Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (12/29/20)–Cemetery Boys

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles, and welcome to the last Book Review Tuesday of the year!

I figured this book would be a good note to end a year of reviews on, judging from how much hype it’s gotten this year. I put it on hold a few months back (sometime in the summer, I think?) and it just came into the library a few weeks ago. It’s got a super high average rating on Goodreads (4.41 at present) and no shortage of glowing reviews, but although it didn’t live up to all the hype for me, it was still a cute story of ghosts and #OwnVoices queer joy.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys–Aiden Thomas

Yadriel’s conservative family doesn’t accept him as a trans boy, but he remains determined to prove himself to them–by any means possible. His means? Summoning the spirit of Miguel, his murdered cousin. Problem is, Miguel isn’t the spirit he summons–by accident, he summons Julian Diaz, his high school’s troublemaker. Julian joins forces with Yadriel and his best friend Maritza to find out how he died–but they might uncover something more sinister in the process.

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This one was easily one of the most hyped YA books of this year, and I was definitely excited for it, even if I tried not to get my expectations too high. I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment for me, but it didn’t live up to the mountain of hype for me. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s start off with the good stuff. First off, the representation! I loved seeing the variety of Latinx representation and culture (and I was especially excited to see that Julian was Colombian-American!), as well as the diversity of gender and sexuality, especially with Yadriel. For some reason, I see hardly any trans boys in YA literature, but I love that we have this fantastic #OwnVoices rep in Cemetery Boys!

And beyond that, this novel managed to be appropriately spooky and lighthearted at the same time. There was definitely a kind of 80’s paranormal vibe to it, which I really enjoyed. I loved the intricacies of the brujx culture, as well as all of the individual laws of what a ghost can/cannot do. It’s always interesting to see each author’s different takes on the limits of ghosts and spirits. Never a dull moment.

However, Cemetery Boys wasn’t without its flaws. My main problem was the writing itself–it seemed to lean too much on telling as opposed to showing, and it felt a bit too bare-bones for my taste. Maybe it’s just me. And even though I love the representation, Yadriel wasn’t the most likable of protagonists, either–he came across as rather entitled and whiny, for me. A bit self-centered.

Also, I feel like there was an opportunity to discuss some of the sexism in Yadriel’s conservative family; I get that the point of the whole “stay behind with the women” scene was to highlight how much of a transphobic jerk Yadriel’s dad was, but especially seeing that Maritza has a significant role in the book, I feel like that could have been addressed instead of ignored completely. Thomas did a great job of highlighting aspects of trans life and tackling transphobia, but there was definitely a missed opportunity to challenge some of the present sexism.

Most of my other issues were more nit-picky though; Yadriel’s dad changed his mind about Yadriel a *bit* too quickly for realism, but honestly? It’s what we need. And you know why? Because queer people need happy endings too. (@ Netflix please tell me you hear me) And Cemetery Boys was the perfect kind of feel-good story of trans joy.

All in all, a feel-good, #OwnVoices tale that struggled in the writing and protagonist department, but made up for some of it with LGBTQ+/Latinx representation and a lighthearted paranormal vibe. 3.5 stars!

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Cemetery Boys is a standalone (and Thomas’ debut), but they are also the author of the forthcoming retelling Lost the Never Woods, slated to arrive in March 2021.

Today’s song:

That’s it for the last Book Review Tuesday of the year! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books, Mini Reviews, Movies

Back from the void! (Mini reviews of some books I read on my hiatus + general updates)

Hey bibliophiles! Thanksgiving break is here, and that means I’m back to posting semi-regularly!

You betcha - GIF on Imgur

Luckily, after the absolute dumpster fire that October was, November really picked up for me! I’ve started getting my grades up, Biden won the election (!!!!!), and my general mood and mental health have just gotten a lot better.

But before I begin, I’ll just start off with this: I’ll probably start being a little bit more fluid with my posting. I’ll still stick to weekly updates and reviews and such, but depending on how I am that week, I might not do Top 5 Saturdays as much. We’ll see how December goes, anyway. School’s 100% remote now, and everything’s starting to close down again here in Colorado, so I’m fairly certain of another lockdown.

And so this post is for all of the notable novels I read in hiatus, as well as some movies and TV I’ve been enjoying. (Of course, the time I take a break is when I get all the 5-star books…)

Let’s begin, shall we?

WHAT I ENJOYED WHILE I STEPPED INTO THE VOID FOR A FEW WEEKS

BOOKS

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything–Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Amazon.com: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything  (9781534448636): Gilliland, Raquel Vasquez: Books

Blurb from Goodreads:

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.

WOW. I was excited to read this one, but I didn’t expect it to pack as much of a punch as it did. This is the prime example of a genre-bending novel–all of the sci-fi, contemporary, and magical realism elements blended seamlessly, and even if I separated the different parts, I enjoyed each little cog in the machine just as much as the other. I found myself rooting for Sia at every step of the way, and her journey and struggle were so heartfelt and painful. Add in some #ownvoices representation and no shortage of timely themes, and you get this novel–unexpected, seamless, and nothing short of a joy to read.

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Brandy Colbert

Amazon.com: The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (9780316448543): Colbert,  Brandy: Books

Blurb from Goodreads:

Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.

This one was on my TBR for almost two years, and I’m so glad I picked it up now! The Revolution of Birdie Randolph was one of those rare books that manages to discuss a myriad of issues, but in a way that doesn’t make any of them sound preachy. The struggles of all the characters felt refreshingly real and dealt with in a way that serves to raise conversations. Everything about this novel felt so authentic, which brought me immeasurable joy.

And at the same time, tackling all these issues, Colbert didn’t make it overly heavy–there’s certainly parts that are hard to read, but I didn’t leave it feeling sick to my stomach. At times, it even felt like a slice-of-life story, but I enjoyed that 100%. There’s POC and LGBTQ+ representation aplenty too! All in all, a beautiful and diverse piece of contemporary fiction.

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Are You Listening?, Tillie Walden

Amazon.com: Are You Listening? (9781250207562): Walden, Tillie, Walden,  Tillie: Books

Blurb from Goodreads:

Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.

This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

At this point, every time I read something by Tillie Walden, I’m guaranteed to rate it in the 4.5-5 star range, and Are You Listening? is no exception. A family friend recommended this one to me a few months back, and it wasn’t available at my library at the time, so I ended up reading On a Sunbeam and Spinning beforehand.

I ate this one up in the span of a few hours, and I enjoyed every panel of every page. It’s a story of bonding in the toughest of situations, of sticking together no matter what, of trust. Walden’s artwork is as stunning as ever, turning an unexpected road trip through rural Texas into a strange, desolate, and trippy landscape where nothing is as it seems. And we have two queer women at the wheel–what’s not to love? And a CAT! A CAT!

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Crownchasers, Rebecca Coffindaffer

Amazon.com: Crownchasers (9780062845160): Coffindaffer, Rebecca: Books

Blurb from Goodreads:

Alyssa Farshot has spent her whole life trying to outrun her family legacy. Her mother sacrificed everything to bring peace to the quadrant, and her uncle has successfully ruled as emperor for decades. But the last thing Alyssa wants is to follow in their footsteps as the next in line for the throne. Why would she choose to be trapped in a palace when she could be having wild adventures exploring a thousand-and-one planets in her own ship?

But when Alyssa’s uncle becomes gravely ill, his dying wish surprises the entire galaxy. Instead of naming her as his successor, he calls for a crownchase, the first in seven centuries. Representatives from each of the empire’s prime families—including Alyssa—are thrown into a race to find the royal seal, which has been hidden somewhere in the empire. The first to find the seal wins the throne.

Alyssa’s experience as an explorer makes her the favorite to win the crown she never wanted. And though she doesn’t want to be empress, her duty to her uncle compels her to participate in this one last epic adventure. But when the chase turns deadly, it’s clear that more than just the fate of the empire is at stake. Alyssa is on her most important quest yet—and only time will tell if she’ll survive it.

“Perfect for fans of Aurora Rising” [SLAMS THE WANT-TO-READ BUTTON]

This was one of my most anticipated reads for the second half of the year, and I was…a little bit disappointed, not gonna lie. It wasn’t bad, per se–I liked it, but it left me wanting a little more.

There’s no doubt that it was super fast paced and threw me right into the action–a blessing and a curse; a blessing because it kept me reading for a while, on the edge of my seat, and a curse because…we’re given very little information about the world(s) we’re in. I liked the banter between Alyssa, Hell Monkey, and the others, and they had decent chemistry. (Also, there’s quite a lot of LGBTQ+ characters, including Alyssa herself–I’m not sure if she’s bi, pan, or another identity, but she’s definitely shown to like several genders! Woohoo!)

The breakneck speed definitely had me forgetting where everybody was, why x and y was so important, etc. But for a debut novel, I’d say that this is a solid start on Coffindaffer’s part! Not my favorite, but I think I’ll tag along to see what book 2 holds.

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

MOVIES/TV:

Fargo: Year 4 (2020)

Fargo' Season 4 to premiere Sept. 27 on FX - UPI.com

Yep, it’s settled: Fargo is officially my favorite show. Noah Hawley is a true mastermind of storytelling, and every ounce of his creativity truly shines through in this season. I’ve always loved his characters, but this is the first season where I’ve really gotten attached to some of them (which, given the rate at which characters are killed off in this show, is…not good…). Episode 9 (East/West) is, hands down, my favorite of the season so far–the characterizations of Rabbi and Satchel, all the weird Wizard of Oz references…I haven’t been so invested in a show in such a long time. There’s only two episodes left in this season, so you can expect a review in a few weeks’ time…

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant | 20th Century Studios

Nobody:

David: GUESS WHO’S BACK

[ahem] Anyway…

Prometheus is definitely one of my favorite movies now, but Covenant wasn’t quite as good. I still enjoyed it though, don’t get me wrong–I love some good, old fashioned sci-fi action, and the twists were so well-executed (though the big one was a tad predictable…I still loved it, though. No spoilers.). I didn’t get attached to any of the characters, but I still adored David, and the creepy little workshop he had going. Everything felt a little rushed, but with where the movie ended, I’m excited to see what else Ridley Scott’s going to pull out of his hat.

Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple (1984) - Watch on HBO MAX, HBO, Cinemax, and Streaming Online  | Reelgood

My family’s Fargo kick has made me put a whole bunch of Coen Brothers on my list. We watched this one last night, and…WHOA. I ASPIRE TO HAVE A DEBUT AS GOOD AS THIS. Sure, it took a while to pick up, but it had that signature tension that makes you get invested in so many of their films. Also, even though I’ve never been to Texas, it definitely captured that weird vibe you get when you’re in the South at night, and you’re super tired, and there’s all this humidity and weird ambience floating around…

Today’s song:

So that’s what I’ve been up to while I was gone. As always, thanks for stopping by! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: All These Warriors (Monsters, #2)

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

After finishing All These Monsters recently, I remembered that I’d seen the sequel floating around Edelweiss. I finished and loved book 1, so of course I had to request book 2–and I was approved for it! I read it last weekend, and while it didn’t quite pack as much of a punch as book 1, it was still a decent conclusion to the duology.

Enjoy this eARC review!

WARNING: This review contains some spoilers for book 1, All These Monsters, so tread lightly!

For my review of book 1, click here!

Amazon.com: All These Warriors (All These Monsters) eBook: Tintera, Amy:  Kindle Store

All These Warriors (Monsters, #2)–Amy Tintera

Grayson St. John is dead. Julian has revealed his true intentions. And Team Seven is in shambles.

Without any leadership, Clara, Madison, Edan and the others are stranded in scrab-infested London, harboring a dark secret–scrabs are being trained in secret facilities, and if they fall into the wrong hands, they could become an unstoppable army. Scrambling for a foothold, Team Seven must beat the odds once more, facing not only the consequences of this revelation, but the pasts that they thought they’d left behind forever.

CrissColfer RPH — Below there are 50 gifs of ballroom dancing, as...

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and HMH Books for Young Readers for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

All These Warriors marks the end of the Monsters duology. It’s only been a week and a half since I read book 1, but I know that it’ll have a special place in my heart, what with a mixed race/Latinx protagonist and the best kind of monster fighting in YA. All These Warriors was a bit of a disappointing sequel, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it.

With everything that built up in book 1, I expected this duology to go out with a bang–and it certainly had the potential to, but didn’t quite hit the mark. Granted, it focused more on the human aspects than the monster-fighting that I enjoyed so much in book 1, so my mind was just going “haha monsters go brrrrrrr.” And while the aforementioned aspects were still just as well-written, it still made for a sequel that didn’t live up to the first book.

Let’s start off with the good stuff: just like in book 1, Tintera stuns with her authentic characters, and all of their individual developmental paths. I loved seeing Clara grow beyond who she was before and face her past traumas. There’s a lot of focus on the toxic relationship with Julian (EW), and Tintera does a great job of making me loathe him even more than I did in book 1, which is definitely saying something.

When He Couldn't Help but Tell the Truth | 25 Downright Brutally Honest  David Rose GIFs From Schitt's Creek | POPSUGAR Entertainment Photo 2
Me every time Julian showed up

All These Monsters had a lot of promise for a riveting, fiery conclusion, but personally, it ended up being a lot of scrambling all over the place, with some galas and scattered monsters in between. There were several instances that got me excited, but that ended up going out with a whimper and not the bang that I expected. Namely, there was an AMAZING plot twist about the origins of the scrabs (which I won’t spoil, for everyone’s benefit), and I was so excited to see the motive behind it, but it just…wasn’t resolved? It just floated there for a few pages and was never expanded upon further, which made me terribly sad. That was the most notable of said instances, but I feel like there were a few more.

And the ending? It wasn’t awful or amazing for me, it was just…there. It wasn’t quite satisfying, but I wanted a little bit more. I just wished that All These Warriors was on the level of its predecessor, but…sigh…

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All in all, a sequel that didn’t live up to the stunning gem of its predecessor, but was entertaining all the same. 3.5 stars.

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Expected release date: July 13, 2021

Today’s song:

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: All Our Hidden Gifts

Happy Wednesday, bibliophiles!

I don’t usually read seasonally (unless it’s Spooky Season, of course), and that wasn’t the reason that I requested this eARC, but I’m happy to say that All Our Hidden Gifts was a delightful read that’s perfect for this time of year! Though it wasn’t without its flaws, it was a sweet mix of paranormal fantasy, horror, and contemporary fiction.

Enjoy this eARC review!

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O'Donoghue

All Our Hidden Gifts–Caroline O’Donoghue

Maeve’s sentenced to cleaning out the closet for her in-school suspension, but she soon learns that the job might not be as boring as she thought it was.

When mysterious tarot deck turns up the closet, Maeve pockets it, learning everything she can about it so that she can put her cards to good use. Her readings soon become the talk of her Catholic school, and soon, she has customers lining up outside of the closet. But after Lily, her former best friend, draws an unknown card, she disappears days later, causing a commotion in their tight-knit community. With the help of Lily’s sibling Roe, Maeve must find the secret of this mysterious Housekeeper card before its repercussions spread beyond Lily’s disappearance.

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Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Walker Book US/Candlewick Press for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

All Our Hidden Gifts had the feel of an 2000’s horror movie for a teen audience, but in the best way possible. There’s paranormal and high school drama in equal amounts, but O’Donoghue balances out both genres for a paranormal tale that teens are sure to love.

Let’s start off with my biggest complaint. I found the pacing to be rather inconsistent, especially when compared to the synopsis on Goodreads and elsewhere. The storyline with the tarot cards turned out to have less of the spotlight than I thought, and it seemed to go far too quickly–most of it was over by the time that I’d gotten a third of the way through the novel. However, the other story elements were enough to keep the novel afloat for the remainder, so it didn’t bog down the story as much as I thought it would.

Other than that, I don’t have too many complaints. O’Donoghue’s writing was fresh and cinematic, with all manner of fascinating twists and tense scenes. Even if you’re not familiar with the tarot, the story is gripping and the perfect kind of spooky, paranormal fun that you’d want to channel right around Halloween.

I didn’t get attached to most of the characters, but they were absolutely authentic; weirdly enough, I connected a lot with Lily, even though she wasn’t present for most of the novel. There’s also a lot of LGBTQ+/POC-friendly elements to the novel, most notably in Roe, who is genderfluid. So kudos for O’Donoghue for that! There’s also a prominent Filipina character as well.

All in all, All Our Hidden Gifts lacked a bit in pacing and lovable characters, but made up for some of it with a timeless blend of paranormal fun. 3.5 stars!

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Expected release date: March 30, 2021

Today’s song:

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in ARC Reviews, Books

eARC Review: Fire With Fire

Happy Friday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you all well.

I received several eARCs from Edelweiss last week, and now that I’m finished with my library haul, I’ve steadily been working my way through them. (Expect a few reviews in the future!) This was the first of the three that I read, and though it certainly wasn’t a perfect book, it was a lot of fun–and there’s great representation, too!

Enjoy this eARC review!

Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria
Look at how pretty this cover is 🥺

Fire With Fire–Destiny Soria

Dani and Eden are your typical sisters. Sometimes they’re close, sometimes they fight, but they can always count on each other to keep each other’s secrets.

Secrets like the family job: dragon slaying.

Dani, recently graduated from high school, looks to begin her training in dragon slaying, already displaying prodigal talents. But when she discovers a dragon in the woods, she realizes that the beliefs that she and her family have held for generations may be turned on their heads. Nox–and the rest of the dragon species–is in danger, and his bond with Dani may be the saving grace of his kind.

Meanwhile, Eden is determined to get her sister back on the side of the Sorcerers and their dragon-slayer allies, and she’ll do anything to track Dani down…

Hiccup and Astrid on Stormfly flying through the Hidden Dragon World | How  to train your dragon, How train your dragon, How to train your

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and HMH Books for Young Readers for giving me this eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Fire With Fire was certainly a solid fantasy! Though there were several elements that left a little to be desired, this one boasts great representation, realistic characters, and a variety of complex character arcs!

Let’s start off with the representation, because frankly, IT GOT ME SO EXCITED. Dani is mixed-race (half white, half Latinx) and bisexual; having a protagonist like her, blazing trails and allying with dragons, just filled me with immeasurable joy. So a heartfelt thank you to Soria for that! 💗

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Going off of that, Soria’s cast of characters was one of my favorite aspects of Fire With Fire. Dani was such a strong, independent protagonist, and I loved all the banter between her and Nox. There’s a wide cast of side characters, and though a good portion of the dialogue felt stilted at times, they all have great chemistry. Eden was the perfect character that you love to hate, and her negative character arc was a bright spot in the novel for me. Personally, I would’ve liked to see her go *completely* to the dark side, but it’s nice that she and Dani had a happy ending and mended their broken relationship.

The worldbuilding department could have used a bit of polishing up, however. There’s some established enmity/history between the sorcerers, dragon slayers, and the dragons themselves, but I feel like there wasn’t enough information to make it feel immersive. It was a good start, but there were places where it could have been fleshed out. But I loved the design of the dragons! All of the lore behind them was fascinating, and they certainly had a creative role in the story. Gotta love Nox.

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Like the worldbuilding, the romantic subplot definitely felt rushed. Her and Kieran’s relationship also needed some fleshing out…or some rehashing all together, personally. Mostly due to the fact that Kieran’s…well, he’s a 200 year old sorcerer who still looks 20 (because magic), and Dani’s barely out of high school. So that’s definitely…questionable. Kind of uncomfy. Not ideal.

It was a little bit tricky to keep track of the POV breaks between Eden and Dani (they sometimes occurred in the middle of the chapter), but for all I know, it might change when the finalized novel is released. The plot–particularly the roles of Calla and the other sorcerers–was very predictable, but it was a fun, magical thrill ride all the way through. And with the open way in which it ended, it could be a standalone or the start to a series. I’m suspecting the former, but I wouldn’t say no to more of Dani and Nox kicking butt and setting things on fire.

All in all, a fantasy that was lacking in authentic dialogue and worldbuilding, but (mostly) made up for it with action, characters, and representation. 3.5 stars!

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Expected release date: June 8, 2021

Today’s song:

I can’t listen to the chorus without immediately wanting to dance, or at least nod my head…

That’s it for this eARC review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!