Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me [review]

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Published by First Second on May 7, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.13 (as of 2020-04-18)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound 


This was an amazing graphic novel that absolutely blew me away. Similar to but lighter than In the Dream House, this does an incredible job at demonstrating that queer relationships can also be toxic and abusive, which is imperative for lgbtq youth to be aware of. I really loved Freddy’s character and her friend group, which felt so real and relatable. I just wish we had seen some more of her friends! Laura Dean clearly has no idea what she’s doing wrong, which I think is unfortunately often the way of some abusers. The art itself is absolutely stunning and I was blown away by it from the start. This is a really incredible book that I’ll absolutely be trying to get others to read.


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Mini-Review Compilation #21

Foul is Fair

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

She looks at the bruises on my neck and the scratches across my face, but she doesn’t say anything.
So I point at my hair, and I say, This color. Know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says, Good girl. Kill him.

This is the revenge story I’ve been dreaming about for ages and it was great. Apparently a Macbeth retelling (I am wholly unfamiliar with Macbeth), this was bloody as hell and pulled no punches. While ultimately an enjoyable read, both Jade and her coven were so cold and heartless that nothing about this felt realistic. Occasionally it felt a little repetitive and there were points where I just wanted to see where things would go. So while I would recommend this and am glad I read it, I’d also say it’s not necessarily a perfect read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

The Roanoke Girls

This was really not what I was expecting, although not to the book’s detriment. What I thought would be more paranormal YA turned out to be an adult thriller. This is a tense story about some pretty serious topics and is masterfully woven throughout multiple timelines. Sometimes I find this confusing, but I felt it was extremely clear when we were in the story and was able to keep each point in time separate in my mind. The characters are all distinct and pretty fully fleshed out. I liked how dubious Lane’s morals felt at times and thought her character was handled well overall. Overall this was a pretty compelling read whose only downfall was that it sometimes felt pretty far-fetched. I’d definitely recommend it to those who can handle the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pucked (Pucked #1)

Picked this up hoping for a fun, distracting romance and ended up having to DNF. The main character is SO childish and I struggled with the immaturity a lot. I didn’t feel any chemistry between Violet and Alex and the writing also wasn’t great enough to warrant continuing. What really pushed me over the edge was the *incessant* slut-shaming. Violet never stops putting down other women, assuming the worst of them, and thinking them terrible for… wanting to sleep with hockey players. Take a chill pill and get over yourself.

Rating: DNF


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Jane Anonymous [review]

Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz
To be published by Wednesday Books on January 7, 2020
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.17 (as of 2019-12-28)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?


I was going into this expecting an interesting exploration of trauma and that was… not what I got. Clearly I’m in the minority, looking at the average GR rating, but I felt like this was a major disappointment. This follows Jane, a teenage girl using a pseudonym as she writes about her experiences as a captive but also as she tries to adjust to life back home. The story flips back and forth between past and present as Jane recollects what happened to her.

There were so many frustrating pieces of this that I felt went beyond my suspension of disbelief. Jane’s friends and family are honestly downright awful to her after she returns. I’m sure this is realistic to an extent, but what could have been an examination of how trauma impacts everyone differently just turned into her mom telling her she needs to get over it and be happy she’s home now. I just wasn’t able to believe that her parents, who also went through extreme trauma after their daughter was kidnapped, refused to have any sort of sympathy for her. One of her friends did do really well with understanding her trauma, but I wish that had been looked at on a deeper level. There were also some pretty nasty depictions of wounds and unwashed bodies that felt, frankly, rather unnecessary and more for shock value than anything else. Some of them, especially towards the end, actually had me rolling my eyes and wondering why this had to be so over-the-top. 

There were other bits that had me wondering whether I was living in a separate reality, and that I hope were caught by an editor before the finished version. One was when Jane picks up a 25 lb object and remarks on how grateful she is for her strength training. Like, okay, don’t strain yourself. The second was when Jane noted that after maybe two months in captivity, her leg hairs were two inches long. I’m sure this is possible, but is it likely?? Probably not. (For comparison, I haven’t shaved my legs in 7 years and mine is around an inch long. An article I found in a five-second google search tells me hair grows an average of 1 cm every 28 days and body hair typically stops growing after 30-45 days.)

Anyway, the last two may have been nitpicky but they also pulled me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes and laughing — something you don’t really want in a tense thriller. I think at least the twist would have been exciting had I not seen someone spoil it in a review that was not marked for spoilers, ugh. If the above aren’t things you think would bother you, I think this would be worth reading. I think it was the combination of unbelievable factors and the lack of more nuanced exploration of trauma that really made it not work for me.


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Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

I haven’t read this in I don’t know how many years, but it holds up! I’ve been in a mini-slump recently but was able to slam through this old favorite. There were parts where I actually found myself laughing out loud. Ella’s humor is so great. Really my only complaint is that Ella is canonically unable to save herself but can save… a dude she’s in love with. Not my favorite trope, and not my favorite message to send (that a man is more important than you, even though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come across that way).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

Me during the first 95% of this book: Yeah this is good I guess
Me during the last 5%: [sobbing, but make it queer]

Anyway, this was pretty much your typical YA thriller. The writing was a little hit-or-miss at times but it was a mostly entertaining read. It went a little hard on the internalized homophobia and I kind of hated the deceased best friend because of how she treated the main character. Their relationship was way more toxic than it was cute. She was redeemed somewhat toward the end, but that didn’t really undo all the time she spent treating people poorly? Feel free to pick this up if you’re interested, but I’d keep expectations low.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

Not perfect, but definitely a pretty great short story! It was just lengthy enough to get me invested, and the twist did take me by surprise. This is probably my favorite piece by Gillian Flynn so far. My only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit silly and abrupt, but I have no regrets reading this.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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When I Am Through With You [review]

When I Am Through With You by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers on August 1, 2017
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.23 (as of 2019-12-20)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.


This found its way onto my TBR after Rachel’s five-star review of it, and I’m thankful I let her guide my decision to read it instead of paying attention to the relatively poor rating it has on Goodreads. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that this is a YA thriller and to adjust expectations accordingly. I wasn’t going into this expecting a new and meaningful favorite; I went into this wanting to read something entertaining, which is what I got.

Tragedy is infinitely more interesting than bliss. That’s the allure of self-destruction. Or so I’ve found.

The reader knows from the outset that one of the main characters will die, but we have no way of knowing how, when, or why. The tension in the novel slowly builds as the narrator unfurls the story of what happened. There were points where I felt things were a bit absurd in how dramatic they got, but by the last 15-20% I was fully hooked on wanting to know what would happen and thought the eventual reveals were really well-done.

“But even if he were my boyfriend, it wouldn’t be my fault that he’s an asshole.” 
“I didn’t say it would be.” 
“But you were thinking it, weren’t you? Everyone always blames women for the things men do. It’s why men never learn.”

In addition to being a solid thriller, I felt like the underlying commentary here was quite interesting. Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just briefly say that I think this book does a great job of showing the harm toxic relationships can cause while also demonstrating how difficult they can be to leave. There are multiple instances of these, both familial and romantic, and range from outright abuse to dependency. The messages conveyed are important and while the setting has a level of drama that doesn’t quite rise to realism, it’s still easy to see how they can be translated to real life.

That was noble, wasn’t it? To think of others first? I’d always told myself that, but doubt chewed at the edges of my certainty. Maybe the truth was that I preferred death to guilt.

One of my only complaints is that some of the background characters felt interchangeable and unnecessary, but I think the larger cast was necessary for the plot to progress the way it did. For the most part, though, this was a really solid thriller. It fully captured me and ended up being a good read. I’d definitely recommend it to those who enjoy the genre.


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Mini-Review Compilation #18

Dead Astronauts

I don’t know if this book and I were ever going to get along. I’m a huge Jeff VanderMeer fan, but didn’t initially realize this was set in the Borne universe. Borne wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t end up loving it. From what I read, the connections seem pretty loose — same universe, different characters. There is just so MUCH going on here that at 27% in I had no idea what I was reading. The prose was gorgeous, but I struggled to follow the plot. This book is going to make you work, and I cautiously recommend it to those who are up for the challenge.

Rating: DNF

In the House in the Dark of the Woods

I honestly have no idea what this book was trying to accomplish. It starts off as a lighthearted fairytale of sorts and turns into…? It alternated between dry and confusing, sometimes both. There was one point where I thought I genuinely liked it and thought it had a great ending — until I realized I had only hit the 75% mark and had to muddle through to the true ending. This had the potential to say so much about abuse and trauma, which I thought was its purpose for a while, but it ended up being a bit of a meandering mess that I genuinely regret spending my time on.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I can definitely appreciate the points this book hit, but it just didn’t vibe with me very well! It’s a relatively quick read and I certainly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in it, though. As a YA book, it touches on a lot of important issues from abortion to drug addiction to teen pregnancy. One of my issues was that I felt like it was trying to touch on too many things and thus lacked a bit in focus. I’d also look up trigger warnings for this beforehand, as there are a lot of potentially upsetting topics at hand. My final criticism is that it read more like a MG book than a YA book as far as voice goes. I kept surprising myself when Gabi would say something about graduating from high school or applying to college because I honestly kept thinking she was 13.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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Mini-Review Compilation #17

The Abyss Surrounds Us

This was a fun book! Sapphic pirates and sea monsters galore. I had a fun time with it overall and really appreciated that the power discrepancy in the romance was explicitly acknowledged. There were some bits that could have used some more fleshing out or revision (stuff like, “she suddenly stopped paying attention to me” followed a page later by “she was spending more time with me to make up for not paying attention to me” with no reasoning or resolution?) but it is a debut novel. I’m hoping to get to the sequel soon!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Buddhism without Beliefs

This was not a complete waste of time, but was close to it. The book detaches buddhism from religion and formats it not as a belief system, but a certain way of living. At first, I was really impressed with the ideas presented and felt I was getting a lot out of it. According to Dealing with “anguish” seems to be hinged on creating a perspective in which all is temporary: our “cravings” have not always existed, thus they will not always exist. It is turning our feelings into things we can watch ebb and flow rather than something that will overtake us entirely. Action is repeatedly emphasized as the key to dharma practice.

The formatting of the book seems to be without logical flow; it felt more like a general rambling than something coherently laid out. The chapters themselves confused me, as I felt like the author was talking himself around ideas and as soon as he began to approach what I thought was the point, the chapter would end unceremoniously. It was frustrating, since it started out explaining so many interesting ideas only to turn into something unstructured and unhelpful. It seems this may have made a better essay than an entire book. Also, the author is weirdly obsessed with someone they call S, who they refer to as their enemy and who apparently riles them up often. It was strangely distracting.

Rating: ⭐⭐

The Widow of Pale Harbor

After enjoying The Witch of Willow Hall, I was quite excited for this one. Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to expectations. I had difficulty connecting with the characters and was completely unmotivated to finish. I finally decided to put it down in favor of reading something I’d feel more excited about.

Rating: DNF


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Undead Girl Gang [review]

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Published by Razorbill on May 8, 2018
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.79 (as of 2019-08-27)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again. 


This was a really fun read with plenty to enjoy! The main character, Mila, is a fat latinx girl who practices Wicca with her best friend Riley. While I can’t personally speak to any of the rep, I’ve seen glowing ownvoices reviews about (that I can no longer locate but would be happy to link should I come across any or have any shared with me in the meantime). We find out right off the bat that Riley has died under mysterious circumstances, and Mila funnels her grief into investigating her best friend’s death.

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals.

The story has a great balance of serious topics and humor. There is a large exploration of grief’s impact, from the way it changes one’s own behaviors to the way it changes how others interact with a grieving person. But mixed in, there are plenty of cute moments and funny quips to lighten the mood. Dark humor is definitely a huge part of this book.

“And, for fuck’s sake, stop using normal as code for white,” I snap. “Your life isn’t the ruler that the rest of the world gets measured against.”

It was quite good, but not perfect. There were moments when I had some difficulty telling characters apart. I wish there had been some aspects that had been explored further, like Mila’s status as a bruja. I also felt like the twist hadn’t been properly set up and came a little out of left field.

I feel like I’ve been betraying them every time I’m not miserable. And I know that’s not how grief works. One second of being happy doesn’t erase all the other moments of mourning. I know that I can’t stay sad all day, every day.

As a whole, though, this was quite fun and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested.


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Mini-Review Compilation #14

Praise Song for the Butterflies

This is a difficult book to review; it feels wrong to give it a number and talk about it as “good” or “not good.” The story follows the life of a girl named Abeo, who is born into a relatively privileged West African family. After bad luck befalls them, Abeo is brought to a shrine and is left in ritual servitude. Praise Song for the Butterflies is quite simplistically written, but its matter-of-fact tone makes the horrors within all the more appalling. Unfortunately, it also holds the characters at arms length and makes it difficult to empathize with them on anything more than an artificial level. While the story is important and eye-opening I didn’t find it to be a meaningful literary experience. I’d recommend it to anyone interested, if you can stomach the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

An American Marriage
[spoilers below]

I’ve struggled for days to write this review. An American Marriage is well-written and engaging and while I appreciate what Tayari Jones did with this book, I just felt so frustrated reading it. Roy, the husband in the couple at the center of the story, treats his wife Celestial like little more than property and at one point even tells her he could rape her if he wanted to. I felt like he was irredeemably awful at times to the point where I wanted to put down the book and not pick it up again. I wish I had loved this more and it certainly wasn’t bad, but it also isn’t something that I see sticking with me.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Lovely and the Lost
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

I blew through this book, which I requested from NetGalley on a whim. It follows a girl named Kira who trains search and rescue dogs with her adoptive family. Kira herself has a mysterious past that slowly comes further to light as the story progresses. While there were a couple of moments that seemed a little overdramatic and pulled me out of the story, I found this to be wildly compelling otherwise. The characters were all distinct in their own ways and I loved seeing their relationships play out on the page. The plot kept me interested, and I didn’t predict the twist at the end. Overall a really good read, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ work.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Girl Made of Stars [review]

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Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.25 (as of 2018-09-18)
cw:rape, molestation, pedophilia, biphobia, homophobia, victim blaming, depictions of anxiety and panic attacks, PTSD

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

For readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

As I said in the brief, one-sentence review I managed to spin out immediately after finishing Girl Made of Stars: This is one of the most painful, difficult reads I’ve ever experienced, and it still managed to end on an empowering, hopeful note. It’s been on my radar for a while now and I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I was actually picking up another book from the library for a buddy read that I’m doing when it caught my eye. I spontaneously snatched it up and I’m so, so glad I did. I think it was truly the perfect time for me to read this book.

I wish I could take a picture of myself right now, so I can remember this fiery girl, hold on to her.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with a review like this. First and foremost: take care of yourselves, loves. This is about the nitty gritty of rape culture, the many ways in which women can be both assaulted and undermined. It’s about the guilt, and the uncertainty, and the grey areas of being a survivor, as well as the difficulty of learning that someone you trust isn’t as safe as you thought they were. I managed to finish it in one evening, but I had to put it down a couple times to just take a spin around the apartment to get my head out of the story. Ashley Herring Blake writes a world that feels so real and is so easy to live in, that it grips you in a deeply emotional way.

It’s changed me forever, but changed doesn’t mean broken.

Everything is handled so beautifully in this book. In addition to focusing on rape culture and survivors, the main character also deals with sometimes crippling anxiety and PTSD. She’s also bisexual, which is mentioned explicitly on-page (as a bi woman, I was extremely excited about this), and her best friend/ex is genderqueer (this is the only rep I can’t speak to personally, but I’d be happy to share ownvoices reviews if y’all have any). There are also some great scenes where actively asking for consent is demonstrated and emphasized, which I’m always a huge fan of seeing (particularly in YA).

For all the girls whose names I’ll never know.
For me.
Girls made of flesh and bone.

I can’t even get into everything this book manages to explore, but somehow it does it all without feeling like the author is trying to pack too much in. I went through the full gamut of emotions while reading this. I spent the last half an hour of reading just sobbing in bed, but that was in part because I felt so validated and loved and understood. If you can manage the content, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It was truly a beautiful, if difficult, experience and deserving of so much support and recognition.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)