Review: WHO I WAS WITH HER by Nita Tyndall (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Hard Copy purchased at Unabridged Books

Content warnings: Grief, alcoholism

This book starts with Corinne Parker learning of her girlfriend’s death and continues with Corinne processing that loss and the truths about herself that she was hiding from everyone else in her life during her one year relationship. It hurts as much as it uplifts, ending on a well-deserved hopeful note.

The writing in Who I Was With Her is simply elegant. The chapters alternate between moments of Corinne’s year long relationship with Maggie and the present, during which she struggles with an alcoholic mother and not being out as bisexual to those around her. Corinne is a character I desperately wanted to hug, because I definitely related to her fears about coming out and about choosing things for herself, from low stakes decisions to high stakes debates about whether or not to go to college. The tension in this novel stems from a feeling that this too shall pass, focusing on the journey there. There isn’t a dramatic reveal, the plot beats are soft to lend power to the feelings woven throughout.

Another thing that struck me about this book was just how sex positive it was. There are discussions of sex, both queer and heterosexual, but it’s presented as a normal thing teens consider and something that happens between partners. There isn’t any taboo in the discussions, there’s no scandalous connotation, consent is on the page, and most of it is focused as another fragment of Corinne’s interior journey, not a major event in and of itself.

A quiet, heart-wrenching young adult novel about grief and being true to yourself and the fear that comes with that truth.

Author to Author with Hannah Abigail Clarke (#TheScapegracers)

Happy release day to The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke from Erewhon Books. This book is perfect for people who want to read about lesbian witches who are gay written by a queer author. In this young adult debut, Sideways Pike, an outcast, casts a spell at a Halloween party and accidentally forms a coven with three popular girls. Clarke hops by the blog to talk inspiration, craft, friendship, and a multitude of music recs.

Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

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ARC Review: THE SCAPEGRACERS (#1) by Hannah Abigail Clarke (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: September 2020
Source: Physical ARC
Buy links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Barnes and Noble

Read a physical ARC from Erewhon Books
Content warnings: Parental death (in flashbacks), blood magic

Outcast teenage lesbian Sideways Pike performs magic at a killer party and gains a coven. What ensues is an exploration of identity, magic, and female friendship while trying to do normal teen things like go to class, have crushes, and run away from witch hunters.

The voice in this novel is powerful. There’s a bit of stream of consciousness, but Sideways has such a distinct POV and way of phrasing that feels authentic. Clarke makes this look effortless, especially as bits of witch lore and plot have to happen. The way Clarke depicts Sideways griefs and traumas don’t flinch from either the details or the underlying emotional journey. It’s so raw. And I liked the way it showed up within the narrative. What really stuck with me was how Sideways opens up to the reader as her new friends let her further and further into their circle. It’s endearing, it’s powerful, it gave a kind of joy that can only come from finding family-like friendships.

Magic within this novel implied stricter rules and more world-building, but since we’re discovering it as Sideways uses it for party tricks and later, teaching Daisy, Jing, and Yates how to cast spells, it made sense to me that it was mostly shown through the experience. The way Clarke ties it into the experience of queerness and teenhood felt powerful, especially as it relates to the trials and tribulations of leaving oneself vulnerable to let friends in. There was never a doubt that her friends would be her life line, even if Sideways herself didn’t quite know it yet.

On September 15th, join a coven of queer disasters as they discover magic and the power of friendship, told through a ferocious, fun voice all its own.

August 2020 Reading Recap

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Summer is coming to an end, I guess. The autumn equinox doesn’t hit until September 22nd, but we can already get pumpkin spice lattes, so I’m saying summer is over. A few more books read this month. No interviews, but I have so much excitement coming in September. Continue reading

July 2020 Reading Recap

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I hit my goal of reading 100 books in July! Which sounds absurd, but between Animal Crossing, unemployment, and ongoing lockdowns, there is so much reading to be done (television, for whatever reason, cannot hold my attention).

This month, I did two blog interviews:

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June 2020 Reading Recap

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June was my birthday! I wound up reading a whole bunch of ARCs, a few new favorites, and even interviewed K.A. Doore to celebrate the release of the Chronicles of Ghadid finale, The Unconquered City.

In addition the blog, you will now be able to find my reviews on The StoryGraph, in addition to Goodreads. My handle is JoReadsBooks

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May 2020 Reading Recap

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May featured the Nebulas and continued work on myself during this unemployed time.

No special posts this month, but definitely an interview with K.A. Doore coming your way in June.

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April 2020 Reading Recap

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Good-bye April, the shortest month this year. I have gone through a lot of sudden changes, but there are always more books to read. I even discovered two new favorites this month, which feels exciting.

This month, I also interviewed Aleksandra Ross to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Don’t Call the Wolf and I had outlined a plan to improve my craft. I will be saving the craft reads for their own post.

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ARC Review: THE LUCKY ONES by Liz Lawson (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: April 2020
Source: Netgalley ARC

Read an ARC acquired via NetGalley

Content and trigger warnings include: School shootings, PTSD, panic attack, depression, alcoholism, death of a relative, blood

May McGintee lost her twin brother eleven months prior to the events of this book in a school shooting perpetrated by a classmate. Zach is a classmate in the school she transfers too, who also happens to be the shooter’s lawyer. They meet at band practice one night and an unexpected friendship forms.

Though the shooting is important in the set-up, it is the depiction of the aftermath from two points of view which really make this book unique. This book does a beautiful job depicting PTSD with a protagonist who is decidedly not okay. May has been let down by all the adults in her life and lost her favorite teacher and her brother in a horrific event. She’s angry. She acts out. She has less than favorable things said to those around her. The way her processing of her loss really stood out to me.

Zach’s perspective had been handled so compassionately. One of the things that really worked for me as a whole in this book was the thread of children not being held to their parents mistakes. No one handles anything appropriately, and it is so achingly human. This disappointment felt by the children is almost a character in and of itself. Lawson beautiful and heart-wrenchingly navigates all the facets, from individual disappointments to May’s rightful rage at the system which did nothing to address her specific trauma.

My heart still aches after finishing, but I couldn’t put it down. It is a powerful read full of grief, rage, and, most importantly, hope and healing.

Review: PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Jay Reguero seeks a fairly average final semester of high school before off to college. He receives news, however, that his cousin Jun had been murdered as part of Duterte’s war on drugs. From then, he goes on a trip to the Philippines to reconnect with his family and to find his own answers behind his cousin’s murder.

This novel covers so many facets of not only contemporary life in the Philippines under Duterte’s rule but also authentic captures the experience of being the American relative coming “home.” Ribay deftly navigates the nuances that come from the cultural differences, both from Jay’s perspective and his family’s. Like Jay, I had been born in my home country and moved to America with my family not long after. There are aspects to that distance which I had not seen in other stories. Nothing in this book is presented as black and white. Jay confronts his own privileges and discovers a culture he had not had much exposure to in his Americanized life. He learns of the contradictions within his own family.

The layers of tension in Patron Saints of Nothing thread through from start to finish. Ribay covers a variety of viewpoints throughout the narrative in a way that feels seamless. It isn’t all bleak, however. Some of the most powerful moments in the novel are the quieter moments among the family. One of my favorites was when Jay’s aunts (good to mention that there is f/f rep in this novel) invite friends and neighbors over for karaoke.

Definitely not an easy read, but this book made me cry, laugh, and dropped my jaw on more than one occasion.