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.

Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan

740082by Junichi Saga
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My lovely CP Ella rec’d this to me for Fox Story research and it was immensely helpful! Aside from that though, I just found it to be incredibly interesting.

Informative and brutally honest, this collection of interviews details life in a poor fishing village from a variety of perspectives. It was all fascinating, and made it feel like you were there. The sections are well-organized so that you can see how the different layers and branches of the town functioned together. Each section is short as well, as the person describes a specific detail of life. This kept the narrative focused and honestly, had me wishing for even more.

Anyone fortunate enough to get anecdotes like this from grandparents or great-grandparents knows the feeling of getting a sneak peek into the past. Not what a history book tells you or what a history teacher may have tried to instill (probably with limited success, bound as they are by the “Memorize these names and dates!” teaching philosophy). These are stories from experience, and they make you feel like you were there.

This period in Japanese history was a brutally impoverished time for most people, right before industrialization created wealth for so many (though these interviews express the dubious change in societal values as well).

I’m so glad this doctor saw the value in capturing these stories and viewpoints and I would love to see more books like this one about so many regions. I enjoyed reading this a few chapters at a time–it would probably be overwhelming to read in a few days!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Memories of Silk and Straw is available on Goodreads and on Alibris’ website here. (It is currently out of print, so secondhand stores are your friend).


Similar reads:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – An interesting memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the ‘70s. There are moments of humor and heartbreak as she grows to understand her mother’s alcoholism and the social issues of the time.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox – An anthropologist’s take on the quirks of modern British society that (in my limited experience) is spot on. Often hilarious, and definitely informative!
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – A really cute find I stumbled upon at the library! These stories are both funny and poignant, detailing her experiences in NYC in 1945 during a lively time in U.S. history.  Anyone who has worked in the service industry will find her snapshots interesting and relatable. Marjorie and her friend Marty were the first two women to work the shop floor at Tiffany & Co.

This Adventure Ends

27779275by Emma Mills
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this last year because it’s essentially my favorite color–I thought it would be fun (it definitely was!) but I did not expect to feel so connected to Sloane. I did not expect to feel like Emma Mills was calling me out on my sh*t. It’s a special book that makes you feel vulnerable, understood, and inspired without ever alienating you. So glad I randomly added this to my pile last fall!

But let me back up.

Sloane moves from NYC to Florida with her family for her senior year. She knows this would really piss off most seniors, but she doesn’t much care. She has turned “not caring too much” into an art form, until she breaks up a fight at a party and finds herself drawn into the dynamic and broken lives of popular twins Gabe and Vera. When a beloved painting from their deceased mother goes missing, Sloane makes it her mission to get it back.

Maybe I only connected to Sloane’s special brand of well-meaning earnestness that inevitably turns into awkwardness because it reminded me so strongly of myself, but I like to think the writing is strong enough to pull anyone in. It creates that wistful feeling that you wish you were friends with these characters.

This story revolves around the complicated nature of friendship, which is often overlooked in favor of romance. This one puts attraction on the backburner, choosing instead to study how you become and stay friends now that social media dominates the landscape (don’t worry, it doesn’t get all preachy about technology ruining Today’s Youth or anything). It actually just highlights how it’s harder to know if someone is your friend or just a follower, how you have a public persona and a deeply private one, and how you must reconcile those two sides of yourself. At times I felt guided along, but I did not mind.

What I really loved was the number of strained conversations between Sloane and everyone else. There aren’t snappy retorts and witty banter so much as the moments you feel you can’t tell the truth, so you give a one-word answer. You make a joke rather than addressing the real issue, even when the joke is terrible. Deflections rather than the deeper conversations. Finding ways to tell your friends you care without having to pull the words out. This book works hard in the best way—it’s a new favorite for me!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Another inseparable group of friends that you just want to be friends with (but possibly more so, because Magic). Blue, the psychic’s un-psychic daughter, joins a group of prep school boys to find a Welsh king in suspended animation so they can claim a wish. Or something. 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 have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A co-dependent anxiety-filled twin must spend her freshman year of college apart from her sister, and decide whether her roommate’s friend can draw her out of her fanfiction world and into the real one.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – Another 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.

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!


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  • 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).

A Conjuring of Light

29939230by V. E. Schwab
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

The perfect ending to this series! I so rarely enjoy the last book in a series as much as the others, but this one hit all the beats I could have asked for. The end for each character felt right—probably because they all experience deep loss. Don’t worry, no spoilers!

This book picks up the instant after the cliff-hanger ending of book 2, which is perfect because I had to know what happened to Lila! She charges into White London to save Kell, and it is nonstop action from there. Essentially, Kell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, and Holland must figure out if they can stop the warped magical incarnation Osaron before it destroys Red London in its quest for power. Of course, all the personal feuds and past history between them makes that task seem even more impossible.

Some of my favorite scenes in this series occur in this book! Lila in particular had me laughing out loud, and there are final revelations about magic in all the Londons that are clever and fun. It was probably important to include these moments to balance the relentless death and destruction. (Because it is absolutely relentless!)

Enjoy an excellent blend of dark magic, black humor, and awkward moments between these characters. It’s a bit faster-paced than the first two books and continues to build on everything I loved about the first two. Schwab stuck the landing and I can mark this trilogy as a new favorite series!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – A slow-burn story of dark magic in the wilderness of Rus’. One girl is destined by her mother to save her village from the growing power of the Bear. The atmosphere of this story is incredible and will keep a hold on you long after the last page! See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Because if you can’t get enough of magical doors in London you can read about Richard and how his encounter with the strange girl named Door sets off a chain of events that threaten everyone in the city.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A wonderfully dark story of a sorcerer and a girl with unusual magical talents that must learn to work together to save their land from the evil in the heart of their forest. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Even more adventures in magical futuristic London! Paige tries to gather voyants to her side as Scion’s threat grows. See my review here.

The Wolf Wilder

24885821by Katherine Rundell
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This is the perfect winter fairy tale! I loved every page of this story. Set in the heavy Russian winter a hundred years ago, we spend a week with Feo, the wolf wilder’s daughter.

Russian nobility started a trend of keeping beautiful wolves as pets—or as much of a pet as a wild wolf can really be. But when the wolf attacks a friend or the aristocrat tires of it, what happens to the wolf? It’s bad luck to kill one. So they make their way to Feo’s door for her mother to teach the wolf to be wild again, able to survive on its own after years of pampering.

But when General Rakov decides the half-wild wolves are pests, he will stop at nothing to kill them and everyone Feo loves if they don’t stop looking after the pack and keep the wolves away. When he imprisons her mother, Feo knows she and her half-wild wolves must save her.

Feo must traverse the wilderness outside St. Petersburg and find a way into the prison in only a week—but she and her wolves find surprising allies on her journey, and Feo realizes that sometimes people can provide comfort and help instead of just interrupting her solitude.

Full of charming and surprising side characters, true moments of darkness, and insightful comments on humans and the nature of community, this short story captivated me from start to finish! It’s the perfect blend of adventure and tension while keeping the mood of a legend told by the fire.

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


Similar reads:

  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Another wintry story, this time in Vermont. Two sisters cope with their mother’s death in different ways, but when Sylvi disappears, Jules must figure out how to go on alone—until a fox kit finds her. See my review here.
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker – A boy and his fox part ways when his father enlists in the army. But Peter soon realizes he shouldn’t have left Pax in the forest, and begins the journey back to find him. Meanwhile, Pax waits for his boy, learning all he can to survive until they are reunited. See my review here.
  • Risuko by David Kudler – Another girl accustomed to isolation is taken in by a noblewoman who runs a secret organization that might turn the tide in Japan’s war. Risuko just wants to climb, but she must also see if her fate has other plans. See my review here.
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin – Much darker and not about actual wolves. In alternate 1956, the Axis Powers won WWII and a desperate underground rebellion plans to assassinate Hitler at the Victor’s Ball for a grueling cross-continent motorcycle race. Yael is impersonating the only female racer, and she must win if she wants to take the shot that will avenge her family and friends. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – This may seem too dark to compare, but aspects of Feo’s character strongly reminded me of Alex Craft. This story is about her, and her attempt to fit in and be normal in a small town after her sister’s murder—and her own secret vengeance. See my review here.

A Gathering of Shadows

20764879by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

I loved the first book in this series from the first line (magic coats? Yes, there are never enough). In keeping with this fantastic year for sequels, this one completely lived up to my hopes! I put off reading it for a few months because of sequel fear, and now I’m glad I did that because the cliff-hanger ending is terrible and I have to wait months for the last book!

Set in Red London four months after the magic and mayhem in the previous book, we find Delilah Bard adrift at sea while Kell and Rhy deal with their newfound bond in the castle. A magical contest is scheduled to begin soon to unite the three empires in a traditional, peace-keeping event. Will this bring together our heroes in dangerous, unexpected, often hilarious and sexually charged ways? You know the answer to that!

Lila’s new temporary home aboard the Night Spire with Captain Alucard Emery highlights her acute confusion about her future as she achieves most everything she ever wanted yet still wants to run. Kell chafes at the new restrictions placed on him after the disaster months ago and tries to hide it from Rhy, which doesn’t work because Rhy now feels everything Kell feels.

Although the setup for the magical contest takes up most of the pages, if you love these characters you won’t mind the gradual buildup and relational drama as they reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves. Especially since relational drama was in very short supply in the first book. If you view the trilogy with each book taking Act 1, 2 or 3, it is flowing along perfectly in that respect. Welcome to Act 2 – dealing with the inciting incidents and how they want to handle future incidents. Enjoy some familiar tropes (magical contests) with addictive secrets and biting remarks.

My favorite thing about exploring any fantasy world is delving into the inner workings. Any book introduces the rudimentary aspects, but in a series you can go beyond the surface level and find surprising new things about how the magic works, or what the characters are responsible for, or new locations and favorite haunts. And in this case, tons of amazing coats as well. (Diana Wynne Jones ruined me, don’t judge me!)

If the most important thing for your enjoyment of a series is consistency, you will find that here! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Gathering of Shadows is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – If you just love mythical forms of London, soak up this vision of a futuristic underworld ruled by clairvoyants fighting against a regime that seeks to destroy them. Paige returns to her old haunts hoping to win her old boss Jaxon Hall to her cause—and when he seems hesitant she decides to fight on without him. See my review here.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – If you can’t get enough of angsty wizards in magical coats, enjoy some time with Wizard Howl as he avoids all responsibilities to multiple kingdoms and deals with Sophie, an infuriating girl under a spell who insists on seeing the best in him. See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Another version of London with strange magic and stranger inhabitants. Richard stops to help a strange girl on the streets and is pulled in to a battle for the city and for himself.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A village thinks their local sorcerer is the most dangerous thing they face, but the reality is much worse. Agnieszka becomes his unwilling apprentice and finds that she has unusual magic that might defeat the evil looming at the kingdom’s borders. See my review here.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – A magical competition between three sisters for the crown. A Poisoner, a Naturalist, and an Elemental must see who is strongest by killing their sisters before they kill her. See my review here.

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