Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

Aristotle and Dante meet one day at their local swimming pool, and Dante’s offer to teach Aristotle to swim will change their lives. The two strike up an unlikely friendship (Aristotle is angry about a lot of things, mainly not knowing why his older brother is in prison and Dante seems happy-go-lucky). Both of them are introspective, struggling to find their identities in a world they don’t fully understand, and their conversations involve a lot of musing and laughing as they wait to grow up and receive some answers. Then an accident changes their relationship forever.

Ari might be angry and prickly but the things he loves bring out the best parts of him and make you feel for this boy that wants so desperately to find his place in the world. I fell in love with his desert and his family and his dog and his truck. I wanted him to find answers and the things he learns along the way are meaningful to everyone. It would be easy for this book to sound instructional or preachy, but it never does.

This is a deceptively simple book about a boy trying to solve the mystery of himself that pulls you into every day life and then rips the rug out from under your feelings to leave you a sobbing mess. The relationships manage to be nuanced and real when we only glimpse them in “ordinary” moments. I enjoyed the first 3/4, but it’s the end that made me LOVE it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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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.

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.

The Seafarer’s Kiss

32890474by Julia Ember
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This gorgeous cover caught my eye and since I love fairy tales I knew I had to check out this Little Mermaid retelling. It’s definitely the most interesting one I’ve found! I love all the Norse mythology and setting it in a completely different part of the world–and having the mermaid trying to win the heart of a fierce shield-maiden was refreshing. Fairy tales fascinate me because you can change so many components and yet still see the bones of the myth underneath.

Ersel has always wondered what adventures she could have on land, but she doesn’t meet a living human until she finds a scared girl named Ragna trapped on the ice after a shipwreck. Ragna is determined to have revenge on the men who kidnapped her and burned her village. Ersel wants to escape the oppressive rule of an isolationist king who insists that a mermaid’s value is linked to her fertility.

The two girls form a tentative friendship that hints at something more–until Ersel’s suitor catches them together and threatens to tell the king. Desperate to find Ragna and be with her on land, Ersel makes a bargain with the treacherous god of lies, Loki. Her wish threatens to destroy not only her hope of reuniting with Ragna, but her entire underwater community if she doesn’t discover a way to outwit the god.

This short book is so fast-paced! This world was so interesting to explore, especially Ersel’s life under the icebergs. The way the mermaids had to survive such intense cold was thought out! I wouldn’t have minded more time with these characters, but I still felt like they were all so fleshed out. Each of them had such intense desires and were so ruthless in going after what they wanted. Despite knowing the fairy tale, the game with the trickster god and the horrifyingly imaginative results had me wondering what would happen next.

Ersel and Ragna don’t have a lot of time to develop their relationship, yet there was a spark there that I’ve found true to life–when you find someone completely driven to achieve their dreams, it’s so attractive! That spark can grow quickly, and I wanted them to be together just to see what adventures they could have. They’re not “nice” girls but I wanted them to win!

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


Similar reads:

  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – Denna’s betrothal has stretched on for years, but it’s finally time for her to meet and marry her husband. She just has to keep her affinity for fire magic a secret–and try not to fall for her fiance’s sister. See my review here.
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – Cas has spent her whole life training Reckoner beasts to fight pirates in the NeoPacific, but her first solo trip goes horribly wrong. Pirate Queen Santa Elena captures Cas and orders her to train a stolen Reckoner for the pirates, under the watchful eye of Swift, a girl who seems to understand the darkest parts of Cas. See my review here.
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Lush prose that draws you into a small town filled with magic, secrets, and romance. Sam and Miel have been best friends their whole lives, but when the Bonner sisters decide they want the roses that grow from Miel’s wrists, protecting Miel could reveal all the secrets Sam and Miel have kept from each other and themselves. See my review here.

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 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.

The Shadow Hour

27245910by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to this sequel! The debut was such a fun surprise of humor and magic that I knew I wanted to invest in this series—I just got side-tracked for awhile.

We pick up 3 months after the events in The Girl at Midnight, with the gang hiding out in London as Jasper recovers from injuries. Echo and Caius try to figure out what strange dark monster is terrorizing the world and how to keep his sister Tanith from using it to fight the firebird. They learn the kuçedra is a shadow monster born to balance the firebird’s light, and much like the firebird, it can house itself in a living vessel. More chaos ensues as Echo and Tanith try to get to it first, and there are a lot of casualties along the way.

Although this is much darker, as middle books usually are, there are still really fun moments of flirting and jokes to lighten the growing feeling of utter doom.  My favorite moments were several key conversations between Caius and Tanith, Echo and Rowan, and Jasper and Dorian. Everyone has a nuanced arc and it’s satisfying to see how much they’ve all grown up and grown together.

We finally get some backstory about several characters, most intriguingly Echo, and there are some good surprises in this fast-paced adventure. (And a cliff-hanger ending, so prepare yourself). I was most impressed by how the gravity of this book seemed to grow organically from the relatively light-hearted first installment. The writing isn’t overly flowery but there are some heartfelt descriptions that had me pause in admiration!

Definitely a worthy sequel and I’m excited to see how this wraps up this summer! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Shadow Hour is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor – The most noted similarities between this trilogy and Grey’s have fallen away now, and Echo stands on her own. But this is definitely an excellent series to try if you love Echo’s journey! Karou and Akiva struggle to trust each other and build up the chimaera to face the seraphs as exposure in the human world threatens everything. See my review here.
  • Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater – A music prodigy attracts a soul-eating faerie muse who offers to enhance his skills and must resist. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben must defend their hometown when the faeries in their neighboring forest start to get violent. See my review here.

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