ARC Review: We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough

Title: We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire

Author: Joy McCullough

Pub Date: February, 9th 2021

*An eARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Trigger Warnings

Sexual assault, mentions of blood, harassment, panic attack, recollection of trauma. Please be aware that I will also be talking about sexual assault in my review.

Synopsis

From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts–a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice.

But the victory is short lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence “makes me want to use a fucking sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.


Review

I have so many problems with this book, which we can summarize as white feminist garbage. It breaks my heart how much I disliked this book after loving, like absolutely loving, Blood Water Paint. But between the terrible writing, the very frustrating main character, and the basic feminist message, there was nothing good in here.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire follows Em Morales, high school journalist, activist, and feminist. She’s one of the strongest allies and supporters of her sister during the trial. But when her rapist is sentenced to no prison time, the Morales family’s world collapses. Em is furious and frustrated with the system and the world, finding hope from a 15th-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who avenged survivors. Alternating between Em’s own life and her fictional poetry about Marguerite, this book promised to be powerful and heartfelt. It did not deliver.

For starters, I felt a little bit uncomfortable that the story is about Em, her own feelings of rage and hope, about her sister’s sexual assault. I know all family members are affected by traumatic experiences. I do understand the value of a story about how a family tries to piece itself back together and heal, showing how messy and long that process is. I do understand. But although as a concept I find it incredibly moving and emotional, Joy McCullough was not successful in this instance. Not to say this book is not emotional, it is. But it lacks empathy and character development for me to actually call it moving.

You see, Em Morales is one of the most frustrating main characters I have had the displeasure of meeting. And I have met A LOT of those this year. It was extremely difficult for me to sympathize with her and care about. Because in the end, her sister’s sexual assault is a backdrop for Em’s story. And that didn’t sit well with me.

Here is the thing, she’s a very self-center main character. Fine, she’s a teenager and she may grow. But she does not, in fact. Throughout the book we see her making her sister’s trauma about her. She complains about everything she has done to help her, feeling very frustrated when she is asked to step back. Later on, she has a very invasive moment with her mother that was, quite frankly, disgusting. Although Em recognizes that other people owe her nothing, that she doesn’t get to have other people’s traumatic stories because she wants to know, it’s exactly what she pushes for. So what’s the point? She doesn’t respect her own family boundaries and she is not really called out for it. No, instead all of the characters double down to her wants and needs, forgiving her when she hasn’t done the bare minimum. How am I supposed to believe this is a book about a family when Em doesn’t respect her family at all? Her self-center and overstepping are not even half of her problems.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire smells of white feminism. It stinks of white feminism, it’s not even funny. Em is a hardcore feminist; she hates all men, she rages about patriarchy, she’s a social justice activist, and a nerd of feminist history. Truly laughable she ends up being the stereotype of a 2000s feminist girl. I thought society had progressed from these very transphobic and racist “feminist” views. I know white feminism hasn’t gone away, but it’s not believable for a character characterized as such a history nerd to know NOTHING about intersectional feminism. Especially considering that her father is a Guatemalan immigrant. And even if her views are “realistic”, and by that I mean, we get where her lack of information comes from, I still feel very uncomfortable that this is the message of the book. Because in the end, Em goes on and on about the evils of all men, barely addresses that trans and non-binary people exist in the world, and she is never really challenged. And come on! These ideas that all men are the evils of patriarchy are excuses that white women make to not address the way they use whiteness to oppress people of color. And you know, not all men are cis!

I find it deeply insulting that a biracial, Latinx girl would never consider the role of xenophobia and racism in her own oppression. Unbelievable white. Besides that, her heritage is mentioned twice in the book; to say how violent Guatemala is and to complain about how rigid Spanish is for trans/non-binary people. That is, plus some food mentions, that’s all we get about Guatemala. I don’t think I need to explain how deeply frustrating is to see a country reduce to violence and oppression. Because let’s talk about it, let’s talk about where the violence in Guatemala came from, let’s talk about the role of the United States in the country that has forced so many people to migrate.

And let me take a deep breath here, let’s talk about Spanish and feminism in Latin American. Insulting, deeply insulting to completely ignore the tireless work of trans and non-binary Latin American activists for an inclusive language. I wouldn’t take such offense if the comment in the book would have been followed by something, anything, about activism in Guatemala. But nothing. Em, who we’re supposed to believe cares so much about feminist history, has no idea about feminism in Latin American. Unbelievable white. She spends so much of her time studying a forgotten woman from France, but she can’t bother to google about contemporary marches? I don’t think Joy McCullough even realizes how lacking Em’s activism is. That’s what I find the most dangerous. Feminism is not hating men and wanting to destroy patriarchy, we left that behind, please!

This is probably why I don’t think there is any character development in the book; I can’t see any change in the main character if she never discusses her feminist views. And you know, I also don’t think she works for forgiveness, or even apologizes correctly. Everyone just brushes off her condescending and invasive comments like nothing happened and moves on. Well, with that awful writing, terrible characterization and lack of plot I can’t move on. One of the worst books that I have ever read.

Blog Tour- Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth by Chantel Acevedo

Title: Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth

Author: Chantel Acevedo 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release date: July 6th 2021

Synopsis

The finale of an action-packed middle grade fantasy duology about a young Cuban American girl who discovers that she’s one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Perfect for fans of The Serpent’s Secret, the Aru Shah series, and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

Callie Martinez-Silva is finally getting the hang of this whole goddess within thing. Six months after learning she was one of the nine muses of ancient myth, she and the other junior muses are ready for new adventures. Except first Callie has to go to New York City for the summer to visit her dad, stepmom, and new baby brother.

Then the muses get startling news: an unprecedented tenth muse has been awakened somewhere in Queens, putting Callie in the perfect position to help find her. And she’ll have help—thanks to a runaway mold problem in London, Muse Headquarters is moving to the New York Hall of Science.

But balancing missions and family-mandated arts camp proves difficult for Callie, especially once mysterious messages from spiders (yikes!) begin to weave a tale of ancient injustice involving Callie’s campmate Ari.

Now Callie and her friends have to make a choice: follow orders and find the tenth muse or trust that sometimes fate has other plans. 


Review

After the events of book 1, Callie has gained a new sister, a cool secret identity (with superpowers!) and a wonderful group of new friends. When she travels to New York City to meet her baby brother and spend the summer with her dad, things quickly become very chaotic. In the history of the muses there has always been nine, but suddenly they’re alerted that there’s a tenth muse that they must find. And there’s also the spider thing…

Callie struggles with maintaining a balance between her duties and spending quality time with her family. She wishes to help her new friend, Ari, and to make the Muses proud, but even with the Muse Squad’s support, it’s hard. Callie feels like she keeps letting her dad down and hurting her new friend at camp, but saving the future of the Muses is more important, right?

Callie, Nia, Mela and Thalia set in a quest that takes them all over NYC to fix a wrong from the past. They get into all sort of trouble and dangerous situations, but they always have each other backs. I truly adore their friendship, one of my favorite things of these books. They may fight and get frustrated, but they will face the monsters together. And they’re all so uniquely themselves.

Like in Greek mythology, each Muse is a for a different art; Nia is the Muse of Science, Thalia the Muse of Comedy, Nia the Muse of Tragedy, and Callie is the Muse of Epic Poetry. And although Callie proved herself a powerful Muse in book one, she still doesn’t feel like she quite belongs. Throughout the story she wonders what’s her thing, what’s her passion, the thing she exceeds at. As someone who asked the same questions at that age, I appreciate the conversation. I always felt so sad about my mediocrity, all my friends had so much love for their hobbies and I didn’t. I was a just a regular, average kid and like Callie, I kept questioning my place in the world. So yes, I very much appreciate this was a theme in the book. For all I love adventure books, full of heroes, they tend to have exceptional characters. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that! But it’s equally valuable to have a main character who is told she’s not mediocre, but powerful, and she has the love of her family and friends. Callie realizes that not knowing is okay, she will grow into herself, and she will find her thing in the future. It doesn’t make her any less to keep searching.

I could probably go on and on about the themes of this book; it also discusses grief, heroism, forgiveness and justice. I always adore a book that calls out Greek gods for their terrible behavior, what can I say. Who can be a hero? Well, everyone has the potential to. Muses inspire people to be the best version of themselves, they gave that last push and then watch people be who they always meant to be. Grief has been a huge thing throughout this series, because as Callie learns, grief comes and goes like waves of pain. And I felt that in my soul. Callie misses her aunt all the time, sometimes more than other days.

I have truly love every single character in this series; the Muses, Ari, Maya and of course, Callie. She is such a charming and sympathetic character. And like my favorite middle-grade protagonists, she’s a little bit mischievous, but her heart is always in the right place.

Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth is the perfect conclusion to this duology; heartfelt and bittersweet, sprinkle with new friends, a ton of adventures and so much magic. As the first book, it explores what it means to be a hero, family, friendship and grief. This series has been a coming of age story, we have seen Callie grow confident in her powers, but also confident in herself and her relationships. And I will miss her dearly.


Thank you Paola for including me and organizing this blog tour. Check out my fellow hosts reviews and post on here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Called “a master storyteller” by Kirkus Reviews, Chantel Acevedo is the author of the novels Love and Ghost Letters,  A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and The Living Infinite hailed by Booklist as a “vivid and enthralling tale of love and redemption.” Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, Acevedo’s new middle grade duology (called “Riveting and suspenseful” by School Library Journal) was published by Balzer + Bray in 2020. The sequel, MUSE SQUAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TENTH, will be published in July of 2021. She is Professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program.

Wrap Up: June

Hello friends,

Yes, I’m finally in time with a wrap up. Yay me. This was an interesting month, it is the month I have read the most, but I have also read some big time disappointments. I read 20 books, so this post may get a little bit chaotic. I’ve been slowly tackling my digital TBR, so that was great. And I had an… interesting buddy read, we could say. Interesting because Vic and I hated the book, but we had SO much fun reading together. This was also the month that I read the most romance novels with a lot of mix feelings about them.

At the end of May, I had an accident and injured my ankle. Turns out that it’s a sprain and I will probably spend the rest of summer not doing much. And it’s weird, because it could be the perfect time to catch up with all the ARCs and TBRs and all of that, but I love being outside during the summer. I love driving, I love going to the lake and just sitting there. And it’s a little bit hard stopping. Besides that, I have been… okay. I always feel like if I complain too much I will sound ungrateful, but I would like to think that I’m honest with all of you. I have been struggling with content lately, feeling like no one is there. Maybe I’m just feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated, I know many of you can relate to that. I’ve been having a hard time finding a balance between reading, blogging and life. Maybe I’m just tired.

Let’s talk about books!


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
  • First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #3). Contemporary romance. I didn’t enjoy very much the first two books of this series, but I was pleasantly surprised with this book. Maybe because this one lacked the tension of the other two, I found the romance sweet and the resolution perfect. Maybe I was just excited to see the Ahmed’s family once again. Jia’s older sister, Sadia, is the protagonist of Wrong to Need You. I found Dev and Jia endearing and I appreciate how the book talk about grief, family, and forgiveness. I know this one did not work for a lot of friends, but it was, by far, my favorite of this series.
  • My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (Union of Rakes #1). Historical romance. This is one book that I think it had a very strong beginning, but a weak ending. I adored the slow burn, friends to lovers romance. I adored that the heroine is a scientist and the hero an anthropologist, their conversation were SO nerdy and wonderful. I liked the writing well enough and the side-characters, too. For a book that heavily relies on miscommunication (one thing I hate with passion), I wasn’t that bother at the beginning. These two can’t talk about feelings at all and the waiting was painful. The last chapters were frustrating, however, and I found the coming back together too fast? It was so disappointing.
  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (Girls of Paper and Fire #1). Oh god, this was so painful to read. It took me so long because I kept dreading the moment Lei would have to face the Demon King (TW for sexual assault). It’s beautiful written and it has one of the most wonderful sapphic relationships that I have read. Lei and Wren made my heart hurt. This book has a slow build-up paired with Lei’s own character development; it starts with a quiet, personal rebellion that becomes so much more. The last chapters had my heart in my throat and I may or may not shed some tears in there. To be honest, I don’t think I will keep reading on. I was pretty satisfied with how everything ended here and that’s all I will say. Also, the reviews for the sequel? They’re not great.
  • Sweethand by N.G. Peltier (Island Bites #1). Contemporary romance. The writing was great here, I adored the banter and the sex. It was a wonderful childhood rivals to lovers. I was disappointed by the third act break-up that involved miscommunication and it was resolved very quickly. At the end, it felt rushed and I was very frustrated. Would I read more by N.G. Peltier? Definitely. But this is not high on my romance list.
  • Unsung Heroine by Sarah Kuhn (Heroine Complex #3.5). SFF romance/Urban fantasy. This novella was SO good. I have been going on and on about Heroine Complex series this year because catching up with these books was one of the best decisions that I have ever done. This sapphic grumpy/sunshine, opposite attracts novella was the perfect read for June. It brought me so much happiness and joy. I adore the found family in these books, I adore the world-building (it’s so fun, honestly) and I adore that epilogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Rating: 1 out of 5.
  • Legend of Korra: Turf Wars by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Illustrated by Veronica Fish and Irene Koh. Pride month felt like the perfect time to reread my favorite sapphics. I love Korra and Asami, I love the Avatar world, I love the illustrations in these comics. I may have to rewatch the show this summer because I already miss them.
  • I’m a Wild Seed: My Graphic Memoir on Queerness and Decolonizing the World by Sharon Lee de la Cruz. This was a phenomenal graphic memoir. Sharon discusses her coming into queerness and a little bit of history. It’s thoughtful and personal and straight to the point. I feel like if you want to have a starting point about QBIPOC history in the US this may be the perfect book for you. I talked about the book over Instagram if you want to check out more of my thoughts.
  • Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee. I had a bunch of problems with this book, I’m sorry to say. I did not like the main character, Noah. I didn’t feel like he ever truly grow and I was frustrated that the side-characters gave him such a quick out after Noah was challenged. The book is very romance focus, as Noah’s only goal is to find his perfect meet cute. It would have been endearing if he wasn’t such an asshole. Yeah, I didn’t buy into the romance (not after how poorly Noah treated the love interest, for NOT REASON). And overall, the plot was too convenient and convoluted, the dialogue was not that great and I just didn’t sympathize with any of the characters. Seriously, the best thing of this book was buddy reading it with Vic.
  • Neon Gods by Katee Robert (Dark Olympus #1). SFF romance. Damn, this book was hot. Persephone x Hades retelling, with a lot of sex and a contemporary twist. I truly enjoy the world-building and characters. This may be my favorite Katee Robert’s so far, great sex, great chemistry and what an ending! Hades is one of those heroes that pretends to be all dark and grumpy, but he’s a softie that wants to take care of Persephone so bad. Watching Persephone growing confident was one of my favorite things of the book. Although I had some problems with the pacing, Neon Gods was one hell of a book.
  • What’s Not to Love by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka. I truly despised this book. Awful writing, awful characters and a very laughable romance. I said everything I wanted to say about this book on my GR review and I’m never going to think about it anymore.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Bitten by Her by Annabelle Jacobs (Regent’s Park Pack #5). Paranormal romance. This is a sapphic werewolf romance with fated mates. And it was okay? I guess? It was just very underwhelming. Yes, fair enough, this is like book five in the series and just a novella. But there was nothing world-building going on, besides mentioning characters that clearly are the protagonists from the other books. The romance was very rush and intense, and I get it, it’s also part of the fated mates trope, but it just didn’t have any charm. Forgettable.
  • A Lady’s Desire by Lily Maxton (The Townsends #2.5). Historical romance. This was another underwhelming sapphic romance. It had potential: childhood bff to strangers to friends to lovers. But the writing was so repetitive, it went on and on about how much their relationship changed and it wouldn’t get to the point. And then there was miscommunication and super rushed forgiveness and even more frustrating ending. It was sad because I didn’t enjoy this at all; didn’t like the writing, the characters were very flat and their happy ending didn’t feel earned. Only good thing was the dialogue, their banter was actually quite good.
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (The Singing Hills Cycle #1). This novella was mind-blowing. Beautiful written, well-lived world-building and some incredible, complex and loving characters. It’s a love letter to storytelling and it discusses war, power and history. It was everything I could wished for a SFF novella and I can’t stop thinking about it. Check out my journaling spread.
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang (Tensorate #1). Another book I’m incapable of describing or even articulating my love for. Mind-blowing as well, with an incredible world-building and character development. Because it has time-jumps and it mostly follows one character, Akeha, it almost feels like a slice of life kind of book. We get little moments and people that marked his life, leading him to a life of rebellion and revolution. It’s also a story about siblings and love, and I had such a great time with it.
  • Inheritance by Katrina Jackson (Welcome to Sea Port #2). Contemporary romance. This was… interesting. I do usually enjoy Katrina’s books, she has some of the smuttiest stories I have read and her characters are so charming. But this novella didn’t quite work for me. I did like Lorraine and Johah well enough, but I wished we had spent more time with them. The novella gets some chapters from the characters from book 1 that I didn’t think we need that much. Sure, it was fun to see them all together living their best life, but instead of spending time with them, I wanted time getting to know the new characters. Sometimes I wonder if romance novellas are my thing…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
  • The Sprite and the Gardener by Joe Whitt and Rii Abrego. This was such a delightful graphic novel. Stunning illustrations and an adorable story about garden sprites, friendship and family.
  • Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco (A Hundred Names for Magic #1). I love this book so much. Rin Chupeco does it again; messy but loving characters, wonderful world-building and an engaging plot. I really like how fairy tales and Disney stories mix with Filipino mythology to create such magical world. Because it’s truly a magical book, it reads like a fairy tale. I adored Tala with all my heart and her family. So much about this book is about Tala’s relationship with her family and friends, that’s where her true strength is and we love to see it. Chupeco is an author that doesn’t shy away from having morally grey characters that may do the worst things but still, it’s sometimes hard not to sympathize with their reasons. Everyone is just so human, in all their messy glory. Except for ICE agents, everyone fights immigration officers in this book. There’s so much to talk about Wicked As You Wish, so I will just leave it here for now. I seriously can’t wait for the sequel!
  • Appetites & Vices by Felicia Grossman (The Truitts #1). Historical romance. I hated this book so much ❤ I found the story unbearable, I didn’t particular like the writing and I definitely didn’t like the characters. In theory, this should have worked for me with the whole fake engagement trope. But so much about the story is about the heroine being bully for her Jewish identity. Family and friends, everyone judges and mocks her. It was not… pleasant. She’s not like the other girls; she doesn’t care about a husband, she likes to eat desserts, she’s smart and loves talking about business and math. So I had a hard time sympathizing with story. It does get better as she gets some real friends, but I didn’t care at that point. The plot moves because she’s so naïve and clueless and what a convenient thing, being called so smart but then never figuring out what’s happening. The hero is dealing with addiction and major part of the book is everyone treating him like garbage. Which again, not pleasant to read about. It does get better, but at the point they both get people who support them, I was honesty too exhausted.
  • Diabetes Doesn’t Stop Maddie! by Sarah Glenn Marsh. Illustrated by Maria Luisa Di Gravio. This was a delighted of a picture book. I thought the message was very hopeful and joyful, and it has great diabetes type I rep.
  • Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older (Centenal Cycle #1). Mix feelings about this book. It has a huge pacing problem, or maybe a terrible narrator. It’s hard to tell, because the first half was a chore to get through. I felt disconnected from the characters and lost in the story. But once I got to know everyone I couldn’t put it down. It’s such a thought-provoking book, not necessary about political intrigue but a story about governments and society. It reminded me a lot of Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang; it’s not necessary character-driven, or even a plot heavy book, instead, it discusses some philosophical thoughts with different characters. And like that book, I feel like a lot went over my head. It definitely left me thinking and I’m interested in checking out the sequel. More than it’s hard to say right now, I may need more time to process.

2021 Mid-Year Freak Out Tag

Hello friends,

I’m back! Backish? At this point, I think we all know that I have zero consistency and my posts are very late. So instead of finish reviews and a very (VERY) late blog anniversary post, I’m doing the Mid-Year Freak Out tag today. Nothing it’s more relaxing that looking at everything I have read so far in the year and I have yet to review. I guess? I truly do enjoy doing this tag, even if I only did it back in 2019, my first blogging year. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget books that I have enjoyed, or hated, in the year.

So let’s talk about books!


Books read: 89
Pages read: 24755
Average books per month: 14.8
Rereads: 17 (19.10%)
Average rating: 3.43
Most read genre: Fantasy (22%), follow by Contemporary Romance (17%)

I had a couple of reading goals this year, the biggest being no pressure on myself. You may notice that I have lower my reading goal from 150 books to 100. I quickly realized at the beginning of the year that I was not going to be reading 20+ per month this time around. And that’s okay! It’s better than okay, actually, because that was a lot of work and pressure that I couldn’t keep up with anymore.

I have read a little bit of everything, but I have definitely gravitated more towards Fantasy and Romance, they are, after all, my favorite genres. I’m glad to say that I have read more adult than YA, because I could see last year that I have grown out of YA contemporary and starting to grow out YA SFF (but that’s a whole different conversation). Overall, I feel weird about my reading, to be honest. Yes, I have read less but it’s not exactly books but I have been enjoying. Maybe I feel this way because I have been rereading and it’s just that I haven’t found that many new favorites. Or maybe it’s because some of my most anticipated releases have been terrible disappointments. I just feel very… dissatisfied by my reading, I guess.

So for the rest of the year I hope I stop with my bad decisions aka stop requesting books that I won’t enjoy, getting stuck with hate reading in the name of improving my Netgalley ratio


1. Best book you have read so far

I have talked so many of times about the Brown Sisters series and I won’t stop! I adore these books with all my heart and rereading them this year was an amazing experience. Act Your Age, Eve Brown was the last installment and equally delightful. Talia Hibbert truly knows how to deliver a fun, heartfelt story that makes you blush, smile, and laugh. Also cry a little, because it’s impossible not to fall in love with Eve and Jacob and their messy and perfect selves and their love story. Besides having great tropes as forced proximity, grumpy/sunshine, and dislike to lovers, this book is a perfect example of how Hibbert navigates heavy topics with respect, while never compromising the comedy of her stories. And do these two flirt, friends! God, I love them.

Other books that I have loved these year: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole, and The Black Tides of Heaven by Neon Yang.

2. Best sequel you have read so far

Does Heroine’s Journey count as a sequel? I’m going to say yes. Although it follows a different character, it does continue the overall plot of demons in San Francisco. This book was phenomenal, friends. I love to see Bea growing into herself, how much she has changed since book 1 but also, how much she still has to go. Bea is a bisexual, Japanese-American superheroine in training, looking for a place to belong. I relate so much with how she feels a little bit lost, she doesn’t know where to go after high school and she tries so hard to prove herself to her sister. She’s dealing with the grief of losing her mother and now, breaking apart with her best friend. This story was very heartfelt and emotional, navigating grief, anger, frustration, and hope. So much hope for the future. That’s something that I adore from the Heroine Complex series; the found family and the happy ever afters. Yes, this book also has a main romance between Bea and her childhood rival slash friend. As always, it was the perfect balance of snark, flirt and romantic declarations. No one does it like Sarah Kuhn!

3. New release you haven’t read but want to

So many! Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado sounds like a delightful YA contemporary, my friends have been loving this one and I’m very excited. Oculta by Maya Motayne, of course, the sequel to Nocturna. It may have taken me like two years to read book 1 but I’m incredible excited to get my hands on Oculta! Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee because she’s one of my favorite authors and I would read anything by her. If I haven’t read this one yet, it’s because I know it will be very painful and I’m not quite ready. The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of my most anticipated releases. I adored this book when I read its first edition, so I’m curious to see how much has changed, and if it still lives up to my expectations.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (July, 20th) is the fantasy book that I feel like all my friends are loving this year and I can’t wait to get to the hype train, too. The Last Cuentista (August, 17th) is the newest book by Donna Barba Higuera and after enjoying her debut (Lupe Wong Won’t Dance) so much, of course this middle-grade science-fiction is on my radar. We all know that I’m a Nina Moreno fan and Our Way Back to Always (October, 12th) is the YA romance that will put my heart back together (after breaking it, like you can expect from Nina). Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (August, 17th) is one of my most anticipated romance books of the year. I have loved everything that I have read by Lucy in the past, she’s an author who truly can deliver dislike/rivals to lovers.

5. Biggest disappointment

I have so many thoughts about We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire that I can’t fully articulate. This is why that review has been on my drafts for weeks… I have read A LOT of books I dislike this year, but this one wins the title for worst because it’s so deeply disappointing and offensive. I really loved the author’s debut, Blood Water Paint, so to find that her prose would not work for me here at all was a little bit heartbreaking. Em, the main character, did not speak like a teenager. Or maybe more like early 2000s teenagers. Although I’m all here for messy teens, self-center and bratty, Em irritated me so much. Probably because she’s never forced to confront the way she hurts her family and friends. She, instead, goes off with herself like nothing happens. The story is about the aftermath of Em’ sister sexual assault trial, but instead of focusing on her sister, or even the whole family, is about Em. I can see value in a story that explore trauma in relationship with family, but that;s not this book. This is Em’s disappointment, Em’s anger, Em’s frustration because her sister won’t do what she wants. I get it, she’s a self-center character, but she forces her sister, and later her mom, to talk and do things they’re not comfortable with for her sake. And she’s not challenge for that. Besides that, I found the whole ‘feminist hates all men’ very eye-rolling and dumb. Not in 2021, please! The author never actively engages with white supremacy and the oppression of people of color by the hands of white women. Especially frustrating because Em’s father is a Guatemalan immigrant. It’s unbelievable that a biracial, Latinx girl, that loves history and feminism so much would have NO idea about feminism in Latin American. I mean, yes, it is believable, because this was clearly written by a non-Latinx immigrant that clearly does not understand misogyny and rape culture would not be the only concerns of a biracial teen girl. I’m sorry, this is becoming a huge rant and I could keep going for a while. As I said, I read many bad books this year, but nothing that I found as offensive as this one. Review to come, I guess.

6. Biggest surprise

A couple of years ago I read Tess Sharpe’s Far From You and I liked the book well enough. So I knew I may enjoy The Girls I’ve Been, I was not expecting it to become one of my favorite reads of the year. You see, YA thrillers and I don’t vibe very much, I end up being frustrated and bored. But this book kept me at the edge of my seat and I couldn’t keep reading. The Girls I’ve Been is dark and intense, and it explores trauma and family. A true morally grey bisexual main character to root for, and be a little bit scared by.

7. Favorite new to you author/debut author

I don’t really have a new to me/debut favorite author, not because I haven’t read good books by new authors this year, but because it takes me some time (aka a couple of books) to call an author a favorite. But an author that I consider, thanks to this year reading, a favorite is P. Djèlí Clark. Last year I read two of his work; Ring Shout and The Black God’s Drums, and I was mind-blown by the developed characters and world-building in these novellas. This year I read the first two books on Dead Djinn Universe and I realized he’s an author that I will follow anywhere. I don’t care what he writes, he always delivers incredible worlds, thoughtful stories and charming characters.

8. New favorite fictional crush

I don’t really think about characters this way so I’m going to skip!

9. New favorite character

If you follow me on twitter, you know I have been gushing about How to Find a Princess since I read it. I adored this Anastasia sapphic retelling with grumpy/sunshine dynamic, fake marriage and there’s only one bed. And I adored Makeda so much. She’s one of these characters that tries so hard, but never seems to get lucky and my heart hurt for her. She lost her job and her girlfriend, all for being too nice, for being too accommodating. When her debt jeopardizes her grandmother’s bed and breakfast, she unwilling accepts Beznaria’s offer to travel to Ibarania. You see, Bez is sure Makeda is the granddaughter of the lost queen and the kingdom needs her ASAP. Yes, this a romance and Makeda and Bez’s relationship is at the center, but through the book we also see Makeda growing into herself. She allows herself to be selfish, to take care of her needs first. Her kindness drains her but it’s also her greatest strength, she doesn’t comprise her hopefulness, which I admire a lot. Makeda learns to set boundaries, say no, to let herself live the moment. I felt so touched by her story, I may or may not be a lot like her.

10. Book that make you cry

I’m big baby, I cry with books all the time. But this one, The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim, went straight to my heart. A middle grade book inspired by Korean mythology that follows Riley Oh and her best friend as they race to save Riley’s sister by searching the last fallen star. It’s a very magical book, full of adventures and friendships. But’s also very emotional and bittersweet as it deals with grief, identity and belonging. You can feel Riley’s grief and heartbreak for feeling like an outsider in her magical community. She’s so full of hope and forgiveness, too. She learns to trust enemies and realizes she was never as alone as she thought she was… I’m getting emotional just writing this. I truly enjoyed this book SO much and I can’t wait for the next installment.

11. Book that make you happy

I may not love angsty romance but I apparently I read a lot (so maybe I do love it), so coming up with a book for this prompt was harder than I was expecting. And then I remember Unsung Heroine by Sarah Kuhn, this is a novella that comes after Heroine Worship (book 2 of the series). It follows Lucy Valdez and her forever crush, Rose. This novella was a delighted to read, wonderful tropes: grumpy/sunshine and opposite attracts. It’s all about performance and love for karaoke and learning to trust and be honest about your feelings. And it may have one of my all time favorite epilogues! I don’t want to get too much into it because I don’t want to spoil this book, or the series. But yes, if there’s one book that I can look back and still smile after weeks of finished it is this one.

12. Most beautiful book you have received

That has to be the Illumicrate edition of The Unbroken by C.L. Clark. Not only because I’m love with Touraine’s arms, but it’s signed (!!!!) and has sprayed edges. This is one of the books that I haven’t gotten to just yet, but it’s very high on my TBR. All my friends have loved it and you know I must read all the sapphic SFF, baby!

13. Books you need to read by the end of the year

At the beginning of the year I did a list of 21 books to read this year and I have done little progress, who’s surprised by that. I asked my mutuals for recommendations of books they thought I would enjoy/have to read. Some of these books are The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Jade City by Fonda Lee, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee and Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. I may write a blog posts about all the books and my progress, if that’s something you’re interested in.

+10 Books By Mexican-American Authors To Read This Pride

Hello friends,

It has been a while, I’m finally done with my school semester but for some reason, I haven’t been able to blog like I was hoping. I do know why, I’ve been pretty burned out. Maybe from last year, maybe the pandemic, maybe it was school, I have had a hard time with keeping up with reviews for a while. And coming up with new blog posts? My brain has been drained. It makes me so sad, but I refused to give up in Cande Reads. So I may be taking things slowly, but I promise I’m here!

Every pride month I get very uncomfortable by how quickly the community gets to support white queer authors writing love interests of color, but doesn’t offer the same support to the queer authors of color writing their stories. Considering so many LIs in white books are Mexican-American (I don’t really want to get into that, but definitely something to discuss), I think it’s fitting we actively read, recommend and love Mexican-American authors. Little caveat, some of these books feature queer rep and some of these books are by queer authors. I think it’s important to support all type of stories by Latinx authors.

So today I bring you +10 books that should be on your TBR, some new releases, some books on my TBR and some of my favorite reads. From magical realism to Persephone x Hades retelling, these creators are here delivering some wonderful stories. And I’m so here to hype them up.


Anna-Marie McLemore

I could not start this recommendation list without one of my favorite authors. If you have followed me for a while, you know I stand by anything AMM has written/is planning to write. Their books are magical, lyrical and so full of hope. Be their debut Romeo & Juliet retelling or their Red Shoes reimagining, Anna-Marie will give you messy characters, beautiful writing, the most romantic dialogue and the perfect ending. Wild Beauty is my personal favorite, a story about bisexual cousins and a wonderful garden hiding a terrible past. When the Moon Was Ours features a Mexican girl who grows roses from her wrist and a trans Pakistani boy who paints moons for her. The Weight of Feathers is their Romeo & Juliet retelling, a quite heartbreaking and romantic tale of two mortal enemies falling for each other. In Blanca & Roja we follow two different sisters trying to break a curse and confronting their community colorism. AMM stories are sprinkle with a little bit of magic and a lot of queerness, their characters may go through a lot of hardships, but they are never alone. This is why I keep coming back to these books; all these stories are about companionship, loyalty and love. Be romantic, platonic or familial, I can always count on Anna-Marie to make me feel uplifted, seen, validated and loved by an entire community of fictional characters.

On my TBR I have their newest releases; The Mirror Season about healing and trauma, Dark and Deepest Red about prejudice, and Miss Meteor, co-written with Tehlor Kay Mejia. Their upcoming book, Lakelore, a trans Great Gatsby retelling, sounds absolutely fantastic.

I have never been able to quite articulate how much their stories mean to me, especially after how much they helped me to come out as non-binary. Maybe one day.

When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season

Graciela Cristales’s whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.

But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened. 


Tehlor Kay Mejia

I’m sure you saw this one coming because I love We Set the Dark On Fire so freaking much. A story about revolution and power, about two Latinx girls falling for each other and fighting for their love and community’s justice. My heart! Tehlor’s middle grade debut was fantastic, too. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is part of Rick Riordan Presents and follows Paola and Dante trying to save their best friend from La Llorona. This story was chilling and heartbreaking, with an incredibly charismatic main character and some wonderful side-characters. Tehlor knows how to deliver angry girls with complicated emotions that only want to protect their little found family, be Paola or Dani in We Set the Dark On Fire. These stories are filled with rage but also hope and love. In Paola Santiago, the story offered so much compassion to La Llorona and it was quite refreshing. In WSTDOF, Tehlor makes us reimagine our ideas about rebellion. These are such an important stories and I can’t recommend Tehlor Kay Mejia’s work enough. And I can’t wait to see what’s next from her!

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?


Anna Meriano

Anna Meriano is another author I never shut up about. Her Love Sugar Magic series is one of my favorites. An absolutely delightful story about friendship, magic and family’s legacies. Leo is quite mischievous but she has her heart in the right place. Through out the trilogy we explore a wonderful world where magic exists alongside the real world and you just need a family recipe book to access it. The series explores identity, family dynamics, grief, and responsibility. It has its bittersweet parts but it’s overall a delightful series that I wholeheartedly recommend. Anna’s YA debut, This Is How We Fly, is a loose Cinderella retelling, with a gender questioning MC that sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to finally read later this month.

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window.

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans.

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs.

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control–Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps.


Loriel Ryon & Aida Salazar

I also want to mention two more Mexican-American middle grade authors that I absolutely adored. Their books feature queer representation but from side-characters. Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon is a story about grief, identity, sisters, first love and forgiveness. This is was a gut-punched of a story that I devoured in a couple of hours, breaking my heart with every chapter. Yolanda’s twin sister, Sonja, has a sapphic relationship with her best friend. I found their love story quite beautiful and hopeful; it’s their first love and things are quite messy and awkward at first, but that’s such an important thing to portray in queer middle-grade stories. The Moon Within by Aida Salazar is a fantastic novel in verse about menstruation and friendship. Celi’s best friend is genderqueer and the story does a great of job in decentering ciswomen experiences from menstruation. It also has a very supporting and loving community and I just found the book incredibly heartwarming and charming.


On My TBR

covers link Goodreads page

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa
I feel like I have been waiting for Jonny’s debut my entire life. I can’t believe it’s finally out in all of its queer glory. This a YA m/m romance that promises me tears, laughs and a lot of heart-eye emojis. It sounds delightfully heartfelt and powerful, dealing with the machismo and homophobia of Latinx community. Truly fantastic!

The Little Death by Michael Nava
The Henry Rios Mysteries series is a noir mystery series following a Latino gay MC. It was originally published in 1983 and it has seven books. To be honest, I’m cautiously curious. But still! What a pioneer of a series! I can’t wait to dive into this author, I’ve been meaning to try more adult mysteries this year.

Drag Me Up by R.M. Virtues
This is a Hades x Persephone retelling with two Black leads and a trans MC. My friends have said this is a very steamy read and I can’t wait! I’m big Greek retelling fan, so I’m intrigued by the world-building (I have heard it’s quite good!). But still, I don’t think I have read an actual Hades and Persephone retelling, so even more excited this one will be my first.

Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer
This a non-fiction book, a memoir by (about?) John Paul Brammer. I quite enjoy memoirs written in essay formats and I have enjoyed John’s columns in the past. He has such a charming writing style, so much humor while unpacking trauma. I’m just excited to get to this one as soon as my library copy arrives.

We Are Owed by Ariana Brown

Ariana is a Queer Black Mexican American poet and this is her debut poetry collection. I always struggle when talking about poetry, but this collection explores Mexican identity and anti-Blackness in the community. It doesn’t have a cover yet but I had to shout it out. You can preorder and read more about it here. It comes out July, 29th.


Wrap Up: February

Hello friends,

Well, it’s late, but are we surprised? February was a month, not only because busy but also disappointing reads. I read nine books and 2925 pages, that’s an average of 325 pages. I may be reading less than last year but at least I’m reading longish books, I guess. There weren’t good books, tho. It has been so long that I don’t have much to say about them anyway. But for my peace of mind, let’s do this very late wrap up.

I do hope you’re, as we all should, educating yourself about what’s happening about the world. I believe us living in the Global North have a responsibility to keep up to date what’s happening to our Global South friends, to boost their voices and to help in any way we can. I highly recommended watching Lou’s video and Div’s video about Global South, book community silence and diversity.


Covers link to Goodreads page

Disappointing Reads

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark. Don’t get me wrong, I did like this book, but considering how much I enjoyed book 1, I’m sad that I didn’t love it as much. I think grew to love Fatima so much and I was suprised this sequel didn’t follow her and her adventures. I would still keep reading this series and I’m very excited for the full-lenght novel featuring a sapphic relationship!

The Reinvention of the Rose by Christina C. Jones. I was so excited to finally been reading CCJ, I have heard amazing things about her books. I’m sad to say that I did not enjoy this one as much as I was hoping. It was too intense and rushed for my liking. I wished we have spent more time with the characters and their growing attraction and feelings. For all I enjoy SFF novellas, romance novellas always leave me waiting more. Maybe it’s time to admit that for romance I like my books long.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas. Well, I did review this one. I’m in the unpopular opinion side, I guess. I can admit that some elements (mystery, second chance romance, Peter Pan retelling) are just not for me and may work for others. I do think the writing and character development was not there, sadly.

Pleasant Surprises

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire. For all I have heard about this sixth installment in the Wayward Children series, I thought I wouldn’t like it. It’s a good start to the series because it follows new characters, in a new world. It’s about friendship and found family, about destiny and fate, about what it is means to be a hero. It’s quite slow at the beginning, but it has such a gut-punching ending. An ending that left me uneased and heartbroken, and I love that very much. Some books do not tie up nicely and I love that feeling of feeling upset and keep thinking about the characters for a long time.

Rereads

Clap when you land by Elizabeth Acevedo. No thoughts, head empty, just pain and suffering. I will keep coming back to Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing again and again, her voice is so raw and emotional, she shines with novels written in verse. This was one of my favorite reads of 2020 and it will probably be one of my 2021. God, what a book. Buddy read with Kate.

Nonfiction

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. As the title says, this is a recompilation of four hundred years of African American. We get vignettes by different authors forming a tapestry of historical figures, life and events. This is not a deep history book, but a recollection of different voices. It’s quite the work and the audiobook is spectacular with the full cast. Although its length, I found the book very accessible.

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman. I did not have as much luck with this one. It promised an analysis of Greek monsters and society’s misogyny, instead, it is more of Jess’s memoir. It’s not a bad thing, but it was not what I was expecting. The book ends up being a very white feminist take of sexism and there were some weird comments about women attract to women. You see, Jess seems to argue that attraction to women is natural because women are so oversexualize in media that of course we found women attractive. She then goes on to say this is why she doesn’t feel comfortable labeling herself as queer. And you know, although it smells like internalized homophobia to me, that is valid. Everyone is allowed to have conflicting feelings about labels, of course. But the way it’s written in the book feels like a generalization, it’s never address as Jess’s personal feelings. I don’t know friends! I reread that chapter so many times, thinking I may have misunderstood her, but I always close the book with so much uneasiness. If you have read the book, please let know. I would love to discuss it further. My goodread’s review.

Worst book read

Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira. God, this was the messiest book I have read in the longest time. The only good thing was buddy reading with Lili and Vic. Underdeveloped characters, cringe dialogue, internalized misogyny never addressed, pacing problems, plot lost in the way and some very bad romance. I did review this book and I still have so many feelings about it. I could rant about it forever. It was disappointing, that’s the thing, because I was expecting to fall in love with messy characters, complex family relationships and sweet romance. Instead I got a main character who never grows, some very underwhelming resolutions and a very irritating love interest. It tried to do so many things and it accomplished nothing. There was no nuance in conversations about double standards and classicism in Latinx community. And because the internalized misogyny was never addressed, I’m left thinking what was the point of this story at all.

New Favorite

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert. Hands down, one of the best books I have read. Follows the youngest Brown sister, Eve, and the grumpy B&B owner, Jacob, two autistic leads. When Eve accidently runs him over, she decides to help him out in the kitchen while he heals. The book is filled with funny moments, flirt and snark. Jacob is grumpy and Eve is pure sunshine, and they disagree in a lot of things. But forced proximity makes them realize how much they care for each other and their feelings grow. Talia Hibbert always delivers these loving and charming characters, a little bit chaotic and messy, and so worthy of love. Like the first two books, Eve Brown is about the romance at the center, yes, but also about Eve own journey. It’s an emotional read, very romantic and hilarious. I live for Talia’s humor, honesty.


Let me know if you have any of these books

Blog Tour: Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Hello friends,

I’m so excited to bring you this post today; a character interview with the protagonist of Pawcasso by Remy Lai. You may know already, Remy’s debut, Pie in the Sky, is one of my all time favorite middle-grade book. The opportunity to read her newest release and interview her lovely characters? I dream come true!

Title: Pawcasso
Author: Remy Lai
Pub date: May, 25th 2021

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Pawcasso is a delightful story about friendship, loneliness and pets. Once again, Remy has created a mischievous and endearing main character, Jo. She has a big heart and she’s looking for someone to share her summer with. With her father working overseas, she feels a little bit lost. When she’s mistakenly taken as Pawcasso’s owner, Jo jumps to the momentary make-believe. She walks by Pawcasso’s side, gets free ice cream, reads all the books she wants at the library and all the kids want to be her friend. Eventually, the lies caught up to her, but Jo comes to see she was never as alone as she thought.

All to say, Jo is an unforgettable character, very charming. And today I get to interview her!


1. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Chocolate, pistachio, salted caramel, and strawberry.

2. What are some books you have been enjoying lately? Or books you’re excited for coming out this year (2021)?

I recently enjoyed Gail D Villanueva’s SUGAR AND SPITE and Mika Song’s DONUT FEED THE SQUIRREL. And I’m hoping the ninth and final book in Kazu Kibuishi’s AMULET series will be out this year.

3. Like you, there are many kids with parents working far away. Do you have any tips for them that may help them feel less alone?

You can call or text or email your parents or hang out with your friends. If you have siblings, do something with them, even if it’s just watching television together. Getting lost in books helps too.

4. What’s your favorite memory of Pawcasso? 

I thought it was hilarious when the art kids and I went shopping with him, at the Drippy Cone, and he stole my ice cream cone! But I also love the quiet moments when it’s just me and him walking down the street.

ARC Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira

Hello friends,

Yes, it’s me, I’m finally back. Hopefully. Cross your fingers. I’m feeling excited to talk about books again, I have so many ideas and I’m done with my school semester. Now that I have time to sit down to blog, I have a lot of catch-ups to do. Please forgive me if you see me posting a February wrap-up and replying to months-old comments. Seriously, pretend you don’t see me.

The first order of business was to post my review of this book that I have had in drafts since March. God, I truly detested this story, spoiler of the review, I guess. It sent me on a very dark and sad path of terrible reads after. At least, I had fun buddy reading it with Lili and Vic.


Title: Once Upon a Quinceañera
Author: Monica Gomez-Hira
Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship! All she has to do is perform! In a ball gown! During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that Carmen’s company is hired for her spoiled cousin Ariana’s over the top quinceañera.

And of course, her new dance partner at work is none other than Mauro Reyes, Carmen’s most deeply regrettable ex.

If Carmen is going to move into the future she wants, she needs to leave the past behind. And if she can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off Mauro’s texts, and stopping Ariana from ruining her own quinceañera Carmen might just get that happily ever after after all.


What this book promised me: a fun YA rom-com with second chance romance and a lot of Latinx drama. I mean, this book is compared to Jane the Virgin and All the Boys that I’ve Loved Before, so I was expecting major over-the-top drama with some serious (and heartwarming) family dynamics, sprinkled with some cute romance. I truly believe the concept of Once Upon a Quinceañera was good; it had the potential to be a funny and nuanced story centering on the famous quinces. But Monica decided to give us this mess, instead. 

When we say we want messy characters, we don’t mean someone like Carmen. Like the secondary characters and even the love interest, she’s very underdeveloped. She refuses to take responsibility and is extremely judgmental. Yes, one could argue that is the point of a messy character and I agree, but the thing is, Carmen never really grows. The book is so long and her refusal to listen got exhausting very quickly. There is no character growth whatsoever in the dreadful four hundred pages. Correction, when Carmen changes her motivations, it feels insincere and out of nowhere. Suddenly, we have new desires and dreams that were never mentioned during the story. It felt like a rough and very first draft, the stakes were not high and the main problem was quickly forgotten.

Because that’s also one of the major problems with Once Upon a Quinceañera, it has no plot. I mean, it has conflict, a lot of it, but it’s a very linear novel that goes on for so long. Main conflict: Carmen’s relationship with her family, her cousin, and aunt. But we also have her graduation and summer project, the love triangle (square?) she is in. And let’s not forget the coming of age moment from the last one hundred pages. Sounds messy? It is. The story was too long, but it still managed to leave every single conflict in a terrible anti-climatic resolution. 

I love complicated family dynamics, I love the idea of reconnecting and growing together with your cousin. But god, Carmen was so insufferable about the whole thing, for so long, that was impossible to enjoy anything about this. I understand Carmen’s frustration with her aunt and feeling betrayed by her cousin, but she refuses to see the full context of the story. As I said, there is no growth from her, and we have to listen to her go on and on about how she has been wronged. No sympathy from me, Carmen. All I wanted was a story about two cousins learning to be better, challenging the internalized misogyny they have, and mending their relationship. But this is not really Carmen and Ariana’s story, and their whole conflict takes a back seat to the romance. 

The romance was one of the worst ones I have read. Both love interests are quite frankly, the worst. I read once that YA romance does this thing where it tells you the characters are in love, but it never tells you why. And that’s exactly what this book does. I understand that this may be me projecting my adult romance feelings, but I need more development of the love story to even care and root for them. The relationship was so underwhelming and there was nothing sweet, adorable, or funny about their interactions. Mauro is the worst. He acts like an asshole for so long and for what? Like Carmen, he’s so underdeveloped, like a caricature. I don’t even know why Alex existed. Monica never showed me why I should care about this relationship. I had no sympathy for Carmen, but still, she deserved so much better.

See, I get this is the appeal of the telenovela style; over the top drama, complicated family dynamics, explosive romance, coming of age, and a lot of external conflicts. It may work in visual form, but it did not work here at all. Everything felt forced, the character’s voice tried to be funny so hard and it failed miserably. The story tried tackling many things and accomplished nothing in the end, there was no nuance in the conversations about family, Latinx identity, forgiveness, class privilege, and double standards. The happy ending didn’t feel earned or satisfying. Instead, I was left feeling uncomfortable by the internalized misogyny that was never addressed. 

Carmen doesn’t get along with any other girls in the book, except her best friend. She’s judgmental and jealous, she thinks the worst of every other girl or woman she comes across with. And here is where I see Monica Gomez-Hira’s failure; while Carmen struggles throughout the novel with prejudice and the double standards placed on her, she commits the same mistake. And sure, it could potentially be addressed as character growth, but like mentioned above, there is nothing of that in here. Carmen’s internalized misogyny goes unchecked for the entire book, she never stops to think about how she judges and looks down on her own mother, for example. Funny how she makes some big statements about feminism but never turns around to address herself. And to makes things worst, the story never addresses that Carmen was harassed by her former boss, either. Instead, every character assumes she screwed up the thing as she always does, and they all agree to move on from that plot point altogether. In 2021, I expect more. 


ARC Review: Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ARC was provided from publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a dark Peter Pan retelling. Five years ago, Wendy and her brother disappeared in the woods and only Wendy came back. She has no recollection of what happened to her or her brothers, but she keeps dreaming about a strange boy. When kids start to go missing in her town, Wendy must found out what happened five years ago.

This is going to be a rant review. I had hopes, not exactly highs, because YA mysteries and I don’t get along, but I hoped still to enjoy. If you would prefer to read the book, instead of my rant… Well, go ahead. I would not exactly stop you, but I can’t in good conscience tell you that I recommend this book. Anyway, let’s get to my problems with Aiden Thomas’s actual debut.

Aiden has talked before about how this was the first book they wrote and sold, and it shows. The writing was not great. And this is coming from someone who often enough speeds through books, not caring about repetition or clunky dialogue. But it was so noticeable in here that it kept pulling me out of the story. It felt very unpolished, it didn’t flow nicely and there were so many info dumps and inconsistencies in the plot.

One thing I adored from Cemetery Boys is how well Aiden managed to make their characters sound. They were sarcastic and funny, their voices felt honest and fully-dimensional. I’m sad to say that didn’t happen with Wendy and Peter. Maybe because I didn’t like the writing, but I found the dialogue incredibly stagnant and flat. Or maybe it wasn’t good dialogue, I don’t know.

The characters are so underdeveloped. It was incredibly frustrating when so much of the book is based on Wendy’s relationship with Peter, her friend, her parents and her brothers. We really don’t get to know anyone, spending more time with Peter because of love interest, but nothing gave me the impression these characters have depth. It was very underwhelming and deeply disappointing after how much we all enjoyed Yadriel and Julian’s love story. Peter and Wendy have nothing going on. 

Who’s Wendy as a character? I would have a hard time describing her to you, to be honest, she was easily forgettable. Cemetery Boys had so much heart to the story and it was impossible for me not to feel sympathy for Yadriel. But in Lost in the Never Woods, I felt at distance from Wendy and her history, I never reached that gap that made me cared for her. I was frustrated by her choices and frustrated by the circumstances of the story. Her relationships are so weak and her growth is not really there. I don’t understand why would Aiden placed so much value in Wendy’s connection with the other characters when we didn’t really see that in the story. Her parents are absent figures that suddenly Wendy wants to reconnect with. Her friendship with Jordan is not as strong as it seems, but it’s also never addressed fully. I love complicated friendships that get to grow stronger, but Wendy barely talks with Jordan about anything else except boys. Her character was a reminder that Wendy was into boys and nursing.

The romance was… the romance was not great. Peter was very underdeveloped and he also has zero character growth. Aiden has said this is a second chance romance but it just didn’t work. We never quite see them falling for each other, or even, getting to know each other after five years. Everything happened quite fast but not in a sweet or charming way like in Cemetery Boys. Or maybe because I didn’t like Peter, I couldn’t care less about this romance. I was also frustrated by how they never addressed the problems in their relationship (like the lying) and then move on quite quickly. It felt so stagnant, the stakes so low and with zero chemistry.

I kept questioning myself what was the point of this book? To be a character-driven story, it lacked character and to be a plot-driven story, well, it lacked plot.

Wendy is trying to figure out what happened to her in the woods and find her brothers while dealing with absent parents and some very annoying cops. Kids are disappearing in the town and then a weird boy, a boy that looks eerily similar to Wendy’s dreams, shows up.

The plot was predictable, nothing that challenged me, or took my breath away. I’m not saying this because Peter Pan retelling and we sort of can guess what’s going on, but because I didn’t find Aiden’s take of the classic as innovative or charming as I was hoping. Interesting? Yes, it had so much potential, and then, it kind of went nowhere. As I said, YA mysteries and I don’t usually get along very well. I find them pretty predictable, boring and frustrating. And yes, that was the case here, too. I knew what happened early on and I was right. That’s fine, that’s an aspect that didn’t work for me, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I do think after all that built up about what happened in the woods, it wasn’t worth it and it didn’t pay off at all. Everything came down in a very expectable and disappointing ending that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt so anti-climactic? It was wrapped in such a nice and perfectly compactable way that felt wrong.

I understand how Aiden’s trying to deal with grief, mental health and trauma in this story but I don’t think they were quite successful. Maybe it was how underwhelming the characters’ relationships felt for me, or my problems with the plot, but I don’t think these themes were discussed in a thoughtful or smart way at all. Very hand-wavy world-building led to barely any direct mention of Wendy’s mental health. And even at the end, after the anti-climatic revelations, the book never truly mentions things by name. But to be quite honest, I can’t say Aiden said anything insightful about mental health. The ending was so intense and abrupt that it almost felt like cheating. I don’t know, maybe this is on me and my expectations, waiting for a clean-cut resolution that was never going to happen because I just don’t understand the point of this story.

I know, I’m sad to say that Lost in the Never Woods failed for me in every single aspect. Was it unfair of me to compare it to Cemetery Boys? Maybe, it also doesn’t stand on its own.

Plan with Me: Magical + Cozy Academia

Hello friends,

I’ve been so excited to bring you a plan with me and it’s kind of cool that’s March because I freaking love this month’s theme SO much. Sharing my spreads on Twitter and Instagram is as much as I would go, but that may not be as helpful if you want to have a closer look at my spreads. So my plan with me blog series. Hopefully it will work, I know journaling is a very visual medium, thank you so much for reading this post, it’s very much appreciated. I have tried to show pictures but also explained my thought process, supplies and technique. Let me know if you think it’s working slash what I should improve for next time!

Magical + cozy academia

Funny enough, my original plan was to do a dark academia theme. But then I realized that I don’t even know what consists as dark academia and it’s not my vibe at all. So that’s how I came up with the idea of keeping the idea of books and magic and adding cozy vibes. I love magical schools so much and I refuse letting that white TERF keeping the aesthetic. That series has a huge following in the journaling community and that’s probably why I have never done magical bookish theme before. I know we all know that magical academia (is that what is called?) is a fantasy trope, but I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to do it until now. Mostly because the future of magical schools belong to BIPOC authors, baby!!

ANYWAY, magical and cozy theme. I tried for the first time a see-through/pop-up type of thing that I have seen before but found very intimating. It was a lot of work but not as hard as I was expecting. One thing I’m pushing myself with journaling this year is trying new styles, aesthetics and supplies. I want to grow, and that means making mistakes sometimes, as you will see.

I do also want to mention that I have been doing themes for the last couple of months and I very much enjoy having a cohesive look in my journal. But it’s not in any way something you have to do, too. When I started journaling, I wasn’t into themes. I would sit down once in a while, work on a spread and then move on. I didn’t feel like I need to keep my spreads organize all by the same aesthetic because what I wanted was to write down what I was feeling and thinking at that moment. Now that journaling has become part of my everyday life, I like the idea of cohesive look month to month. But once again, you should feel free to do what works best for YOU. That’s the magic of journals, you can adapt things to fit your vibe.


Supplies

Notebook:

Notebook therapy Tsuki ‘Failing Star’

PensMarkers and Midliners:

Crayola Supertips
Tombow Dual Brush Pens: N55, 620, 912, 942, 977
Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen, soft tip

Washi Tape:

Grid washi tape set from The Washi Tape Shop

Paper:

Brown paper recycled from paper bags. Listen, journaling is about being resourceful for me.
Ripped paper. Did it come from a book? Yes it did. Do I go around ripping books? Sometimes yes, zero embarrassment about it. Old and used books that are impossible to read because of water damage are the best for craft projects and I’m not buying paper that looks like books. Resourceful and cheap, baby.


About my reading journal

I started journaling back in 2019, mostly to keep track of my reading. Since the beginning, there are some spreads that I just do every single time. I’ve been trying different layouts and techniques but I always come back to having a title page, a spread for my TBR, books read section (because I never read my TBR), wrap up and goals spread, best of the month, content tracker, movies and TV shows watched, and reading log.

One of my 2021 goals is to make a spread for every single five stars read of the year and I’m already behind of that. You can see the ones I made for Kyoshi and GOJAS here. That’s something I do at the end of the month when I have figured out what were my favorite books. This time I had a very fun and risky idea about the spread, but because it’s empty at the moment, it wasn’t worth showing you right now.

I’m moving my wrap up section to a monthly recap spread, I have started doing this in January where I write down about my feelings and thoughts about the month overall. Like a journal entry, I guess. Again, do that at the end of the month, so I won’t set it up at this moment and it’s also pretty personal, I don’t think you will see that.

But if you’re interested in more journaling content from me, let me know. If you want to catch up how my best of the month spread looks, follow me on twitter and instagram, for sure I will posting there.

Cover Page

March was the month of experiments, I really went for the whole try new things. I did watercolors for both January and February so it was time to go back to my scrapbook look slash collage that I love. But plot twist, I wanted to have a bookshelf for the cover page with a staircase and then light bulb moment, I made the staircase see-through. We should probably not look to closely at the staircase because the structure is not right (I know!), but it definitely gives the vibes of magic and wonder that I was going for.

To make the spread, I sketched the staircase, colored it, covered the page behind it in ripped paper and then I went with a craft knife (is that what those small knifes are called? to cut the page. It’s not as tidy as I would like, but being like the second time I did it, pretty great. Behind, like I said, I made the bookshelf filled with books and wrote March. I don’t feel as comfortable experimenting with lettering, so you will see I keep my headers very simple. I added washi tape and pieces of brown and ripped paper.

On the left, I made a quote page with more of the same washi tape and paper. The image of the top is a picture of the Ateneo bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentina that’s just breathtaking. The building used to be a theater, now converted to bookstore, floor to ceiling full of books. Definitely the definition of magical place. The quote is from Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore because AMM is also the definition of magical books. Quote reads; “Sorrow was a family heirloom, written in their blood like ink on a will.”

TBR + Books Read

Straight forward spreads: TBR and books read. Used the same gray color from cover page to write TBR with some little sparkles and a simple opened book doodle. Because the spread was so empty I added washi tape and paper. In the next page, we have to cover a mistake, that’s why I have the title with brown paper. Sometimes you have to get creative in journaling about fixing mistakes! I really adore the look of scrapbook this page has with the ripped paper and brown paper on top. To tie everything together I use the same red and lilac color to make little details in both pages.

Content Tracker, Media Watched + Quote Page

I like keeping track of my three platforms (bookstagram, bujogram and blog), the days I post and the followers I had at the beginning and at the end of the month. Does it help me in any way? No really, it kind of looks pretty so I have kept tracking it, even when I don’t use this information like before. Brown and ripped paper for title and mini-calendars. At the bottom, a space for movies and TV shows I watched in the month. Used same picture from the bookstore, this time in black and white.

Next page was too empty for my liking so I went for a quote page. It’s not even a creative quote or anything, but it turned out better than I was hoping for. A photo of my bookshelf that I printed out on top of ripped and brown paper, washi tape and that crystal ball once again. Quotes just reads: Books are some kind of magic. I tried playing with the lettering and colors because that’s definitely what gives life to quote pages.

Reading Log

This has become one of my favorite spreads lately. Like the title says, I just keep a reading log of the books I’m reading and what I’m thinking about them. Yes, it helps to write reviews later but it’s also so fun to see my reactions during the reading. I added a border and some paper to tied to the whole theme, but I usually try to keep this space empty. I will definitely be using the next page, too, and I will probably add a border with washi tape there as well.


Happy reading,

Cande