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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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 Secret Horses of Briar Hill

25488299by Megan Shepherd
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This beautiful little story feels fresh and familiar. I absolutely loved it!

I’m not sure that I can write a better review than Maggie Stiefvater’s. This story seems deceptively light until you pay attention to the details Emmaline notes (or omits) as you piece together clues not only about the winged horses in the mirrors of the mansion-turned-hospital but to the people there and the war going on and the childrens’ health. You want to believe Emmaline’s charming, sweet, sharp voice–especially when her emotions cut at you with their resonance.

Emmaline and several other children with the “stillwaters” live with a few nuns that care for them as the war rages in Europe. They’ve all lost people and their pasts. Some of them have accepted this. Others choose to hope that if they can wait long enough, everything will go back to the way it was before. Emmaline has seen winged horses in the mirrors of the house since she arrived, but nobody else can see them. When a wounded horse turns up in the garden on her side of the mirrors, Emmaline vows to the Horse Lord that she will protect Foxfire from the Black Horse that hunts for her.

Deftly woven into Emmaline’s mission are the fragile lives of the children, the nuns, and the groundskeeper, Thomas. Surviving each day is its own victory, and everyone has to hunt for moments of joy, beauty, and light amidst their gray, war-torn existence. The atmosphere and adventure in this story evoked so much emotion in me–I know I’ll be rereading this many times.

The perfect read for Christmastime – magical realism for a magical time of year!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – A young girl leaves her life in India behind for fresh start in the moors of England. Then she learns she isn’t the only child staying in the manor, and there are secrets everywhere to be uncovered. Timeless and magical!
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Sisters Sylvi and Jules are inseparable, especially after their mother’s death. But when Sylvi disappears too, Jules is left to wonder how she and her father can continue on. A fox kit observes this from the forest, knowing she is meant to help this sad girl. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Carolina’s family spends a summer at her grandfather Serge’s remote desert ranch to pack it up for sale. But Serge’s strange tales begin to seep in to house, and Carolina isn’t sure that he is making them up. See my review here.
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – A lone unicorn tries to find the rest of her kind as she travels the wide world. This story is short and beautiful, I wish I had read it sooner!
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Four siblings go to the countryside to be safe from the war. Lucy pokes around the old house’s disused rooms and find a wardrobe that transports her to a magical kingdom, but her siblings don’t believe her until they see it for themselves–and become drawn into a war between good and evil for the fate of the land called Narnia.
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Another story about horses, but these prefer to eat humans rather than befriend them. Puck is the first girl to enter the deadly race, where only the survivor gets the winner’s purse. See my review here.

Bone Gap

18806240by Laura Ruby
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a magical realism kick this year, and I love it! If you haven’t read magical realism, it’s basically our ordinary world crossed with completely unexplained events (like a paranormal TV show) – except the characters aren’t surprised by the strange magic at all.

In Bone Gap, Illinois, Finn and Sean keep up their house and their garden, and they don’t speak about what happened two months earlier – when Roza, the love of the town, was kidnapped. Finn saw the man who took her, but his description hasn’t helped police, and the town blames him for Roza’s disappearance. When Finn befriends Petey, the beekeeper’s daughter, strange events start happening, and Finn is newly determined to find Roza before it’s too late.

It’s the language of this book that makes the story so moving. The relationships leap off the page with their cruelly accurate portrayals of how we treat each other based on appearance. How beauty is a currency, how unhappiness with yourself causes you to rip someone else apart to feel better. How sometimes we just want a good story to tell our friends when we should be helping someone else. How feminism can come in many forms. The small town perfectly encapsulates the best and worst of people–and the magic will keep you guessing Finn and Roza’s fates until the end. There is so much to pick apart here, this is good for several rereads.

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


Similar reads:

  • 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.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Two sisters in Vermont coping with the loss of their mother don’t live in any ordinary forest. When Sylvi goes missing too, Jules is left alone to figure out what to do. At the same time, a tiny fox knows she has a connection to the sad girl in the woods. See my review here.
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – Not magical realism, but it is set in the Midwest (portrayed so accurately!) and follows two teens who meet at the top of the school’s tower for different reasons. When they both agree not to jump, their relationship is just beginning. See my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – This YA fantasy story is a subtle Beauty and the Beast retelling with bees and honey. Mirasol becomes the next Chalice, responsible for keeping unity in the government as they rule their magical land. If she can’t make the land accept their new Master, a Priest of Fire, everything will be destroyed. See my review here.

Hour of the Bees

22453777by Lindsay Eagar
YA Contemporary / Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 8, 2016

I loved this story! When I wasn’t reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Where to even begin…

Things that I loved? Magical realism! So well done, so beautiful. The descriptions of the desert – lovely. The food – you will be so hungry! The family dynamic–Carolina’s relationship with her grandfather, her older sister, her parents. She’s 12, that in-between age of growing up but knowing you’ll never be a kid again. Also, because she’s 12, this book is sitting comfortably between YA and MG which as you know from my previous posts, I find interesting. This book is quite long for MG and tackles some heavier themes as well, but the writing is simplistic and Carolina is too young to be a typical YA protagonist. Enjoy sorting this!

Carolina’s family is traveling to her grandfather’s remote sheep ranch to pack up the house and move her grandfather to an assisted living home because of his dementia. A 100-year drought has left the land cracked and worthless. Carolina has never met her grandfather, Serge, because her father has refused to see him for 12 years. Serge doesn’t understand why his family rejects their heritage and roots. Moments between her parents and her grandfather are tense. Her older sister, Alta, just wants to escape the ranch with her boyfriend whenever possible. Serge doesn’t want to leave his home, and insists that Carolina watch for bees, because “the bees will bring back the rain.” Carolina is in the middle of it all, forced to confront how she really feels about her roots, her family, and her future.

Carolina wants the truth of of her family’s past, but she ends up hearing a fantastical tale about a magical tree, bees, and a village of people who never grew old. She isn’t sure whether Serge believes the story he’s telling her, but when bees begin following her around the ranch, she wants to believe it.

This story is beautifully told – I highly recommend checking this out if you want something with complicated families and an unforgettable atmosphere. The theme of what makes a truly full life will have you thinking about this book long after you finish it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Hour of the Bees 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 – Another lovely book about finding your identity amidst tragic circumstances. Paige’s first boyfriend died in a freak drowning accident, and now she faces junior year as The Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned. Amazing female friendships and a touching relationship between Paige and her aging grandmother. 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.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not thrilled with her father’s stepfamily, and when she learns her mother is sick, she takes an impromptu road trip to go see her. See my review here.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Junior decides to save his own future by leaving the reservation to attend the white school, where the only other Indian is the mascot. An emotional story of what it means to find yourself while staying true to your family.
  • 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.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Another touching story of sisters in Vermont coping with their mother’s death. When Sylvi disappears, Jules is left alone to navigate her new world. Nearby, a tiny fox is doing the same thing. Beautiful magical realism! See my review here.
  • 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.

Maybe a Fox

25785754by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

It’s probably not a secret that I love foxes! This beautiful cover grabbed me at once and the jacket summary was so intriguing I had to spring for it! I struggle to define “magical realism” clearly but I think this qualifies. There are spirit animals and wish rocks mixed in with the woods of Vermont and two sisters catching the bus to school. There are beautifully concrete descriptions of fresh snow crunching down to the ice beneath it, and there are casual mentions of burning wishes and the return of a catamount. This story is just gorgeous but the writing is so simple if you aren’t careful you miss it. I loved it!

Sylvie and Jules are 12 and 11, fast and slow, halves of a whole. They lost their mother six years before, and Jules regrets that her memories are slipping away. Without Sylvie and Dad, she wouldn’t remember at all. Jules hates that Sylvie is always leaving her behind, but a fresh snowfall late in the spring brings them back together as they build snow families in their yard. Sylvie runs down to the river bordering their property to throw in a wish rock (a tradition) but she runs so fast she falls into the rushing water. At the same time, a fox kit named Senna is born. She is kennen–a spirit animal–and she knows her job is to comfort a sad human girl above her den.

These two stories are intertwined with Sam’s, a neighbor boy hoping his older brother Elk will return to his pre-war self now that he’s home. This tiny, vivid Vermont town of grieving people is heart-wrenching and hopeful, too. The sibling dynamics, the mythology surrounding the wish rocks, the fox family–all done with loud brushstrokes and soft moments of introspection. Jules asks big questions about loss and you’re left to decide answers for yourself. It’s hard to say more without spoilers. I wanted this story to be longer because I loved it so much–add it to your list!

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


Similar reads:

  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker – Peter and Pax are inseparable, until Peter’s father enlists and orders Peter to get rid of the fox so that he can go live with his uncle. As soon as Peter arrives at his grandfather’s house, he knows it was a mistake to abandon Pax. He runs away to reunite with his fox. Pax is having adventures of his own as he waits for his boy to return. Neither of them will be quite the same when they find each other. See my review here.
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl – I confess I haven’t read this yet but I loved the movie (I know, I know). A clever fox must save his family from vindictive farmers with his most daring (perhaps fantastic?) plan yet.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery – A stranded pilot encounters a little prince from space who comes to learn about life on Earth. This short book is incredible and enduring. See my review here.
  • Pegasus by Robin McKinley – A lengthy novel detailing two cultures that attempt to live symbiotically despite their near inability to communicate. Twelve-year-old princess Sylvi is more than ready to bond with her ceremonial pegasus. She knows that only with the help of translators will she and her pegasus be able to communicate and guide their nations together in peace. But Sylvi and Ebon can talk easily on their own, and it leads them both to wonder what other secrets lie between their nations and what it means for their alliance. In typical McKinley fashion there is intense world-building and subtle character development, but this is an immersive story that gets very enjoyable about 1/3 of the way through.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – This story about Carolina helping her family pack up her grandfather’s southwestern ranch to sell is incredibly well-done! Magical realism at its best. Carolina’s grandfather Serge is being put in an assisted living home against his will. His dementia is getting worse, and Carolina isn’t sure what to make of his strange story about bees “bringing back the rain.” Until bees start following her around. See my review here.

The Walls Around Us

18044277by Nova Ren Suma
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars

I read her debut novel Imaginary Girls almost two years ago, and it remains one of my favorite stories due to the unreliable narration from the characters. Nova Ren Suma mixes supernatural elements within everyday reality in such a way that you never really know what is true, even at the end. Spanish literature has a whole sub-genre of this called “magical realism” and it creates beautiful but chilling plots with characters you can never trust.

This story uses the same techniques with the dual narration from Violet and Amber, but I didn’t enjoy this one as much. There are fewer moments of shocking realization–instead we wander in confusion between the past and present until the climactic moment of revelation, and it wasn’t nearly as surprising or satisfying.

Violet’s dreams of attending Juilliard to become a prima ballerina are about to come true. Amber has been locked up for so long she doesn’t know what a normal life would be like. Caught between them is the impossibly sweet Orianna, a talented ballerina who nurtured Violet’s lesser skills and finds herself wrongfully accused of a terrible crime.

Neither of the characters were compelling to me, and once it became clear that not much was going to happen before the ending, I kept with the story mostly to know the final twist. It was hard for me to connect to any of the characters. For there to be any secrets or doubts about the plot, Violet and Amber have to be misleading, but in this instance they were so guarded it was hard to care about their problems or vague motivations. I gave it three stars for the writing itself, but I hope to like her next book much more.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Walls Around Us is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – Her first story featuring an adoring but toxic relationship between two sisters growing up in a town with a reservoir that harbors some dark secrets. It’s haunting and beautiful, so don’t let Chloe’s opinions annoy you.
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Hannah Baker killed herself, and names Clay as one of the reasons why she did it. As Clay listens to her thirteen cassette tapes to get her side of the story, he comes to realize how connected every choice is to the people around him. This is suspenseful and sad, and most people find Hannah to be a polarizing character, but you’ll probably finish it in two days.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar – This isn’t as dark as any of the other books mentioned here, but it does follow Stanley Yelnatz in a youth detention camp as he digs holes and finds out nothing is what it seems at Camp Greenlake.

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