Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells_Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells (Shatter The Sky #2)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: October 13, 2020

Pages: 368

Available through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Cover Artist: Chloë Foglia (Designer) and Olivier Ponsonnet (illustrator)

Summary: Let them burn.

Maren’s world was shattered when her girlfriend, Kaia, was abducted by the Aurati. After a daring rescue, they’ve finally been reunited, but Maren’s life is still in pieces: Kaia seems more like a stranger than the lover Maren knew back home; Naava, the mother of all dragons, has retreated into seclusion to recover from her wounds, leaving Maren at a loss on how to set the rest of the dragons free; and worst of all, her friend Sev has been captured by the emperor’s Talons.

As a prisoner of Zefed, Sev finds himself entangled in a treacherous game of court politics. With more people joining the rebellion, whispers of a rogue dragon mistress spreading, and escape seeming less likely with each passing day, Sev knows that it won’t be long before the emperor decides to make an example of him. If he’s to survive, he’ll have to strike first—or hope Maren reaches him in time.

With the final battle for Zefed looming, Maren must set aside her fears, draw upon all she’s learned about her dragon-touched abilities, and face her destiny once and for all. But when the fighting is over and the smoke clears, who will be left standing?

[Read an ARC: which I received unsolicited from the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Storm The Earth is a character-driven conclusion to the Shatter The Sky duology! When Maren is eager to free the dragons of her nation, she also embarks on a journey to rescue a friend whose been taken prisoner. With political intrigue, additional layers to the world building, and well-rounded character arcs, this is a quiet YA fantasy adventure worth reading!

Early last year, I read a surprising debut that I personally feel went under the radar. Although I truly don’t talk about this series enough, Shatter The Sky easily became one of my new favorite books. If you have yet to read Wells’ book it can essentially be pitched as an “angry bisexual/dragon” novel.

The first novel follows Maren, a girl who lives in the quiet mountain nation of Ilvera and whose girlfriend gets taken by Aurati, seers of the empire. So, as she devises a plan to rescue Kaia, she believes the only thing she can do is steal the emperor’s beloved dragons and search for her. When her journey takes her to a stronghold, she goes undercover as an aromatory apprentice, learning more about dragons, her nation’s deeply rooted link to them, and perhaps her own special connection.

Now that Maren and Kaia are reunited with the great dragon Naava by their side, she’s hoping to uncover a lot more about her unique abilities of being able to communicate with dragons and her mysterious Dragon dreams. With Sev (who is actually a prince leading an undercover rebellion) having become prisoner by the emperor, Maren is unsure of where he could possibly be. So, while the Emperor is devising a plan to destroy the brewing rebellion, take control of the dragons, and bring an end to Maren’s plans, Sev hopes she won’t be too late. Then to make matters even more interesting, Naava decides to leave and recover, leaving Maren to discover how she’ll free the dragons on her own and determine what the dragons’ fates will be when she breaks their hold from the Emperor’s Talons’…to join her or be free.

The worldbuilding in this sequel for me, was excellent, which is where STS faltered just slightly. However what this sequel does exceedingly well is delving more into those different layers from the various nations, political ties, and how both the lore and history of dragons fit into all of it! While taking place across the Zefedi empire from Maren’s POV, her travels detail more of the location, neighboring towns, and the world feels even more grounded. While from Sev’s POV there is a much clearer picture to the tyrannical rule of Rafael and his empire.

What both Maren and Sev’s POVs offer to expand on this rich world that Wells has established are elements of economic class division, hierarchy of the court, even the Emperor’s Talons and the dragon’s forced to work for them.

I felt that telling this story from a dual perspective truly was a brilliant move on Wells’s part because at its core, this story is propelled by its compelling cast of characters, especially our main protagonists. They are each learning more about themselves and how the world is shaping them at every step. Maren and Sev both had equally strong arcs and I genuinely loved following them in this finale, seeing how their stories intertwine added a new layer to this already phenomenal series.

An interesting twist is how Maren has taken up the role as the “Chosen One” / Hero, where Kaia has become much more reluctant like Maren was at the beginning of her own journey. While it can seem like “miscommunication” is a big factor in their surprisingly uneasy dynamic, Well’s naturally explored a relationship that is shifting, changing, and left adrift. It felt quite realistic and with the focus on characters, it made perfect sense with how Maren’s journey develops by the end.

As Maren continues on her journey she also learns whether she can take up the role of “Dragon Empress” the world so desperately needs. Sev is the last remaining royal of his family after they were murdered some years ago. With Rafael knowing more about Sev’s work with the Dragon’s, his rebel group, he knows he won’t let him escape so easily. While under the Emperor’s control and influence, Sev becomes forced to face trials that make him rethink his own power as a leader while it slowly crumbles away through torture and being coerced into making innocent people suffer for Rafael’s own image.

My only complaint is that I felt there could have been a couple more plot threads, mainly across Sev’s POV because he is essentially just stuck waiting for a way to escape. There’s his Aurati watcher named Faris and Neve also makes a return, which was very exciting as she was another one of my favorite characters, plus Sev’s childhood crush Piera. I enjoyed their character arcs a lot, but again I just wish they had a bit more page-time because they were so interesting [Especially Neve, who is on the verge of demotion after what happened with Maren in Book 1!]. The pacing can feel a bit slow, but with how the building conflict adds more tension to the story, I didn’t mind so much the further I read.

Again, the new characters we’re introduced to were so well developed and despite only just meeting them in the finale, their arcs really felt complete by the end of the book. Also, the intense action scenes (especially near the end) were SO GOOD! Actually, those scenes in particular were probably some of the best I’ve read in fantasy in quite a bit. Well’s detail to movement whether it was a confrontation with a Talon, dragon, etc., were described in a neat way where I never really felt lost while reading them.

Shatter The Sky and especially this sequel also is focused on presenting Queer rep. in this fantasy world. I love how Well’s navigated Queer relationships in her world. It’s nice to see typical romantic tropes or established relationships through the lens of a normalized queer fantasy setting. In addition to the bisexual rep. there’s a character who uses they/them pronouns, and there’s also a sapphic relationship.

Once I reached the end, I was overjoyed at where the main characters journeys had ended and truthfully I’m still feeling a bit sad at saying goodbye to this amazing world. If anything Storm The Earth left me wanting to know so much more. Maren, Sev, Kaia, the little dragon Tasia, Tovin, Efren, Neve, Faris, etc. were such intriguing characters and really captured my heart throughout the story, leading up to the end!

Shatter The Sky was definitely a unique reading experience and this surprisingly quick duology, really took me on a journey. These books are in my eyes truly under the radar. Its such a great series worth checking out, highly recommend them if you are looking for Queer fantasy, more YA duologies, dragons, or just eager to read a story set in a distinct world!

Storm The Earth closes the chapter on the Shatter The Sky duology following a reluctant hero who learns to lead a rebellion. From a layered world that gets explored even more, stunning cast of characters, dragon lore, politics, and much more, this is truly a YA Fantasy duology worth the read!

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera Review

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Simon Teen)

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Pages: 296

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Cover Artist / Illustrator: Myokard and Lizzy Bromley (Designer)

Summary: THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

My Thoughts: The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a phenomenal YA Contemporary novel that touches on a lot of important topics, while at its core being a compelling coming-of-age story! Margot is stuck working at her family’s supermarket, but learns some much needed life lessons along the way. Lilliam Rivera has become one of my new favorite authors!

I know I just stated it above, but it’s worth repeating: Lilliam Rivera is truly a new favorite author! Despite the myriad of Young Adult Contemporary novels out there, Margot’s story is a unique one of reflection, growth, and with a focus on family. This novel captured my heart in many ways (much anticipated), but has also left me continuing to think (close to a month after reading). I knew from the summary alone she would be a new favorite author, but wow the themes and realistic character growth exhibited in this novel makes me want to read the rest of her books asap!

After using her father’s credit card, Margot is grounded for the summer and has to work at her family’s supermarket, Sanchez & Sons, to pay off her debts. However, she’d rather be somewhere else, like the sunny Hamptons with her closest friends from Somerset Prep, Serena and Camille, but also her crush Nick. From page 1, you can sympathize with Margot, her annoyance and frustration at her break being taken from her. She powers through the tedious jobs her father assigns (like stacking shelves, slicing deli meats) and yet her friends, despite being a phone call away, feel further than ever.

Trying to adjust to the 10 weeks of work she’ll have to endure, she soon meets Moises, a community activist who sets up a stand near the market and despite not being sure how she feels about him, they spend more time together, and soon she realizes she now has to navigate her complex feelings for him too. But there’s an underlying thread between him and Margot’s older brother Junior that slowly develops throughout the story.

Margot and Moises’s dynamic was so wholesome? Despite him being obvious that he’s interested, Moises is kind and offers Margot a much needed break from her family, but also time when she needs to figure things out for herself. I loved that he also showed her the importance of being there for your community and his work to support the local apartment complex being impacted by gentrification.

From the very beginning I loved reading from Margot’s perspective, there’s such a genuine voice to her despite her flaws the story presents, she’s a compulsive liar and has trouble being both honest and vulnerable. However, she’s truly just a teen trying to figure out who she is and her place in the world. Throughout the novel she learns lots of lessons about life, the world outside her personal bubble, and connecting more with her family’s business.

Margot finds herself confronting many varying situations regarding her friends and herself, where she slowly begins to realize it means she’ll have to own up to her mistakes and learn to do better. She is such an amazing main character, yes she is flawed in her thinking and perception, but she is growing and realizing what it takes to become the person she wants to be. Her friend Elizabeth, who she’s known for years, is attending an art school and Margot doesn’t have the words to say how distant she feels from her. But throughout the novel Margot begins to see how her new persona at Somerset has changed her in many ways, keeping her from seeing her friends, family, and community from a different perspective. Also delving into the theme of friendship, she learns who truly has her best interests at heart and the people she needs in her life to help her be her best self.

Despite having no interest in the family business, Margot realizes how important it is to her family’s livelihood, the slowly gentrifying community, and ultimately herself. She even learns more about the employees like Jasmine, her passion for music, and many others.

Family is a core element of this story and Rivera navigates through a realistic and complicated lens. There’s lots of love, but also a lack of communication which is delved into as the book progresses. Throughout the story Margot learns more about her father, mother, older brother Junior, but through it all she’s also tackling the machismo/sexist culture displayed by the men in her family. It unknowingly dictates many of their actions towards Margot and rightfully you feel frustrated alongside her seeing the many double-standards and attitudes displayed. Junior and her father are two characters who have much growing to do themselves and despite doing what they believe is in the best interest for Margot, this presents another brilliantly multi-faceted layer of the novel. But, overall it also played an important part in having Margot wonder whether she can be any different. Despite their mistakes, the Sanchez family is struggling to cope with their problems, but there’s hope for solutions if they work together.

The novel delves into core themes that remain present throughout the entire book such as gentrification, family, and especially identity. Margot realizes more about herself and the people around her that allow her to truly open her eyes, which ultimately leads to her accepting herself as she truly is and not hide behind other people’s expectations or her own insecurities. Its such meaningful message that plays an important part for her growth with each page, yet as many of us are, she is still navigating her flaws and accepting them. Gentrification is a major impact on the supermarket as a college is close by and a competing market is close to opening, Margot realizes the impacts this has on the community she’s come to appreciate. I liked seeing her use her pr/social media skills to help the place later on in the novel not only for the market, but also for her friends. Being from Latine background, family is navigated with such nuance and depth in ways that I could really see and understand. Its such a foundational theme that is present in many characters through their actions and reflections.

Being from the Bronx herself, I loved how Rivera made the setting come to life through the atmosphere and descriptions. Additionally as an #ownvoices novel, it features Puerto-Rican rep., following a Puerto-Rican/American main character, and also features an Afro-Latino love interest (Moises).

If anything it did feel like the ending wrapped up a bit quickly, and just as everything is working out for Margot and I just wanted a little bit more. But honestly, that’s because with each page I fell in love with this wonderful story Rivera was telling about a girl who is learning to be herself, do better, and figure everything out. I truly adored this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Lilliam’s fantastic books. It’s my goal to continue reading backlist books on my physical tbr and it was an absolute joy to have finally picked up this gem.

The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a marvelous contemporary about family, identity, friendship, learning from mistakes, and figuring out where you fit in! Set in the Bronx, Rivera navigates a variety of multi-layered themes and delivers a compelling story about new beginnings featuring a cast of realistic characters who bring the story to life! Margot’s compelling character and the plot filled with meaningful messages makes this a YA Contemporary worth checking out if you have yet to read Lilliam Rivera’s books!

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell ARC Review

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 240

Available Through The Book Depository: Magic Dark & Strange

Cover Design: Sonia Chaghatzbanian and Greg Stadnyk

Summary: Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Magic Dark And Strange is Powell’s latest standalone set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with magic and murder! A necromancer and watchmaker’s son team up to solve a mystery when a boy is brought back to life. This is an atmospheric, immersive novel, that delivers a more quiet, character-driven story! Perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson!

Set in the Victorian-esque city of Invercarn, Powell crafts a story built around a distinct, equally quirky magic system, propelled by an almost slice-of-life narrative following a trio who band together to solve a town mystery!

Having read Powell’s debut, I’ve realized her unique, leisurely-paced historical fantasy novels can potentially be hit or miss with some readers who prefer more immediate storylines with a swiftness to their plot, but don’t let that deter you from this fun, gothic fantasy with friendship at its core!

Catherine Daly has worked at the Invercarn Chronicle for two years to support her family and tries to write them often. She seems to have a rather mundane job as an obituary writer, but to sustain the business her boss (as many other businesses do) have side operations that run solely on providing magical services.

Opening at a graveyard no less, Catherine uses skills of necromancy to help clients reunite with loved ones who’ve died. But with magic at a cost to the user, Catherine herself loses hours of her life in exchange.

When her boss is eager to find a magical timepiece or risk losing her job, Catherine teams up with Guy Nolan, son of Nolan’s Watch & Clock Repair to dig up some leads. This leads them to the grave of a boy (given the name Owen) whose mysteriously brought back to life! But the watch isn’t with him and he has no memories of who he was or his past. Now the three of them are working together to figure out where the mysterious timepiece is and when rumors surface, why it’s leading to a thread of murders.

As mentioned above, this is very much a slice-of-life story because the characters go about their daily lives while also trying to find the watch! I think that makes for a very interesting setting in YA Fantasy because it shows how lived in the world is, plus how our characters interact with it. Magic itself is established in the world as a norm and isn’t used to extremes or for very heightened stakes, so it’s delved into in a very quiet way.

As Catherine continues her quest while also writing for the paper, Guy is working alongside his father to fix watches, plus they even help Owen try to find work and establish a new life for himself as he’s now alive again.

Throughout the novel, friendship and the bond between the trio is such an important, underlying theme that Powell makes so clear through Catherine and Guy’s dynamic, Catherine and her support for Owen, even Guy using his connections to help Owen learn more about who he was. There is an element of romance between Catherine and Guy, whose shows a vulnerability around her, but the two of them establish a friendship first. The way Powell makes those friendship dynamics such a central force of the story, allows it to be such a refreshing read too! Their support for one another is so nice to read and once you reach the end your also left feeling kind of sad because there’s only one book!! I could imagine tons more adventures with the three of them together and tbh think they should open up their own magic side business or something!

Powell’s novel reads like a comforting, familiar fantasy where you can easily picture the story and immerse yourself in it. You really sink into the city and it almost envelops the reader as their along for the adventure sweeping our main cast across town. The Victorian setting is brought to life through the weather, stone architecture, locations (university, cemetery, shops, etc.), period styles of clothing, even how the characters speak, allows you to picture a very specific kind of location. The mystery is also compelling and interesting because it asks so many questions about who is risking so much to obtain this magic, where is the watch now, and what’s at stake?

Powell’s novels carry a unique whimsy to them that’s made her one of my favorite underrated authors over the past couple years. This book just takes you on an adventure woven with mystery, friendship, and brings up such fascinating ideas about who we are and where we can go next. This wonderful underlying messages delved into through each character in their own way, which is present a lot with Owen for example, who is confronting his own fears of not being able to know his true identity and also trying to establish something completely new for himself. Same with Catherine & Guy who seem to be pretty comfortable with where they are at, but working together to solve the mystery and building that friendship allows them to question what’s next. In addition, there’s a brief, underlying moment where Powell presents this idea of the price of magic for those we care about. All are very interesting questions, however I just wish they were delved into even more. Same for the magic system and the world itself: What other magical jobs are there, different layers to the magic system and how others use magic that’s such common place? I feel like we never really get those answers.

Now onto why I personally rated it 4 stars, although I whole-heartedly recommend this fun read: The build-up to the mystery is fascinating as we’re wondering who Owen was in his previous life and who was responsible for his death? Also, where is that timepiece? But, because they go back and forth a lot between the shops and various characters as well who may have leads, it feels like the mystery never really picks up until halfway through. The urgency felt like it wasn’t completely there, but again as someone who enjoys the quiet fantasy stories, I didn’t mind too much, however with the fascinating story Powell presented it felt like the pacing could have been a bit faster.

With the writing itself too, it felt like there was more to learn about Invercarn! Again, Powell really delves into a specific atmosphere and setting, so I just wanted to know even more about the magic and world itself.

Aside from that though, I will absolutely be reading Powell’s next book! She crafts such inventive, creative YA Fantasy tales that no matter what, always leave me feeling like I’ve gone on some grand adventure. And seriously, if you enjoy Rogerson’s Sorcery Of Thorns, I think you’d have a lot of fun with this book too! Highly recommend reading it.

Magic Dark And Strange is an inventive, fantasy standalone with necromancy, murder mystery, with a Victorian-gothic setting! Although quiet, the story delivers a compelling plot and mystery, alongside a delightful main cast of characters you want to learn more about. A unique world, intriguing layer of questions, and atmospheric storytelling make this an underrated YA Fantasy worth checking out!

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon ARC Review

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De LeonDon’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

Cover Design: Elena Garnu

Summary: Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.

There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.

There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.

And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.

So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.

But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.

*Received a review copy from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is an introspective debut that discusses many topics such as racism and immigration. Liliana is navigating family, friendships, and a new high school after getting accepted into the METCO program! She’s also learning more about her Latina identity. This is a YA Contemporary that you need on your TBR!

De Leon’s debut is about a first-generation Latina who transfers to a new (majority white) high school and is left to adjust on her own, witnessing microaggressions, racism, and more, all while her father has been deported.

Firstly, I can’t put into words what it meant to be reading about a Guatemalan teen just living her life, going to school, and figuring things out! I was literally sobbing, it’s a book that left me with a feeling of familiarity, comfort, and I’m so happy this debut is now out in the world for readers to see pieces of themselves in Liliana and her family. This is the kind of book I would have loved reading as a teen growing up, SO please pre-order or check out this debut, which is out today!

This novel at its core is about the struggle many marginalized people face, where they feel drifted between two different worlds. However, its an unflinching look at disparity in the education system, racism, and learning to use your voice.

Liliana is an aspiring writer, loves making miniature sets, and her voice just leaps off the page!  Its as though she’s speaking to us the reader. She’s funny, filled with so much energy, and was just a fantastic main character!

When Liliana is accepted into the METCO program, she quickly realizes it was her parents (especially father’s) wishes to thrive! So this means she’s leaving her Boston school (where she was in the majority), heading to Westburg to join other METCO students despite the nerves and anxiety she feels.

Liliana’s not only navigating this new environment, but also trying to make friends, stay connected with her best friend Jade, and is experiencing a bit of romance with a fellow student named Dustin. She’s also confronting microaggressions, holding onto all these feelings inside of her, and witnessing racism towards fellow METCO students. But she’s just left feeling adrift. Liliana is struggling to show her true self and is lost, unsure what to do.

However, she luckily connects with the METCO group, like Rayshawn, her senior buddy named Genesis, and host family friend named Holly. But also learns to look deep within herself about what it means to use her voice.

De Leon weaves in so many relatable and thought-provoking lines that many marginalized or non-white, and especially Latine readers will understand. It’s also the kind of novel that introduces so many topics and gives enough page-time to discuss each, while even weaving many together.

Liliana herself is half-Guatemalan and Salvadorian. However, throughout the novel she mainly learns more about her Guatemalan culture. As an #OwnVoices reader (a Guatemalan-American), there’s just so many little details that I related too 100% and it felt surreal to see my family’s culture woven into the pages. From pepian to relative visits, and just seeing her connect more to the family’s roots was wonderful to see.

While I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about my Guatemalan culture from a bit of an earlier age (and even now), it was interesting seeing Liliana whose a teen navigate that with her own set of questions and gain her own understanding about her father’s Guatemalan roots.

That leads me into a major theme and highlight of this novel that presents itself in different ways, that’s the concept of LEARNING. Liliana realizes she doesn’t have much knowledge of her Guatemalan side, so she reads up, asks questions, and does her own research. Not just about her culture, but also when it comes to better understanding Latinx culture (like one scene that stuck out was when she learns about “Spanish” vs. “Latinx”), and navigating racism in general. De Leon masterfully presents the importance of asking questions when you don’t have all the answers and I just love how she explored that throughout the book! As mentioned in our interview, De Leon said something that I feel resonated about why this theme is important and stated she hopes her debut “inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.”

The plot itself is very slice-of-life as Liliana goes to school, her home life with twin brothers and her mother (whose struggling to work while trying to do everything she can to help her husband get home), being with friends, and just her daily life at Westburg!

Both her mother and Liliana herself rightfully so, deal with moments of depression and anxiety, fearful of what’s happening to Liliana’s dad! She reminisces a lot throughout the novel about her childhood with him and how he helped shape her passions as a writer (one of my favorite scenes was a memory about a book fair he took her to when she was little).

Themes are the foundation of this novel from family, coming of age, friendship, even discussing racism, immigration, and privilege. As a whole, the book does a fantastic job at delving into all of these contemporary topics through the lens of a Latina living in Boston.

Some moments that stuck out to me that brilliantly showed the way De Leon wanted to navigate these themes was through the school! For example, the clear contrast between her former high school vs. Westburg (even how she feels out of place being in that neighborhood), hearing the conversations in her history class from students about Latin-American immigration, Dustin’s racist friend Steve, and the METCO presentation they do near the end.

Another moment that really stayed with me was how Liliana felt in her Westburg creative writing class vs. the (obviously) more diverse writing center course she learned about from her local library. Those scenes symbolized how she’s always felt caught between two worlds, but she finds solace in the place that makes her feel welcome.

The use of a 1st person POV, brilliantly allows you to see who Lil is and understand her fully as a character. She’s someone who feels the need to hide and not fully be herself, she’s also witty, observant, and if your looking for an introspective narrative, this book is perfect.

Overall, the plotting, how real the story feels, the cast of characters, and the wonderful writing voice make this a great YA Contemporary / debut you should not miss!

Although I absolutely loved this book and is one of my new favorites, my only minor critique is that I did find the writing reads very much like a “stream of consciousness,” where the story moves very quickly at points and scenes transition as your reading Liliana’s internal thoughts. But it does make her voice feel so real and come to life.

I will say that this book reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, maybe because of how it delved into themes in such a realistic way, the poignant narrative voice, and main heroine that stands out…either way if you loved Acevedo’s debut, I think De Leon’s would be perfect too!

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a fantastic debut you don’t want to miss! Liliana is confronting microaggressions, racism, and learns to find her voice in order to take a stand! Character-driven, thought-provoking, and wonderfully written, its a great debut perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo! Jennifer De Leon’s YA Contemporary debut is a must read for 2020!

Blog Tour: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon {Q&A}

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De LeonDon’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Pages: 336

Available For Pre-Order: The Book DepositoryBookshop 

Cover Artist: Elena Garnu

Summary: First-generation American Latinx Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.

Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.

To celebrate the upcoming August 18th release of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, I’ll be sharing a Q&A with Jennifer to chat all about her debut! 📚🎉

1. Hello Jennifer, thank you for joining me on the blog today, ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ is weeks away from release! Can you tell us what its all about?

Jennifer: Thank you for having me on the blog! Yes, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From follows 15- year-old Liliana Cruz, a Latinx teen from Boston, as she transfers to a majority white high school. She’s dealing with so much—best friend troubles, annoying little brothers, her dad traveling (again), and she’s trying to fit in at her new high school in Westburg. As a result, she deals with micro-aggressions and racism and stereotypes—and all the while there’s this cute guy…But yes, the racial tensions in the school come to a boil and Liliana has some difficult choices to make.

2. What inspired your novel and did you find anything about the story, either change or evolve during the writing process?

Jennifer: This is the book I wish I could hand to my younger self. It is the story I wanted—and needed—to hear, but didn’t get a chance to see in literature. Later, when I became a public school teacher I saw that while some progress had been made in the category of Young Adult fiction in terms of diversity, there was still a long way to go. So I became even more inspired to write the book that I could eventually give my students. The story definitely evolved during the writing process! For starters, I had the story originally set in the nineties—but I was told that this is technically “historical fiction” (I know!) and that readers might have an easier time connecting if the story was contemporary. Second, the original draft was told in third-person. But once I started writing in first person, Liliana’s voice took over the mic—I mean, the pen, and she just led me the rest of the way.

3. As an #OwnVoices contemporary what would you say you drew from your own experience that found its way into the novel?

Jennifer: Growing up I often moved between two worlds—physically and metaphorically. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, where most of my friends were white and either middle-class or affluent. My parents were born in Guatemala and worked really hard to get our family to live in a neighborhood with a strong school system. That was their ultimate goal: give my sisters and I a solid education. But every weekend we would drive thirty minutes to Boston and visit with extended family. I loved spending time with my cousins and tías and tíos and grandmother. It felt like a different world. So, in writing Liliana’s character, I tried to draw on my experiences of moving in between worlds because she does this on a daily basis when she takes the METCO bus to Westburg and then back home to Boston.

4. According to the summary we see that Liliana has to navigate a wealthy and white high school which forces her to code switch and create two distinct worlds. What inspired you to incorporate this overarching theme of the book and was it something you felt should be present early on in the writing process?

Jennifer: Absolutely. For me, it was super important to show Liliana navigating two distinct worlds. It was the crux of the story, even in the earlier drafts. Code-switching, from my own experience, can be exhausting. And it can take a mental toll, too. I wanted to show how one character, Liliana, is confronting the need to code-switch for the first time in her life, at least on this level. Up until now she has lived and breathed solely in the bubble of her neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, an area of Boston. But that all changes when she joins the METCO program and begins going to school at a predominantly white school. Although I didn’t have this exact experience of being part of the METCO program, I did feel that I had to constantly code-switch depending on where I was and who was in the room—and this only amplified once I got to college.

4a. Based on the summary, it looks like your debut will discuss various themes from Latin-American identity, race, and immigration to name a few. Which theme or topic did you feel the most inspired to explore and is there a particular message that you wanted to get across to readers?

Jennifer: Such a great question! As I was writing Liliana’s story, I felt inspired to show how Liliana herself is learning so much about her culture and identity and background as she navigates a new world—Westburg. Liliana is not an “expert” on Latinx culture or even Central American culture. She has more questions than answers. I think so many second- generation teens can feel this way. I know I did. On one level, you don’t fit in with the “mainstream culture” but then on another level, you don’t exactly fit in with your parents’ culture either. All the while, people—even well-intentioned ones—ask questions like I’m Wikipedia or something. It took me a long time to learn more about Guatemala, where both my parents are from, and I still have so much to learn. So, yes, I hope this book inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.

5. What did you enjoy the most writing about Liliana’s character? & Why?

Jennifer: Ooooh, I loved writing Liliana’s voice. She is sassy and smart and has a real funny way of saying things—she doesn’t hold back. And I love that about her.

6. As a Latina reader myself I feel like  ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ will make it a point in navigating Latina/Latine identity and I think that’s great. Is that something important you were hoping readers take away from the novel?

Jennifer: Definitely. I hope that this book can shed (more) light on the understanding that the the Latinx community is not a monolithic one. Yes, we share so many commonalities (on levels of language, culture, family traditions, etc.), but just the same, there are as many differences between someone who identifies as Puerto Rican vs. Mexican vs. Guatemalan vs. Venezuelan, and so on and so forth. I also hope that readers—again, especially young people and especially Latinx teens—can close the book and feel proud of where they’re from, that they feel empowered by their history and not burdened by it.

7. Can you share one of your favorite quotes in ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’?

Jennifer: Sure!

“I’m sick of people asking me where I am from. No—where I am ‘from-from.’ I am sick of people assuming I wasn’t born in this country or that I don’t speak English or that I eat rice and beans every night for dinner.” Two girls laughed. But in an I got you way. I felt lighter and lighter. And I couldn’t stop.

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is releasing August 18, 2020! Thank you for joining me on the blog tour today. 

Are you looking forward to reading Jennifer De Leon’s debut? 🎊🌸📚✨

Shatter The Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells Review

Shatter The Sky by Rebecca Kim WellsShatter The Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells (Shatter The Sky #1)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Pages: 304

Available Through The Book Depository: Shatter The Sky

Cover Design/Illustration: Olivier Ponsonnet

Summary: Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

My Rating:★★★★☆ 

My Thoughts: Shatter The Sky is a quiet, character-driven YA Fantasy! When Maren’s girlfriend is taken by prophets of the emperor, she goes on a quest to rescue her! Wells’ delivers a tale with intrigue, politics, dragon lore, adventure, and much more!

Shatter The Sky is one of those books I’d had on my TBR and knew it would be a perfect fantasy adventure, but I just wasn’t able to get to reading it in 2019. Luckily my #Quietreadthon inspired me to look at more backlist titles and I’m glad I was able to finally pick this up!

This book was a wild ride and it surprised me in a lot of ways, which for me is always a plus. All I knew going into it was that it featured a F/F relationship., Bi rep., dragons & a rescue! But that definitely worked in my favor, because I was left pretty much unsure as to all the rest of the details of the plot, which went in very unique directions (from my perspective). This is a YA Fantasy book that feels like it went under many people’s radars and needs a lot more love!

First in a duology, Shatter The Sky follows Maren and her girlfriend Kaia who live in the mountain nation of Ilvera which, along with many other small nations, is part of an ever-growing, corrupt Zefedi empire. This empire has taken control of the dragons to use for its own benefit, many of which used to live among the people of Ilvera many years ago!

Very early on, I felt I could really relate to Maren! She finds comfort in her quiet town and unlike Kaia, doesn’t feel too eager to explore what else lies beyond. Its that comfort and uncertainty that makes her a “Reluctant Hero” as Wells mentions in this Q&A from We Need Diverse Books:

“The reluctant hero is one of my favorite tropes…Something I really like about Maren is that even though she’s a homebody (a trait I borrowed from myself) and very hesitant to do anything to mess with the equilibrium of her life, she is determined to do what she feels is right…”

What made Maren such a fun protagonist to follow was not only that the book was told from her perspective, but through her eyes you sense a deep connection to the world she’s familiar with. This makes her discoveries about the world, unlocking a more confident side to herself, even development to the layers/different sides to the setting itself, feel lived in and expansive!

When prophetic seers of the emperor known as the Aurati visit Ilvera to offer prophetic advice and take another girl with them to be among their ranks, Maren is surprised and heartbroken to learn that Kaia’s been chosen. However, she wastes no time setting out on a journey to find her!

With her parents support, Maren sets out on her adventure which leads to a position at an Empire fortress, where they have dragons! Her plan is to essentially find a suitable dragon and use it to break into the Aurati’s fortress to get Kaia back.

But during her time there, she realizes she needs to fit in. A cousin of her father luckily has a job for her, food taster! This gets her noticed by Neve, who’s the lead Aromatory. From there, she learns more about what it takes to train a dragon through the use of oils and how they impact dragons in different ways.

Maren and her nation of Verran’s have a history that has rooted them dragons. So, throughout her journey she tries to better understand her Dragon Dreams that show her Kaia and the Aurati’s that have her. The dragon lore, much like the world-building in this novel as a whole, is presented in different ways that provide layers and new perspectives to the world as a whole through Maren as she continues on her journey.

Verran’s cultural ties to dragons, ways of the aromatory, dragons roles and positions under the Zefedi empire, the dragon guard known as Talons, even what it takes to care for a dragon are all explored throughout different moments of the story! It’s in Maren’s  personal narrative that she learns more about dragons as a whole and discovers a newfound appreciation for more beyond her personal quest!

As Maren works in the fortress she meets guards (Lilin & Sev) that help her better learn about the Zefedi empire and open her eyes to different parts of her world she never really understood, all while she’s trying to keep her plan under wraps! While I really loved this section of the book looking back (because I’m fascinated by politics in fantasy), it really did take up a big chunk of the story. It felt like the urgency of the conflict slowed down. But I will say there’s so much she learns during her time there that REALLY becomes important later on in the story.

Following Maren Vilna’s perspective allowed me to feel such a deeper connection to the world and the people she’s close to― I never felt distant to the world, Maren’s discoveries just made me feel even more connected to it because different sides are explored throughout the story! She never thought she’d have to know about her Empire in such a way (with talks of a rebellion & lost prince), but the journey she embarks on really changes her perspective. Another important piece to her as a character is her personal growth! She learns to value more than just her personal mission and realize her own potential as well!

Neve, Maren’s Aromatory mentor was my favorite character! Maybe it’s because I’m no longer a teen and just felt even more of a connection to her? I’m not sure, but you can tell there’s so much she knows not just about dragons and her role and what it means for the empire (which is permanent), but just life beyond the fortress and there’s a snark/jaded air to her that made her fun to learn about (I hope she makes a return in Storm The Earth).

There’s also Sev and Lilin who become Maren’s friends, much to her surprise! I loved their dynamic and also how Sev gets a bigger role in the story as it progresses! Sev is the one who opens Maren’s eyes to the treatment of dragons and how Maren can do more to change her perspective. He’s interested in Maren and can tell she’s hiding something, but either way their dynamic is great and I also loved his dynamic with Lilin!

Lilin is pretty much the opposite of Sev, where she doesn’t give much thought or question to her role as a Zefedi guard. I never realized that until I finished reading, but I loved how she reflected Sev and showed two different sides to those who work for the empire!

The cast was great! I felt they all really stood out no matter how little page time and I genuinely loved learning about each of them! Sev and Neve were 2 of my favorite characters!

Politics, intrigue and the development of the world (both setting & dragon lore) play a big part in the “Fortress” section of the book and really allowed me to get more immersed in the world little by little.

Next I wanted to discuss the representation throughout Shatter The Sky! Through the different cultures presented, you can really get an understanding as to how big and diverse this empire is! I’ve read and loved a lot of YA Fantasy, but I applaud this book for weaving in such a prominent inclusive representation in different ways: Within the Zefedi Empire we learn about its 5 nations, Ilvera (mountain nation), Oskiath (where Maren’s father was from before Ilvera), Seda Serat, & I think the other nation was Deletev (don’t quote me on that 😂).

Characters are described as having light & dark brown skin, women are in positions of power and there’s normalized Queer relationships & a character that uses “they/them” pronouns. This is a beautiful fantasy world that normalizes Queer rep. and showcases women across different roles in the empire, it was great to see those elements presented throughout the story!

Themes of family, loyalty, love, and strength of self are developed through Maren and her journey, which really come together as the story progresses (especially in regards to loyalty & self).

Next I wanted to discuss why I personally rated it 4 stars, but will I read the sequel? ABSOLUTELY! This world really grows on you and I felt such a connection to it and the main cast that I felt sad when I reached those last few pages! The ending leaves you feeling hopeful, but also scared for a particular character…won’t say who!

Though I absolutely love 1st person POVs, I felt that because we were in Maren’s head it did make the pacing feel slow (particularly in the Fortress sections) where there’s an urgency to her mission it really slows down. While I also got a great sense of the world by the end, I felt description wise there was a lot about the settings/different nations as a whole that could have been developed a bit more to differentiate them more in my mind.

Because this is an introduction to the world I felt there’s still more detail that could have been presented on through Maren’s perspective that tied in with the underlying politics, culture, and so on since she does quite a bit of traveling/journeying!

This is a quiet, slow, and unique fantasy that I recommend you try out! Trust me that the further you read and root yourself into the world, you’ll see how the plot threads get more interesting with each chapter!

The ending, especially with its characters, left me wanting more and I can’t wait to read Storm The Earth!

Shatter The Sky is character-driven, expansive YA Fantasy steeped in dragon lore, politics, diverse cultures, and a cast of fantastic characters! Rebecca Kim Wells’ debut is an underrated fantasy well worth your time!

Blog Tour: Songs From The Deep by Kelly Powell {ARC Review}

Songs From The Deep by Kelly PowellSongs From The Deep by Kelly Powell

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon Teen)

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 304

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Songs From The Deep

Summary: The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

*Received ARC from the publisher as part of the blog tour*

My Rating:★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Songs From The Deep is an atmospheric murder-mystery debut, set on an island town surrounded by sirens! When everyone is convinced a murder was the work of sirens, violin-player Moira and lighthouse keeper Jude work together to solve the case! Moira’s atmospheric narrative voice delves deeply into the characters and lore of the town! Powell delivers a story about friendship and self-growth that will captivate you, as she weaves together a quiet, character-driven mystery led by a dynamic duo!

Songs From The Deep is a novel that just from the basics of the story alone, just had me incredibly excited to check it out! There’s an island town surrounded by sirens, a childhood friend duo teaming up to solve a murder mystery, and one is a violin player and the other a lighthouse keeper? I mean how cool does that sound?

Overall I had such a fun time reading this book because from the main characters, to the setting and intrigue of the mystery, it all leaves you wanting to know more! Moira and Jude  I felt I learned so much about them and their history, and there’s just such a unique energy to them that just made me so happy every time they were on-page together solving the case! I’ll tell you, I was heartbroken when I reached the end because, Moira and Jude were just wonderful characters to get to know and they really come to life in ways its difficult to explain.

The way Powell laid out the town of Twillengyle, you can sense the deep fog, hear the crash of beach waves, the eerie and overall, atmospheric feel of a town that’s filled with life through Moira’s elegantly constructed and first person POV!

According to her bio, Powell is interested in maritime history and nautical folklore. From the very first chapter, you can sense how those interests built into the world and the atmosphere, creating a setting so vivid and unique: from the element of sirens and their lore and overall just the way the town is described with the small details.

I’d definitely say this is a quiet YA Mystery, which makes it very character-driven, slow building, and incredibly introspective through 17-year old Moira Alexander’s POV. Because of that, you are left with a certain sense and perception of the town that creates a unique image in your mind. You are able to connect to characters very quickly as well, which makes the mystery such a fun ride as you gather more pieces with each turn of the page!

Moira plays the violin for the sirens that surround her island town, because she’s grown up, both learning and understanding them through her father, who was a well-known researcher of these mystical creatures (even according to the detective, he laid the foundation for a lot of the knowledge of sirens the town is now aware of). She knows these sirens are dangerous, but seems to understand them in ways that no one else does (not even her mother).

That’s something that really shines through her POV as well, just all the knowledge she has about the sirens and her town makes the mystery a lot of fun trying to piece together!

Later that same night she runs into her childhood friend, who she hasn’t spoken to in years, 19-year old Jude Osric. He warns Moira that there’s been a murder at the beach near his lighthouse and that it could be the work of sirens.

She is not convinced that her former violin student Connor Shehan, was killed by sirens. Moira’s grown up around them to learn the details about them only she can really notice, and is determined to prove it. When the local detectives Dale and Thackery. This leads her to journey’s across town piecing together clues and speaking with her local townsfolk, to gather as much as she can to build her case!

What I loved about Songs From The Deep so much was the fact that the rekindling friendship between Moira + Jude, even the ups and downs of navigating it, are such vital parts of the story!

We learn that Jude’s family (mother, father, & older sister) were taken by sirens when he was younger. He was left alone to look over the local lighthouse!

Slowly, Moira and Jude began to drift away and I loved how layered their history was as you uncover more about their deep friendship.

Powell’s debut is not just a murder mystery, it’s also about the characters (especially our main duo), the town and how siren’s are so deeply woven into its folklore, history, alongside the past of Moira and Jude’s families.

I fell in love with both Moira and Jude so much! Their dynamic is built on friendship and you see that although they grew up being the best of friends, it’s this murder-mystery that really brings them back together! Throughout the entirety of the book,  there’s a big emphasis on friendship and although there are some developing romantic moments, it progresses perfectly as they slowly build of their relationship.

Also, just as friends, they have such great chemistry and work together as such an incredible team! While there is a hint at romance, I appreciated that a good 98% of this book focuses on them as friends and their growth! The romance is really sweet too and I  never felt it took away from the story, it was developed so perfectly!

They have their ups and downs in the friendship for sure, where they have to confront truths about themselves in order to better understand just how much their friendship means to the both of them. Its through the little moments where they show their vulnerable sides, forgive, or ensure each other’s safety where you see how much they care!

A majority of this novel though, really focuses on Moira not only as she gathers clues, but also how us as readers learn more about her town and the people within it. For example, as she gathers more evidence she decides to talk to her former teacher Ms. Nell Bracken, who was Connor’s teacher too! There’s also local kids who knew her and Jude growing up, and the local detectives who work on the case!

I appreciated how there many interwoven details that influenced different layers of the story and our main characters. Such as Moira’s reasoning for keeping to herself until the mystery begins,  which was due to the passing of her father and the grief that came with that. There’s also a secret she kept from Jude, where in time she found it much easier for them to just drift apart, even how her grief played a part in her leaving the local music hall for years where she was a rising star.

Next I wanted to talk more about the setting! A main location of the story is Jude’s lighthouse, its where they meet up and hangout for a majority of the book. There’s so much history within it, how it ties into Jude’s family and Moira’s past when they used to hear legends and tales, and explore the beach together, its a place with a lot of history for them both. I loved how this was a place they could just feel comfortable and rekindle their friendship!

This is an interesting tidbit, but before going into the book and well within the first few chapters I was picturing a modern-day setting just with sirens. But, I learn very quickly when they mentioned telegraphs, this is NOT set in modern day. Its more of a historical urban fantasy-esque world and that was something that really surprised me 😂😅✨

When it comes to the town and sirens themselves, again there were just all these little details and the way the prose just captures the setting so well! For example, there’s a brief line about sea pink flowers that represent good luck or the legends that surrounded different things around town like a small well or the lighthouse! Even reading from Moira’s POV that shows the complexity to the sirens and how sympathetic she is towards them, compared to others that live in Twillengyle.

There were a couple critiques I did want to dive into that lowered my rating. First, I felt the build-up to the mystery was so fantastic and that’s what kept you reading however, when the reveal is finally introduced, I felt it concluded very briefly and while it did surprise me, I felt it could had further explanation as to the motives. Also, very minor but there were a couple more characters I felt could have had more page time to be developed!

I also really wish there could have been more plot points added to get more of Jude/Moira together and just getting more perspective of the town from Moira’s eyes, because I loved Powell’s writing so much!

Again, this is more of a personal preference, but the writing does deliver a slow, atmospheric pace to the story, but I think it worked well because your left knowing so much about the characters and world! I loved that a lot!

I’m also just left a mess of emotions because I felt the ending wrapped up really nicely and again, just emphasized that strong bond Moira and Jude have together! I would love to read more books with them together solving more mysteries or just delving more into the town itself!! I loved these 2 so much!! 💖💖 (keeping my fingers crossed 😭💖💙)

Songs From The Deep is a YA debut that delivers a quiet murder-mystery tale through an incredibly detailed and immersive writing-style! If your looking for a character-driven mystery, atmospheric writing, and a dynamic detective duo, this is a great book to pick up! Enchanting, immersive, and filled with mystery!!

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash Review

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz TashVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Pages: 368

Available Through The Book Depository: Virtually Yours

Summary: How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Virtually Yours is a fun college-set YA Contemporary that also delivers an introspective and character-driven plot! Mariam just wants to get over her high school ex, so when she tries a new VR dating service she’s completely surprised when it matches her with, her ex! This novel explores the complexities and layers to romance, friendships, relationships, told through a delightful narrative voice that immerses you from page 1!

I’m back with a book review and Virtually Yours is one I’m SO looking forward to delving more into, because it was such a wonderful read! I related to it in many ways and I just want to shove it into anyone’s hands who’s looking for a college-set YA Book with a plot that’s both unique and fun + really focuses on its characters and their dynamics!!

Mariam Vakilian is still grieving over the breakup between her and her ex-boyfriend Caleb Moore, who’d been a couple in high school for 3 years! But, she decides to give virtual dating a try when she uses an almost-expired 40% off coupon for HEAVR which promises its users their perfect match or Happily Ever After!

But when one of her potential matches is Caleb, her first year at university gets a little more complicated! She’s not just handling the complexity of romantic relationships, but friendships as well among many other uni. experiences from figuring out her major/career and forging important friendships!

Mariam Vakilian is easily on my list of favorite college-set contemporary protagonists (alongside Penny from Emergency Contact 💖), there’s such a unique spirit to her character that you can’t help but want to keep on reading! She’s funny, relatable, and just a wonderful character to follow!

With HEAVR giving her an opportunity to move on from Caleb, she feels there’s a possibility that they can maybe get back together and that a spark could still be there! But in order to do that she’ll have to disguise her VR persona! So, she pretends to be someone she isn’t  as she goes on virtual dates and hangouts with Caleb.

What made the dynamic incredibly fascinating was the mystery that unravels as you learn more about Caleb and Mariam’s high school relationship and why they broke up: Interestingly Caleb felt long distance wouldn’t be best for them? (Yet, he still tried out HEAVR).

It isn’t until you begin to piece together the story where you realize that this novel isn’t really about romance (though it is?). Its more about Mariam’s journey to better understand herself as she navigates all these different parts of her life: love, friendships, and relationships in general.

There’s this underlying theme of self as you begin to see that all Mariam really wants is to understand and find a balance to all these parts of her daily life, which I could relate to that a lot!

We see her reconnect with her ex-best friend from high school, take a social welfare class for fun and see how it inspires her potential career path, and just in general, the relationships we maintain as we juggle college life.

As Mariam tries to focus on reconnecting with Caleb, what she doesn’t realize is that her new friend Jeremy, who’s her co-worker at the local gym, could possibly be more than just a friend (and is one of her other matches!). One of my favorite parts of this book was their beautiful friendship (banter & the best hangouts– seeing them connect over music, their holiday phone calls, emails/texts, and having Jeremy invite her to see local musicians play was the cutest 💞).

If your a fan of contemporary romance alongside the “will they get together, will they not?” or the slow-burn friends maybe lovers tropes, then Virutally Yours is a must-read!!😍💖

Jeremy and Mariam’s friendship was one of the absolute highlights of this book! I loved seeing how supportive Jeremy was as he listened to Mariam talk about her complicated HEAVR situation and offer her advice! Its great to see this focus of m/f friendship and have it be such a big part of Mariam’s journey throughout the story! Also the 2 of them just have such beautiful chemistry together layered with their wonderful friendship! Though you know Mariam’s heart is still with Caleb, you can’t help but just ship her with Jeremy!!

Throughout she not only confides in Jeremy, but also her roommate Hedy as she works out her relationship troubles.

This book easily made it onto my all-time favorites list, Mariam’s narrative voice just immerses you and I quickly found myself connecting with the story and its characters.

The exploration of VR technology gave the story a speculative-fiction feel to it too― posing all the questions and complexities that come with how this kind of tech works, even how it can change the foundation of building relationships. Also, as Mariam goes on a couple dates with Caleb, it does bring into the discussion this idea of catfishing (her friends do tell her how wrong that is & it gets cleared up a bit later).

Woven all throughout Virtually Yours are all these different layers that make up Mariam’s life from family (which is such a huge part), her career goals, and how she’s better understanding how to navigate her new friendships/relationship.

I really appreciated how Tash wove into this novel as well, that former acquaintances (from HS) can unexpectedly become such bigger parts of your  friendship circle as you navigate college! That part was so relatable to me and I loved how Tash made it an incredibly layered element of the story (as well as navigating friendships in general).

As I was reading Virtually Yours and I got to a part where Mariam is at a get-together with former high school classmates (Addison, Zoe, Prisha, & ex-best friend Rose), I’d actually been reconnecting with an old high school classmate too! Just being able to relate to that in my own life, was just so heartfelt to me and its something I wish more YA College-set Contemporary books would explore, this idea of reconnecting with people from your past and how the most unexpected people can become the best of friends!

Throughout the novel I also loved seeing Mariam reconnect with her former friend Rose, being able to rebuild their friendship & rely on each other during their first year of college!

Romance and how one navigates it are major themes within this novel, but Tash does such a fantastic job at layering all these different elements of college life/ the college experience in a very relatable way as well alongside the bigger theme of romance!

Its really hard to put more of my thoughts into words because this book was just SO MUCH FUN!! I loved the story, writing, characters, romance, themes, exploration of family & friendship, college life, and dynamics between the characters too!

Virtually Yours is just an absolutely wonderful book and I fell I love with it from the very first page! ❤❤

Something I noticed as I progressed throughout the story is that the pacing is FANTASTIC!! As the story unravels you get so invested in seeing how long Mariam can keep her secret, following all the friends she makes & reconnects with, her family, college classes, etc. The plot is always developing and there’s never a dull moment! ❤

This novel is also wonderfully diverse and inclusive: This is an #OwnVoices featuring Mariam Vakilian and her family who are Iranian/Iranian-American! There’s her ex Caleb Moore who’s Black, Jeremy whose 1/2 Italian & Mexican, & f/f rep. as Mariam’s roommate Hedy has a girlfriend.

If your looking for a fresh college contemporary that explores a new concept of modern love through VR, you need to give this book a read!

Virtually Yours is a wonderful YA Contemporary that needs more hype and is a delight in every single way! Its an incredibly fun read that has great writing, a wonderful cast of characters, and exploration of romance that keeps you turning the page! If your looking for a character-driven and relatable college-set contemporary with a bit of speculative fiction, then Virtually Yours is a must read! Don’t miss out on Sarvenaz Tash’s latest YA!

Its been almost 2 weeks since I posted a review and its great to be back! Sorry for the hiatus, Virtually Yours was the first book I’ve finished in the last few weeks!! 😭📚💖When I’m not on the blog, I’m more active on Twitter if you want to talk anything bookish, etc. if I haven’t posted!

With my short hiatus from the blog I’ve been thinking more about what content to post besides reviews (for when I haven’t read for a while) and I’ve had a tough time deciding what that content would be?  Please let me know what you’d be interested in reading about, also feel free to comment on any other ideas:

  • Literary Listens or more podcast posts
  • Fictional Favorites
  • Book Tags or Bookish Discussions (Even hauls, tags, etc.)

Happy Friday!! 😍📚🎉

The Universal Laws Of Marco by Carmen Rodrigues ARC Review

The Universal Laws Of Marco by Carmen RodriguesThe Universal Laws Of Marco by Carmen Rodrigues

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: March 19, 2019

Pages: 432

Available Through The Book Depository: The Universal Laws Of Marco

Summary: Told through the lens of a guy in love with the cosmos (and maybe two girls), The Universal Laws of Marco explores the complicated histories that bring us together and tear us apart.

In the summer before eighth grade, Marco Suarez kissed his best friend Sally Blake. This was his first spark.

And since then, whenever he’s thought about that moment, he’s traveled through a wormhole—of sorts—to relive those brief seconds when time sped up (or, rather, his view of time distorted) and he kissed her.

And then, at the end of that year, she disappeared, leaving in that way that people sometimes leave—alive and well and somewhere out there but gone, nonetheless. She never even said why.

And now in their senior year, Sally unexpectedly returns and Marco is shaken. Still, he holds tightly to his carefully choreographed life. A life that is full of reasons why first sparks don’t matter:

Reason 1: He has a girlfriend. Her name is Erika Richards.
Reason 2: He’s leaving on a full scholarship to college.
Reason 3: He’s busy with his friends and making money to help support his family.

But as Marco navigates the final days of high school, he learns that leaving home is never easy and a first spark is hard to ignore.

*Requested ARC through the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Universal Laws Of Marco is a YA Contemporary that follows Marco Suarez in his senior year of high school, who has everything planned out! But, he wasn’t expecting his best friend Sally to return so suddenly, after disappearing before freshman year! With this complicating the plan he’s set for himself, we also delve into the past to unravel what happened between Sally & Marco! Carmen Rodrigues crafts a character-driven and thought-provoking story you don’t want to miss!

Carmen Rodrigues’s The Universal Laws Of Marco is probably one of the most underhyped YA Contemporary books I’ve seen & read so far this year! If your looking for a contemporary story that’s real, moving, impactful, while also having a focus on friendship, love, & family, then this is the book to pick up! It’s really good!

Marco Suarez has everything planned his senior year, his scholarship is set for Wayne University in the fall, he’s working a job at a local supermarket with his best friend Diego & has a girlfriend, Erika!

But his life gets a bit more complicated when his first love & genius track star, Sally Blake returns suddenly, after leaving right before the start of 9th grade and never keeping in-touch.

So with Sally’s return, Marco still can’t ignore that first spark! Sally and Marco have been best friends since they were little and nothing kept them apart. Things change during summer before 8th Grade when Sally & Marco kiss. But throughout that last year of middle school, there are moments that cause Sally and Marco to drift apart, up until Sally leaves.

I know I mentioned this already, but this is easily one of the most underrated YA Contemporary releases I’ve read so far this year!! Its not just a story about reminiscing on first-love, its about change, growth, family, friendship, choices, life, and the moments in life that shape who we are.

Because I spent weeks reading The Universal Laws Of Marco, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad when I reached the end because I’d become so attached to the characters, connect with themes of the story, & overall just really fell in love with the book as a whole!

Rodrigues delivers such an immersive and especially character-driven story as we jump between Marco’s past/middle school years with Sally, up until her disappearance. Through this POV, we unravel that mystery as to what led Sally to leave not only Marco, but their entire friend group: Sookie, Jade, & Diego!

While in the present, we follow not only Marco’s school life, but also his family: mother, little brothers, and father, who hasn’t been quite himself since an accident that happened during Marco’s last year of middle school (which gets explored throughout the story).

Another mysterious plot point that gets unraveled throughout the story, was the injury that left Marco’s dad not entirely himself for the past few years. It was heart-breaking to read about and how it changed the Suarez family so much (also with Marco having to take up even more responsibility to help the family through financially tough times).

I loved that although the rest of the friend group was unsure whether to let Sally back in, Marco was still trying to reconnect with her even after they drifted apart. Though this novel is really Marco’s story, it’s also Sally’s story too! Because we learn so much about her through Marco’s eyes and how he was such an important part in her life, that when we see that Sally again, we notice that she really is still recovering from those years after she left and above all, just doesn’t want to be alone.

It broke my heart because, although Marco was with Erika, he obviously never forgot Sally, but was just so unsure of how to approach her again. He struggles throughout the story trying to reconnect with her because she too also feels guilty about leaving them behind and returning when so much has changed.

While Marco was with Erika, I felt both sad & happy for him at the same time! After learning Erika’s backstory and how she impacted Sally’s dynamic with Marco in the past, you also don’t feel upset with her either because she was there for Marco during his dad’s recovery. This was during a time when Marco was feeling lost and alone not only about his dad & how it impacted the family, but also with Sally no longer there.

The use of alternate past/present POV was so well done! I never felt lost jumping back between the two timelines and the way Rodrigues plotted them both out was brilliantly explored, because it kept me guessing as to what led Sally to leave, how Marco would try to reconnect with her again, and still remembering how close they used to be!

Although the summary puts a focus on the romance, that’s not really what this story is about! Its about so much more than that, I can’t really put it into words. There’s definitely an uncertainty if Sally and Marco will ever fully reconnect again and Rodrigues did such a phenomenal job at really leaving the reader guessing where their relationship would be headed.

There’s also such a big focus on friendship that you wouldn’t really know just based on the summary! Marco & Diego’s friendship is also one of the highlights of this book! It has its ups/downs, moments of humor, but it also explores trust, communication, and the support of friends that’s incredibly important during complicated moments in life! Its explored mainly through a sub-plot where Marco & Diego are unknowingly after the same job of manager, when Marco decides not to tell Diego out of fear it would ruin their friendship.

The writing itself is fantastic! I never once felt out of the story and was immediately brought back into the plot through Marco’s POV! With Marco’s love of physics, I also loved how terms/concepts really weaved  their way into the story to make it incredibly thought-provoking and realistic!

As for diversity, this novel centers around a Cuban-American family (Marco’s), Diego, Marco’s best friend whose Dominican, & Sookie another one of Marco’s friends, whose Korean, Jewish and adopted.

Overall, everything about this book from the writing, characters, character-development, themes, dynamics, and pacing made this book feel so incredibly real and relatable in ways I can’t really explain.

My only minor issue was that pacing was a bit slow in parts, but aside from that, this was a phenomenal YA Contemporary and I recommend everyone read it if their looking for a real and thought-provoking story!

The Universal Laws Of Marco is a remarkable YA Contemporary with so much depth and one deserves a lot more love! It explores a variety of themes from family to friendship, while also being a relatable contemporary story which stresses the moments in life and people within it, that change our lives! The Universal Laws Of Marco by Carmen Rodrigues is more than just contemporary romance and is a YA novel well worth reading!!

Bookish Buzz: Upcoming Books That Need More Hype!

Bookish Buzz is the working title for my newest blog feature and I’m beyond excited to share it with you all!

Hey, 24hr.YABookBlog here (~˘▾˘)~ 💞📚✨ Bookish Buzz was originally going to premiere on my blog as monthly releases feature, but since I hadn’t kept up with it last month, I’m trying out something a little different for this first post! But I do hope to share my original idea in the near future!

To start Bookish Buzz, I’m sharing a list of some of my most anticipated/upcoming YA Books, including a manga & middle grade novel that I feel need more buzz! 🎉📚

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama Vol. 11.Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 1 by Kamome Shirahama

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: April 2, 2019

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Witch Hat Atelier is a manga I’ve been looking forward to for months–I first heard about it at a convention and immediately added it to my TBR! It takes place in a world where magic is a part of the everyday! However, it’s known that those with magic in this world are born, not made! Coco is a girl who was born without magic, but aspires to become a witch. One day, when a magician travels through her village, she realizes that the magic everyone knows of in her world, is not as it seems.

The Tiger At Midnight by Swati Teerdhala2.The Tiger At Midnight by Swati Teerdhala (The Tiger At Midnight Trilogy #1)

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: April 23, 2019

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

The Tiger At Midnight is a YA Fantasy debut set in a fantasy land inspired by ancient India! The story follows Esha an assassin who goes by the name of Viper and Kunal a soldier who longs to see more to the world! Both the rebel and soldier cross paths and make difficult choices for the future of their world as it grows more volatile around them with each day. What drew me into this book was the characters, I’m all here for character-driven YA Fantasy & I can’t wait to learn more about where Esha & Kunal’s journey is headed! (ARC Review To Come)

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki3.Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’ Connell

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: First Second Books (Fierce Reads)

This graphic novel follows Frederica Riley who is reeling from a break-up with the most popular girl in school, Laura Dean. Her best friend Doodle, introduces her to a medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. As Laura Dean continues to come back & their relationship becomes more complicated, Freddie questions if Laura is the one she really needs to break up with. I’ll admit I first heard about this graphic novel when the cover was revealed, but as soon as I read the summary I was super interested in checking it out, Laura Dean sounds like it’ll explore the complexity to love/loss & it also features a queer relationship!

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg4.The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: May 28, 2019

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Fantasy theme park– that’s what drew me to this book right away! Set in the immersive fantastical theme park, The Kingdom, we follow Ana who is engineered to make visitor’s dreams come true! She finds herself falling in love with employee Owen, but when she’s accused of murdering him one night, she’s now a part of a trial where she recounts her story. The Kingdom is told through testimonies, interviews, and Ana’s own memories of him. I’m so excited to read this because the unique sci-fi, thriller/fantasy concept sounds right up my alley!

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash5. Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Mariam Vakilian, NYU Freshman, hasn’t dated in months since her high school boyfriend Caleb broke up with her. But, when she remembers about an almost-expired coupon for a virtual reality dating service, she decides to give it a try! However, things get a bit complicated when her matches include her ex-boyfriend and new best friend Jeremy! I’m beyond excited to read this book–I mean its a college-set YA Contemporary/Rom-Com, with a past ex, & VR! I’m always looking for college-set YA Contemporary and the story sounds so good!

Sea Sirens by Amy Chu6. Sea Sirens by Amy Chu and illustrations by Janet K. Lee

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers

The summary and beautiful cover drew me into this upcoming middle grade/graphic novel! Trot is a surfer and alongside her one-eyed cat Cap’n Bill, they catch a big wave and get sucked into an underwater kingdom! But a sea battle rages in these waters. Sea Siren mermaids are under attack from the Serpent King & Trot & Cap’n are caught in the middle of it!

The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu7.The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Publisher: Simon Pulse

This is an upcoming YA Contemporary psychological thriller from debut author Sarah Lyu! I don’t read many thrillers, but after reading the summary I was hooked! It follows Remy Tsai whose boyfriend Remy is now dead and it was all due to her best friend, Elise. As an investigation is underway, she tries to piece together what happened and find the truth. I’m also always looking forward to reading & supporting YA debuts!

Truly Madly Royally y Debbie Rigaud8. Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Publisher: Point Paperbacks

Zora Emerson is independent, smart, and ready to change the world! She’s prepped to attend a prestigious summer program, but what she wasn’t expecting was to connect with Owen– a prince! Now she’s being invited as a Owen’s guest to his older brother’s wedding and isn’t sure she’s ready for the spotlight! This book sounds so cute & I don’t think I’ve read a royalty romance before–so I’m super excited to read this one! 💞👑

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite9.Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: September 3, 2019

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Alaine Beauparlant, high-school journalist, gets suspended for a prank gone-wrong. Spending her time in Haiti at her family’s estate, she’s reconnecting with her mother, working at her aunt’s start-up to help local children in need, and connecting with fellow intern Jason. But when she finds letters, articles, & emails from her mother, she learns it’ll not only save her project, but also help her to better understand her estranged mother! This novel is not only set in Haiti, but also told through letters, emails, etc. and I’m SO hyped to get to this, I was recently sent an ARC and can’t wait to read this book it sounds fantastic!

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen10.The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: September 24, 2019

Publisher: Tor Teen

If your new to my blog, then you probably haven’t seen me rave about the audio drama podcasts I review/recommend! The Infinite Noise is actually based on The Bright Sessions sci-fi podcast by creator Lauren Shippen. The podcast follows those with superpowers, or Atypicals who get therapy from Dr. Bright! The cast of characters, plot, and discussion of mental health are just some of the many things that make The Bright Sessions a fantastic story! If you haven’t listened to this podcast, do it!! Its fantastic & I’m so happy to see it getting attention in the book/YA Community. This book specifically follows one of the main characters Adam from the podcast and delves more into his backstory. So as a big fan of this podcast, I’m eagerly anticipating this book and HIGHLY recommend checking out the wonderful podcast!

Songs From The Deep by Kelly Powell11.Songs From The Deep by Kelly Powell

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Moira Alexander searches for a killer on her island town, where sirens lurk along its shores. She plays her violin at the sea’s edge, but one day finds a dead boy along the shore, she has a feeling its not the sirens. She tries to search for the killer alongside lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, her childhood friend! Now their trying to find who ever is responsible, before its too late! When this book was first announced I knew Id have to read it! Murder-mystery, sirens, violinist & lighthouse keeper crime-solving duo?? Sign me up! This story sounds like a really unique YA mystery and I’m really looking forward to checking this book out!

These are all the upcoming books I’m so hyped to read & I can’t contain my excitement for them! 😍❤📚🎉🎉

Which of these books are you looking forward to? Any not on this list?? 

Lets Discuss In The Comments! 😄🎉📚