Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Swoon Reads
Review: This was a unique coming-of-age novel with a very diverse cast of characters. My favorite elements of the book were the rich descriptions of Dia de Muertos traditions and the relationship between Julian and Yadriel. The romance that developed between Julian and Yadriel felt very organic, and served as a great mechanism for character development. I also loved the paranormal spin to the story, with Julian being a ghost, and thought that overall it was a very creative.
My biggest qualm about the book was the very cliché villain reveal at the end. I had hoped my predictions were wrong and that the author would surprise me, but unfortunately this was not the case. The ending also wrapped up a little too nicely in my opinion, especially given how dark a lot of the content was following the climax of the story.
Title: Kingdom of Ash
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 984
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 7
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 23, 2018 by Bloomsbury YA
Review: At this point in the game, I know exactly what I am getting into each time I pick up a Sarah J. Maas book. Kingdom of Ash was what I expected it to be in nearly every way, and I am totally ok with that. It was a satisfying ending to an epic saga (roughly 7,000 pages!). I think it is safe to say at this point that I am a dedicated Sarah J. Maas fan. Her writing is not perfect by any means, but I know that any book I pick up by her will be engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.
Title: Felix Ever After
Author: Kacen Callender
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 5, 2020 by Balzer + Bray
Review: First off, can we take a minute to appreciate that cover…gorgeous! I would have picked this book up for the cover alone if it wasn’t already in my TBR pile as a Mock Printz Committee selection. In the novel, Felix is an artist with a penchant for painting self-portraits. I like to think that this would have been one of those portraits.
But anywhoo, this book was a nice coming-of-age story filled to the brim with tropes. Misunderstood teenager? check. Angsty art school students? check. Mysterious online admirer? check. Confusing feelings about an attractive best friend? check.
Tropes aren’t necessarily a strike against a novel. When done well I enjoy them, however, I can’t say that about all the tropes in this book. I thought the romance angle in particular was weak. There was a weird quasi-love triangle that I didn’t feel did justice to either of the love interests. I could have cared less if Felix ended up either or neither of them.
So in summary, do not read this book for the romance, but rather for the character arc of a trans teen achieving self-acceptance and figuring out that it is ok to not have it all figured out.
Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: 439
Series: The Hunger Games, Book 0
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020
Review: It has taken me awhile to write this review, mostly because I have had a hard time coming to terms with how I feel about this book. To say that I was a fan of The Hunger Games series would be a huge understatement…I was obsessed. I thought about it night and day as I blazed through the series. Nearly every other aspect of my life was put on hold, and when the first movie was released in theaters, I immediately bought a ticket and showed up in full Capitol inspired regalia. I talked to anyone who would listen about it, and religiously followed several fan blogs. All that said, I was positively tickled when I saw that Suzanne Collins would be writing a prequel. I was a little apprehensive when I read the initial synopsis, but I do love a good villain origin story, so I figured it couldn’t be bad.
I was wrong. So, so wrong. In fact, when I finally finished, my first thought was: WTF did I just read? I am completely confused about what the author was attempting to do with this story. Origin stories, when done right, can lend so much perspective to the actions of a villain. This did not happen at all with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Instead of adding more depth to the character of Coriolanus Snow, it made him seem shallow and his nature was constantly portrayed in contradiction of itself. Everything he loves, he also seems to hate, and this is very confusing as a reader because his motives are even murkier than his character. The romance was disturbing and felt very “off” to me. This particular aspect of the story resulted in an ending that was bizarre to say the least. I was left with an overall feeling of disquiet when I finished, and I am not sure if this was or was not the authors intent.
The only thing I enjoyed about this reading experience was looking for the little Easter eggs and THG tie-ins woven throughout the storyline. There were enough of them that I decided to give this book a two star rating instead of a one.
Title: Second Chance Summer
Author: Morgan Matson
Page Count: 468
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 8, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Review: If you love nostalgic beach/lake house in the summer vibes, this book is for you. It is a sweet story filled with friendship, romance, and above all, family. True to it’s title, this story is all about second chances. So if you are into that sort of thing, check it out. I personally found it to be an enjoyable summer read. I didn’t have to think too hard and I was satisfied by the ending. It had a tone very similar to The Summer I Turned Pretty (just with less angst), so I would definitely recommend it as a read-alike to Jenny Han fans.
Title: Tower of Dawn
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 680
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 6
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 5, 2017 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Review: For the most part, when I review a book from this series I feel like I am constantly repeating myself, so my review of this book will be short and sweet. My thoughts on this book are very similar to my thoughts on the previous five books, so feel free to look at those reviews if you feel so inclined. That aside, it was nice to step away from Aelin’s story for a bit, and I really enjoyed the POV of Nesryn. As with all of Maas’ books, nearly every character gets paired off with someone. It’s nice but predictable.
I’ve made it this far, so I will definitely be reading the seventh and final book in the series.
Title: The Midnight Lie
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Page Count: 358
Series: The Midnight Lie, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 3, 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Review: I was a huge fan of Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy, so I was elated when I saw this book being offered up to readers on NetGalley. Unfortunately, as with many books I hype in my mind, it did not quite live up to expectations. I found both the setting and the romance to be boring. I’ve seen this plot concept played out in other books, and I did not find this particular rendition to be anything special. For folks who are interested, there is an LGBT+ angle, but there really isn’t anything else that sets it apart in my mind from other fantasy that I have read. Although I would like to learn more about Nirrim’s magical gifts, I don’t think I am interested enough to continue forward with this series.
Title: Kent State
Author: Deborah Wiles
Performers: Christopher Gebauer, Lauren Ezzo, Christina DeLaine, Johnny Heller, Roger Wayne, Korey Jackson, & David de Vries
Length: 1 hr, 59 min, 56 sec
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by Scholastic Audio
Review: Poetry is not really my thing, so it was hard to rate this book. I listened to it in eAudiobook format, so it really felt like I was listening to a play with all the back and forth dialogues and monologues. I personally did not really enjoy it, but I didn’t give it a low rating because I appreciate the amount of research that went into it and I liked that the author showed several different conflicting perspectives. This gave a more complete picture of what happened (and why) on the fateful and tragic day of May 4, 1970.
Title: The Court of Miracles
Author: Kester Grant
Page Count: 464
Series: A Court of Miracles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 2, 2020
Review: I have never been a huge fan of Les Misérables. True to it’s name, it is both lengthy and wildly depressing. I am also not a big fan of musicals so that form of adaptation never interested me. Nevertheless, the synopsis for this book piqued my interest. Eponine? As a cat burglar? Ok! If I had to pick one character I would like to see a retelling for, it would be Eponine, so I requested this ARC with very few expectations. Perhaps this is sometimes the best way to approach books, because when they actually blow you away, it is a very pleasant surprise.
This book was FANTASTIC. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed it. The plot, the character development, everything about it felt fresh, despite the fact it is an adaptation/retelling of a classic and well-known novel. Eponine was a character you could not help but root for, and I cannot wait for the next book in the series. The one bummer about reading ARCs that you love is that you have to wait a very long time for the next one. Even so, I like the way the author ended this book. Some story lines were wrapped up, while others were simultaneously opened. This left me finishing the book feeling both satisfied and chomping at the bit for more. A pleasant combination.