When the Moon Was Ours

28220826by Anna-Marie McLemore
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
5 of 5 stars

The trouble with reviewing a book of this quality is the fact that your own writing will be so inadequate you’re left using bland superlatives in an attempt to communicate the sublime experience you just had. It’s “incredible” “amazing” “beautiful” and really all anyone can take from that is “So you liked it a LOT.”

Yes, I liked this story a LOT.

This is magical realism at its most powerful. Miel fell out of a water tower when she was five and grows roses from her wrist. Sam is a bacha posh who paints moons and hangs them all over town. The two have been inseparable best friends until now, when they are seventeen and facing feelings that could change their relationship. Their growing attraction has to bend around Sam’s gradual realization that his identity as a boy goes deeper than the clothes he wears or the body he has. Miel has another reason for hesitance: the Bonner sisters (four girls the town views as witches) decide they want Miel’s roses and threaten to reveal all of her secrets—and steal Sam’s love away—if she doesn’t comply.

The small town is full of delicious, dangerous magic, and people that are all struggling to claim their identities despite the lies they tell themselves or the gossip other people whisper about them. Everything addressed in this story is handled sensitively and with an emotional resonance that will inspire you to see yourself and others in a nicer light.

That was the best I can do—add this to your list no matter what you normally read and let its magic unfold.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When the Moon Was Ours 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.
  • 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.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Another story about learning not to spit on your roots–Gabi is Mexican-American and it seems like she is always becoming either too Mexican or too American for those around her. This book explores her senior year through her diary as she opens up to writing and dealing with the complex highs and lows of high school. 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.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One

32334098by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry
4 of 5 stars
Debut: March 23, 2017

My nonfiction entry of the month! There aren’t exactly any surprises in this volume but it was a satisfying read nonetheless.

This was originally self-published via CreateSpace and much like Milk and Honey, it garnered such a response that the same publisher grabbed it and put out a hard copy. This deeply personal collection explores the arduous healing process after abusive relationships and has an uplifting ending. Broken up into four sections (The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, You) it’s only after reading the darkest parts of the earlier sections that the final one can provide universal inspiration.

A short, powerful read and one that bravely lets you step into someone else’s soul. It’s impossible to ignore the emotion and courage poured into each piece, and it’s lovely reminder that no matter the grief and loss you suffer, there are bright spaces ahead of you.

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


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson – Dickinson’s unique style is often well-remembered from English classes. This collection is unaltered (many collections change her punctuation or wording to “clarify” the poems), presented in chronological order, and even includes several drafts of some of her work. She explores all kinds of themes (life, death, loneliness), but the ones that hint at her unconventional life as an unmarried woman were the ones I found most interesting.
  • Classic Haiku edited by Tom Lowenstein – This collection of four haiku masters’ poems (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki) is poignant, reflective, and at times surprisingly funny!
  • Moon in the Pines translated by Jonathan Clements – This has a really good intro that helps you understand and enjoy the poetry. Beautiful artwork is interspersed and there’s some brief interpretations of the poems in the back. I loved it!

The Edge of the Abyss

26219455by Emily Skrutskie
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I have been waiting for this since I read the first book last year and it did not disappoint! More pirates, more adventure, more mayhem, more kissing!

Cas has had a tough three weeks since she pledged her loyalty to the pirate queen Santa Elena. But keeping busy with training lets her avoid Swift as much as possible, which is perfect. Then the crew of the Minnow discovers that Bao isn’t the only unregistered Reckoner in the NeoPacific—sightings of the untrained sea monsters, dubbed Hellbeasts, start popping up everywhere, threatening the entire ocean’s ecosystem (not to mention all the ships). Cas must find Bao and train him to fight the Hellbeasts if they want to restore balance to the ocean.

This book is filled with manipulative mind games from Santa Elena and the broken pieces of a relationship between Cas and Swift and I loved every page of it. All three women are ambitious, stubborn, ruthless, selfish, and constantly abrasive to each other. The power dynamics here are just addictive as Swift and Cas try to see if equal footing is even possible, and as Santa Elena challenges them to see who will be her successor. It’s a satisfying character study of pushing people to the brink of their conscience to see what they’ll do.

I felt like I could smell the sea the entire time, this story feels that real! I’m still impressed by how much the writing crams into such a short space. Every sentence is working hard and yet it’s easy to read. This short duology is a swashbuckling adventure you shouldn’t pass up!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina chose to embrace her powers and it is leading to a rift between her and her sister Violetta, and her allies. It’s also opening a darkness within her that she must face before it destroys her. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel and Arin engage in games of deception that affect the war between their nations and the warning desires in their own hearts. For power plays and mind games there’s no better book than this! See my review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – A fun romp of a graphic novel about shape-shifter Nimona’s goal to become a villain’s sidekick. The usual themes of good vs evil, what makes a monster, does your past define you, what is justice, with plenty of good jokes thrown in the mix! See my review here.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

23507745by Robert Beatty
Children’s Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: July 14, 2015

I bought a bunch of MG books last year and this one has sat on my shelf the longest. I wasn’t sure what to expect (especially given my limited experience with the Disney imprint) but it was not the “safe” adventure I expected!

Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is the estate’s head engineer, and Serafina does not exist, as far as the Biltmores are concerned. But when children start disappearing from the estate, Serafina reveals herself to the Biltmore’s nephew, Braeden, and they try to save the children before it’s too late.

What surprised me is just how dark this story got when it came to tracking down the Man in the Black Cloak! Not only is the Cloak super sinister, the things Serafina encounters as she hunts him down made me squirm with the creeps. (I read it on a plane and actually squirmed, several times). Encounters with various bloody remains and dark places in the Forest had me cringing in the best way! Serafina is a tougher girl than I am, and could grit her teeth and keep going.

It’s not the subtlest in terms of Serafina’s mysterious past and such, but it was fun and pretty satisfying. Gothic vibes made for middle-grade readers!

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


Similar reads:

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – The other gruesome MG book I have read. Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – A girl’s quest to locate her father in a neighboring magical realm goes horribly wrong. This is an interesting blend of total lighthearted whimsy and the darker depths of human nature. Enjoy this journey through two realms who use magic very differently! See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Definitely YA, but with that same creepy, country vibe. Three unreliable narrators tell you what they think happened one dark night at the haunted house. See my review here.

Wintersong

24763621by S. Jae-Jones
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 7, 2017

One of my highly anticipated reads for this year! JJ co-hosts the fantastic podcast Pub(lishing)Crawl about all things writing and publishing and I have been dying to read her gothic fantasy for months. Not having seen “Labyrinth” I didn’t really know what to expect but she is so wise I knew it would good regardless, and I was not wrong!

The eldest of three, Liesl’s dark life of poverty in the Bavarian woods is only lit up by music. Her younger sister Kathe is the beautiful one, engaged to be married to Liesl’s childhood crush. Her younger brother Josef is the musical genius—the talent their parents obsess over. An upcoming audition could change his life forever. Only Josef acknowledges Liesl’s talent: composing. Josef can bring any song to life, but Liesl hears new songs in her head.

Then the Goblin King takes Kathe to become his wife, and Liesl must challenge the Lord of Mischief to save her sister, and ultimately herself.

This is a soul story. Liesl’s quest to save her sister leads her to make sacrifices that could kill her (in mind or in body) and she continues on. But her struggle to claim her identity, her music, her life, feels so deeply personal. JJ’s passion for this story is lovingly drawn on every page but it doesn’t feel like self-insertion because what Liesl fears is universal. Who doesn’t struggle with finding a sense of self and place in the world? Who doesn’t fear their own potential? It’s not often reading a novel feels so intimate without creating the feeling of intrusion. This journey Underground is slow and winding, a fitting pace for the gradual way that understanding sinks into our bones with every experience we gain. It’s a savory, personal journey that leaves you feeling as changed as Liesl.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book of goblin magic and music! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wintersong is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agniezska is forced to serve their wizard, known as the Dragon, only to realize she has a role in saving the town from a dark forest determined to devour them. See my review here.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – An atmospheric story in the wilderness of Rus’ with one girl facing her village’s censure as she tries to protect them from dark forces at work in their land with rituals out of favor with the new Christian church. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is only passionate about music, but her post in the royal castle requires her to become a diplomat of sorts between humans and dragons. Her desire for musical recognition is tempered by the secret she hides that would ruin her. See my review here.
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber – Scarlett enters the magical game-world of Caraval to save her sister Tella—but as the game plays out the lines between reality and entertainment are blurred. See my review here.

You’re Welcome, Universe

25701463by Whitney Gardner
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 7, 2017

From the first chapter, Julia’s adamant self-confidence prepared me for a wild ride! When her friend is the victim of a graffiti slur on the school’s wall, Julia takes care of it herself. It’s what friends are for, right? Apparently not, because Jordyn rats her out, and Julia is expelled.

At her new school, Julia has to have an interpreter–she is the only Deaf student.  She’s ready for a fresh-start trust-no-one no-friends year, until her tags start getting attention from another artist, forcing her to retaliate.

The short chapters flew by (embellished with artwork!) as Julia reluctantly befriends an ex-cheerleader she dubs YP and hides her continued passion for painting from her moms. Her friendship with YP ended up being the gold nugget of this book for me! I loved that this story explored the highs and lows of friendships through Jordyn and YP–the devastation of betrayal and the joy of finding someone who Gets You.

Julia’s self-assurance gives her the confidence to strike out on her own, but it also lands her in serious trouble. The contrast of needing faith in yourself with knowing when you’re wrong made her such a fun character to spend time with. Even when I knew she was screwing up I was cheering for her! So many YA books focus on obtaining confidence to begin with, which is fine, but it’s fun to spend time with a girl who acts first and contemplates later (if ever).

What else did I love? Every character had the chance to show Julia (and me) the layers beneath a first impression. Good or bad, nobody was merely what Julia saw at first glance and it’s even more impressive in such a short book.

What else did I love? We stick to a pretty routine high school schedule. So often I find myself thinking “Oh yeah, homework, class, an after-school job…where are those elements?” For me, high school was busy! Julia is too, and her mundane job at McDonald’s is part of her life. Having a crush on her coworker–and watching her ex-best friend flirt with him–is part of her life. That feeling of high school being a small and pervasive bubble of drama you can’t escape is so real here!

Honestly there’s just a lot to love! This is a quick read with cool art, grab it! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, You’re Welcome, Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – What struck me about You’re Welcome, Universe was the friendship and this is a goldmine of female friendships! See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – A beautiful story about a girl finding herself and her strength through her poetry, as told in her senior year diary. 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.

Not Quite Narwhal

30312747by Jessie Sima
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 14, 2017

This little story is everything I could want in a picture book! Colorful, adorable, and full of narwhals and unicorns. I literally gasped out loud three times while reading this book, because of how adorable it is!

Kelp has never really fit in with his narwhal family and friends. His tusk isn’t as long, and he’s not a great swimmer. But then one day a current takes him to a beach where he sees strange creatures that look a lot like him!

This sweet story of acceptance is just delightful! There are some fun details tucked away on each page. A welcome escape for me that I’ll enjoy many times! I don’t often pick up picture books and definitely wanted to give this one a plug. I’m excited to see what the author/illustrator does next!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Not Quite Narwhal is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Percy and TumTum: A Tale of Two Dogs by Jill Hen – When floofy TumTum arrives in Percy’s home, he is not happy about everyone fawning over the new dog. But maybe Percy’s dislike is misplaced. This story is adorable, of course!
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia McLachlan – A dog saves two children in a snow storm and they spend a few days snowed in getting to know each other. Emotional and insightful, a cozy read! See my review here.
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – An illustrated adventure about one dad’s quest to get milk for breakfast and the mayhem that ensues along the way (including aliens).

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