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.
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The Emotional Craft of Fiction

28915986by Donald Maass
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My CP’s recommended this to me and I’m so glad they did! Packed with practical wisdom and insight, it’s one of the best craft books I’ve read.

Many books about writing novels focus on the elements of a novel. The plot, setting, characters, pacing, etc. All of those are important, but this book takes a different approach. If the most important element of the reading experience is how a book makes you feel, approach all of the tent poles of a novel with the emotional effects in mind. The best story in the world falls flat if it doesn’t connect emotionally. When you recommend a book, isn’t it because it made you feel something or think about something in a new way? I know that’s definitely true for me!

Broken into sections that highlight the inner and outer journeys of the character, and the journey of the writer in bringing that character to life, it lays out tips for what causes our emotional reactions to fiction and how to guide those reactions to create the resonance you intended. It’s definitely not easy, but the rewards are huge.

I found this to be immensely helpful, and much less condescension towards women / genre writing than is typical in craft books (at least in my experience!). There’s also a helpful checklist in the back of all the techniques covered, so you can quickly refer to them. This is one I will be referring to a lot going forward!

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


Similar reads:

  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – I’ve heard great things about this screenwriting book and I keep meaning to check it out! Many authors recommend this as one of the most helpful books they read.
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

32191710by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is perfect for anyone like me, anyone with a lot of questions about complicated matters and who isn’t entirely sure how to Google them. I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot!

Perhaps the most charming element of this book (aside from corny humor) is that the response “We don’t know yet” is presented with excitement rather than embarrassment. The sense of wonder in this tiny volume is pervasive and infectious!

Organized roughly chronologically and small-to-large, the chapters discuss topics ranging from the origins of the universe, spheres, and chemical compounds to life on other planets, dark matter, and stars. There’s a lot of information packed into this book and it truly is ideal for picking up to read 20 pages at a time. And despite taking some of the greatest mysteries humans have encountered, it presumes only a high school level of education and is easy to understand.

Highly recommend for everyone! I’ll probably check out more of his books–somehow he’s had time to write quite a few.

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


Similar reads:

  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – Another slim volume packed with bite-size insights about links between seemingly unrelated events. I really enjoyed this and it’s great for learning to organize information in your mind differently than you’d expect.
  • The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Another short book that ruthlessly pares down your possessions to only those that “spark joy” in you, leading to a simpler, presumably happier life. Or if not happier, definitely less stressful. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although perhaps not quite as informative on a grand scale, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size. 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.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

28110858by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

I found this little book while browsing a hole-in-the-wall bookshop on the Venice Beach boardwalk. The title charmed me, the jacket intrigued me, and the first chapter pulled me in–I brought it home and I finally read it by the pool, utterly absorbed!

Bailey was struck with a sudden, severe illness at age 34 that left her bedridden, unable to perform the smallest tasks without fatigue and pain. She spends years in near-isolation, with doctors baffled and her friends unsure how to relate. But one day a friend brings a pot of violets with a small woodland snail they found, and leaves it on her nightstand because she “might enjoy it.” Wryly, Bailey wonders how a person “enjoys” a snail. Honestly, this is what amused me enough to buy the book–I shared her skepticism over this small, slimy creature!

As the days passed and she spent days unable to do much but watch the snail explore its new environment, she became acquainted with its habits, its interesting skills, and–yes–its personality! The snail’s pace closely matched her own, and her curiosity about it sustained her through the frustrations and setbacks of her illness. The chapters chronicle many interesting facets of snail life and behavior, and she always manages to tie it back to our lives with humorous or pithy remarks.

The book is broken up into six parts, and each part felt like a small meditation on life and our place in the world. I highly recommend it as a means of coping with stress–it’s a good reminder of what a life lived means and that no life is big or small–it’s just a life.

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


Similar reads:

  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – One woman’s journey along 1,000 miles of the PCT in an attempt to heal her heart from devastating loss. See my review here.
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A short, cute memoir about the first two floor girls working for a summer at Tiffany & Co. in New York City in 1945. Anyone who has been a transplant from the Midwest to a big city, or has worked in the service industry, will enjoy her snapshots of retail life filled with diamonds and celebrities.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – A fish out of water account of moving to Paris and attempting to build a new life. I found his stories to be funny and informative, and the recipes are decadent!

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