Book Review: Crier’s War by Nina Varela

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Title:
Crier’s War
Author:  Nina Varela
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, LGBT
Rating: ★★★★★

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Synopsis:

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.


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Alright, I am saying this right now, but this might be my favorite book of 2019. I’ve only  had one book this year that I gave 5 stars, and Crier’s War is definitely my second 5-star worthy read of 2019. As a constant-page turner, I often found myself lost in the themes of rebellion, political power, humanity, and elaborate world-building.

Varela’s writing is so engaging, rich, and lush; the characters are so vibrant and dynamic; and the mix of alchemy and machination allows this novel to effortlessly mesh fantasy and science into a world of Automa (artificial intelligence) overruling humans. The author masterfully molds all these complex elements into the most beautiful and enthralling story.

As Varela’s debut novel, and the first book in a duology, do yourself a favor and add Crier’s War to your TBR asap. As an own voices novel with a slow-burn queer love story that had me swooning, Crier’s War flawlessly and emotionally drives her two main characters, Crier and Ayla, into conflict and determination to seek out their own motives–motives and narratives immersed in rage, revenge, vulnerability, epiphanies, an enemies to lovers romance, and surprising betrayals. 

 

Blogger Note: Thank you so much to Wunderkind PR for sending me a free copy of Crier’s War to read and review. 

Book Review & Mood Board: Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

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Title:
Butterfly Yellow
Author:  Thanhha Lai
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: September 3, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Fiction

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Synopsis:

In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.

Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.

Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap. 


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Butterfly Yellow is an emotionally driven novel told in multiple POVs; more specifically in the points of view of Hằng and LeeRoy. Hằng is a Vietnamese refugee traveling to Texas in search of her younger brother, Linh, who was taken to America during the Vietnam War. And LeeRoy is an eighteen-year-old whose main aspiration is to be a cowboy. The interactions between this unlikely pair allows the novel to flow so beautifully. 

Determined to find her brother, Hằng internally struggles with her own PTSD and her hard journey from Vietnam to Texas. Not only is she physically exhausted and vulnerable, but she is also conflicted with coping with emotional distress, survival, hunger, and language boundaries.

On his way to meet his rodeo idol, LeeRoy is unwillingly pushed to drive Hằng on her quest to find her brother. LeeRoy’s quirkiness and straightforward attitude provide a comedic relief to Hằng’s feisty stubbornness and her heartbreaking journey. Although the dialogue between the characters is often stilted, it becomes a learning process and a great facilitator that instills the friendship between these two characters.

Overall, the pacing of this novel is wonderfully steady. Each chapter is short and to the point, while the words flow like a beautiful poem. I quickly connected with the characters within a few pages of meeting them, and from there on, I enjoyed their paths that often unfolded into mosaic of heartbreak, love, determination, and the idea of accepting your mistakes and moving forward.

Mood Board Butterfly Yellow

 

Blogger Note: Thank you so much to Wunderkind PR for sending me a free copy of Butterfly Yellow to read and review. 

Book Review: A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo

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Title:
A Constellation of Roses
Author:  Miranda Asebedo
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magic Realism
Rating: ★★★

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Synopsis:

Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

With lovable and flawed characters, an evocative setting, and friendships to treasure, A Constellation of Roses is the perfect companion to Miranda Asebedo’s debut novel The Deepest Roots.


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A Constellation of Roses is a well-developed contemporary novel that hints at magic, but provides a serious outlet and tone for realistic, young adult situations. After her mom fails to come back home one day, Trix takes the matter of survival into her own hands. Trix relies heavily on her gift as a undetected thief to take what she needs to survive. Without giving too many spoilers, Trix’s antics are not unseen and she is sent to live with some unknown relatives. 

Now surrounded by three generations of women who also have their own talents and gifts, Trix puts up a hard shell that’s not easy to crack. As Trix adapts to her new surroundings, makes new friends, and slowly starts trusting her newfound family, she begins to explore the truth about herself and her familial past. More importantly, she begins defining and understanding what family truly means. And as the story unfolds, Trix also begins acknowledging that everyone, no matter how happy they seem on the outside, are also going through their own personal struggles. 

Filled with emotionally-curing pie, a dash of magic, and teenage antics, A Constellation of Roses will have you swimming in emotions of heartache, laughter, tears, and swoons. This novel explores some very heavy issues, which makes these characters so realistic and so easy to connect and fall in love with.

Some favorite quotes:

“Fortune-telling isn’t a science. It’s an art. And sometimes art is messy.”

“Scars tell a story, even when we don’t want them to.”

“You know, there’s an old story that back when they founded Rocksaw, the McCabes were one of the first families here. And their daughters were so beautiful and so strangely gifted that people in Buffalo Hills thought they were witches and wanted to run them out of the area.”

“Love is promising Persian kittens. Love is American slang dictionaries for Scrabble. Love is Coke-and-cherry slushes as midnight. Love is watching the lights come on in town from law chairs on Cedar Mountain. Love is lemon-meringue pie on porch steps.”

“Yes, I have gotten what I always wanted. My deepest secrets. Not a perfect family, after all. But a constellation of women, connected by pie and fortunes and roses. And love.”

 

Blogger Note: Thank you so much to Wunderkind PR for sending me a free copy of A Cosntellation of Roses to read and review. 

If It’s Not A Rant, It’s A Rave: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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Title:
The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli

Publication date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

About the Book:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because 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. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And 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 an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble |  The Book Depository


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Not very often I will find a book that makes me think, “I wish this book existed when I was in high school.” And The Upside of Unrequited is one of those books I wish I had read during my teenage years. This is the first book I have read by Becky Albertalli (sorry Simon fans), and I loved it! I could really relate to Molly, an introvert with dreams and hopes but is apprehensive and unsure about her life, her weight, talking to boys, and everything in between.

Molly is now one of my favorite young adult characters. She has fire in her soul, but like many introverts that are unsure how to break out of their shell or push against their natural routine, Molly bottles this flame. But what makes Molly different and unique is that she slowly allows her flame to burn and shine. I liked Molly because she is cautious but also daring in the most surprising ways. Molly is a teenager that realistically portrays inner monologues, crushes, and jealousy. She over-analyzes everything, because what teenager doesn’t. Molly is realistic and smart and kind and just the type of person I would want as a friend.

What I also loved about The Upside of Unrequited is Becky Albertalli’s ability to bring to light less talked about subjects that need to be littered in young adult literature. It is 2017, and there are still girls out there who do not see themselves in modern-day stories because they are told they are too big, not the right size, not the right color, pray to a different god, etc. But what I loved about The Upside of Unrequited is that Albertalli’s storytelling challenges the traditional sense of literature, and says: Here world. Here is an introverted girl who is insecure about her weight and talking to boys. Here is a family that has lesbian mothers raising an interracial family. Here are two twins sisters both with unique personalities. Two teenage sisters, one who loves to flirt and date girls, and one who collects crushes and daydreams about kissing boys. This is definitely a positive and eye-opening book for adolescents. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Upside of Unrequited because the story is smart, realistic, swoony, and funny. I loved that all of the characters are so unique and different. These are the characters and stories that need to be whispered between shy friends. This is the book that needs to be handed out in the classroom. The Upside of Unrequited is the book that needs to be on every girl’s nightstand, pulled off a library shelf by an overanalyzing teenager, and bought by the person who wants to spend their $20.00 allowance on a book that will not only make them laugh but also make them think. 

star rating

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

NOTE:  I was not provided a copy of this book by the author or the publisher in an exchange for a review. I bought this book with my own funds and reviewed it at my own discretion.  All statements and opinions in this review are mine.

Throwback Thursday Mini-Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

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Title: The Fill-In Boyfriend
By: Kasie West
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 344
Format: Physical ARC
Source: EpicReads’ Early Readers Group (2015)

About The Fill-In Boyfriend:

When Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

PURCHASE THIS BOOK FROM YOUR LOCAL BOOKSELLER/RETAILER OR 

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My Rants and Raves of The Fill-In Boyfriend

WOW this story reeled me in and I don’t want to be casted back out! If you know me, I have never been a go-to contemporary reader; however, in the last year, I am trying to change this fact about me and read more YA contemporary novels. I have never read a Kasie West novel, and after reading this book, I may have to gobble up her other books ASAP!

West’s main character Gia is portrayed so accurately as a modern-day teenager–at first she is self-involved and constantly worried about what her “friends” think, but over time she begins to mature. Straight from the beginning, Gia recognizes that her words and actions are self-centered. But after asking for a favor from a concerned stranger (that would be Hayden, the fill-in boyfriend/Bradley), Gia starts to analyze herself, her friends, her frienemies, her family, her actions, and social media’s influence on her life. And throughout her analysis, she begins to change and develop into a likable and self-conscious person.

This book is well-paced and each word tugs at your heart and your gut. Gia straight out says or portrays that she needs to change, and as a reader, I enjoyed that process of her evolution. The Fill-In Boyfriend is a quick read–I couldn’t put it down–and adding a smart, observant, “geeky,” and a lay-it-all-out-on-the-table fill-in boyfriend, like Hayden, to expose Gia’s flaws and strengths made the story 10 times better. Hayden is swoon-worthy and definitely a friend to be trusted.

The only flaw I saw with the book was that I thought it was too short, but I may be acting bias because I want more Gia and Hayden banter/conversation.

Favorite lines:

“The librarian lowered her brow disapprovingly. ‘I don’t think we have any biographies on people who had to deal with d-bags'” (page 217 of the ARC).

“I was thinking about vanilla but then I thought, ‘That is so boring, Gia will think I’m the most boring person ever.'”…”So then I thought, ‘I bet Blake here will tell me what to order,’ but he was no help whatsoever. Thanks a lot, Blake.” (page 225 of the ARC).

star rating

5 out of 5 Stars

Note: This review was previously posted on my Goodreads account in May 19, 2015, and has been updated for my blog. I received an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) from Epic Reads as a participant reviewer for their new Early Readers Group in the summer of 2015.  Thank you, Epic Reads and HarperTeen! All statements and opinions in this review are mine.

Blog Tour & Giveaway: AUTOFOCUS by Lauren Gibaldi

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Title: Autofocus
By: Lauren Gibaldi
Published by: Harper Teen
Publication date: June 14, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance, Fiction

ABOUT AUTOFOCUS:

Family.

It’s always been a loaded word for Maude. And when she is given a senior photography assignment—to create a portfolio that shows the meaning of family—she doesn’t quite know where to begin. But she knows one thing: without the story of her birth mother, who died when Maude was born, her project will be incomplete.

So Maude decides to visit her best friend, Treena, at college in Tallahassee, Florida, where Maude’s birth mother once lived. But when Maude arrives, she quickly discovers that Treena has changed. With a new boyfriend and a packed social calendar, Treena doesn’t seem to have time for Maude—or helping Maude in her search.

Enter Bennett, a cute guy who lives in Treena’s dorm. He understands Maude’s need to find her mother. And as Bennett helps Maude in her search, she starts to find that her mother’s past doesn’t have to define her own future.

Lauren Gibaldi has crafted a beautiful and timely coming-of-age story that poses the question: Is who we are determined at birth, or can we change as we grow?

LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks | The Book Depository


 review in photography

Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi is by far my favorite Young Adult Contemporary book I have read this year. Right from page one, the story smoothly unfolds when the main character, Maude, is given a high school assignment: to use photography as a means to define “family.” But for Maude, “family” is hard to define, because she was adopted and her birth mother died from complications during childbirth. Defining “family” is a true crisis of nature versus nurture in Maude’s eyes, especially when her birth mother left no information about herself or her own family for Maude to discover.

footprintGibaldi does a remarkable job depicting a seventeen-year-old that is lingering between the blurred lines of adolescence and adulthood. Maude is one of the most courageous female protagonists I have read in a long time. I often found myself comparing her to Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March in Little Women—a heroine surrounded by family and friends, yet who often shadows herself in a world of creativity as she pleads for life to remain unchanging. Like Jo March, Maude is creative, stubborn, and overall frustrating, especially when she is enamored with concrete and fixed depictions of people. Throughout Autofocus, Maude is often comparing people to who they are now and who they once were, and this leaves her with a mindset that change is hard to accept.

corkboardI mostly liked Maude because she is very determined and fearless. She does not wallow in self-pity; instead, she travels to her birth mother’s hometown, which happens to be the college town that her best friend Treena is attending. While staying at Florida State University for a week, I love that Maude dares herself to make connections with people that once knew her birth mother. And more importantly, I enjoyed that Maude not only discovers the true meaning of family, but she also discovers herself.

blurryUnsurprisingly, I was not a big fan of Maude’s best friend, Treena. I know Treena is in college and she’s going through her own identity crisis, but for crying out loud, her best friend is only staying with her for one week. But without Treena’s slip-ups, Maude would have never met and received help from Treena’s college friend, Bennett. Bennett is by far my favorite character in the book. He’s dorky, honest, caring, funny, and has an eclectic knowledge of pop culture/references. Honestly, you cannot go wrong with having a friend that loves and references Star Wars, Spider-man, and Toy Story, RIGHT?! Bennett is the perfect friend to help balance out Maude’s uneasy and erratic actions during her one-week journey to find information about her birth mother.

spidermanOverall, I really enjoyed Autofocus, and I can definitely see this coming-of-age story being a re-read for me whenever I’m in need of a reading-slump cure. Maude is a dynamic character, and I love that most of her internal dialogue is framed in self-encouraged philosophies. I really appreciated that Maude uses her photography assignment not only as a means to define “family,” but to essentially define herself. In the end, she portrays maturity and understanding that identity is not always a still-frame, but a collection of snapshots that shape who you are.

autofocus

star rating

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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Win a finished copy of AUTOFOCUS (US Only)

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about Lauren

Lauren Gibaldi

Public librarian and author of THE NIGHT WE SAID YES, MATT’S STORY (a Night We Said Yes novella), and AUTOFOCUS (out 6/14/16), all with HarperTeen/ HarperCollins. Fan of dinosaurs and cheesy jokes. And you.

LINKS: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr

 

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Note: All photographs were taken by me and edited with an Apple app called Color Card. All quotes featured in the photos are from an e-arc/galley of Autofocus provided by HarperTeen/HarperCollins. A gigantic thank you to Irish Banana Tours for inviting me on this blog tour. 

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