The Last Namsara

32667458by Kristen Ciccarelli
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut: October 3, 2017
*ARC review

I was eagerly awaiting this book the moment I heard the author was inspired by my favorite novel. At ALA I got my hands on an advanced reading copy and I could not be more excited!

Asha is the Iskari–the most-feared dragonslayer in the land. To atone for a terrible dragon attack when she was a child, Asha is determined to eradicate all dragons from their land, and the threat of the old stories along with them. But no matter how many heads she brings to the king, she is still set to marry the commandant, a man Asha despises and fears. Until her father makes a deal with her: bring him the head of the First Dragon, Kozu, and escape the betrothal. Asha only has six days, but she has never failed to kill a dragon she’s hunted.

The mythology of this world is addictive! I was most fascinated by the old stories that poisoned their tellers–for a story to eat a person from the inside out whether they speak or write it down kept my imagination up late into the night. Several of the stories are included in the book and I found myself wanting a bound copy of all of them. Of course, the dragons kept me enthralled! It is HARD to find good YA stories with dragons. I don’t know why. I would have loved even more of them, but their presence in this story always stole the show.

Asha’s journey was surprising to me and I’m interested to see what the next two books explore with the world and her place in it! I also hope to see more of Safire and Roa!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Last Namsara is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – This was the main comp for Namsara and it’s my favorite story ever. I am so blinded with love that I can’t see it clearly but it’s about a disgraced princess slaying dragons and trying to save her prince and her kingdom. See my review here.
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – Lessa is a kitchen slave harboring a plan for vengeance on those who killed her family and stole her land. But everything changes when she is selected to bond with the dragon queen, elevating her to leadership she has only dreamed of and forcing her to face a threat to the entire planet.
  • Eon by Alison Goodman – Eon has been training for years in magic and combat for the chance to become the next Dragoneye apprentice–the successor to bond with one of the twelve zodiacal dragons that governs the land. But Eon’s secret is that she is a 16-year-old girl, not a 12-year-old boy, and if this is discovered the penalty is death. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is a talented musician with connections in the royal court. Yet she fears the discovery that she has more than diplomatic ties to the scientific geniuses that are the dragon ambassadors to humans. This is a complex, interesting world where dragons and magic must coexist with wary humans intent on preserving peace. See my review here.
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Wild Beauty

33158561by Anna-Marie McLemore
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
5 of 5 stars
*ARC review

This is one of my new favorite authors! I read When the Moon Was Ours earlier this year and it blew my mind in every way. I’ve been hotly anticipating this book since spring and I snagged an ARC at ALA this summer (AND I got to meet Anna-Marie and babble something about how much I love her and her work while trying to stifle my emotions). I’m a mess where her writing is concerned–I love it so much, and I honestly would not be able to say whether I enjoyed Moon or this one more, but she is on my auto-buy list from now on! Ready for my completely unbiased review yet?

Estrella and the rest of the Nomeolvides women live their lives rooted to the mysterious garden, La Pradera, that protects their magical abilities to grow plants (abilities that make most people fear and shun them as witches). The cost of this safe haven is their hearts: if they love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But when a boy appears in the gardens, they begin to hope the gardens’ curse is ending. Of course, it’s nowhere near that simple.

Estrella pulls you into the Nomeolvides household and it feels like you become part of their family. The food, the squabbles, the arguments, the fierce loyalty–I never wanted to leave. The relationships between the five cousins, their mothers, and the cousins with their aunts and grandmothers are rich with complexity and shatterproof bonds. I loved exploring the layers and lives of all of these women!

Through her trademark magical realism, delicious prose, and imagery you swear you can taste and smell, McLemore weaves this utterly bewitching story that explores family, love, loss, secrets, and bisexuality. I adored every page of this! Her writing is an experience. How she takes ordinary words and turns them into this–that is its own magic.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wild Beauty is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Finn is horrified when Roza goes missing, just like the rest of Bone Gap, Illinois. He alone wants to keep searching for her several months later, despite his disgrace. He was the only who saw the man that took Roza–but he can’t remember his face. This story is filled with magical realism and heartbreaking truths about people. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Another story featuring bees and magical realism, this one takes place in the Southwest. Carolina’s family is spending the summer at her grandfather’s ranch, prepping it for sale. Her grandfather is going to an assisted living home (against his will) and Carolina is caught in the middle of her family’s drama. Then her grandfather’s story about a village, a tree, and magic bees starts to seem less like fiction and more like family history. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – I love this magical realism story about a small town with a reservoir and two sisters–Ruby, who is everything, and Chloe, who looks up to her older sister. Ruby will do anything to keep her sister safe with her–even if it means bending the reality of their town and everyone in it. See my review here.
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Brother and sister Noah and Lo spend the summer on the coast with their grandmother. Their plans change dramatically when Noah pulls a girl from the water, and they begin to suspect she—and someone else they know—may be selkies. See my review here.

Saints and Misfits

32333055by S.K. Ali
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: June 13, 2017

This is a perfect depiction of high school–a YA book truly written for teens, and I loved it!

Janna Yusuf is an Indian-American hijabi teen trying to fit her identity into every part of her life while making the fewest waves. But when her best friend’s cousin assaults her, she must decide if she will be the one to expose him. He’s a saint in their community, and she’s the only one who knows he’s a monster.

This is a serious novel and a heavy read, but the writing is excellent. Janna’s stress and emotional turmoil is portrayed in big and small moments. Sometimes she lashes out, sometimes she makes a surprisingly compassionate decision, but she does everything while navigating her parents’ recent divorce, her brother’s courtship with the perfect Muslim girl, and her network of friends. She learns who to trust, and what her personal beliefs are, and what forms a solid faith and what does not. Her female friendships are the brightest and lowest points of the book and I loved how true that is to high school. There are feel-good moments in this story but it doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. I rec this to anyone who enjoys YA contemporary with more nuance and reflection.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Saints and Misfits is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy – Ramona is as well-known in her small southern town for her blue hair as she is for being a lesbian. But her surety of her identity is tested when an old friend moves back and she discovers not everyone fits into a box. See my review here.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Starr’s life comes under intense scrutiny from both her white high school and her black neighborhood when she witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil. See my review here.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – An art-filled story of friendship–and rivalry. When Julia is expelled and becomes the only Deaf girl in a mainstream school, she throws herself into her art even more. But she unwittingly stumbles into a turf war and must figure out who is trying to push her out. See my review here.
  • Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley – Aki has always known she is bi. At least, she’s pretty sure, even though she’s only had boyfriends. But when she develops a crush on another girl during their Mexico mission trip, she finds herself putting her theory into practice as they deepen their secret relationship. But Christa doesn’t want to keep it a secret. See my review here.’
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

The Blood – Monstress Vol. 2

33540347by Marjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (artist)
Graphic Novel
5 of 5 stars
This is a review of issues 7-12

The first volume of this comic was my top read last year and I have been waiting for this installment ever since!

Volume one was a whirlwind of characters, backstories, adventures and world-building. I fell so hard for this story I was in a tailspin for days trying to process what I’d read and the fact that I’d be waiting six months for volume two.

This world of matriarchal societies and religions is full of war and chaos and Maika Halfwolf is our access point. She is bonded to a terrifying demon/monster inside her and it is this that spurs armies to hunt her and allies to hide her as a key to–probably the apocalypse, nobody really knows. In this installment Maika is still uncovering secrets from her mother’s past and what her own identity is. We get to see much more of the world–oceans, pirates, cursed isles–and I loved all of it!

Maika’s relationship with the monster inside her takes center stage this time as we learn about its past and what might come of their strange relationship. Kippa and Master Ren refuse to abandon Maika, although her violent episodes happen more frequently. The new characters we meet endeared themselves to me instantly! And although it ends with another cliff-hanger, it’s not too harsh.

Now that the world is established I felt it was easier to sink into this volume. It wasn’t as hard to keep track of all the different forces at work. Everything I loved about the first volume was expanded upon here and I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Monstress: The Blood is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Decidely more lighthearted than Monstress, this explores similar themes from a quirky perspective. Nimona is a shape-shifter who apprentices herself to villain Lord Blackheart. He quickly realizes there is more to her than a desire for villainy. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species – A YA novel that tackles a murder, rape culture, and sexism through the eyes of three senior students in a small town. See my review here.
  • Lady Snowblood: The Deep-Seated Grudge Part 1 by Kazuo Koike – An accomplished assassin, Lady Snowblood is finally ready to take down the men responsible for her family’s deaths.

When Dimple Met Rishi

28458598by Sandhya Menon
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: May 30, 2017

I heard nothing but good things for months leading up to this release and I snagged a copy at her Denver signing!

Dimple is preparing for Stanford where she wants to code apps that change the world. She’s used to explaining this to her mother every day: marriage is the last thing on her mind, thanks. Rishi was accepted at MIT for engineering and his parents’ pride is his own satisfaction. When Rishi finds Dimple at InsomniaCon (a 6-week coding competition) he is so excited to introduce himself and begin their relationship. The only problem is Dimple has absolutely no idea that their parents have planned for them to get married and thought that InsomniaCon might be an easy way to put them together.

The inevitable clash of ideals between Dimple and Rishi is just as funny as I hoped! They are both so sure of what their futures hold and yet both of them are surprised by the other’s dreams and personality. They have cute moments, serious conversations, chances to compromise and chances to stick up for what they value.

I can’t stress enough how fun this story is, and how adeptly it handles serious topics. Dimple and Rishi are earnest, with good intentions, yet they both are so obviously teens. I saw so much of my high school self in Dimple and Rishi! How simplistically and idealistically you can view the world and how hard it is to accept that things are complicated. How you can feel so confident one moment and so vulnerable the next. (Actually I still feel that way.) But Dimple and Rishi both learn and grow so much in a short time, and it’s a nice reminder that we’re meant to keep changing and striving to be better than before. I absolutely adored this book!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When Dimple Met Rishi is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – Sloane doesn’t expect to make friends in her new town, but then she falls in with the complicated lives of twins Vera and Gabe. This is a fun, emotional story about senior year in a new place that might be the perfect place for you. See my review here.
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Jo has a tough choice when it comes to pleasing her parents or being herself. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson.See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi’s summer in a beach town is already off to a great start when she meets the attractive and quiet Jonah. A summer romance, perfect! Because neither of them could possibly have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.

The Names They Gave Us

30038906by Emery Lord
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

Lucy Hansson is prepared for her summer before senior year, until her mother’s cancer reappears, her boyfriend suggests they take a break, and the God she’s always known feels cold and distant. As she tries to hold herself together around her parents, she falls apart in front of her friends–and they aren’t prepared to help her with her questions.

At her mother’s urging, instead of spending the summer with them at their Christian camp the way she has her entire life, Lucy becomes a counselor at the camp across the lake which is for kids dealing with difficult times. Lucy feels adrift until her fellow counselors show her that despite their past experiences they can feel joy and love and hope.

This is the most harrowing book she has written. There are moments of humor and fun, but this is largely about having to grow up fast when your parents face problems they can’t shield you from. It’s hard to read, but for anyone who has experienced loss it would probably be cathartic. Learning to see your parents are people who don’t have all the answers, finding the friends who can handle your dark moments, letting yourself grow in surprising and sometimes scary ways–all of this is explored in-depth. Lucy’s gradual change in so many areas is rewarding to read and I felt like the end hit just the right note for her.

I’m already looking forward to Emery’s next book! 

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Names They Gave Us is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – A take on Christian girls who are into girls. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – Maguire is convinced she is cursed with bad luck, but a trip to her family’s relatives in Ireland convinces her to try a new form of therapy. A wry and emotional story of Maguire’s progress in the form of challenges she sets herself, with good friendships and a bit of romance along the way. See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

Ramona Blue

31449227by Julie Murphy
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

There was a lot of concern with the initial description of this book but to allay any fears of this being a “lesbian-turned-straight” book, it is most definitely not! So many of the harmful stereotypes are addressed on page and dismissed. And Ramona never renounces her attraction to girls or the idea that she might date other girls in the future.

Now that that’s out of the way!

Ramona survives each day one at a time. Her family’s trailer already requires Ramona to duck in doorways and the shower, and now it is more crowded with her pregnant sister’s deadbeat boyfriend. As her friends prepare for senior year and going to college, Ramona knows she will be left behind as she helps her sister with the baby and her father with the bills. She works several jobs after school and her own dreams (what dreams?) are last priority. Then her childhood friend Freddie returns with his grandparents, and they’re able to pick right back up. Sure, at six feet she’s taller than him now, and her hair is bright blue, and she’s one of only two out lesbians at their small-town Mississippi high school. But other than that, what has changed?

But as they start swimming together in the mornings and Freddie becomes a part of Ramona’s group of friends, they start to wonder if their feelings are more than friendship.

Ramona’s voice is so down to earth and wryly lovable as she deals with issues that most of her friends don’t have to think about. As she says, she doesn’t have to worry about what to be when she grows up–she grew up years ago. Allowing herself to love something like swimming feels indulgent. Not only does Ramona have to examine her attraction to Freddie, she has to decide whether her life is permanently tied to her sister’s choices. I really enjoyed it and all the questions it posed!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ramona Blue is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley – Aki has always known she is bi. At least, she’s pretty sure, even though she’s only had boyfriends. But when she develops a crush on another girl during their Mexico mission trip, she finds herself putting her theory into practice as they deepen their secret relationship. But Christa doesn’t want to keep it a secret. See my review here.
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Another take on Christian girls who are into girls. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – This came to me highly recommended and I loved it so much! Simon is not out to everyone, but that choice might disappear thanks to another student who threatens to expose Simon’s email correspondence with a boy named Blue. With great sarcasm and poise, Simon deals with blackmail and trying to discover the identity of the boy he loves. See my review here.

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