Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve Book Review

Author Information

Ray Stoeve is a queer & nonbinary writer. They received a 2016-2017 Made at Hugo House Fellowship for their young adult fiction.

They are a contributor to Take The Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance, an anthology out now from Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Books. Their first young adult novel, Between Perfect and Real, will be published by Amulet Books in April 2021, with a second standalone novel to follow.

When they’re not writing heartfelt queer stories, they can be found gardening, making art in other mediums, or hiking their beloved Pacific Northwest.

Book Description

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

Review

Thank you to the published for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Look for this book coming to your shelves April 27th.

You can pre-order this book at:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ IndieBound

Thoughts and Themes: This book I had been putting off reading because the center of the story was focused on Romeo and Juliet and I am not a Shakespeare fan. I really should have started this book sooner though since it was able to take me out of my reading slump. There is just so much to love in this book and you can tell by the amount of tabs I put into it. There is a sticky note that I literally just put if I could I would just highlight this whole page because of how much I related to it and was rooting for Dean.

I really liked the way that this story is told because of how much of myself I saw in it. I really related to some of Dean’s feelings about being Trans and how it affected his dating life. I also just love how there is one token straight friend in the group as that reminded me of my college life. I love that this book just shows how much queer people tend to gravitate towards each other and the safety that they find with one another.

My heart breaks several times in this story as Dean faces transphobia not just from his peers but from his family as well. There are scenes with Dean’s mother that I just had to put the book down because it hurt to read. I can’t say I’ve been there but I feel like what Dean’s mom is willing to voice is what is inside of my parent’s heads that they are not willing to put into words.

I really like how wholesome this book is, yes there are some conflicts and troubles that arise but overall its a heartwarming book. I really like the message that Dean learns in the end and how he learns that he is whole just by being himself.

I could go on and on about this book but I would rather leave it at this so you all can go read it.

Characters: In this book you get introduced to several characters and I found them all loveable, well minus the bully you know. I even warmed up to the mom at some point even if she was hard to read at times. You get to meet each of these characters through Dean’s point of view and the interactions that they have with him.

I really liked the relationship that Dean has with his best friend Ronnie, and like the conversation that they have about their identities. I like how Ronnie points out to Dean that he doesn’t always understand him because he’s white for Dean to understand that he might want to talk about Trans things with other Trans people. I like how this conversation was brought up and how real it felt.

I also really liked the way that Dean and Zoe’s relationship is handled throughout this whole story. I liked the complexity that is included through this and how we get to see Zoe’s feelings but in the end it really isn’t about her. I thought that was the most important part to include when discussing their relationship, Dean’s transition was not about Zoe no matter how hurt she was.

Writing Style: This story is told through the perspective of Dean and is in first person. I think this is a great choice because it centers Dean and while we see other people’s feelings, we never center them. I love that in order to know how anyone is feeling they need to put it out there so there is no hiding. I thought that was a great choice because Dean now knows where everyone stands with him.

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson Book Review

Author Information

Cory was born in Idaho and grew up an outdoor-girl in the rugged Middle Rockies. Her father, a park ranger, encouraged her to explore the woods and find “what beauty there is” in the world. He taught her to camp, and how to survive in the forest in winter. She later learned they didn’t have a lot of money, but as a child she never knew it. She had two best friends: Nature, and books.

All Cory’s life she’s felt the strong bonds of family and siblings. Her writing is based in these close relationships, and in the gritty experience of growing up in the wild Rocky Mountains. 

From an early age, Cory loved books. Her family often visited the library, where she discovered White Fang. Within its pages she learned about courage, and the power of kindness. She read all the time. By seventh grade, she was writing. For years, Cory underlined and dog-eared the pages of books, picking scenes and phrases apart until she could decently put them together again. She became fascinated with the mystery of the Great Story.

 Over time, Cory cultivated a writing style. Chief among them is her love of stark prose, which she attributes to Cormac McCarthy. The Road captivated her for years—and forever, she thinks. There are too many YA authors to mention, but she’s compelled to bring up Laurie Halse Anderson, Madeleine L’Engle, Markus Zusak, Patrick Ness, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

Cory started writing What Beauty There Is at a rough time. Her marriage had just ended and she suddenly found herself alone, with a son and daughter to protect. Within a month or so, she had an empty pantry and an eviction notice. She was desperate. The story of Jack and Matty arose out of this grief—and her desire to take care of her children, when she didn’t know if she could.

Ava’s story is also deeply meaningful to Cory. When she was Ava’s age, Cory was assaulted, and for a lot of years she believed a part of her had broken. She thought that she’d developed a cold heart, that she’d lost the ability to love. It took a long time to learn that this wasn’t true. Hard things can hurt us, but it doesn’t mean we’re broken.

Cory now lives in the Wasatch Mountains, where she spends countless hours writing, sometimes in the woods with just a pencil and paper. Always with a full heart.

She hopes you enjoy What Beauty There Is.

Book Description

Winter. The sky is dark. It is cold enough to crack bones.

Jack Morton has nothing left. Except his younger brother, Matty, who he’d do anything for. Even die for. Now with their mother gone, and their funds quickly dwindling, Jack needs to make a choice: lose his brother to foster care, or find the drug money that sent his father to prison. He chooses the money.

Ava Bardem lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years her father has controlled her fate. He has taught her to love no one. Trust no one. Now Victor Bardem is stalking the same money as Jack. When he picks up Jack’s trail, Ava must make her own wrenching choice: remain silent or help the brothers survive.

Choices. They come at a price.

Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group for the advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: This book did take me a while to get into as it does start off slow, I’m glad that I stuck with it though because less than halfway through I didn’t want to put it down. Make sure to look into trigger warnings for this book before you start reading it, there is on page suicide, violence, murder, and abuse in this book.

I really liked how this book introduces you to the Jack and Matty’s story and walks you through moments of their past to explain the present. There are so many moments in this story that I just want to protect these two kids whose circumstances happen due to their parents. This book takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions as you hope for the best possible ending for these characters you can’t help but love.

There’s a point in this book that I just wanted to toss my kindle across the room but I can’t talk about that scene without ruining the whole story. Just know that your heart will be breaking multiple times for the boys.

If any of you read this please message me, that ending has me so confused and I need to discuss it. I don’t know what happened and I know its probably up to the reader but I need to know what others thought. Should I be happy crying or sad crying about that ending?

Characters: In this story you get introduced to a range of characters but our main characters are Jack, Ava, and Matty. I really liked that each of these characters read the age they were. Even though Ava and were going through things that teenagers shouldn’t have to deal with, they still responded to those things in a teenage manner. They handled themselves well and they managed the things happening well but it was done in a way that remained true to their age and experiences.

I enjoyed reading the relationship that develops between Ava and Jack , especially the trust that they establish between themselves. I liked seeing how their past affects the way they respond to others and how they put that aside for each other.

Something else that I enjoyed through this book was the relationship that each character had with Matty. This is one of the characters that you instantly adore because he’s an innocent child and much like everyone else you want to protect him. I liked that he read as a young kid but there were moments that he pointed out to others that he was aware of the things happening around him.

Writing Style: This story is told in third person through a narrator that seems to be watching as the story unfolds. I liked to think of the narrator as the boy’s mother watching them from above and hoping for someone to save her sons. I also liked to think of the narrator as Ava at some times, like was Ava ever real. This book made me question what was real at times because of the italic portions that are included as well as the epilogue.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp Book Tour Post

I am so excited to get a chance to be a part of this book tour hosted by Hear Our Voices Book Tours . Make sure you check out the rest of the posts that are a part of this tour by looking at the schedule for the tour found here. 

Author Information

Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, Texas. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicanx grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health. Her debut novel, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER & SWEET is forthcoming from Little Brown in spring 2021.

You can find Laekan Zea Kemp at:

Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Website ~ Goodreads

Book Description

Publisher: Little Brown

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Genre: YA Fiction

Book Info:

As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home.

You can find the book at:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble  ~ Bookshop.org 

Review

Thoughts and Themes: There are very few books that I take a lot of notes for and this was one of them. I was glad that Libro.Fm gave me an advanced listening copy so that I could listen to this story while following along with the e-book.

While this book cover and synopsis make it sound like its a romance book, it is so much more than that. I really liked the complexity of this being first love but also adding the feeling of hopelessness and the theme of found family. I thought it was great to see both of these themes played out through Pen and Xander’s storylines because you saw how it affected them differently.

I liked the idea that the restaurant is so much more than just a place that people go to eat at. I liked how it represented something to the neighborhood but also how we see the weight it had on the dad. I thought that it was important to include both of these points in the book because we see how much he wants to help but its to the point that it hurts him. I liked how this portion of the book resolves itself but I can’t say much about this or I’ll ruin the story for you all.

Something else that I loved about this book was the idea of found family both for Xander and for pen. I like watching them both be able to give this to each other and how Xander realizes family isn’t always just blood.

Overall this story was just so heartwarming and it just reminded me of how important community is. I just loved seeing how they all came together to support Pen when she needed them. It reminded me of times that I’ve been in community with others and how much my communities have supported me throughout my life.

Characters: There is not a character in this book that isn’t lovable, well…besides the villain of the story you know. Every other character that you met is just a great addition to the story. You have the main characters Pen and Xander and through them you are introduced to both of their families and the people who work with them.

I really enjoyed the way the relationship between Pen and her father was shown and how that relationship developed and changed throughout the book. I thought it was great to see things through Pen’s perspective and see what she thought her father was thinking of her. I really liked how Xander was thinking the tension between them was because they were the same person. I laughed when I read that piece because it reminded me of my relationship with my dad.

I really liked getting to know both Pen and Xander and seeing how their stories connected to each other. I liked seeing how the themes in both of their stories parallel each other in different ways. I also liked seeing how they slowly fall in love with each other as they learn more about one another.

Writing Style: This story is told through first person dual perspectives of Pen and Xander. It was great to be able to see both of their perspectives to know what was going on in each of their heads. I think the story would not have worked if we only got one side because it is about both of them struggling to belong.

April 2021 TBR

My reading list this month is a little bit ambitious but some of these I’m already halfway through so hopefully I can complete them this month. I’m also hoping to take a few days off work to read as a break for my birthday, you know before I start school again this fall.

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago. 

What’s Not to Love by Emily Wibberley , Austin Siegemund-Broka 

Since high school began, Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy have competed on almost everything. AP classes, the school paper, community service, it never ends. If Alison could avoid Ethan until graduation, she would. Except, naturally, for two over-achieving seniors with their sights on valedictorian and Harvard, they share all the same classes and extracurriculars. So when their school’s principal assigns them the task of co-planning a previous class’s ten-year reunion, with the promise of a recommendation for Harvard if they do, Ethan and Alison are willing to endure one more activity together if it means beating the other out of the lead.

But with all this extra time spent in each other’s company, their rivalry begins to feel closer to friendship. And as tension between them builds, Alison fights the growing realization that the only thing she wants more than winning…is Ethan.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko 

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? 

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice by Yusef Salaam 

This inspirational memoir serves as a call to action from prison reform activist Yusef Salaam, of the Exonerated Five, that will inspire us all to turn our stories into tools for change in the pursuit of racial justice.

They didn’t know who they had.

So begins Yusef Salaam telling his story. No one’s life is the sum of the worst things that happened to them, and during Yusef Salaam’s seven years of wrongful incarceration as one of the Central Park Five, he grew from child to man, and gained a spiritual perspective on life. Yusef learned that we’re all “born on purpose, with a purpose.” Despite having confronted the racist heart of America while being “run over by the spiked wheels of injustice,” Yusef channeled his energy and pain into something positive, not just for himself but for other marginalized people and communities.

Better Not Bitter is the first time that one of the now Exonerated Five is telling his individual story, in his own words. Yusef writes his narrative: growing up Black in central Harlem in the ’80s, being raised by a strong, fierce mother and grandmother, his years of incarceration, his reentry, and exoneration. Yusef connects these stories to lessons and principles he learned that gave him the power to survive through the worst of life’s experiences. He inspires readers to accept their own path, to understand their own sense of purpose. With his intimate personal insights, Yusef unpacks the systems built and designed for profit and the oppression of Black and Brown people. He inspires readers to channel their fury into action, and through the spiritual, to turn that anger and trauma into a constructive force that lives alongside accountability and mobilizes change.

This memoir is an inspiring story that grew out of one of the gravest miscarriages of justice, one that not only speaks to a moment in time or the rage-filled present, but reflects a 400-year history of a nation’s inability to be held accountable for its sins. Yusef Salaam’s message is vital for our times, a motivating resource for enacting change. Better, Not Bitter has the power to soothe, inspire and transform. It is a galvanizing call to action.

The Half Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith 

It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi 

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying. 

March 2021 Wrap Up

I waited till the last minute to see if I could finish one last book yesterday or today and I managed to get 2 in before the end of this month. I read some pretty great books this month and wanted to share those with you all. Reviews to come for several of these books, the links in the titles will take you to reviews for those books.

As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods. 

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’s whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen, an elderly expat who had employed Marisol’s mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber’s, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as “an illegal”, but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi’s, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn’t be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn’t have been caught crossing the border.

But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She’s asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It’s a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.

The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland 

Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats.

Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind.

As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children.

The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years. 

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley 

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp 

As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home. 

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve 

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson 

Winter. The sky is dark. It is cold enough to crack bones.

Jack Morton has nothing left. Except his younger brother, Matty, who he’d do anything for. Even die for. Now with their mother gone, and their funds quickly dwindling, Jack needs to make a choice: lose his brother to foster care, or find the drug money that sent his father to prison. He chooses the money.

Ava Bardem lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years her father has controlled her fate. He has taught her to love no one. Trust no one. Now Victor Bardem is stalking the same money as Jack. When he picks up Jack’s trail, Ava must make her own wrenching choice: remain silent or help the brothers survive.

Choices. They come at a price.

A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan 

The debut novel from an autistic writer, an extraordinary story of a fiercely original young woman whose radical self-acceptance illuminates a new way of being in the world, and opens up a whole new realm of understanding and connection

As a full moon rises over Melbourne, Australia, a young autistic woman gets ready for a party. What appears to be the start of an ordinary night out, though, is, through the prism of her mind, extraordinary. As the events of the night unfold, she moves from person to person, weaving a web around the magical, the mundane, and the tragic. She’s charming and witty, with a touch of irreverence; people can’t help but find her magnetic. However, each encounter she has, whether with her ex-boyfriend or a woman who wants to compliment her outfit, reveals the vast discrepancies between what she is thinking, and feeling, and what she is able to say. And there’s so much she’d like to say.

When she meets a man in line for the bathroom, and the possibility of intimacy and genuine connection occurs, it’s nothing short of a miracle. It isn’t until she invites him home, though, and into her remarkable world that we come to appreciate the humanity beneath the labels we cling to, to grasp, through her singular perspective, the visceral joy of what it means to be alive.

From the inimitable mind of Madeleine Ryan, an outspoken advocate for neurodiversity, A Room Called Earth is a magical and miraculous adventure inside the mind of an autistic woman. Humorous and heartwarming, and brimming with joy, this hyper-saturated celebration of acceptance is a testament to moving through life without fear, and to opening ourselves up to a new way of relating to one another. 

Megalodon (2018) Movie Review

This year I have made it a point to watch a movie at least once a week and I really wanted to find a way to share those with you. I’m not the best with talking about movies so I figured the best way to do this was through an infographic on the movies along with sharing the notes that I take while watching the movie.

Movie Description

Streaming on: Amazon Prime

Length: 88 Minutes

Genres: Action, Adventure, Horror

Directed by : James Thomas

Writing Credits : Koichi Petetsky, Thunder Levin, Canyon Prince, and James Thomas

A military vessel on the search for an unidentified submersible finds themselves face to face with a giant shark, forced to use only what they have on board to defend themselves from the monstrous beast.

Review

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas Book Review

Author Information

Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, Oregon. As a queer, trans, Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

Their debut novel, CEMETERY BOYS, was published on September 1st, 2020.

Book Description

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan’s Children Publishing Group for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: I was so glad to get a chance to read this one because of how much Cemetery Boys meant to me. I had started reading this one on e-book when Libro.Fm gave me an advanced listening copy so I switched over to audiobook. I had just started listening to this one when I saw other people’s reviews on it and their concerns but decided to read it for myself and I am so glad that I did.

I do not recall seeing any other Peter Pan movie besides the Disney one and I definitely have never read the story. It’s hard for me to talk about how much I enjoyed this book because the parts that I enjoyed come in the explanation of the story. That whole explanation was so great but it also would give you all some spoilers so I’m keeping that out of my review.

I think that even if you are familiar with the original Peter Pan story , this one is going to surprise you because of how different it is. I liked that this one has familiar characters so it feels nostalgic but the background story is differen.t I like the way this changes from the original story and I love the inclusion of Peter’s shadow as a potential villain to this story. This story felt a lot like revisiting movies from my childhood as I remembered watching Peter Pan with my parents. At the end of this story, I actually ran to my parents room to ask if I had gotten the original story wrong and if Peter Pan was supposed to be such a dark tale.

I really liked all of the tropes that were included in this story and there are moments that I was laughing and moments in which I was tearing up. I know that a lot of people had issues with this story not having queer characters in it but for me it was still a story that was written by a queer author. This story was so different from Cemetery Boys but it also has some similar themes and feelings to it. It still gave off the feeling of teenagers hiding something from the people around them to protect themselves and ultimately needing to save themselves.

Characters: I knew I would love the characters right as I started reading the story because how could I not love Peter Pan. He’s one of my favorite Disney characters so I love getting to read other’s interpretations of him. I also liked how this Peter grew up physically but mentally he was still a child, this aspect of the story made him so much more likeable and fun.

I was also really glad to see a different interpretation of Wendy and be heartbroken for her. I thought it was great to see Wendy dealing with her grief and to see PTSD play out in a character so young. I also thought it was great to see PTSD play out in a character for other reasons than what has been typically shown through media.

I liked that we got to see a glimpse of Jordon, Wendy’s best friend and see how she plays a role in this story. While we don’t really get to know her, I still liked the pieces that she is included in and the role she plays in Wendy’s life.

Writing Style: I actually read this one on e-book and listened to pieces of it on audio so I want to comment not just on the writing style but also the narration. The narrator on the audio version of this book is great and easy to listen to. I liked how they changed the voice for each of the character’s talking and how the tone shifted along with the pacing of the story.

As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper Book Review

Author Information

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog.

THE GRAVITY OF US is his first novel, but he’s no stranger to writing. His self-insert Legend of Zelda fanfiction came with a disclaimer from the 14-year old author: “Please if you write a review don’t criticize my work.” He has since become more open to critique… sort of.

Book Description

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

You can get this book at:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indigo ~ IndieBound ~ Book Depository

Review

Thank you to netgalley for an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

Thoughts and Themes: I knew that I had to read this one as soon as I saw that Phil Stamper came out with a new book since I really enjoyed The Gravity of Us. I winded up listening to this story on audiobook while following along with the e-book. I found that the audiobook of this story was great to listen to and easy to follow. This is one that I had to sit on before writing the review because there was so many different things going on in the story that I wanted to touch on.

Something that I really enjoyed about this book was the anxiety representation, I rarely get to read books that show anxiety as part of the story but not the center of it. I really liked that Marty’s personality isn’t just his anxiety but that is a large part of his life. I liked getting to see how anxiety manifests itself in his daily life and how it contributed to his ability to travel.

Something else that I enjoyed about this book but also found hard to read was Marty’s parents homophobia and religious bigotry. I thought that this was done well and I know we would love to see them grow but I thought it was very real to include that they don’t grow. I liked that this book shows that sometimes people don’t change, and their views stay static.

Something that was unexpected and I had a hard time with was that Marty begins to develop body image issues and it leads to disordered eating. While I do think this is important to include and how it is something that needs to be brought up especially with the expectations for body types within the gay community, I do wish there had been some sort of warning.

One of the big things in this book that I really wanted to touch on was the forced outing that was done by Marty’s friend, Megan. I thought this was an important part of this story to include because of the impact it had on him. I thought it was well done because you get to see what Marty’s fears and concerns are about being out back home amongst people other than his close friends and family.

Characters: Through this story you are introduced to several characters through their interactions with Marty. I really enjoyed each of the characters that you get to meet throughout the interactions that Marty hash them.

I thought it was great to meet so many different characters and also get a chance to see how Marty’s relationship with each person differed. I thought it was great getting to see the contrast between Marty’s new friends and his old friends and how he changes through the development of these friendships.

I also really liked getting to see the contrast between the relationship that Marty has with his parents and his family in London. I thought it was great to see how either family reacted to his coming out and the difference that makes in his life. I really liked getting to know a little bit about the aunt and how she felt about the whole ordeal with Marty’s parents and him coming out. I thought it was important to show that he had some people who supported him regardless of his parent’s differing opinion.

Writing Style: This story is told in first person through our main character, Marty’s perspective. The story goes back and forth between the present time and some diary entries that are a part of an assignment that Marty had to complete last summer.

As I listened to the audiobook, I also want to comment on the narrator of the story. The narrator does a great job with this story and is easy to listen to. I like the pace that this story keeps as it isn’t too quick but also not too slow. It’s something that you could listen to in a day while getting other things done.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore Book Review

Author Information

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by their family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. They are the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus Best Book of 2017; and BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a reimagining of The Red Shoes based on true medieval events, is forthcoming in January 2020.

Book Description

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelera, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened. 

Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Children’s publishing group for an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

Thoughts and Themes: I had to give myself a few days to sit with this one before I wrote my review on it. This book is a heavy one, let me start with that, it deals with sexual assault and the aftermath of being sexually assaulted. It’s hard for me to put into words my feelings about this book and all the feelings that I had while reading it. There are so many moments in this book that I just highlighted and put an exclamation mark on because there was no words for how I felt.

I would say that my favorite part and the most heartbreaking part of this book was the author’s note that is at the end of the book. The author’s note reveals that this story is based on experiences of McLemore and a friend who were both assaulted by the same person. I briefly know the story of the Snow Queen so I liked how the Author explains the story in the end and how no one asked how the Snow Queen got to be so cold and have a frozen heart.

I really loved that this book touches on not just the sexual assault that occurs but the trauma and the healing that can take place afterwards. I really liked the aspects of magical realism that were included throughout the story and how this book was a retelling of the Snow Queen. I liked that this book gave an explanation for how someone could have their warmth taken away from them but also how they could work at taking it back.

Something else that I loved about this book was all the pan dulce that was talked about. I was debating on if I should mention this because I didn’t want to take away from the important talk about sexual assault but the pan dulce adds to the story for me. It didn’t just make me hungry but I loved that Ciela is able to figure out what type of pan dulce everyone needs but can’t figure Lock out and also is unable to use this magic for herself.

When I first finished it I felt like I wanted more to this story but after thinking about it, I like that it is left unfinished. I think leaving this story unfinished shows how there’s still work to do, and that their healing continues beyond this story. I think that leaving us without an answer honors the truths that McLemore wanted to share with us readers.

Characters: These characters are really what make the whole story work, I really enjoyed getting to know each of the characters that we get to meet in this book. I think that even our bad guys are important to this story and thought it was good they were included.

Ciela and Lock are assaulted at the same party by the same set of people who go to their high school. I thought the way that Ciela and Lock’s interactions throughout the whole story go were very well done. I liked how much emotion was put into each scene between them, whether it be one filled with love, confusion, hurt, or pain. Ciela and Lock’s relationship really stood out to me in this story because it was them ultimately deciding that they get to tell their story. I liked how this relationship changes throughout the book as it grows, destroys itself, and goes through the process with them.

I really liked getting a chance to not only see how Ciela was processing her feelings about the situation but also get to see Lock’s reaction as he figures out more about that night. As the reader, there are things that you can guess from the start and even when you figure it out, I don’t think you are prepared for the thoughts that Lock has about it all and what Ciela realizes. I think it was great to see both of their feelings on the page but also how they reconcile what others did to them, and the fact that this was done to them.

Writing Style: The story is told in first person through the perspective of our main character Ciela. I really liked that we got to see the story through her view because we get to see her process her feelings about that night. I think it was important that it was Ciela who got to share her story with us, and that we got to see other perspectives through interactions they had with her.

I thought it was great that while we get to know some of Lock’s feelings from what he tells Ciela, and what he doesn’t say, we don’t really get to see his perspective of things. I think that not including his feelings and having Ciela have to think about how he might feel, allows her to give him space as well as giving herself space. I think that Ciela thinking about Lock’s feelings on that night finally allows her the space to have feelings about that night as she tells her parents, and best friend, Jess.

March 2021 TBR

I had planned on finishing three of these in the month of February but didn’t get to them so I moved them to this month. I’m quite excited to get to read all of these and can’t wait to finish them. It’s hard to not just try and read everything at the same time.

City of the Uncommon Thief by Lynee Bertrand

“Guilders work. Foundlings scrub the bogs. Needles bind. Swords tear. And men leave. There is nothing uncommon in this city. I hope Errol Thebes is dead. We both know he is safer that way.”

In a walled city of a mile-high iron guild towers, many things are common knowledge: No book in any of the city’s libraries reveals its place on a calendar or a map. No living beasts can be found within the city’s walls. And no good comes to the guilder or foundling who trespasses too far from their labors.

Even on the tower rooftops, where Errol Thebes and the rest of the city’s teenagers pass a few short years under an open sky, no one truly believe anything uncommon is possible within the city walls.

But one guildmaster has broken tradition to protect her child, and as a result the whole city faces an uncommon threat: a pair of black iron spikes that have the power of both sword and needle on the ribcages of men have gone missing, but the mayhem they cause rises everywhere. If the spikes not found and contained, no wall will be high enough to protect the city–or the world beyond it.

And Errol Thebes? He’s not dead and he’s certainly not safe.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anderson

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamer

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home? 

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

Jayne Baek is barely getting by. She shuffles through fashion school, saddled with a deadbeat boyfriend, clout-chasing friends, and a wretched eating disorder that she’s not fully ready to confront. But that’s New York City, right? At least she isn’t in Texas anymore, and is finally living in a city that feels right for her.

On the other hand, her sister June is dazzlingly rich with a high-flying finance job and a massive apartment. Unlike Jayne, June has never struggled a day in her life. Until she’s diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Suddenly, these estranged sisters who have nothing in common are living together. Because sisterly obligations are kind of important when one of you is dying.