The Finale Strife by: Saara El-Arifi

The premise for this book really grabbed at me but unfortunately, there were things in it that just let me down and left me with mixed feelings. Trigger warnings for the story: Drug use, violence, child abuse.

Positives first I guess.

It’s not poorly written, structure is good although it is a bit slow paced. Characters are well written, strong and each feels distinct from one another, their voices don’t blend together at all.

Chosen one who doesn’t save the world, chosen one who absolutely and totally misses being the chosen one, that’s pretty well done. Drug addict, found family, she’s doing her best because the world sucks ok?

I will say that because of a lot of things, some of what happened in the beginning was a bit much for me.

We do get solid representation, F/F, queerness just is, it wasn’t commented on, nothing hateful, which is always fantastic to see.

What’s unfortunate, is the fatphobia. There’s several comments made about a character’s size, how their clothing fits on another character of slim size, that’s not ok. It’s treated as casual and in the real world, casual fatphobia gets people hurt.

Then there was the adopted sibling romance and that’s not my thing. I absolutely just can’t. If you’re raised as siblings, then turn to romance, for me it’s a squick I cannot deal with. Wish Umbrella Academy hadn’t done, I don’t like seeing it

For me this gets three (3) stars out of five. (5) Not sure I’ll continue considering some of the issues that were in this and I don’t want to be exposed to that a second time so for me, the series is done.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by: Kate Khavari

This book had a strong premise and the title really drew me in. When I began, I expected more parties to be honest; there’s only one. Saffron Everleigh is a research assistant in the botany department and in 1923 London, for a woman she has faced some sexism and the unwanted attention of a professor who absolutely made my skin crawl. 

Then, during a party, someone ends up poisoned and Saffron becomes obsessed with trying to figure it out. 

There were a fair few moments where this book was kind of boring. There wasn’t any danger and things moved slowly. When there was danger, I was hooked but getting to those moments was a bit flusering. I could have stopped several times and just shrugged it away but kept going. I think the author has a great voice, I liked Saffron quite a bit actually. 

She’s not afraid to get dirty or use herself as a guinea pig, she’s braver than smart sometimes which makes for a character that down the line could be very interesting. 

Mr. Ashton is boring, I hate to say it. He’s a former soldier dealing with PTSD and while he’s a nice man, he’s just boring. There was a moment where the two of them were meant to be arguing with each other because of something he said and it just wasn’t believable. 

All in all, I did love the focus on plants, I love botany. But I wanted more from this than I got. 

I think I’d give it a 3 star out of 5 but in reality it’s more like a ⅖. 

I received this eARC from NetgAlley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher. 

Wretched Waterpark by: Kiersten White

Alright so this is a fast paced middle grade fantasy that gave me Lemony Snicket vibes in the extreme and I loved it.

We follow the Sinister-Winterbottom kids, Wil, the oldest, and Theo and Alexander, fraternal twins. One is very cautious, the other very brave and Wil, unfortunately is a bit of a teen cliché. Wil never looks up from her phone and has even named it Roderigo.

I know the joke that teens are always on their phones but it wasn’t funny when I was a kid, I personally don’t find it funny now, and I don’t think teens should have to put up with it.

While I gave this book 4 stars it’s really closer to 3.5. And that’s because, even though the idea is wild and fun, I’m just so tired of the lack of diversity. People, even those who work at an incredibly gothic themed waterpark and seem sun averse, can be any race.

Just look at the DeadEndia books. Mixes of races, sexualities, it’s great. And it’s easy to do so the lack of effort at this point is insulting.

Now, the story was easy to follow. The kids get dropped off at the house of an aunt they’ve never met in the middle of the night and get taken to the water park every single day. For a week. Their aunt is spacy and the last person I would leave a child with but in the end, she was great, still odd.

The kids are fairly well written, they actually sounded like kids and did things kids do. Their actions were believable. I liked their relationship and the anger that Theo had. She’s angry at their parents and it’s good to see her actually feel it. Same with Alexander.

The writing is great with amazing sentences that I highlighted because they made me laugh. This writer has a great way with words. And I liked this book so much that even though it’s middle grade, I plan to read the rest in the series because it was fun!

All in all 3.5 stars.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

Together we burn by: Isabel Ibanez

Before I get into my review, I’m going to address something that happens late in the book first. There is consenting sex between the MC and love interest. Lots of asking, making sure the other is okay with it and that’s great. Should be the norm.

What’s not great is him telling her that her first time might hurt.

Barring medical conditions of psychological issues that cause certain reactions, sex should never hurt and someone’s first time should also never hurt. The reason sex hurts for first timers, and honestly for people into adulthood who’ve had multiple partners is because their partner did not do enough to ready them.

I’m talking about foreplay. The reason it hurts is because the person is not relaxed and a certain amount of force has to be used for penetration. And guess what? That’s horrid.

This is fiction. We can create dragons and battles, androids and other worlds but when it comes to sex, the same pervasive myths that cause real-world harm are still being fed to readers.

Young women, AFAB individuals are being told from all kinds of media that sex hurts the first time and that’s just the way it is. It’s not. If their partner takes time to actually do what they need to do then it won’t hurt. And this book was doing great until that part. Because it’s another book that some young AFAB person will read that’s telling them, hey, it’ll hurt, oh well.

Stop that. Do better.

Now, on to the rest of the review.

It was a fast read. I enjoyed Zarela’s personality and the stubbornness she has. It wasn’t impossible to deal with, instead being real. She was a very real character. When it comes to the side characters, they weren’t as jump off the page but they each held their own. I enjoyed them.

When it comes to the romance I’m not sure I’d say it’s enemies to lovers but there’s animosity between Zarela and Arturo. It wasn’t the kind of relationship where the love interest goes all mushy after realizing they’re in love. He kept his prickly personality and that was actually kind of nice to see.

The conflict in the book is good, keeps everything moving and even though I saw the criminal pretty early, his reasoning for it wasn’t what I expected. Although, I will say it was believable and I wont’ say anything more about it so I don’t spoil it.

Flamenco is a big part of Zarela’s life. she dances just like her mother did and when the story starts, although she wants to do her own dances, the people of the town want to see the dances her mother did. She’s constantly comparing herself to her and her growth around that is good.

When it comes to the dragons? I was impressed. It was nice to see them portrayed as actually having intelligence instead of as big stupid lizards. And the dragon-fighting was also interesting.

I love the simple and almost comforting way the author writes. I’ve read some of her previous work and enjoyed it.

This gets a four (4) out of five (5) for me. I’d recommend it to people

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

My Mechanical Romance by: Alexene Farol Follmuth

Right up front, this gets three stars from me. It was well written but I have a couple issues personally. High Schoolers who are super competitive is something that always makes me a little uncomfortable because as someone who was one of those super competitive kids, all it got me later on was burnout. Also someone who seems to be a “natural/born this way genius” is also a little hard to get behind. At least that’s just me.

But seeing women in STEM and the things they face being represented this way was good. Women belong in STEM but it’s male dominated and causes a lot of unnecessary problems because of that.

It’s a bit slow burn and kind of hard to get into but, I’ve read worse.

Honestly, kind of middle of the road for me.

Three (3) stars.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

From Bad to Cursed by: Lana Harper

This was a fun, cute read everyone! I haven’t read the author’s previous work but when her next book comes out, I’ll probably snatch it up.

From Bad t cursed is the story of a witch who practices necromantic magic and another who practices green magic. Literally green, plants y’all, plants.

During a ceremony, another witch is attacked with a spell that kills her magic, burns her hands and seals her magic away. And no one knows who did it.

Worst of all? The spell is the kind that our MC’s family is involved in so of course, they’re the obvious culprits.

I actually really liked this book. It’s an interracial romance. She’s white, he’s Black. And there’s no racism. No descriptions of him being likened to food. It was just descriptions of him being attractive. Of his locs and his skin. And none of it was gross.

I never know what to expect when it comes to romances but this? I liked it. Thistle Grove feels fun. I like the way the magic works. I like the setup of the town and the families.

All of that gets an A.

The only thing I’ll take points off for was the pacing of the ending, especially because the pacing of the rest of the story was really solid. It was just very rushed and wrapped up very quickly. And that was a bit of a switch up.

Other than that, it gets a four (4) out of five (5) stars from me and I’ll happily recommend it to people.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

Just Like Mother by: Anne Heltzel

This book was absolutely horrifying. Before I get into the review I will say that rape is mentioned in the book and does happen on page while the character is unaware. The characters in this book are difficult to like, aside from the MC but for me, this book turned my stomach, gave me goosebumps and will probably give me nightmares.

Just Like Mother is the well written story of Maeve and Andrea. Two girls who were born and raised in the Mother Collective, a cult of fanatical woman and motherhood. They were rescued as young children and have been out of touch until Maeve happens to do a DNA test and finds her.

From there, Andrea is a fixture in her life with her perfect family of her, her husband, their successful, well, Andrea’s successful business. And then there’s Emily, the face of the business while Andrea handles the workings. And the workings include lifelike baby robots.

Maeve works at a publishing house, has a casual f-buddy relationship with a stoner bartender named Ryan and alopecia. She doesn’t have a family.

When Andrea comes back into her life, it’s apparent she’ll do anything to keep her there. It’s like she’s not really herself unless Andrea is there.

We find out about the cult and their background throughout the story and it’s dark. The way people, men were treated and what we find out about the cult. It’s very much “women are powerful because they can have babies. That’s their vocation, their divine duty.”

The book does touch on the fact that that’s transphobic and ignores the fact that there are people who can’t have children and those who simply don’t want them. It’s very much anti feminist. And those are the character’s words.

I won’t spoil anything but it is a good book, if not a heavy read given the current political climate around reproductive right’s and how the fight for them can end up transphobic.

This book messed with my head. It made me nauseous. And it was well written.

Giving this book five stars feels weird because it was a good book, well written, and made me wildly uncomfortable. So do with that what you will.

I will say, that if you have issues around pregnancy, forced birth, rape, don’t read this book. Always protect your peace and mental health first.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

Of Beast and Burden by: Kelsey Kicklighter

Alright everyone, back with another review and this time it’s not a fun one. Of Beast and Burden had a fun premise. Our main character Faye is an almost adult and has been raised on stories of the fairies. The Folk as they’re called in the book. I was excited to get into it but that sort of died fast.

This book is boring. I hate to say it, especially for a book that had promised so much but comparing it to Holly Black, Sarah J. Maas and Elise Kova sets this book up to reach standards it just can’t reach.

Like I said. It’s boring. I don’t think I’ve ever been bored reading a fantasy book before. We aren’t given a book with great writing which might have helped at least a little bit.

The main character is annoying, a pain. It’s like she only has one setting on her personality and it’s the worst one. Then there’s Kellen and I swear if I had to read him saying “love” one more time, I was going to vomit. Men and teen boys giving girls a pet name when they know nothing about them and also using it to be condescending are infuriating and it happened so much. It’s infantilizing.

Then there’s a love triangle that wasn’t adequately fleshed out at all. It was so weak. I rolled my eyes through most of the book.

There’s also the matter of how characters are described. It’s mostly by skin-color. That’s it. When I read a book I want to know what people look like but I want to know more than they’re skin color. It’s already been proven that if a character isn’t described, the average reader will just assume they’re white. So describing skin color isn’t bad. But it isn’t the only way you can describe people. Are they attractive? Do they have scars? Are they wearing their hair in box braids? Does a color of fabric not mesh well with their skin? So many things.

When it comes to the end of the book, it’s a mess. It’s so rushed and it’s the only time the book isn’t boring. It’s just too fast paced for things to make it a fun read.

I’m giving this book a one (1) star.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

Burn Down, Rise Up by: Vincent Tirado

Alright y’all, time for another review. Today it’s Vincent Tirado’s Burn Down, Rise Up. Billed as Stranger Things meets Jordan Peele and I feel like that’s a pretty accurate description.

Our main character Raquel lives with her mom who is a nurse in a local hospital. Her best friend Aaron is a quiet guy, to the point of it being annoying to her, and they’re highschoolers who have been given a history assignment. All pretty standard stuff.

At least until it comes out that Charlize, the girl she used to be really close with, has lost her cousin Cisco. He’s gone missing. And he’s not the first.

The first were white kids and they couldn’t find them. Now when the Black and Brown kids go missing, people don’t lump them together, don’t want to say it’s all related.

Raquel is just trying to go through life until she finds out her mother is ill and in a coma. She ends up living with her father, her parents are split, and that’s when things kick off.

This story is fast paced. And for the most part, that doesn’t hinder it. It handles the pacing pretty well with character development and the story itself.

I liked it, it was believable, fun, dark, tense. And relatable. There were passages that had me cracking up because of the difference between how Black people handle spooky hauntings, monsters, etc., versus how white people handle it. Rarely does a book actually make me laugh out loud.

What I think faltered was the development of the romance. When it came to that, I don’t know anyone who could be so obtuse when dealing with someone who likes them. It wasn’t the greatest handled in my opinion and I was a little thrown off by it.

That and an argument between Raquel and Aaron. It was…contrived almost? He’s got no ability to tell she’s not interested in, who she is interested in, makes all kinds of assumptions. It was annoying and I rolled my eyes at it.

I think the ending also sort of suffered from the pacing. Because it was so fast, some things were a little tricky to follow and so it got a little convoluted. And with that, things happened in ways that didn’t make sense. It felt like the characters were stunted at that point. There was also something that happened at the end of the book that was out of nowhere. It was literally in the last few pages and threw me because it came out of nowhere and I don’t think it added anything.

I think for me, it was a three (3) out of five (5) stars. I enjoyed it.

I received this eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to them and the publisher.

Ballad and Dagger by: Daniel Jose Older

Ballad and Dagger gets four (4) stars for me, right off the bat. I was excited when I read the premise for this book and it did not disappoint.

Our main character is Mateo. He’s part of a small diaspora of people from a lost Island. The people are an eclectic mix of pirates, spiritualists, there’s Spanish, Jewish, Yoruba religion and gods. It was such a brilliant mix. It was vibrant, beautiful and felt real. Lived in. Like their lost island, San Madrigal, and the people, were real.

And the book was full of Black, Afro-Latin people and it was so nice to see. Cops weren’t a problem. It was a book that I didn’t have to worry about seeing cops do to Black bodies what they do in real life.

Mateo’s parents are scientists so they always too him with them and that left him feeling like he didn’t fit in in Little Madrigal, the area of Brooklyn that the survivors of the island’s collapse settled in.

Mateo is a musician and music plays a big part in not only the story but the writing. You don’t have to be very musically inclined to get it but it would help I guess if you really wanted to understand what Mateo was describing and hearing.

There’s so much Spanish! That year of Duolingo sort of help. Like 20% but still. It was great. So lived in. At no point in the first 80% did the pacing bother me. Mateo’s got a best friend named Tams and she’s attractive but they’re still best friends despite people always wanting to be with her. It was nice to see that. In so many YA books, the attractive best friend ends up being a point of contention in the character’s relationship.

There’s a lot of emphasis on family but also belonging. Mateo feels like he doesn’t fit it, like he’s an outsider in his own culture and he’s disconnected from it. Watching that change was great. It felt honest.

The romance was okay. It actually felt like normal teenage stuff, no melodrama but maybe it moved a little awkwardly at some points.

Another big theme in this story is the past, secrets and coming to grips with them when they come into the light. What makes people who they are. It was dark and sad and when the characters hurt, I hurt. They were so powerfully and realistically written.

I will say that the only real negative I have for this book is the last 10%-15%. That’s when the pacing sort of goes off the rails. Up until then, it had been really easy to read, to follow the events. At that point though, everything sped up and it got a little difficult to track what was happening with whom.

There was also some awkwardness with Chela and Mateo. Just the pacing of events that happens to them in that last 15% as well. Things felt too fast, and maybe a little too “perfect” in terms of how the characters handled things.

All in all though, absolutely a solid four (4) stars. I will recommend this not only to my younger sibling and their friends but anyone who wants to read a book about Afro-Latin people, living life, and coming to grips with the traumas of the past.

I received this eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, thanks to them and the publisher.