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The Monsters We Defy - Review

*I received the physical, E-Arc, and audio copy from Orbit Books. All reviews are my own.*

I need everybody to run, not walk; MAKE A MAD DASH to the bookstores and purchase a copy of Leslye Penelope's new novel, The Monsters We Defy. This book was soooo good! It has history, mystery, heist missions, paranormal activity, clairvoyance, and much more! Gather around children; there's a story to tell.

"Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.
Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents."

I had a chance to experience this book in audio format, and it was by far the most engaging narration I've heard this year. I have a small list of favorite audible speakers, and Shayna Small made her way on the list. Her voice kept me in a trance, to the point where I finished this book waaay past my bedtime. I already loaded up my Audible account with all her narrated stories (which is a personal win for the TBR, because many of those titles have been sitting!).

One of my favorite topics in this book was history. Ya'll know how I like to learn something new from a story I've read, and I'm about to drop that knowledge Penelope scrounged up for the protagonist:

After reading Monsters We Defy, I learned about a 17-year-old girl named Carrie Johnson, whose story was infamous for killing a white cop during a no-knock raid in 1919. During the D.C. Riots or The Red Summer, cops got a tip that there were snipers on a home's roof during the riots led by a mob of angry white people. The cops burst through the doors of Johnson's house, prompting Carrie and her father to shoot first and ask questions later. Thinking that they were protecting their home from intruders, Carrie Johnson killed a cop. Fast forward 100 years, and a similar incident plays out in Louisville, Kentucky, leaving a 26-year-old woman dead by the name of Breonna Taylor. I believe it was George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I was shocked to find out that the protagonist, Clara Johnson, was a real person. We clearly see where Penelope got her inspiration from, all while interweaving the story of a girl who is all but forgotten in history. And it was such a small part of the story, but it's the makeup to complete the look! Another incredible history deep dive we got to experience is the story of Makeda, aka the Queen of Sheeba. I don't know much about Makeda. So much information is lost from the past (because, you know... slavery) that it's a wonder how Penelope could tie in her likeness in this heist-filled story.

What I loved about The Monsters We Defy was its engagingness. I learned about these two people and then some, without it feeling like there was a mission behind it. Everything flowed so smoothly, like melted butter. And then you tie in the premise of a heist to steal an ancient magical ring for a questionable spirit? This story is gold!

As far as the storytelling goes, the characters and their developments were easy on the eyes. Typically when we get a story containing multiple characters, we tend to forget one, or they fade into the background. Not this team! Every heist member had a role to play that all connected to the mission.

There are ghosts, spirits, magical debts to said spirits, speakeasies, kidnappings, people who can control your mind with a whistle, and even circus-level acrobatic fighting skills that all play an essential role in this tale. I don't know how else to tell you to run to your bookstore and pick up a copy!

Overall I rated this book 5-stars. I don't usually pass out 5-star ratings, but when I do, it's on the level of perfection. And to think I was going to pass on this book! It was well-written, character-driven, and had a suspenseful brainstorming mission that kept you on your toes. Well done, Ms. Penelope!

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