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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 Wicker King (The Wicker King, #1) by K. Ancrum

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Severe neglect, abandonment, depictions of depression, panic attacks, anxiety, underage drinking, drug dealing, mentions of divorce (in the past), scenes of stalking, scenes of physical harm, brief allusions to death of a parent, starvation, allusions to trauma/PTSD, toxic relationship, arsony, ableist speech

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

I have been sitting on this review for a couple of days and over those days I have been unraveled, put back together, over and over again. In the most beautiful, heart-clenching, breath hitching way, the kind of way that only a book can. I have said this a few times, but K. Ancrum is truly a blessing and I will probably worship at that alter forever. This book is everything. I loved The Weight of the Stars with my whole heart and The Wicker King was just as enthralling.

In 2003, two boys are seen breaking into an abandoned toy factor, landing both of them in an asylum. However, our story doesn’t begin there, some details need to be filled in and we see just that. We’re taken back to the very beginning where we watch the dark and intense events unfolding that lead them to this abandoned toy factor, and their destination of the asylum. With mixed media to help craft a story that feels too chillingly real, as our story unfolds and events become darker, the pages begin to turn black as night to take the reading experience to another level.

But our story really follows two high school boys from Michigan, who are both from extremely neglected home lives, in different ways, and find the way to fill the holes in each others’ hearts with one another. Told from the perspective of August, we see Jack slowly form hallucinations and how he’s able to see into a dark fantasy world that somehow coexists with our own world. August does everything he can to assist Jack, but August is struggling too. Fighting with his own mental health, August isn’t listening to those around him who are trying to help him. To August, Jack is the only one who can make everything better, and to Jack, August is the only one who can seem to ground him during these scary times.

“But your best is not good enough sometimes. Sometimes… you have to stop trying and just let someone else try their best. In order to survive.”

Let me be clear, Jack and August do not have a healthy relationship. It’s a very toxic relationship that almost kills both of them. However, their relationship is so realistic and in a world that has made them feel so alone, they’re what each other desperately need. And as someone who has been in a relationship like this before, I was sobbing and breaking. Sometimes it’s a relationship like this that keeps you afloat when you feel like you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean even if it’s not the healthiest for you. And you can’t help wanting to help these characters, to help them feel better, and when they both start to spiral, intertwining with one another, it’s devastating and gut-wrenching.

“My mom once told me that being alone makes you feel weaker every day, even if you’re not.” he said quietly. “But it’s not as bad if you’re with other people who are alone, too. We can hold each other up like a card tower.”

And then there’s Rina, a side character and person of color, who is such a wonderful beacon of light in this book. She is so pure, she loves these boys, so damn much and provides these two lost boys with a safe haven. Rina truly was a blessing in this book and I love her so damn much. You don’t realize till the end of the book, but Rina really makes a difference in August’s and Jack’s life in more ways than one. I don’t think any reader will be able to help themselves from falling in love with her character.

As I mentioned earlier, mental health is a key part of this book and I loved the way Ancrum wrote the depictions of mental health. Most of the time or at some point in time, people like to assume mental health is black and white, and that’s not the case. Sometimes mental health is silent and hidden behind worrying for others. Other times it can be loud and fierce. And the author delivers a plethora of versions of mental health. You can tell how much the author put time and care into these depictions, whether from research or their own experiences.

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

This book is also immensely queer and I love it to pieces. It’s that subtle kind of love that you have to read between the lines to see. Not to mention the sexuality is so diverse. August is either bisexual or pansexual because we see him have intimate relationships with Rina and another side character. Jack also has a relationship with a female side character before he ever clarifies to August how much he loves him. And don’t get me start on some theories I have!

Overall, this book wrecked me in the best way possible. I loved this book so damn much and there aren’t enough words to express that. K. Ancrum truly is a blessing and no one is doing it like she is. I don’t know what we did to deserve Ancrum, but they are truly a blessing to us all. This is not a light story, but I feel that this is so important especially for mental health representation. I just love this book so much and I’m just going to lock this away in my heart forever. This is truly a gift and I want to put it in everyone’s hands!

“I love you and we don’t need the other world to keep that. It’s just true, It always has been. In this world and the next. They could take everything away and leave us with nothing, and I would still love you.”

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Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Physical violence (brutal fighting), semi-graphic wounds, scene of assault, mentions of bullying, racism/colorism, transphobia, homophobia, mentions of menstruation, abandonment

“The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.”

Be still my weeping heart! In all my years of reading retellings and fairy tales, Blaca y Roja is by far the best one I’ve read so far! McLemore has such a beautiful way of writing and the way she reimagined Snow-White and Rose-Red completely stole my heart away. This might be the best retelling I’ve read in a long, long time. The magic, the lyrical writing, the relationships and bonds, this book had everything that I love. Not even the multiple povs could sway my feelings about this book and yall know I’m not a big fan of multiple povs! This book will truly capture your heart!

“We had started to believe that Roja was the sister whose heart was a handful of hard red jewels, and I was the one as insubstantial as the hollow center of a cranberry. The lie of who we were had killed who we might have been. It had buried us. It stripped us down into girls uncomplicated enough to be understood.”

We follow two sisters, close as can be, who are destined to be torn apart by a curse that was placed upon their family. A curse that has happened for generations and marked the women, two daughters will always be born, but on one of those girls’ fifteenth birthday, the swans will come to claim one back. Many sisters formed rivalries, parents are turned against one another, but these daughters are choosing to take things into their own hands, they want to trick the swans. Hoping the swans will choose to leave them both alone and waiting until the next generation is to come. But this isn’t just a story of two sisters, this is a story of four people who’s destinies are all intertwined with one another, who are all feeling a little displaced, for multiple reasons.

🦢 Blanca – The “good” sister, light skin, fair, soft, and doing everything she can to prevent the swans from ever taking Roja away from her. The favorite of most of the women left of their family.

🦢 Page – A transboy, who uses he/she and him/her pronouns, and currently hiding from her family because even though they support Page in being trans, they don’t seem to understand why Page would still claim she/her pronouns.

“Him and her, I kinda like getting called both. It’s like all of me gets seen then. Doesn’t usually happen, though. Most people can’t get their head around boy and she at the same time, I guess.”

🦢 Roja – The fierce, angry, and stubborn younger sister with brown skin and deep red hair, the apple of her father’s eye, but no one else. Fighting tooth and nail to prevent the swans from ever claiming her and making her one of them.

🦢 Yearling – A boy from a terrible home life. He’s constantly physically fighting with his cousin, being egged on by his entire family, and due to suffering a loss of vision in his left eye, he struggles in day to day life. All he wants to do is escape his family, the name that cause people to be weary, and the secret and truth he knows about his family. After going into the woods to get lost, the woods ever listening, grants his wish.

All of these characters have their paths set, but the funny thing about paths… they tend to intertwine with others. And that’s exactly what happens with these characters. These four characters become tangling within each other’s destinies and realize, they need each other and care about one another. They’ll discover things about themselves, learn about unconditional love and what it means to sacrifice everything for those you love. Two beautiful romances will bloom, so beautifully and so eloquently written.

As I mentioned, this is a Snow-White and Rose-Red reimagined tale. This is McLemore’s ownvoices, Latinx, queer version of this fairy tale. And it’s everything. It’s truly everything you could want in a retelling, everything I wanted in a retelling! There’s themes of respecting people’s genders and sexuality journeys, how it’s fluid and how you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone especially if they don’t understand or accept you as you are. There’s also a huge theme of how we don’t have to be what our families, society, and the world wants us to be. We don’t have to fit that mold, we can be our own unique selves, and this book shows how you can break those cycles.

“We find what is beautiful in what is broken. We find what is heartening in what is terrifying. We find the stars in the woods’ deepest shadows.”

And this book shows us how everyone handles grief, pain, and trauma differently. That it’s okay to do so and you’re not alone in those feelings. This book reminds us that love and kindness are powerful forces that can heal even the most broken heart, how bonds of family (blood and found) plays a huge role in that and how it can change someone’s story completely. It’s the most powerful thing and McLemore conveys it so beautifully in this book.

Most importantly, this book is a love letter to all sibling bonds out there. Family is everything to me especially my siblings and I like to think I’m open about that, as much as I can be. I’m very protective of my siblings especially my younger brother and younger sister. And as the oldest sibling, I would do anything to make sure they were safe and could enjoy life to the fullest. I think I rave about sibling relationships every time I read a book with one in it (or the family dynamics). I’m also very open that I’m very white-passing. Everyone on my dad’s side is darker skin, mostly all dark hair, dark brown eyes. A lot of people wouldn’t know I’m Apache unless I was with my aunts because they fit the mold of what a Native American woman should look like. And I don’t fit that mold. I’m a white-passing, two-spirited, urban Apache woman and I constantly feel out of place. Yet, I will always acknowledge the privilege I have because of my white-passing and my biraciality, but my heritage and my family’s culture is very important to me. I was raised to always honor my heritage, my ancestors, and my family. And I think this book does such an amazing job at conveying all of this. This book really is about loving yourself, all parts of yourself, visible and non-visible, where you come from, and honoring your family. And if you couldn’t tell, this book really made me emotional and feel soft in all the spaces of my heart.

“They had seen in me the softest, weakest part of my heart where I held my sister. They knew I would do anything, give up anything, if it meant my sister keeping her own body. And now they wanted me to prove it.”

If there’s one thing that you take away from my review, let it be how much this book completely took me apart and stitched me back together. The way I fell in love with this book was so gentle at first and then hard. I don’t think there will ever be enough words to express how much this book means to me, what it made me feel, and how my heart is still weeping at how beautiful this story is. And as I mentioned before, this book is multiple perspectives. I’m not one to usually enjoy multiple perspectives, but the way McLemore wrote each perspective enchanted me from the beginning and stole my heart away. It takes a very special kind of book with multiple povs to make me fall in love with it and this book did just that. This book truly is a gift.

“It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.”

Overall, I loved this book so much! How could I not love this book? There’s no amount of words that can express the things this book made me feel, the whirlwind of making me come undone and putting me back together, this book truly is something special. I don’t think a book has ever made me cry this much before. This is probably the best retelling I’ve ever read and I think as readers, we sometimes forget the power of words, of books, and healing that can be found within the two. This book truly is a blessing and if you were looking for a retelling to pick up, let it be Blanca y Roja. It truly is a gift and I think I’m going to be shouting about this book for a long time.

Read for the Latinx Book Bingo 🧡

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Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

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ALC provided by Libro.fm and Simon Pulse in exchange for an honest review! 

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault, physical assault, trauma and PTSD, domestic violence, parental death, loss of a loved one (in the past), mentions of deportation, racism, mentions of a car accident, mentions of graphic injuries, harassment, bullying, sexism, mentions of human experimentations, stalking, sex

I had never heard of this release until Libro. fm. I haven’t heard a lot of readers talking about this book, but I did have two friends reading it at the same time as myself. When I saw readers listing this as sci-fi, I got really nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m so glad that I picked this book up and gave it a listen! This is probably one of the most interesting books I’ve read all year, so far and I hope you all give this book a chance!

Before I start, I just want to say how grateful I am that the author took the time to list content and trigger warnings at the beginning of the book. Not many authors do this, so I really wanted to make a space to show my appreciation and say how important this is. I do have a more thorough breakdown of content and trigger warnings listed above if you need specifics. But truly, this was one of the best things about this book!

Our story follows Sia Martinez, a Mexican-American teen, who’s still grieving the death of her mother, who was deported and died trying to make her way back to America from Mexico. Sia is constantly reminded of as she attends the same school with the son of the officer who deported her mother. She not only has the weight of the grief on her shoulders, but constantly deals with the bullying, racism, and harassment of her peers and the teachers at the school. Until Noah, the new kid, moves to school and suddenly the the things in Sia’s life start to change.

“My grandmother said there were countless worlds in addition to ours. The underworld, the ghost world, the world of beetles and bats and hummingbird moths. There’s a world for warlocks and brujas and one for coconut trees and even a world just for our dreams.”

I really appreciated Sia as our main character. For myself, personally, I think she was a perfect character to show a plethora of emotions and internal feelings in various situations. Most of the time, books don’t always show the full range of emotions teenagers and younger children can experience. Sia’s feelings are layered and deeply intertwined with one another, and I really loved that about her. However, I was hoping Sia would have been more vocal and stood up for herself more. The bond and routine Sia has with her father sort of builds up the idea that Sia would stand up for herself more often, challenge those who look down on her for who she is and her culture, and have a little more fight in her. However, I still enjoyed her character and really loved how we got to see the nerdy sides of her.

One of the biggest themes in this book is the friendship between Sia and Rose. They have been best friends for many years, but we see their friendship face hardships, independent struggles, and grow from those experiences. I find that it’s rare for books to show that friendships have many layers to them and they’re not always perfect. Their relationship felt so real and reminded me of one of my own friendships. With the conflict they encounter, it does take a bit, but eventually, Sia and Rose find their way back to one another and make amends. I also loved how we see the two of them navigate dating and trying to find a way to tell one another, balance time between each other and their relationships.

Speaking of dating, I didn’t read any of the blurbs or reviews for this book before listening to it, but when the SFF elements started appearing in this book, I was clutching my pearls. It made me so incredibly happy to see it. I think this is going to be an element that catches a lot of readers off-guard because it’s such a subtle element. However, I think it was beautifully established and I loved how it was woven into the story.

There’s also a beautiful theme of family throughout this entire book. I mentioned earlier that Sia and her father share a routine of practicing self-defense together. I really loved that little bit that shows that only only are they close, but Sia’s father wants her to be able to protect herself should anything happen when he’s not there. I really loved those moments with them and I loved how we get the widowed father household dynamic. I truly believe with my whole heart that single father households are very underrated in literature and don’t get the attention it truly deserves. So, I really appreciated seeing that element and seeing the bond these two characters have. Also, I really loved how we get constant references to Sia’s grandmother. I could feel the love radiate through the passages where Sia would reflect on something her grandmother said or had taught her. Those passages felt like a warm hug.

“And when we turn the lights out, I look at the stars out the window, wondering about how old they are. Do they fall in and out of love, do they tell stories? And which nebulae are their mothers, and do they long for their mothers so much, they feel like their hearts are breaking at every moment?”

Aside from all of this, the heart of this story is centered around the ways Mexican people view violent immigration and institutions. We also see the reality many immigrants face when someone they love is deported. We see the pain, the grief, and the loss that one experiences, but we also see the lengths someone would go to be reunited with those loved ones. I can’t speak any further on this because I’m not Mexican, Mexican-American, or an immigrant. However, I encourage you all to look at ownvoice reviewers and if you are an ownvoice reviewer, please link your review so I can help boost your voice!

I truly wish I could have given this a full five stars, but there was one thing that really shifted my feelings. This book is very much a genre-bending book! For the first half of this book, it reads like a contemporary book. The first half explores grief, trauma, love, and friendship. While the second half of this book has a lot of action and science fiction elements woven throughout the story. My real struggle was the sudden shift into the sci-fi elements. I’m not much of a sci-fi reader and when I do read sci-fi, it’s usually a struggle for a plethora of reasons. I wish this book would have stayed with the contemporary genre more than adding the sci-fi elements to it because I have no doubt I would have given this five stars. However, with the sci-fi elements, I felt like I was getting whiplash a few times and I started to lose interest in the characters. Whereas before, I was fully invested in the characters, the story line, and what would happen next. I also felt like certain details around the characters and story line got lost on me because of the sci-fi elements. However, I still enjoyed the story despite my conflict with the second half of this book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the themes in this book are so important. I truly feel this is an underrated book and not many people are talking about it. If you’re looking for a book that talks about grief, first love, friendships, strong family bonds, has short chapters, mixed with some sci-fi elements, then you should definitely pick this book up.

Read for Latinx Book Bingo 🧡

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

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A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals, #1) by Alyssa Cole

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of parents (in the past), loss of a loved one (in the past), grief, abandonment, racism, sexism, talk of animal death and experimentation, disease epidemics, stalking, mentions of gaslighting, colonialism, mentions of colonization, brief mentions of sacrifice, trauma, and poisoning

“If only these pesky spam emails would stop showing up in her inbox, claiming an African prince wants to marry her…”

I mentioned this before in my review for When No One Is Watching, I never read anything by Alyssa Cole before. In fact, I started both of these books at the same and ended up really enjoying both experiences! A Princess in Theory was such a fantastic read. I was pleasantly surprised and I really had a fun time getting to know these characters. I’m even more excited to say that I’m eager to continue on with the rest of the series because of my reading experience was so enjoyable. This book was funny, spicy, enthralling, has important topics, and all packed into this one book!

👑 Naledi Smith – After the passing of her parents, Ledi grows up in foster care with faint, distant memories of the family she once knew. Starting a promising future in New York, as a grad student majoring in epidemiology, she somehow manages to find the balance between working non-stop in the lab, waitressing, and studying.

👑 Prince Thabiso – An actual prince from Africa and the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo. With his parents badgering him to settle down and start a family, Thabiso has been unable to forget the girl who was promised to marry him, who has been absent for most of his life.

These two characters finally come together when Thabiso and Likotsi, Thabiso’s assistant, end up tracking Ledi down to New York. Thabiso decides to travel to New York, not just to handle some business, but to find Ledi and confront her. The moment they meet, sparks fly and from there we see a slow burn romance blossom.

“Everybody wants something from you, but sometimes there’s a person you want to give to. Sometimes what you give them makes you better for having given it. And it makes having to give to everyone else not so bad.”

I loved Naledi as our main character. She was such an easy character for me to fall in love with. From working hard to wanting to succeed in her career, she stole my heart from page one. Despite the hardships she’s endured, she still has a kindness about her and I loved how she kept two lab mice. I thought it was the most precious thing. Thabiso was a character I struggled to warm up to. The moment he lied about his identity, it put me on pins and needles. I found myself siding with Likotsi a lot during parts of Thabiso’s povs in the beginning. However, as we get further into the story, I started to appreciate how Thabiso handled the political game and how we get to see him show his caring side.

The chemistry between these two characters was so good! Ledi and Thabiso click from the moment they meet, and the author does an amazing job at creating a slow burn romance between them. I also loved how we got to see Ledi fall in love with Thabiso, but I also appreciated how Thabiso refused to give up on her. The moments of deep conversation they got to share were some of my most favorite moments throughout this book.

Aside from the romance, we have a lot of important topics being addressed throughout this book. One of the biggest topics we see immediately in this book, is the racism and sexism Ledi endures while she works towards her dream. Every time Ledi is in the lab, Ledi’s white male supervisor constantly puts Ledi in a position of picking up extra tasks and project to pick up the slack from her other colleague. This does get challenged later on in the book and it was pretty satisfying to see Ledi stand up for herself.

Then we have a topic that hit really close to my heart and I did get a little emotional reading some of these parts. Ledi has to experience what it’s like to grow up apart from a culture she’s never known. She sees the imbalances between Thabiso and her family backgrounds. From wealth and power to everyone having more knowledge of the story, her parents, etc… than she does. This hit so close to home for various reasons and I really loved how Alyssa Cole packed so much feeling behind those moments.

“It’s hard losing a friend.” Ledi said quietly. “If it’s your significant other, you’re allowed to grieve. But people act like best friends are a dime a dozen, and if you lose one you can just replace them with another.”

And of course, I have to talk about how well the grief handled in this book. Grief is very much laced throughout this book and I loved how Alyssa Cole added so many sides to that grief. We have Ledi who still feels the absent of her parents and feels the weight of that loss. On the opposite side, we Thabiso and Likotsi experience the grief instantly upon learning about the passing of Ledi’s parents. Then we have the Queen of Thesolo. I think she was my favorite because we usually never see the angry side of grief in books and we never see how those two emotions come together when someone lashes out. We see the Queen target Ledi and treats her unfairly because of her grief and her pain, but that behavior is always challenged and we get a moment between Ledi and the Queen that made me so emotional. I think Alyssa Cole did an amazing job with the grief representation in this book.

Overall, I could probably keep talking about this book with a couple more paragraphs, but I will spare you all! This was such a great read and written so beautifully. There’s so much packed into these pages like the asking for consent, the conversations around colonization, and the bond between Ledi and Nya. Plus, Nya is a side character who’s chronically ill. There was just so many wonderful things that I love. I think many romance readers are going to love this book and be eager to read this series. And I’m so, so thankful that many of my friends recommended I jump on this series!

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The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying, character being outed, mentions of divorce

“When matters of the heart are involved, it’s difficult to be careful.”

My heart it hurts, in all the best ways! I wasn’t expecting this book to hurt me the way that it did and I knew I would love this book from the start, but oh how I loved the experience of reading this book. This book is so beautifully written and it’s so much more than a cute romance of “enemies to lovers”. It’s so much more than that and it truly touched a piece of my heart.

We follow a Bengali girl named Nishat, who just came out to her parents and now feels the heavy weight of their rejection of her lesbian identity, and to prevent herself from crumbling in the process. On top of this harden silence, Nishat has to deal with the racism and homophobia at her school, while dealing with the culture appropriation happening during her business class’s competition by the girl she has a crush on.

I loved Nishat as our main character. She’s so unapologetically herself in a world that constantly tries to bend and break her. She’s fierce and she has no problem speaking her voice. I truly appreciate how the author took the time to pay attention to the little details with Nishat and her personality. The pay off is just beautiful, heartbreaking, and I think many readers are going to fall in love with her because of those details.

“What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.”

Throughout this book we see many relationship, many family dynamics. So let’s start with the family dynamics first. I loved Nishat’s family and how big it is. I love how we get moments with Nishat’s grandparents. I love seeing those bonds in book. We also have the family dynamic with Flávia. Flávia is from a single mother home and you know, I have a super soft spot for that family dynamic. Reading the experience Flávia’s mother went through made my heart turn to an absolute puddle.

As for the relationships, there’s two that really stuck out to me. The first relationship is between Nishat and her younger sister, Priti. I loved this sibling bond. You know I’m a soft heart for sibling relationships and the way these two love each other despite the hardships, just warmed my heart. This relationship spoke the loudest to throughout the whole book. There were times where the romance felt like it fell in the shadow of the sibling bond. The second relationship was between Flávia and Nishat. This romance was so precious and there were many times where I really wanted them to be together. There’s so many layers to their relationship and watching them come together was just a lovely experience.

However, this story is far from cute. If anything, the romance is cute, but this book deals with a lot of important topics. There’s a lot of talk of racism and homophobia laced throughout this book and all of it intertwines with Nishat’s culture, culture appropriation, and those making a profit off that cultural appropriation. Not only does the author handle this in many layers, but does it in a way where it gets the point across. The author also adds additional content to lighten the mood with lighthearted content and I really appreciated how well everything balanced out.

“Maybe… sometimes people don’t see the things they do as wrong, but they can see the wrong in what other people do – especially if it’s done to someone they care about.” I say “When it happens to someone else, it doesn’t feel as important as when it happens to someone we love.”

I can’t speak for the representation in this book, but I will link some reviews below that you should check out. What I can speak on is my own coming out. I was really blessed to not had a parent who was homophobic or reject my bisexuality in the way Nishat’s parents reject her. However, I’m Apache and coming out to my aunts and my uncle as two-spirited, it was something that still impacts me now. They still have a hard time processing that I like both men and women, they constantly have homophobic slip ups, and I constantly get questioned on my choice for not marrying someone who’s also Native. So seeing Nishat’s grief of having to hide who she is and feel her heartache echoing through these pages just rippled through my soul, and I could relate so much to Nishat in those moments.

I think the main reason why this wasn’t a full five stars was due to some missing details. I feel like we didn’t see enough of Nishat’s friends. I know they’re side characters, but I feel like there should have been more engagement in conversation between them than what we really got in this book. The other issue I had was how Nishat’s parents all of a sudden started to support Nishat and her lesbian identity. I think I just wanted more conversations to happen between Nishat and her parents, but I did appreciate that we see Nishat’s parents taking the time to try and learn.

Overall, I really loved this book and even though I only gave it four stars, it’s still getting placed on my top books for 2020. This book has so many important topics and they deserve to have the spotlight that they deserve. I loved how deep this story dived and I loved the growth of the relationships and connections throughout this book. And I’m not going to lie, finally seeing the racism being challenged in this book made my heart swell. I truly loved this book and I think many readers are going to fall in love with this book, see themselves within the pages of this book, and I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store for us.

Below are some reviews to take a look at, but you should uplift their voices and support them as well!

🏵️ Fanna’s Review

🏵️ Zaheerah’s Review

🏵️ CW’s Review

🏵️ Jaime’s Review

🏵️ Sabrien’s Review

Read for Dragons & Tea Book Club August 2020 Pick 💚

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An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, grief, colonization and oppression, transgenerational and intergenerational trauma

Friends and fellow readers, what an incredible read. This was such an impactful reading experience. How often do you hear someone talk about the various Trail of Tears and the way Native Americans have been impacted throughout history? Not very often. While this book is ownvoices for the Mvskoke representation (the author is Mvskoke), I can’t speak for this experience. I’m not Mvskoke, I’m Apache and so please take my opinions with a grain of salt. But I truly loved this book and I think many readers who want to diversify their reading and hear one voice about one of the many Trail of Tears, this is a great book to start with.

“The heart is a fist. It pockets prayer or holds rage.”

This book is a collection of poems and history woven together about the early 1800s when the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their homes, their original land, just east of the Mississippi, to the Indian Territory which is now part of Oklahoma. Harjo ends up returning to her homelands and discusses an abundance of emotions, about her family, and history.

When I say this book took a piece of me, I mean it truly chipped a piece of my soul and kept it for itself. The swirl of emotions and feelings I felt while reading this were enough to sink a whole ship. There is so much hardship, grief, a large sense of loss and heartbreak, but there’s also love and hope laced throughout this book. This was the first work by Harjo that I have read and after reading this, I just want to pick up even more of her work.

Some of my favorite pieces from this book are the following:

🌄 Once I looked at the moon

🌄 Rising and Falling

🌄 Falling from the Night Sky

🌄 Rabbit Invents the Saxophone

🌄 Let There Be No Regrets

🌄 Tobacco Origin Story

🌄 Beyond

“I was taught to give honor to the house of warriors. Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.”

Overall, I enjoyed this and as I mentioned, if you’re looking for books by Native American authors talking about The Trail of Tears, this is a great book to start with. The author weaves such an important picture for those who have never done any independent research of The Trail of Tears or looked for those talking about their family’s history with The Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is one of the most important pieces of colonization of the United States and I can’t express enough how important it is to listen to First Nation voices of their experiences.

Special thank you to Donna from Momsbookcollection for gifting this book!

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The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

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ARC was provided by Stephen Graham Jones in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (July 14th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of drug and alcohol abuse, graphic deaths of animals, graphic injuries, murder, loss of a loved one, grief

“For them, ten years ago, that’s another lifetime.
For you it’s yesterday.”

My heart, my whole damn heart is filled with so much appreciation for this book. Growing up with a mother who is horror obsessed, it’s been a while since I read a book that chilled my core. I wish my schedule hadn’t been so busy outside of reading this book because I have no doubt that I would have power read this book in two-three days. Also, this is an ownvoices horror novel for the Native American representation. I can’t even begin to express how much this means to me as an Indigenous reader and reviewer. To have an arc of this book, I’m forever grateful and this is something I’ll cherish with my whole soul.

Our story begins with the prologue as it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We follow Ricky, the first of the four Blackfeet men to encounter the Elk Woman, an entity born from a violent incident on scared ground. Once the news of Ricky reaches his friends, only Lewis begins to wonder if there’s more to what happened than another Native man dying in a bar fight. But soon, they’ll all see how powerful suffering and vengeance really can be.

🦌 Ricky – After leaving the reservation, works for a contracting company, the first to encounter the Elk Woman and die.

🦌 Lewis – Left the reservation to marry his wife, Peta, still works for the postal office, liked to read books, thinks often of “that day“.

🦌 Gabe – Gabe Cross Guns still lives on the reservations and looks after his father, the fighter/troublemaker of the group, uses jokes redirect conversations and hard topics, and father to Denorah.

🦌 Cass – Cassidy Sees Elk still lives on the reservation with Gabe, living with his girlfriend, the serious one of the four friends

🦌 Denorah – Gabe’s daughter, the reservation basketball star, the underdog of this story.

“It was so easy. He was so fragile, so delicately balanced, so unprepared to face what he’d done.”

The author has an incredible way of writing. The way this book is written in a way that leaves you wondering if the Elk Woman who’s inflicting the wrath upon these men is their guilty imagination or something more real. There’s also a constant theme of grief laced through the entire novel. You have these passages where we see things from, not only the four men, but also the Elk Woman and there’s such a heaviness of loss. Stephen did an incredible job weaving such a powerful emotion throughout this book and really shows how grief can manifest in so many different ways for people.

“We’re from where we’re from. Scars are a part of the deal, aren’t they?”

I also have to take a moment to say that this book addresses so much when it comes to Blackfeet culture and beliefs, talks a little bit about elk ivory, gives you glimpses of what reservation life is like, how if you’re of color you’re treated differently and have to work twice as hard, and so many other important topics that aren’t often talked about. There were so many moments in this book that addressed many of these topics and the truth that’s woven into this book… how could I not get emotional about it?

And the ending of this book what a shock to the system. I loved it so much! Denorah is such an underdog, but I loved reading things from her perspective. She’s very determined, headstrong, and so courageous. I think many readers will fall in love with her and her actions. I think she’s my favorite character and dare I say she deserves a spin-off book.

Overall, I really liked this book. I want to say so much more about this book, but I think anyone who picks this book up should go in with as little information as possible. I loved how the uncertainty, the horror, and confusion of the characters translated on the page. All the side characters brought so much to the table for the story development, the personal interactions between the main characters, and making this book feel like a horror movie for your brain. If you’re a lover of horror, looking for books by Native American authors to diversify your reading, or if you enjoy supernatural/paranormal novels then recommend picking this novel up!

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

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Lobizona (Wolves of No World, #1) by Romina Garber

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ARC was provided by NetGalley & Wednesday Books in exchangee for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (August 4th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Anxiety, talk of claustrophobia, xenophobia, sexism, discussion of menstruation, bullying, drug trafficking, drugging, talk of postpartum depression, trauma, misogyny, scene of attempted sexual assault, forced marriage, minor homophobia

“I come alive on the full moon.”

Dearest readers, I’m so thankful that I received an arc of this book. Not to mention that I was able to buddy read this book with so many of my fellow friends and partners at the Social Distance Book Fest. This book was captivating, unique, and I literally took a couple of weeks just to put my thoughts in order, to write this review and tell you all about it.

Our story follows Manuela Azul, an undocumented immigrant, who had her whole life turned upside down. Secrets are now coming to light, with her grandmother in the hospital and her mother taken into custody, Manu has no other choice other than to run. Only fate will lead her to a place that allows her to be herself, trace her heritage, and uncover her own story.

I loved Manu as a main character. She’s very strong, independent, and even though it’s not shown enough (in my opinion), she’s very family oriented. She also has this free spirit about her that I absolutely adored. The way Garber shows Manu’s vulnerability with being so uncertain, not wanted people to get in too deep with her situation, and the scene where she tries to push everyone away… I couldn’t stop appreciating that side of her and those vulnerabilities really resonated with me. I’m very much a person who wants to protect the ones she loves and cares about. So seeing Manu’s internal conflict about what she should do and how she do it, it really hit my soft spots.

“Because you can’t be invisible when your irises are yellow suns and your pupils are silver stars.”

The side characters were fantastic. I loved the way there were so many different personalities and how they all meshed so well with one another. What I really loved about these characters was how a small handful of them had Manu’s back despite everything. I loved how Cata and Saysa were willing to help Manu stay in the bruja part of the school, but what I loved the most is how Cata and Saysa both represented the angel on one shoulder with the devil on the other. Not to mention, we’re made aware of it later on in the story, but they’re both in a secret relationship with one another. And I think the thought of their different personalities coming together in a relationship really made me love them even more. Then we have Tiago and this poor boy couldn’t catch a break. Manu kept cutting him off left and right. It about killed me having to watch this boy get crushed so many time especially after a special scene that shows us the feelings growing between Tiago and Manu. Plus, his personality mixes so well with the way Manu’s personality is throughout this story. It was great chemistry and I truly felt that they were a perfect match for one another.

I also loved the way the magic was shown throughout this book. For my reading experience, the magic and the world felt very ancient, something alive and breathing. That feeling became even more solid after Manu is told Lunaris is the home of all magic and how Lunaris ends up having a real conversation with Manu. Ten years were added to my life by all of this. And I truly believe it was a clever idea to give Lunaris the ability to have a persona and the ability to communicate. And can I talk about this world building for a second?! I loved the world building in this book. I’m very picky about fantasy and world building. If a book can’t rope me in within the first five chapters, I will probably struggle with reading the book. However, for my experience, Romina Garber really gave me a vivid experience. It felt like I was walking right beside Manu as she moved from different areas in the book. I adore and crave books that can give me the vivid experience. And I think the author did a marvelous job delivering that expectation for me.

“You seek to discover your true home, yet you no longer have one… You have two.”

This book also addresses many important issues, as well. There’s a huge discussion of immigration and about ICE which overlaps a lot with what’s happening in today’s time. I don’t want to speak too much on that because that’s not my story to tell. However, if this is an own voices read for you and you have a review for this book, talking about your own experiences, please send me a link so I can help boost your voice and story. This book also addresses the topic of gender and gender identity. This is another important topic that sparks many arguments and conversations today. Even though there has been so much progress, there’s many places where gender restrictions is still a thing or an issue. In the the same area, we have the relationship with Cata and Saysa where they have to hide their love and relationship because it’s illegal for them to be open about it. Once again, even though the lgbtqiap+ community has made great strides and helped the world progress so much, there are many places in the world where it’s illegal to be open about same sex relationships. So I really appreciated Romina Garber adding these topics in because they’re still important issues that exist today and it’s not talked about enough.

“Fierro valued every life, wanted the best for everyone no matter if they were lobizones, brujas, or humans.”

I also want to mention that any reader should practice self-care while reading this book. There are a lot of content warnings, but I want to point out that there is a scene of attempted rape and as a rape survivor myself, that scene left me very uneasy and how it went unchallenged. I would have liked to see it challenged more or see some form of punishment happen. While I realize this is to show how society handles sexual assault and rape situations, I feel like it could have been challenged more. As I mentioned, just practice self-care and step back when you need to while reading this book.

I think the biggest issue I had with this book and the reason why I couldn’t give this a full five stars was the translated Spanish. And what I mean by that is Romina Garber’s personality is very un-apologetically Latinx, but when you read this book, it’s anything but. Now, I’ve seen many authors who are un-apologetically whatever heritage they are in books. Julie Kagawa is one of the of the best examples I can think of because she uses a lot of Japanese words and saying in her books, but she doesn’t explain it every time she uses them in her Shadow of the Fox series. She has a glossary in the back of her book for readers to constantly reference. Then you also have the matter of Google which is there for a reason. Now, I could understand if the author was explaining the sentences to add to the world building, however, I thought the world building was beautifully done. So the fact that every time there’s a Spanish sentence spoken and then immediately translated right after it’s said was very surprising for me. I truly would have loved to have seen the author run wild with the Spanish, without translating it, and leaving a glossary or dictionary piece in the back of her book. I would have loved to have seen the editing process for this book because I truly believe the translations didn’t need to be added. In my opinion, the world building speaks for itself and I would rather have the author be un-apologetic about their heritage and culture then see them feel obligated to translate it.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this Lobizona. I loved how there was such emphasis on family and how important it is, I fell madly in love with the world building and characters, and I think many readers are going to be putting this on their top books for 2020. I’m truly hoping more readers will pick this book up, preorder it, and get as excited as I am about this book. However, now that I’ve finished reading the first book, I need the second one immediately. Can I have it already?!

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

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