arc review

Ramona Blue

ramona blue

Title: Ramona Blue
Author: Julie Murphy
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins
Format: eARC*

“Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.”

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It’s been a week since I finished Ramona Blue, and I still don’t have words for this book. I’ve put off writing this review because I don’t know how to explain that this book has stolen a piece of my heart. I loved Ramona Blue in a way that I haven’t truly loved a book in quite some time. And not because it was magical, or lush, or clever. Because it was true.

This book portrays an experience rarely seen in literature, much less YA contemporary. Ramona Blue is set in the Gulf Coast, a part of the deep South that is completely unique and unto itself in terms of culture and lifestyle. I was born and raised a short drive from Ramona’s fictional town (in Louisiana instead of Ramona’s Mississippi), and my childhood was spent traveling to places Ramona frequents in this book: Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, Baton Rouge. Reading this book was like reading about home, from Eulogy’s Mardi Gras parades to the experience of being a small town devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Ramona’s story resonated so deeply with me, because in many ways it’s my story too. There were so many moments where it felt as though Julie Murphy had plucked memories from my brain and written them out onto the pages.

At only seventeen, Ramona is used to putting herself last. The money she’s saved up, dreaming about moving away from Eulogy, will now be sacrificed to support her pregnant older sister. She lives in a cramped trailer with her family, and in so many ways Ramona is suffocated. Her sense of obligation to her family means her dreams get pushed aside. Thankfully Ramona ultimately realizes that she doesn’t have to give up on her own ambitions, but getting to that point isn’t easy.

Ramona is a teenager with the weight of the world – and her family – on her shoulders. Part of her journey in this book is continually figuring out who she is. Until the summer of this novel, Ramona has only ever been attracted to girls, and considers herself a lesbian. But reuniting with Freddie and realizing she’s developing feelings for him throws Ramona’s self of self (or at least, sexual identity) into question. I think Julie Murphy did an excellent job portraying that self-examination, and provides some much needed and very positive bisexual representation. This is about a girl figuring out who she is and who she’s attracted to. Ramona doesn’t suddenly stop liking girls just because she also likes Freddie.

Ultimately, I loved Ramona so fiercely, and Julie Murphy for writing this book. Ramona has secured a spot as one of my all-time favorite characters, and a spot in my heart. Ramona Blue is a contemporary story that’s all heart, and not to be missed. Sadly I can’t make any of the stops on the book tour to say it in person, but…Julie Murphy, if by some chance you’re reading this: thank you.

Rating: 4.5 stars

mini reviews

Recent Reads: 3 Mini Reviews

SealskinSealskin by Su Bristow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sealskin is set in Scotland, at an undisclosed time but likely the 19th century, and features one of my favorite myths – selkies. Selkies, for those who don’t know, are mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea but are able to shed their pelts and become human on land. Donald, our protagonist, stumbles upon a group of selkie females and ends up taking one home, hiding her pelt so that she cannot return to the sea. They end up having a family and Mairhi’s presence influences Donald into becoming a better man – but their dark beginning underlies everything.

Su Bristow’s writing is evocative, and perfectly captures the harsh landscape of Scotland and its people. I also enjoyed the fishing culture in this village, and how sea myths were interwoven throughout the story. However, that’s unfortunately where my praise for this book ends. The very first interaction between Donald and Mairhi is one of extreme violence and violation – he steals her pelt, rendering her helpless to return to the sea with the others, and then rapes her. This first moment tainted the entire book for me, and I felt completely unable to grow to like Donald. If Mairhi ever did feel fondness or love for him, it was likely out of Stockholm syndrome instead of genuine affection. I found it impossible to actually connect with any of the characters, and ultimately didn’t find the story very compelling. I wanted to like this because it’s so rare to find a good selkie story, but this fell very short for me.

Rating: 2.5 stars

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

The Other Half of Happiness (Sofia Khan, #2)The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I need to start this review by saying that I loved Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged, and fully expected to love this sequel. Sadly, The Other Half of Happiness fell somewhere between disappointing and infuriating. Everything that I loved about Sophia and her story (and her family/friends) was gone in this second book. I didn’t like anyone or their choices, and I realized that I should stay away from marriage novels in the future because I find them boring at best. I did, however, really enjoy Sophia’s mom and her storyline.

The central conflict in this novel was frustrating, because every character I fell in love with in the first book continued to make completely out of character choices and NO ONE USES THEIR WORDS. Throw in some unnecessarily new characters as potential romantic interests and I was done. The constant conversations about whether a certain character was becoming a “fundo” were relentless and irritating, since it made no sense. So much of this book, for that matter, made no sense.

The Other Half of Happiness ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, or at least is far too open ended, and there is currently no third book in sight. I was so excited for this sequel, and now I wish Ayisha Malik hadn’t bothered. This was just so completely disappointing.

Rating: 2 stars

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Radium Girls chronicles the forgotten tale of the women who worked as dial painters for three different watch companies, and how their work killed them. These women worked directly with radium, which at the time was heralded as a wonder drug. While painting, the women would put their radium-soaked brushes into their mouths to smooth the brush hairs, and they would leave work every day covered in radium dust, giving them the nickname “the shining girls.” The luminous effect of the paint caused them to glow in the dark. But the women were completely unaware of the dangers of their occupation.

These women all fell sick and died of radium poisoning, many of them incredibly young. Kate Moore’s study details their illnesses as well as the cases they eventually brought against their employers. These cases were important for labor rights, and establishing the occupational disease labor law. I can’t underscore how much I learned from this book, both about these women and labor rights/corporations in America at the time.

I did find the length and narrative style of The Radium Girls hard to enjoy. It’s a rather long book (496 pages), and Moore jumps around constantly in her narration. I couldn’t keep it all straight: which women worked at which company in which town, the timeline, the cases. There is a constant barrage of information, and at times it was all too jumbled to keep up. However, I would highly recommend reading this book because it is so – pardon the pun – illuminating.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

View all my reviews

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly series created by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly awaiting. This is my first time participating, so I decided to kick things off with a bang. I’m highlighting The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue for this week’s Waiting on Wednesday!

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“Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.”

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I’m sure that the synopsis alone has you drooling over this book. Plus, LOOK AT THAT COVER Y’ALL. Swoon. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to get an eARC of The Gentleman’s Guide from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins before it’s publication day on June 27, so my wait will be over shortly. I may have squealed very loudly at work when the notification email came through.

But seriously, Mackenzi Lee has managed to tick all the boxes of awesomeness here: bisexual British lord, European tour, period costume drama, and a magical twist. What more could you want? I haven’t read a single page, but I already ship Monty/Percy. If her presence on Twitter, and weekly #BygoneBadassBroads posts, are anything to go by – this book be excellent. Hopefully The Gentleman’s Guide will give me some major The Riot Club vibes…without all of the violence, misogyny, and douchebaggery, that is.

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What upcoming release are you eagerly awaiting? Let me know in the comments!

fandom friday

Fandom Friday: Major Fandoms I’m Not a Part Of

For this installment of Fandom Friday, I’m discussing some of the major, popular fandoms that I’m not a part of. This isn’t a negative post, but rather highlighting some cult classics that I’ve totally missed out on. In fact, this list is slightly embarrassing. But let’s dive in! (Please don’t hurt me.)

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  1. Star Wars. Ok, let’s get this one out of the way. I have never seen a star war. I also only recently learned that you don’t refer to the individual films as a “star war.” Whoops. Arguably the most popular film series of all time, I get quite the range of reactions when people learn that I’ve never watched the movies. Most people are horrified, some get inexplicably angry, and others are so indignant that it’s as if I’ve committed a crime. With the current trilogy and new standalone films, I definitely feel out of the loop. I might finally get on board the Star Wars bandwagon in time for The Last Jedi this Christmas…well, we’ll see.

 

  1. Star Trek. Apparently not the same thing as Star Wars, which I only became aware of in the past few years. Also set in a galaxy far, far away, Star Trek is a TV show turned film franchise reboot about the crew of a space ship. I have seen one of the new Star Trek films, because Chris Pine is pretty, but that’s the beginning and end of my Star Trek experience. In all honesty, this franchise simply doesn’t interest me, and I’ll realistically never watch the original show. Sorry Scotty, I’m staying right here.
  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is another hugely embarrassing entry, because I know that I would probably love Buffy. So many of my friends love Buffy. I even watched the first season before it left Netflix, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t force myself to binge the entire series. Buffy is definitely a show that I want to watch in its entirety eventually, but for now I’ll just awkwardly nod along when people discuss the merits of shipping Buffy with Angel or Spike.
  1. Pokémon Games. I am being specific here and only referring to the games, because I LOVED the Pokémon TV show back in the day. But the cards, and subsequent video games, and now the app everyone is still obsessed with? Not a clue. This stems from the fact that I didn’t play video games as a kid, and didn’t even understand how to play the card version, so there was just no chance for me here. People eagerly await each new game release (will they ever run out of colors?), but I’m still not exactly sure why Pokémon even evolve. Oh well.
  1. K-Pop/K-Dramas. If you’ve ever spent longer than 5 seconds on tumblr, it seems as though everyone is obsessed with K-Pop bands and K-Drama shows. I’ve even watched a couple of my fellow BookTubers become so into these bands that their channels are now devoted to music video reactions and album unboxings. What I’ve learned from this is that K-Pop and K-Dramas are potentially evil forms of mind control, and that “just checking it out” is a quick road to obsession. I’m genuinely scared of how fast some people give up all of their other interests and become slaves to the K-Pop/K-Drama life of biases and collectibles and throwing up a peace sign in all of their photos with a closed lip smile and vacant eyes. Ok, kidding about that last part! But seriously, I am staying away because I can’t handle being that obsessed with anything anymore. My fandom stamina isn’t what it used to be – probably for the best.

 

Those are some of the most popular fandoms that I’ve missed out on over the years. You can try to convert me in the comments. What are some major fandoms you’re not into?

 

Uncategorized

Meeting Authors

As a reader, there is something so incredibly special about meeting one of your favorite authors. This person created a book or world or character that you loved, and you finally get the chance to see them and…well, honestly most of the time you freeze up and say something like “omghiyourbookisamazingthanks” and then stare awkwardly while they finish signing your book.

Totally not speaking from experience or anything.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several of my all-time favorite authors. There are rarely bookish events near where I live, so meeting an author usually involves hours of travel. One of my best friends is from Houston, so I’ve managed to coincide visits with author tours. I also attended BEA 2016, and was able to attend signings for a few others. I thought I’d share five authors I’ve met, and also include five that I’m dying to meet one day.

Authors I’ve met:

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  1. Maggie Stiefvater. I met Maggie during her book tour for The Raven King in Houston, and this will go down as one of the best bookish moments of my life. She gave an amazing speech for the event, and we got to talk about our love for Ronan. We also laughed about how she’s made my name popular again. Basically, the entire experience was incredible and I felt overwhelmingly happy.

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  1. Leigh Bardugo. Meeting Leigh was honestly the highlight of my BEA 2016 experience. I couldn’t get an actual ticket to her signing, but the staff let me sneak in at the very end of the line. And you guys, she is amazing. We chatted about my French last name and her publicist’s French last name, and how she should write a detective novel about us. Do you ever build someone up in your head as being almost unbearably cool, and then you meet them and they’re somehow even cooler? Yeah, that was me meeting Leigh Bardugo.

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  1. Adam Silvera. Another highlight of BEA 2016 was meeting Adam Silvera. His signing line took nearly an hour, but that’s because Adam took the time to have an actual conversation and write a long note in everyone’s ARC. He was so genuine and funny in person, and I left the signing line feeling as if I just had a nice chat with a friend.
  1. Stephanie Perkins. My love for Anna and the French Kiss is eternal, and I was able to meet Stephanie during her book tour for Isla and the Happily Ever After. Even though I managed to spoil the book for everyone (it was my first bookish event and I didn’t realize that everyone else hadn’t read the book yet I’M STILL EMBARASSED), she was SO NICE. She even complemented my fresh Taylor Swift haircut, and we bonded over which of her male characters would actually make the best boyfriend.
  1. Tahereh Mafi. BEA 2016 strikes again! I met Tahereh during her signing for Futhermore ARCs, and I still can’t get over how sweet she was. She took the time to have a chat with everyone, and made you feel as though she was just as excited to meet you. Also, Tahereh Mafi is quite possibly the most stylish person I’ve ever met. Just putting that out there.

 

Authors I’d Love to Meet:

  1. Laini Taylor. I absolutely loved the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and Strange the Dreamer, so it’s no surprise that Laini Taylor is on this list. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch her on tour for her next book…whenever that will be!
  1. Sarah Dessen. Sarah Dessen is one of very few authors whose books helped to shape me as a person. I’ve read all of her novels, and they remain my go-to comfort reads. I’ve got my fingers crossed that her book tour for Once and For All will come close enough for me to attend. If so, I have my very old and much loved copy of This Lullaby I’d love for her to sign.
  1. Emery Lord. Y’all, this one is actually happening and I’m so excited! Emery is going on tour for The Names They Gave Us this summer, and one of the events is at my local independent bookstore. I really appreciate and value Emery’s voice, both in her books and on social media (seriously, you need to follow her), so I’m very much looking forward to meeting her in June.
  1. Holly Black. I love Holly Black’s books. I probably don’t talk about them enough on my blog and BookTube channel, but The Curse Workers trilogy and The Darkest Part of the Forest are books that I adore and reread often. Her sequel to The Darkest Part of the Forest, called The Cruel Prince, comes out in January 2018 – so here’s hoping for that book tour!
  1. J.K. Rowling. I mean, duh.

Which authors are on your bookish bucket list to meet?

arc review

ARC Review: The Upside of Unrequited

upside of unrequited

Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Format: eARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?”

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I finally read Becky Albertalli’s cult favorite debut novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda right before diving into The Upside of Unrequited, and I officially get the hype for this other. I also definitely recommend reading Simon first, since Upside is a companion sequel and characters from Simon pop up in this new story.

I expected to enjoy The Upside of Unrequited, but I didn’t expect to identify so strongly with Molly’s experience. Becky Albertalli perfectly verbalizes how it feels to be “behind” everyone else in terms of relationships and sexual experience, especially when you’re overweight. There’s a scene in which Molly mentions how aware she is of her stomach rolling over her waistband, and how wide her thighs look, while she’s sitting beside a cute boy. That scene, and so many nuanced ones like it, brought tears to my eyes because of how strongly I related to them. I can’t remember the last time I truly saw myself reflected in a character like this.

I loved the diversity infused throughout the cast of characters. Molly is biracial and Jewish, and medicated for her mental illnesses. She has two moms who finally get married over the course of the novel, because The Upside of Unrequited is set against the backdrop of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. The family dynamic was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing how each member of Molly’s family interacts with one another, and how they all have special, individual bonds. Albertalli also highlights the ways that relationships, especially familial ones, change over time. Molly and Cassie’s relationship goes through a huge period of upheaval in this book, and both girls have to come to terms with what that means.

However, I did find many characters grating, including Molly in part but mainly Cassie. In the beginning, she came across like such a fierce character that I fully expected to adore her, but that went rapidly downhill. Although I may not have enjoyed Cassie personally, I still understood where her character is coming from…even if I didn’t like the way she handled things.

There are so many honest, if awkward, conversations throughout the course of this novel, and I loved seeing those represented. One of my favorite aspects of Albertalli’s novels is that sense of honesty, that she writes believable people in believable situations, and there is such truth in her stories. If Becky Albertalli isn’t on your radar, that needs to change ASAP!

Rating: 4 stars

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for a free and honest review.

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Fireworks | 5 Reasons to Read

Katie Cotugno’s latest YA contemporary is out tomorrow, April 11! I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of Fireworks, and in my most recent video I shared 5 reasons you’ve got to read this book.

90s pop bands, female friendship, finding strength of self – honestly, what more could I have hoped for? This may have been my first Katie Cotugno novel, but it certainly won’t be my last.