Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/24/22) – The Last Cuentista

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve had The Last Cuentista on my TBR for a fair amount of time, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw a copy at my college’s library, so I ended up picking it up. I remembered almost nothing about the synopsis or why I wanted to pick it up in the first place, but what I found was a beautiful tale of the power of storytelling.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Last Cuentista – Donna Barba Higuera

Petra Peña loves nothing more than listening to the stories of her abuelita, and dreams of someday being a storyteller like her. But when Earth is put in danger by a comet, she must abandon her abuelita and travel with her parents and younger brother to planet Sagan, where humanity can start over. But on the centuries-long journey, the ship is infiltrated by the Collective, a shady organization who aims to erase the crimes of humanity’s past by wiping the memories of all the passengers. When Petra wakes up, she realizes that she is the only one who remembers Earth—and the only one who can save what remains of the human species from forgetting itself altogether.

TW/CW: loss of loved ones, descriptions of injury, fear, descriptions of sleep paralysis

Good middle-grade sci-fi is hard to come by, but The Last Cuentista was nothing short of wonderful. With a story as beautiful as its cover, it’s a shining testament to the power of storytelling and a poignant reminder to never forget where you came from.

I know I opened with specifically saying that The Last Cuentista is middle-grade, but I’d say it toes the line right between middle grade and YA. Petra is 13 years old, and there’s certainly some more middle-grade aspects to how the themes are dealt with and some of the character interactions, but it borders on hardcore, nail-biting sci-fi in other places. Think of every piece of sci-fi media that deals with cryosleep for several centuries, and think of all of the potential, existential obstacles that come along with it: chances are, they do end up appearing in this book. It’s a weird place to navigate reading-wise when you’re that age (I certainly remember wishing that there was an in-between place for middle grade and YA), but The Last Cuentista retains a middle-grade sensibility without downplaying the integrity of its themes and world simply because it’s aimed at a younger audience.

One of the strongest aspects of The Last Cuentista was Donna Barba Higuera’s fantastic writing. She especially excels at sensory details; in a particularly nail-biting scene when Petra is still awake while her pod is preparing for cryosleep (AAAAAAAAAAAAAA), Higuera filled her prose with all kinds of sensory details that really sold the crushing fear of the moment. Her descriptions of the bizarre flora and fauna of Sagan are just as lush, painting a picture of an alien planet just as well as Petra’s abuelita paints stories. Higuera’s ability to create suspense and her ability to spin beautiful prose went hand in hand, making for a novel that had me invested the whole time.

The Last Cuentista also had some beautiful themes; Petra’s quest to keep the history of humanity alive through storytelling serves to remind us that we should never forget who we are, despite having a history wracked with war and darkness. The Collective was a perfect, sinister dystopia to set this theme against, and they also added to the suspense that Higuera consistently built throughout the novel. Petra’s journey to return humanity to its roots was poignantly written and so wonderfully timely, and I have no doubt that The Last Cuentista will be a book that stands the test of time. In the end, we are all united by the stories that bind us together. Never underestimate the power of a storyteller.

My only gripe with this novel were some of the characters. Other than Petra and her family, most of the side characters felt interchangeable. A few of them had a few base traits to go off of, but other than that, I often found myself getting them mixed up. The switch from the Greek letter/number designations to nicknames didn’t necessarily help, although it was clearly important thematically. I wish we’d gotten as much development out of at least some of them as we got with Petra and maybe Voxy—the story was powerful by itself, but it would have been more so if some of the other characters were more fleshed out.

All in all, a beautiful piece of sci-fi that reminds us that stories have the power to do anything—change us, teach us, and above all, unite us. 4 stars!

The Last Cuentista is a standalone, but Donna Barba Higuera is also the author of Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, as well as the picture books El Cucuy is Scared, Too! and the upcoming The Yellow Handkerchief.

Today’s song:

shuffle decided to hit me right in the 6th grade feels today, I see

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

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Book Review Tuesday (1/3/23) – Across a Field of Starlight

Happy first Tuesday of the year, bibliophiles!

My first review of the year also happens to be the first book that I finished this year! I hadn’t heard anything about it before I came upon it while browsing the YA graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble. I’m always all in for queer sci-fi, and that, combined with the art style, was enough to convince me to buy it. I’m so glad to say that it was a wonderful graphic novel, full of heart, bright colors, and queerness aplenty.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Across a Field of Starlight – Blue Delliquanti

Lu and Fassen have been friends since childhood, after a chance meeting when Fassen’s spaceship crashed onto Lu’s peaceful planet. Though they came from entirely different backgrounds, they kept in contact even as Fassen was forced back into their duty as a soldier. But when the tyrannical Ever-Blossoming Empire begins a siege on Fassen’s resistance front and endangers Lu’s planet, the two are reunited. Together for the first time in years, they must set aside their differences to escape the Empire’s clutches—and discover truths about each other.

TW/CW: sci-fi violence, depictions of injuries/blood, war themes, vehicle crash, loss of loved ones (off-page)

Across a Field of Starlight was the perfect book to start my year off with! With its beautiful art, tender story, and unapologetic queerness all the way through, this is a graphic novel that you won’t want to miss.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how wonderfully diverse Across a Field of Starlight is. I don’t think I’ve read anything—graphic novel or otherwise—quite this diverse in such a long time! Both of the protagonists are nonbinary and POC, Lu is plus-sized, and there is an array of POC and trans characters all throughout the story. I especially loved that Delliquanti didn’t shy away from giving their cast of characters a variety of different body types, and it made their world and story all the more rich.

Delliquanti’s art style made Across a Field of Starlight shine as well. Although the book gets into some dark themes—war, colonization, etc.—the colors are vibrant all the way through, giving it a very fantastical feel. It especially suited Lu’s more peaceful, utopian planet and its welcoming nature, as well as Lu’s caring personality. Delliquanti’s depiction of outer space has a beautiful vibrance to it, making for an incredibly inviting story.

art by Blue Delliquanti
art by Blue Delliquanti

The perspectives that Delliquanti chose gave the story a more compelling angle as well. Instead of most sci-fi/fantasy war stories, Across a Field of Starlight focuses on the Firebreak resistance front and a party completely outside the main conflict; most media (Star Wars comes to mind) focuses just on the tyrannical empire and the rebellion, but I liked that they largely left the Ever-Blossoming Empire as more of a looming threat. It also made the point that even though Firebreak was fighting to free the galaxy of colonization, they weren’t all pure and good either, and although the aim was good, the motives for some of the authority figures may have been less so. Never meet your heroes, kids.

That being said, I would’ve liked more context for the intergalactic conflict that this novel sets up. I did like that we were thrown right into the action, but I would’ve liked more historical context on how the Ever-Blossoming Empire and the Firebreak came to be, how long they’ve been at war, and the consequences for the rest of the galaxy. Across a Field of Starlight is great on its own, but with a world as expansive as the one Delliquanti has created, it’s begging for a few sequels or spin-offs, or at least some more background.

All in all, a highly enjoyable graphic novel filled with heart, diversity, and vibrant color. 4 stars!

Across a Field of Starlight is a standalone, but Blue Delliquanti is also the author of the comic series O Human Star, which currently has three volumes, and has contributed to several other comic collections.

Today’s song:

good mindset for this year, I think

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

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (8/2/22) – The Blood Trials

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’d seen this book floating around for a while, and the promised blend of sci-fi and fantasy hooked me in. But soon after I started The Blood Trials, it proved to be a disappointment to me—although there’s a great discussion of systemic racism and misogyny, the rest of the book lacked steady worldbuilding, and the writing tried too hard to be gritty.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Blood Trials (The Blood Gift Duology, #1) – N.E. Davenport

Ikenna is the granddaughter of a prominent politician; both of them drew scrutiny from within the Republic of Mareen for their Khanian heritage, so Ikenna was trained in self-defense and blood magic by her grandfather in secret. But when her grandfather is assassinated, Ikenna suspects foul play—none other than the Praetorian Guard, the elite military might of the Republic of Mareen, could have orchestrated his murder. Determined to find his killer, Ikenna climbs through the ranks of the Praetorians, fighting her way to the top to avenge the death of her grandfather. But what she finds deep within the Praetorian Guard is worse than she could have ever imagined.

TW/CW: graphic violence, murder, loss of loved ones, racism, misogyny, substance abuse (alcohol)

The Blood Trials had a ton of potential, but it ultimately felt like an early draft as opposed to a finished book—although it had some great commentary on systemic racism and misogyny, the lack of worldbuilding and the writing style made for a book that failed to hook me once I got started.

I’ll start with the one thing I did appreciate about The Blood Trials—there were some great themes of how racism and misogyny, more often than not, run deeper than surface interactions and are embedded into the very fabric of a society. Ikenna’s experience in the Republic of Mareen mirrors so much of the sociopolitical climate of the U.S. and beyond, and it served as a timely and cogent commentary on how society systemically oppresses women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.

Beyond that, however, The Blood Trials consistently fell flat. I was excited to see how Davenport would blend sci-fi and fantasy into her world, but other than a base conflict that served as the origins for the Republic of Mareen and the surrounding countries, it left a lot to be desired. There wasn’t any indication of how magic and technology existed, what role technology played in this society, or how humans existed in this place in the first place. The magic system was even more so—all I could glean was that the blood gift was passed down genetically and very few possessed it. For such an interesting concept, I’m sad that The Blood Trials left me wanting more.

Additionally, the writing style did little to invest me in the story. I’ve seen a lot of reviews mix this up as YA, and that’s understandable—even though this book is technically billed as adult, it did feel like a YA book masquerading as an edgy, gritty adult novel. And this is coming from someone who predominantly reads YA—even from me, it felt like Davenport was trying too hard to make it “adult,” what with the excessive, graphic violence, the frequent swearing, and the sex. I don’t have a problem with any of those, but they all felt intentionally amped up to make the book more “adult” as opposed to making it more of a fleshed-out story.

Ikenna’s character was also an example of how Davenport’s writing style failed to hit the mark. She should, in theory, have been a character that would be easy to root for, especially given the themes of the story. But she tragically falls into the trap of a “Strong Female Character™️” who just ends up being a woman written with traditionally masculine traits without any sense of vulnerability. Even though her motives were good enough to move the plot along, Davenport was, again, trying far too hard to make her tough, and left her without any other character traits. Her main motive was to avenge her grandfather, and yet her grief was glossed over to the point of nonexistence in favor of making her tough and stoic. Similarly, most of the other characters seemed to come and go without consequence, only having a few base traits and disappearing and reappearing seemingly at Davenport’s will.

The Blood Trials also could have done with a little slimming down; for me, it could have easily ended after Ikenna beats the Praetorian Trials. The last 100 pages felt like they could have been a setup for the second book in the duology, but they were shoehorned sloppily into the last quarter of the book. I’d already lost my faith in most of the book by then, but those last pages only served to make it even less cohesive.

All in all, a sci-fi/fantasy novel that brings great commentary to the table, but lacked in worldbuilding and writing. 2 stars.

The Blood Trials is the first book in the Blood Gift duology, followed by the forthcoming sequel The Blood Gift, set for release in April 2023. The Blood Trials is N.E. Davenport’s debut novel.

Today’s song:

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

Posted in Books

YA Books for Disability Pride Month (2022 Edition) + my experience with SPD and why representation really, really matters

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

It’s July again, which means—though it’s too often overlooked—that it’s Disability Pride Month here in the U.S.! Even as intersectional as feminism and diversity efforts have become in recent years, the disabled community has been left out of the picture more often than not. YA books are no exception—even now, it’s difficult to find good, solid disability rep, and even harder to find books from disabled authors. So uplifting disabled voices is always important, as with uplifting all kinds of marginalized voices.

I’ve talked a little about good and bad disability rep on this blog, but I haven’t talked about how it affects me—I did put it in my bio a few months ago offhandedly, but I’m disabled as well. I have sensory processing disorder (SPD), a neurological disability that causes me to over-respond to sensory input, mainly sound; My nervous system doesn’t translate stimulus like a neurotypical brain would, making me over-respond to certain sensory input. Big crowds, loud noises (fire alarms, stopping buses, and almost anything that you can find in a city) are major causes of anxiety and discomfort for me, and often cause me to go into a fight-or-flight position or overload entirely.

As a result, being in situations with lots of sensory stimuli, such as school or social gatherings, can be exhausting, what with trying to juggle keeping my cool with said stimuli and participating fully in an activity. It also affects how I go about ordinary tasks as well—driving, for instance, has been a struggle, what with my hypersensitivity combined with my iffy-at-best motor coordination. (Part of SPD is that the nervous system doesn’t fully integrate all of my senses, which is why tasks like these are difficult for me.) SPD makes me feel everything—sound especially—far more intensely than a neurotypical person might, which often overloads my system.

Here’s the thing: although I’ve seen other parts of my identity—bisexuality, being mixed race, or even just personalities like mine—represented in books, I’ve never seen SPD represented in a book. Not on TV, movies, or any other kind of media, either. Never. I’ve been looking for years, but most of the time, what comes up when I search for books with characters that have SPD usually ends up being help books for parents with SPD kids. (Not to dismiss the value of those books—just not what I’m looking for.) There have been a few, but even then, they haven’t been available at the library. (I’ve got one on hold though—let’s hope Not If I Can Help It is good) I could always be missing something (PLS IF ANYBODY KNOWS ANY KIND OF MEDIA WITH GOOD SPD REP DROP SOME IN THE COMMENTS BEGGING YOU), but it’s been frustrating going to google and getting something that decidedly wasn’t what you were going for.

Even though I’ve seen myself represented in other ways, it’s frustrating to not have book characters—even side characters—that have similar experiences to me. Growing up, I had my fair share of not-so-subtle teasing for expressing some of my symptoms, and in that respect, I had no role models, no fictional characters to really look up to in that respect. That’s part of why I’m writing books with protagonists that have SPD—there’s always a kid out there who just needs a fictional character to look up to when they have nobody else. This is why representation matters—for those who never saw themselves represented growing up, and for those to come who may have the chance to feel represented.

So here are my disability pride month recs for 2022—not all of them are from disabled authors, but I’ve done my best to compile a list from a variety of genres, a variety of backgrounds (POC, queer, etc.), and a variety of disabilities.

(for my list from 2021, click here!)

Let’s begin, shall we?

YA BOOKS FOR DISABILITY PRIDE MONTH

One for All, Lillie Lainoff

GENRES: Historical fiction, retellings

REP: MC with POTS (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.75, rounded up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Three Musketeers retelling featuring a swordfighting, chronically ill protagonist!

The Reckless Kind, Carly Heath

GENRES: Historical fiction, romance, LGBTQ+

REP: MC with Waardenburg syndrome, MC with Brown-Séquard syndrome, MC with anxiety, side characters with post-concussion syndrome (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ll be reviewing this one soon—a beautiful and tender tale of a disabled, queerplatonic triad in 1900’s Norway!

The Weight of Our Sky, Hanna Alkaf

GENRES: Historical fiction

REP: MC has OCD

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A harrowing story of a girl with OCD in the Philippines searching for her mother during the race riots of 1969.

The Night When No One Had Sex, Kalena Miller

GENRES: Contemporary/realistic fiction, romance, LGBTQ+

REP: Multiple POVs; one MC has Lupus (chronic illness)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A diverse and funny story of four pairs of teenagers on prom night and a humorously failed sex pact.

The Boy Who Steals Houses, C.G. Drews

GENRES: Contemporary/realistic fiction, romance

REP: MC has anxiety, autistic side character (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A messy and emotional story of a boy and his brother making their own in a world that turns its back on them.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Sara Barnard

GENRES: Contemporary/realistic fiction, romance

REP: MC is selectively mute, Deaf love interest

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A tender, sweet romance with disability front and center!

Gallant, V.E. Schwab

GENRES: Paranormal, fantasy

REP: MC is mute and uses sign language to communicate

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.75, rounded up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Though this wasn’t my favorite V.E. Schwab book, I loved its paranormal atmosphere!

Lakelore, Anna-Marie McLemore

GENRES: Magical realism, fantasy, fiction, LGBTQ+

REP: MC with ADHD, MC with dyslexia (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.75, rounded up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lakelore is one of the most intersectional pieces of magical realism or fantasy that I’ve ever read—both protagonists are nonbinary, Latinx, and neurodivergent!

Meet Me in Outer Space, Melinda Grace

GENRES: Contemporary/realistic fiction, romance

REP: MC has Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.75, rounded up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Although I wasn’t as big of a fan of the romance, I loved how Meet Me in Outer Space explored navigating disability in college!

On the Edge of Gone, Corinne Duyvis

GENRES: Science fiction, survival, post-apocalyptic

REP: Autistic MC (disabled author)

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

A gripping post-apocalyptic book featuring a determined, Autistic protagonist!

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Have you read any of these books, and if so, what did you think of them? What are your favorite YA books with disability rep? And please, does anybody have any recs for media with good SPD rep? Kinda desperate over here…

(I can only go with my headcanon that Jean Grey from X-Men has SPD for so long, folks, please…)

Today’s song:

I wanna hate Jack White so bad but HE JUST KEEPS PUTTING OUT SONGS LIKE THIS

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

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (6/28/22) – Lakelore

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been a huge fan of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books for ages; their prose is always immersive and lush, and their stories never fail to pull at the heartstrings. So I was over-the-moon excited to find out that they had a new book out! I put Lakelore on hold as soon as I could, and I finally got to read it last week. While it wasn’t their best work, Lakelore is still a beautiful tale of the trans experience.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Lakelore – Anna-Marie McLemore

The town where Bastián and Lore live has a secret: under the lake is a strange, unknown world. But they are the only ones who have ventured down into this secret world, and they know something that the other townsfolk don’t know: the world under the lake is blending with the real world. The only way to put the two worlds back in their places is for Bastián and Lore to reunite, but the secrets between them may tear them apart before they reach their goal.

TW/CW: ableism, bullying, racism, transphobia, dysphoria

I loved Lakelore, but it lacked the very thing that makes McLemore’s other books so unique—the magical realism aspect. It was there, sure, but it felt so sidelined when the synopsis emphasized it so much. That being said, Lakelore was still excellent, and it’s sure to resonate with so many nonbinary readers!

The representation in Lakelore was truly fantastic! Both Bastián and Lore are Latinx and nonbinary; Bastián also has ADHD and Lore has dyslexia! This kind of intersectional representation is what I live for, and McLemore wrote it all so gracefully! Each aspect of their identities was so wonderfully written, from Bastián’s journey starting testosterone to Lore’s therapy sessions to cope with school having dyslexia. The whole book is a beautiful testament to being the other in some way, and the way that McLemore explores it with Bastián and Lore was fantastic.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Anna-Marie McLemore’s unforgettable prose! Their writing is as strong as ever in Lakelore, and the way their signature, magical writing style told Bastián and Lore’s stories made it all the more engaging, emotional, and tender. It’s the kind of writing that feels like looking at pure, unadulterated magic, instantly transporting the reader to the small town and the mysterious lake at its heart.

That being said, I was a little disappointed with the magical realism aspect of Lakelore. At best, it was underdeveloped; we got glimpses of the world beneath the lake, but it was never quite expanded upon. We saw that this underwater realm gave Bastián’s alebrijes (which I also loved—great metaphor for healthy coping mechanisms!) the ability to move, but other than that, it was very vague, save for the urban legend aspect of it. I guess it’s on me for thinking that Lakelore was gonna be some kind of nonbinary Abe Sapien kind of deal, but even so, I wanted so much more from that aspect after how strong McLemore’s magical realism/fantasy game usually is.

All in all, a fantastic addition to Anna-Marie McLemore’s pantheon that lacked slightly in the magical realism department, but made up for it with the beautiful depiction of a Latinx, nonbinary, and neurodivergent experience. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

Lakelore is a standalone, but Anna-Marie McLemore is also the author of The Mirror Season, Wild Beauty, When the Moon Was Ours, Dark and Deepest Red, Blanca & Roja, The Weight of Feathers, and the forthcoming Great Gatsby remix Self-Made Boys.

Today’s song:

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

Posted in Book Tags

Queer Book Tag 🏳️‍🌈

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

I figured I’d do another book tag for pride month, and this one looked like so much fun! I found this one over at Laura @ The Corner of Laura, and the tag was originally created by Anja Xuan.

Let’s begin, shall we?

🏳️‍🌈QUEER BOOK TAG🏳️‍🌈

QUEER FAVES: What’s your favorite queer book that you’ve read this year?

I know I haven’t shut up about this one since I came back from California, but The Raven and the Reindeer is easily one of my favorite queer reads from this year so far.

LESBIAN: What’s your favorite f/f book?

On a Sunbeam is one of my favorite queer books, and probably one of my favorite books, period. One of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever read, and it’s super diverse as well!

MLM: What’s your favorite achillean/mlm book?

The Darkness Outside Us has stuck with me ever since I read it last August—it’s mind-boggling, it’s heartstring-tugging, and it’s a must-read.

BISEXUAL: What’s your favorite book with a bisexual main character?

Darcy from Perfect on Paper is bisexual, and this book had some of the best bisexual rep I’ve read in ages!

TRANSGENDER: What’s your favorite book with a trans main character?

Dreadnought is a fantastic book about a trans superhero!

QUEER: What’s your favorite #ownvoices queer book?

Once & Future is tons of fun and boasts tons of diversity and queer rep!

ARO-ACE: What’s your favorite book with an aro-ace main character?

Nathaniel from Tarnished are the Stars is aro-ace, and he has an incredibly sweet coming-out scene in this book!

PANSEXUAL: What’s your favorite book with a pansexual main character?

Ciela from The Mirror Season is pansexual, and this book is just another example of how Anna-Marie McLemore never misses the mark with their books!

QPOC: What’s your favorite book with a QPOC main character?

Both of the main characters from The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea are QPOC, and their romance is tender and absolutely lovely!

What queer books are you looking forward to for the rest of this year and/or the next year?

I just realized that Godslayers comes out TOMORROW (!!!!), and I’m so looking forward to it after how much I loved Gearbreakers!

I TAG:

Today’s song:

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

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/31/22) – Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (Unstoppable, #2)

Hi again, bibliophiles!

I liked the first book in Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy, Victories Greater Than Death, so when I saw book 2 at the bookstore the other day, I figured I’d give it a shot. I ended up giving it the same rating as book 1, but for different reasons; it felt like a middle book, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.

Now, tread lightly! This review may contain spoilers for book 1, Victories Greater Than Death. If you have not read it and intend to, proceed with caution!

For my review of Victories Greater Than Death, click here!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (Unstoppable, #2) – Charlie Jane Anders

Tina and her band of unlikely heroes have saved the universe—for now. But what comes next?

Tina has begun her studies at the Royal Space Academy, but every day, she’s still haunted by her transformation. As she begins to lose her former self, she questions whether or not her duty is worth it. Elza, already feeling distanced from Tina, enters a competition to become a princess, but is faced with the ghosts of the past in the famed Palace of Scented Tears. And Rachael, the quiet artist of the group, is struggling with the loss of her artistic abilities after a run-in with a strange artifact. All the while, the threat of the xenophobic Compassion is on the rise, and if it’s to be stopped, the three friends must reunite amidst their personal struggles.

TW/CW: sci-fi violence, murder, xenophobia, anxiety, descriptions of injury

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak had the unmistakable feel of a middle book. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it.

Despite some of its shortcomings, Charlie Jane Anders’ brand of space opera is a breath of fresh air in the world of YA science fiction. The worlds she creates are multilayered, complex, and immersive, and all of the aliens in them are equally creative. For sci-fi fans looking for a series that’s endlessly creative, look no further. What makes it even better is the vast range of diversity present—just to name a few, we have a queer protagonist, a Black, Brazilian, queer protagonist, and a plus-sized protagonist with anxiety as the stars of Dreams. There’s queer rep aplenty in Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, and there’s something for everybody—it’d be hard to find some facet of yourself represented in some way in these books.

That being said, there were certain aspects of Dreams that I wasn’t as big of a fan of. Anders’ writing was what stuck out to me in this book in particular. There’s not much dressing on her prose; that isn’t always a bad thing, but it felt very bare-bones to me—lots of “[they] felt,” “[they] knew,” “[they] saw,” etc. I forget if this was as exacerbated in book 1, but this was what took away from my enjoyment the most in Dreams. At times, it almost had the effect of being talked down to—not an ideal writing style.

Additionally, I feel like the plot and pacing weren’t as strong as book 1’s were. While Victories moved at an almost dizzyingly breakneck pace, Dreams was comfortable to slow to a crawl, which was necessary for the character-building, but did little to move the plot forward. The plot itself was also lacking—it explored the paths of Tina, the protagonist of Victories, as well as Elza and Rachael. All of their POVs were interesting in concept, but Rachael’s tended to drag along. Although I love all of the characters that Anders created, it would’ve benefited the book so much more to just be from Tina’s POV; her plot was the most compelling of the three, and yet, it’s the one that the least time was allotted to. Once the three were reunited towards the end, it picked up, but before the last third of the book or so, it bordered on being a slog—I’m so surprised I’m saying that, given how overwhelmingly fast-paced Victories was!

However, as in Victories, the themes were as strong and timely as ever. Togetherness, acceptance, and fighting xenophobia and prejudice are at the heart of this story, and with such a diverse and lovable cast, these themes shone brighter than ever. It’s just the kind of sci-fi story we need right now, and I’m excited to see how it ends next year!

All in all, a victim of second-book-syndrome that made up for some of its flaws with its timely themes and loving and accepting energy. 3.5 stars!

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is the second book of the Unstoppable trilogy, preceded by Victories Greater Than Death and concluded by the forthcoming Promises Greater Than Darkness, slated for release in 2023. Charlie Jane Anders is also the author of All the Birds in the Sky, The City in the Middle of the Night, Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, and several other novels and short story anthologies.

Since I’ve already posted once today, check out my May 2022 Wrap-Up for today’s song.

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

Posted in Books

Start ‘Em Young: YA Books to Transition Younger Teen Readers into YA Literature

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been an avid reader from a young age. I read voraciously throughout my pre-teen years, but as I got older, I began reading “older” books—I had been introduced into the wonderful world of YA literature. But it wasn’t quite as smooth as I thought; although young adult books generally encompass a teenage experience, there can often be a wide range of content. While some YA books are lighter and more suitable for younger teens, many range into the “older” teen spectrum that often deals with heavier and more mature subject matter. For me, at least, I think it’s good to have “transition” books for younger YA readers—books that are distinctly “teen,” but aren’t quite as graphic for someone who isn’t mature enough to handle certain topics. I’m doing my best not to make generalizations about the maturity of younger teenagers here, since I was one not so long ago, but I feel like it’s not the best idea to start an 11 or 12 year old on something as dark as Six of Crows or Illuminae. So for those reasons, I’ve decided to compile some books that I think would be great to introduce younger readers to the wide world of YA literature.

Let’s begin, shall we?

📖BOOKS TO TRANSITION YOUNGER TEEN READERS INTO YA 📖

Sorcery of Thorns – Margaret Rogerson

GENRES: fantasy, high fantasy, romance

Sorcery of Thorns had the feel of a lot of middle-grade fantasy novels—not enough magical libraries in YA literature, such a shame 😤

For me, this novel had the perfect balance of whimsy and complexity, and presented a beautiful fantasy world full of magical books and demons!

The Kingdom of Back – Marie Lu

GENRES: historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism

Marie Lu’s books tend to stray on the darker side, but The Kingdom of Back is the perfect standalone for any reader to get into her books. This one is a favorite of mine—such a beautifully-crafted fairytale!

Sisters of the Wolf – Patricia Miller-Schroeder

GENRES: historical fiction

Sisters of the Wolf wasn’t my favorite book, but part of what stood out to me about it (apart from the amazing research that went into the prehistoric setting) was that it hit the perfect balance between middle grade and YA—it’s dark enough to be separated from middle grade, but still palatable for a younger reader transitioning between the age groups.

The Soul Keepers – Devon Taylor

GENRES: fantasy, paranormal, horror

Like Sisters of the Wolf, The Soul Keepers is the perfect bridge between middle grade and YA; even though most of the characters are written as older teens, the level of dark elements struck the perfect balance between younger and older teen readers.

Curses – Lish McBride

GENRES: fantasy, retellings, romance

Nothing like a good fairytale retelling to introduce a reader to YA! Lish McBride’s sense of humor never fails to make me smile, and Curses was a continuously clever and hilarious retelling of Beauty and the Beast. If there’s any Beauty and the Beast retelling to start a reader on, it’s this one.

The Tiger at Midnight – Swati Teerdhala

GENRES: fantasy, high fantasy, romance

The Tiger at Midnight has all of the elements of a classic YA fantasy book, and it’s the perfect choice for introducing a reader into the vast world of YA fantasy! I don’t know why I haven’t picked up the next few books—book 1 was a lot of fun!

Geekerella – Ashley Poston

GENRES: fiction, romance, rom-com

For a reader who wants to jump into romance, the Once Upon a Con series is a perfect starter! Plus, what’s not to love about comic cons, books, and tons of pop culture references?

Once & Future – A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy

GENRES: LGBTQ+, science fiction, retellings, romance

Speaking of retellings…here’s one for readers who are keen on Arthurian legends! Once & Future presents one of the most inventive Arthurian legends I’ve read in a while—space, corporations, curses, and more! It’s wonderfully queer all around as well.

The Light at the Bottom of the World – London Shah

GENRES: dystopia, science fiction, romance

There are a lot—and I mean a lot—of astoundingly mediocre and ridiculous YA dystopias that tried to jump on the Hunger Games train, so why not start off a reader with something that’s genuinely fun and inventive? The Light at the Bottom of the World is a stand-out, action-packed and creative, with a determined protagonist that you can’t help but root for!

I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn

GENRES: fiction, romance

Here’s another light and sweet romance! I Love You So Mochi is the perfect feel-good romance, and it doubles as a spectacular coming-of-age story about finding your passion and your place.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are some other books that you’d recommend for younger teens who are just starting to read YA? Have you read any of these books, and if so, what did you think of them? Tell me in the comments!

Today’s song:

this is such a fun album!! not a bad song here

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

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (4/5/22) – Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!! I’m still reeling from finally seeing Spiritualized last night—such a transcendental show!

Rom-coms aren’t my go-to as far as genres go, but I really enjoyed The Henna Wars, so I wanted to given Adiba Jaigirdar’s newest rom-com a try. It ended up being one of those books that I put off for no good reason—I had it on hold at least twice at the library and left it on the shelf too long because of trips or something—but I ended up picking it up on Kindle over spring break. Having read it, I liked it overall, but generally, I have a few mixed feelings about it.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating – Adiba Jaigirdar

Humaira Khan—Hani for short—has started coming out to her friends and family as bisexual, but her friends don’t believe her. In their (horribly biphobic) beliefs, Hani can’t be bi if she’s only ever dated boys. So to save face, Hani blurts out that she’s dating Ishu, a top-of-the-class perfectionist and the only other Bengali girl at her school.

From then on, Hani and Ishu make a pact to orchestrate a fake relationship—as soon as both of their goals are achieved, they will stage a fake breakup worthy of the Oscars. But as they get deeper into their plan, they realize that their relationship might not be so fake after all.

TW/CW (from Adiba Jaigirdar): racism, homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia, Islamophobia, toxic friendships, gaslighting, parental abandonment

I loved The Henna Wars, but despite all the hype that Hani and Ishu is getting, I’ve come away with mixed feelings. The setup is all there and the diversity is fantastic, but it’s difficult to enjoy a rom-com when the romance itself feels forced.

I’ll start out with what I enjoyed; Adiba Jaigirdar’s writing is consistently charming and funny. Her style is perfect for a rom-com, filled with wit and sarcasm. I can’t exactly say that she hit the perfect balance of levity and dealing with the aforementioned content in the TW/CW section (especially the biphobia, in my experience—more on that later), but it almost hit that sweet spot for me.

Adding onto that, it’s always wonderful to see POC characters at the forefront of rom-coms, and the fact that they’re LGBTQ+ makes it so much better! I can’t speak to the accuracy of the representation myself (Hani is Bangladeshi-Irish, and Ishu is Indian-Irish, and they’re both Muslim), but most of the LGBTQ+ rom-coms out there are…pretty white. So it’s always a breath of fresh air to see non-white LGBTQ+ characters in literature.

My main problem, however, is with the excessive biphobia throughout the book. I fully recognize that all of it was challenged, but there was just so much of it that it became unnecessarily triggering. Hani’s “friends,” in almost every scene they’re in, invalidate her every chance they get, and a lot of the extreme bigotry they displayed definitely triggered me as well. All of the biphobia was challenged and I appreciate Adiba Jaigirdar for putting the trigger warning there, but for a book that was advertised as a feel-good rom-com, it decidedly did not make me feel good as a bisexual person. I feel like Hani’s bisexuality was well-depicted and relatable, but there didn’t need to be that much biphobia to sell the point of how bigoted and toxic Hani’s “friends” were—there was already enough evidence towards them being disgusting people. (I will say, though—Jaigirdar did a great job of writing how difficult it is to break out of toxic friendships. So props to her for that.)

Other than that, I never got on board with the romance. The setup was all there, but even through all of the bonding that Hani and Ishu had, I just never felt like they had any chemistry at all. There was just this feeling of…neutrality throughout the whole thing. Like their relationship was just acquaintances at best, even though they were sold as an almost enemies-to-lovers kind of deal. They just didn’t seem to click for me. And seeing as Hani and Ishu was billed as a rom-com, I didn’t get a whole lot of the “rom.”

All in all, an LGBTQ+ rom-com that was sweet in concept, but messy in its execution. 3 stars.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a standalone; Adiba Jaigirdar is also the author of The Henna Wars and the forthcoming A Million to One.

Today’s song:

this was the third song they played last night…still in awe of how smoothly they transitioned from “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)” to this. beautiful song 💗

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

Posted in Books

Feminist YA Books for Women’s History Month (2022 Edition)

Happy Thursday, bibliophiles!

Women’s History Month is here again in the U.S., and I figured I’d gather some more books to celebrate! Literature has always been an act of resistance, and it’s so important for readers—especially young girls—to see characters and narratives like their own to inspire change in our world. And as always, these books aren’t just for March—they’re for all year round; feminism doesn’t start and stop in March. My goal here is to uplift marginalized voices, and now is the perfect time to uplift those of women.

If you’d like to see my list from last year, click here!

Let’s begin, shall we?

FEMINIST YA BOOKS FOR WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Samira Ahmed

GENRES: contemporary, historical fiction, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Told in intersecting timelines between the present day and 19th-century. Paris, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is a love letter to all the women whose stories have been overshadowed and lost to history. Samira Ahmed is such a wonderful author!

Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao

GENRES: sci-fi, dystopia, romance, LGBTQ+, retellings

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Iron Widow is a fierce, fast-paced sci-fi tale that deftly explores themes of rape culture, institutionalized misogyny, and society’s treatment of women through the eyes of a spitfire pilot determined to tear down an empire. (DESTROY THE PATRIARCHY WITH ROBOTS! I said what I said.)

Squad, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle

GENRES: graphic novels, contemporary, paranormal, LGBTQ+, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Squad presents a timely theme—when holding rapists accountable, where is the line between accountability and pure vengeance?—and puts a paranormal spin on it. If the premise of werewolf girls hunting down rapists doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will.

Slay, Brittney Morris

GENRES: contemporary, fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Though this isn’t my favorite of Brittney Morris’ books that I’ve read (that title would go to The Cost of Knowing as of now), Slay was a wonderfully proud and feminist novel about gaming and Black pride.

The Mirror Season, Anna-Marie McLemore

GENRES: magical realism, fantasy, fiction, LGBTQ+, retellings, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Anna-Marie McLemore never misses a beat with their books, and The Mirror Season was no exception! All at once raw and beautiful, it presents a searing tale of love after trauma and the fight to hold rapists accountable.

The Good Luck Girls, Charlotte Nicole Davis

GENRES: alternate history, fantasy, paranormal, dystopia, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Through a blend of several different genres, Charlotte Nicole Davis presents the stories of five girls, bonded through sisterhood and trauma, who take control of their own fates and fight their fair share of patriarchy—and demons.

Juliet Takes a Breath – Gabby Rivera

GENRES: fiction, contemporary, LGBTQ+, historical fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Juliet Takes a Breath is a fantastic, queer coming-of-age novel about sexuality, self-discovery, identity, and being a feminist. There’s an especially important discussion of the harm of “white feminism,” which, for a YA novel, is crucial to discuss.

A Phoenix Must First Burn, Patrice Caldwell et. al. (anthology)

GENRES: short stories/anthologies, fantasy, contemporary, paranormal, science fiction, LGBTQ+, romance, historical fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There’s not a single bad short story in A Phoenix Must First Burn! Through several different genres, all of these stories center around the experience of growing up as a Black woman, and include everything from aliens to sorcery to the American west.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are your favorite feminist YA books? Have you read any of these books, and if you have, what did you think of them? What have you been reading for Women’s History Month? Tell me in the comments!

Today’s song:

NEW SOCCER MOMMY IN JUNE?? I’m convinced that 2022 is the year of being blessed by the music gods

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