All of these books released on February 23rd. I’d planned to review them all by then, but life. Some of them are new favorites! Read on to see which!
The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
Series: The Initial Insult #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 23, 2021
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley
Welcome to Amontillado, Ohio, where your last name is worth more than money, and secrets can be kept… for a price.
Tress Montor knows that her family used to mean something—until she didn’t have a family anymore. When her parents disappeared seven years ago while driving her best friend home, Tress lost everything. She might still be a Montor, but the entire town shuns her now that she lives with her drunken, one-eyed grandfather at what locals refer to as the “White Trash Zoo,” – a wild animal attraction featuring a zebra, a chimpanzee, and a panther, among other things.
Felicity Turnado has it all – looks, money, and a secret that she’s kept hidden. She knows that one misstep could send her tumbling from the top of the social ladder, and she’s worked hard to make everyone forget that she was with the Montors the night they disappeared. Felicity has buried what she knows so deeply that she can’t even remember what it is… only that she can’t look at Tress without having a panic attack.
But she’ll have to.
Tress has a plan. A Halloween costume party at an abandoned house provides the ideal situation for Tress to pry the truth from Felicity – brick by brick – as she slowly seals her former best friend into a coal chute. With a drunken party above them, and a loose panther on the prowl, Tress will have her answers – or settle for revenge.
In the first book of this duology, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis draws inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe and masterfully delivers a dark, propulsive mystery in alternating points of view that unravels a friendship... forevermore.
If you’re a fan of Mindy McGinnis, you’ll know that no one does dark better. And she shows it over and over in this first installment of The Initial Insult. The Cask of Amontillado is one of the few Poe stories that I actively remember from the centuries ago that I was in high school. Probably due to the fact that it is so creepy and, frankly, upsetting, it stuck with me. So I knew going in that this wasn’t exactly going to give me the warm fuzzies. And wow, that’s accurate.
Tress and Felicity used to be besties. They are decidedly not anymore, as burying someone alive in a basement isn’t exactly the calling card of a healthy bond. And the thing is, while you know that Tress shouldn’t be resorting to this level of vengeance, you also kind of can’t help but understand why. Through flashbacks and current events, the author makes you feel sympathy for Tress throughout. Felicity is, in Tress’s eyes, vapid and spoiled at best, and a straight-up life ruiner at worst.
But there’s so, so much more to the story. Tress sees it from her own point of view, obviously. After her parents’ disappearance, of which Felicity was present during, Tress wound up with her neglectful mess of a grandfather who owns a “zoo”/drug side business. Tress’s life has been nothing but hardship since then, while Felicity has seemingly been living the high life. And she has, certainly, compared to Tress! But that also is probably not a reason to kill someone? 🤷♀️
Add to it, while all this is taking place, there is a very messed up party happening. Debauchery of all sorts, showcasing pretty much the worst of people. And Tress’s grandfather’s zoo animals get involved. So if you think a book about two girls in a basement might get dull… think again. There basically is not a dull moment to be had. Even in quieter moments, we learn so very much about the characters that there’s not a page wasted.
While we learn many things about the town and all its inhabitants, we unfurl even more questions about what exactly is going on. It’s basically unputdownable. Oh and the ending? It’s evil, and I am probably going to start a countdown clock for the sequel or something, I need it that badly.
Bottom Line: Brilliantly dark and multi-faceted, I flat out could not stop flying through the pages.
#1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Charlaine Harris is at her best in this alternate history of the United States where magic is an acknowledged but despised power in this third installment of the Gunnie Rose series.
Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire. Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder.
Russian Cage continues to ramp up the momentum with more of everything Harris’ readers adore her for with romance, intrigue, and a deep dive into the mysterious Holy Russian Empire.
I never reviewed it, but I enjoyed A Longer Fall significantly more than An Easy Death. I found that the series kind of hit its stride, and I knew more who Lisbeth was as a character. And I’ll also say, it helped that I read the second book not too long before reading this third installment. I remembered pretty much everything, the motivations behind things, and the world itself.
This series is, frankly, entertaining and enjoyable. Lisbeth is a badass with a soft heart who you cannot help but root for. (Also, the new covers are gorgeous.) The alternate history is developed a lot more in this installment, and we learn so much about the Russian faction. I must say, overall I am so impressed with the author’s alternate history in the series as a whole. It’s quite imaginative and well-thought out, and is one of the biggest highlights for me.
Overall, this installment (and the rest of the series) has a bit of something for everyone: Romance, family dynamics, gray morality, a strong female main character who is really likable, mystery, political intrigue, friendships, and really I could go on and on.
Bottom Line: I’ve always been a fan of Harris’s work, but this is unquestionably her strongest series to date.
A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.
After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet's atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.
The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are 'equal'. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her.
The Swimmers first drew me in with its title (I’ll never turn down anything that mentions swimming, let’s be real). Then the cover blew me away, and I love me a dystopian, so there was really no doubt I’d be needing to read this book. I feel… complicated things about it, so let’s break down what I enjoyed versus what I had trouble with!
What I Liked:
- The world itself is fascinating. I mean, it certainly seems plausible- a group who fancies themselves superior (i.e., richer) lives in luxury while those they deem inferior suffer in less-than-ideal conditions. And of course, the earth is all messed up, polluted, and flat out dangerous, because humans. I’m afraid I never fully grasped the intricacies of said world, sadly, which I will discuss later. But what I did get, I liked.
- The writing felt very atmospheric and contributed quite well to the overall vibe of the story. I certainly understood how desperate the conditions were, and felt for main character Pearl as she tried to navigate the world.
- I certainly rooted for Pearl. I won’t say I felt particularly connected to her, but I felt for her, and I wanted her to end up okay. And you know, society in general to be more fair. For Pearl and us, I suppose.
What I Didn’t:
- The pacing felt a bit off. The thing is, we knew via the switch between past and present, where Pearl’s story ultimately ends up. And as the story is slower in nature and quite character-driven, it made it feel longer, not having that sense of anticipation. Pearl’s chapters also had a tendency to be a bit long-winded, and while I enjoyed the writing quality, I did wish for a bit more action at times. It seemed like not much happened for a good chunk of the book. And that is okay sometimes! But it didn’t really do it for me here.
- As I mentioned above, I was really kind of confused by parts of the world. We’re introduced to terms I never fully understood the meaning of, and I kept waiting for it to “click” for me, but it never did. So I spent a fairly significant portion of the book just not getting it.
- While I didn’t dislike Pearl’s husband, Arlo (in fact, I felt that I understood what was going on much better during his POV), I didn’t feel anything about their relationship at all. Perhaps this is a bit spoilery, but View Spoiler »I think we were perhaps meant to think that they eventually truly loved each other, but I never got that? « Hide Spoiler
Bottom Line: A beautifully written and atmospheric book that paints a bleak future for the planet, The Swimmers left me a bit confused and underwhelmed at times.
For fans of Jeff Zentner and Katie Henry comes a thrilling and funny debut about a teen raised in a doomsday community who plots her escape with the boy from the bunker next door.
Always be ready for the worst day of your life.
This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.
Then a devastating accident rocks Becca’s family and pushes the entire community, including Becca’s usually cynical little sister, deeper into the doomsday ideology. With her getaway plans thrown into jeopardy, the only person Becca can turn to is Roy, who reveals that he’s not nearly as clueless as he’s been pretending to be.
When Roy proposes they run away together, Becca will have to risk everything—including her heart—for a chance to hope for the best instead of planning for the worst.
Prepped was definitely unlike anything I have read before! We meet Becca, who is living with her “parents” (I use quotations because they are evil and shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves that) and little sister in a doomsday prepper neighborhood. I had no idea those were a thing. Are they? I don’t know, it seems like it could be, because sometimes people are extra. Anyway, because she’s still under eighteen, and because she is worried sick about what will happen to her sister if she’s left there alone, Becca must participate in these training exercises and absurd rules. Only, she knows she needs to get out…. but how will she ensure Katie’s safety?
Let me say here that it cannot be overstated how vile the parents are in this book. Becca has already been arranged in marriage to Roy, a fellow Doomsdayer (is that a word? Let’s have it be a word) by her and Roy’s parents. She’s forced into some very unsafe “training” exercises. Punishments for even the most minor (or, to most people, nonexistent) infraction are extreme. And that doesn’t bring into play the mental abuse Becca and Katie are enduring. Katie has been, at best neglected, until Becca’s parents begin to attempt to indoctrinate Katie into their web of absurdity. And just as any child would, Katie wants to please her parents, and doesn’t realize how wrong this all is.
I want to leave the plot for you to read yourself, and not give anything “big” away. But you will undoubtedly cheer for Becca the entire way, basically yelling at your copy of the book for her to break free of this nightmare. There will be some very pleasant character surprises, and of course a few disappointments. You’ll certainly be shocked at how when one of Becca’s parents is awful at the start, the other is like “hold my beer”, because wow you didn’t think they could get worse. And because you’ll want to know if Becca (and Katie) end up okay, you’ll be flying through the pages!
Bottom Line: It’s a unique, fast-paced, readable story that was definitely worth the ride!
This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the Tree, Emergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.
Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.
But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi's life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it's hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.
Some Other Now owns my entire heart. That’s it, that’s the review.
Okay fine I guess I can’t end it there, but wow this book made me feel everything, just everything. From the first page I was completely hooked, somehow already invested in this story. It alternates timelines between the current time, and about a year prior, before Jessi’s whole life kind of took a turn. I am going to try to explain why I love this story so much, yeah?
- Just… every feeling. I won’t lie, I cried through at least 75% of this book. In a full blown “this will destroy my soul” way. The thing is, while it did absolutely destroy my soul, it also slowly but surely rebuilt it. And that was the biggest takeaway for me: Yes, your life will change, irrevocably. But while it will be different, and often quite sad, that doesn’t mean there will never be happiness or hope again. That is a message that we all need from time to time, and the author provides it beautifully.
- I related to Jessi so much, often more than I even wanted to. I had a family once who I felt as close to as Jessi did. (I still love them, but they have moved far away, and while they’ll always be special to me, I don’t have the same level of closeness, or frankly, dependence, that I once did.) Jessi always feels a little… “less than” in her life. Her mom is suffering from some pretty debilitating mental illness, and so Jessi often sees her own needs and wants as secondary. She also feels like she is lacking something, which I have never really related to harder. And to be clear, Jessi isn’t, she’s lovely and wonderful, but I get that feeling. And when some tragic things happen between her and the Cohens, she feels more lost and alone than ever.
- The Cohens, for their part, are lovely. It’s clear to see why Jessi has fallen in love with them (in basically all the ways one can fall in love, really). She sees Mel as her surrogate mother, Rowan is her very best friend, and she’s had a crush on Luke for oh, about forever. And they, in turn, treat her with the kindness and love she deserves.
- I love that the story focuses on Jessi’s other relationships, too. Jessi obviously needs to come to terms with her own family’s dynamic, which she will be forced to do during the story. She also must learn to build friendships outside of the family, and I think that is a really great journey as well. And the elderly man that she visits is quite possibly one of my favorite elements of the book- both because they have a fun relationship, and that I think his choices in life helped Jessi to second-guess some of her own.
- Most of all, Jessi needs to build her relationship with Jessi. Because no one can make you whole, no one can fill those voids we feel within ourselves. And most sadly, people will come into our lives and leave, for many reasons, and it’s something we have to face. Jessi’s journey during this book is so beautiful, I don’t have enough words. She is such a good, kind person at heart, and has so much to offer the world, and I wanted nothing but the best for her.
Bottom Line: This story is beautiful and heartbreaking and just so completely full of love. Read it, read it now.