This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!
ARC was given by NetGalley & Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (June 27, 2023)
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, grief, depictions of anxiety, brief mentions of dead animals, depictions of claustrophobia, abduction, death, murder, depictions of blood, scene of suicidal ideation, scene of forced drugging/sedation, manipulation, scenes of emesis, mentions of starvation (in the past), talk of cannibalism (in the past), graphic deaths recounted, scene of drowning
“The wind whispers, sending chills down my spine. It almost seems to call my name. Silkily, a caress against the back of my neck. Starling.”
This was such a captivating read! Wow, friends. Truly, my curiosity was running wild with this book. I won’t lie, there were a few moments where I thought this might not live up to my expectations or I should, my high hopes for loving this book. After finishing this book, I can happily say that this was such a great read, perfect for the wintery season to give you some light goosebumps or tingles. And you can rest assured, I’m looking forward to what this author will have instore for us next!
Kit Starling is grieving the loss of her father, a huge inspiration to her and why she wants to become an author. When Kit finds out that she has a grandmother, after all this time, she and her mother set out to Rosemont. Filled with many questions of why her father lied and now even more secrets seem to be spilling out before her, on top of her mother missing Kit has more questions than ever. Something isn’t right in Rosemont, something much darker and it’s all linked back to her family, the Starlings.
“What they had was imprinted on us forever. It will never die,” Agatha said. It will die, I silently vow. I’m going to be the one to kill it.”
I was a bit nervous, I won’t lie. Books surrounding mother-daughter relationships just haven’t been my cup of tea as of late. I have struggled with the dynamic for a while now and officially decided to bench it. So when I learned this have a very close-knit mother-daughter bond, I was a bit hesitant. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this dynamic. Despite my worries, I really enjoyed the bond Kit and her mother have. In their grief, it seemed to solidify their relationship and the way Kit’s mother is written, it’s very obvious how much she loves Kit and how devoted she is to her. I just really loved it and even Kit being fully determined to find her mother was really nice to see. I just really loved the both of them and their bond they share with one another.
Speaking of Kit, I was a little worried with Kit’s character, as well. There were moments where Kit almost came off as extremely oblivious and almost like she couldn’t put the bigger picture together, but despite that, I loved that her love for her mother was the fire that caused her to keep pushing forward, to seek out the answers she needed, and to ultimately put the bigger picture together. I was very pleasantly surprised by that. I appreciate the author made sure to not box Kit’s character into a particular hero role. Throughout this whole book, Kit truly just craves family and we see moments where she’s crumbling to pieces, but also finding family in places where she didn’t think she could have it. I really adored that. And I have to mention Kit is either bisexual or pansexual. There are two characters in this book that Kit is attracted to and let me just say, I love a good F/F romance where one of them is a monster girl. That’s all I’ll say.
“She tastes like salt and sugar and darkness, and the promise of light just barely beneath it. I shouldn’t want to kiss her this much. But I do it anyway.”
Okay, that’s not all I’ll say. Let’s talk about about ‘Sabelle because I truly, with my whole chest, need fan art of this character. I fell madly in love with ‘Sabelle’s character. Now, I might be a little bias because I love anything with monsters, but her character really hit my intrigue when we get her first appearance. Truly, one of the best entrances for a character I’ve ever seen. ‘Sabelle’s whole personality reminds me of the wind, how it’s very light, but ever changing depending on seasons and weather. Honestly, I’m a little salty that it took a hot minute for her to come back into the storyline and I wish she would have been brough back sooner, but I still love her character and the scenes we do get were chef’s kiss.
Though there were many things I loved about this book and so, so many quotes, there were a few things that really held me back from fully loving it the way I hoped I would. While this is a subtle thing, it still irked me and there were a few scenes where Kit’s weight was brought up. Now, if it was to show the passage of time then I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it, but that wasn’t the case. There was a huge emphasis of how thin Kit was and it didn’t really serve any purpose. It was just a little annoying and felt like it took away from the story at times. I think my biggest issue with this book was that it became very predictable of the direction the book was going to go. Two of the big plot twists, I predicted right around the 40% mark and that kind of hindered my enjoyment once they were both confirmed. Though I will say, despite predicting those plot twists, the ending still surprised me and saved the book for me.
“So I’ll say, when you get a chance run. And never look back. Or maybe just fight, like I’m not brave enough to do.”
Overall, I’m trying so hard not to say too much. I genuinely believe the best way to go into this book is to go in not knowing a lot about it. I think if I would have know more about this book than I did, I don’t think I would love it the way I do. This was a really fun read though. I went into this book expecting mystery, maybe a little romance, and that’s exactly what I got, with some added bonuses. I loved the cover, I have so many quotes highlighted, and the important side characters like Beth and Miles just have my whole heart. If the cover of this book doesn’t entice you, let me just recommend that you give it a chance because it truly deserves it.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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.
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, loss of a loved one/parent (in the past), mentions of plane crash, racism, themes of colonization & gentrification, alcoholism, talk of cheating, human sacrifices, cult themes, depictions of blood, graphic violence, gun violence, mentions of domestic violence, gaslighting & manipulation (from Hemslock), mentions of suicide, scene of dog being shot
“It is believed that when people hear the screaming, someone is about to die.”
It’s no secret that Rin Chupeco has easily become one of my favorite authors and when this earc landed in my lap, with a synopsis that lures you in, I had to start this book immediately. And of course, recommend it to all my horror/thriller loving friends! This was probably the easiest 5 stars I’ve given all year and I didn’t even think about it because at the end of this book, I just couldn’t stop saying ‘wow’ and I stand by that statement. Also, before we get into this review, I want to quickly mention that there is a dog in this book. For those wondering, ‘Does the dog die?’ No, the dog doesn’t die and despite my content/trigger warning, I’m not going to say anything else. Just know that this book is full of twists, turns, and surprises! And I also want to mention that this book won’t be for everyone, but this was the right book for me.
The island of Kisapmata is a beautiful place, but despite that beauty the locals fear the island and know of all the lives lost who stepped foot on it. With a body count of fifteen people dead, Hollywood quickly descends upon Kisapmata, determined to find out if the legend of a slumbering god is true and document everything. Alon, the only person who’s unafraid of stepping foot on the island wants nothing more than for everyone one to leave this place. And if he can’t convince them, there’s only one thing sure to happen… death and destruction.
Chupeco has such a beautiful and detailed way of building her worlds and establishing her characters. One of the biggest things that always sucks me into a Rin Chupeco book is the detailing in the environment and the those little details that make a character feel real. That’s what you get with this book. Plus, I’ve mention this to a few people, but it gives very strong Mummy vibes (for those who have seen the movies) and The Dark Picture Anthology vibes for fellow gamers. You get a rich, detailed, atmospheric book with characters who are so well detailed that even the ones you’ll come to dislike, you can’t help enjoying. Trust me when I say, there’s a lot of characters to dislike in this book, but I enjoyed them anyway because of those little details the author added in. I also want to point out that there is no good or bad person in this book, either. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie because there’s one lovely madman/power hungry nutjob thrown into this book that just makes this book feel just right. Otherwise, most of the characters are morally grey despite a few characters having bad pasts and you see the confliction in a lot of the side characters about certain things later on in the story. I also want to put in here that Alon, our main character is non-binary and the love interest, Chase Gries is either bisexual or pansexual. And I kind of really loved them a whole heck-a-ton!
“The living bring their own ghosts to the shore, and only the latter are honest about why.”
There’s also so many themes within this book and I think this is one of the strongest reasons why I fell madly in love with it. The author never holds back on themes she wants to include in her books. When Chupeco decides to include these themes, they’re beautifully woven throughout and honestly, at time, I think it’s hard for many readers to pick them out because they’re so intricately laced in the story. The prime example, there are a few characters we see who are haunted by their past choices and we see how the choices of those pasts can impact the way the characters are in the now. And there’s many other themes like that sprinkled throughout.
Respect was one of the major themes that really spoke to me because I’m a huge believer in respect. Not just respect being earned instead of given, but also showing respect to foreign people and a culture that isn’t your own. There were so many moments in this book that put an emphasis on respect and how even a little bit of it can go a long way. We also see what happens when disrespect occurs and how people respond to that disrespect. Though this theme isn’t a major theme of this book, it’s one I wanted to highlight and put emphasis on.
“Respect is key. But most foreigners don’t have that for us.”
The other major theme of this book ties in with colonization, gentrification, and how when foreigners come to a place that isn’t their own, they constantly demand and take, and if that doesn’t work then they just pay everyone off so they can do what they want. If you think this doesn’t actually happen, then you would be very, very wrong. This is something that still continues in North America with the Native/Indigenous people to this day and this is something that constantly occurs in other places such as the Philippines and South America, and many other places in the world. This was a theme that spoke to me on so many levels, for a plethora of reasons. And I want to point out, that with the entitlement that comes from foreigners to a new place that isn’t their own, there’s a lot of racism that comes along with that too. Prime example, Chase Gries, the love interest, upon arriving on Kisapmata hands all of his bags of to Alon and assumes they are “the help” when Alon is actually the guide and local of Kisapmata for the entire production cast. There’s also conversations in the beginning with a side character who talks with Alon of how Hollywood likes to take advantage of, not only young people, but foreign people, as well. These are just two of the various moments that highlight this key theme of the book. And again, this themes ties back to the themes of respect and how respect is often disregarded by majority of people who aren’t locals.
“No. The opportunities you have in America are not always available everywhere.”
Of course I have to talk about the mythology of this book! You knew this was coming at some point in this review and we’re finally here. I have absolutely fallen in love with Filipino mythology because of Rin Chupeco and this book is no exception. This book, like all of Chupeco’s books, are very unapologetically Filipino. The amount of notes of words I had to go look up, the creatures and legends I spent three hours scrolling to learn more about, it was just everything. It filled my heart with so much joy and honestly, I wanted even more and was so sad when the book came to an end. Though the author does add English translation or the definition afterwards, I still wanted to do my own research. That also lead me down many rabbits holes and a lot of late hours scrolling to learn as much as I could find. I really enjoyed that this book motivated me to look into things more and I also love when you can tell an author is being unapologetically themselves in their book, as well. I think this will be something many readers will either like or dislike. That’s just always been the nature of the beast when it comes to things like this, but I strongly encourage readers to look things up if they still don’t understand. And if you’re a mythology lover like me, the extra research is so worth it!
If I had to say anything negative about this book (which I don’t), aside from the Filipino words/language and mythology, I think many readers may have issues with romantic subplot. Now for me, this wasn’t any sort of issue and I kind of enjoyed it. I really liked that it still happened, but it wasn’t a main focus of the story and it wasn’t too much of a standout that it impacted the main storyline. However, I think if you’re a reader who’s not always a fan of romantic subplots, this could go either way for you.
And I will say, I don’t think the horror in this book will be for everyone. I think there will be readers who thoroughly enjoy this book because of the horror/thrilling aspects of it, but I think there will be many readers who get chills or become unnerved by a lot of the things that unfold in this book. Again, this is another thing that could go fifty-fifty for many readers. Obviously, I loved it and really enjoyed the way things unfolded and played out.
“The Diwata knows. He knows all who come to his shores. He remembers us after we die.”
Overall, I had a wonderful time reading this book! I saw so many similarities between this book and The Mummy, and for the video game lovers, The Dark Picture Anthology series. It was the perfect read for me! And let me say, curling up with this book while it’s storming outside was absolutely delightful and meshed so well with the story inside these pages. If you’re looking for a good atmospheric read for Summerween or for just fall reading in general, then you definitely need to put this book on your radar. It’s the perfect spooky read for lovers of all things spooky!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!
ARC was given by NetGalley & Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (August 2nd, 2022)
Content/Trigger Warnings:Death, loss of a loved one, grief, mentions of cancer (in the past), trauma/PTSD. mentions of divorce, injured animals, death of an animal, depictions of blood, graphic injuries, panic/anxiety attacks, brief scenes of bigotry (towards witches)
Friends, I can’t believe I read this book in only one day! I’m truly shocked. Aside from graphic novels, I haven’t come across a book that captured my attention the way this book did. Even when I sat this book down to go do little mundane things or even to take a reading break, my thoughts were occupied with the content of this books. It must have been the owl or perhaps the loathe to love romance, or maybe it was an impending curse that was on the verge of unleashing chaos. Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out which one it is.
“There is magic in my blood, but this place has its own kind of magic.”
With the past constantly hanging over her head, Iris Gray just wants to start over with her mother, in a small town in Washington with their wildlife refuge, Foggy Mountain Wildlife Refuge. However, even starting over can have it’s challenges and it comes in the form of one person named Pike Alder. These two don’t see eye to eye and when one day the news talks about a person from Iris’s past, the commentary from Pike leaves Iris chilled to her core. With fear seeping into her bones every second, Iris decides to do an old ritual her grandmother used to do and give a curse to the earth. But fate has other plans when a northern spotted owl interferes with her ritual, Iris is thrown into an adventure unlike any other to prevent the curse from being unleashed.
“This doesn’t have to end in darkness, in a vote that will make all the magic of the universe flicker and dim, until it finally goes out. There are other endings, and I will find one.”
One of my all time favorite things is when a character is morally grey, they’re flawed, make mistakes, and we get to see the multitudes that character contains. The author does that with our main character, Iris. Iris was such a easy character for me to love because there were so many moments where I saw myself reflected in Iris. And the thing that stuck out to me the most was how protective Iris is of everyone and everything she cares about. That just did me in with my love for her. I’m a very protective person myself and seeing that reflected in Iris just solidified my draw to her as a main character. Pike, on the other hand, was a different story. I wish we saw more of Pike’s character or at least saw more layers to him. He almost felt flat to me due to lack of details and that’s excluding the major key moments with him. Outside of the major scenes between Iris and Pike, Pike just didn’t have enough details to him as I would have liked and he kind of came off as a jerk the majority of the time. What ultimately made me like Pike was the details that were poured into his love for birds. I have a big soft spot for bird lovers for sentimental reasons and throughout this book we see Pike’s devotion to birds and how much he truly values them. However, together the build of the chemistry between one another was something to savor and that’s all I’ll say on that.
Speaking of characters, there’s also a sapphic relationship in this story. Iris’s mother, Isobel is in a relationship with her long-time friend, Sarah. Sarah actually runs a local breakfast café in the same town. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love a good story with a café and wildlife refuge with some small town vibes. Seeing Isobel and Sarah in little moments sprinkled throughout the book was a lovely touch, but I really wish we could have had more moments. However, I loved the chemistry between them and it the small moments we see them together, they just feel perfect for one another.
“I want to forget it. I want to forget because it was so heartbreakingly kind, because for a single second, it made me wonder what it might be like to be fully accepted. Fully known.”
I will say the magic and magic classes were fascinating to read about. I’ve read a lot of books that have witches in them and to me, this book feels very accurate to how I picture witches. In this book, there are three different classes of witches and there is a council of witches who maintain the balance with witches, and regular society. The first class of witches are the Solars. Solars are witches who work with plants and you can usually find them working jobs in agriculture or like Sarah who runs her own café. The second class are Lunars, who are witches that work with animals like our main character and her mother. And the final class are the Stellars. This particular class are highly powerful and considered dangerous as their powers center around people. Mostly, Stellars are all part of the witch council and we also have a side character, Cassandra who is not only an old family friend of Iris and Isobel, but also plays a role in key moments throughout this story. As I said, the magic system was fascinating and we learn how there’s a natural balance that’s bigger than people and witches themselves. Plus, the little pieces we get about how witches view owls just sent my heart flying to the moon.
“That’s the thing about magic: people want to see it and feel it almost as much as they want to dismiss it entirely.”
Speaking of owls, let’s talk about our little mischievous friend. One of my all time favorite elements any author can do in a book is have an animal side character who interferes with everything. As a lover of owls and as someone who has worked with them, I was in absolute heaven! This little owl was an absolute delight throughout this entire story and I love how the owl kind of throws our main character into a whirlwind of chaos, and just thrusts her into an unexpected adventure that forces Iris to work with Pike. Seeing the owl’s full plan and intentions come full circle at the end was truly everything and honestly, I think the owl was my favorite character of the book. Plus, the name the mc and Pike gave to him, MacGuffin! Ugh, my heart is just so full from this owl.
“I have to squint to see him, his shape nothing more than a shadow in the dusty twilight, but sitting in an old spruce tree is the northern spotted owl. Silent, still, and watching. Always watching.”
Also, before I forget to mention, the themes of grief that are laced throughout this book were chef’s kiss. Truly, it was fantastic. We not only see the side of grief from the loss of a loved one and how that can stay with us for years, but we also see the side of mourning the living and how we can harbor the grief from the painful things the living can do to us or have happened to us. I loved that we get to see both sides of grief and I also love how we see grief and trauma/PTSD laced in together with one another. I thought all of this was really well done and well written, and these themes are laced throughout this entire book. So anticipate seeing these themes frequently and how those themes impact Pike and Iris.
“That’s one of the worst casualties of being hurt by someone who was never supposed to hurt you: you start to question all the beautiful things that led up to the ugliness, start to wonder if some of the moments you thought were perfect were actually painted with a dirty brush.”
I know I’ve been kind of gushing about the things I loved, but I do want to talk about some of the things I wish were left out or just not in to begin with. One of those things being second-hand embarrassment which is a dead zone for me in books. Second-hand embarrassment truly is a mood killer for me when reading and can be really hard for me to recover from. There were two moments revolving around a condom and while I praise safe coitus, the way those two particular scenes were handled in a joking manner really had me cringing. Not only was the main character mortified and embarrassed both times, but that embarrassment overlapped into my own mortification and second-hand embarrassment while reading. Now this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. I’m a very serious person with majority of things. So I don’t really hold it against the author for including these two scenes, but I definitely wish they weren’t in or just left out from the beginning. Circling back to what I mentioned previously, Pike’s character was the other thing that bothered me the most. I really wanted more from his character and as I said, majority of the time his character came off as a jerk despite the few sweet moments and the major key scenes where we’re learning things about Pike. I think his character could have had more depth to him and he just felt closed off the majority of the time.
Overall, I’m still long-winded from this book and how much I adored it. There was so much to love in this book from the small town vibes to the magic, and of course you have the trope of loathe to love. There’s just so much this book did and it delivered it so well. I think this is going to be one of those books that makes a lot of top books of 2022 (spoiler, it made mine) and I think a lot of readers are going to be anticipating this book’s release. If you’re looking for a book that’s whimsical, magical, and has an adventure that’s sure to suck you in, then I recommend this book with my whole chest. Plus the cover is just stunning!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
This post contains affiliate links; if you use the Amazon link to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!
ARC was given by NetGalley and The Parliament House in exchange for an honest review.
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent, grief, depression, talk of hospitalization, terminal illness (cancer), car accident, child neglect, forced institutionalization, brief mentions of attempted suicide
I had to sit with myself and collect my thoughts and feelings on this book. I’ll be honest, it took me a hot minute to get through this book and even really feel out how I felt about the book. There’s some really lovely elements and discussions happening, but ultimately, I think there were a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. Though, I am a sucker for a mythological story.
We follow seventeen-year old Megan, who’s closed off her heart from every finding love again. After her mother dies of cancer and her father descends into a six year mourning and depression, Megan decides to fast track her life. She’s fended for herself this long, why should she rely on anyone else when you’ll just get hurt? With the end of the school year rapidly approaching and her ticket to leave this small town just in sight, things are going well. Until she gets stuck with Jay Michaels for a final grade project and he keeps giving every excuse in the book. And if things couldn’t get any worse, on the night driving home, she hits Cupid just as he’s about to close out his quota for the year. Now Megan’s world is turned upside down and now she’s not too sure if she’ll ever be able to escape this town or the painful memories attached to it.
Whew, these characters were something else, let me tell you! I think this was the hardest part to decide my feelings on because everything else I knew what I liked and disliked, but these characters left me feeling conflicted. I will say Megan and her father felt very realistic for me. I think many readers will have a hard time connecting with them or caring about them, but I found it was really easy to feel invested in them. This might be due to my own history of having iron walls built around my heart and dealing with neglectful adults in my life. However, Megan was really judgmental at times or lacked understanding in certain parts. Jay on the other hand felt very under-developed to me. In fact, the way the books paints him for the reader is in a light of where we shouldn’t like him from the beginning. The only thing that had me invested in Jay’s character was the fact that it was very obvious he had a secret he wasn’t telling anyone. We only see more to Jay at the 75% mark in the book and even then it feels too late to really get a feeling for who he is as a character because up until this point Jay’s just painted in a bit of a negative light. As for Amadeo, our mischievous Cupid, I still have mixed feeling about him. There were times where I thought his personality was very fitting, but other times that felt like his attitude had no place being in a certain scene. Though out of all the characters, Amadeo has the strongest character development.
The thing I loved the most about this book was the world building. Not just the way Mountain Valley is built up with a lot of small town vibes, but also what we learn of the Cupid societal structure. The amount of details we learn about this world, the different levels and how each of these levels mirror places on Earth, and the way you can see how Amadeo fits among this society was really interesting. I was heavily invested in learning more details about the world and honestly, I think this alone could of been turned into it’s own book because it was such an interesting concept.
“Maybe the point is to remind us there are two sides to everything. It makes us more appreciative of the loving part, you know, knowing at any moment, it could all end.”
Most of all, I think the elements that really sealed my connection to this book were the hard topics of this book. We see a lot of themes of grief and how no person in the same with grief. More specifically with Megan’s father, how you can love someone so much that it breaks you, how nothing including you will ever be the same, and how difficult it is to emerge from that grief, that depression and right the wrongs that have taken place during that time of being a shell of who you once were. On the opposite spectrum, we see how Megan fortifies herself because she’s never been given the opportunity to grieve, to feel the full weight of the loss of her mother and instead had to grow up far too quickly than she should have because no one was looking out for her. I think the author did a really fantastic job at writing the grief in a realistic way that allows others to feel a connection to the characters.
I want to take a moment to address the other hard topic in this book. Though this is for the last 75% of the book and I think this will make a lot of readers turn away from this book, I still wanted to talk about it. There’s a whole discussion happening about mental health and the stigma that surrounds mental health, and not just mental health, but we see a small piece where it’s addressed of how there’s still a strong societal stigma surrounding those who end up institutionalized for mental health. And I wish, oh how I wish, this was addressed more openly, in literature and otherwise. How as a society we have the preconceived notion that we can never speak openly about this, that it’s something to be ashamed of, and how if someone does speak up about their experience they’re instantly labeled as someone to avoid, that they’re “unstable” or “crazy”, or they’re dangerous instead of treating them like human beings who are ill, who are facing challenges and hardships with their mental health, and how they chose to be brave to speak up of needing help and their experience.
The only issue I really had with this book was the insta-love between Megan and Jay. A lot of this book is focused on Megan healing from the loss of her mother and her assisting Amadeo hitting his final three targets for his quota. There was never any time fully dedicated to Megan and Jay establishing chemistry between one another, there wasn’t dedicated time to truly see Jay’s character until the last 75% of the book, and Megan and Jay had barely any interactions with one another, as well. We get small little pockets, but for the most part they barely have anything to do with one another and the fact that this relationship was an inst-love with all of that preestablished just didn’t work for me. Honestly, I think I would have loved seeing Megan fall in love with a Cupid over the relationship between her and Jay.
Overall, I really did enjoy reading this book, but I definitely want to caution that this isn’t the book it’s advertised or the way a lot of readers label it as a rom-com or a fluffy romance. Honestly, I removed the romance tag for this book because I see this more as a contemporary story with romantic elements, but it’s a strong contemporary read with hard hitting topics laced throughout the entirety of this book. If you’re someone who’s not turned off by books with heavy topics or enjoy books with mythological elements then I think you’ll enjoy reading this book.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Arc was given by St. Martin’s Press & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (February 15th 2022)
Maybe we really should reclaim the stars! Friends, if you know me then you know I always get nervous reading anything that’s sci-fi, but oh, this anthology was a pleasant surprise. I always feel like I’m such a hard reviewer on sci-fi reads, but I really enjoyed my time within these pages and have found myself daydreaming about galaxies far, far away.
I’ll be honest, there were so many stories I fell in love with during my time reading. Trying to choose just one feels like an impossible choice. However, I think my two favorites were The First Day of Us by David Bowles and Tame the Wicked Night by Zoraida Cordova. Though there were many other stories in this anthology I deeply loved, these two in particular had me clutching my pearls. Maybe it was the romance or maybe the spark of the characters, but I just really loved these two stories best.
As always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts, feelings, and include content/trigger warnings.
➼ Reign of Diamonds by Anna-Marie McLemore ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of death, violence, wounds
I won’t lie, I was pretty excited that this was the first story we get to read upon first starting. I’ve really enjoyed Anna-Marie McLemore’s work in the past and seeing their name on the list of authors had me really hyped up about this book. With that being said, this story didn’t disappoint. As always, McLemore writes characters that are so beautifully layered and contain multitudes that you can’t help loving the story, no matter how emotional it gets. I’m not saying I got soft and sappy over these two princesses, but they have my whole heart. And I lowkey wish this story got made into it’s own book.
“There was something heartbreaking at that moment, the two of us staring like that.”
➼ Flecha by Daniel José Older ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of a plague (Silent Cough), grief, loss of a loved one, mentions of genocide
This story had me absolutely sobbing, ugly crying everywhere. Maybe its due to some of the themes within this story or maybe it was due to how vivid the emotions emanated from these pages. Truly, this is one of those stories that stand out to me the most because of the impact it had. I really loved this and I can’t wait to see what other stories this author has written for us, the reader, to discover.
“I’ll become that arrow of Ochosi, launched for divine justice – sacred, razor sharp, unforgiving.”
➼ The First Day of Us by David Bowles ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, grief
Did I fall madly in love with this story because of a polyamorous relationship? Yes, yes I did and I don’t care who knows it! Truly, I wish there were more short stories, more stories in general, out there that normalize polyamorous relationships. I think this story was so well-done, so beautifully handled, and I loved the way how the feelings between each character manifested. Honestly, I wish this had it’s own book because I loved it so much and I feel that there’s so much more to discover about this world, these characters, and I just have a mighty need to know more about everything that was this short story.
➼ The Tin Man by Lilliam Rivera ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Pandemic, natural disaster, grief, loss of loved ones
This wasn’t a bad short story, but this story hit my emotions so hard that I thought I was going to have to skip it entirely. You follow the perspective of a child, potentially young teenager, who’s not only trying to survive, but is coming to terms with the loss of their family. This story is beautifully written, easily to get emotional over, and a main character you want to see have the happy ending they deserve. The reason why I gave it three stars is just due to the fact that it caused me to go into a sensory overload and after that, it was very hard to maintain a lot of the details.
➼ This Is Our Manifesto by Mark Oshiro ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of incarceration, mentions of death, brief mentions of police brutality
Another story that had me wrapped up in my feelings. Our story follows a character named Ramona coming across a manifesto. In this manifesto, we learn about these planets that holds those who’ve been incarcerated and the horrible treatment they’ve had to endure. This story hit close to home and left me weak in the knees. When I say the world melted away and there was only this story, I say it with my whole chest. Mark Oshiro has such a beautiful talent for taking serious topics that happen in the real world and manifesting it in literature, in such a poetic, emotional piece that leaves you with countless thoughts and feelings. And the way this story ends on a strong note, but also a kiss (yes, a literal kiss) is truly the icing on the cake.
“There is one thing we – the abandoned, the diminished, the harmed, the forgotten – want you to know. We will dismantle them all. And when we do, we are coming home.”
➼ Creatures of Kings by Circe Moskowitz ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, talk of death, mentions of cancer, scene of homocide
This is the first short story in this anthology that had me really questioning how I felt about this story. And I have to admit, I’m a little bias towards stories that involve gods of death, grim reapers, etc… I just really enjoy those type of stories, like a lot. However, I felt a lot of confliction with this story due to the mother in this book. Our story follows an mc who can’t die and whose mother refuses to tell her the truth. I was really curious to see how this story was going to unfold. Honestly, I know why the mother acts the way she does, but I really didn’t like her and her behavior (no matter the circumstance) just painted her as a terrible person/neglectful parent. That aside, I did enjoy the story and I was invested to see how everything would unfold. However, I still have many questions and I’m still asking myself what the hell did I just read.
➼ Eterno by J. C. Cervantes ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, hospitalization, car crash, mentions of terminal illness, manipulation
Much like the story before this one, I was very conflicted on my thoughts of how I felt with this story. Again, this is another story that involves gods of death or grim reapers except this time they’re called eterno and things are anything but peaceful. Also, this short story is told in then and now flashes. Ultimately, I liked the story, but at times it felt like it was a lot of information to keep track of between flashbacks. Like, I was INVESTED in the mc and their romance! And then… it hit a point where my brain dumped all the information, my eyes glazed over, and my brain just goes, “Yup… Nope. Can’t keep up with this.”
➼ White Water, Blue Ocean by Linda-Raquel-Nieves-Pérez ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Dead naming, misgendering
Okay, the concept of this story had me clutching my blanket because it was so good! A curse has been placed upon the Garcia family by an ocean goddess, making them unable to lie without emanating a terrible smell. We follow Gabriel, a non-binary teen returning to their family, who refuses to accept them for who they are. I was completely captivated by the whole element of everyone in this family being unable to lie. What I think I loved most about this story was the subtle bond between Gabriel and their father. It’s not a main focal point of this story, its very subtle, but its there and those moments were very wholesome. And the way Gabriel constantly keeps coming back to the ocean, their love for it radiating through the pages so much. It fills my heart with a lot of warmth.
➼ Leyenda by Romina Garber ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexism
I want to state that I’m not fully sure if this short story has any relation to Lobizona, but there did seem to be hits towards it in some of the parts of this short story and it is set in the same world. So if you haven’t read Lobizona yet then you might want to skip this short story. Let’s talk water witches! Yes, the mc of this story is indeed a water witch. She is a force to be reckoned with and I absolutely adored her. She has no problem standing up for what she believes in, but when she does, there are those who are very displeased with her. I always enjoy the characters that Romina creates and the abilities given to those characters are always fascinating to watch unfold. If I’m being honest, anything Romina writes, I feel invested in. I wish we got the chance to see more of Zaybet and their story especially with the way this story concludes. I’m so invested and I need more!
➼ Color-Coded by MayaMontayne ⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Abandonment
I was really interested in premise of this short story. In this world, when women hit puberty, they start to develop a magical abilities. Some ladies develop the power of flight, someone may set things on fire, or even obtain abilities relating to plants or creatures. However, our MC is terrified of this happening to her after having a terrible experience with a loved one. Honestly, I was really excited to see where this story would go. I think the premise of getting magical abilities when you reach maturity/puberty is a really interesting element to loop in. However, I wasn’t in love with this story. It feel like some things were missing and personally, I just didn’t like the MC. The MC spent large portions of this story whining, throwing fits, and due to that, it felt like a lot of excitement I had about the story ended up dying down a lot. And it doesn’t help that the MC’s mindset doesn’t start to change until near the end of this story.
➼ Magical Offerings by Nina Moreno ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Displacement
I was pleasantly surprised and caught off guard by this story. This is story of a girl coming to terms with who she is, what her abilities are, and finding out the place you can call home has been right there all along. Honestly, I was really surprised on how much I enjoyed reading this. The atmosphere as it starts to build to the climax of this story was just chef’s kiss. I think the part I loved the most was watching the MC truly discover who they were and what they were capable of. Seeing the MC come to terms with that and how happy they felt was just one of the best elements of this story.
➼ Rogue Enchantments by Isabel Ibañez ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, harassment
I’m so hyped to read more from this author! I loved so many elements about this book, the atmosphere, the brief mention of dragons, just so many things I fell in love with in this story. Our story follows an MC who just took over her abuelita’s stall to sell magical brushes and paints. However, since the start of their first day, things seem to be quite amiss from what they originally thought. With sabotage a foot, our MC has to get crafty to seek out the truth and put a stop to all of the harassment. Again, I loved this. It’s a very atmospheric read and I constantly wondered if the MC was going to get the justice they deserve.
➼ Sumaiko Y La Sirena by Vita Ayala ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of slavery, loss of a loved one, hostage situation, manipulation, brief depictions of blood, death, murder
Who doesn’t love a good story about sirens? This story is sure to deliver a love story you won’t forget! This story was so sad, but so beautiful. And this is the first time I’ve seen sirens told in this way. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was really good, enough to make me go, “Damn! The plot thickens!” This stories follows our MC who once was a siren, but has been stranded on land. When one night, after singing to the ocean, another siren reveals themselves. But, after the MC’s father passes away, terrible things will begin to happen. This was such a captivating story. The atmosphere is so good with setting the tone especially in the more climatic scenes. However, I adored the connection between our MC and the siren she becomes close with. I loved the way their friendship built and way it slowly blossomed into something more.
“It is said that on clear nights, two glowing shapes shapes can be seen frolicking in its water, the laughing sound of their joyous song carried for miles on the wind.”
➼ River People by Yamile Saied Méndez ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of parents (in the past), grief
What an atmospheric read! I can’t decide what I enjoyed more; watching the story as a whole unfold or the MC blowing me out of the water. Truly, this was a really good read. We follow an MC who can talk to ghosts and not only ghosts, but can speak with the river god of the Paraná River. This gift comes in handy when one day the river god tells the MC that her older brother is in terrible danger. Thus, our heroic MC does everything she can to save her brother before it becomes too late. This was a really good short story. I was so sad when the story finally ended because I wanted more. This was such an easy story to get caught up in because the pacing starts of slow, but once the pace picks up, you’re just along for the ride and the ride is fantastic!
➼ Moonglow by Sara Faring ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of sex, illness, abortion, abuse, physical violence
Let me just say that this story… this story was a wild ride and I’m still asking myself what the hell I read. I don’t know if I walked away from this story shell-shocked or in the midst of processing everything, but I sure wasn’t expecting the story to unfold that way it did. One of the key elements of this story is it’s told in diary entries which adds a bit of ominous atmosphere and leaves us, the reader, wondering what the next entry will hold. We follow an MC who talks about about her love and the things happening within her household, from the mischievous to the more unfortunate events. I was hooked, hanging off the edge of me seat waiting to know how this story was going to conclude. Though I haven’t read anything by this author before, this honestly has me excited to look into more of their writings.
➼ Killing El Chivo by Claribel A. Orlega ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of loss of parents, brief mentions of starvation, mentions of abandonment, depictions of blood, death
Okay, this should come as no surprise by how much I adored this story. How each word had me hanging by a thread, wondering what was to come next. I love the way Orlega writes; the way she creates worlds and characters always has me excited. Okay, so maybe I was a little bias going into this, but truly, at the core of it, I do enjoy the stories this author writes. We follow an MC who is learning magic to help assist the remaining people of this world stop El Chivo. Many people have already left or have died, but our MC with her sister and aunt have devised a plan on how to put an end to all the tragedy that has been plaguing their homeland. I was fully captivated by this story and maybe it was how quickly the pace picked up, but oh, I couldn’t consume this story fast enough. I think my favorite part had to be the way it concluded. The ending just felt so powerful and after day of finishing this anthology, I still think about this ending relentlessly.
➼ Tame the Wicked Night by Zoraida Córdova ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content/Trigger Warnings: Minor war themes
Have I maybe, kind of, sort of fallen in love with this story because a mortal falls in love with a fallen goddess? – Yes, yes I have and I have zero regrets about this! I think I just loved everything about this story. From the MC who’s been gifted an ability with plants to the way the relationship blooms, thinking back on reading this story, I don’t have a single complaint. With my whole chest, I adored this story. We follow an MC who refuses to marry and choose to stay true to himself, and so he’s sent into the mountains to tame The Night. The Night is said to be a fierce beasts that takes no prisoners, and anyone who dare enter the mountain never returns. Yet what our MC finds is so much more than what they could have expected. And there’s a goat. A very charming, quirky goat with his own little attitude and little chime ins! I know I’ve said it a lot, but I really loved this short story and this is probably my first piece by this author that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. This has me excited to see what other pieces this author has created.
I gave Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space four stars overall, because out of the possible 85 stars (5 stars being possible for all 17 stories) this anthology accumulated 71 stars (83%)!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Content/Trigger Warning: Talk of human sacrifice, paternal abuse & neglect, death, talk of loss of loved one, grief, depictions of wounds and blood, gore, self-harm, violence, anxiety & panic attacks, emesis, hallucinations (visions)
“This ends in roots and bones. For all of you. It always ends in roots and bones.”
What can I say? I’m a sucker for retellings! However, I went into this only knowing that it was a retelling and bless my friend for recommending this as a buddy read. I spiraled so hard for this book and even when I set it down to do other things, I found myself thinking about it. It’s been a while since a retelling weaseled its way inside my head and had me thinking about it for days after reading it. Truly, if you’re a lover of retellings then I have to recommend this book to you, hands down.
Our story follows the Second Daughter, Redarys, who’s accepted her fate, waiting to be given to a dark forest as a human sacrifice or as the legend/prophecy claims, for the Wolf. While Red has accepted her destiny, her sister, Neve refuses to accepts this and begins plotting a plan to save Red from this path of darkness. Yet when Red is delivered to the Wilderwood and finally meets the Wolf, everything she thought she knew is not what it seems and soon finds an entirely different story altogether.
“Well, damn the myths. She was just as much a part of those stories as he was, and if her destruction was imminent, she’d rather be the architect than a bystander.”
The amount of finger snapping I have done over Red’s character should be enough to have broken my fingers. Truly, I loved Red’s character with a fiery passion. Red not only accepts her fate, but she is stubborn like there’s no tomorrow and bares her teeth to the maker like she was placed in this world like she had no other purpose. I’ll admit, Red almost feels like a morally grey, but I’m incredibly hesitant to say that. If anything, Red’s sister Neve is the most morally grey character throughout this entire book (but will get to that later). Red is a character who has such a fire in her soul, but we get to see all her moments of doubt, of weakness, and she’s just that kind of character you don’t want to lose focus on because you want to see what they’ll do next.
Oh ho, if you thought I forgot about The Wolf then you’re wrong. Out of all of the characters in this book, The Wolf or Eammon is my absolute favorite, mores so than Redarys. And no, it’s not due to Eammon coming off as having lots of inspiration from Adam Driver! As a reader, I very much become found of characters who have similar personalities to my own and while I want to say I love Eammon and Redarys equally, that would be a lie. Eammon is a very self-sacrificing character, one who would rather suffer than watch their loved ones suffer. And that is something the resonates very deeply with me as a person. Not only does Eammon do a lot of sacrificing, but he’s the only character in the book who have visible scarring, which made me a hard stan for The Wolf.
“I want the roots…I understand what it means, and I want them anyway, because I am for the Wolf, and the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.”
Though this is a retelling, there are some hidden gems of themes throughout this book. One of my favorite tropes is found family and there’s very much what Redarys finds when she enters the Wilderwood. She finds love and friends who not only want to protect her, but want to fight alongside of her. The way she connects with these people isn’t linear and it has those moments of holding your breath, but the way all of them come together and realize how much they care for one another really warms my heart.
While we’re talking about family, there’s also a theme of neglectful/abusive family in this book. How those who we’re related to can be cruel or hurtful, and despite that, how we can mourn them. We can mourn the ones who have hurt us because we can mourn the things that could have been if things were different. We see a different side in Neve’s perspective as she mourns the sister she lost, yet knows is still alive. And again, the way grief is shown in this book is good. Grief is never linear, it takes on many faces, and this might be the first book I’ve read that tells you, “Hey, you can mourn the people who hurt you because you’re grieving a life, you’re grieving what could have been.” The way the author laced this theme throughout this book is so beautiful and I thought it was really well done, but it may just be due to reading this book when I needed to have this theme in my hands.
“Sometimes you don’t mourn people so much as you mourn who they could’ve been.”
Though there were many things I loved like how this is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, there were some things I didn’t love. The one issue I had with this book was repetitiveness. There’s a lot of times throughout the entire middle of this book where things felt repetitive or it had a de ja vu effect. As a reader, one of the biggest things I can’t overlook is repetitiveness. No matter how it’s written, no matter if you change wording or try burying it among action packed scenes; if anything feels like it’s repeating too much, my brain will zone in on it. The beginning, climax, and ending of this book was fantastic, but throughout that middle there were a lot of repeating themes that just weren’t necessary.
The biggest issue was Neve’s perspective. If I’m being honest, I strongly disliked Neve’s perspective. This is truly a first for me because anytime there’s sibling themes, I usually love them and I always want to take time to talk about that. However, there’s a first time for everything and this was definitely a first. I should state that Neve is a morally grey character. Out of all of the characters in this book, Neve truly is the most morally grey character. I’ll just be honest, I disliked everything about Neve and Neve’s perspective. Personally speaking, I think I dislike her character so much because Neve is the older sibling and I’m also the oldest sibling in my family, and everything Neve does just goes against what you should be doing as an older sibling, in my opinion. She has no fire in her, she doesn’t question anything even though things are very obviously wrong, despite her constantly saying she “cares” about Red or is doing something for Red’s “benefit,” Neve does absolutely nothing to protect her or even support Red. I just really don’t like Neve, every time I think of her character I get a headache, and even though I know why we have her perspective, I wish we didn’t.
Overall, I really loved this book. I took so many notes, pulled so many quotes, and the fact that I’ve been thinking about this book for so long just shows how much I enjoyed it. The world building was incredible, I love when an author builds up a world you can practically envision really existing. There’s so many characters to fall in love with and there’s some important themes that can’t be ignored. Again, if you’re a lover of retellings then I recommend this book with my whole chest.
Salutations everyone! I have missed you all, I have missed writing reviews, and just miss bookish things in general! I know it’s been a while. Actually, it’s been more than that, it’s been a darn hot minute since I’ve posted a review here. I hope everyone has been doing well, reading lots of things. I actually have quite the stock pile of reviews that haven’t been typed, drafted, etc… and I thought I’d quickly throw two of them together while I sort some of the other reviews out, in the meantime. 💚
Content/Trigger Warnings: Bullying, loss of a parent, loss of loved ones, loss of a child, pica (xylophagia; books/paper, but mentions of hair and flowers), mentions of heart attack, grief, mentions on self-harm, mentions of hospitalization, mentions of suicide (of a minor character), intense scenes and depictions of anger issues, blood depictions, panic attacks, depictions of situations that could make one feel claustrophobic brief scene/mention of animal torture and death, murder, and a scene of under age drinking, child abuse in the past
“You be careful up there, in Bells Hollow. These old towns all have histories. Some darker than others.”
I’ll be honest, I’ve never read a Katrina Leno book before, but I’ve heard good things. However, I’d have to say I’m in the minority when it comes to how this book left me feeling after the book was closed and the dust had time to settle. What I will say, if you’re looking for a spooky book to chill you to the bones and perfect for the fall/winter season, then look no further.
After losing her father to a heart attack and finding themselves in a sticky situation, with no other options, Ruth and Jane find themselves starting life anew. Leaving California behind, Jane and Ruth find themselves relocating to Ruth’s hometown, in northern Maine, Bell’s Hollow. With the ache from the loss of a father/husband, Jane and Ruth will pick up the pieces of their life at North Manor. After leaving everything she knew behind, now Jane is faced with a family mystery and the big manor she now calls home.
I think the thing I fell in love with the most when it comes to this book is the amount of grief we see in this book. Wee not only see Jane’s side of grief, but we glimpses of Ruth and how much everything weighs on her shoulders. I love that we see both sides to grief. Truly, I wish books showed this kind of dynamic when grief is going to be laced into a storyline. Not only that, but we see people grieving about their pasts, about the unknown, about grief being the loudest thing in the room that it echoes for hours. it’s truly the strongest element in this entire book and at times it feels so intense. And truly, grief is an emotion that manifests in various ways and I love, with my whole chest, the way the author emphasized all elements that is grief. Grief isn’t just sadness and weeping, it’s violent and anger, coldness and at times, bitterness.
“Grief is different for everyone. There’s no right or wronganswer.”
While I loved the grief in this story, I really enjoyed how the narration from Jane felt… real. Though Jane isn’t the best of narrators or perspectives to get a story from, the way this book is written and through the perspective of Jane, everything thing almost feels real. You can practically feel the heaviness, the confusion, anger, and sadness that radiates off of Jane in waves. However, Jane doesn’t handle her triggers in the healthiest of ways. We also see mass flashbacks of things suppressed in Jane’s memory and even get moments of blacking out. With all of this into consideration, these are the things that make her an unreliable narrator. Yet, let me ask you this, how often do you get to read a book where the narrator is dealing with (or suffering) from mental health struggles? Not to often, I bet. Which is another reason why I liked have Jane as our narrator.
Speaking of Jane, every since Jane was a young girl, she’s struggled with her feelings especially anger. When she’d feel overwhelmed by these feelings, Jane would would seek out the comfort of eating pages from her books. She’d then replace the hollowed books with fresh, crisp pages that she could journal in. This is called Pica. Pica is a disorder where a person will consume items/objects that have no nutritional value. A person may due this for a number of reasons, and there are many layers to this disorder such as (sharp objects even poisonous things), this disorder can also overlap with other health conditions (OCD, anemia, or even schizophrenia), but in this story the main component for our main character is books. If you’re like me, this might be the first time you’ve every read a book that has Pica. And while I can only speak about my own personal experiences when I had Pica as a child, I can’t fully express how accurate other readers who have/had experienced Pica may feel about this representation.
“No, she couldn’t remember the first book she’d eaten, but she could remember the first book she’d eaten purposefully. And that was maybe more important.”
Though I feel this goes without saying, there’s a lot of discussion happening around mental health within this book especially when it comes to passing on mental health struggles, genetically. And how important it is for parents to recognize the signs and acknowledge their own mental health, to provide the help their children should they need it. I would be lying if I said this was an easy book to read because there were times where I felt like pieces of me were splitting from how much I felt seen, but also times where I had to set the book down due to it feeling hard, just really hard to read through. And I think anyone who reads this book, the feelings will expand over a vast amount of various emotions when it comes to a lot of the things addresses in this book. But I want to say as someone who has felt seen by this book, I want to say the relationship between Jane and Ruth feels very real and something that deserves to be talked about, from a plethora of perspectives. Depression, anger issues, loss and spiraling grief are a wild storm, a hell of a combination… but this is a reality for so many families, many people out there in the world and it deserves to be talked about, to be voiced.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, “Malli, if you loved all of these things then why wasn’t this a five star read?” Well, to put it simply, the ending. I docked the ending two stars for two different reasons. The first reason, it felt unfinished. It’s done in a style that’s more open-ended, that allows the reader to decide how things truly ended. Personally, I’m not a fan of that styled ending. Things tend to feel more unfinished for me, where I’d prefer something that was more straightforward and clear as crystal. The other reason was Ruth. Things with Ruth felt so unfinished, so inconclusive and personally, I would have loved to have seen a little more of her. I think the other reason this book left me feeling so conflicted was the lack of a prologue. With the way it ended, I had hoped there would have been something to follow up, but… to my disappointment there wasn’t any. So the ending really left something to be desired, in my opinion. I think many readers will either love it or strongly dislike the ending.
“Something had happened in this house. She wasn’t sure where the thought came from, when exactly it had been born, but it arrived now like a force, like a storm.”
Overall, I truly stand by my statement that this is the perfect read for the fall/winter season. There’s many parts that chilled me, where it felt impossible to regain the warmth back into my body. But maybe that’s from my feeling that felt rattled by this book. Though this book has important themes, this book is beautifully written and spooky, nonetheless. Though this wasn’t a five star read for me, I still recommend it to those who are looking for a chilling thriller that will leave them feeling a little starstuck, a little breathless, and sparking discussions over a cup of hot cider!
Arc was given by Europe Comics & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Content/Trigger Warnings: Nudity, animal death, imagery of blood
“The sea, like the human heart, is full of secrets.”
This was a beautifully written, heart-breaking story to read. The writing style is so delicately and wondrously woven together that makes your heart weep for the characters and story. Not to mention, I almost cry so many times while reading this book. Though, I whole heartedly fell in love with everything that this book encompasses.
Though this book is laced with simplicity, this book truly is a master piece in itself. I couldn’t recommend a better book that holds a powerful, silent thunder that will stir your emotions and cause you to pause in your reading. As well as having imagery that compliments the dialogue quiet well. Truly, this is a graphic novel to add to your list of stories to read.
“We learn to tell stories for the same reason we learn to swim. To keep from drowning.”
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
ALC provided by Libro.fm and Simon Pulse in exchange for an honest review!
Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault, physical assault, trauma and PTSD, domestic violence, parental death, loss of a loved one (in the past), mentions of deportation, racism, mentions of a car accident, mentions of graphic injuries, harassment, bullying, sexism, mentions of human experimentations, stalking, sex
I had never heard of this release until Libro. fm. I haven’t heard a lot of readers talking about this book, but I did have two friends reading it at the same time as myself. When I saw readers listing this as sci-fi, I got really nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m so glad that I picked this book up and gave it a listen! This is probably one of the most interesting books I’ve read all year, so far and I hope you all give this book a chance!
Before I start, I just want to say how grateful I am that the author took the time to list content and trigger warnings at the beginning of the book. Not many authors do this, so I really wanted to make a space to show my appreciation and say how important this is. I do have a more thorough breakdown of content and trigger warnings listed above if you need specifics. But truly, this was one of the best things about this book!
Our story follows Sia Martinez, a Mexican-American teen, who’s still grieving the death of her mother, who was deported and died trying to make her way back to America from Mexico. Sia is constantly reminded of as she attends the same school with the son of the officer who deported her mother. She not only has the weight of the grief on her shoulders, but constantly deals with the bullying, racism, and harassment of her peers and the teachers at the school. Until Noah, the new kid, moves to school and suddenly the the things in Sia’s life start to change.
“My grandmother said there were countless worlds in addition to ours. The underworld, the ghost world, the world of beetles and bats and hummingbird moths. There’s a world for warlocks and brujas and one for coconut trees and even a world just for our dreams.”
I really appreciated Sia as our main character. For myself, personally, I think she was a perfect character to show a plethora of emotions and internal feelings in various situations. Most of the time, books don’t always show the full range of emotions teenagers and younger children can experience. Sia’s feelings are layered and deeply intertwined with one another, and I really loved that about her. However, I was hoping Sia would have been more vocal and stood up for herself more. The bond and routine Sia has with her father sort of builds up the idea that Sia would stand up for herself more often, challenge those who look down on her for who she is and her culture, and have a little more fight in her. However, I still enjoyed her character and really loved how we got to see the nerdy sides of her.
One of the biggest themes in this book is the friendship between Sia and Rose. They have been best friends for many years, but we see their friendship face hardships, independent struggles, and grow from those experiences. I find that it’s rare for books to show that friendships have many layers to them and they’re not always perfect. Their relationship felt so real and reminded me of one of my own friendships. With the conflict they encounter, it does take a bit, but eventually, Sia and Rose find their way back to one another and make amends. I also loved how we see the two of them navigate dating and trying to find a way to tell one another, balance time between each other and their relationships.
Speaking of dating, I didn’t read any of the blurbs or reviews for this book before listening to it, but when the SFF elements started appearing in this book, I was clutching my pearls. It made me so incredibly happy to see it. I think this is going to be an element that catches a lot of readers off-guard because it’s such a subtle element. However, I think it was beautifully established and I loved how it was woven into the story.
There’s also a beautiful theme of family throughout this entire book. I mentioned earlier that Sia and her father share a routine of practicing self-defense together. I really loved that little bit that shows that only only are they close, but Sia’s father wants her to be able to protect herself should anything happen when he’s not there. I really loved those moments with them and I loved how we get the widowed father household dynamic. I truly believe with my whole heart that single father households are very underrated in literature and don’t get the attention it truly deserves. So, I really appreciated seeing that element and seeing the bond these two characters have. Also, I really loved how we get constant references to Sia’s grandmother. I could feel the love radiate through the passages where Sia would reflect on something her grandmother said or had taught her. Those passages felt like a warm hug.
“And when we turn the lights out, I look at the stars out the window, wondering about how old they are. Do they fall in and out of love, do they tell stories? And which nebulae are their mothers, and do they long for their mothers so much, they feel like their hearts are breaking at every moment?”
Aside from all of this, the heart of this story is centered around the ways Mexican people view violent immigration and institutions. We also see the reality many immigrants face when someone they love is deported. We see the pain, the grief, and the loss that one experiences, but we also see the lengths someone would go to be reunited with those loved ones. I can’t speak any further on this because I’m not Mexican, Mexican-American, or an immigrant. However, I encourage you all to look at ownvoice reviewers and if you are an ownvoice reviewer, please link your review so I can help boost your voice!
I truly wish I could have given this a full five stars, but there was one thing that really shifted my feelings. This book is very much a genre-bending book! For the first half of this book, it reads like a contemporary book. The first half explores grief, trauma, love, and friendship. While the second half of this book has a lot of action and science fiction elements woven throughout the story. My real struggle was the sudden shift into the sci-fi elements. I’m not much of a sci-fi reader and when I do read sci-fi, it’s usually a struggle for a plethora of reasons. I wish this book would have stayed with the contemporary genre more than adding the sci-fi elements to it because I have no doubt I would have given this five stars. However, with the sci-fi elements, I felt like I was getting whiplash a few times and I started to lose interest in the characters. Whereas before, I was fully invested in the characters, the story line, and what would happen next. I also felt like certain details around the characters and story line got lost on me because of the sci-fi elements. However, I still enjoyed the story despite my conflict with the second half of this book.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the themes in this book are so important. I truly feel this is an underrated book and not many people are talking about it. If you’re looking for a book that talks about grief, first love, friendships, strong family bonds, has short chapters, mixed with some sci-fi elements, then you should definitely pick this book up.
Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying, character being outed, mentions of divorce
“When matters of the heart are involved, it’s difficult to be careful.”
My heart it hurts, in all the best ways! I wasn’t expecting this book to hurt me the way that it did and I knew I would love this book from the start, but oh how I loved the experience of reading this book. This book is so beautifully written and it’s so much more than a cute romance of “enemies to lovers”. It’s so much more than that and it truly touched a piece of my heart.
We follow a Bengali girl named Nishat, who just came out to her parents and now feels the heavy weight of their rejection of her lesbian identity, and to prevent herself from crumbling in the process. On top of this harden silence, Nishat has to deal with the racism and homophobia at her school, while dealing with the culture appropriation happening during her business class’s competition by the girl she has a crush on.
I loved Nishat as our main character. She’s so unapologetically herself in a world that constantly tries to bend and break her. She’s fierce and she has no problem speaking her voice. I truly appreciate how the author took the time to pay attention to the little details with Nishat and her personality. The pay off is just beautiful, heartbreaking, and I think many readers are going to fall in love with her because of those details.
“What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.”
Throughout this book we see many relationship, many family dynamics. So let’s start with the family dynamics first. I loved Nishat’s family and how big it is. I love how we get moments with Nishat’s grandparents. I love seeing those bonds in book. We also have the family dynamic with Flávia. Flávia is from a single mother home and you know, I have a super soft spot for that family dynamic. Reading the experience Flávia’s mother went through made my heart turn to an absolute puddle.
As for the relationships, there’s two that really stuck out to me. The first relationship is between Nishat and her younger sister, Priti. I loved this sibling bond. You know I’m a soft heart for sibling relationships and the way these two love each other despite the hardships, just warmed my heart. This relationship spoke the loudest to throughout the whole book. There were times where the romance felt like it fell in the shadow of the sibling bond. The second relationship was between Flávia and Nishat. This romance was so precious and there were many times where I really wanted them to be together. There’s so many layers to their relationship and watching them come together was just a lovely experience.
However, this story is far from cute. If anything, the romance is cute, but this book deals with a lot of important topics. There’s a lot of talk of racism and homophobia laced throughout this book and all of it intertwines with Nishat’s culture, culture appropriation, and those making a profit off that cultural appropriation. Not only does the author handle this in many layers, but does it in a way where it gets the point across. The author also adds additional content to lighten the mood with lighthearted content and I really appreciated how well everything balanced out.
“Maybe… sometimes people don’t see the things they do as wrong, but they can see the wrong in what other people do – especially if it’s done to someone they care about.” I say “When it happens to someone else, it doesn’t feel as important as when it happens to someone we love.”
I can’t speak for the representation in this book, but I will link some reviews below that you should check out. What I can speak on is my own coming out. I was really blessed to not had a parent who was homophobic or reject my bisexuality in the way Nishat’s parents reject her. However, I’m Apache and coming out to my aunts and my uncle as two-spirited, it was something that still impacts me now. They still have a hard time processing that I like both men and women, they constantly have homophobic slip ups, and I constantly get questioned on my choice for not marrying someone who’s also Native. So seeing Nishat’s grief of having to hide who she is and feel her heartache echoing through these pages just rippled through my soul, and I could relate so much to Nishat in those moments.
I think the main reason why this wasn’t a full five stars was due to some missing details. I feel like we didn’t see enough of Nishat’s friends. I know they’re side characters, but I feel like there should have been more engagement in conversation between them than what we really got in this book. The other issue I had was how Nishat’s parents all of a sudden started to support Nishat and her lesbian identity. I think I just wanted more conversations to happen between Nishat and her parents, but I did appreciate that we see Nishat’s parents taking the time to try and learn.
Overall, I really loved this book and even though I only gave it four stars, it’s still getting placed on my top books for 2020. This book has so many important topics and they deserve to have the spotlight that they deserve. I loved how deep this story dived and I loved the growth of the relationships and connections throughout this book. And I’m not going to lie, finally seeing the racism being challenged in this book made my heart swell. I truly loved this book and I think many readers are going to fall in love with this book, see themselves within the pages of this book, and I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store for us.
Below are some reviews to take a look at, but you should uplift their voices and support them as well!