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Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Graphic animal deaths, grief, death, murder, scene of committed suicide, strangulation, depictions of blood, loss of loved ones (past & present), child abandonment, bullying, ableism & ableist language, mutism, child abuse & neglect, night terrors

“The Priors didn’t build this house. Gallant was already here. It called out to our family, and like fools, we came.”

Friends, I have been sitting here asking myself why I haven’t picked up anything by V.E. Schwab until now. Why did no one recommend her books to me sooner? Like, I really freaking loved this book. Every time I set it down, I was thinking about this book, itching to pick it back up. Even while I was reading two other books, this book still danced in my thoughts. Needless to say, Schwab’s books have been bumped up on my radar for books to read.

Olivia Prior has spent her whole life in an all girls school, where cruelty is abundance. With only the vaguest of clues to her past and the parents who left her behind in the pages on a journal, written by her mother. Until one day, a letter arrives from distant, unknown family, summoning Olivia to Gallant. But upon arriving, Olivia is only met with confusions and secrets. Refusing to leave, Olivia is determined to unravel the secrets that everyone, even her mother’s, is trying to shield her from.

As someone who’s new to Schwab’s writing and world building, I felt entire emersed in the world of Gallant. It was so easy for me to get sucked in with the ghouls and the way little things would slowly unravel. I absolutely adore world that can catch my attention with the tiniest, little things. I always say the beauty is in the little details and that’s what we’re given with this book. They’re the subtle details that you can only feel and truly see when you almost feel like you’re the main character. As if you’re experiencing things for yourself. And I think the mixed media was a nice touch to really paint the picture of what our mc was reading, seeing, and just added the icing to the cake, if you will.

“Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me.
I would write the words a thousand times if they’d be strong enough to hold you here.”

Speaking of our main character, holy French toast yes please! Can we have more main characters who are mute, who use sign language?! Characters that are quiet on the outside, but filled with noise, bottled up feelings waiting to escape in it’s own way?! I really loved Olivia and everything that made Olivia who she is. I think her determination really made me fall in love with her because her desire to seek out answers were so strong. And I really loved that about her. She’s just one of those characters that has a fire lit inside of them that burns so brightly, it’s hard to ignore and that’s what she was for me. She was a character who stood out in so many ways. I also want to say we have a side character who’s implied to be dyslexic and I really appreciated that representation being added into this book.

The themes scattered throughout this book were fantastic. There were so many themes about love and freedom, and homes. The discussion about homes and finding a place where you belong. There’s this constant theme of how homes can take on many forms. It can feel like a gilded cage or home can be a person. How sometimes even in a home, we can feel like an unwanted stranger and never really know peace or safety. The constant themes of freedom and homes constantly made me think of (and I don’t say this very often) Genie and Aladdin when they talk about freedom. “Freedom. But, oh, to be free! To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.” This is a constant feeling I got from Olivia, from all the Priors really, in various different ways. I think of all the things I loved about this book, the themes throughout really hit my soul the most and are the real reason I loved this book as much as I did. As readers, we don’t often look for themes, but when we do, they can hit all the softest parts of our being.

“Free – a small word for such a magnificent thing. I don’t know what it feels like, but I want to find out.”

Honestly, I don’t have the words to describe all the things this book made me feel, how it touched parts of my soul in ways I don’t want to be vulnerable about. I think this was just a masterfully written book, with very beautiful writing and I think those who are looking for themes or some sort of connection with this book, you’ll find it. I know I found it when I least expected it.

If I had to sit down and say anything negative about this book, I think it would be two things. One, that this doesn’t fully feel like a young adult book. I think there will be readers who feel this fits in the middle grade category more. For me, I think they can be both because both can be true at the same time. The other thing I think will cause may readers to dislike the book will be the constant conversations and themes around death. Death is a theme and topic, let’s just be honest, people in general get skittish or hesitant to read or talk about. It tends to remind us of our own mortality especially when a book feels set in our own world or scenes are laced with very real situations/consequences, etc… I think the theme of death will be something that may cause readers to take a step back with or even feel uncertain about especially because there’s been so many different portrayals of Death throughout literature, media, etc… For me, these things weren’t an issue, but I think they may be issues for other readers.

“But the truth is, death is everywhere. Death comes for the roses and the apples, it comes for the mice and the birds. It comes for us all. Why should death stop us from living?”

Overall, what more can I say about this book except that I loved it. This was such an atmospheric read that hooked me right from the start. Honestly, one of the hardest books to set down for sleep and regular necessary things because I was so hooked on the story, in love with the writing. I think this may be a hit or miss for readers especially if you’ve been a long time fan of Schwab’s work. But I absolutely fell in love with this book and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by Schwab in the future!

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The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

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Content/Trigger Warnings: References/framework to Residential Schools, trauma/PTSD, child abuse (in the past), bigotry (towards magical creatures, but in reference to BIPOC of modern day), verbal & mental abuse (in the past), displacement, references to colonization, fatphobia (internal and external), dieting, toxic work relationships/environment

“Your voice is a weapon. Never forget that.”

Whew, I don’t know where to begin with this review. I’ve typed this review and then deleted it so many times, I have so many save files on different ways I’ve typed this review out, asking myself if this will be the first book I refuse to write a review for or if my voice is even worth voicing and wondering if anyone is going to listen to an Indigenous voice, debating whether or not to talk about my love for this book, but also the great discomfort I’ve felt around this book. It wouldn’t be the first book to make me think or feel like that. For starters, let’s address the fact that there’s a lot of genre based books out there that pull from real events or historical things that have happened or are currently happening. Sci-Fi and fantasy are notorious for doing this, as well as contemporary. This is nothing new and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I’ll also point out that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that non-Indigenous people constantly pull from Indigenous trauma/suffering and never the good or things that should be celebrated with Indigenous communities. This is nothing new. With that out of the way, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes. YES, I’ve read the inspiration interview and YES, I listened to the podcast as well. After the fact that I read this book. Thank you to the kind person who reached out to me with these sources. And yes, I have a big mixture of feelings about these interviews and now about this book. Honestly, the best thing I can do with this review is be as honest as I can about how I feel, not just as a reader, but as an Apache person.

Our story follows Linus Baker, a case worker for The Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He lives a comfy life of working his job, going home listening to his favorite records, and of course, trying to stop his cat Calliope from causing havoc. However, Linus’s life is about to change when Extremely Upper Management summons him and gives him a class 4 assignment. Linus’s is about to have his whole world turned upside down and maybe he might just find the place he belongs along the way.

Let me begin by saying that I truly loved the characters of this book. More specifically Arthur, Zoey, and all the children of Marsyas. I loved the way each character for their own uniqueness, how detailed each one was, and how they have their own story to tell. I love characters that have a lot to them. You know the kind, the kind of characters that have layers upon layers to discover. I mentioned before, but I truly believe Sal and Theodore were my favorite children, though I loved each of them so very dearly. Arthur was a mystery, but when we get to learn more about him, a piece of me broke and I truly love the slow build to learn more about him. Our main character was different for me. It took me longer to warm up to him. At times, Linus reminded me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Paul Blart from Mall Cop. However, majority of the time it felt like his whole identity and characteristics revolved around his job. It was hard to have a connection with him sometimes because his character seemed to cling so tightly to his career and just lacked compassion, and open-mindedness.

Of course, I have to talk about the theme of found family. Found family is one of those topics that I really enjoy in books. Which, surprise, was one of the reasons why I took such a interest in this book in the first place. It was one of the themes that many fellow readers preached to me when I asked about this book. To be fair, there is a theme of found family and I did enjoy the build of how the main character fell in love with this found family. I always find it really beautiful to watch a main character fall in love with a found family or find their found family. Yet, I do have my issues with this especially when Arthur is constantly referenced as the master of the orphanage. It just doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t think it ever will. I think I would have preferred if Arthur was referred to as the head of the orphanage, but that seems off as well.

And the writing is really beautiful. I found myself really enjoying it and with many fantasy books, of course I was power reading through this book. The pace is kind of fast and easy to breeze through. Also, the audiobook was wonderfully done. The narrator of the audiobook did a fantastic job bringing to life the characters from within.

However, despite the beautiful writing, wonderfully detailed characters, quotes upon quotes, and the found family theme… I had a lot of discomfort with this book. And let me state this, I have seen many non-Indigenous people speaking about this book stating “Oh, I don’t see the Residential School references in this book except for small parallels in the framework” or “There are people “over reacting” in the reviews trying to make this book be something it’s not.” And I’m just going to say, have you ever wondered why not many Indigenous people read this book and reviewed it or even stated their opinion on this book? Take a moment to ask yourself how you would feel if someone wrote an entire book based entirely of historical trauma from your own people, that they have no connection to and even acknowledge publicly it’s not their story to share yet wrote it anyway, that is still being felt in present day. A trauma that has never been given the room to heal from because more and more things keep coming into the light. Honestly, seeing so many people talking and acting this way almost discouraged me from writing this review and speaking my truth, my experience reading this book.

My discomfort with this book first started during the first chapter. Now, this was before I was even seen the interviews. So right from the beginning I was uncomfortable with no knowledge of what the story was inspired by or what this entire book was centered around. Actually, the first chapter made me believe that this book was going to address the child welfare system as a whole, address how broken the foster system is, and how terrible the whole adoption process is. Which that in itself are whole topics that I wish was addressed more often in literature, in general. But I digress. That was the beginning of my discomfort with this book. The real discomfort began when Linus actually arrived for the new case he was working on. From there, you know how when your memory sends triggers or little red flags to you that something isn’t right? Yeah, that kind of feeling where you feel a little bit like a deer in the headlights and you’re trying to process on just how to proceed. That was me while reading this book. There would be very specific scenes like the really emotional scene we get with Sal or the really emotional scene with Arthur talking about his past, even in the first chapter I would get this painful pricking in the back of my skull and it felt like sleigh bells were being rung in my ears. During these scenes I kept thinking, “Something doesn’t feel right about this. Something feels off, but also familiar. I can’t put my finger on it.”

I mentioned before how Linus as a main character was really hard to connect to at times for me. I think the only times I’ve felt any connection to Linus was during the scenes where there would be minor discussion surrounding the internal and external fatphobia. That’s something I can relate to on a personal level and probably talk about for hours about how big of a problem it is making people fatphobic of themselves and others, and how it’s harmful to everyone or how it doesn’t fix anything except make things worse. But my real issue with Linus was his lack of caring. Linus is basically the magical version of CPS (child protective services). And let me let you in on a secret, I’ve met quite a few of these type of case workers, five to be exact. I still remember their names, the details in their face and every expression they’ve made, and how every time their investigation would conclude they would say, “Well, everything seems to be in order, nothing wrong here, sorry to bother you folks.” It’s a very rare theme to find case workers who actually do care for the children and go the extra mile to check in on past cases. What surprised me was how he never once bothered to ask about how the children are placed in these orphanages and where are their families, doesn’t bother asking why these children can’t practice or learn about their cultures, never once inquires about the kind of environments the kids are being raised in or how they’re being treated in these environments, never asks about the parents or what happened to the families of these children (though we do see get some file details for some children and about Arthur that parents are “assumed dead”), he never bothers looking into what happens to the children once an orphanage is shut down (all we know is they get sent off to either another orphanage or a government run boarding school for magical youth run by the very company he works for), and he never once thinks about the kind of trauma the children go through in all of this. He literally assumes that all these children are being placed in good care or that the government will take care and provide for them despite cases where he stated he’s seen different. That’s it. That’s as far as his compassion and caring goes, his assumptions. Otherwise, it’s like the cases never existed in the first place. And yes he ends up slowly changing by the end of the book, but why couldn’t he have been like this from the beginning?

“Sometimes our prejudices color our thoughts when we least expect them to. If we can recognize that, and learn from it, we can become better people.”

I’m finally going to address it, yes, address the parallels and framework that this magical world is pretty darn close to Residential Schools or The Sixties Scoop. Circling back to what I stated previously, those little warning signs and the way things felt so familiar, like I’ve seen or heard similar stories. It’s due to having heard the stories of survivors from Residential Schools, it’s listening and watching documentaries on Residential Schools, watching Indigenous youth still go through walking the fine line of growing up with their culture yet being forced to go to public school (I’m referencing a documentary called ‘In My Blood It Runs‘), and having open conversations with my elders, aunties, and uncle to hear the history from those who have more wisdom than I and learning about the hard truth from them first hand. And maybe it’s because I’m white passing that my aunties and uncle really emphasized our history, our culture into me. So that I knew the truth spoken by elders and if there ever a came a time, use my voice to speak the truth loudly and direct those who don’t understand to those voices speaking their truth. And if you’ve never taken the time to actually listen to the voices of those who survived Residential Schools then it’s possibly you won’t see the details and you may only see it as frame work or even “bare bones” for the story, but I can assure you that once you’ve listened to enough Indigenous voices speak their truth of surviving those horrors, you will see how close the parallels are. The few links I’ve include are just a small few from dozens of sources I can provide.

Trying to write this part was really hard and I feel like I’ve rewritten this section countless of times because I feel like I have no nice way of writing this, but maybe that’s okay because sometimes the truth hurts and it needs to be said. My biggest issue isn’t the fact that this book is inspired by and written about Residential Schools. I think the part that bothers me the most about this book is the fact that it almost feels like it romanticizes or glorifies Residential Schools and the trauma/suffering that comes from the real history of Residential Schools. Which, it wouldn’t be the first time someone wrote a book glorifying the history of Indigenous people. In the interviews, the author even states how the overall message of this book is kindness and that’s reflected in so many parts within this book. We watch as Linus comes in, saves the day with one final report to DICOMY, and suddenly all problems and worries Arthur and the children were facing just disappear. Everything just stops. Including the bigotry from the town, where the mayor, Arthur, and Linus literally tell them to stop and suddenly all hatred and racism towards the magical people stops entirely. Racism and prejudices don’t suddenly stop because a few people say, “Knock it the hell off!” Actually, I’ve seen the opposite where people will become more determined to display that negative behavior. Recently, I’ve been seeing this common theme in various communities from non-Indigenous people constantly saying “It’s not that bad” or “I don’t see how this is a problem” and constantly using “kindness” as a tool for erasure of Indigenous history, trauma/suffering, voices, and hardships they have faced for generations and are still facing in present day. And that’s kind of how this feels with this book. It feels like another non-Indigenous person stepping forward to say, “I have the solution to decades upon decades of oppression, racism, and bigotry towards Indigenous people… It’s kindness! All we need is kindness!” That’s not how this works. This was never how it worked historically or systematically.

“Just because you don’t experience prejudice in your everyday doesn’t stop it from existing for the rest of us.”

Overall, I’m exhausted friends. I’m so freaking exhausted on trying to convey my thoughts and feelings on this book, the way I had over 20 bookmarks of resources to put in this review because Indigenous people always have to provide the resources but deserve to have their voices heard, to express how saddened I am about these interviews with the author, how I feel kind of ashamed for parts that I actually enjoyed of this book, and just the mass amount of mixed feelings I have in general about this book now. As a Native person reading this book and stating my truth of my experience with this book, I feel like my voice is going to fall on muffled ears, on those who are going to brush it off and say, “You’re over reacting.” or “You’re making up references that don’t exist.” Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before where many people have silenced my voice in that way. As a fellow reader, I hope that this review reaches someone and gives them food for thought because they haven’t heard opposing voices in the sea of endless positivity or maybe that haven’t heard any Indigenous readers step forward stating their opinions. I removed my rating for this book on here because at this moment, I don’t have the energy to do so. I genuinely don’t feel like it deserves that kind of attention at the moment because I want my voice to be heard. Also, I’m going to link some further resources for anyone who wants them. And all I can do is ask that you hear the voices of Indigenous people, whether it’s one, a dozen, forty, or more… Just listen to them speak their truth.

Cossette’s Review
Indian Residential School Survivors Society
Legacy of Hope
Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society
Indigenous Peoples Survival Foundation
NDN Collective Stories

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For The Wolf (The Wilderwood, #1) by Hannah Whitten

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Content/Trigger Warning: Talk of human sacrifice, paternal abuse & neglect, death, talk of loss of loved one, grief, depictions of wounds and blood, gore, self-harm, violence, anxiety & panic attacks, emesis, hallucinations (visions)

“This ends in roots and bones. For all of you. It always ends in roots and bones.”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for retellings! However, I went into this only knowing that it was a retelling and bless my friend for recommending this as a buddy read. I spiraled so hard for this book and even when I set it down to do other things, I found myself thinking about it. It’s been a while since a retelling weaseled its way inside my head and had me thinking about it for days after reading it. Truly, if you’re a lover of retellings then I have to recommend this book to you, hands down.

Our story follows the Second Daughter, Redarys, who’s accepted her fate, waiting to be given to a dark forest as a human sacrifice or as the legend/prophecy claims, for the Wolf. While Red has accepted her destiny, her sister, Neve refuses to accepts this and begins plotting a plan to save Red from this path of darkness. Yet when Red is delivered to the Wilderwood and finally meets the Wolf, everything she thought she knew is not what it seems and soon finds an entirely different story altogether.

“Well, damn the myths. She was just as much a part of those stories as he was, and if her destruction was imminent, she’d rather be the architect than a bystander.”

The amount of finger snapping I have done over Red’s character should be enough to have broken my fingers. Truly, I loved Red’s character with a fiery passion. Red not only accepts her fate, but she is stubborn like there’s no tomorrow and bares her teeth to the maker like she was placed in this world like she had no other purpose. I’ll admit, Red almost feels like a morally grey, but I’m incredibly hesitant to say that. If anything, Red’s sister Neve is the most morally grey character throughout this entire book (but will get to that later). Red is a character who has such a fire in her soul, but we get to see all her moments of doubt, of weakness, and she’s just that kind of character you don’t want to lose focus on because you want to see what they’ll do next.

Oh ho, if you thought I forgot about The Wolf then you’re wrong. Out of all of the characters in this book, The Wolf or Eammon is my absolute favorite, mores so than Redarys. And no, it’s not due to Eammon coming off as having lots of inspiration from Adam Driver! As a reader, I very much become found of characters who have similar personalities to my own and while I want to say I love Eammon and Redarys equally, that would be a lie. Eammon is a very self-sacrificing character, one who would rather suffer than watch their loved ones suffer. And that is something the resonates very deeply with me as a person. Not only does Eammon do a lot of sacrificing, but he’s the only character in the book who have visible scarring, which made me a hard stan for The Wolf.

“I want the roots…I understand what it means, and I want them anyway, because I am for the Wolf, and the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.”

Though this is a retelling, there are some hidden gems of themes throughout this book. One of my favorite tropes is found family and there’s very much what Redarys finds when she enters the Wilderwood. She finds love and friends who not only want to protect her, but want to fight alongside of her. The way she connects with these people isn’t linear and it has those moments of holding your breath, but the way all of them come together and realize how much they care for one another really warms my heart.

While we’re talking about family, there’s also a theme of neglectful/abusive family in this book. How those who we’re related to can be cruel or hurtful, and despite that, how we can mourn them. We can mourn the ones who have hurt us because we can mourn the things that could have been if things were different. We see a different side in Neve’s perspective as she mourns the sister she lost, yet knows is still alive. And again, the way grief is shown in this book is good. Grief is never linear, it takes on many faces, and this might be the first book I’ve read that tells you, “Hey, you can mourn the people who hurt you because you’re grieving a life, you’re grieving what could have been.” The way the author laced this theme throughout this book is so beautiful and I thought it was really well done, but it may just be due to reading this book when I needed to have this theme in my hands.

“Sometimes you don’t mourn people so much as you mourn who they could’ve been.”

Though there were many things I loved like how this is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, there were some things I didn’t love. The one issue I had with this book was repetitiveness. There’s a lot of times throughout the entire middle of this book where things felt repetitive or it had a de ja vu effect. As a reader, one of the biggest things I can’t overlook is repetitiveness. No matter how it’s written, no matter if you change wording or try burying it among action packed scenes; if anything feels like it’s repeating too much, my brain will zone in on it. The beginning, climax, and ending of this book was fantastic, but throughout that middle there were a lot of repeating themes that just weren’t necessary.

The biggest issue was Neve’s perspective. If I’m being honest, I strongly disliked Neve’s perspective. This is truly a first for me because anytime there’s sibling themes, I usually love them and I always want to take time to talk about that. However, there’s a first time for everything and this was definitely a first. I should state that Neve is a morally grey character. Out of all of the characters in this book, Neve truly is the most morally grey character. I’ll just be honest, I disliked everything about Neve and Neve’s perspective. Personally speaking, I think I dislike her character so much because Neve is the older sibling and I’m also the oldest sibling in my family, and everything Neve does just goes against what you should be doing as an older sibling, in my opinion. She has no fire in her, she doesn’t question anything even though things are very obviously wrong, despite her constantly saying she “cares” about Red or is doing something for Red’s “benefit,” Neve does absolutely nothing to protect her or even support Red. I just really don’t like Neve, every time I think of her character I get a headache, and even though I know why we have her perspective, I wish we didn’t.

Overall, I really loved this book. I took so many notes, pulled so many quotes, and the fact that I’ve been thinking about this book for so long just shows how much I enjoyed it. The world building was incredible, I love when an author builds up a world you can practically envision really existing. There’s so many characters to fall in love with and there’s some important themes that can’t be ignored. Again, if you’re a lover of retellings then I recommend this book with my whole chest.

Buddy read with Destiny from Howling Libraries 💜

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Misgendering, transphobia allusions to dead-naming, depictions of gender dysphoria, loss of a parent (in the past), loss of a loved one, death, grief, references to blood magic and cult themes, ritualistic self-harm, abandonment, bullying, kidnapping, brief mention of racial profiling, mentions of deportation, mentions of child abuse

“Don’t mourn me.
If you cry for me, I grieve your pain.
Instead, if you sing to me, I’ll always live and my spirit will never die.”

Before reading this review, please check out Adri’s review, their full vlog, and their interview with Aiden Thomas! They’re content for this book is the reason I became even more hyped about reading this book. So please check those links out!

I knew I was going to love this book with my whole heart. Also, I had a feeling it would make my favorite books of 2020 and I predicted it was going to be a five star read. What I didn’t predict was being surprised with how long it took me to realize the Mayan mythology, the way so many of the themes hit close to home, and I certainly didn’t expect to be sobbing my eyes out for an hour after finishing this book. This truly is a beautiful debut novel and I hope everyone picks this book up soon!

Yadriel wants nothing more than to be accepted for who he really is by his traditional Latinx family. With the help of his best friend Maritza to preform the ritual and sets out to help his family locate the ghost of his cousin Miguel. Except, Yadriel summons the wrong ghost. When Julian Diaz appears instead of his cousin, Yadriel thinks he can help him move on, but Julian isn’t going to go quietly and might be the only link Yadriel has to what happened to Miguel. This unlikely pair will team up to get what they want, but sometimes he worst thing isn’t summoning the wrong ghost, it’s falling for one.

“Julian was the most alive person he’d ever met. Even as a spirit, he was bright and full of constantly moving energy. A sun crammed into the body of a boy. Yadriel didn’t want to see him without his light.”

I really loved Yadriel as our main character (though I love Julian just as much). First off, Yadriel is a precious cinnamon roll and you can’t tell me otherwise. However, I loved how Yadriel being trans is so closely tied to the story and the magic system. I’m not trans or Latinx myself, so I can’t speak about either of those representations. However, I appreciate intimacy and how meaningful it was to have an inside look at what life is like for a trans person especially a trans POC. I also loved how the negative got balanced out with the good. Yes we see the hardships Yadriel experiences, but we also get to see Yadriel be loved, cherished, and valued for who they are by people who care about him. I love that we have that balance because it’s so important to show the bad with the good. And honestly, it might be my favorite thing about this whole book next to the family dynamics. I’m really glad Aiden put both is this book and wove it so beautifully throughout this story.

Of course I have to take a moment to talk about Julian, my other favorite cinnamon roll of this book. Julian is your classic case of a kid with a rough background, who’s fiercely loyal and protective of the ones he cares about, and who everyone else (like teachers and a certain brother) have given up on. Julian is a character I could connect with immediately because I’m a person who’s fiercely loyal and protective of those I care about. He’s such an endearing character and the way he slowly falls in love with Yadriel was just beautiful, heart warming, and I’m super soft knowing these two cinnamon rolls found such a deep love with one another.

Circling back, one of the most clearest messages throughout this entire book is the emphasis of tradition and acceptance. There are countless references to various Latinx cultures and how Yadreil, though loved by his family, isn’t truly accepted by his family as a whole because they don’t adhere to the cultural traditions. This leads to a lot of internalized hurt and conflict about their feelings toward their family. There was a quote that really stuck out to me and really hits close to home. I debated on including it, but I feel that it’s too important not to include. However, by the end of this book we see the growth and we see the family begin to be more accepting, realizing you can have traditions and have space for acceptance and change.

“But belonging meant denying who he was. Living as something he wasn’t had nearly torn him part from the inside out. But he also loved his family, and his community. It was bad enough being an outsider; what would happen if they just couldn’t–or wouldn’t–accept him for who he was?”

Of course I have to talk about family dynamics and how big a theme family is throughout this book! Aiden truly gives us the full diversity of family dynamics. Yadriel comes from a large Latinx family. However, Yadriel is technically from a single parent home, more specifically a single father home. I can’t begin to express how important this representation is. Far too often, we rarely see the single parent household in books and when we do, it’s usually the single mother household. This is probably my second or third book I’ve read that has the single father home dynamic and I know there’s going to be readers out there who will feel seen by that representation. We also have the older sibling taking care of the younger sibling home dynamic and the found family dynamic. Julian comes from the home life of just him and his brother against the world. On top of that, Julian has a found family among his group of friends that often stay with Julian and his brother, Rio. I loved this so much and I think this is one of the more underrated family dynamics that I wish we saw more often in books.

“​Growth isn’t a deviation from what we’ve done before, but a natural progression to honor all those who make this community strong.”

Overall, I could write a dozen wonderful things this book does, about all the things that were done right and how much I loved them. I think the best way to go into this book is to know how deeply loved it is by some many people in the book community, how much good this book is going to do for trans youth everywhere, and just the beautiful way Aiden writes. Truly, this is an incredible book that I love with my whole heart. And if there’s one thing you take away from my review, it’s this… I don’t read overly hyped books often, I’m not a person who’s often on the hype train of books by certain authors, but this book truly is worth all the hype and I love it, with my whole heart and soul. The representation throughout this book is incredible and I hope so many readers fall in love with this book.

Buddy Read with Robin at Paperbacks and Planners 🧡

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A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, misogynoir, death, murder, trauma/PTSD, loss of a loved one/parent, anxiety, bullying, police brutality, public humiliations

Fellow readers, this was on my anticipated releases for 2020 and I’m happy to say that for the most part, I enjoyed this book. You know me, if someone were to say the floor is mythical creatures, I’m diving into that immediately. Plus, there’s found sisterly love!

A Song Below Water follows Tavia and Effie, two Black teenage girls who are best friends, but considers each other to be more like sisters. Throughout this book we see both girls trying to navigate the waters of family issues, past hardships, secrets, and unwavering anger against injustice and unfairness. In Portland, Oregon, they attend the local school, trying to survive the ever constant drama brewing and come face to face with the struggles for the mythical creatures attending.

“I’m not a monster because I live in a world that gives me impossible choices.”

As I mentioned, this book is very relevant to a lot of the things that have been happening in the media, but also have always been happening. It addresses a lot about police brutality, racism towards the black community, and how this is always happening outside of the “trends” you see so often on social media. Honestly, reading this a month after it’s release, and it’s been an interesting experience. This book released during the time where everyone was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, everyone from all corners of the world were talking about, if you went to any social media you would see something about the Black Lives Matter movement. So reading it a month later, mid-July and seeing how no one is talking about it anymore has been an experience. However, this book specially shines a light on misogynoir and the treatment of Black women in the Black Lives Matter moment, how Black women who are wronged by actions of police brutality don’t get the same amount of attention or shared as loudly the way a story of a Black man will, and how Black women are often treated in social settings such as school.

I say this all the time, but I adore different family dynamics. For starters, I love the relationship between Tavia and Effie. The way they connect, how they’re protective of one another, how they care and worry for one another, and just how they look after one another is absolutely everything. And even though they’re best friends, the way they constantly consider each other as sisters just warms my heart. Now, I love found family and I love seeing different family dynamics. So the found sisterly love filled my heart so much. They also use ASL from time to time as a means of communicating with one another and it was fantastic to see that representation, even though neither of the characters suffer from hearing loss. I really appreciated how we learn about Effie’s family dynamic and how she came to living with Tavia and her family. I loved that and I loved seeing all the references to Effie’s grandparents. I love seeing the grandparents family dynamic in the book.

Despite how much I loved the things I loved, my biggest issues with this book has made me reevaluate how I really felt about this book and reexamine my own notes. This book is very strong and powerful in the contemporary genre, but it’s very weak in the fantastical and mythological elements. This book takes place in our own world, only with mythical creatures like gargoyles, sprites, mermaids, etc… yet we never receive any rules, any connection between the two worlds, or their place in our world. One of the opening statements is ‘myths are not to be trusted’ but then the author goes on not to explain any further context of that statement. We are thrust into this magical world, which can be fun, but it felt like these magical elements were just scattered throughout the book and never given the time they deserved. One of my biggest reasons of why I was excited for this book was many readers and the author stating there were gargoyles in the book. Gargoyles are one of my favorite mythical creatures, like top five mythical creatures. So when the gargoyle (singular, not plural) was introduced, it was underwhelming and a part of my excitement had died down. This character alone didn’t get the detail attention I was looking for. You also have an element with the sirens in this book. They have an incredible allegory throughout this whole book for the misogynoir, but also get a lot of different elements like how they’re all connected, how they exist in our world, and it never felt like like we were given enough context to connect everything together to form the bigger picture.

“The danger is as much a part of home as community is. The fear gets quiet, but it doesn’t disappear, and that might be what sets us apart. When we smile, or we dance, or we march, or we win, it isn’t because we didn’t have a reason we didn’t have a reason to be afraid. It isn’t because the uncertainty is gone. It’s because we did it anyway. Because we cannot be exterminated.”

My other issue with this book was the ending of the book. It felt very rushed and I wasn’t amused with how things were handled with Effie’s father. What really frustrated me was how after everything was addressed with him about his actions, Effie somehow trusted him and we as the readers were expected to trust him, and respect Effie’s choice. It didn’t sit right with me especially since Effie never knew this man until literally the end of the book. I wish we had seen more build up about him or had a scene with Effie and her grandparents actually sitting down to talk about things. I think that little detail would have made a big difference with that ending.

Overall, I really liked this story and it’s so, so powerful, important. I think many readers will appreciate the things this book addresses and sheds light on. However, I truly think this book would have benefited from being a bit longer, having that extra time taken on the mythological elements, and just adding some extra details to build that bigger picture. And give me more gargoyles dangit! But the theme is very loud and clear. And I want to put a soft reminder here to all my Black friends and fellow readers to please practice self-care while reading this book. Your mental health is important and you are allowed to rest.

Buddy Read with Kayla from Books and Blends 💜

Below I’m including some reviews by Black book reviewers that you should also read and support as well! Make sure you lift their voices up!

🧜🏽‍♀️ Myonna

🧜🏽‍♀️ Ashley

🧜🏽‍♀️ Ms. Woc

🧜🏽‍♀️ Camryn

🧜🏽‍♀️ Lucie

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Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles

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

This review is being published before the release date (August 25th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Alcohol and drinking, mind manipulation, controlling/possessive behavior, trauma, misogyny, mentions of blood and injury, missing persons, grief/loss, death of a parent

“For in the world of magic, a woman’s place lies in the quiet shadows of labor magic, the encouraged path. The safer one. Because the ones who dare most often disappear.”

Dearest friends, with this being one of my anticipated release for 2020, I wanted nothing more than to love this book with every fiber of my soul. The question is, did I fall in love with this book? Yes, yes I did! It captivated my attention from the very first page and left me craving more. It’s no surprise that Where Dreams Descend has made it onto my top books of 2020! I am in love with this book, Janella’s writing, and I can’t wait for all of you to pick this book up!

Kallia has been a showgirl at Hellfire House for most of her life. With a deep bond with the head of the club, Jack, and everything at her finger tips, how could she possibly want anything more? Until a flyer lands in her possession about a competition happening in Glorian where magicians compete to be the next headliner for the Conquering Circus. With an everlasting dream, powerful magic, and an ambitious desire, Kallia will start to uncover all the lies and manipulation keeping her caged at Hellfire House. When she finally flees Jack, she’ll learn just how dangerous Glorian really is for a magician especially as her fellow competitors start to disappear and everything she’s longed for is threatened.

♠️ Kallia – The Star, our main heroine, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost. Truly proud of her powers, how hard she’s worked, with a dream to one day preform in Glorian. A cinnamon roll in every way, trying to break free from the chains and cage Hellfire House placed upon her.

♠️ Jack – The Master, controlling and mysterious, the enigmatic keeper of Hellfire House, and more than one lie told to keep the show going. Using manipulation and deception to keep Kallia caged at Hellfire House, protecting her from the dangers of the the outside world.

♠️ Demarco – The Magician, a mysterious man, the brooding judge with a past that won’t stop haunting him. He is a broken, soulful boy who used to be a powerful magician and now he’s the strictest one to prevent others from making the mistakes he made. Also, he’s unable to resist the pull of Kallia’s energy and her fiery passion.

I say this all the time, give me a book with morally grey characters and it’s a sure guarantee that I will fall in love with your book. Where Dreams Descends delivers just that, characters who are morally grey. No matter if they were a main character or a side character, I fell in love with so many of them and I truly can’t wait to see more of them. And while I’m talking about our lovely characters, we have to talk about Aros! Aros was a fiercely loyal character to Kallia. Despite their original interaction, I truly believe Kallia saw the true potential and all the best qualities in Aros. I never mattered if Kallia told him her secrets, he was always right by her side especially in the times where she needed him the most. He was a witty, charming, and such a soft character who delivered so much for me, as a reader.

Phantom of the Opera meets Moulin Rouge with Cinderella and Repunzel elements? Yes please! The writing style is lush with vivid descriptions, mysterious wonder, with an atmosphere so captivating, so familiar that it will hook you from the very beginning! I was in a complete trance of tension and anticipation as I submerged myself into this story line. Angeles has the kind of writing style that I love. One that catches you from the first page and makes you want to power read the whole book in one sitting. She laces her book with a story and plot laced with hints, clues, and truths that reveal just enough, but doesn’t show our author’s full hand. Leaving us, the readers, to theorize, wonder, and visualize what’s in store for us next. With so many questions unanswered and a cliffhanger of an ending, book two is bound to deliver a good time.

“It was wrong to justify what sort of hurt mattered and what didn’t. Anything that left scars came from hurt. Only now was she realizing the scars she bore and had trained herself not to see.”

I also want to talk about a lot of the content warnings in this book. Of course, please make sure you practice self-care and self-love when reading anything with content warnings. Even though there are clear elements of fantasy in this book, I want to say how accurate the representation is for being in a relationship or having a connection to someone who uses mind manipulation or essentially brainwashing as a tool to aid with their control and possessive behavior. I don’t want to go into too many details, but as someone who has lived with someone who has that kind of behavior, it’s an accurate representation. Ever emotion, every feeling Kallia feels due to the things Jack subjects her to, this is what it feels like to have that kind of presence in your life and to have them coming back after only short amounts of time from the last you saw them.

And of course, there’s the romance that blooms! This was the factor that surprised me the most. Even though it’s right in the description, it still took me by surprise and I still fell madly in love with it. I do wish we had more of it though. The romance was there, but there truly wasn’t enough for this to be labeled as a romance. So I’m hoping in the second book we’ll be seeing more of the romance elements that we’re all dying for!

Overall, I’m honestly shocked. It feels like an eternity since I read a ya fantasy that really reminded me of why I love the fantasy genre so much. Even after finishing this book, I’m still asking myself why I’m so surprised when it has so many elements that I love. This book is bound to be on so many readers’ top books for 2020. With this being one of my anticipated releases for 2020, I’m happy to say this was everything I wanted and more. If you’re looking for a darkly dramatic book that’s own voices then I can’t recommend this book enough to you!

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

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A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Abduction, captivity, talk of cancer, terminal illness, loss of a loved one, murder, death, grief, torture, trauma/PTSD, abuse, a pedophile comment, attempted sexual assault (by Lilith), thoughts and attempts of suicide, a lot of ablest speech (always in a negative light from the villain)

“I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.”

Friends, I truly wanted to love this books with my whole heart. I mean, it’s a retelling and a Beauty and the Beast retelling at that. And we all know I love a good retelling, but despite many good elements this book offers, I couldn’t give this book five stars. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that book two will be better.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a Beauty and the Beast retelling that has the crown prince sealed into a Groundhog’s Day effect, where he’s forced to repeat the same season to find a love that will break the curse. But at the end of each season, should the prince fail to find love and break free of the curse, blood will be spilled and terror will descend upon the people of the kingdom. However, after three-hundred seasons, this will finally be the last season.

⚔️ The Characters ⚔️

⚔️ Harper – The Belle. Eighteen years old and living with high functioning cerebral palsy, Harper isn’t living the easiest life before she’s captured. Living with a mother who has cancer and can’t afford medical treatment, a father who vanished after stacking a high debt to crime lords, and a queer brother (Jake) who takes on the burden of providing and protecting the family. *Side Note: There are many forms of cerebral palsy, I can’t confirm if this is accurate representation. However, if you are an own voice reviewer please send me a link for your review so I can boost your voice and feelings about the representation!*

⚔️ Rhen – The Beast. The prince of the kingdom. I mentioned above that his goal is to bring a girl back to his kingdom and make her fall in love with him. Should he fail, he turns into a different beast each season and destroys anything and everything in his path. Then a new season will begin and the curse repeats itself.

⚔️ Grey – Rhen’s guard commander, the only living person left in the castle. He takes his job very seriously, loyal to the bone, and the only one with the ability to portal between worlds. With all that being said, Rhen bestowed the task of capturing the girls and bringing them back to the castle.

⚔️ Lilith – The enchantress. The one who cast the curse over Rhen and his kingdom.

⚔️ Freya – An underrated character of this book! A single mother of her own child and taking care of three of her sister’s children. A character that hit so close to home in every single way. I would love if she received her own novella or series because she is a true gem in this whole book and deserves her own happy ending.

All these characters will come together to set the scene for the rest of this tale and to deliver a different story of Beauty and the Beast. You will see Harper become a warrior princess and decide if she’ll save this kingdom from impending doom, Rhen decide if he truly wants to spend his last season withering away in a castle or if he’ll step up to save his people, and watch how things come into place.

Throughout this entire book, there’s a heavy element that opens up the discussion of responsibility. More specifically about taking responsibility for things you don’t have control over. Whether that be deteriorating health of loved ones or people doing bad things to you and the people you care about. There were so many scenes sprinkled throughout the book that open this discussion and I truly believe it’s important to shine light on that. Some things are out of our control and I think it’s very easy to just take responsibility. If you don’t who will, right? But sometimes it’s not our responsibility, when do we say enough is enough, and I like how it opens up so many discussions around this topic because so many fall to this default.

“We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals. The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.”

I also want to talk about the mental health representation in this book. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of mental health representation and struggles throughout this book, and I encourage any reader to practice self-care while reading this book. There were a lot of scenes in this book that were extremely hard to read through. More so from Rhen’s perspective of the book. Rhen undergoes a great deal of trauma and I believe with my whole heart that it is important to say that the trauma and PTSD Rhen suffers is very accurate, valid representation. Not all trauma comes from wars and sometimes it comes from someone mentally breaking you repeatedly, watching the people you love and care for have harm dealt to them. It touched very close to home and I really wanted to shine light on that because in society we don’t often talk about trauma or PTSD and the best way to break the stigma is by talking about it more. I also liked seeing the representation for mental strain, guilt, and the waves of grief we see Harper go through in the first couple of chapters of being separated from her mother and brother. One thing that isn’t often talked about is the guilt and mental strain someone can feel when they’re miles away from a loved one who is terminally ill. Seeing that representation with Harper in the first couple chapters of this book, it hit close to home and I know for many readers this will also hit home. There will be a lot of hard moments to read through in this book, but the representation of mental health is so accurate and I hope more readers will shine light on it.

“Not all scars can be seen, my lady.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t give this book five stars. What really hindered my thought process and impacted my reading was the odd pacing and length of this book. There were chapters in this book that felt like it was just dumping information or details while there were other chapters that felt like they went by too quickly. I don’t often say this, but for the length of this book, I think the author could have introduced either Grey’s or Lilith’s perspective, have that three point of view situation, and I would have enjoyed it far more. Normally, I don’t like more than two point of views, but I truly believe the author could have really made this interesting with adding that third perspective instead of just giving us Harper and Rhen.

Overall, this was definitely a unique spin on Beauty and the Beast. I think if you’re a lover of Beauty and the Beast or retellings then you will probably want to add this to you list. And this is a trilogy! So there’s two more books right after this one and you bet your apple pie I’m rooting for Grey and Harper to end up together, someway, somehow. However, I don’t know if I’ll continue on with the series. I haven’t heard enough about the second book to consider picking it up. Maybe in the near future I will though, you never know. I am a sucker for a retelling!

Buddy read with Donna from Moms Book Collection ❤️

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The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, death, grief, scene of depression, anxiety, scene of body shaming, verbal abuse, scene of assault, alcoholism/alcohol abuse, trauma/PTSD, scene/talk of terminal illness

“She was a girl held together by knitted yarn and magic.”

Dee Moreno hasn’t had the easiest life and things just got worse when she gets the news that the boarding school has to give up her scholarship. Without the proper funds and a family who refuse to help, Dee has run out of options. So naturally the logical thing to do is make a pact with a demon. But everything comes with a price, Dee just doesn’t know it…yet.

Friends, I adore Emily Lloyd-Jones’ writing and the tales she weaves. I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous that I wasn’t going to love this as much as I was hoping I would. However, I’m pleased to say that Emily has a fantastic way of tugging on my heart strings and capturing my attention when I least expect it! I loved the characters, I loved the way my emotions were heightened at the end of this book, and there were so many moments that truly caught me off guard. If this tells you anything, I will be keeping my eyes peeled for future works by Emily because I truly love the way she creates a story and I love the she can pull me in to her stories.

The Hearts We Sold is about a girl named Dee who has run out of all options. Her parents aren’t the best support system, she about to lose her scholarship at the boarding school she goes to, and her college funds her grandmother left her are locked away until she turns of age. With no other options, Dee seeks out the demon from the hospital she volunteers at. She makes a pact with the demon; in exchange for funding to stay after her boarding school, she will leasing her heart to the demon for two years and joins his heartless troops in sealing portals/rifts.

Heartless Troops

❤️ DeeMain character, worked hard all her life to attend her boarding school, comes from a toxic home life

❤️ JamesArtist, childlike and quiet one of the group, this is his second troop

❤️ CalProdigy and genius, bomb expert of the group, has really fascinating theories, gave up his heart for a noble cause

❤️ CoraTroop leader, very secretive, never talks about her pact with the demon, gets her heart back in two months

Important Side Characters

❤️ DaemonContacts the troop with information on the rifts/portals, secretive, cares about humanity and his troops

❤️ GemmaDee’s roommate and best friend, lesbian, and a total badass

❤️ RileyReplacement for Cal, bomb expert, transgender, Gemma’s girlfriend

“I chose this.”

I loved a lot of the themes in this book. There is a heavy focus on parental abuse throughout this entire book. I think this is one of the first fantasy books that I’ve read that address how parents can be verbally, emotionally, and mentally abusive. It really shines a light on how abuse comes in many forms and the toll it takes on the people involved. There are bits and pieces of physical abuse throughout this book as well, however, it doesn’t out shine the other forms of abuse. This book also shows how abuse and alcoholism can go hand-in-hand with one another. As someone who has lived a similar home life that our main character Dee has, I can say that this accurately depicts the reality many children in the world face. How parents will choose the addiction of the bottle over the well-being of their family. It’s very rare that I see this is fantasy or even in YA in general. Knowing there’s a book like The Hearts We Sold is out there shining a light on that sparks some hope in my soul.

This book also hits home with shining a light on how your parents’ problems aren’t your responsibility and that sometimes you have to make the choice of choosing yourself over family. It really stresses the importance of getting away from that kind of environment and situation. It also shows how not everyone can get away (Dee wasn’t even able to leave her family right away either), but you can’t allow yourself to be stuck taking care of your abusers. However, this is the reality for many out in the world. I truly wasn’t expecting this book to hit the reality I underwent as a child and teenager. There were so many of these moments that were highlighted and weren’t easy to get through. I sobbed so much because it was like looking through a window to my past and for many who read this, your own reality.

And of course, we have to talk about the amazing representation in this book! I stated above about Gemma and Riley, but they truly great characters. Not just for their lgbtq+ representation, but also their background as well. Gemma comes from a very supportive family and she even had a great coming out. While Riley’s life highlights the struggles many transgender teens face with parents not being understanding or accepting of their choice. We also have great anxiety representation. Throughout this book, Dee is in a constant state of anxiety and really shows how the the little things can be triggering for someone with anxiety. I really loved the representation and being able to see the anxiety take on many forms throughout this book.

“She reached down, found his hand with hers. Their fingers tangled, wrists pressed together. No pulse between them.”

The ending of this book was probably my favorite thing throughout this whole story. The way everything unfolded was so beautiful and so heart wrenching that I was in tears when I finished this. Not to mention, I truly believe that just from the way this book ended, a sequel could be written. I truly was a beautiful surprise and I think many readers will fall in love with how it ended.

I also have to say how happy I am that this book subtly shows the found families element into this book. It’s very subtle, but it’s there and this books shows how important it is to have that. I loved that The Hearts We Sold put a spotlight on how important it is to have people in your life who truly love you unconditionally. Watching Dee realize that, it was one of the best things to watch unfold in this book.

However, there’s two things this book had that really prevented me from giving this book a five star. I will keep this as spoiler free as I possibly can because I do feel that these two pieces are spoilers. One of the heartless troops undergoes a great deal of trauma and stress. This whole situation ends up leading to a chain of events that turn out really shitty. This character’s actions are never addressed and the other heartless troops just have to conclude that even though this character did a terrible thing, literally having a psychological breakdown and going off the deep end without trying to think things through, they have to support that character and just accept that they’re all in it together. These events bring a whole new level of the heavy mood this book already delivers. If all of this had played out in another way, I think I would be okay, but all of these chain events just really left me with mixed feelings and I couldn’t see past all the horrible actions that were taken by the one character.

“This was how normal people survived their own fairy tales. They became their own kind of monster.”

Overall, I truly did enjoy this book. I really loved how Emily included the bits of Lovecraftian world-building into this book, I loved the detail that was spent on Dee’s relationship, and I really loved the bit where Gemma pulled out an axe! There was just some really great things about this book that I truly loved and it left me feeling very soft. I definitely think many readers will like this book for the fall season, but also struggle with some on the contents within this book. Either way, I hope more readers give this book a chance!

Buddy read with Kayla from Books and Blends ❤️

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Infinity Son (Infinity Cycle, #1) by Adam Silvera

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of a loved one. murder, grief, anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, abandonment, graphic violence, scene animal/creature fighting/abuse, death of a creature, body shaming, paranoia

ARC was given by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

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

“Your humanity is what makes you heroic, not your powers.”

It’s no secret that I love a book that has good mythical beasts especially if they’re dragons and phoenixes. This book had me hooked and fully excited to see how phoenixes would be woven into a ya fantasy. Top that off with a super hero element, you had me. However, while I was overly excited for a book full of magic and mythical beasts, I did become exposed to a lot of negative reviews early on. So when I had finally received an arc of one of my anticipated books of 2020, I was a worried about picking it up. Friends, I truly wish I could say that the start to 2020 kicked off with a good start, but this wasn’t the book for me and my heart is incredibly heavy admitting that. I truly wanted to love this book with every fiber in my being, but sadly that wasn’t the case.

Infinity Son follows the perspective of four characters throughout this entire story. I will leave a breakdown below. Emil and Brighton have always dreamed about becoming heroes someday, but at some point, Emil reached a point of wanting all the fighting to stop while Brighton only wants to join in the fray of it all. Among all this chaos and fear, a gang of specters have been rising from the shadows and getting bolder every day, making peace nearly impossible. Then one day, Emil and Brighton get caught up in a situation that leads to Emil developing his own powers and nothing will be the same ever again.

Different Classes

🔥 Humans – Just like you and me!

🔥 Celestials – Born with magical powers. Example; the ability to heal any wound, controlling wind or fire, etc…

🔥 Specters – Steal powers, violently takes the essence of magical creatures

POVS

🔥 Emil – The “chosen one,” ability is that of a phoenix, wants nothing except for the war to stop and there to be peace

🔥 Brighton – Power hungry and thirsty for fame, brother to Emil

🔥 Maribelle – Member of the Spell Walkers, wants vengeance for the death of her parents, hates the leader of the Spell Walkers

🔥 Ness – Specter, shape-shifter, mysterious, wild card of the story-line, love interest to Emil

Each character plays an important role in the development of the story and offers their own experience and personal view of the events taking place. With so many character point of views, it’s very easy for a lot of the details and plot to get muddled together. There’s also a lot that happens in each perspective that causes a lot of the povs to be more character driven than actual story-line or plot driven. All of this aside, every reader will find someone they’re strongly drawn to regardless if they’re a side character or one of the main characters.

Characters aside, I love the story telling built around phoenixes and hydras in this book. As I mentioned before, I love phoenixes and a lot of the details the wove around the phoenixes, the way they live and rebirth themselves, and just the symbolism of what they stood for in this book just took hold of my heart. Same for the hydras. Hydras are a species of dragons and they appear all throughout legends, stories, mythology, and of course, MTG. They symbolize power and strength, and they were no exception in this book. I wish we had received just a little bit more with the background and relationship between hydras and phoenixes, but I won’t complain with what we got. However, I do want to point out that there is a scene in this book between and phoenix and a hydra that is very similar to animal fighting in the real world. While these are mythical creatures, I wanted to point this out because there are details of how the creatures are handled and treated. It’s even to the point that Emil is even internally recognizing that both creatures are terrified and are being forced into a situation that has been caused naturally.

I want to take a moment to truly appreciate Prudencia. I loved her as a side character and I loved the way she showed her love, her loyalty, but also how we got to see her moments of fear, sadness, frustration. Also, I just know in my soul she is going to play a much bigger role in this series and I can’t wait to see her bring her full potential to the table. She’s such a treasure and she’s one hell of a friend to Emil and Brighton.

I also have to mention that I love the way therapy and seeking help is handled in this book. I loved that there was an open invitation for Emil and his family to seek guidance and counseling to navigate the tough, emotional strain they were all put under. I also liked that we get a few scenes of therapy session and how it was normalized and worked in to everything else happening in the book. And I really loved how Emil decided to have a private session and voice his struggles, his concerns, and his fears. That was one of my favorite scenes because Emil is so vulnerable, but we see him realizing and deciding he can’t work through this on his own.

And of course, I have to mention the wide variety of family dynamics. We get so many diverse family situations in this book and I loved every second of it. We have an aunt and niece dynamic, a widowed mother of two, there’s an adopted element thrown into the mix, there’s so many and I don’t want to spoil them all because some of them do play into the plot. But it was so great reading about so many different families in this book. It truly made my heart warm even if many of the situations weren’t the greatest.

I also want to point out ow much I loved Emil and Ness near the end of this book. More specially there’s a scene where Emil is body shaming himself and Ness says the most wonderful things. The whole scene is very pure, very raw, and becoming comfortable with one another. It just made my whole heart swell with so much love and appreciation. Despite everything this book does (and it’s a lot), this scene had me awing, crying, and I never wanted that scene to end with them parting. I loved it so much. And just so you know, their connection is very slow burn and that good enemies to lovers trope.

“You should only feel beautiful to yourself. And only be with someone who gets that you’re beautiful because of who you are.”

Despite all of the good this book has and even though there are many, many moments that I loved and wanted more of, there were also a lot of things that I didn’t enjoy and even now am still bothered by. For starters, I mentioned before this book is a four character pov, but I’m not a fan of 4+ character pov. I feel like important details get lost because the majority of a book is spent building up the characters and then we’re getting backstories when we should be getting more of the story-line or hitting a plot twist, something should be happening. It was also really troublesome because we have two povs that go from being a unique povs to being completely laced with hated, jealousy, anger, immense vibes of craving power; especially near the end where it seemed like these two povs really showed their true colors of absolute hostility. It just left a never ending bad feeling with my reading experience.

Now, I understand every television show or book has one, but I thought it completely unnecessary to have Brighton act like a complete fool and make idiotic decisions for two-thirds of the book. For the majority of the book, Brighton was making extremely poor choices to the point of it putting the team or mission in jeopardy, the situations being frustrating because he’s so hot-headed and won’t listen to anyone, and it made me not want to read through his parts throughout this book. The same thing with Maribelle. Majority of the book we have Mariabelle either being disrespectful to the Emil or the team captain and being spiteful towards her or we just get parts of her completely obsessing over the death of her parents instead of seeing her being productive and helping the team. They were both frustrating and irritating characters to the point of them being my least favorite parts of the book, and any scene with them in it had me dreading their parts.

And we need to have a serious talk about Emil’s character development. There are many times in this book where Emil could have had potential character development, but instead we just receive development of his powers. For the majority of the book or at least two-thirds of the book, Emil spends it having panic attacks in thinking he’s going to die or he’s talking about how much he doesn’t want to be a solider in this war. The only time we really see Emil setup in this book is during events that something happens to his brother. I also have to address that Emil never once steps up and calls anyone out on side characters pressuring him to do things he doesn’t want to do. For example, near the beginning of this book therapy is made an options, but Emil didn’t want to go to therapy because he was internally trying to work things out. Instead of the other characters leaving him be, his own brother and best friend trick him into going to therapy and forcing him to sit through a session. Situations like this, Emil could have taken charge, told everyone to back off or just leave him to figure it out, but instead Emil just silently endured these situations instead of speaking up for himself or standing his ground. Despite all of this, Emily is still a great character and one of pure heart, but he definitely deserved more moments for development that were outside of his powers.

I also want to point out to those who read comics often or have read them enough will find that this book seems like a comic book written in a ya fantasy format. What I mean is this feels like a graphic novel or comic turned into a thick book when this feels like it could have done really well as a comic. Also, there are large parts of this book that feel very familiar to situations and scene that have happened in the Marvel and DC Comic universe, more specifically with the Justice League from DC Comics and X-Men from Marvel. Due to that feeling, the last third of this book became very predictable and was a very familiar story-line/plot that I’ve seen a lot in those type of graphic novels before. So that last third of the book really left a lot to be desired especially since this book seemed so unique and original in the beginning up until that part.

Aside from all of this, the biggest issue I had with this book was this constant feeling of hopelessness throughout the book. Once it hit about 50%, it was like a switch got flipped because there was an immense sense of dread and hopelessness. And following that, the way this book concluded left me feeling drained and left me feeling terrible. So much happened at the end and it was like one terrible thing after another. There was no ending on a good note or even a climatic cliffhanger, it left on a terrible note of darkness, dread, death, and spite. Not the kind of ending I was expecting and definitely not a satisfying one.

Overall, this was just an okay book for me. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t the greatest. For me, this book left a lot to be desired and I had my hopes pretty high for this. While I’m sad that one of my anticipated releases of 2020 didn’t live up to my expectations, I truly enjoyed a lot this book offered. There were many things that I loved seeing like the different powers and the phoenix history, the different family dynamics, the great moments of vulnerability Emil shows, the talking and displaying of “it’s okay to go to therapy and seek out ways to work things out,” there were so many more great points this book offered. I will definitely continue this series. I believe this series is going to be a trilogy and I’m excited to see how these characters grow and develop. More importantly, I’m ready for more phoenix and hydra action!

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

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Serpent & Dove (Serpent & Dove #1) by Shelby Mahurin

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Content\Trigger Warnings: Toxic relationships, sexual content, anger issues, death, murder, talk of torture, poisoning/drugging, forced marriage, talk of a female sacrifice, scene of implied sexual assault/rape, trauma/PTSD, violence, physical assault

“I was no one’s sacrifice. Not then. Not now. Not ever.”

I can’t believe what I just read. I laughed, I crying, I cringed, and I nearly ripped my book in half reading, devouring this book. Honestly, this was everything I needed to keep me out of a terrible reading slump and this book might be the most polarizing book that I have read thus far in 2019. There was so much good, there was so much bad, but overall, I loved reading this book and I think I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on Serpent & Dove.

Our tale follows our main character, Lou who’s a witch on the run from her coven, forsaking magic and living off whatever she could steal. However, due to a series of unfortunate events, she lands in the hands of the Archbishop and a Chasseur by the name of Reid Diggory who becomes Lou’s newest protector and husband. With the war between the church and the witches on the horizon, Lou is faced with the most difficult choice she’ll ever have to make in her life and love makes fools of us all.

I loved Lou as a character right from the very beginning. She’s very cunning, incredibly intelligent, she has so much sass, and I was living for every moment with her. I also really loved how Lou’s scent was cinnamon and how it ties back to her love for cinnamon rolls. It just made me truly happy. What I connected most with Lou was the way she hid the scar on her neck. It clenched my heart in such a hard grasp and I couldn’t stop yelling at the pages “I understand!” I also really loved her friendship with Coco. Just from what you read in this book, the amount of love and the fierceness of the desire they each have to protect one another is just a friendship after my own heart. I’m a firm believer of protecting your loved ones with a large amount of loyalty, fierceness, and love; their friendship added ten years onto my life. Speaking of Coco, I’m obsessed with her! I truly wished we had received greater detail of Coco because she is such a bright flame in this book. She’s a blood witch and the way she fights just catches my breath every time.

I also really enjoyed the magic system in this book. Lou is a Dame Blanche witch which means their magic comes from the land and with their magic coming from the land there must always be balance. So if you take something then you must give something back for what you’ve taken. For example, if Lou wanted to unlock something then she would have to break a finger or there’s a scene where a witch is burning at the stake and to easy the witch’s pain, Lou took the pain away by transferring the pain to herself and her own body. You also have Coco who is a Dame Rouge witch or a blood witch and for the magic she does, everything requires blood. So that could mean Coco pays the price with her own blood or she may require the blood from an animal or another person. For example, in the beginning to keep track of Lou and Bas during a heist she required a drop of blood from each of them. There were so many other moments where we really get to see the magic system at work and I truly loved every moment.

I also want to take a moment to appreciate how some of these characters are morally grey. Characters like Reid and Lou are both morally grey who struggle between what’s right, what’s wrong, and everything in between. I love morally grey characters and how they respond to the events and the world around them. It makes them more relatable and it truly allows room for fear and shock because as the reader we can see ourselves and our own actions in a morally grey character over a character who’s painted in black and white. One character named Ansel. He’s a Chasseur “in training” and we see so many amazing points and those morally grey characteristics coming out. Those characteristics really come through when Lou disappears and Reid is lost in his own inner turmoil. Even though he is a Chasseur, he boldly states multiple times how Lou is his friend and how he doesn’t care if she’s a witch because he’s seen her personality and true character in the times where it counts. Ansel is a precious cinnamon roll who needs to be protected and I would give up my soul for him.

“Our lives reflect our hearts.”

With all of this good, of course there will be flaws. Before I truly get into the problematic material, if you have read and finished this book then I definitely recommend checking out the video made by Jeese at Bowties & Books. They have a lot of good points, address a lot of the issues, and a lot of my own thoughts align with the things they have to say. Now, onto the issues!

As much as I love a lot of the things in this book, my biggest issue is the lack of Indigenous representation and the poor way the culture and history is represented. It’s no secret that I take a lot of pride in my Native American heritage and I even tried to convince myself that maybe I was just being overly sensitive and just need to recognize that this is a fantasy world, but the bottom line is that no effort or attempt was made to do research or include actual Indigenous people who had their land historically stolen. This book puts a heavy emphasis on how the land was stolen from the witches and how a long time ago foreign countries came to the land of the witches and stole their land by force, hunted them down and killed them, and colonized their land. The whole entire thing made me extremely uncomfortable because even today a lot of people forget that foreign countries came and invaded the United States, stole the land from the Indigenous people, wiped out many tribes in the colonization of the United States, and what remaining tribes there are now live on reservations. So in my opinion, if you’re going to write about history that actually happened then there should have been research, there should be actual representation of the culture and the history that you’re pulling from, and there should be more inclusion of characters that are from that culture.

My other top issue is the way Reid treats Lou a lot of the times. Reid gets very possessive and clingy of Lou and the situations that really draw attention are the scenes where he has his hands on her and adds enough force that it’s described as a tight grip, but not to the point of physically hurting her, followed up by giving her commands which then get looped back to them being husband and wife. There’s also a moment in the book when Reid gets bothered by Lou hugging a character, by the name of Pan, for hugging too long even though they’re long time friends. While Reid and Lou do have many moments that are sweet and endearing, seems like they’re becoming closer, and let’s be honest that sex scene was 11/10, but Reid has severe anger issues and has used his anger openly towards Lou that has caused her to flinch in response and there was a really weird, uncomfortable scene with Lou concerning consent and marriage. All of this mixed together spells for toxic behavior and a relationship that clearly needs improvement.

There were many other things that had irritated me or made me cringe, but those were the two biggest issues I had with this book that I can’t stop thinking about. And I think it’s important that we recognize and acknowledge these things so they can be corrected and fixed in future books to come.

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Overall, I think I’m the odd one out with this book. Since this book has released, it has become a very polarizing book. I know so many friends who have hyped this book and I have a couple friends who ‘dnf’ this book, and odd enough, I fall smack dab in the middle with it all. There were things that I loved and things that I found very problematic with this book, but I still enjoyed my time reading this book and I don’t have any regrets. And I think no matter where you fall with this book, your thoughts and opinions are valid. I did buddy read this book with a wonderful friend and she had an amazing time reading this book. I think my critical reading came through and hindered my reading experience a bit, but I firmly believe you can read a book with problematic material and still enjoy your reading experience. So I liked this book. Isn’t wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t super outstanding, it was a book that made me want to keep reading with it’s fast pace. I think if you’ve been debating on picking this book up, I say go for it!

Buddy read with Kayla from Books and Blends | Her Review ❤️

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