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Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

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FC was given by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (February 2nd, 2021)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, themes of displacement, terminally ill loved one (cancer), loss of a loved one, grief

Friends, this book put me in all the feels. As someone who walks the line of two worlds, the themes of this book had me quaking. And the fact that it’s told in verse was the cherry on top! Truly, this book is so beautifully written and there’s not a single doubt within me, this book will touch so many people. I feel truly honored that I could be given a final copy to read and share with all of you my love for this story!

Our story follows Reha, an Indian American, who loves K-Pop, dreams of becoming a doctor (despite being woozy at the sight of blood), and yearns to find a balance as she navigates the between her two worlds. One world where she’s the only Indian American student and the other, a world filled with her family and community’s culture. As Reha tries to navigate her teenage years, at terrible kind of news will cause Reha to face new challenges. Challenges she never expected to experience.

I can’t say it enough, I love the themes within this book and I think they’re tremendously important. One of the biggest themes about this book is the feeling of displacement and trying to find the place where you fit in. For me, this theme hit so close to home. As someone who grew up with their culture and having to learn my dialect from the beginning, but also growing up going to a regular public school and being the only half Native student, being white-passing, there was never a time where I didn’t feel like I was walking a line between those two worlds. So reading this book and how the main character struggles to find their place between both of those worlds, it really struck a cord with me. And I think that theme alone is going to make so many biracial readers feel seen. I find in literature it’s hard to find books that accurately represent what it means to be biracial and how big of a role displacement can play. Truly, the author did a wonderful job at bringing those feelings and thoughts to life with this book, and I really appreciated seeing everything come together they way they did.

“You belong to both, and they both belong to you. You will find your way in making those two streams one. You will write your own story, and it will be beautiful, because it is yours.”

The other major theme of this book is navigating life with a terminally ill loved one and more specifically, when the loved one is a parent. Not only does the author have a beautiful way with words, but the way the author brings Reha’s feelings and thoughts to life as she experiences this tragedy is so well written. The author doesn’t shy away from showing a wide variety of feelings, thoughts, and actions. I think anyone who has had a terminally ill loved one or has had to face losing someone they care about will feel an instant connection with Reha. I couldn’t stop crying (for a plethora of reasons), but this really hit home. I think the author did a fantastic job at writing about this theme in a very respectful way and you can tell that the author was writing from a personal experience.

There’s so much that I fell in love with throughout this book and if you were it ask if there was anything I didn’t like, I’d say you’re being ludicrous. I loved the K-Pop references and how some of the titles were references to popular songs of the 80’s. Reha, our main character, was such a wonderful character to follow throughout this book. Her perspective was filled with layers of constant changing feelings and thoughts especially as she was navigating this time in her life. What I truly loved most was the author’s not at the end. I loved reading about the author’s experiences and how they were able to take those experiences, and bring them to life with this novel. Truly, I loved this book with my whole chest.

Overall, this was such a delightful book to read and I’m so glad I was sent a final copy! Thinking about this book even now, I still feel a deep stir of emotions this book left with me. I laugh and I cried, I cried so much, but I think this book will touch the hearts of many readers. And I think this book is going to leave a huge impact with an biracial reader. It left a huge imprint on my own heart and I have no doubt it won’t do the same for someone else. I’m happy to say that this is my first favorite book of 2021 and I think that Red, White, and Whole is going to make it onto a lot of ‘favorites’ this year.

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Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of bullying, talk of death, mentions of loss of a parent (in the past)

“Four basic rules for ghost hunting according to Babette…
1. Be prepared.
2. Don’t go alone.
3. Respect the dead.
4. Always have a cat.”

This is such a cute read that filled my heart with so much warmth. Truly, I’ve been in the mood for cozy yet spooky family reads and this middle grade was perfect. This was book truly is a treat and it’s so wholesome. I think many readers are going to adore curling up with a cup of tea and reading this book!

Lucely is happily living with her father and the ghosts of her family. However, when Lucely over hears a conversation her father has, Lucely realizes that money is tight and they might have to move. Given only one chance with one of their ghost tours, Lucely father hopes to gather the funds necessary to save their home. But things go wrong and things continue to go wrong as her family’s ghosts start to act strange, losing their light. Teaming up with her best friend Syd, they’ll work together to come up with a solution to not only save Lucely’s ghost, but prevent her from moving, but they’ll soon learn there are darker forces at work and they might be in over their heads.

You know, one of my favorite things is family, family bonds, found family, etc… So naturally I loved everything in this book that involved family. First, can we take a moment to appreciate the dynamic of Lucely and her father! I have such a soft spot for single parent homes and I loved how close Lucely is with her father. Single father homes don’t get the spotlight they deserve in literature, often. So seeing this family dynamic really warmed my heart and those close bonds just make it extra special. We also have the found family element with Lucely and Syd’s family. When Lucely talks about how she feels close to Syd, it melted my heart. That kind of love and bond is something fierce, something special, and I just melted into a puddle when that conversation popped up.

“Maybe family is more than who you’re related to. It’s also the people you find and love along the way.”

I also want to talk about the ghosts. The family ghosts were so individual, you could easily tell who was who, and I was pleasantly surprised. Normally when you add so many side characters like that, characters can sometimes get muddled together or easily forgotten, but the author made sure to make each one unique. Not to mention the support system Lucely has with them. It was so heartwarming, but it’s also sad when we learn Lucely’s father can no longer see them. It’s an all around unique dynamic and I really loved it.

This book has such an incredible atmosphere, as well. I’m not kidding when I say this is cozy yet spooky. There were a lot of times where I had chills running up my spine or my hairs were standing on end. The author did a fantastic job on creating a story line that pulls the reader in, but also created a spooky energy that’s the kind of subtle that sneaks up on you. I really enjoyed it and I wish it would’ve been raining when I was reading this.

Overall, I think this is a perfect spooky season read. If the family dynamics and bonds don’t lure you in, I hope the spooky atmosphere does. It was so hard to put this book down and I’ve heard really good things about the audiobook. If you’re looking for something that’s cozy, spooky but not too spooky then I definitely recommend picking this book up. It’s super cute and sure to make your autumnal reading even better!

Buddy Read with Kayla 💜

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The Language of Ghosts by Heather Fawcett

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ARC was provided by Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 8th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent, grief, murder, death, scenes of spiders (for those with arachnophobia), human experimentation

I’m pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this book! Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. All I needed to know was magic and a sea serpent that loves cake! What more could you possibly need? Apparently, we needed more because this book delivers so much more than those two elements.

“It was the raspberry sundae that did it.”

Our story follows Noa Marchena, an ex-princess who only wants two things; to restore her family to the throne and to prevent her brother, Julian, from being consumed by the dark powers he wields. Though these things are easier said than done. With her hands full from babysitting and a cake loving sea serpent, it makes being a royal advisor to her brother that much harder. And now that they know their enemies are searching for long-lost magical languages, Noa’s job just got that much harder.

Noa is quite the main character to follow. She’s the middle child of the the three siblings in this book and she’s quite the strategist of the family. Noa always seems to have her hands full with writing in the Chronicle, a book of record, and having to babysit her younger sister, Mite, when Julian isn’t teaching Mite how to practice her magical abilities or doing the important duties required of a ruler. Noa is the only one who doesn’t have any magical abilities or at least, she thinks she doesn’t. Once she uncovers she can speak one of the long-lost magical languages, Noa’s personality starts to change and we begin to see the flaws. And you know how I loved flawed characters.

This book is also broken down into three sections; Astrae, Evert, and Whelm. So below I’m going to give a spoiler free summary of each section.

Part I: Astrae

Astrae is actually a moving island that you can steer by a ship wheel and is also the island Noa and her siblings fled to for safety. Here the Marchena siblings have found refuge and made the island their base of operations to plan to reclaim their home, Florean. Even though Julian has bound a sea serpent to their island and has allies on the island who are willing to help, this doesn’t stop their enemy forces from finding a way to impact their defenses and cause chaos. After a batch of mysterious mangos arrive on the island, suddenly defenses are becoming corrupted and the enemies armies have found their new safe haven. And now it’s up to Noa to save the whole island or be destroyed by the enemies who have taken everything away from them.

“That was when she realized two things at once: One, she was reading a magical language. And two, the man in the gray robe was standing right in front of her.”

Part II: Evert

After the chaos the enemy armies have left, Noa, Julian, and Mite walk around the island to assess the damage that’s been done. The outcome isn’t good, but despite the damage, they were able to learn that the enemy forces are searching for the lost magical languages. So they set sail for an unmarked island known as Evert to find one of the lost magical languages. And once they uncover it, Noa’s curiosity gets the better of her, only leading to a great discovery. We also see Noa’s personality begin to change which seems to put her into some dicey situations.

Part III: Whelm

Once Noa gets out of a really dangerous situation, she seems to find herself in another difficult situation. This time, she ends up losing one of the lost languages and thus, the enemy soon descends upon them. And the final battle will be one you’ll never forget!

I truly loved the world building throughout this book. I especially loved the way the magic languages came to life throughout this book. There’s a lot of mystery and something so exciting about it all. And can I take a moment to appreciate the otters in this book?! They’re the cutest and I loved how the author made them to be fluid between words, how they’re the only creature with that ability. I love that so, so much!

And of course, I have to tell you how much I feel in love with the sibling bonds. Despite how much they get on each others’ nerves, at the end of the day they would do anything to protect one another. And it felt like a true sibling relationship between all three of the Marchena siblings. They annoy each other, they get frustrated with one another, and they love each other so much that they do things to protect each other. We also see how they feel disconnected from one another and I really appreciated that.

My one real issue with this book was Mite’s chapters of her point of view. We only receive a few of these chapters and I felt like we could have done without them. Not to mention, for those who have a fear of spiders like myself, these chapters are laced with spider content. So I’m not the biggest fan of these, personally, but I think many readers will appreciate. Just know these chapters do have spider content.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. As I mentioned, I didn’t know what to expect going in except magic and a sea serpent. I just loved it and it’s such a fast read! I wasn’t it expecting it to fly by so fast. There’s definitely a presence of needing to know what will happen next and I think many readers are going to love this book come fall. And there’s also an old, lazy dragon who acts like a cat! Come on, content for the heart! Truly, a great read for those who like fast paced fantasies!

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

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