ARC Reviews

The Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst

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ARC was given by NetGalley & HaperTeen in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (April 25, 2023)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, depictions of blood, stalking, gun violence, violence, on page suicide, depictions of anxiety & panic attacks, mentions automotive accident (in the past), graphic injuries

“And the worst part wasn’t that there was a dead body here. The worst part was that somewhere out there… was a killer.”

First off, let me start by saying how excited I am to finally be able to share this review now that the HarperCollins strike has ended! I really enjoyed my time buddy reading this book with two of my favorite people and I’ve been eagerly waiting to tell you all about it. I never thought I’d be someone who gets into survival thriller books, but here we are and now I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more survival thrillers. And if the survival thriller aspect doesn’t lure you in, let the cover intrigue you enough to give this book a chance especially for fall reading!

Claire has spent her whole life making lists in her head of worst case scenarios, triple checking and preparing for anything, including the worst case scenarios. It’s just how she’s wired, but most people worry for her including her parents. So much worry, in fact, that they ship Claire off to a summer camp bonding experience with two other girls. However, things suddenly turn dark when the three girls are left on the island, ready to enjoy their week of bonding, when they discover the lake house they’re supposed to stay at is burned to the ground and they find a dead body in the woods. They’ll soon realize that nothing is by accident and someone, something is hunting them and refuses to let go.

Honestly, I loved our cast of characters! Reyva was probably my favorite out of everyone just due to the fact that even though she’s bonding with Claire and Mariana, she’s the person we really have to peel the layers back with. Reyva is the character we find the backstory and details of last, and that’s just by her character’s design. I loved it so much and Reyva is also a gamer, which you know I love a good game I can curl up with for hours. Mariana was such a fun time though! For starters, Mariana loves cars and gets really passionate about it. I adored reading the sections of Mariana talking about it. Seeing characters being passionate about the things they love and adore is like drinking a glass of cold water, refreshing and energizes my soul! Out of all of the characters, Claire was the hardest for me to connect with and I think it’s just due to the way Claire is written. While it’s clear Claire has severe anxiety and intense overthinking, it wasn’t clear on if she also has agoraphobia (the fear of open or public places) which I would have liked some clarification on due to having quite a few passages about how Claire never really liked going out into to public or liked being in public places. Either way, I still appreciate the anxiety representation, despite not having that clarification. All together, I enjoyed these three girls together and I loved the way the book concluded with the three girls, as well.

“Reyva said, quieter, “I don’t know who told you that broken means weak, but that’s bullshit. You are the smartest, most capable person I’ve ever met. And just because your body doesn’t behave the way you want it to all the time does not mean that you aren’t strong.”

There were so many fantastic discussions happening throughout this book between Claire, Mariana, and Reyva. A lot of conversations surrounding mental health and how some times the world, and people, make you believe that there’s something really wrong with you when there’s not. There’s underlying discussions surrounding stigmas with mental health and how you can internalize not feeling enough, how having mental health hardships or a disability somehow makes you weak or you feel broken, and I loved watching these girls talk about this and shoot it all down. I have a lot of love for books that can have discussions surrounding mental health, shoot the negative down, and at the end be like, “You are so much more than just your mental health.” And I felt this book conveyed that in a really good way. What I loved even more than these discussions was the fact that it brought the three girls closer together and strengthened their bonds. Seeing the author write that into the story made me really soft and sappy, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over how much it warmed my heart.

All of the character love and the mental health talk aside, the atmosphere was really good. Even though I haven’t read this book in a hot minute, I still vividly remember the atmosphere. I remember how I just wanted to keep reading and was so captivated. The minute the girls are dropped off on the island and discovered the lake house was burned down, I had to make sure I was stocked on water and snacks because I knew I hunkering down until I finished this book. I think due to the atmosphere being well built, the pacing of the book read so fast for me, personally. However, I will admit that I went into this book with the mindset of wanting to have a fun, captivating, thrilling time and I felt I had received that in my reading experience.

“There was something wrong. Wrong about the house, wrong about the cave, wrong about the forest and the sudden storms and the birds that fell quiet.”

If I had to say anything bad about this book or say what others might not like about this book, it would probably boil down to two things. The first thing being the storyline. Let me just say, the storyline is a wild ride and even though I enjoyed it, I think readers will either have a fun time or absolutely hate the direction it goes. I think for those who will be on the disliking end of the direction the storyline goes will feel like the storyline is odd or potentially come off as half-baked. And the dislike for the storyline also ties in with the second thing, the ending or the conclusion to the book. Now, this was my only issue with this book, but it wasn’t enough to make me knock a star or anything like that. The ending felt very unsatisfying with how things concluded on the island and the way it was wrapped up. Again, I loved watching all three of the girls meet up and still get that happy ending, but everything else before that scene felt like something was missing or almost like the author took the easy way out to wrap up the book.

Overall, I had a fantastic time reading this. Again, I loved chatting about this book with my friends and fellow buddy readers. It was a great read for us all around and some of the discussions we had surrounding the book were some of the most memorable conversations I’ve ever had. There was just so many great things about this book and I think readers will have a lot of appreciation for the anxiety rep, disabled/chronic pain rep, the lgbtqiap+ rep, and the atmosphere. I love a good spooky atmosphere for a read. This is a very autumnal read and I definitely recommend curling up with it during the Halloween season or just a really stormy day!

Buddy read with Ashley & Destiny

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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Darling by K. Ancrum

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death (off page), murder (off page), violence, blood depictions, police brutality, explosions, child abuse & neglect, child abandonment, grooming, anxiety & panic attack depictions, abduction/kidnapping, stalking, adult-minor relationships, PTSD/trauma, brief mention of disordered eating, underage drinking

I think I’m just as surprised as everyone else when it comes to how this book made me feel. Anyone who knows me, they know I praise Ancrum’s books and taking a hard stand for them. This was even a highly anticipated read especially because it’s a Peter Pan retelling. However, this book came out of left field and smacked me straight into a whirlwind of mixed feelings, and actually ended up being very triggering. Honestly, I feel like I’ve read an entirely different book compared to everyone else due to everything that is this book. So I sat on this review, how I wanted to rate this read, and disassociated from this book for several days just so I could write this review as critically, but as thoroughly as I could.

Wendy just moved to Chicago with her family, but of course with every move, there are always complications. Upon unpacking, Wendy discovers her bedroom window is broken and isn’t able to stay closed. And after an intruder has been caught by their dog, Wendy is feeling incredibly unsafe. Even more so when the intruder comes back and Wendy suddenly finds herself being dragged into the depths of something bigger than she ever anticipated.

“It’s like a shadow. Hides what needs to be hidden for just long enough.”

Like previous books by this author, this book is just as atmospheric as all the others. A great story has the power to not only pull you in with the writing, but the little details that we easily get caught up in. Truly, Ancrum has a talent for weaving all of these together for a story you won’t forget. That’s probably the biggest thing that I always love about these stories. The atmosphere is unsettling, uncomfortable, and bound to cause an uneasy tension as you read this book. That’s probably why I couldn’t shake the chills I had constantly during my time reading this book.

Of course, we have a diverse cast of characters who we meet. Our main character Wendy is Black, we have a side character who is Korean, more characters of color, and even Chippewa (Objiwe). We also get introduced to a side character named Fyodor who’s asexual and Wendy’s friend, Eleanor, Tinkerbelle, and Omi are all lesbian. There’s also a fantastic scene with Drag Queens and my heart was giddy with delight. And of course, let’s talk about Detective Hook who has an amputated hand. I always love seeing characters with disabilities represented in books because they truly don’t get enough attention.

As with every book that has family dynamics, I have to talk about it. There are various discussions and exploration of family. These topics hit so close to my heart and even though some of the discussions weren’t the best, they were so very much needed. I won’t talk too much because I don’t want to spoil anything, but truly, one of the best parts of the entire book. There’s also a lot of found family themes and that’s one of my favorite things in books. I always say we need more books with found family and this author always hits the nail on the head with found family themes and dynamics.

However, despite all of these positive things, they weren’t enough to sway how this book made me feel and how triggering this book was for my reading experience. To put it bluntly, I had a lot of issues with this book and so, I want to openly address them as non-spoilery and as ‘not too personal’ as I can manage.

For starters, I want to address the situation I find often when non-Indigenous authors write Native/Indigenous representation. And sometimes, I really wish authors just didn’t touch something with a ten-foot pole. The author uses the term ‘American Indian’ in this book and I know there will be people who see this and will be like, “Well, what’s wrong with that? That doesn’t seem like a big deal or that seems accurate.” Actually, it is a big deal because majority of Native/Indigenous people don’t like to be referred to as ‘American Indian.’ Actually, even on majority of legal paperwork the term used often is referred to as ‘Native American.’ Most Native/Indigenous people I know usually prefer to be referred to as Native, Native American, First Nations, The People, or just have their specific tribe said. Example, I personally prefer being referred to as Native or Mescalero Apache. Plain and simple. Saying ‘American Indian’ is often received as a slap to the face and a reminder of what history has done to Native/Indigenous people, to which that history still continues to this day. It’s not hard to respectfully talk to Native/Indigenous people and respectfully ask these questions.

“You’re better than he is. Remember that. He’s smart but he’s alone, and he always will be.”

Now for the core reason of why I had a lot of issues getting through this book. This book didn’t just trigger my PTSD once, but it actually triggered it twice. I really wish more effort was put into listing content/trigger warnings at the very beginning of this book because you truly never know who is reading your book. Not only did the abduction/kidnapping scene hit so close to home with my own, personal abduction, but the twist (that’s also predictable) that comes later on in the book was probably the worst reminder and will probably leave you feeling incredibly icky like it did with me. I won’t go into details, but by the stars, this was not it friends. It could be the fact this is a dark contemporary and contemporary tends to live hand in hand with our own world events, but the details were on the heavy side and probably weren’t necessary. I think the twist is going to be something everyone loves or absolutely hates and I’m definitely on the strongly disliking side of things. And let me just say, if you are one of those people who have read this book, sitting here saying, “Oh, these things don’t actually happen.” Yes, yes they freaking do and they’re truly horrifying experiences to live through, and to continue living with the reminders of. This just wasn’t it for me and honestly, this alone should have caused me to ‘dnf’ this book.

My other major issue with this book was the main character and the main character’s parents. Starting with the parents, they were constantly contradicting themselves throughout the parts where we see them. We have these parents who are established as parents who are overprotective and are all about safety, but yet there are constant scenes that throw this detail out the window. A perfect example, Wendy’s bedroom window. The window should have been a top priority for safety reasons especially after it’s clear someone has been trying to break into their home, but it gets put on the backburner. We do have a little scene where Mr. Darling offers to move Wendy into another room, but Wendy declines. Despite that, it was still hard to believe these as realistic, protective parents. As for Wendy, I really didn’t like her as a main character. In the very beginning she’s established as a brilliant young woman with a loving, caring side to her, but throughout this book, all you see is an arrogant young girl who is constantly being disrespectful to those who are trying to help her (also disrespectful to her parents), too oblivious to realize the kind of situation she’s really gotten herself into, and in many scenes being a very self-serving character. Sadly, Wendy missed the mark greatly for me as a main character, but seeing her in the epilogue, that was fantastic and I did enjoy seeing her after everything was said and done.

“I like you, Wendy. You’re sharp and you don’t let people push you around, I respect that. I just wanted you to know that I wouldn’t put this effort in if I didn’t think a girl like you deserved it.”

Overall, this just wasn’t the book for me, friends. This isn’t a bad book and I know this is probably coming off as a harsh rating or even a harsh review, but to my own rating system, this is a true two star rating for me. This book had things I enjoyed, but just didn’t hit the enjoyment mark for me. This just wasn’t the book for me and honestly, I should have stepped away around the 30-40% mark. I think there will be many readers, especially lovers of this author’s previous work, who will enjoy this book and I think there will be many readers like myself who feel frustrated, disappointed, or maybe even feeling their own past looming over them after reading this book. I still recommend this book, but just know that this is a dark contemporary and while the ending is a happy one, this book is a dark, ominous story for the soul.

Buddy Read with Destiny ♥

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ARC Reviews

Together, Apart by Erin A. Craig

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (October 20th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of pandemic (covid-19), grief, anxiety (The Rules of Comedy), talk of homophobia (Socially Distant Dog-Walking & Stuck with Her), mentions of death, brief allusions to racism (The Boy Next Door), depictions of panic attacks (Stuck with Her)

An anthology that normalizes feelings and social situations during the current pandemic of 2020? I think this is brilliant! If I’m being honest, when I got approved for this arc, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t read the synopsis because I like to go into some anthologies without knowing too much. I’m pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed this and a lot of pre-reading thoughts I had were cast away immediately (like thinking I was going to be overwhelmed).

This wasn’t exactly a perfect read though. I think one of my biggest issues with anthologies, in general, is some of the stories are too short when I really want more. That’s been on of the biggest, most consistent factors when I read any anthology. And that was definitely the case while reading this anthology. There were some stories in this anthology that I really wanted more details or just one or two more pages. To be honest, I think this anthology could have been a bit longer than it was. Despite that, there were some real gems in this book that I loved and felt my heart swell with warmth.

I will also say that this book is very diverse. Not only are the authors diverse, but a lot of the stories in this book are diverse. There’s ownvoices stories such as queer rep, Asian rep, Indian rep, Black rep, etc… all the way to showing different situations during the pandemic, different family dynamics and living situations, and how we never truly know what’s happening in someone’s life. I really loved and appreciated all of this representation in this book, and I think there’s going to be many readers who are going to pick this book up and see themselves within these pages. I know I sure did and the amount of validation for a lot of the feelings I’ve been feeling since this pandemic started, all found within these pages. Truly, this book is going help many readers.

Of course, with all anthologies, bind-ups, etc… that find their way into my library, I like to do a break down with a mini review for each story that shares my thoughts and feelings!

Love, Delivered by Erin A. Craig ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I won’t lie, this one probably hit the closest to my heart out of all the stories in this anthology. For starters, this is short story is by Erin A Craig, who’s writing I absolutely fell in love with right around this time last year. Erin just has a way of writing that hooks my attention and makes me feel all of the feelings. And it was no surprise that I her short story left me feeling super soft and sappy. Our main character of this short story is trying to navigate life, not just from the pandemic, but from moving into a new house and having two parents who are barely around, but also doctors working the frontlines during the pandemic. With her parents constantly gone and with everyone still trying to get everything set up from the move, Millie orders pizza and soon meets the cute pizza delivery boy, Luke, and suddenly, Millie doesn’t feel so alone in the world. My heart! This hit me in all the soft spots of my soul. Family is everything to me and seeing another person who has parents on the frontline during the pandemic, it was a critical hit. And adding the family own pizza business into this story? *chef’s kiss* Truly, this story kicked this book off in an amazing direction and just stole my heart immediately.


The Socially Distant Dog-Walking Brigade by Bill Konigsberg ⭐⭐⭐
This is one of those stories that I wish we would have gotten a page or two more. I thought I was going to love this more than I did (mostly due to the dogs), but I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much. I think the reason for this is due to wanting just a little more details or having that extra page or two. We follow two dog walkers, Kaz and Daxton, as they walk their dogs every day together and the conversations they have together. Among this short story is the bigger discussion of homophobia and how sometimes the people we care about most, can be the ones who hurt us the most painful way. Along with this story being so short, I also wanted to see a little more from these characters. I think this would have really hit the nail on the head if we saw them have a conversation about how one of them stood up to their parents to correct them on their homophobic ways. Despite the shortness and some missing details, I did enjoy this. I just wanted to see a little more from these two quirky, queer boys!

“I felt the slightest jolt of joy, imagining more conversations with the cute, queer boy who said not Normal things.”


One Day by Sajni Patel ⭐⭐⭐
I debated about my feelings for this short story for so long and I think my biggest want for this story was to laugh a little more or feel a swoon towards these characters. And though my heart strings weren’t pulled too much, this is a very cute short story that many readers will love. When Bobby is looking for an escape for some peace and quiet, and crawls out onto her balcony, that quiet becomes disrupted when the boy across the way won’t stop playing his guitar. Before Bobby knows it, she’s throwing her shoe and soon becomes sucked into a mission of reclaiming their shoe. As I said, this is very cute, but I really wanted to laugh a little more or feel connected to the characters just a little bit more. But I loved the writing of this short story and the story line was the cutest. I was pleasantly surprised and overall enjoyed this short story.

““One day” couldn’t come soon enough, but it would come.
I couldn’t wait for our “one day.””


The Rules of Comedy by Auriane Desombre ⭐⭐⭐
Harper is starting a new high school and has social anxiety, but the biggest thing Harper is dealing with is a crush on her classmate, Alyssa. But things change when Harper watches Alyssa’s coming out TikTok and soon she realizes she might have a chance at dating her. This is probably one of the weaker short stories throughout this anthology. While I enjoyed the social anxiety rep and queer rep, it felt like the romance was pushed off to the side to focus on the sibling relationship more. And while I love sibling relationships, it felt like that relationship and the conflict that happens within that bond draws most of the reader’s attention. Also, the romance in this story felt… off. I don’t know if it was from the romance being instant love or if it was from a lack of bond/connection between the two characters, but I just had no interest in the main character and love interest.


The New Boy Next Door by Natasha Preston ⭐⭐⭐
Quinn has been given a mission: talk to the new boy, Archer, who just moved into her neighborhood. As this pair begin to talk to one another, a friendship begins to bloom and maybe into something a little more. For starters, I love when extrovert personalities bring out the socialness in an introvert and we see plenty of that in this short story. However, this is the other weakest story in this entire book. The biggest flaw, the countless Twilight references. I’m not the biggest fan of Twilight, I try to avoid it whenever I can when reading and this short story killed a lot of the mood for me with those references. This is a cute story, it just would have been a better reading experience if there weren’t so many Twilight references.


Love with a Side of Fortune by Jennifer Yen ⭐⭐⭐⭐
When her superstitious mother drags her off to have her fortune told on her birthday, Michelle just wants it to be done and over with especially since she doesn’t believe in any of it. However, when Evan Kwon walks into her family’s restaurant, Michelle can’t help feeling the sparks fly. I absolutely loved this short story! Another gem within this anthology. I laughed, I swooned, and just really enjoyed my time reading this short story. I also love how Michelle’s best friend helped her sneak out of the house so she could go on a date with Evan. This was just a really fantastic read! However, I do think many readers will end up being annoyed by the mother in this story and if I’m being honest, the mother was definitely a bit much at times for me too.


The Green Thumb War by Brittney Morris ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. I definitely think this story is going to be overlooked and if I’m being honest, this is a true gem of a short story. This short story is about two people becoming friends with one another and I was living my best life reading this book. We need books with more platonic friendships! I also want to point out that this book normalizes therapy. Often times when I’m reading books, there’s a stigma around therapy and I’m really glad the author included the talk of therapy in this book. With the pandemic happening, I don’t think many people have considered therapy and I think this was an excellent way to say, “Hey! It’s okay to seek help in these hard times.” I just really appreciated this book.


Stuck with Her by Rachel Lippincott ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is another one of my favorite stories. It might be my most favorite of this whole collection of short stories. We follow Allie who stayed in the dorms instead of going home when quarantine hit. Unfortunately for Allie, every night her roommate, Mia blasts music and can be found snacking on Allie’s pop tarts. I loved this one so, so much. I do have to warn there are anxiety and panic attack depictions in this short story, but I loved the way the author had the roommate instantly be right there, willing to do anything to help Allie. There’s also the hard discussion of homophobia and how not all families are accepting of those who are lgbtqiap+. Also, even though this is a roommates to lovers kind of story, I loved how the sound speaker was used as such an important device on bringing the two main characters together. Truly, this is the cutest and I love it! This was just an all around great short story and truly, I wish we had just a little bit more because I flew through this one too quickly.

“And… the second thought is, as her arms tighten around me, my eyelids slowly closing, that… I don’t hate it. I don’t hate sitting here, my face pressed into Mia’s warm, sandalwood-smelling shoulder. I don’t hate the way her hand feels in mine, and the way she always knows, good or bad, exactly what to say. I don’t hate her.”


Masked by Erin Hahn ⭐⭐⭐
Out of all the stories, this one seems like the most unlikely thing to happen. While most of the stories have been more realistic, this one definitely feels like a one and billion chance of happening. Our story follows Gray, who decided if she can’t attend prom then she’s going to put her dress to good use by making masks from her dress. That’s where Jude comes in. Jude’s uncle needs masks at his store and Gray is happy to help out. Thus, the friendship between Gray and Jude sparks, but Jude has a pretty big secret and Gray is determined to find out the truth. Honestly, I wanted this story to be a little more realistic. I’m not saying this situation couldn’t happen, but it definitely through me off compared to the rest of the short stories. However, there were some really cute moments in this story and I really enjoyed Gray’s determination. Also, the Romeo and Juliet reference was so, so good!

Overall, I gave Together, Apart three stars because out of a possible 45 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 9 stories) this collection accumulated 31 stars (69%)! But, if half stars were a thing, I would totally give this 3.5 stars, because it is almost exactly that when you tally all the stars up!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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The Wicker King (The Wicker King, #1) by K. Ancrum

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Severe neglect, abandonment, depictions of depression, panic attacks, anxiety, underage drinking, drug dealing, mentions of divorce (in the past), scenes of stalking, scenes of physical harm, brief allusions to death of a parent, starvation, allusions to trauma/PTSD, toxic relationship, arsony, ableist speech

“The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”

I have been sitting on this review for a couple of days and over those days I have been unraveled, put back together, over and over again. In the most beautiful, heart-clenching, breath hitching way, the kind of way that only a book can. I have said this a few times, but K. Ancrum is truly a blessing and I will probably worship at that alter forever. This book is everything. I loved The Weight of the Stars with my whole heart and The Wicker King was just as enthralling.

In 2003, two boys are seen breaking into an abandoned toy factor, landing both of them in an asylum. However, our story doesn’t begin there, some details need to be filled in and we see just that. We’re taken back to the very beginning where we watch the dark and intense events unfolding that lead them to this abandoned toy factor, and their destination of the asylum. With mixed media to help craft a story that feels too chillingly real, as our story unfolds and events become darker, the pages begin to turn black as night to take the reading experience to another level.

But our story really follows two high school boys from Michigan, who are both from extremely neglected home lives, in different ways, and find the way to fill the holes in each others’ hearts with one another. Told from the perspective of August, we see Jack slowly form hallucinations and how he’s able to see into a dark fantasy world that somehow coexists with our own world. August does everything he can to assist Jack, but August is struggling too. Fighting with his own mental health, August isn’t listening to those around him who are trying to help him. To August, Jack is the only one who can make everything better, and to Jack, August is the only one who can seem to ground him during these scary times.

“But your best is not good enough sometimes. Sometimes… you have to stop trying and just let someone else try their best. In order to survive.”

Let me be clear, Jack and August do not have a healthy relationship. It’s a very toxic relationship that almost kills both of them. However, their relationship is so realistic and in a world that has made them feel so alone, they’re what each other desperately need. And as someone who has been in a relationship like this before, I was sobbing and breaking. Sometimes it’s a relationship like this that keeps you afloat when you feel like you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean even if it’s not the healthiest for you. And you can’t help wanting to help these characters, to help them feel better, and when they both start to spiral, intertwining with one another, it’s devastating and gut-wrenching.

“My mom once told me that being alone makes you feel weaker every day, even if you’re not.” he said quietly. “But it’s not as bad if you’re with other people who are alone, too. We can hold each other up like a card tower.”

And then there’s Rina, a side character and person of color, who is such a wonderful beacon of light in this book. She is so pure, she loves these boys, so damn much and provides these two lost boys with a safe haven. Rina truly was a blessing in this book and I love her so damn much. You don’t realize till the end of the book, but Rina really makes a difference in August’s and Jack’s life in more ways than one. I don’t think any reader will be able to help themselves from falling in love with her character.

As I mentioned earlier, mental health is a key part of this book and I loved the way Ancrum wrote the depictions of mental health. Most of the time or at some point in time, people like to assume mental health is black and white, and that’s not the case. Sometimes mental health is silent and hidden behind worrying for others. Other times it can be loud and fierce. And the author delivers a plethora of versions of mental health. You can tell how much the author put time and care into these depictions, whether from research or their own experiences.

“If you drop the weight you are carrying, it is okay. You can build yourself back up out of the pieces.”

This book is also immensely queer and I love it to pieces. It’s that subtle kind of love that you have to read between the lines to see. Not to mention the sexuality is so diverse. August is either bisexual or pansexual because we see him have intimate relationships with Rina and another side character. Jack also has a relationship with a female side character before he ever clarifies to August how much he loves him. And don’t get me start on some theories I have!

Overall, this book wrecked me in the best way possible. I loved this book so damn much and there aren’t enough words to express that. K. Ancrum truly is a blessing and no one is doing it like she is. I don’t know what we did to deserve Ancrum, but they are truly a blessing to us all. This is not a light story, but I feel that this is so important especially for mental health representation. I just love this book so much and I’m just going to lock this away in my heart forever. This is truly a gift and I want to put it in everyone’s hands!

“I love you and we don’t need the other world to keep that. It’s just true, It always has been. In this world and the next. They could take everything away and leave us with nothing, and I would still love you.”

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The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life by Dani Jansen

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Second Story Press in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 22nd, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Anxiety, minor manipulation, racism, toxic masculinity, internalized homophobia, cultural insensitivity (from the teacher)

Oh jeez, friends… I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book more than what I did, I really do. I have sat on my feelings about this book for a couple of days and I still feel conflicted with this book. Let me start by saying, I love a good retelling and I love, love the fact that this is a retelling of one of my favorite plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I mean, who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare retelling especially of one of the plays that often gets overlooked? But friends, let’s dive into this review and then you’ll understand what I mean.

“𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 𝒘𝒐𝒏 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒏𝒆; 𝒋𝒐𝒚’𝒔 𝒔𝒐𝒖𝒍 𝒍𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒊𝒏𝒈.”

– 𝑾𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒂𝒎 𝑺𝒉𝒂𝒌𝒆𝒔𝒑𝒆𝒂𝒓𝒆

The Year Shakespeare Ruined My Life follows our main character Allison, who desperately wants to end her high school year as Valedictorian. And sometimes when you wish so badly for something, you get roped into co-producing the school’s play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Along the way she’ll learn how to balance the show, battle the never ending school working, being a friend to her friends, and possibly find a romance along away that she might not be ready for.

For starters, I love the representation that’s in this book. I haven’t seen many readers talk about this, but there’s a good chunk of diversity within this book. Our main character Allison is lesbian which also leads to our main sapphic romance for this book. We also have a pansexual side and we have a male male side relationship, as well. Plus, there’s a Korean-American side character and a Moroccan side character too. I wish there had been just a little more diversity, but overall I think many reader’s will appreciate the representation in this book. A side note, there’s a male corgi featured in this book and his name is Princess Sunshine!

I also have to talk about family dynamics for a second. Allison’s parents are the cutest thing! You all know I’m a sucker for family dynamics and the way family dynamics happen in books. So the fact that Allison’s parents are so nice and open minded really warmed my heart. I really appreciate seeing open minded parents in books especially since far too often do I find books where there’s a parent or parent that has issues with their children coming out to them. And I think it’s so important to show the the positive along with the bad. So I really loved seeing that in this book.

Also, I really loved the newfound family and the way the author shows the importance of friendship throughout this book. This is a dynamic that I really love and I wish books did the found family more often. What I love most about this is the overall setting because I truly believe plays and projects can really bring people closer together. So seeing that in this book and the fact that this book concluded with the found family, it really warmed my heart.

“If you’re going to do a Shakespeare play, it may as well be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, right? I mean, all those crazy love triangles have got to keep the audience interested. She loves him, but he loves her, and they all end up in the woods together with some fairies! The story may be weird, but it’s not boring.”

However, despite all the good thing this book offers, there were a few issues that I couldn’t look past. For starters, the main character is supposed to be lesbian and while I know in the real world, no has to use a label if they don’t want to. However, I feel like it would have been more beneficial if the main character actually referred to themselves as lesbian more than the three times that I actually saw them referencing themselves as a lesbian. A speaking of representation, I wasn’t a fan of the stereotype used for the one character. Using the stereotype of the womanizer for a character only for them to turn out to be a closeted gay just wasn’t something I’m a fan of especially the way the sexuality was used as a plot device. And there’s also the fact that this character put the openly gay character through absolute hell. All of this felt like a set back of YA to about five-six years ago.

I also had an issue with the the relationship between Allison and Charlotte. Right of the back we’re given instant “she’s not like other girls” vibes and that is one of the tropes that I’m not the biggest fan of. There was also so much idolization from Allison and how she viewed Charlotte that it was hard to read through at times. We also have the fact that these two characters barely interact and the few times that we do get them interacting, it’s mostly through texting. Also, they only go on one date, very instantly lovey vibes, and at some point they have this big fight which felt forced, unnatural, and very unbelievable. And I say this statement because there was hardly any build up that would make us suspect a fight was coming. It got to a point where I just didn’t care about them anymore. I found myself more interested in the side characters or how the book would conclude than what would happen with these two characters.

And I have to mention how I wasn’t a fan of how self-destructive Allison’s character was throughout this book. There are countless moments where she pushed away the people who care about her and then acts shock when those loved ones are mad, upset, or hurt by her. And while I love what rom-coms usually do, the execution of things is what I pay attention to and this wasn’t it. The amount of selfishness and self-destructive behavior was so overwhelming that it impacted my mood while reading. It also felt like it dragged the plot into a more negative mood. Not to mention all of this paints Allison in a negative light that can make a reader dislike her or not feel any connection to her character at all.

Overall, this book had a lot of good and a lot of bad. There were things I loved and thing I wished were given more time to be developed or flushed out a little better. I recognize that this is a debut novel by this author so I hope my critique of this book was fair and highlights everything, both good and bad. I think many readers who love retellings and rom-coms will enjoy this book. And if sounds like a book that might be down your reading genre, I definitely recommend giving it a try!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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Sadie by Courtney Summers

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Pedophilia, loss of a loved one, death, talk of murder, bullying, assault, sexual assault, extreme parental abandonment and neglect, talk of suicide, drug use/drug addiction, underage drinking, grief, cheating, toxic relationships, graphic violence, and more!

“But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.”

Dearest readers, my heart is heavy, broken, and in complete awe. It has taken me a great length of time to finally… finally write this review. Sadie is worth every ounce of praise it receives. I truly wish I had invested in the audiobook because I can only imagine how chilling and heartbreaking this book would sound from the vocals of another person reading it. I didn’t know how I was going to feel going into this book and now that I’ve read it… I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. This book tackles so many rough topics and even though this book is dark and steals my breath, I will forever recommend this book. And the thing is, books have a way of coming in our life to remind us of the things we’ve overcome and the scars of our survival. I will never forget Sadie and her story, and I will never stop telling mine to those who will listen.

The story of Sadie is told in two alternating formats between a podcast and Sadie. Sadie is nineteen-years-old and walks a dark path to murder the person who she thinks took the life of her thirteen-year-old sister, Mattie. However, the podcast takes place five months behind the steps of Sadie and West McCray is trying hard to catch up. But between these alternating chapters, they come together to paint a bigger, beautifully dark, and sorrowful story. And please keep this in mind, though I have listed the content and trigger warnings, this book holds a lot of dark themes and any reader should use caution while reading this book. Please make sure you’re in the right head space and use practice self-care while reading this book.

“That’s a real tragedy and I mean it. It’s sad when people don’t realize their worth”

Throughout this story, we receive so many bits and pieces. It’s a little trail of bread crumbs that lead us to the final outcome of Sadie’s journey. And the entire time, we as the readers, are kept wondering and guessing what will happen next, what will be the final outcome. Taking these parts and then adding the podcast element where more information gets revealed that we never got to discover in Sadie’s perspective, the author created a masterpiece. Everything became woven together so incredibly well and I truly became invested in the story as a whole. To be honest, I kind of wished I had experienced this through audiobook because the podcast would throw me off at times and it was a bit tougher to process while reading especially since in some parts we get multiple people talking and different things happening in the background.

I want to take a moment to truly address a big concept that many people still can’t seem to grasp even nowadays. For whatever reason it’s incredible hard for people to understand that pedophiles and rapists can be outstanding people in our community, kind, the top of their class, successful, and they can even be someone who is very close to you. But these traits do not change the fact that they are rapists or pedophiles. And I’m about to get super emotional, super heavy, and voice a bit of my own story. I grew up being taught that when someone committed an act of harm and trauma to my body, I had to stay silent. That if anyone found out that I would be shunned or it would make me worthless. It’s incredibly terrible. The amount of shame that I felt as a thirteen year-old girl and being told by the people around me, “No one can know. It’s our little secret.” It was the most suffocating, most painful, and one of the most damaging experiences I ever went through. And we live in a society where we are still teaching our children that when these things happen to them to stay silent and that it’s something to be immensely ashamed of. Our system is so broken that rapists and pedophiles can keep committing these acts over and over, and no one wants to hear or believe the voices of the victims especially if they’re poor or uneducated. When I was raped for the first time, I remember having a friend drive me to the hospital late at night and I remember both the doctor and the police officer actually cracked a joke and told me straight to my face, “You should feel lucky that someone would even want to touch your body in a sexual way.” Hearing words like that coming from the people who are supposed to protect the victims and make them feel safe, make them feel like they can talk about what happened to them… it shatters the soul and it takes away their voices. And Courtney Summers does an outstanding job really showing that point throughout that book. The worst part is it takes a book to say to the entire world to start listening to your victims because our world would rather listen to the ones who can throw around the most money and power.

Never in my dreams did I believe I would read a book about a girl taking matters into her own hands where justice fails. To read about a nineteen-year-old girl reclaiming her own power, her body, her heart, her soul, and along with actually succeeding in getting her vengeance. It is one of the most powerful and liberating things I have read in a long time. It’s truly a remarkable journey and one of the best experiences I have had with a dark book.

“My eyes are wide and wild and I can’t see beyond them. I can only see what they’ve seen.”

The representation in this book is also incredible. Our main character, Sadie, has a severe stutter. Throughout this book we learn how Sadie has always lived with the stutter and how the stutter isn’t always a constant. I knew going into this book our main character had a stutter, but this is my first time ever seeing that representation in a book. It was so beautifully heartbreaking because we see Sadie struggle to voice her words when she’s feeling extreme anger or sadness and its one of the most gut-wrenching things to read about. There’s also a few brief times in this book where Sadie has some intimate moments. One with a side character named Javi and another side character named Cat. If there’s anything you can take away from those moments, Sadie is definitely not straight. She’s either bisexual or pansexual. It’s never truly stated, but it’s very easy to pick up the those vibes in those moments. And finally, Sadie as a whole delivers some of the strongest poverty representation. In today’s written work, that representation is incredibly hard to come across and I think I’ve only encountered it twice before reading this book.

And finally I can talk about the family dynamic in this book. There is such a strong presence of ‘the single mother with kids’ representation in this book and my heart was so full reading that. While I wish it could have been under less darker circumstances, as someone who comes from a single parent home, it made me really soft and sappy because that’s something I’m still not used to seeing in books. Obviously, I loved how Sadie feels about Mattie all throughout this book. My brother and I are vastly different in age and so reading about a main character with an age gap with their sibling and they’ve also undergone abuse, I was shattering into a million pieces. The unconditional love Sadie gives to Mattie though is so pure and seeing her do anything for Mattie, it was ripping my heart out. I would go to war for my brother and having a main character who feels the exact same way I do about my sibling, it was everything and it choked my heart. It’s nearly impossible for me not to see Sadie and Mattie as my brother and I, and I truly believe that’s why this book has hit me so hard from the moment I started reading it. I always say how much I love hard hitting books that shatter me in the best ways and this book goes above and beyond. I don’t think I can love another hard hitting book the way I love this book. This book took a piece of my soul and Sadie and Mattie eternally have my heart.

“I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little”

Overall, wow… just wow. I don’t think I will ever find another book that has mapped so many trails that make up who I am today. This book was like watching a piece of my past all over again and I’m just completely stunned. This book is heartbreaking, full of sorrow, and it’s one of the few books that have resonated with me. It was like finally hearing someone say, “You can voice your story.” This book is absolutely everything and I will never be over this. I have shed so many tears over this book and even though it may break the heart, there are some beautiful quotes this book delivers. I will forever be recommending this book, full heart and soul. Whether you have a strong sibling relationship or you’re trying to find your voice, this is a book everyone needs to read. This is a book that can change the world and make a difference for so many victims out there. What a masterpiece!

Before I wrap this review up… I need anyone who needs to hear it to know two very important things: One; If you need to talk to someone, anyone, please know that RAINN is always available 24/7 and they’re completely confidential. You can also call 800.656.HOPE at any time, as well. Two; I hear your voice, I understand and have been there, I believe you and you don’t have to be silent, you deserve to have your voice heard.

Buddy read with Donna from Moms Book Collection | Her Review❤️

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