With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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💛 Please check out Johely’s amazing, ownvoices review!

“And so at the age of four, I learned someone could cry from a happy memory.”

With the Fire on High is an ownvoices story, following an Afro-Latinx main character named Emoni. Emoni is a young mom, who got pregnant her freshman year of high school, but this book takes place during her senior year, and her school just opened up registration for a culinary class. Emoni has loved cooking and crafting recipes her entire life, but she is apprehensive to sign up for the new class because at the end of the year there is a trip to Spain that she doesn’t think that she can afford.

Emoni lives with her abuela, and even though her daughter’s father is in her daughter’s life, he does not help out with expenses and money is very tight, along with Emoni’s free time. She is always working part time at a burger joint, and for sure doesn’t have time to even think about dating, until a new boy comes to the school, and joins the brand-new culinary class.

Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is just on another level. Her passages and one-liners leave me breathless and speechless. You can tell that she puts her entire heart and soul into every line she delivers, and it just makes this entire book shines so very brightly.

And the themes, from being a young parent and motherhood and what it means to be both of those things when people judge you for them constantly. To how sometimes family aren’t able to be what you wish they were, whether that means closer in distance and/or support. To being mixed race, and how Emoni’s Puerto Rican half will never erase her Black half, regardless of what ignorant people choose to say.

“The whole of me is whole.”

This is a story about connecting with your culture(s), and loving all of the parts of yourself, through food and through family, and it’s honestly so expertly done and so beautifully executed. Reading this entire story made me crave so many of the recipes that Emoni was making, but it made me crave my family’s food and company so very fiercely. Upon finishing, I actually went to the store, came home, and made Pancit and felt so very happy and so very whole.

Overall, this is just such a beautiful book with such a beautiful message. From feeling the closeness to Emoni, both naturally and her trying her hardest, to seeing the closeness of a community come together, it just made for such a powerful read and really left me feeling every emotion. Elizabeth Acevedo is a gift to the world and I can’t wait to read everything she will ever write.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: Abandonment, loss of a loved one in the past, medical anxiety/scares, talk of abortion, underage drinking, and use of the word g*psy that is 100% completely challenged.

You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

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ARC given to me by my amazingly kind friend – Kayla! at Books & Blends!

“You felt so deeply, and for so long, that your very sadness grew limbs and walked away from you. You have moved mountains, Magpie Lewis, and you are only just getting started.”

Katrina Leno is truly a gift to this world, and I’m not sure what the world has done to deserve her, her words, or her stories, but I’m forever thankful. You Must Not Miss is a masterful expose on rape culture and the things that everyone is willing to do instead of believing girls. And this is one of the best things I’ve read all year.

You Must Not Miss is a story about a girl named Magpie who is a sophomore in high school, lives in a small town called Father in New England, and whose life has drastically changed in the past three months. The abandonment in this book actually hurts my soul to think about, but basically Magpie first found her father cheating, and then something horrible happened to her, and then her father left, and then her best friend left, and finally her sister left. Magpie is now living alone with her mother, who is an alcoholic and unwilling to contribute anything to the household. And, friends, Magpie’s grief tries to be so silent, but you will be unable to hear anything other than its loudness, and it’s one of the most heartbreaking reads I’ve endured.

“Last summer her sister had been home, her father had been discreet, her mother had been sober…”

But when Magpie discovers a portal to a new world called Near, where she controls what happens to everyone, she starts to carve out a little bit of her own happiness. And she even finds a new friend, named Hither, who helps her learn about this new world and the abilities at her fingertips.

Yet, we also get to see Magpie’s reality, trying to go to a high school where people hate her, and trying to navigate the halls to ignore someone who was her best friend for all her life. Someone who she loved unconditionally. Someone who knows the truth and refuses to believe her. But we also get to meet some of Magpie’s new friends who have also been ostracized; Clare, who is carrying her own grief, Brianna, who was humiliated once over something natural that she couldn’t control, Luke, who is bisexual, and even the start of a something more than friendship with a trans boy named Ben.

My full trigger warnings will be at the end of this review, but I am going to talk about sexual assault in this review, so please use caution and make sure you are in the right head-space before reading any further.

“I’ve thought an awful lot about how many times a girl has to say no before a guy really believes her.”

This book is a big fuck you to rape culture and I was living for every single word on every single page. People don’t even want to believe girls when they know it’s the truth, and that’s the saddest fact of them all. Sexual abuse and rape culture are normalized every single day, and every time some ignorant person talks about how much the victim drank, what the victim wore, what position the victim put themselves in, even how many times the victim said yes before saying no. When none of that matters, rape is rape, regardless of any light you want to shine on it to make excuses you use to try to put the blame on the victim. And, again, this only helps to normalize the horrible things people are justifying doing because powerful people prove that they are able to get away with committing these horrible acts over and over again. And it’s just going to continue if we don’t commit to breaking these horrible cycles.

There is just so much good in this story, and it’s heartbreaking, truly, but it’s such a real heartbreak that so many of us will experience, while so many of us wish for our own Near to escape into. While talking to my friend Madalyn, she said that Summer of Salt is a quiet book about rape culture, where You Must Not Miss is an extremely loud take on, and that’s honestly the most perfect sentence in the world to describe these two books that I gave five stars to. Because sometimes you need to yell when you live in a world that does everything to prove over and over again that it doesn’t want to believe you.

Lastly, this story, and the way it is told, also is loosely inspired by “One for Sorrow”, and a genius interpretation that Katrina Leno gave us of it. From the title, to the chapter headers, to secrets that are never to be told. Like, I stan a creative genius who renders me speechless, because holy shit did Katrina Leno execute it perfectly.

“If she has learned anything in life, it was that you could always do without people. You could always find a way to do without them.”

Overall, I’m going to be really honest with you; this ending is a wild one. I can see a lot of people loving it completely, and some not liking it at all. This book has so many speculative elements, and I adored it with the sum of my being, but I know that that isn’t for everyone. But this book just meant the world to me, and it was so powerful, and so thought-provoking. Truly, me and my friends spent hours talking about the ending of this book, and it just made me cherish the book even more. And I promise, I’ll carry this story and Magpie in my heart forever.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for talk of suicide, bullying, talk of past cheating, underage drinking, alcoholism, abandonment, talk of rape, talk of date rape, semi graphic oral rape, abusive friendships, abusive parents, and anxiety attacks.

Buddy read with Jane! ❤

 

When Summer Ends by Jessica Pennington

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ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“Why did we have to meet the summer before I move away?”

When Summer Ends is a really cute read that is going to be absolutely perfect for summer this year. This is a tale about two people learning who they are, and who they want to be, while also supporting one another, and maybe even falling for each other, too! But they also have to decide if this is just going to be a summer fling, because both of their lives are going to change drastically in three months! This was heartwarming and truly smile-inducing, and I think is really going to make an amazing beach read during the warmer temperatures!

Aiden – Starting pitcher for the varsity baseball team, but his true passion is drawing. He has felt an immense amount of pressure to live up to everyone else’s baseball expectations, but after a playing accident, instead of spending the summer away at baseball camp, he is going to be working at this dad’s company, River Depot. Which becomes extremely popular with tourists ever summer.

Olivia – Lives with her aunt, who just received an amazing job opportunity in Arizona, which means this could very well be the last summer in Michigan for her. Her estranged mother agrees to stay with her, while she tries to enjoy the summer working at none other than River Depot with Aiden.

And these two young adults quickly realize that they need to make the best out of these next three months of summer, because once it is over their senior years of high school will change everything.

My only real complaints are that the problems in this book really never felt like problems. They for sure felt like the set up of problems, but things always seemed to resolve quickly, and I never really felt scared about what was going to happen. And this is totally fine and valid, just not something that I completely enjoy reading. Also (and this kind of goes with what I just said), I just really didn’t love the storyline with Olivia’s mother, which was for sure such a big part of this story.

I will also say that I thought there was going to be hearing and visual disability rep in this book, which there was, but it was only temporary visual and hearing disabilities. So, I also felt a little down about that, but I didn’t have it impact my rating or anything like that. But please be warned if you are going into this also looking forward to reading about that representation.

But I loved the main characters, I loved seeing them rely on one another, I loved seeing them grow as people singularly, but also grow together, and I loved every scene with the two of them! I especially loved the Michigan setting, because there are few things more beautiful that Michigan’s lakes in the summer time, and it really made me feel like I was back home. Overall, I do recommend this one! And I can’t wait to pick up the author’s debut, Love Songs & Other Lies, very soon!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and Content Warning for abandonment, neglect, and underage drinking.

Buddy Read with Felicia, Mir, & TBR & Beyond! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

 

Once & Future (Once & Future, #1) by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

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ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

“Buried in the trunk of the thousand-year-old oak was a sword.”

I have a very big soft spot in my heart for Arthurian legend and I will never turn down a retelling of the epic tale. And when I heard that we were going to get an ownvoices series, written by a couple, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. Also, Morgana is one of my favorite villains of all time, and I actually think Once & Future is one of my favorite interpretations of her, ever.

King Arthur is a story about a king who was betrayed by the people he loved most in the world. He was trained and befriended by a wizard named Merlin, who helped guide him to become the king his people needed. He tried to fight for his people, and do what he believed was right for them, but in the end it was not enough for Camelot or his Knights of the Round Table.

Once & Future completely takes that tale and turns it on its head, making something really unique and really fun. Merlin and Morgana are magic wielders who sleep while waiting for the next Arthur to come and free Excalibur and to free them from their slumber, so they can try to change the world for the last time. This time, Arthur (42) is Ari, a girl who was rescued and adopted at very young age, but carries the scars (both externally and internally) of a past she can’t remember.

“Find Arthur
Train Arthur
Nudge Arthur onto the nearest throne
Defeat the greatest evil in the world
Untie all of mankind”

This book has so much good rep, that my queer heart was honestly living its best life while reading this entire book. From sexual and gender representation from all over the spectrum, to representation for disabilities, to mirroring the refugee crisis, to talking about how colonialism is a very real and very sad thing, to how important and simple it is to ask someone their pronouns and not to just assume. This is a very inclusive and very heartwarming book, truly. And so much of the rep I’m about to talk about is also ownvoices representation, and I believe this book should be completely celebrated upon release, because it is going to let so many kids see themselves in the badass SFF retelling of their dreams.

Ari – From Arabic descent, a refugee, and either pan or bi. (everyone is saying she is pan, but I didn’t read that word in my ARC copy, so… I’m not sure if it was added or not, but as a pan person you all know this would mean the world to me, so *fingers crossed*)
Kay – Ari’s big brother (adoptive)
Merlin – Wizard, aging backwards, gay, and set to train Ari.
Morgana – Also has a mission, but it might not be what Ari and Merlin want.
Lam – Black, gender fluid, missing a hand, and Kay’s bff.
Val – Black, Lam’s sibling, pan or bi.
Gwen – Pan or bi, and the new queen.
Jordan – Ace, and the black knight that protects Gwen. (Jordan is easily the best character, imo)

And this full (and super queer) set of characters come together and truly create a fun and fast-paced story where they are trying to push back against the Mercer corporation, who have a monopoly on the entire universe. But this book is truly about oppression, and how these kids are fighting a system that was built to keep them down. This may be a Sci-Fi retelling, but the parallels are so very real. And the unequal power distribution is a very real problem that impacts marginalized voices in every single walk of life.

Okay, but on to the not so great. I felt like this story really jumps around too quickly. It makes it hard to actually care about the characters and their situations, especially the side characters. And the time-frame feels very disjointed and abrupt because of the way the story is told. And, again, it makes it really hard to feel things, because the reader is just jumped to the next thing. Also, this has a trope that I personally really hate; where siblings have feelings for the same person, and it really hindered my reading experience.

“To wonder why your heart has turned into a hurricane and how love could be possible when you’re supposedly a cursed, dead king in the presence of a very powerful, very alive queen.”

Overall, I did enjoy this one, despite the trope I really dislike. But I still completely recommend this one and will support it with my voice completely. Also, this book is so sapphic, and the main f/f storyline and the side f/f of Ari and Kay’s moms really warmed my heart, too. And the m/nb romance also put a big smile on my face. I just think this story is so much fun and so unique and I honestly can’t wait to see where the authors take it with the second book.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for abandonment, talk of plague, talk of past rape, animal death, suicide, loss of a loved one, and war themes.

Buddy Read with Imi & Ellie! ❤

Song of the Dead (Reign of the Fallen #2) by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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ARC provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Reign of the Fallen ★★★★

“I’m Odessa of Grenwyr, and the dead answer to me.”

If you’re looking for a f/f relationship to swoon over, with ownvoices bisexuality representation, and story that focuses on found family and unconditional love within healthy friendships, in a book that also has the cutest little dragon companion and filled with undead and necromancers, then please look no further than Song of the Dead

Seriously, friends, I loved this with my entire heart and soul. This is the concluding novel in this duology, the first book being Reign of the Fallen, but I am still not ready to say goodbye. Sarah has crafted something so beautiful, so powerful, and so important, that I truly hope we get to see more of these characters in the future. Especially since most of them have already stolen pieces of my heart.

In this second installment, the kingdom of Karthia is in a very different place than we originally saw it in Reign of the Fallen. Without going into spoilers, there may be new royalty, there may be new laws, and there may be new dangers that are now completely risking everything these characters have done to keep their kingdom safe.

Our main character, Odessa, is traveling the uncharted waters, discovering places she never knew, while also discovering herself and relearning what is important to her. Odessa is also trying to chart her heart and her relationship with Meredy, when they are both grieving the same person, but very differently.

This series very much touches on grief and trauma and learning to live with those two things. And how those two things may never ever go away, and that’s okay, but how you need to learn how to live with them, and how to live with a loss that may feel like it is currently impossible to live without. This is truly such a beautiful depiction, and it really meant a lot to me.

“I could never outrun myself. Without the pin, without even my name, I’d still be a fighter. I’d still be a commander of the dead. I’d still be a girl too in love with life to commit to death, even when it’s calling to me more strongly than ever before.”

Besides the mental health representation, there are many different sexual representations (including the word aromantic on page!), there are also characters of color, and disability representation (main side character who uses a cane) that I think is very well done, but I do not have any physical disabilities, so my voice doesn’t really matter on the subject! But I also feel like this book talks heavily about how important it is to not be closed off from other cultures and how detrimental the reality of that really can be. (You know, coming from a citizen whose president believes a wall will solve all their problems.)

This entire story just has so much good in it! And it is so fast paced and completely enthralling. I could read a million more books about these characters, set all over this world that Sarah has created. Hell, I could read a million more set in the Deadlands alone. I feel like this story just has so many elements and I had such a smile on my face while consuming this entire book.

Overall, this duology just means so much to me and I would literally die for the happiness of the sapphic ship in this! But from the amazing characters, to the important themes, to the beautiful prose; Sarah and these books are just a gift to the world. I truly hope you all pick up Reign of the Fallen for yourselves, and I hope you fall just as hard as I did.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for addiction, talk of loss of a loved one, mention of a plague, and heavy grief depiction.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss by Kasie West

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“I have to convince audiences everywhere that a zombie loves a zombie hunter. So far, it’s not happening. So far, the only thing future viewers care about is that I’m not someone else.”

Okay, the only other thing I’ve ever read by Kasie West was the short story of hers in Snow in Love, but I think it is safe to say that I am officially just going to preorder everything she writes from now on, because this story was also such a damn delight. And she is now 2/2 for writing the sweetest and softest boys in YA literature. I honestly just had a smile on my face while reading the majority of this book. If I’m ever in need of a feelgood book, I’m just going to turn to Kasie West’s backlist from now on.

So, basically, Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss stars a girl named Lacey who just landed a breakout role in an indie zombie film which she will co-star in with the extremely famous, Grant James! Lacey has only ever done minor acting roles in the past, but she is willing to give up her senior year of high school to move to Hollywood and to give this role all she has. Meanwhile, her father has agreed to move with her, to help give her structure. Yet, he also gives her a tutor named Donovan, who is supposed to keep her on track with the schoolwork that she is already neglecting.

But while filming, it becomes apparent that maybe Grant and Lacey don’t have the best onscreen chemistry with one another. Yet, Lacey is finding it easier and easier to find chemistry with the tutor who is supposed to be teaching her chemistry. *winky face* Donovan is the sweetest boy and I just loved him completely from page one. No spoilers, but the jumping on the trampoline scene? Added five years to my life.

But on top of Lacey trying to put everything she has into this zombie role, it becomes more and more apparent that someone is trying to sabotage her chances of making it big. I won’t lie, this does have a bit of a Scooby-Doo feeling mystery around the movie set, because the someone that is trying to sabotage Lacey before her career even gets started is kind of doing innocent things. Yet, I still loved that it kept me guessing for far longer than it probably should have. Towards the end it became kind of obvious who it was, but right up until that ending point, I was honestly thinking that the sabotage was someone else.

I also didn’t love the inclusion of bits of the movie script in-between chapters. I feel like we got a good enough feel of the plot of the film without those, and it pulled me out of the story (ironical enough) each time I read them. I think this book would have been stronger without them entirely, honestly. Also, there was a scene with them finding a drug dealer’s lair that I thought would come back into play and just never did and it was a little wild.

But my only real complaint was that I kind of hated both of Lacey’s parents. I totally get that she’s only seventeen, but they both just felt like crappy parental figures throughout the book. From her mom, boxing up her stuff and giving her room to an animal that Lacey wouldn’t like, even though she thought she would be coming back to finish her senior year! To her dad who decided he wanted to play a major role in her life seventeen years too late, and then force her to over exhaust and over work herself to try to have a semblance of a “normal” teenage life, after agreeing to letting her act in the movie. I don’t know, they just both rubbed me the wrong way, and not even the ending of this book justified their actions to me. But at least she got a cute and sweet tutor out of the deal.

Overall, I just loved this. It was the perfect sweet and heartwarming contemporary that I needed. I actually think this would be a perfect read for the spooky season. I mean, I wouldn’t say it is “spooky” per se, but it surrounds the making of a horror film all about zombies! And some of the moments in this book will keep you on the edge of your seat, involving the sabotage on the set. But I just think Kasie West is a master of YA Romance, and I think she is so deservingly beloved among the community. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and she 100% made a new fan from me.

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for a couple comments that are weird about food and dieting, talk of online harassment and bullying, and use of the word cr*zy.

Buddy Read with Amy & Heather! ❤

 

Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson

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“A girl from Pittsburgh came to Ellingham Academy and she wanted to see a dead body. She got her wish.”

Friends, you’d think a book that is centered around two different murders would be a lot more exciting and enjoyable to read. I know I sound harsh already, but I just really thought I was going to love this one. But I truly only ended up loving the atmosphere of the setting and the amazing anxiety rep. That’s it.

This story stars a young girl named Stevie, who just got invited to attend Ellingham Academy, a very prestigious, private school for the most gifted of children. Stevie has dreamed of being a detective her entire life and feels like this is going to be an amazing new adventure for her, because Ellingham Academy is also well known for a murder mystery that happened years and year ago, which was never solved, and one body was never found. The only thing that was found was a letter signed truly devious, which also quickly was destroyed.

Stevie thinks it will be so much fun to investigate the school (which is built into the side of a mountain, like, so freaking cool) but another murder soon happens to a person that she recently befriended. Now, she feels like she must get to the bottom of both of these mysteries, and she’s uncovering more and more secrets that were supposed to be kept hidden.

“Schools may be famous for many things: academics, graduates, sports teams. They are not supposed to be famous for murders.”

Trust me, I made that synopsis sound way cooler than the actual book. Stevie is a cool character though, and I liked seeing her dynamic with her very conservative parents, when she is in a much more liberal mindset. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Stevie has many anxiety and panic attacks throughout this story, and I honestly have never read a more realistic portrayal of how my attacks actually feel and I am still in awe of it. Like, I completely believe that this has to be an ownvoices portrayal, because it was so expertly crafted.

But another fun thing about this book is that we get to see Stevie interact with all the other kids at this private school, and they are all truly possible suspects. Yet, the reader will also be left guessing how this new murder will correlate with the one from the past that was never truly solved.

“When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.”

Going into this, everyone told me that the ending was going to kill me and probably make me the third victim of this tale, but honestly? It just annoyed me. Like, it was so far out there that I was just left completely flabbergasted. Especially after Stevie’s discovery prior to that wild ending. I don’t know, I just felt like it actually ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and for sure didn’t make me excited to pick up the next one.

Overall, this just wasn’t for me. But please take my review with a grain of salt, because almost everyone I know loves and adores this story. I also think a big reason why this might not have been a hit for me is also because I had just read A Study in Charlotte and completely fallen in love with that contemporary murder mystery. Maybe I was subconsciously comparing the two? I don’t know, but I just didn’t love this one, friends, even though I really wish that I would have!

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Content and trigger warnings for underage drinking, panic attacks, murder, and use of the word cr*zy.

Buddy Read with Alexa, Khouloud, Caidyn, Amy & Heather! ❤