I’m not sure. I liked the rest of the story well enough that I really just rolled with that scene and moved on to what came next.

On the whole, there were a lot of things I liked in THE HOLLOW INSIDE. I think readers who enjoy dark books like SADIE or THE PROJECT by Courtney Summers will like this story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Phoenix is a lesbian. Another character is also a lesbian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing and making out between two girls.

Flashbacks imply that a man and a sixteen year old girl have a sexual relationship. A later scene implies that he may have had other similar encounters and in fact be a sexual predator? That question doesn’t really get pursued in the story.

Spiritual Content
The story features a small town with a strong connection to a Christian church. Some scenes reference church services and prayer. Phoenix herself doesn’t share in their faith.

Violent Content
It’s implied that a man hit a woman, but it happens off-scene. Phoenix hits a man and knocks him unconscious after getting caught robbing his house.

Some homophobic comments about a girl in town who was caught kissing another girl.

A car accident kills a teenage boy who was perhaps crossing the street. Another car accident kills a man when his car goes off road and down the mountainside. A sign falls, nearly injuring someone. An object smashes through a window, spraying a family with glass. A man with a severe allergy is stung by bees multiple times.

A person with a gun confronts a crowd. Someone in the crowd is shot.

Drug Content
One minor character has a drinking problem and is drunk in multiple scenes. Phoenix and her friends drink wine at a dinner party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog. I received a free copy of THE HOLLOW INSIDE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep by Laurie Faria Stolarz

The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep
Laurie Faria Stolarz
Wednesday Books
Published March 16, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with a thrilling novel where an eighteen-year-old girl’s search for answers lands her in one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

Four days…
Trapped in a well, surrounded by dirt, scratching at the walls trying to find a way out.
Four days of a thirst so strong, that when it finally rains, I drink as much as possible from the dripping walls, not even caring how much dirt comes with it.

Six months…
Since my escape. Since no one believed I was taken to begin with – from my own bed, after a party, when no one else was home…
Six months of trying to find answers and being told instead that I made the whole incident up.

One month…
Since I logged on to the Jane Anonymous site for the first time and found a community of survivors who listen without judgment, provide advice, and console each other when needed.
A month of chatting with a survivor whose story eerily mirrors my own: a girl who’s been receiving triggering clues, just like me, and who could help me find the answers I’m searching for.

Three days…
Since she mysteriously disappears, and since I’m forced to ask the questions: will my chance to find out what happened to me vanish with her? And will I be next?

My Review

One of the things I really liked about this book is that there is no sexual trauma in it. I was nervous at first, picking it up, because I like this type of suspense, mystery, trauma recovery story, but I’m just really sensitive to sexual trauma, so I didn’t want to end up in over my head with this book. The good news is, I didn’t.

It’s an interesting story. For a long time, I felt unsure about Terra. It seemed plausible that what happened to her was in her head– not on purpose, but that it was the result of previous trauma. Even Terra herself sometimes doubted what she’d experienced. So I felt like the story kept a really good balance there, keeping me really uncertain where it was headed and what would be around the next bend, as a good suspenseful story should.

I also thought the timeline– some sections from the present and others from the past– added to the scattered feel of Terra’s mind. Her chat logs on the Jane Anonymous site added a lot, too, from giving her a safe space to share her feelings to also creating a strong support network.

I read THE LAST SECRET YOU’LL EVER KEEP pretty quickly, only stopping once (because I got food poisoning, gross). I think readers who enjoyed PAST PERFECT LIFE by Elizabeth Eulberg or THE LOST AND THE FOUND by Cat Clarke will enjoy this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are white or not described.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used just over a dozen times through the story.

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Descriptions of kidnapping. Graphic descriptions of hunger and severe thirst.

Drug Content
Terra attends a college sorority party held by one of her friends’ older sisters and drinks punch, probably containing alcohol.

Note: I received a free copy of THE LAST SECRET YOU’LL EVER KEEP in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora

Fragile Remedy
Maria Ingrande Mora
Published March 9, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Fragile Remedy

Sixteen-year-old Nate is a GEM—Genetically Engineered Medi-tissue created by the scientists of Gathos City as a cure for the elite from the fatal lung rot ravaging the population. As a child, he was smuggled out of the laboratory where he was held captive and into the Withers—a quarantined, lawless region. Nate manages to survive by using his engineering skills to become a Tinker, fixing broken tech in exchange for food or a safe place to sleep. When he meets Reed, a kind and fiercely protective boy that makes his heart race, and his misfit gang of scavengers, Nate finds the family he’s always longed for—even if he can’t risk telling them what he is.

But Gathos created a genetic failsafe in their GEMs—a flaw that causes their health to rapidly deteriorate as they age unless they are regularly dosed with medication controlled by Gathos City. As Nate’s health declines, his hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy. Violence erupts across the Withers, his illegal supply of medicine is cut off, and a vicious attack on Reed threatens to expose his secret. With time running out, Nate is left with only two options: work for a shadowy terrorist organization that has the means to keep him alive, or stay — and die — with the boy he loves.

My Review

So much happens in this one story that I’m having a hard time knowing where to begin.

I loved Nate’s character. He’s young and inexperienced and fierce and hopeful and a little bit self-loathing. I also loved the characters in the gang. Reese is loyal and true, always sticking to his values. Pixel is adorable. And the rest of the girls made it feel like such a little family.

Nate also has a relationship with Alden, a curio shop owner, drug addict, and man with connections. And Remedy, which Nate needs to live. It’s a complex relationship. I feel like I’d need a psychology degree to pick it apart. There are some really unhealthy elements to it, and yet somewhere in there is a protectiveness and loyalty and maybe even friendship? But it’s pretty enmeshed with the other elements, too.

The story itself moves forward pretty quickly. In Nate’s dystopian city, it’s dangerous to stay still too long, and that sense came through in the plot. Though it’s not a story about addiction, the story explores some of the damage that addiction causes, not just to the individual with the problem, but to the family and community. It also explores darker ideas, like using drugs to create dependent people and maintain control.

It’s been a while since I read a good dystopian story, and FRAGILE REMEDY definitely hit a lot of good notes for me. It made me uncomfortable sometimes, but usually in a way that made me think more deeply about the issues at hand. I think readers who enjoy books that explore addiction or dystopian stories will want to add this one to their shelves.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Nate and several other characters are gay. One member of the gang is transgender.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used maybe once or twice per chapter on average.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. References to arousal.

Spiritual Content
Some people worship the Old Gods. Others have no spiritual beliefs.

Violent Content
Scenes show kidnapping and a mob attacking someone. Other scenes show the aftermath of characters injured by others.

Drug Content
One character is a drug addict. Others find the properties of GEM blood addicting.

Note: I received a free copy of FRAGILE REMEDY in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. All opinions are my own.