The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

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“Would you do something bad if you knew it would have more good in it, in the end, than bad?”

Okay, I just want to start this review off that this book will forever be sentimental to me, not only because it was the first book I read this year and that I absolutely loved it, but also because it was the very first pick for the Dragons & Tea Book Club and the author came into the group and answered so many questions that made this one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. This book will just always have a special place in my heart now.

It all starts with seeing two boys breaking into a toy factory, which lands them in an asylum in 2003, and we get to see a dark and intense unfolding of what lead them to this action. We get to see their love for each other and the devotion they both have for one another. This story is told with a lot of multimedia elements that really helps make it feel even more real, and when the story gets darker the pages also become darker, which completely takes the story to another level in my opinion.

But The Wicker King essentially is a story about two high school boys from Michigan, who are both being extremely neglected in very different ways, and they find what they are missing within each other. We get to see August, and his perspective, as Jack starts to get hallucinations and is able to see a dark fantasy world on top of and coexisting with our world. August does everything to try to help Jack and get him to only see our reality, but August is also struggling with his mental health and isn’t heeding the advice of those around him to get help. To August, only Jack makes things better, and to Jack, August is the only one who can ground him.

“The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”

I’m not going to say Jack and August’s relationship is the healthiest, but it is so realistic and so what both of them needed so desperately in a world that made them feel alone. I ugly cried throughout most of this book partly because I wanted to help them both so badly and also because their intertwining spirals were so realistic and so heartbreaking.

“It was the debt. The river. It was his religion now.”

I also cried a lot because the side character, Rina, was so pure and helped ground these two lost boys so much. She gave them a safe place, she gave them solace, and she gave them unconditional love. She truly was the shining star of this book for me and my love grew for her right alongside these two boys.

I loved the mental health depictions in this book, and you can tell the care that the author took while writing this story. I also loved how queer this story is, and it makes me giggle that some people needed to be told that Jack and August had feelings for each other in the finished copy, because this entire book is a love letter to these two boys loving each other. Also, in terms of diversity besides sexuality and mental health, Rina is a person of color.

Overall, I just loved this book more than words. Being in August’s mind is an experience that I will never forget and that I will keep locked in my heart for all time. I cannot wait to start The Weight of the Stars next month, especially since K. Ancrum confirmed a glimpse at a polyamorous relationship that I guarantee is going to add five years onto my life. Lastly, this book has the best dedication and author’s note I’ve ever read in my entire life (and I’ve read a lot of books)!

“If you drop the weight you are carrying, it is okay. You can build yourself back up out of the pieces.”

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Content and trigger warnings for severe neglect, abandonment, panic attacks, depression depictions, underage drinking, and ableist speech.

This was the first pick in me and Amy‘s book club for 2019: Dragons and Tea Book Club!

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

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(My amazing friend Madalyn, at Novel Ink, gave this to me as a birthday gift!) 💖

“Of all the stories about my family, the Fernweh women and the island of By-the-Sea, there are two that no one will ever forget. One is the story of how my sister, Mary, and I were born. And the other is the story of the summer we turned eighteen. This summer.”

This was nothing short of a beautiful delight to read. This was moving, and powerful, and magical, and sweet, yet also heartbreaking. This reads like a mix between Girl Made of Stars and The Wicked Deep, and if you love either (bonus points for both) then you will completely love this story, too!

This book is set on a very small island, where Georgina and Mary’s graduating class only consisted of 30ish kids. This summer is not only Georgina and Mary’s eighteenth birthday, but it is also the last summer before they leave the island for the first time to go away to college. Their mother runs the inn that has been in their family for many generations. Yet, no one really stays until the summer solstice, when a magical bird comes to the island and attracts so many tourists.

Georgina – Our main character, a lesbian, and a witch who has not discovered her power(s).
Mary – Georgina’s twin sister, who has already discovered that her power allows her to float in midair.
Vira – Georgina’s best friend, who works at the local ice cream parlor, who is aroace, and my freakin’ favorite.
Prue – Visiting the island, bisexual, and has feelings for Georgina.
Harrison – Prue’s brother, who has come to the island to see a bird that appears every summer.
Annabella – The magical, one of a kind, bird, who also might be somehow related to Georgina and Mary.

“I think a person can be a home, sometimes, just as much as a place or a house can.”

The entire island, and all of these character’s lives change when Annabella doesn’t make her annual arrival to the island. Georgina makes it her mission to not only find out what happened to Annabella, but also what happened to her sister, Mary, because she is acting really depressed and secretive. Georgina also is trying to figure out if she will never manifest any magical abilities like most of the women in her family, and she is also realizing that maybe she has real feelings for someone visiting the island this summer.

Yet, this book also has a darker message about rape and rape culture and the topic is laced throughout the entire story, so please use caution. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship with the person. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex before. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve said before. It doesn’t matter any circumstances; if it’s not consensual then it is rape. Rape culture is so real, so apparent, and so very much thriving in 2018. And for anyone who needs it, especially right now: I believe you.

“Because there was nothing in a girl’s history that might negate her right to choose what happens to her body.”

This is also a story about sisterhood, and unconditional love, and it discusses the sacrifices that we are willing to make to help the ones we love. This is a book about sexuality and those moments when you feel so validated and you feel like you are finally the person you’ve always wanted to be. This is a book about community, and found family, and respecting your family heritage, culture, and customs.

“How I would miss you—every part of you—but especially the smell, always the smell: of salt, of brine, of water, of spells, or potions, or feathers, and of what it would mean to leave it all in just two months.”

Overall, I just loved this. I think it’s the perfect blend of light and dark. It feels so whimsical since witchcraft is delicately folded in to this story, but it feels so hard-hitting and realistic, too. The messages, discussions, and themes are important and life changing. The characters feel completely fleshed out and I couldn’t help but fall in love with all of them. Plus, the f/f romance in this was magnificent and gave me all the feels. And this story is written so very lyrically, that I never wanted it to end, because I wanted to stay on this island with these characters forever. I truly loved this, and I think it’s one of the best 2018 publications. I recommend it with my entire heart and soul.

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Content and trigger warnings for off page rape and sexual assault, mention of drugging people without them knowing (not in a date rape way, but it still felt bad to read), underage drinking, drug use, anxiety depictions, and an animal death.

Buddy read with Taryn at Taryn and Her Books! ❤

 

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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“You found me in a constellation.”

Friends, I loved this story. And if the ending was a little different, this would have been such an easy five star read. I love books centered on creators on the internet. While reading this, I was constantly reminded of one my favorite books of all time, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. Which, I’m not really sure if here is any higher praise than to be compared to that book.

But basically, this book is all about putting yourself out there, carving yourself a little home on the internet, and feeling like you belong, even if your life offline isn’t the easiest to understand. And this book follows two characters very invested with the same fandom

Eliza Mirk – AKA: LadyConstellation, creator of one of the biggest webcomics online, Monstrous Sea.

Wallace Warland – The new boy that just joined Eliza’s school halfway through senior year. Oh, and Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer.

“You wrote back…”

Eliza and Wallace’s paths inevitably cross, and he begins to share with her the fanfiction transcribes of the webcomic she has secretly created. And these two meeting offline was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve read all year, even though Wallace has no idea just how much Eliza is invested in this fandom. I think there is just something so beautiful about how accepting and understanding they were of the times that it’s hard to talk, or that it’s almost too much to talk. Honestly, seeing them write back and forth together, side by side, gives me more feelings than I have words for. But I loved it and thought it was so very beautiful.

This book is a love letter to the power of healing that friendships can truly have. Yet, also the healing power of fandoms and celebrating your love for something with others. The magic of finding a person you can be yourself, your true self, no masks, no fakeness, no lies, it’s something that I can’t put into words. But seeing Eliza and Wallace experience that was perfection.

But this is a story about art and how sharing your art is truly like sharing a piece of your heart. And this book really talks about how scary that can be! Yet, also how your art can inspire so many others’ art and it really can create such a beautiful cycle.

And not to bring up Radio Silence constantly, but this book also touches upon how school isn’t for everyone, no matter what people try to make you think. That there isn’t some magical step program of getting good grades in school that will lead you to an amazing university on a full-paid scholarship, which will obviously lead you to the perfect job where you will become filthy rich and experience nonstop happiness! People have so many paths they can choose from, and so many paths that are right and wrong for them. And that’s beautiful and that’s okay.

“She drew so many monsters that she became a monster herself.”

Overall, I loved this book. Fandoms and having an online presence are things that I think I’ll always enjoy reading about, because it’s something very close to my heart. I will say that Wallace’s behavior at the end of this book, and the reason why he wanted Eliza to overcome it all, was just off-putting. But besides that, I loved this book. It made me soft, and warm, and ever so thankful to every single person who reads my reviews and interacts with me. Seriously, you all make me feel so blessed every single day and bring me more happiness than I can measure.


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Content and trigger warnings for suicidal thoughts, talk of past suicide, panic attacks, abandonment, minor bullying, talk of past loss of loved ones, grief depictions, and depression depictions.

❤ I read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

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“Born to survive the storm
Born to survive the flood”

This summer I read Radio Silence by Alice Oseman and it became my favorite contemporary of all-time. I fell so in love with her writing, her characters, and her messages, that I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist picking up something else by her. And I Was Born For This was completely another win for me.

(Art by Alice!) 🌧️

We get to see six characters come together, over the course of a week:

Angel/Fereshteh Rahimi – The biggest fan of The Ark. Eighteen, Muslim, and I felt like they were on the Ace spectrum.

Jimmy Kaga – Lead singer for The Ark. Eighteen, Christian, biracial (Italian and Indian), gay, and trans. Also, Jimmy deals with a lot of anxiety and depression.

Juliet Schwartz – Eighteen and Angel’s best friend that she was introduced to on the internet and is meeting for the first time to see The Ark together.

Lister Bird – The Ark’s drummer. Eighteen, white, bi, pan or some MGA, and I believe is dealing with depression and alcohol abuse.

Bliss Lai – My biracial (Chinese and white) and bisexual queen. And she is sort of the reason Angel and Jimmy’s worlds cross.

Rowan Omondi – Lyricist and cello player for The Ark. Nineteen, Nigerian, Christian, and is secretly dating Bliss so the fandom won’t harass her.

And, as always, Alice Oseman has shined a spotlight on the importance of friendship; both on and offline. Angel is going to London to meet the band who has meant the world to her for many years now. This book is told in alternating perspectives of Angel and Jimmy and we truly get to see the difference between what the fans see and what the band feels.

This book heavily talks about the “good side” of fandoms and the “bad side” of fandoms throughout the entire story. And I’ve never really been obsessed with a “boy band” but I have for been a part of fandoms that have quite literally saved my life. Sometimes you have to put your time, energy, and passion into something other than your “real life” to feel like you belong, and that’s valid. Hell, that’s more than valid; it’s amazing. Angel for sure uses The Ark for escapism and for a sense of belonging, and we get to see the good, the bad, and all the in-between moments.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything except The Ark.”

My biggest problem with this book though does lie with the fact that the fanbase for The Ark (Angel included) really ship Jimmy and Rowan together. And I completely understand that this is a book, but in the setting these fans are shipping real life people together, and it for sure feels like fetishizing a m/m relationship in every sense. And I know that people actually do that in 2018, but it is so gross that it honestly just made me want to take a hot shower and scrub my skin every time Angel and Juliet would talk about it.

I will also say though, the ending of this book was not satisfying for me. I mean, I couldn’t put the book down; I was so captivated and enthralled. I swear, no one writes realistic contemporaries like Alice Oseman and her stories are just so consumable. But this one just left me wanting so much more, but not in a good way. And, selfishly, without spoilers? I wanted Angel to have more confirmed friendships at the end of this book. And I just, I wanted to make sure that everyone was okay. Radio Silence feels open ended sort of, too, but the difference is that it feels satisfying. When I closed the last page of this book, I had a million more questions than the entire time while reading.

But this book, for me, really was a love letter to mental health awareness and how important it is to always put your mental health first. From anxiety, to paranoia, to depression, to just questioning your worth, you have to put yourself first. A lot of the time, people will expect to take more than you are willing to give, and this book really shines a light on the importance of learning and knowing your limits. And how it is okay to say no, or take time for yourself, especially when you are uneasy about something.

“I tend to constantly dread things, even when the ‘things’ aren’t actually dreadful.”

Overall, I still really enjoyed this. I think Alice’s books are honestly going to be classics one day. I truly feel like she captures my current life, current day, better than any author on this planet. And she puts so much in her books, from racial rep, to different religions, to sexual rep, to mental health. I would still recommend this with my entire heart, and I feel like if you have been a part of “boy band culture” you will relate even more than I did. Oh, and I was fucking living for the Joan of Arc tie-ins and mentions. Alice Oseman is a gift to the world.


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Content and trigger warnings for talk of suicide and not wanting to be alive, depression, anxiety depiction, panic attacks, talk of past forced coming out/outing, talk of past loss of a loved one, alcohol abuse, abandonment, parental abandonment, and assault (one scene where a fan performs an act of violence against a band member).

Buddy read with May at Forever and Everly & Lily at Sprinkles of Dreams! ❤