THE SWEETEST REMEDY by Jane Igharo

When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.

Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.

In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family–some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light.


Title : The Sweetest Remedy
Author : Jane Igharo
Format : physical
Page Count : 314
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 18, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

Despite my rather low rating, I’m grateful to the publisher for sending this my way as I don’t think I would’ve picked it up on my own. In fact, I don’t think I had even stumbled across it before, despite that absolutely eye-catching and stunning cover (seriously, so pretty).

Low rating notwithstanding, I do think this story will mean a lot to people who connect with the story about discovering one’s identity — how it can be shaped by culture and family but how, ultimately, it’s up to the individual who they will be — and (or!) those longing not only for a romance set in Nigeria but also featuring Nigerian culture.

Where I think this failed, for me, was that there wasn’t a whole lot of depth. We got teased with some, glimpses of it, when discussion around Hannah’s search for a community, for her people, for how she fit within a culture she was never exposed to, came up. But so much of the focus of the story was on a romance I never bought into, that had little to no chemistry, as well as the drama surrounding Hannah’s introduction to a group of siblings, and some extended family, that were unaware of her existence until their father had died. These interactions, too, lacked depth. They were either antagonistic or immediately friendly.

While at first I thought the addition of POVs for the siblings, and the love interest, would be helpful to round out these characters, and this family, ultimately it didn’t add much at all. And I’m left wondering why we even had them to begin with.

All of this, however, I think could’ve been helped by different writing. I found Igharo’s voice to be very.. formal, almost stilted or distant, and so there wasn’t any emotional resonance to this situation that should’ve been incredibly emotional. Hannah, especially, felt like a filler character in the sense that she just felt.. bland? Other than when she stormed out of emotional reveals or betrayals, she just blankly seemed to go with the flow and have no real personality. Which, in hindsight, is also kind of true for the rest. The only thing that made them standout were they all had very distinct archetypes.. which doesn’t necessarily mean they had personality. Hm. That’s a bummer of a realization.

Having said that, the one exception, the one piece that really worked for me, was Hannah’s relationship with her mother. Somehow, despite my struggle with Hannah as a character, I felt that bond, and I appreciated the strength in writing them that way considering Hannah’s search for the other half of herself was something her white mother couldn’t relate to. But she supported Hannah nonetheless. I thought that was lovely.

While this read wasn’t a win for me, I do want to try the author again, as I’m not quite ready to write her off as a bad fit — here’s hoping, despite my struggle with her writing, I have better luck with a different premise.

** I received an unsolicited finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **

IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. 

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​ 

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.


Title : Iron Widow
Author : Xiran Jay Zhao
Series : Iron Widow (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : PenguinTeen
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I’ve gone from one debut to another, had huge expectations for both, and yet wow what a different experience has been had. I’m actually | | close to rounding up and giving this the full five star treatment, to be honest. It’s so close to that feeling. And wow has it been a long time since I’ve felt that.

How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they are meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they are born. You tell them they’re weak. You tell them they’re prey. You tell them over and over, until it’s the only truth they’re capable of living.

You’ve probably seen the pitch by now : The Handmaid’s Tale meets Pacific Rim and I think that’s actually a great vibe to have going into this because it lives upto it so well. But there’s also a lot more going on than just that so don’t worry. Much awaits you.

Men want us so badly for our bodies, yet hate us so much for our minds.

But before you even get to the story the author has a fabulous note to explain their inspiration, their themes, and more. It did such a great job setting the tone for this story and even though I’m very spoiler averse (not that there were any) I really appreciated the insight.

[..] nothing in this world has been created, built, or set up in our favour. If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force.”

Maybe I should actually talk about the book though? As with many favourites, though, sometimes that’s hard to do. Because even though this book isn’t subtle about its themes, there is still nuance to explore, evolutions to witness, and a few little surprises that didn’t exactly surprise me but I was delighted to see play out.. only to then be actually surprised by something. Which maybe happened once or twice. I was digging it.

Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.

As for the romance, well. I don’t know if it counts as a spoiler but for those who haven’t yet seen the reveal, and want to experience that on page, I won’t say anything. It isn’t hard to search out if you’re curious though! That said, I would’ve liked some of it to be a little better developed but.. well, again, saying more would be a spoiler.

Rarely, no matter how much I love a book, do I feel the desire to flip back to the beginning and immediately reread. But Iron Widow makes me want to do so. I’m sure there were things I missed because I d e v o u r e d this in one sitting but I will save my reread until book two comes out. Which, like.. can that be now? Please?

[..] he’s trying to worm into my mind and shackle me down with morals, so he can feel more comfortable about my existence. Too bad. I am exactly the kind of ice-blooded, rotten-hearted girl he fears I am. And I am fine with that.

If you want to read a down-with-the-patriarchy story that is less “girl power!” and more “I am sick of this shit”; about a character who streaks right past shades of grey and fully embraces the dark; who claws her way out of the pain, literal and figurative, of existence to fight, every day, and challenge everything she’s been brought up to believe; in a world where pilots are both celebrity and saviour as they battle aliens.. and I mean, I could go on. I haven’t even touched on Li Shimin who, besides Zetian, stole my heart.

Preorder this book, request this book, beg you library to buy it. Do whatever you can to read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

BLACKOUT by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

Six critically acclaimed, bestselling, and award-winning authors bring the glowing warmth and electricity of Black teen love to this interlinked novel of charming, hilarious, and heartwarming stories that shine a bright light through the dark.

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting. 

Long-time friends. 

Bitter exes. 

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

Beloved authors—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—celebrate the beauty of six couples and the unforgettable magic that can be found on a sweltering starry night in the city.


Title : Blackout
Author : Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 256
Genre : contemporary / diverse reads
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : June 22, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I’m leaving this unrated and instead rating the stories separately with mini reviews.

Tiffany D Jackson’s story, The Long Walk, is the main driving force of these interconnected stories of Black kids during a city-wide blackout, with four parts that break up the anthology. This story focuses on a couple who have since broken up and both happen to arrive an internship there’s only one spot for. Before it can be resolved, the blackout hits. With nothing else to do, they agree to walk home together and, along the way, hash out their issues. This definitely got a bit overwrought at times, I’m mostly thinking of Act Three, and maybe I’m just used to Jackson’s more mature stories but this felt very.. young, on the childish end of YA, despite the fact that the characters were eighteen. And it’s such a bummer as I’ve loved so many stories from this author. But this one just didn’t do it. Two stars.

Mask Off by Nic Stone : a coming out/coming of age short between two boys who weren’t ever quite friends but were in each other’s orbit throughout the years. Until a queer masquerade party brings them together.. in a way. But it isn’t until they are stuck on the train together when the blackout hits that the masks (not literally!) come off. Honestly, this one was just.. fine. Nothing really remarkable. Two stars.

Made to Fit by Ashley Woodfolk : this short was set in an senior’s living facility, where two girls, one the granddaughter of a resident and the other, who visits the seniors with her therapy dog, meet. When a photo goes missing, the two girls search the home and, as they spend time together, sparks fly. This was a little too insta for me but it tied in with the theme of all the epic love stories being told around them. It was also a tiny bit repetitive RE the granddaughter’s sorta ex but it was cute. Three stars.

All the Great Love Stories.. and Dust by Dhonielle Clayton : hmm, sorta mixed feelings about this one. I love the idea of these two best friends with their history of bets combing through a library to find the greatest book of all time. She’s working up the courage to tell him how she feels and we get pieces of their history together; he’s got a revolving door of girlfriends, she never bothers. Does he feel for her what she feels for him? Again, love the concept, but some of this, despite being a novella, dragged out a bit. The pacing was a little off. But, still, it was cute. Three stars.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn by Angie Thomas : this short features a girl on a tour bus, on a school trip from Mississippi, struggling with feelings for her crush.. when she already has a boyfriend. I’m not going to say much more about this and risk spoiling it, because it didn’t end the way I expected, but the tie-in is that the driver is another character’s father and he may have accidentally gone off-route to drive them towards the block party happening in Brooklyn, where all the other characters we’ve met so far are also planning to attend. Four stars. And, in hindsight, though I loved Yoon’s writing best, this was my favourite story.

Seymour & Grace by Nicola Yoon : easily the best written of the bunch! And I enjoyed the story, too, even if it felt extra short. A girl is trying to find her way to the block party all the characters have made it to where she plans to confront her ex who dumped her because she’d “changed”. She ends up in a Ryde with someone listening to a philosophy podcast and they strike up a conversation; but it’s a rocky meeting. Things go wrong on the way to their destination but, eventually, they get there. And then.. well. Spoilers. I would’ve loved an extra chapter of this, instead of the extended Jackson story, and I’m sad it was so short. It’s a softer story but felt very Yoon-like. Which is a good thing. Four stars.

But while the little throw away tie-ins in Yoon’s story to bring everyone into the story, into the party, was nice, it still boggles my mind we didn’t get a concluding chapter that made it feel, after all this build up, that we were actually at this party?.That’s still confusing. It just kind of ends. Even though the Jackson wasn’t my favourite story, it held the anthology together, working as the glue. So couldn’t we have had a proper ending?

Overall, this wasn’t bad, but I expected to love a lot more from this bind-up than I did. So that’s a bit of a bummer. But I’ve not read anything by Woodfolk or Clayton before, though I’ve definitely had the latter on my radar, and I will definitely be picking up their solo offerings in the future.

CAZADORA by Romina Garber

In Cazadora, the follow-up to Lobizona, Romina Garber continues to weave Argentine folklore and real-world issues into a haunting, fantastical, and romantic story that will reunite readers with Manu and her friends as they continue to fight for a better future.


Title : Cazadora
Author : Romina Garber
Series : Lobizona
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : August 17, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2.75 star review

Did I think this was a duology? Yes. Am I disappointed? A bit. Because even though my feelings about this instalment were kind of lukewarm, the ending hooked me. I kind of expect to be in the same spot again with book three, where I end this review thinking the next book might inspire some love and probably being a little let down again.. but oh well, we’re going to do it anyway.

Bruja. Lobizón. There’s no accompanying symbol, but there’s no need. The gendered language makes it clear which one is for girls and which one is for boys. There’s no breaking out the binary, no room for anything in between.

Some of what I struggled with in book one wasn’t here in book two, which was great, but overall I’m not 100% what actually happened in this book to differentiate it from book one. I mean, yes, we had the big capture, the big confrontation, but the majority of this book was just going through similar motions except the world expanded a bit more from the binary structure introduced in Lobizona. Until those misfits, much like their strict counterparts, weren’t willing to unbend quite as much as expected. Part of me appreciated it, because going with the flow would’ve been a little too easy, but it did reinforce the whole ‘what was the point of this’ feeling. I imagine where we go next will be to lean back into a lot of the themes of book one — isolation, illegal, unwanted — with a few key differences.. such as the truth being out in the open. I can’t picture how this ends, though; so that’s something.

They’ve been making up stories about independent girls in every tradition since forever. And I think it’s time we take back our narrative.

As creative and visual as this world is (don’t ask me why but my brain conjures Avatar-like colours and scenery), I do think it is a bit of a distraction from the dragged out plot. The themes, the dialogue, are all just as important and great as they were in book one, but.. I don’t know. There’s just a but for me.

Again, the ending was good, I will be back for more, but am I still sad I’m not loving this world? So much. Because of that, please disregard this review. I won’t recommend you pick it up but I think this is important enough that you should anyway.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

LIVING BEYOND BORDERS edited by Margarita Longoria – double review!

Twenty stand-alone short stories, essays, poems, and more from celebrated and award-winning authors make up this YA anthology that explores the Mexican American experience. With works by Francisco X. Stork, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David Bowles, Rubén Degollado, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Diana López, Xavier Garza, Trinidad Gonzales, Alex Temblador, Aida Salazar, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Sylvia Sanchez Garza, Dominic Carrillo, Angela Cervantes, Carolyn Dee Flores, René Saldaña Jr., Laura Perez, Justine Narro, Daniel García Ordáz, and Anna Meriano.

In this mixed-media collection of short stories, personal essays, poetry, and comics, this celebrated group of authors share the borders they have crossed, the struggles they have pushed through, and the two cultures they continue to navigate as Mexican American. Living Beyond Borders is at once an eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and hopeful love letter from the Mexican American community to today’s young readers. 


Title : Living Beyond Borders : Stories About Growing Up Mexican in America
Author : edited by Margarita Longoria
Format : eARC
Page Count : 224
Genre : YA contemporary/mixed media anthology/short stories
Publisher : Philomel Books
Release Date : August 17, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★/ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

Who made the rules on what being Mexican was or wasn’t? I’d always been told to check a box — to fit in one category or the other. But it wasn’t ever that easy. And why did it matter?

I wasn’t sure I was going to rate this, as I don’t tend to award stars to non-fiction (not that I read much of it, to be fair, despite my best intentions!), but as I think most of what is comprised of this anthology is fiction (though I could of course be wrong..), I felt it deserved to be rated. Particularly in the hopes that people see the stars and feel inspired to look a little closer at this and maybe, even, hopefully, pick it up.

Mom and Dad used to love taking me to all the Mexican and Chicanx pride events, and I used to like it too until I got older and couldn’t wrap my head around how it’s possible to dance with such fierce colourful joy while shouldering a legacy of so much pain.

Though there are twenty different offerings within this collection this is not a long read and, in the case of some of the specific ones I’ll shoutout below, I wish it had been longer. I can’t possibly know the impact of what this collection will do for readers who see themselves, or their parents, or their loved ones, in these stories but I have a feeling this’ll mean a lot for a lot of people.

I understand that for many Americans — including my own parents — being seen as American is a struggle that can be tiring and long.

As for those standouts? These were mine.

Coco Chamoy y Chango by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo was the first one to make me wish there had been more to it. I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to learn more about these characters, and where they were going. It was such a casual little snapshot in time but it made an impression.

Next was My Name is Dolores by Guadalupe Ruiz-Flores and, to quickly sum up, it broke my heart. The image of that little girl.. well, I won’t spoil. But it was one of those little big moments that leaves quiet devastation in its wake.

An Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall might have been the shortest of the bunch but.. I don’t want to call it lovely, because it was also so sad, but it was a bittersweet, heartwarming, heartaching little tribute. Though there’s nothing little about the message.

Finally, there was La Princesa Mileidy Dominguez by Rubén Degollado which snuck up on me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t invested in the story as it unfolded but it wasn’t until the final paragraph or two when I realized how much I had softened as the story went on until I found myself brushing away tears. Partially it was the importance of the celebration described, the moment of transition from child to young adult, but it was more how this group of strangers, this community, came together without hesitation. It was incredibly moving.

There was one more quote I really wanted to share so I’ll use it to sign off this review but suffice it to say yes, I had some favourites, but most of the quotes I’ve pulled didn’t even come from those stories I’ve mentioned. There was something different, something important, something moving, in everything offered in this collection. And also something for everyone.

I’m so tired of these trying political times, and I’m tired of trying to care about the newest protests and the hashtags and the kids who die or almost die and get fifteen minutes of fame from the adults who have all the money and the clout and the thoughts and prayers but don’t actually do anything.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 5 star review

Here’s a collection of short stories to push you right into your emotions and some of them are going to be discomforting ones. From the first story of this anthology of stories/poems/letters from people who have straddled the Mexican/American borders, I was absorbed. These stories made me angry and hopeful, sad and in awe.

While I appreciated them all, here’s a flavour of some of the ones that either hit me in the gut, educated me or transported me to someone else’s experience (sometimes all of these things).

Ghetto Is Not An Adjective by Dominic Carrillo took a chance encounter and made an impact through poetry, ignorance felt like it was the theme for this story.

“There Are Mexicans In Texas?” by Trinidad Gonzales really conveyed the importance of family history to how he’s navigated peoples’ ignorance and racism at various junctures. These familial stories seemed to ground the author’s sense of self. I could have read his experiences and anecdotes for much longer. This quote really hit home and has relevance to other countries too:

The struggle to belong is found not only in the politics of the street, but in official institutions that are supposed to be inclusive of all Americans.

Ode to My Papi by Guadalupe García McCall squeezed my heart in a mere moment on the paper. So much was conveyed in a short space.

There were so many others to mention, but I wanted to give a dynamic snapshot of what’s on offer here.

I live overseas but I read and watch these issues, wanting to know more, especially when tensions were heightened under the 45th POTUS’ control. This book afforded me a deeper dive into individual experiences both fictionalised and non-fiction. I recommend this to all and it is definitely suitable from teenage upwards.

The editor/author provided me with a early copy through netgalley but this has not influenced by review.

LOBIZONA by Romina Garber

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.


Title : Lobizona
Author : Romina Garber
Series : Wolves of No World (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : August 4, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Right off the bat, I have to say, I absolutely love and respect what Garber is both saying and doing with this story. Between the very real-world fear about being undocumented, illegal, deported, the author has also transported that same fear into their fantasy setting where the origins of our MCs birth make her just as illegal but with the added bonus of her existence also being punishable by death. That said, the real-world scenes with ICE were scarier.

Despite the creativity of the fantasy portion of this world, I rather wish we hadn’t been in it. And not just because of the constant references to a certain Wizarding World and school (which, hey, warning! now you know). I almost wish all the fantasy bits had happened within the real world setting somehow and this had been more urban fantasy than what it was. Because I did like parts of the magical side of things, even if, brujas and lobizones (witches and werewolves) the whole society, was stuck in binary gender roles — though at least with more open-mindedness at the possibility of being other.. for reasons.

If you hadn’t noticed, this book tackles Lots Of Things.

Sometimes I liked the descriptions but I could feel myself glazing over a bit, skimming, until a certain reveal was revealed (clever). But even in the lead up to a certain confrontation I just felt lost in this other world. We definitely hit a point near the end where it’s just a frenetic rush to get some action in before the end and I was definitely feeling checked out.

I like, though don’t love, the characters but totally appreciate the slight deviation of formula in regards to the romance. But ultimately it does get a similar YA fantasy treatment, snowflake and all, and is saved by all the important dialogue happening around the fantastic elements (I stupidly didn’t keep track of any quotes but man there were some really great lines in here). And, again, not only what Manu represents but all the who she represents.

I’m interested to see where book two goes, and thankfully have an ARC I can dive into soon. I can totally see why so many people love this and hope I come around to those same feels in the sequel.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.


Title : Six Crimson Cranes
Author : Elizabeth Lim
Series : Six Crimson Cranes (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 464
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : July 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I make no bones about the fact that Daughter of the Forest is probably my favourite book, from my favourite series, of all time. Six Crimson Cranes is loosely based around the same fairytale, The Six Swans. Marillier puts her own spin on the former and Lim does the same in her story. Comparing the two would be like comparing two different Beauty and the Beast retellings.. except for the fact that I am far more invested in this one!

I liked so much of this particular reimagining, from transporting the tale into an Asian-inspired setting, to the extra fantastical elements the author infused into it, the different direction she took with the main character, and, specifically, one thing I can’t mention due the spoilers.

I did, however, find it was a struggle to imagine certain scenes, either because it was hazily described or there were just too many bodies and things bouncing around at once, and it got muddied, which would bounce me right out of the story. I’ve not read the author before so I’m not familiar with her writing in this way but this is also an ARC so maybe it’s just one of those ARC things. That said, the big conflict flies by so quickly, particularly the one I’m familiar with from the story, and some of the impact is lost as a result. Which is unfortunate as I had really become invested up until that point and it was then that I lost steam and pretty much immediately knew I’d not be rounding up the rating.

Also, there’s a certain condition of the curse that befalls our main character and the way it’s described? I hope some character art gets made to give me a better idea of what that’s supposed to look like as my brain struggled to picture something that wasn’t.. silly. And even still I’m not entirely sure there’s any way to salvage it.

Speaking of picture, though, that cover? S t u n n i n g.

So, yes, there’s a lot of good here, and I’m probably biased, but it’s not going to be a favourite. I am, however, very interested in reading on and seeing where the story goes as the retelling portion has concluded and it’s all new territory from this point on (at least I assume! maybe there’s a new fairytale inspiration for book two, who knows, not me). If you need more diverse fantasy for your TBR, I would definitely encourage this as an option.

Side note, to all my Daughter of the Forest fans? Reading this will only make you want to immediately pick up the Sevenwaters series for a reread, so. If you don’t have room in your schedule for that kind of thing, beware (or be resigned, and excited, to have an excuse for such a thing).

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD by Ciannon Smart

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance. 

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power. 

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes


Title : Witches Steeped in Gold
Author : Ciannon Smart
Series : Witches Steeped in Gold (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 560
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : April 20, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

Look, I’m not saying I’m an idiot for picking up a dense complicated fantasy while trying to pull myself out of a slump but.. if the shoe fits, right?

While a good portion of my struggle with this book is, as above, my own damn fault, I also think the first half of this book is just too thick. There is so much to wade through as far as history and worldbuilding and terminology, which is kind of understandable with a series-starter, but it just didn’t sink in. And while the second half of the story was full of action and betrayals and reveals, oh my, I’m still left wondering if I understand anything about this world.

I’m also kind of confused as to where we ended up with one of the main characters. But that’s a whole other thing.

Easily my favourite thing about this was the writing; even when I was struggling with a character, or two, or the plot, I enjoyed how it was all written. But overall, beyond the representation, I’m not entirely sure this is memorable and I know I will absolutely to remember anything about this by the time the sequel is out. Which is a bummer.

I definitely suggest you still give this is a try if you’re interested, though; I’m writing this just two weeks shy of its release and the early buzz is poppin’. This is connecting with, and entertaining, so many readers. So don’t let this slumpy party pooper put you off.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance-and Papi’s secrets-the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Yahaira and Camino are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.


Title : Clap When You Land
Author : Elizabeth Acevado
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Hot Key Books
Release Date : May 5, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

CLAP WHEN YOU LAND is a compelling and poignant story of loss, deceit, finding lost relationships and coming of age. This book hit me in the feels almost straight away and kept me emotionally connected to the characters and story all the way through.

This captivating story is told from the POV of two teens Camiro and Yahaira who were 16, going on 17. They lived in New York and the Dominican Republic respectively and their lives were a complete contrast both financially but also in terms of freedom, access and prejudice. The story was told in normal narrative with elements of beautiful poetic prose. These aspects weren’t choppy, they wove beautifully into the unfurling story.

I am beautiful like a dark-skinned girl that is right here.
I’ve always preferred playing black on the chess board.
Always advancing, conquering my offending other side.

I really was gripped by life in the Dominican Republic and how Camino conducted herself, her life and her relationships. I admired her as a character so much. When Camino and Yahaira finally connected, it was a lot, brimming over on the page.

This is one of those books that you just have to read. You will lose yourself and emerge the other side affected. This is a book I will remember and as an already fan of Elizabeth Acevedo, I can confirm that this is my favourite of her books yet.

Thank you to Hot Key Books for the early review copy.

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right.


Title : Only Mostly Devastated
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books/BKMK
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★  .5


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ll admit that this didn’t end up being the most amazing wonderful adorable hilarious queer YA rom-com I expected it to be back when it was first announced. But I think, based on how insane my expectations were, this was still a pretty good read; even if, despite the ages of the characters and some of the subject matter, it did read a little on the younger of the YA side.

If you’re picking this one up hoping to see some Grease references, you’ll be pretty happy, I think. They weren’t overdone, it didn’t stick to the script half as closely as I expected, and it ended up being very much it’s own thing — with it’s own emotional backbone to set it apart — but you don’t need to go hunting too hard to see some parallels. Though I’m still waiting to understand the Clueless connection, so, fair warning for that comparison.

That said, it was also kind of hard to read at times, too. I definitely didn’t expect the conflicts between the leads to hurt as much as they did. For all we are told of the sweetness of Will, mostly through flashbacks, and in a few quiet one-on-one moments, he did and said some pretty unforgivable things to keep up his “straight” pretense; and while I appreciated some of the lightbulb moments on Ollie’s side, some of which I agreed with and others I think just created so Will wasn’t made out to be, like, a villain, it was still pretty unbalanced between them. Actions speak louder, sure, but words are still hurtful af.

That emotional backbone, I mentioned? Well, it was emotional. And while there were times I disliked both of Ollie’s parents, I think in the context, some of it is forgivable. And in that same vein, it was nice to see a story like this were a teen is facing hardship and not resentful about it. Which, I mean, would be a completely valid thing but it was nice that this book didn’t lean too hard into that potential for angst. There was plenty as it was.

So, yes, not quite the lighthearted-adorable-this-was-everything that I wanted, but this was diverse, and queer, and I know that plus the adorable cover is going to make this a hit for so many readers.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I feel completely gushy about this book because I’ve devoured it in a day and it gave me fun, laughter, heartache, tears and complete escapism and enjoyment. This book exceeded all my expectations and I know for certain that I’m going to re-read this book.

This is a Grease retelling with fantastic LGBTQ+ characters front and centre. I can atest to how good the Grease framework to this story was, it was rich and familiar but with its own unique takes. The protagonist, Ollie was such a genuine nice guy, already out to his family and friends, he was pretty comfortable with himself. Family illness meant that he stayed past his summer vacation and his summer fling, Will found that to be a problem he hadn’t antipcated. He wasn’t secure in his sexual identity and he wasn’t out to anyone.

“What’s so funny?”
“We’re in a closet.” “I told you, I didn’t want -“
“You dragged me into a closet to have this conversation. Did you do that on purpose, or what? Unbelievable.”

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED narrated the story from Ollie’s perspective with wit and heart. The family stories were strong and poignant, they caused my heart to ache, my eyes to leak and still I felt some warmth even in difficult parts. All that said, it was a bright and hopeful story and I was rooting for Ollie and Will as a couple. They were cute and lovely.

The friendships were definitely a building project in this book. After all, Ollie was new in the school and trust took time. I loved how this aspect developed and that what started as insecure, snarky interactions became true friendships with characters I came to like.

I don’t want to say anything more about the family story, I thought that was special and sensitively written. I thought the closeted and coming out elements were well written but please do check some own voices reviews on this book to be sure on that point.

Sophie Gonzales wrote in a way that engaged me from the first few pages and clearly I couldn’t put it down. I think this book has wide appeal and I want it to smash into the world.

Here walks Ollie Di Fiore. Master of his feelings, expert detacher, only mostly devastated.

Many thanks to TeamBKMRK for the early review copy.