Okay so my confession of this post is that these aren’t necessarily considered Backlist by normal standards (i.e 2019 or earlier). But these are shorter reviews (bites if you will) so here we are.
Rebel Spy by Veronica RossiRebel Spy by Veronica Rossi
on June 23, 2020
A reimagining of the story behind Agent 355--a New York society girl and spy for George Washington during the Revolutionary War--perfect for fans of Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key and the novels of Julie Berry.
Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather--and she takes it.
Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she finds herself eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington's Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty--but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true "355" and rich in historical detail and intrigue, this is the story of an unlikely New York society girl turned an even unlikelier spy.
What I Loved: This YA historical fiction novel is a retelling of sorts of Agent 355. It is very clear from page 1 that Rossi did so much research and, as a result, Rebel Spy is quite immersive. Additionally Rossi, prose is lush and atmospheric. Frannie/ Emmeleine is a strong, capable heroine at the center of the story who assumes a false identity and subsequently becomes a colonist spy, feeding information to Washington’s own network of information. The stakes are high and there are some legitimately tense moments and close calls that I think fans of historical fiction will absolutely adore.
What I Didn’t Love: I have found that I frequently struggle with historical fiction because it feels too slow and I do feel like the pacing was rather inconsistent throughout the story and the plot kind of got lost in the shuffle. Maybe I’m growing out of my love for books that simply examine historical, polite society because I just found chunks of the book boring.
i would, however, recommend this book to anyone looking for a lyrical, lush historical YA novel. Overall, I gave this one 3/5 stars.
Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory PowersBurn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
Published by Delacorte Press on July 7, 2020
Ever since Margot was born, it's been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot's questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along. But that's not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it's not what she bargained for. Margot's mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what's still there? The only thing Margot knows for sure is there's poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she's there, she might never escape.
What I Loved: What a strange, atmospheric experience this book was. I found Wilder Girls to just be okay, especially where the character were concerned. With that said, there was something so unsettling and eerie about Burn Our Bodies Down and I loved that aspect of the book! It reminded me very much of the rural horror that first drew me to Kim Liggett (Blood and Salt, The Last Harvest, etc…). Also, trigger warnings for all the body horror towards the end of the book.T here is something wrong with the small town of Phalene and our protagonist Margot (who might be bi-sexual or a lesbian- it’s never really worked out or explained at all) is determined to find out what’s going on. If you love horror novels set in weird towns you will definitely want to pick this one up!
What I Didn’t Love: I have such a weird relationship with Powers’ novels because I should love them. Both Wilder Girls and Bodies have possessed all the elements of books that I should love but there is always some thing lacking. In Burn Our Bodies Down I had two key issues that really took me out of the flow of the story: first, the pacing was all over the place and really inconsistent. If it had been a slow burn, creepy story all the way through I probably wouldn’t have minded but it was so slow in some places and far too quick in others that I found it quite distracting. Second, was the character development and particularly the dialogue. I really struggle with conversations that feel contrived in books. Unfortunately, Bodies has a lot of instances of this and I found myself rolling my eyes on numerous occasions.
Regardless of this passionate review, I would recommend this book to small town horror enthusiaists, even if the horror doesn’t really present itself until closer to the end of the novel. Overall, I gave this one 3.5/5 stars.
Cut Off by Adrianne FinlayCut Off by Adrianne Finlay
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on August 11, 2020
Warcross meets Lost in this haunting young adult sci-fi thriller in which teens compete to survive in the wilderness for one million dollars on a new virtual reality show. When something goes horribly wrong and the contestants realize no one is coming to save them, they must question their very reality—and how much of the game is really for show.
Each contestant has their own reasons—and their own secrets—for joining the new virtual reality show CUT/OFF that places a group of teenagers alone in the wilderness. It’s a simple premise: whoever lasts the longest without “tapping out” wins a cash prize. Not only that, new software creates a totally unprecedented television experience, allowing viewers to touch, see, and live everything along with the contestants. But what happens when “tapping out” doesn’t work and no one comes to save you? What happens when the whole world seemingly disappears while you’re stranded in the wild? Four teenagers must confront their greatest fears, their deepest secrets, and one another when they discover they are truly cut off from reality. Sci-fi, mystery, and romance converge in this high-stakes, fast-paced read that will leave you guessing to the very last moment.
What I Loved: This YA sci-fi thriller follows four different people who have all ended up a survivalist game show (think Survivor without the challenges). When some thing goes horribly wrong and the contestants are cut off from the rest of the world even more than they already were, all hell breaks lose and the contestants encounter their deepest fears. I absolutely loved all of the characters and thought Finlay did a fantastic job
What I Didn’t Love: I don’t have too many qualms about this book except that things got weird the last 1/4th of the book and some turning points that were clearly framed in the narrative as “shoucking twists” were rather predictable. I do find that science fiction is either really enjoyable or just becomes so complex and inaccessible that it takes away from the story. Cut Off, at least sections of it, were the latter for me. I cannot go too much more in depth without spoiling key plot points.
In the end, even thought the plot lost me towards the end, I found the characters quite compelling the mashup of a survival story with a reality show refreshing and unique. Overall, I gave Cut Off 4/5 stars.
What About You?
Have you read any of these titles yet? What did you think of them? How do our ratings stack up to your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!