Just Mercy

Society in the late 1980s to early 2000s was a period of social unrest (some would argue that it still is). Civil rights continued to be an issue even after Jim Crow laws were abolished. A large majority of incarcerated prisons were black men and women who were accused of minor offenses, many of them non-lethal, and some were entirely innocent of the crime they were accused of. There was also a substantial portion of the prison population that were juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to life in adult prisons, or even the death penalty.

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Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s semi-autobiographical account of his early years as a lawyer, first working as part of Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) until he formed his own advocacy group known as the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to help death row prisoners. Stevenson vividly recounts his myriad of cases throughout the book, but largely focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, an Alabama man accused of a murder he didn’t commit. The evidence against McMillian was overwhelming false or incoherent, and yet the police and justice system convicted him of murder. Stevenson works for many years to free McMillian while simultaneously working on other death row cases, many of which involve juveniles or the mental incapacitated.

This book gives the reader good insight into how the legal system continuously fails the people who put their faith in it. It reveals the bias that many law enforcement officers – from police to lawyers to judges – have against certain groups of individuals and how these biases often lead to unfair treatment of those accused of a crime.

I both read and listened to the audio book at the same time, finding that the audio book kept me focused on the non-fiction novel (which is typically not my preferred genre of reading). This book has been described to me as one that will make me cry, followed by anger, with some happy moments in between; this seems to be the most accurate description. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who may not fully understand why certain groups of people mistrust the police and the law. Stevenson avoids using legal jargon whenever possible and sticks mostly to language the reader should recognize and understand. But the most important thing about this book is that it shows humanity in a different light, and that hope is what keeps many going even when there seems to be nothing left.

My rating: 4.5/5

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Of Fire and Stars

Princess Dennaleia of Havemont has always known her future. Betrothed to Prince Thandilimon of Mynaria, Denna has spent her whole life being groomed to be future queen. But she also has spent her life hiding her magic; in Mynaria where magic users are not particularly welcome, Denna’s ability to control fire may compromise her future marriage.


She also didn’t count on meeting Princess Amaranthine, Thandilimon’s older sister. Mare, as she is known, is headstrong, stubborn, and doesn’t want to be a princess. She values the little freedoms she has, and initial isn’t too fond of Denna and she scholarly diplomatic ways. But when a civil war between Havemont, Mynaria, and their shared border with the magic sympathetic Zumorda threatens them all, Mare will need Denna’s scholar trained mind to help her navigate the complex government. In turn, Denna needs Mare’s familiarity with the town and its people to gather information on the uprising Recusants and what their intentions may be.What neither Denna nor Mare bargained on was the growing friendship between them…or is it more than that?

As a story, I found Of Fire and Stars not quite on the same level as other fantasy novels I have read recently. Other reviewers have commented on its subpar world building, which I do agree; at just shy of 400 pages, I feel another 200 could help build the world and the relationships between magic and non-magic users better. Considering this is a debut novel and I often find debuts to be lukewarm in world building, it isn’t a bad start.

However, I don’t think the intention of the story was to focus on the world but rather on the relationship between the two female leads. In that sense, Of Fire and Stars does quite well, starting with initial friction between the girls and slowly changing over time. I would have liked another 100 pages to really build that relationship as there was a point halfway through where I felt it progressed too much too quickly.

As an LGBTQ story, I feel it does a nice job of introducing the relationship between Denna and Mare. I cannot really say how accurate this relationship is, but for someone who isn’t of that sexuality per se I think it works well. I believe this would be a good novel to recommend to young readers as they begin to navigate their teen life and its trials.

My rating: 3.5/5

Our Dark Duet

Six months have passed since the events of This Savage Song. Kate, now a resident of Prosperity, hasn’t given up her monster hunting. Although Verity is filled with monsters born of the evil of people, Prosperity isn’t empty of its evils – they are just different evils. Kate has had to attempt to hunt these evils, but has been forced to rely on the help of others.

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Meanwhile, August has changed. Having taken over the FTF command after the death of his brother Leo, August has had to adjust. Ever so slowly, August has become more like the monster everyone secretly thinks he is. Though not a human, he is slowly losing the parts of himself that made him closer to humanity. At the same time, the FTF is struggling as they attempt to decide what to do about North City and the influx of refugees.

When a particularly nasty monster escapes Kate and Prosperity, one that turns humans against each other, Kate is forced to return to Verity in an attempt to stop it. She must come together with August and the FTF to save a city that some think isn’t worth saving. Kate is startled by the changes in August and tries to draw him back to the boy she knew. But there are bigger problems to worry about and together they must find a way to destroy a monster they can’t even see.

If you thought This Savage Song was amazing, you will love Our Dark Duet. It’s darker and full of monsters, but it’s also a novel about how things and circumstances can change you – not necessarily for the better – and how one must hold on to themselves. I really loved this book and also how Kate became August’s beacon of humanity. I really love the complexity of this story and how people are not so easily separated into innocent and sinners.

As this is a duology, Our Dark Duet is the end of this tale. Victoria Schwab has completed two series in 2017, but I’m eager to find out what other stories she has in store for us.

My rating: 5/5

Motor Crush vol. 1

Domino Swift leads a dual life. By day, she is a top ranking motorcyclist who is just about to debut on the world stage. By night, she bikes in unsanctioned races for a chance to win the top prize: vials of crush. Used to illegally enhance the performance of cycles, crush is lethal if ingested by humans.


But not to Domino. She literally inhales crush as it is the only substance that keeps her alive. And the only way to get enough of it is to race and battle gangs.When Domino’s store of crush is stolen, she needs to win as much of it back as possible. To do so, she needs a faster bike. To get a faster bike, she needs Lola. But Lola has sworn not to return to the life she led before with Domino. To complicate things even more, Lola owes money to some dangerous people. To save Lola, Domino makes a deal – but can she keep her end of the bargain?

Motor Crush is brought to you by Team Batgirl – Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brenden Fletcher. Together they wrote an amazing original story. It’s full of emotion, thrills, girl power, and Babs’ signature art combined with Brenden and Cameron’s writing. If you loved their run of Batgirl, you will love Motor Crush.

The only downside? It ends on a cliffhanger, and we won’t get resolution to the story until after September (as told by Brenden during this year’s Heroes Con).

My rating: 5/5

Strange the Dreamer

Lazlo Strange is a nobody. Raised in a monastery as an orphan, he dreamed of visiting the Unseen City as told through the stories of a senile monk. At 13, he was given the opportunity to become a librarian at the great library of Zosma. There, Lazlo continues to read and research the Unseen City, a place of magnificence that suddenly closed its doors to the outside world 200 years ago – and whose name has been erased from all minds and records for an unknown reason.


Sarai is the Muse of Nightmares. She lives in the citadel and has the ability to create moths that, when they touch another, allow Sarai to enter and control another’s dreams without anyone the wiser. As a young child, she was full of hate and vengence for the people that stole her life. But as time has passed and she’s walked through people’s dreams, her hate has turned to understanding, even forgiveness. But her family doesn’t share her forgiveness for those that did them wrong.One day, Lazlo is given the opportunity to visit the Unseen City. While there, he meets Sarai – but he doesn’t know who she really is. As Lazlo and Sarai work to understand their situations and come to a peaceful solution, those they are with have other ideas. Will the conflict that has been building for 200 years be resolved as peacefully as Lazlo and Sarai hope?

Strange the Dreamer is every bit a Laini Taylor story. It starts full of mystery and mysticism, which become more and more clear the deeper you delve. The world is rich in fantasy but you can detect the semblence to actual history. The characters are well developed and unique from each other. 

As you finish the novel, you’ll still have questions left unanswered. And, as you would expect, it ends on a major cliffhanger. If you love Laini Taylor but dislike cliffhangers, I recommend you wait until the next volume releases. But I do recommend this read as it is wonderful and amazing.

My rating: 5/5

Godsgrave

Now a full-fledged Blade of the Red Church, Mia Corvere has taken on the mantle of assassin. She efficiently disposes of her offerings in Galante as instructed, but she is frustrated that her work brings her no closer to the revenge she seeks. But then an offering comes in from a mysterious patron that sends her back to Godsgrave. But what Mia finds there changes her view on the Church and on how she sees her life as a Blade. She has been expressly ordered not to target Scaeva…but why?


In an effort to get closer to Duomo and Scaeva to complete her revenge, Mia defies the Church and becomes a gladiatii, fighting in bloody matches that are a spectacle sport around Itreya. Her goal is simple: become the champion of a collegium so that she came become eligible to battle in the ultimate match held in Godsgrave. The winner is crowned by Scaeva himself with Duomo in close attendance, the closest Mia will ever physically come to either man. The only problem is she must prove herself worthy enough in both her collegium and on the matches leaded up to the last. But the matches are bloody and no one ever knows what form they take.

Mia will need every ounce of her Blade training, skills in poisoncraft, and her sarcasm and wit if she is to survive. A little help wouldn’t hurt, but can she really trust her ally?

If you loved Nevernight, then you will thoroughly enjoy Godsgrave. It is it’s predecessor in all ways but is so much better. The stakes are higher, and you just never know what kinds of trouble Mia will get herself into. Jay Kristoff writes each scene and match as unique instances, none of them ever the same, none of them predictable. I thoroughly enjoy his descriptions and also the way he writes the narrator of the story; the special, historical footnotes continue in Godsgrave, and they still remain my favorite part about this series.

No spoilers, but as one can imagine Godsgrave ends on a cliffhanger – and I am just banging my head to know what happens next. How long until the conclusion??

My rating: 5/5

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina has lived her entire 12 years of existence in hiding in the basement of the esteemed Biltmore Estate, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt. Why? Well, for one thing she and her pa are not supposed to be living in the basement. And also, because Serafina isn’t like all the other girls. She’s wild, fierce, and one of the best rodent catchers Biltmore has ever had – and doesn’t know about.


One night while out hunting rats, Serafina stumbles upon the kidnapping – or is it murder? It’s very difficult to tell – of the young Clara Brahms by a mysterious man wearing a black cloak. She tells her pa, but he doesn’t believe her and forbids her to tell anyone else. But Serafina can’t keep it to herself and is determined to find Clara. She confides in Mr. Vanderbilt’s nephew, Braeden Vanderbilt, who almost immediately begins to aid Serafina in her search. As they look for Clara, more children go missing, Braeden becomes a target, and Serafina’s mysterious past begins to confuse her.

What does the Man in the Black Cloak want with all the children? Why is there an entire missing village just outside Biltmore’s grounds? And just who is Serafina?

Serafina and the Black Cloak is written by Robert Beatty, a resident of Asheville, NC (my home state) which is where the famed Biltmore Estate resides. A middle grade novel set in the early start of the 20th century, Beatty utilizes both the interior and grounds of Biltmore. If you have ever visited Biltmore before (and I have, many, many times), you’ll find Beatty’s descriptions accurate and yet not so since he is describing life in a time period few of us have actually lived. He makes Biltmore come alive. And he perfectly blends fantasy with reality in this novel.

As an adult reading a middle grade novel, I felt the same as I have before: I don’t really click with the story and characters since I am not the target age reader. However, as a future youth services librarian, I find it a richly detailed story I would recommend to young readers.

My rating: 4/5