4 star, YA

ARC Review: Spells for Lost Things by Jenna Evans Welch

Willow has never felt like she belonged anywhere and is convinced that the only way to find a true home is to travel the world. But her plans to act on her dream are put on hold when her aloof and often absent mother drags Willow to Salem, Massachusetts, to wrap up the affairs of an aunt Willow didn’t even know she had. An aunt who may or may not have been a witch.

There, she meets Mason, a loner who’s always felt out of place and has been in and out of foster homes his entire life. He’s been classified as one of the runaways, constantly searching for ways to make it back to his mom; even if she can’t take care of him, it’s his job to try and take care of her. Isn’t it?

Naturally pulled to one another, Willow and Mason set out across Salem to discover the secret past of Willow’s mother, her aunt, and the ambiguous history of her family. During all of this, the two can’t help but act on their natural connection. But with the amount of baggage between them—and Willow’s growing conviction her family might be cursed—can they manage to hold onto each other?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Love & Gelato comes a poignant and romantic novel about two teens trying to find their place in the world after being unceremoniously dragged to Salem, Massachusetts, for the summer.



**Spells for Lost Things comes out September 27, 2022**

Thank you Simon & Schuster for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

In Jenna’s latest novel that is separate from her renown Love & Gelato series, I found her usual whimsical storytelling with likable protagonists set in a location that becomes as much of a character as anyone. Spells for Lost Things is a heartfelt novel about two individuals who don’t know where they belong in this world, but perhaps could find what they’re each searching for with one another’s help.

Yes, this is a dual POV story and I was totally here for it. I loved how both Mason and Willow have such distinctive voices right from the start and it totally adds to the story by knowing their deepest thoughts and struggles both so intimately.

Mason is an astronomy lover, and the little geeky stargazer that I am was super ecstatic with all the star facts just splayed across this story. Also, he keeps a star log and I absolutely need to do that over a traditional journal. Being a foster kid in search of his mom’s whereabouts, immediately we get the sense of his struggles as she had always been the anchor to Earth, the gravity that kept him moving from home to home because they’d be reunited one day when she was ready. I don’t have firsthand intimate knowledge of what the foster system is like, but I did think his actions and behaviour felt genuine when placed in his new foster home. He wasn’t always happy or outwardly grateful but my heart couldn’t help but love him for what he had gone through and was still working out.

Willow brought some more of the lightness to the story, although her own struggles with her workaholic mom was prevalent. Her mom’s secrets and distant behaviour left Willow in search for home, that sense of feeling that she belonged and fitted somewhere. Like Mason, she too was unmoored and had a wanderlust that drove her restless to see all that was out there in the world.

That being said, while it could’ve been a really serious and dark book, the balance of fun and lightheartedness worked out well in the context of Willow’s search for her witchy ancestry. With the help of Mason by her side to decode her aunt’s clues left for her and her mom to follow surrounding a mystery in their ancestor’s past in Salem, their struggles and individual losses were brought to light that felt natural. The chemistry between the two teens were present right away. While I loved both characters individually for who they were – a grand feat as YA romances sometimes define their protagonists based on their interactions with one another and not as separate individuals – I am glad their interaction as a unit was just as beautiful.

I mentioned earlier that the location is just as big of a presence as any person in the story. Like Jenna’s previous books, Salem gets brought to life on page before us. For someone like me who hasn’t travelled extensively to such locations, I felt like I was walking down the streets with them, seeing ghost tours, feeling the 365-day year round Halloween spirit that still had room to be amplified more in October. The witch aspect of the story wasn’t super developed like other books, so don’t expect a whole system described about how spells work or their specific beliefs. This might’ve been something that would bother me in another story, but it worked in this one. Being witches is not the main focus, although Willow’s eccentric great-aunts were such wonderful gems that brought the comic relief. But I will warn that may be something certain readers would want to see more, so unfortunately I’m letting you know now it may not be as expected.

Overall, Jenna Evans Welch displayed she can write a fun contemporary story even within a more local setting while focusing on character development that made her protagonists shine brightly. Spells for Lost Things is a perfect read for contemporary romance lovers and comes at the perfect time to snuggle up with a blanket on a cold October evening.

Overall Recommendation:

Spells for Lost Things follows 2 protagonists, Mason and Willow, on their individual journeys to seek what they feel is missing in their lives. It brings them on a crash course collision in Salem, home of magic and whimsical longing. Salem was beautifully described, almost like a character itself, and it made me want to take a visit there some time. The seriousness of both protagonists’ struggles with feeling lost was balanced with the lightness that came with Willow’s quest to discover her family’s past, including the fact that she is a descendant of a line of witches. I really enjoyed the character development most in this book for each character, and their romance was sweet and perfect for any who loves a good ending. Overall, a solid read and continues to show off Jenna Evans Welch’s writing in this genre.

2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: Wishtress by Nadine Brandes

She didn’t ask to be the Wishtress.

Myrthe was born with the ability to turn her tears into wishes. It’s a big secret to keep. When a granted wish goes wrong, a curse is placed on her: the next tear she sheds will kill her. She needs to journey to the Well and break the curse before it claims her life–and before the king’s militairen track her down. But in order to survive the journey, she must harden her heart to keep herself from crying even a single tear.

He can stop time with a snap of his fingers.

Bastiaan’s powerful–and rare–Talent came in handy when he kidnapped the old king. Now the new king has a job for him: find and capture the Wishtress and deliver her to the schloss. But Bastiaan needs a wish of his own. When he locates Myrthe, he agrees to take her to the Well in exchange for a wish. Once she’s fulfilled her end of the deal, he’ll turn her in. As long as his growing feelings for the girl with a stone heart don’t compromise his job.

They are on a journey that can only end one way: with her death.

Everyone seems to need a wish–the king, Myrthe’s cousin, the boy she thinks she loves. And they’re ready to bully, beg, and even betray her for it. No one knows that to grant even one of them, Myrthe would have to die. And if she tells them about her curse . . . they’ll just kill her anyway.



**Wishtress comes out September 13, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

An interesting premise with lots of potential, Wishtress presents itself as a wonderful allegory in the battle between the light and the darkness in each of us, but ultimately didn’t develop the idea beyond its basic principles.

I will have to first say that I really like Nadine Brandes as a person. I love what she stands for and the grace she exhibits in everything she says or does. However, this isn’t a review about her but about her work, and sometimes there really is a distinction present.

If I had to sum up this book with one word, it’d be slow. Everything took its time. Myrthe is the Wishtress but due to a curse, her next tear will kill her. We all know that from the synopsis, but it takes a decent number of chapters to get to her cursing and the information prior really wasn’t all that interesting or altogether necessary.

The quest for the Well of Talents to help Myrthe with her curse (and also for the whole kingdom) was supposedly going to be interesting. There are Trials that judge an individual’s worth to reach the Well and thus be granted a Talent, some sort of powerful ability. Given that all maps to the Well itself were destroyed long ago, even finding the Trials wouldn’t be easy. However, it felt like the journey was hardly an issue and the Trials itself seemed inconsequential as Myrthe looked for loopholes rather than being truly tested. Everything I thought would make this book great was just mediocre.

From a character perspective, Myrthe and her love interest, Bastiaan, should have been interesting considering the amount of time given to each. This story is most definitely a character-driven one instead of plot. However, I couldn’t fathom their love for one another with their limited interactions. Does she like him because her family members barely treated her like a person instead of an object to dole out wishes for profit? Does he like her because she was once kind to him for no reason? Either way, it never made sense to me how their attraction grew. I felt no chemistry, and the rhythm of their relationship was too instant. Don’t tell me you love each other, show me.

Their individual growth arc and personal battle between choosing what’s good or right (the Talent Well water) and what’s self-serving and power-hungry (the Nightwell water that gives powers called Banes) was okay. I can’t think of a better word. I can see where Nadine is going with the idea and I appreciate the sentiment, but overall I don’t think it was executed the best. Many stories feature this trope, the fight between good and evil and the choice one can make between the two, but it was too simple here. Even when a character was tempted and chose wrong, the realness of the struggle was made too…easy? Like they could’ve easily switched back over to the better choice and it was almost like they never chose wrong in the first place.

I wanted to really love this one but it took me forever to finish and probably placed me in the reading slump I was in for the last month. The ending was actually the only piece I really enjoyed. It surprised me, the only thing that didn’t feel predictable or too easy. I loved that it was kept open-ended – really open-ended – but it felt like it was fitting. I don’t believe this is anything beyond a standalone so I applaud that bold choice for ending it there. It’s an ending filled with hope and a sense of continuation which works for a book that otherwise didn’t make me feel much of anything.

Overall Recommendation:

Wishtress had the potential to be an epic adventure for the powerful Well of Talents that squandered the plot for a character-driven story about the battle between good and evil. That’s not a bad idea to focus on, but its execution was a little too clean and perfect without the grittiness of real struggles people go through. While this may not be a fast-paced read for YA, perhaps its simplistic view of good versus evil would provide a better reading source for younger audiences. Its ending may be a little surprising to some, but personally I found it offered a hopeful note that made the story overall better.

2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson ramps up the horror and tackles America’s history and legacy of racism in this suspenseful YA novel following a biracial teenager as her Georgia high school hosts its first integrated prom. 

When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation . . . Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret . . . one that will cost them all their lives.



**The Weight of Blood comes out September 6, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

While The Weight of Blood was every bit the strong contender about race and the continued challenges the Black community faces in certain small towns with a history of segregation and racism, the execution of the mystery fell flat on so many levels. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I’ll explain why I can’t give it a higher rating no matter how much I want to.

The premise of the story from the synopsis makes it sound like we follow Maddy, a girl who is half-Black but has been “lying” to the whole town and passing off as white her whole life. Unfortunately, her POV is only one of many that we follow and it dilutes the focus between too many people to thoroughly invest and enjoy any one of them. We follow Kenny, the love interest, who also happens be dating a popular white girl who is part of the group that bullied Maddy. But not only his POV, we get his girlfriend’s POV which was a rather interesting take as it made it harder to yearn for the main romance when I empathized with her situation the more I got to know her.

For the parts where we do get to see the situations Maddy lives through which we know somehow leads up to a Bloody Prom Night that left over a hundred dead in their small town, I was utterly enthralled in half amazement and disgust. Amazement at how she was raised and her fanatical father who put this narrative in her mind that being Black was wrong, but definite disgust at the treatment of her peers and the town overall towards her. I mean, they still had separate proms, like other ethnicities weren’t seen as equals to dance and celebrate together? Just disgusting behaviour, and I really hope not reflective of small towns in America.

I did think the social commentary on racism was a great place to launch much-needed discussions on this topic. In particular, I also liked the focus on her peers who didn’t throw any insults or directly did anything but nevertheless just stood by and allowed the ones who did get a free pass. Aren’t they as much at fault for what led up to the tragic Night?

Another interesting take was how the small Black community at school didn’t necessarily welcome her into their arms either. Was it because they thought she was ashamed of her Blackness and thus extends to those in the community? Was she not Black enough for them to at least acknowledge her as one of them? It was something that Kenny had to reflect on too as he had integrated well into the popular groups at school by, in a sense, pretending he was colour blind to the little “jokes” by his friends that really were microaggressions or harmful stereotypes.

I would’ve liked to have seen more focus on this topic but I suppose the point of the main premise is a thriller – the big Why everyone (or rather, the survivors) is trying to answer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good thriller, but the pacing was super off here. First, reminiscent to the popular book Sadie, there’s a present day podcast in interview style narrating what had happened a decade ago that is Maddy’s story. So the timeline is actually split with the present day parts looking to explain what led to the tragedy. While I like having the podcast style and making us feel just as confused and intrigued by Maddy’s story as the podcaster, it slows things down by cutting into any buildup. The multiple POVs with changing tensions (or different kinds of tension) doesn’t allow for extended buildup either. It’s just getting good – and then it cuts to present day or another person.

The romance was also marketed for this book in some ways, but I never felt any real chemistry between Kenny and Maddy. Yes, they both had to come to terms with their Blackness and what that means in who they want to be and how others may see them. But a connection on that struggle that doesn’t equate to instant attraction and undying love. Kenny did a complete 180 as he was still technically in a relationship with his girlfriend Wendy (whom we also get to really know) for most of the book. I honestly felt bad for Wendy at times even though she missed some cues that the relationship was not going where she hoped it would.

But, the one thing I think everyone loved given the strong Carrie vibes (is this considered a retelling?) but didn’t quite settle with me is the supernatural element to the story. I never read Carrie so I didn’t immediately make that connection with the synopsis so I most definitely wasn’t anticipating this supernatural narrative. In a way, it makes the premise less mysterious and therefore exciting for me. Now there’s a very plausible way that Bloody Prom Night ends up happening and there’s definitely plenty of motive for why on Maddy’s part. The only unknown is the exact sequence of events that led up to it. And the execution of that, as mentioned above, was at times convoluted and all over the place.

I wanted to love this book so badly. I haven’t been reading the reviews for it so I had no high expectations either beyond the premise. Unfortunately, however unpopular this is, The Weight of Blood was less thriller and more of a paranormal story with commentary on race and segregation in small town America.

Overall Recommendation:

The Weight of Blood doesn’t quite hit the nail as a thriller but it at least provides thoughtful reflection on Black identity in predominantly white small towns with a legacy of racism. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect although it sickened me in places at the abuse our protagonist, Maddy, faced. However, the romance felt forced and the supernatural elements came as a surprise. If you enjoy social commentary on race with a huge sprinkling of paranormal activity, then this is for you! But otherwise, this isn’t what I’d say is a typical thriller and unfortunately not what I anticipated for my first Tiffany D. Jackson novel. It’s probably a case of “it’s me, not the book” so take what you will from this review.