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The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, grief, death of an animal

“The living had a tendency to make promises they could not keep.”

Nothing stays buried forever.

Ryn only cares about two things: her family and her family’s graveyard. And both seem to be hanging by thin strings. The existence of a gravedigger is slowly being pushed aside and Ryn’s family is barely scraping by in their small village. There’s just one catch…the dead don’t always stay buried. Some say an ancient curse is the cause of the bone houses rising, but when a mapmaker by the name of Ellis arrives in town, things will never be the same again. The bone houses are becoming more aggressive and only Ryn can put a stop to their terror. Teaming up with Ellis, Ryn sets out on a journey to put an end to this curse and stop the bone houses, once and for all.

Readers, I loved this book immensely. I devoured this book and I never wanted to put this book down. Anything that has any for of necromancy, I am always here for it and this book is no exception. There’s necromancy, a subtle romance, and a hilarious goat that can’t stop, won’t stop! I’m hear for all of it and now I’m convinced I need to read more work by this author. I never anticipated this to become one of my favorites of 2019, but here we are and so excited to tell you about it.

Our story is split between two perspectives. We have the perspective of seventeen-year-old Ryn who’s a gravedigger and loves her family with her whole heart. She’s a strong-headed lady who would do anything to protect her family and their graveyard from falling into the wrong hands even if that means bargaining and taking jobs to guide weary travelers through all kinds of danger. There’s also the perspective of Ellis, a simple mapmaker who has found his way into Colbren. Unfortunately for him, his first night arriving to the village ends up with him being attacked by a bone house. Fortunately for Ellis, he meets our daring heroine Ryn. Ellis has a mysterious past and there’s more to him that meets the eye. With Ryn being backed into a corner from the bone houses venturing out of the forest to trying to prevent her family from losing their home, Ryn quickly accepts the offer of being Ellis’s guide for his map making the minute he mentions it. Thus our unlikely pair being their journey.

“Pain doesn’t make a person weak or strong, pain just – is. It’s not a purifier, it’s a part of living.”

This book was everything my heart needed for the month of October. There is a main theme of family means everything in this book. Ryn is very family focused from protecting her siblings to waiting for her father to return one day, Ryn would do anything for them. I also really loved how open Ryn was about her fear of losing the ones she loved and cared about. I definitely saw myself a lot in Ryn’s character. Ellis has no idea who his parents are. On this journey he’s trying to track down his parents and where he came from. We also have a goat who rose from the dead as a bone goat to follow Ryn and protect her from any harm that may find them on their journey. There’s just a strong sense of family throughout this book and it made me so soft, sappy, and a little weepy. I’m a very family oriented type of person and I would do anything for my own family. So reading this book was like a piece of my soul imprinted on the pages.

We also get amazing chronic pain representation in this book. Our main character, Ellis, has an old injury that he has to cope with. When the pain from this old wound flares up, he has to use willow bark to help. Ellis also talks about all the various treatments he had to undergo while under the care of his prince. My heart ached so much for Ellis. As someone who suffers from chronic pain and has family members who also suffer from chronic pain, Ellis was so relatable and a lot of the details that are talked about are very accurate. Chronic pain is one of the more lesser medical conditions that get talked about especially in books. The fact that we get so many moments of Ellis battling the pain, taking into account his medical supply, and the scene of him trying to tell Ryn about his injury and his pain, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

I also have to take a moment to talk about the goat in this book. I swear, this goat was a hilarious highlight of this whole book. This goat follows Ryn and Ellis on their journey to protect them from anything that may want to cause them harm. This goat pops up at the most ridiculous times, but at some of the most important moments as well. This goat scales a wall in the mine sideways, but acts like a guard dog while Ellis was in immense pain. I loved this goat and is was a great little bit to keep the mood light at times. I’ll admit, I was really rooting for that goat to be magic!

I am going to add a little breakdown right here, spoiler free. This book is broken up into three parts and this breakdown will help you get an idea of what each section holds.

💀 The LivingThis sets the scene. We’re introduced to Ryn and her siblings, their financial situation, and details of the town. We also learn about the bone houses. We also met Ellis in this section. Ryn offers him guidance throughout the this section and eventually offers to be his guide into the mountains.

💀 The DeadThis is where the journey begins. Everything that happens to Ryn and Ellis on their journey happens in this section. Ryn and Ellis also begin to reveal more about themselves to each other. We learn about Ryn’s Uncle and Ellis reveals his chronic pain and injury. Also, a lot of battle along the way and some subtle romance brewing!

💀 The AfterThis is Ryn and Ellis after the bone houses have been stopped and the curse has been lifted. Both of our main characters are figuring out what the future holds and what it means to keep on living.

“I grew up thinking monsters could be slain.”
“And I grew up thinking people were the monsters.”

There are only two things to this book that I think many readers will have issues with. The first issue is the dialect. There’s a very “olden time” dialect that gets spoken throughout this book and if you’re not used to seeing or hearing dialect like that then I think it will be challenging for any reader. The other issue is the ending of this book. Without going into spoilers, I’ve talked about this with my buddy reader and a few other readers who have also finished the book, who felt that the ending was very predictable or hinted to far too soon in the book. Now, this wasn’t the case for my reading experience. I was so fully caught up in the moment, the action, and how everything was unfolding that it didn’t really register with my reading experience. However, that is something to be aware of if that’s something that might impact your reading experience.

Overall, I loved this book with my whole heart and soul! It was the perfect book for me to read right now and I’m so glad I didn’t put this book off or set it aside. It truly is a wonderful book to read for the spooky season and even in the fall in general. There’s so many wonderful, hidden messages in this book and it will truly warm the heart. Plus necromancy! Who can refuse a book with necromancy happenings taking place?! What a read for this spooky season!

Buddy read with Donna from Moms Book Collection

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Fence Vol. 3 (Fence #3) by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

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Other creators involved in the making of this comic bind-up include: Colors by Joana LaFuente, Lettering by Jim Campbell

🌻 Fence Vol. 1 – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌻 Fence Vol. 2 – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“I believe in all of you. As a team, I believe we can win the state championships.”

Readers, this is probably my favorite volume thus far in the Fence series! This volume completely took me by storm and while I love the first two volumes, volume three is on a whole other level. From the diversities to the high tension, my breath was hitching this whole entire time. Everything this volume delivers is perfection and I’m so upset that it’s over already. I’m ready for that next volume, stat! I really want more because these characters are absolutely wonderful and the atmosphere is so easily to get caught up in. I could literally talk your ear off about how much I loved this volume. Okay, enough of me gushing and let’s talk details.

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With volume one and two, we had many levels. Think of this series as a giant onion and we, as the reader, are slowly peeling back the layers to this series, these characters, and Fence as a whole. This volume was very emotional focused. The stakes are higher, some of the characters are right at the tip of losing everything, and we get some really intimate moments between characters and family members. We truly see so much diversity in this series and the moment the word family was dropped in this book, I was all over it! We even get more tension building between Nicholas and Seiji, which I almost died. But my favorite so far has been the truly intimate moment shared between Tanner and Kally. They are my OTP and I was living for their little moment. And we do get scenes with Bobby, but we really could have used more scenes with Bobby!

My truly favorite part about this volume was the various family dynamics. I’m a complete sucker for any book with diverse family dynamics. I come from various family dynamics and seeing so many family dynamics had me feeling some kind of soft and sappy. We don’t see a lot of diverse families in books and for a graphic novel to come out and throw so many into the mix, it’s a win for those of us who come from different family structures. If I had to pick one of the best moments in this book, the families all coming together under one roof and seeing all the fencers interact with their families would be at the top of my list.

As with every graphic novel that turns into a bind up, I like to do a spoiler free breakdown (to the best of my ability). I did this for the first and second volume and now I’m going to do it for this volume as well. If you haven’t read Fence Vol. 1 yet, then please go do so or at least read my review for the first volume. The next portion may contain spoilers, but I will do my best to keep it as spoiler free as I possibly can.

🌻 Chapter NineThis chapter kicks off with Nicholas vs. Kally. The stakes are high this time for both fencers. If either of them loses this match, they won’t make the team. Nicholas shows his speed and Kally shares the memories they had since they made it onto the fencing team. It’s a bitter-sweet kind of chapter. However, Seiji ends up finding himself watching Nicholas’s match. The ending of this chapter left me holding my breath and if it wasn’t a spoiler, I’d tell you what it is.

🌻 Chapter TenAll the families are introduced. They’ve all come to see their fencers and wish them luck at making the team. Even though it’s an emotional time for all the fencers, Nicholas and Seiji have unfinished business with one another. It all boils down to this match, Nicholas vs. Seiji, but when they come together something remarkable happens that no one except Coach has noticed before. This chapter is full of high tension and emotions, but the ending between Seiji and Nicholas is completely precious.

🌻 Chapter ElevenThe beginning of this chapter starts with Seiji and Nicholas in awkwardness. However, the tides soon get turned when Eugene’s family comes to stand with them. We begin to learn more about Eugene and why fencing is some important to him and his family. We also learn about how hard Eugene’s mother works so she can send Eugene to school to fence and I’m not going to lie, I got really soft and sappy at this. We also see Aiden vs. Jay in this chapter. This match is super important for Nicholas and Eugene because this is the match that will determine whether or not they make the fencing team. The stakes are high and there’s a sense of doom looming in the air. There’s also a lot of glimpses of Jay’s feelings and what happened between him and Aiden. The ending of this chapter ends on a bittersweet note with Seiji giving Eugene some tips and Nicholas walking out.

🌻 Chapter TwelveEverything boils down to this chapter. All of the fencers find out who will make the spots on the fencing team. Eugene and Nicholas are both up for the reservation spot, but neither of them wants to let on about how they’re really feeling. And after all of this time, Seiji finally calls Nicholas by his name! My two precious cinnamon rolls are making slow strides and I’m living for each moment! Also, Coach’s reactions are absolutely perfect for each circumstance that happens, she deserves more credit! Bobby and Dante make a brief appearance, it’s a bittersweet moment. And soon enough, Harvard is breaking everyone out of their classes and taking the fencing team on a little adventure. This whole chapter concludes with Aiden and Jay talking things out.

“But when they’re together – something extraordinary happens.”

Overall, I don’t want this series to end. I’m not ready for it to be over and I need the next volume right now! The complete wrap up of this graphic novel was just perfect and I can’t get enough of these characters. I’m eager to see Nicholas and Seiji’s relationship bloom and grow. I’m super excited just not excited about the waiting. If you haven’t picked this series up yet then please give it the chance it deserves. It’s such a good series and these characters will make you fall in love with them.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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“I love him so much it’s like a thread piercing me. Punching holes. Dragging through. Stitching love into me. I’ll never be able to untangle myself from this feeling. The color of love is surely this robin’s-egg blue.”

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy is favored by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. She’s sweet, charming, and accommodating to everyone. Well…almost everyone. Joshua Templeman is feared and hated by everyone at Bexley & Gamin especially by Lucy Hutton. Lucy and Josh go at each other like cats and dogs until things begin to change between them. When there’s a big promotion put up for grabs between Lucy and Josh, the tension reaches a climax. Suddenly, hate seems to slowly be burning into like and Lucy isn’t too sure what to make of it.

Yes friends, I finally read The Hating Game! It seems like everyone and their mother has already read this book and I’m now catching up. But I’m so thankful that I finally did pick this book up because I’m head over heels in love with this story! Holy cow, I wish someone would have convinced me to pick this book up sooner rather than later. This is going to be a romance I’m thinking about months down the road. This book it truly that fantastic!

“Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.”

Did I mention this book takes place in the heart of a publishing company? Well, it does! What book dragon doesn’t love a good setting where books are made and published? Actually, Bexley & Gamin is a merger between two major publishing companies that came together to prevent themselves from going out of business during hard times.

🌻 Lucy Hutton – Executive assistant to Helene Pascal, the original CEO of Gamin.
🌻 Josh Templeman – Executive assistant to Mr. Bexley, the original CEO of Bexley.

Our two main characters, Lucy and Josh, both work for the two CEOs or should I say co-CEOs of the two companies. They also happen to share a cubical right outside of the offices of their CEOs. Not only are their bosses constantly competing with one another, but there’s a high tension of competition that resides between Josh and Lucy. Constantly trying to be the fastest or trying to assert their dominance in any way they can. But the best part is throughout their day, they play these little games that challenge each other. They go back and forth insulting each other, trying to one-up the other. While they may constantly say how much they hate each other, everyone else seems to have a different idea.

However, everything begins to change when their bosses announce a big promotion and one of them has a pretty good chance at achieving it. During this time, a lot of things slowly come to light. Games ensure, highly intimate moments, and out of all of it; the two of them start to really think about all the years they’ve been together, all the work they’ve done and how much is truly enough, and their true emotions beginning to come to light. That maybe, just maybe, there was never really any hate between the two of them in the first place.

But their dynamic is absolutely fantastic! Half the time I was reading about their banter, I was choking on a drink. They way they go at each other reminds me a lot of the way my spouse and I bicker and banter with one another. It’s so funny and there’s a light energy to the book as a whole. Josh is so witty and snarky and Lucy is so sassy and she has no problem with speaking her mind. Honestly, I loved it and Lucy reminds me so much of myself.

““Truth or Dare,” he says. He always knows the exact right thing to say.
“Dare.”
“Coward. Okay, I dare you to eat the entire jar of hot mustard I have in my fridge.”
“I was hoping for a sexy dare.”
“I’ll get you a spoon.”
“Truth.””

I really loved Lucy. While I like Josh and he has his own perks, I felt completely connected to Lucy. She’s short, works extremely hard at her job, comes from a family who never had a lot of money, and she’s very caring about those around her. When Lucy threw herself in front of a certain teammate during the paintball scene, the entire time I was thinking “Oh my god, this is me. I would do this and then I would regret it the next day.” There’s also the part where she stands up for Josh and I was instantly reminded of myself because I stand up constantly for my family and friends. It was like I was reading a book about my mirror twin. There were so many moments spot on and I just truly loved Lucy. I could write a list, but I think you can see, I truly adored her character.

Josh on the other hand was a fantastic romantic lead for Lucy. His personality really balanced out Lucy and I really loved that. What stood out to me the most was the confidence Josh radiated in this book, but later on we learned that he has a lot of insecurities and body issues. I loved that we got a flipped script and we finally received a male character who shows those vulnerable sides to the person they care most about. It was absolutely heart warming. And he also said and did a lot of amazing things. I mean, that elevator scene. I’m still swooning and fanning myself!

While I really loved a lot of moments and parts of this book, I can understand why some readers may not like it as much. There’s a wedding date scene and that whole entire scene becomes very obvious and predictable. A lot through that part I felt a lot of high levels of anxiety because as the reader we can see the direction it’s heading, even though Lucy was unaware and everyone else was acting completely ignorant about the whole thing. I wish the matter had been addressed sooner because I think it’ll cause a lot of readers unnecessary anxiety.

The other thing I think a lot of readers will have issues with is Lucy constantly having issues with taller people and the book having a lot of emphasis on Lucy’s height. Now, I think the height emphasis was a little unnecessary, I can understand why Lucy would have issues with taller partners. I’m 4’11 and my spouse is 6’6 so we have a big height difference going on so I can understand the weariness. And to be honest, I’ve had my fair share of concerns with taller partners in the past and most of those issues have to do with a lot of “man-handling”. While I don’t want to get into details about that, I do understand Lucy and a bit of her panic when it comes to the idea of a taller partner. I definitely think this will be an issue for some readers just because of all the emphasis that gets placed on height and size. So that will definitely be something to be aware of.

“All I want to do is kiss you until I fall asleep. I want to slide in between your sheets, and find out what goes on inside your head, and underneath your clothes. I want to make a fool of myself over you.”

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. I think it might actually be one of my favorite reads of the year so far. The only true complaint I have is the cover feels underwhelming and I definitely would have liked a little more spice. But every ounce of hype you’ve heard about this book is true. I didn’t know if I was going to love this book going into it and I’m so happy that I fell in love with it! It was heartwarming, hilarious, and just something I desperately needed to read. What a captivating story, I’m completely hooked for Sally Thorne now!

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of homelessness, starvation, grief

“And right then I knew, the way you know that it’s going to rain long before the first drop splatters on your nose, that something was about to change.”

Things couldn’t be more dark and difficult. Jackson and his family has fallen into some hard times. And each inching second seems like their family is one step away from living in the family car. Again. Then Crenshaw starts reappearing, again. He’s large, outspoken, and he’s Jackson’s imaginary friend. He’s back and this time he’s here to help save Jackson and his family from losing everything.

Friends, I have one again fallen into an emotional hole of books that hit close to home. In read this book back in October 2018 and I decided to pick this book back up again this fall as well. There couldn’t have been a more perfect time to read this book! I’m going to be honest, I’m about to get sappy, emotional, and I’m going to get personal. Crenshaw is the book I needed as a child, but is the book I longed for as an adult.

Jackson is a no-nonsense kind of kid. He believes in science and he prefers the facts over stories. He’s determined to grow up to be the best animal scientist he can be. Oh yeah, and he has an imaginary friend who just so happens to be a giant cat. Crenshaw is outspoken, appears at the most random moments, and adores Jackson. Only Jackson doesn’t want Crenshaw around. He wants Crenshaw to disappear so he can deal with much bigger issues. However, Crenshaw is here to help and he’s going to help Jackson whether he wants it or not.

“Imaginary friends are like books. We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.”

I love this book with my whole heart and soul. Applegate does a beautiful job of weaving together a story that address really important topics that hit close to home. One of those topics is how parents handle life changing, hard situations when their kids are involved. In Crenshaw, Jackson’s family falls on incredibly hard times. The money is all gone, the rent bills are piling up, there’s no food in the apartment, they’re selling off a lot of their things, the parents are fighting a lot, and Jackson’s parents keep putting up a happy front to make things seem fine. You can really see how the happy front really affects Jackson and his sister in this book. While Jackson’s sister it’s fully aware due to her age, Jackson is old enough to put all the clues together and knows that things are changing, history repeating itself. I loved that. I love that we get to see things from a child’s perspective and truly see children are very much aware of the things going on in their surroundings. To truly see that they really just want the truth from their parents. What had me breaking at the seams was the fact that this middle-grade book addresses homelessness and hunger. It’s not often talked about in books, let alone middle-grade books, but every second broke my heart. Looking at the way Jackson handles a lot of the situations that pop up in this book, I couldn’t find a more better character who mirrors my own. And I think Crenshaw does a marvelous job of accurately showing what so many children go through out there when it comes to families struggling financially or going through homelessness.

For me, personally, Jackson is so easy for me to relate to. Growing up, while my family never ended up homeless, we had a lot of financial struggles. There were times where we would go a week or two without food or we would go a whole month just eating ramen before we could actually have groceries in our house. I was also in a same position like Jackson when he was constantly seeing his parents fight from a distance. It’s not often talked about, but at such young ages children are very perceptive and can figure things out without too much details. It’s not hard to see things from a distance and notice just how bad things are becoming. Schooling wise, Jackson wasn’t really able to participate in things he had a deep interest in like soccer camp for example. Even though he said it was fine he was deeply conflicted and upset about the whole thing. From my own experiences, when you’re growing up in a situation where there’s financial struggles, there’s hardly any food on the table, you constantly sacrifice things you want to do at school or even sell off your own items so you can help your family, you convince yourself that things are fine or they’ll get better, but there’s a lot of internal damage that comes with all of that. However, convincing and believing are two different things when you’re a child. As you read in this book, you see at what lengths Jackson reaches because he’s spent most of his childhood convincing himself he’s fine with everything . He reaches a point where he is splitting himself in two with what he’s trying to convince himself and what he truly believes and feels. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and really hits in the gut. His story is so strong that you can’t help, but getting emotional just like he does.

Then we have Crenshaw himself. We find out that Jackson doesn’t really have a lot of friends. In fact his social circle just consists of one girl named Marisol. Other than that his other friend is one black, giant cat named Crenshaw. Crenshaw is basically Jackson’s helper of coming to terms with his true feelings about his situation and convinces Jackson to just speak his mind. “Tell the truth; it will set you free.” As you read you come to terms that Crenshaw isn’t any imaginary friend, but he’s like a guide for Jackson. The best term I can think of, Crenshaw is like a lighthouse in the eye of a bad storm and Jackson is a boat who needs to get to shore. Crenshaw may be an imaginary friend, but for Jackson he is very real. We get moments of Jackson trying to understand how he can be his imaginary friend and touch him, but no one else can really experience him or see him. He’s like this embodiment of the childhood Jackson should of have, but due to all the struggles his family is going through Jackson has somehow convinced himself that he’s too old for an imaginary friend, there’s a scientific reason for him seeing his imaginary friend, and just overall Jackson wants to reject that part of himself without realizing just how badly he needs Crenshaw in his life in this moment. Crenshaw is such an important key to this story. Without Crenshaw, Jackson would never come to terms with his feelings or even confine in Marisol about his imaginary friend and some of the things happening with his family.

“What bothered me most, though, was that I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t control anything. It was like driving a bumper car without a steering wheel. I kept getting slammed, and I just had to sit there and hold on tight.”

The greatest thing this book offers is this book opens the floor up for so many discussions. From ‘How do parents deal with a curve ball unexpected life situation- totally unplanned that affect their children?‘ to ‘How does a father help support his family when disabled? How can a wife/ mother be most supportive in the most challenging situations?‘ It’s an incredibly powerful book that young kids will be able to relate to and it allows them to go to their parents and have open discussion. This is also a really touching book that many adults can read to because it allows them to become more open with their children and have a larger family discuss. It’s incredible to think have much this one little book can change and impact. I have never been the same since reading this book and I always think about it around this time of year.

Overall, this was a beautiful book to read. A piece of me has been taken by this book and I couldn’t be happier with it. I definitely wish more readers were reading Crenshaw and having discussions about this book. This is a book that truly shows how messy life can be and how even though things may become really hard, you will always have the ones who love you. If you find you have a chance to pick a copy of this book up, please do. It’s a remarkable book and I just can’t stop recommending it with my whole heart and soul!

“Life is messy. It’s complicated. It would be nice if life were always like this.” He drew an imaginary line that kept going up and up. “But life is actually a lot more like this.” He made a jiggly line that went up and down like a mountain range. “You just have to keep trying.”

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The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

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ARC was given by in exchange for an honest review

Content/Trigger Warnings: Bullying, harassment, minor racism, scene of parental abuse/child abuse, talk of death

Magic is harder than it looks and it always comes with a price.
Moth Hush is a thirteen year old who loves all things witchy and is just trying to survive school. She’s about to learn witches aren’t like how they are in fairy tales and movies, they’re more complex. When the bullies at her school take things too far, strange things begin to happen. Now Moth’s world will open up to things she never even knew about before. That is if her mother doesn’t stop her first. From talking cats, to family secrets, all the way to flying brooms… Moth’s life will never be the same again.

Readers, this was the perfect book to put me in the mood for the spooky season! Black cats, magic, and witches, oh my! I have been eager for all things witchy and spooky. And this graphic novel was the perfect way to fall into the mood. From the fall setting to all the magical witchy things happening, this is a super cute graphic novel to get anyone ready for Halloween.

This was such a cute and precious middle grade book to read! From the bond between Moth and her mother to the talking cat, all the way to Moth making a friend who’s just as quirky as she is, I loved every piece of this book. This graphic novel has so much to offer and I think many readers will enjoy this book. Plus, what better way to bring in the fall season then to curl up with a graphic novel packed with witches and magic with a gorgeous fall setting?! There’s also some really great representation in this graphic novel. We get main characters who visibly brown skin and we also get two different family dynamics! Be still my beating heart!

I truly loved Moth’s character in this book. While this graphic novel does take place close to Halloween, you can tell that Moth wears her uniqueness on her sleeve. She doesn’t bend to what the world wants her to be like and it really shows her uniqueness. And when she reveals her room, I couldn’t helping being in awe. She really devotes herself to the things that she loves and it was so nice to have that little glimpse. I also really love the bond Moth shares with her mother. Even though throughout this book Moth’s mother tries to prevent Moth from learning and magic, there’s a lot of love and a strong bond there between the two of them. That bond really shows at the beginning and end of this graphic novel. The way Moth and her mother feel about each other so strongly is so wholesome and touching.

And can I take a moment to gush about the artwork? The artwork is simply stunning and there’s so many pages where the mood it really set thanks to the artwork on the pages. It’s extremely easy to get wrapped up in the story and the artwork because of the way they flow together. I think it’s some of my most favorite art style for a graphic novel that I’ve seen so far and it definitely left an imprint on my memory.

However, my only true issue with this graphic novel and why I feel like I can’t commit to giving it five stars is due to a lot of history. This graphic novel has a way of reading like a history lesson and the readers are in class. There’s a lot of talk about the witch trials and colonization that gets focused on heavily throughout this book. Often times, this graphic novel felt like you really had to pay attention otherwise you would miss a lot of this that happen later on in the book. It all felt very school-y and homework-y for my tastes. It truly felt like I was sitting in history class all over again and I was about to get a pop quiz on witches and colonization. Also, I’m even sure how accurate the witch trials and colonization were represented in this book. I can definitely testify that the witch trials did originally start in the UK and Europe, which later on expanded over into North America, but past that I can’t speak for how accurate things were.

Overall, I truly did enjoy this graphic novel. It was a great way to kick off the fall season and get in the mood for all the spooky things to come. If you’ve been here a while, you know I love different family dynamics and this graphic novel offers so much of that in that diverse family department. It truly warmed my heart o see a single mother and her daughter in this book, but also see the dysfunctional family side of things as well. It was a breath of fresh air. But in all honesty, if you’re looking for a book to put you in the mood for fall, Halloween, and everything that comes along for the ride then this is the book for you! There’s so much representation and the main character is absolutely precious! Plus, there’s a talking cat!

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Song for Whale by Lynne Kelly

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Grief, loss of a loved one, minor bullying/harassment, abandonment/isolation

“He keeps singing this song, and everything in the ocean swims by him, as if he’s not there. He thinks no one understands him. I want to let him know he’s wrong about that.”

Friends, I’m feeling incredibly soft and sappy after reading Song with a Whale. This book is about so much, offers so much and I still can’t believe how much passion radiates from this book. I have fallen head over heels for this book and I can only hope many others will give this book a chance like I did. If you find yourself looking for a book that offers hope in dark times, immense passion, and unconditional desire to find a place in the world then this is a book you need to pick up.

Iris is a twelve year old tech genius who’s the only deaf person in her school. She struggles to fit in because most of the staff and students treat her like she’s not very smart. Constantly feeling isolated, alone, and like no one is listening to you, Iris keeps trying to find a small bit of understanding. Until her science teacher reveals Blue 55, a whale who is unable to speak with other whales, and suddenly Iris’s world has opened up a little more. Now Iris is making it her mission to help this whale and to let him know, he’s not alone and someone out there understands him.

I fell in love with Iris right away. She is so intelligent and works so hard at computer repairing. I think it’s absolutely incredible and it’s so unique to finally see a character like Iris in a middle grade book. I adored her even more when we truly get to see her desire to meet Blue 55 and how she would stop for nothing to meet this whale. That passion was so beautiful to read about and watch unfold in this book. Not to mention the way her relationships with her family and friends flourished in this book was something so raw and realistic that you really become sucked in. I also think the author did a wonderful job expressing to the reader Iris’s isolation, her loneliness, and her desire to be around others who understood her and her struggles.

Iris is such a great character and I love how inspired she became in this book. While I mentioned that she is a tech prodigy, the way she goes about handle the “puzzle” of Blue 55 was so captivating and I really enjoyed reading how Iris wanted to help Blue 55. Blue 55 is a whale who sings on a different frequency than other whales and therefore he can’t really communicate with other whales or pods. So Iris creates this master plan of recreating a song that he’ll be able to understand and on the exact frequency that Blue 55 communicates on. With the help of some old radio parts, the school’s music class, and the knowledge she’s learned about Blue 55, Iris creates the perfect way to communicate with Blue 55.

Out of all this book though, I loved the family dynamic and I love the way Iris talks about her grandfather. I’m a huge sap for books that have a family focus and this book has so much family focus. I love how we see the challenges in a family and the struggles of trying to communicate with one another. I loved how the death of a loved one can be a reason to bridge two family members together. And most of all, I love how the death of a loved one can imprint on us and how bit and pieces of them can inspire us in a time of healing, to never stop living. It was a beautiful underlying theme and I adored how lyrically it was woven into the story. I also like how near the end we saw the internal struggles of a mother feeling like she will never be needed only to be reassured that she will always be needed by her child. I read that and it felt like a thousand bolts of lightning to the soul. It was so moving and impactful, it had me thinking about my own mother and how I still need her thoughts and opinions on things from time to time. It was a brilliant way to show the meaning and importance of family.

While I can’t relate on a deep personal level with this book, I do have family members from my spouse’s side who are going deaf and have to use equipment to help enhance their hearing. So this book does touch home for me and this was such an important read for me. I also really appreciate while the author isn’t deaf, herself, she is a sign language interpreter and she based this story off a lot of her own experiences with the children she has encountered in her career. I also really loved that she went into more details in the back of the book on deafness and sign language. I think it will help many readers better understand where Iris’s character comes from and what inspired her to be who she is in this book.

“Your music sailed through the ocean
and over the land
and carried me here.
Sing your song.”

My only issue with this book was the perspective of the whale or Blue 55. While I don’t think this will be an issue for middle grade children who read this book, this was something that definitely threw me off from time to time when that perspective would pop up. I think for many readers who aren’t used to reading middle grade, I think that will be something that will throw them off or be difficult to look past especially since there’s only a small handful that are thrown in there. I also want to take a moment to further explain the “minor bullying” in this book. There are quite a few things that will stick out in this book that caught my attention and I wanted to take a moment to discuss them. The first issue is a teacher who constantly picks on Iris and pins Iris to be unintelligent. So the teacher constantly goes out of her way to cause a scene and make Iris feel like she’s less intellectual than the other students in her class. The second issue is the student who thinks she knows how to preform sign language. She’s constantly getting into Iris’s personal space, there are scenes of her preforming “sign language” in Iris’s face, and this student doesn’t stop when she is asked to stop. These are the two biggest issues with these side characters. I personally interpret as minor bullying or minor harassment, but for other readers it might not be too big of an issue. I just found it to be a hard thing to forget and a lot of those actions to be unforgivable because of how inappropriate they were during specific times during this book.

Overall, this book was an emotional read and as I said, this book does hit close to home. It’s such an important read especially for any child who has big struggles. There’s just so much inspiration, hope, and determination in this book that the author brings to life so well. I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to feel inspired, needing of hope, or just wanting to read a more fascinating book. The author truly did a marvelous job with this book.

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The Tea Dragon Festival (Tea Dragon #2) by Katie O’Neill

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“There’s no reason you can’t start being a guardian now, even if it’s a little later than you intended.”

Dearest friends, if you thought I was going to miss this book then you are mistaken. I have eagerly been waiting for this book to drop ever since I finished The Tea Dragon Society. I loved the first book so much that I constantly go back and reread it just for something light and sweet. Now I can finally say that I will be rereading both of these books for comfort and happiness! And friends, I love this book, I love it with my whole heart. I love it as much as the first one and I truly hope we’ll be seeing plenty more in this series. If you haven’t thought about picking up either of these books, let me be the one to recommend both of these books to you with my whole heart and soul. If you love dragons as much as I do, you need these books.

This graphic novel starts off by showing us some very familiar faces. Erik and Hesekiel are back again, and it feels so good to see their pleasant, adventuring faces once more. They’re back to give us some good banter, but also as bounty hunters back to track down something ancient that’s causing people to fall asleep for years. But this story isn’t just about them. Our true star of this book is Rinn, who wants to become a great chef/cook. And one day while Rinn is out gathering some supplies for the village, she stumbles upon a sleeping dragon named Aedhan. After finding out their story, Rinn invites Aedhan to the festival.

What I love most about O’Neill’s work is she always makes them so diverse and this book delivers so much. There is a strong presence of Sign Language being used and taught throughout village in this book. O’Neill also included a section in the back of the book for more information on Sign Language for readers to learn more. Also, our main character Rinn is nonbinary/genderfluid. There’s also a conversation between Rinn and Aedhan about dragons being genderfluid and how dragons like to choose between the two genders, as well. And remember Erik and Hesekiel? Well they’re in an m/m relationship and they’re the cutest! Plus, the cast of characters is visible with brown skin.

“Just because something comes easily to you, does not mean it has no value. You find it effortless because you love it, and that is why it is your gift.”

Something I truly appreciated in this book was that moment between Rinn and Aedhan where Aedhan was teaching Rinn about how dragons can shift between genders. It was so beautiful and it made me feel very soft. As someone who used cross-dress and go by a gender neutral name; it was such an emotional moment and it made a huge impact with my reading experience of this book. I wish I had books like this growing up to say, “This is a thing, it’s normal, and there’s other out their like you.” Not only was that moment so movie, but seeing Aedhan tell Rinn how they’re worthy, they have value, and they shouldn’t feel lesser for the enjoyment and pride they get out of doing what they love… my soul left my body. Even more so because reading that moment shared between them, it came when I really needed to here those words the most. So now this book is completely imprinted on me!

Another thing I truly loved was how much emphasis was put on cooking in this book. Food and cooking is such a universal thing no matter where you come from. And I truly appreciated that this book really showed how you can cook with love, how cooking and learning from your elders is so important, that preparing the food and gathering supplies can be an intimate moment shared between two people. It’s something that can be done by anyone and at the end you can see the joy and the unconditional love shared between everyone who is partaking in the meal. In my family, cook is a very special thing. We’re taught to always cook and bake when you’re in a peaceful mood, a joyous mood, when you feel enlightened, or truly happy because those emotions will be poured into the food you prepare. Even now, I still like to uphold those traditions. So seeing how much the author put a focus and emphasis on the power of cooking, how it can bring people together, the intimacy, and the true beauty of cooking… I’m still very soft and caught up in my emotions.

Overall, I loved this book and I truly, deeply believe it’s a masterpiece that I hope more readers will read! I said it in the first book, but I’ll say it again here, I love the artwork and how captivating it is, how much emotion radiates from a panel. Both books have filled me with so much comfort, happiness, and joy, I truly hope Katie O’Neill will give us more from the Tea Dragon universe. Each book has such meaningful focuses and messages and I want everyone to read her books. Plus, I’m truly grateful for the reminder of you’re always worthy, you’re always needed, and you deserve love.

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