The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

Did you love The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery? If yes, then you should definitely read The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey.

Bailey’s life was forever changed after a vacation where she caught an unknown illness, which quickly snowballed into a bevy of mysterious, chronic, and debilitating conditions. While grieving this change, she was gifted a companion: a wild snail found in the woods near her house. Observing and caring for this snail helped Bailey cope and launched her on a journey to learn more about this underappreciated animal.

This is a book about slowing down, with a thoughtful, lyrical pace to match. The fascination with our tiny neighbors is contagious, with interesting facts throughout helping to balance the author’s poignant emotional journey of being betrayed by her body. Honest, understated, and with a deep appreciation for nature and wildness, this bittersweet book will help you rest and see the world around you more clearly.

It’s also available in large print, so don’t miss out on a great piece of nature writing.

Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed is an author who knows how to rip at your heart strings. So far, I have read two of her young adult fiction titles and they have decimated me, but in a way that had me thinking about the state of the world. Three years ago, I read Internment and had such a devastating book hangover after I finished that I knew I needed to read whatever she published next (Internment is set in a futuristic United States when Muslim-Americans are forced into internment camps. It tells the story of Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old who leads a revolution against those complicit in silence). Samira’s latest soul-wrenching title is Hollow Fires. I’m still reeling from this book, yet I believe it’s a necessary read especially in today’s climate.

Hollow Fires is a powerful novel that tells the story of the evil that lives around us every day and how alternative facts created by the privileged bend the truth of a narrative to their will and desire. It’s a story of silent complicity, as well as outright and hidden racism. It’s about the will of a young journalist desperate to uncover the truth of what actually happened to a missing boy. If you enjoyed Sadie by Courtney Summers or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I highly recommend you read this book.

Safiya Mirza wants to become a journalist. She is currently the editor of her private school’s newspaper, reporting on the facts of what is happening at her school, despite the administration wishing to push their own biases onto the paper. Safiya is a scholarship student, growing up in vastly different ways compared to her privileged classmates. Her desire to report only the facts and leave out any personal feelings changes the moment she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was only fourteen years old. His public school had a makerspace where he was allowed to take recycled materials and repurpose them for whatever he wanted. Having had his current project approved by his teacher, Jawad built a cosplay jetpack to add to his Halloween costume. He brought the finished project to school to show his teacher and friends. One of his teachers mistook his jetpack for a bomb and alerted the police, which led to Jawad being arrested, labeled a terrorist, and eventually kidnapped and murdered. After his arrest, Jawad was cleared by the police, but his school still suspended him. His peers labeled him ‘Bomb Boy’ and his life as he knew it was changed forever.

Safiya is devastated after discovering Jawad’s body. His presence, voice, and smell are haunting her throughout the investigation, leading her to seek out the entire truth about Jawad’s murder and those who killed him because of their hate-fueled beliefs. Jawad was a person whose life was worth remembering exactly how he lived it and not how the media have spun it. Racist acts have been sprouting up all over Safiya’s school, as well as at her mosque and her parents’ store. Concerned they could be related to Jawad’s disappearance and with a lack of confidence in the local police department, Safiya begins an investigation of her own with the help of her friends and Jawad’s voice in her ear.

This book is also available in the following format:

Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards

I live for the drama of a teen psychological thriller, and Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards is no exception.

One year ago, Cleo’s boyfriend Declan drowned during a river rafting trip with their friends. Even though she has a new boyfriend now and is waiting for a scholarship to Michigan State to become a forensic scientist, she’s never really been able to leave Declan in the past. This makes it all the more chilling when on her eighteenth birthday, she starts to receive a cryptic and vaguely threatening clues leading her on a scavenger hunt, one that’s increasingly all about her rocky relationship with Declan. All her friends deny their involvement, even her brother Connor, so it’s up to Cleo and her best friend Hope to chase down the clues, racing the clock to keep their secrets from getting out, and hopefully to find out just who’s behind this – friend, foe, or Declan himself.

This is a vividly drawn and fast-paced story, full of twists, flashbacks, and revelations of all kinds. It engages with issues of race, domestic violence, blame, poverty, and trust, but is also full of loving, supportive friendships and family relationships.

If you loved All Your Twisted Secrets, One of Us is Lying, or Five Total Strangers, you’ll love Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reminiscent of Jean Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is filled with the misty landscapes of Yorkshire, mysterious events, possible hauntings and shocking family secrets. It is a Gothic novel set in contemporary times.

The book opens when Margaret Lea, a young woman who has done some freelance writing and works in her father’s book shop receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter. Ms Winter has never told the truth about her life, spinning a new story with every interview. Now nearing the end of her life, she wants to tell the real story and she wants Margaret to write her biography.

At first skeptical that Winter will now tell the truth, and wondering why she – a young, little know writer – was chosen, Margaret makes the trip to Yorkshire to meet with the reclusive Winter. True to a Gothic setting, the weather is damp and gloomy and Winter’s house is large and imposing. Winter is imperious and demanding, but she does indeed tell Margaret the truth of her past, spinning one story after another.

We meet the twins Adeline and Emmeline, whose parentage is murky. They live in isolation with their mother and uncle in a decaying mansion above the village. The local people describe the family as “odd” and “not quite right” and the twins, who run wild, indulge in dangerous and even cruel acts. A doctor and a governess take an interest in the twin’s behavior which ends in disaster. As more and more servants leave and the house continues to collapse, a fire breaks out and all is lost. Or has something – or someone – survived?

Margaret is haunted by her own twin story and feels the wrench of losing her sibling. The mysteries and atmosphere surrounding Ms Winter’s house play on Margaret’s mind and she becomes obsessed with the tragedies of the past.

This is a fascinating book that is hard to put down. The twins were pretty creepy, which suited the story perfectly. There is plenty of tension and twists – I never saw the final surprise coming, although it fit with what had happened. With a dramatic and satisfying conclusion, this would be a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our August theme of reading and stories and how they connect us.

 

 

 

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

“I still have a lot to figure out, but the one thing I know is, wherever you are, that’s where I belong. I’ll never belong anywhere like I belong with you.”
― Emily Henry, People We Meet on Vacation

The above quote sums up People We Meet on Vacation pretty perfectly. Alex and Poppy do not seem like they would fit together. Poppy is a traveling wild child who gets anxious if she is in one place for too long. Alex would much rather stay at home in his khakis reading a book. The two met by chance at college, but each wrote the other off as a nobody. Thrown together later in a car share home one summer, the two form a best friend bond that has only grown over time.

While Alex and Poppy may live apart for most of the year – she in New York and he back home in Ohio, they revel in their summer trips. For over a decade, the two have taken one week of vacation together every summer to various destinations all over the globe. They have had disastrous vacations all the way to magnificent ones. Two years ago, something happened on their summer vacation that has driven a wedge between the two. They haven’t spoken to each other since.

Poppy has been having a rough time dealing with Alex being out of her life. She feels like she’s stuck in a rut. When her friend asks her when she last felt happy, Poppy realizes that it was when she was with Alex. She wants that back! Poppy has decided that she has to get Alex to take a vacation with her so that she can make their relationship right again. Alex agrees, so she has one week to fix everything that’s wrong between them. That task proves to be way harder than she imagined, given the massive secret lurking between the two.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Loveless by Alice Oseman

Georgia has always assumed she’d find love. No, she hasn’t ever dated anyone, or kissed anyone, or had a crush on anyone, but that’s normal, right? It’ll happen eventually… right? It isn’t until she graduates from school and is about to go to university that she realizes how different she is from everyone else. Feeling panicked, behind, and alone, she decides to reinvent herself and become the kind of girl who’s a social butterfly, that falls in love and enjoys kissing. She enlists her roommate Rooney and her friends Jason and Pip in her quest, but it never starts to feel easier, to feel right. It’ll take time, soul-searching, and the help of Sunil, president of the Pride Society, to figure out what she wants and where she belongs.

Loveless by Alice Oseman is a great book for a lot of reasons, including its representation of people who have always been treated like they’re broken: introverts, asexuals, and aromantic people. Georgia is flawed and real as she struggles and angsts her way into self-acceptance and self-love, leaving some chaos and hurt in her wake. Oseman doesn’t shy away from showing Georgia’s culpability for that hurt, or the complicated process of making amends, not to mention the natural grieving process that comes with being different. In this and many ways (though I can’t vouch for the depiction of British university life) it’s a refreshingly realistic book. Despite the title, love is the thread that runs through the book – through Georgia’s friendships, Rooney’s relationship to Shakespeare, Pip’s cultural heritage, and Sunil’s feelings for the Pride Society.

For a fresh and educational coming-of-age with strong friendships, diverse characters, realistic portrayals of asexuality and aromanticism, and quick, addictive chapters, this is the best book you’ll read this year.

This title is also available on Overdrive.

Romance Reads: Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper

‘That was the thing about growing up with magic. Until you left it behind for good, you had no idea how incredible it felt just to be around it.’ – Lana Harper, Payback’s a Witch

Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in paranormal witchy romances, so naturally I decided to read some! My latest adventure into this genre was the first in the Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper titled Payback’s a Witch. I found this title to be uniquely engaging and full of world-building, yet not overwhelming with the amount of information given.

Emmy Harlow is back in Thistle Grove. After leaving this magical town right after high school, she never though she’d be back. Harlow may be a witch, but she’s not a very powerful one. The time she has spent away from Thistle Grove, plus the physical distance separating her from the town, has depleted her magic. Her exile from her family has been self-imposed due to a complicated relationship with her family, her family history, and relationships with her peers. Emmy has always wanted to forge her own destiny that had nothing to do with being a Harlow witch in Thistle Grove. Add in a nasty breakup with Gareth Blackmoor when she was in high school and Emmy was drawn to leave quicker than she had planned. After all, Gareth is the heir to the most powerful magical family in town. He oh so casually shattered her dreams and broke her heart without a second thought. She had to leave.

Flash forward: Emmy is back in Thistle Grove to perform her family’s role as arbiter in a spellcasting tournament held every fifty years. A massive guilt trip from her family and the lure of tradition was enough to bring her back. Emmy’s plan is to do her duty as arbiter, spend time with her best friend Linden Thorn, and then immediately leave to head back to her life in Chicago. The universe has other plans.

On her first night back in town, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov at a local bar. Talia is another heir to a different magical family who practices darker magic. She is also fresh off a bad breakup of sorts with Gareth Blackmoor. It turns out that Gareth was also dating Emmy’s best friend Linden, at the same time he was messing around with Talia – with both women not realizing the either was in a relationship with him! Scandal! Linden and Talia want revenge on Gareth and believe that with Emmy they can finally get back at him for what he has done to all three. Emmy has to decide if she wants in and if so, what the plan should be. Add in friend drama and romantic drama between the three and Emmy’s short trip home becomes even more complicated than she originally hoped.

This book is also available in the following format:

Witches of Thistle Grove series

  1. Payback’s a Witch (2021)
  2. From Bad to Cursed (2022)
  3. Back in a Spell (2023)

Two Truths and a Lie by April Henry

If you love Agatha Christie’s classic play The Mousetrap, or you’re longing for a good high school theater production, you should read Two Truths and a Lie by April Henry. It’s packed with classic characters from stage play whodunits, updated for more realistic diversity of course, and it’s an homage to theater and murder mysteries.

Nell and her theater friends are on their way to a conference and competition, and their spirits are high – until a blizzard chases them off the road and into a weird motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s full of strange knick-knacks, it’s oddly laid out, and it’s nearly deserted, except for a few truckers, a handyman, and the owner. Luckily another group of high schoolers turns up similarly stranded, and the evening turns to games and flirtation. But during a group session of Two Truths and a Lie, a terrifying anonymous message is found: “I like to watch people die. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve killed.” When students start to go missing it’s a terrifying scramble to find them and figure out the truth, even as the storm gets worse outside…

Tropes and references to horror movies and stage plays (Agatha Christie in particular) abound; these are theater kids, after all, and so the book can read as staged in places. Also familiar is the love triangle/mysterious love interest, but the other characters are diverse in race, religion, and sexuality in an authentic way. The plot is also suspenseful enough to keep you hooked and full of twists and surprises.

Don’t miss this snowed-in teen thriller for chills of all kinds! This title is also available on Overdrive.

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

guest post by Noel H

Bucharest, the capitol of Romania, 1989. Christian Florescu is a discontented teenager living under the harsh and oppressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu where there is little food, little hope for a future, and 1 of every 50 people is an informer ready to turn you in for the slightest infraction. He dreams of becoming a writer, but his country has rules against free speech; a person could be imprisoned, tortured, even killed for speaking their mind in I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.

Christian’s discontentment turns to dread when he is approached by the Securitate, Romania’s secret government spy ring, and is forced to become the thing he despises most: an informer. Unwilling to become a traitor to his own people, Christian resolves to use the Securitate against themselves and be a double agent. As clever as he is, he soon learns there is so much more to this pervasive web of deception than he could ever imagine.

Ruta Sepetys often writes historical fiction based in places and times largely forgotten by common historical memory. Her diligent, honest account of a fictional life set in a real nightmare comes to us at a unique time. Sepetys tells a story of a society where civilians live every day under constant surveillance not just from the government, but from their fellow citizens. Families cannot speak too loudly in their own homes not just for fear that it’s bugged, but that their parent or sibling is an informer. This phenomenon seems Orwellian, like something that can only be found in fiction, but have you ever been talking to a friend about desperately wanting an air fryer for you new apartment and then, suddenly, you can’t stop seeing adds for air fryers? Here and now, we live in a world of surveillance. So far, it’s benign enough – after all, you do want an air fryer – but for how long will this benevolence last?

Despite Christian’s knowledge that he is surrounded by those who could betray him, he still strives to strengthen the relationships he holds dear. It’s his unwillingness to sacrifice these relationships that both condemn him to his fate and save him from it. I Must Betray You does not shy away from the moral discrepancies that occur when we are forced to operate in a society of secrecy and deceit. Yet, it reminds us that, despite the very real risk that accompanies trust, we cannot survive alone.

Cozy Mystery Reads: Island Sisters Mystery series by Hannah Dennison

It’s been a while since I have found a new cozy mystery series to read. After talking to some other book lovers, I decided to start Hannah Dennison’s newest series: the Island Sisters Mystery series (I’ll admit that the cover is what pulled me in first – lucky for me, the plot was thoroughly engaging too).

Death at High Tide is the first book in the Island Sisters Mystery series. Evie Mead is devastated. Her husband Robert has suddenly died of a heart attack. During a meeting with his accountant after his death, Evie and her sister Margot learn that Evie may own the rights to an old hotel on Tregarrick Rock, one of the Scilly Islands. At a loss of what to do, Evie wants to leave all the arrangements in the hands of her accountant. Margot has other plans. Having left her glamorous career and fancy life behind in Los Angeles to come help Evie, Margot is determined to help Evie relax. She suggests a weekend getaway to Tregarrick Rock so the two can scope out the hotel and the area.

Once at the Scilly Islands, Evie and Margot realize that the area is not what they thought it would be. When they eventually arrive at the hotel, the two are fascinated by the history. Famous detective novelists used to visit the hotel in its prime, but now the hotel is definitely more of a fixer upper than either of them expected. When Evie starts asking questions, the answers she receives are off. The cranky hotel owner say that he has never met Robert, as do many other island inhabitants. Evie finds evidence to contradict them though, specifically framed photos of Robert with various people she meets over the weekend. She can’t be sure what they are all hiding and why.

When a two murders happen at the hotel in quick succession, Evie and Margot are desperate to escape Tregarrick Rock and forget this place and its weird inhabitants ever existed. Their escape is thwarted by the local police when both are named suspects. With all eyes on them, the sisters start searching for answers and find multiple secrets hidden for years, including their own.

Island Sisters Mystery series

  1. Death at High Tide (2020)
  2. Danger at the Cove (2021)

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