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.

Our Own Private Universe

22082082by Robin Talley
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

I wanted a follow-up to “Georgia Peaches” and I was pretty happy with this one!

Aki has always wondered if she is bisexual, and a month in Mexico on a mission trip becomes a way for her to test her theories about herself and her life. An instant crush on Christa, a girl from another youth group quickly leads to explosive feelings between the two of them and a lot of hard decisions to make regarding who can know about their relationship and what exactly it means to each of them.

This story is high on the romance and high on the drama—honestly it reminded me a lot of high school and youth group experiences I had (the drama that is—anything LGBTQ did not fly) so I was pleasantly surprised to be hit with some nostalgia. Aki and Christa experience some instant-attraction that quickly becomes something more, but for me it didn’t veer into the “insta-love” category. I really liked Aki’s complicated relationship with her best friend and her older brother, and the fact that the mission trip never faded to the background. Aki and Christa must work their relationship around their chores and activities with the children, and it added a charming fish-out-of-water element to the plot. I was a bit uncomfortable with Aki choosing to call her relationship with Christa an “experiment” in the beginning (because she was testing her Bisexuality Theory for herself). It gets kind of convoluted with her wish to be more active instead of passive in her life generally, but I think it was clear that it was a quirk of Aki’s and not yielding to the stereotype.

It gets a bit heavy-handed towards the end because Aki helps organize a debate designed to educate the church members on social issues for the church conference coming up. (Several churches came together to do the mission trip and are trying to get the official organization statement put together for the conference). But overall, this was a fun fast read!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Our Own Private Universe 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 – 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.
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – A princess betrothed to a prince in a neighboring country moves there for her upcoming wedding. And while she desperately tries to feel something for her fiancé, she faces her growing attraction to his sister. So cute and romantic! 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.

What to read again:

Reading the previous books in a series a second time lets you soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—I find it makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

abyss surrounds us

This debut wowed me last year and I’m so excited for the sequel! (See my review here). In the future, genetically engineered monsters known as Reckoners protect trade ships on the high seas from ruthless pirates. Cas has been training her whole life to be a trainer assigned to a beast and a ship–but as you can guess, her first mission is a disaster. Captured by the Pirate Queen Santa Elena, Cas is forced to train a stolen Reckoner to attack trade ships. Her ambivalent ally on board is Swift, a girl with secrets and a questionable moral compass that keeps Cas on her toes–even as the pirate girl begins to touch her heart. There is so much packed into this slim book! I highly recommend it for a healthy dose of adrenaline, romance, and betrayals.

26219455

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.

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