Mini-Reviews: Check Please! Book 2, Camp Spirit, & Spinning

Check, Please! Book 2 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

I loved that the second Check, Please! book dealt with some deeper themes while still being just as heartwarming and sweet as the first. Bitty and Jack are such a great couple, always communicating and being there for each other. Bitty’s baking is still front and center and I absolutely loved it.

In a possibly unpopular opinion, I thought the ending was really stereotypical and it wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t dislike it enough for it to lower my rating.


Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 23, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Summer camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden… But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

Summer 1994: with just two months left before college, Elodie is forced by her mother to take a job as a camp counselor. She doesn’t know the first thing about nature, or sports, of kids for that matter, and isn’t especially interested in learning… but now she’s responsible for a foul-mouthed horde of red-headed girls who just might win her over, whether she likes it or not. Just as Elodie starts getting used to her new environment, though — and close to one of the other counselors — a dark mystery lurking around the camp begins to haunt her dreams.

This was a quick and easy read. The art was cute, the romance was done well, the story was… fine. I would have liked more elaboration on what was happening in the woods since it never felt fully explained. While I felt the actual camp counseling and the romance were fun to read about, I can’t say the same for the rest of the plot. The more supernatural aspects of this graphic novel were fun on the sidelines, but when they became front and center pieces of the plot, they fell short for me.

Overall, this was fun, but I’m not sure that I’d really recommend it.


Spinning by Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Spinning is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Tillie Walden (the first being I love this part), and I think I can officially add her to my list of favorite graphic novelists. There’s just something about her art style and the way she tells the majority of the story through the art rather than words that I love.

Spinning is the story of her years as a competitive figure skater. But it’s also the story of coming out, trauma, and growing up. This was an incredible book, and I can’t wait to devour everything Walden’s ever published.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: Pride, Beneath the Sugar Sky, & Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Pride and Prejudice gets remixed in this smart, funny, gorgeous retelling of the classic, starring all characters of color, from Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award finalist and author of American Street.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

I hesitated to pick up Pride because of all of the mixed reviews I’d seen when it first came out, but I’m glad that I finally picked it up.

This ended up being a great modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I absolutely loved that it was set in Brooklyn. Pride pretty seamlessly weaves in some commentary on issues like gentrification, class, and the leaking of nudes without coming across like a lecture. It’s easy to see the parallels with the original, but the book still feels like it tells its own story rather than being a direct copy.

As for negatives, I felt that some scenes went on for a little too long and got a little repetitive. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Zuri and Darius’s relationship since it went from hate to love very quickly, but I guess it also does in the original. But those are pretty minor complaints, and overall, I really enjoyed this book.


Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Source: Borrowed

When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests…

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

As someone who absolutely loves baking, it probably comes as no surprise that my favorite world (so far) in the Wayward Children series is Confection. This nonsense world is filled with whimsical things like a moon made of frosting and a sea made of strawberry rhubarb soda. Not everything is perfect in Confection, though. Like the other worlds, it has its own undercurrent of danger.

Since I loved the world (and the writing) so much, I probably would have given this novella five stars if we’d followed characters from the original book. It is true that Christopher and Kade are here, but our main character is someone entirely new. While this was fine and ended up working out in the end, it did leave me feeling a little disconnected from everything at the beginning.

Overall, though, I’m a big fan of this series and would highly recommend it.


Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Lara Jean is having the best senior year.

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Possibly unpopular opinion time: I don’t think this needed to be a series. I really enjoyed To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but while the writing was still good in P.S. I Still Love You, I didn’t like the plot and it felt completely unnecessary. I feel the same about Always and Forever, Lara Jean. The writing was good, but let’s be honest. Did this book even have a plot?

This book also uses one of my least favorite tropes:breaking up because a parent tells you to. What a cop-out for drama. I’m still waiting to read a book that features a parent doing this and a main character that stands up to them, because what kind of nonsense is this? It makes me so angry.

In the end, all I can really say is that this is a cute series, but it really could have stopped after the first book.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Book Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 10, 2005
Source: Borrowed

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.

I’ve read many of David Levithan’s books over the years with varying degrees of success. The Lover’s Dictionary and You Know Me Well are two of my favorite books, while Every Day is… not. I’ve been reading one of his backlist books every few months, and the most recent is Boy Meets Boy.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! I think the first thing that I want to say about this book is that it’s cute. It’s almost a utopia in which people are just accepted as they are. That seems to be the main criticism of this book — that it’s too happy. But so many books about gay teens are heartbreaking, and we get a ton of fluffy, happy heterosexual romances. There’s nothing wrong with an overtly happy book about a gay kid. In fact, I think it’s something that should happen way more often than it does.

But despite the generally happy tone, this book does tackle some more serious issues. There are multiple characters who struggle with their sexuality, and there are a few characters (definitely in the minority) who don’t accept our main characters. (There’s also a minor cheating storyline that kind of came out of nowhere and that I didn’t care for.)

Overall, though, this book was really, really good. If you’re looking for a cute book about an LGBTQ utopia, you’ll probably enjoy this one.


Have you read Boy Meets Boy? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Borrowed

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Let me start this off by saying that I had absolutely zero expectations when I picked this book up. I knew that it had gotten very good reviews, including many four- and five-star ratings from people that I follow, but I don’t always have an easy time connecting with gaming books. Within the first few chapters, I was blown away. The first note I wrote down for this book was “This is so well-written!” and honestly, it only got better from there.

The premise of this book is that Kiera, a Black teenager, has created an online MMORPG-type game in which players duel using cards based on Black history and Black culture. The game is exclusive to Black people and intended to be a safe space after Kiera experiences online bullying in a different, more widely-played MMORPG. Although her game has hundreds of thousands of players, it remains mostly unknown until a teenager is murdered over an in-game dispute. Kiera’s game is suddenly all over the news, with commentators calling it racist and strangers demanding that she make a statement. Being a teenager, she’s not sure what to do, and is understandably freaked out.

So, the first thing I want to talk about is the game of Slay itself. I’ve played the occasional game here and there, but I wouldn’t call myself a gamer. I’ve never played any kind of MMORPG, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the gameplay or anything like that that I’ve seen in other reviews. What I can say, though, is that Slay felt like a real game to me. It’s described so well, from the character creation to the rules to the depictions of duels, that I felt like there were probably hundreds of thousands of people actually playing it every day. I do also want to say that I don’t think whether it’s realistic for a teenage girl to have designed a game like this is the point of this book.

The next thing I want to talk about is the characters. Kiera was so realistic, so well-developed, and so complex. She felt like a normal teenager that you could meet in any high school and like someone it would be great to be friends with. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s really sick of being the token Black kid in her mostly white school who’s somehow required to answer every single question about race. The side characters were also really well-developed and realistic. Kiera’s sister, Steph, played a great role in the book, sometimes arguing with her but always supporting her. Her boyfriend, Malcolm, was absolutely awful and one of my notes from about halfway through says “Kiera deserves so much better than Malcolm — I hope he gets better or she breaks up with him. She’s not responsible for his actions and he treats her so unfairly.” I think that the author did a great job of portraying a realistic high school experience with realistic high school problems.

And finally, we have the whole point of this book: the debate over whether Slay is inherently racist. In my opinion? No, and all of the people who’d never even looked at the game or bothered to ask questions about it calling it racist made me so angry! But that’s an issue that I think different readers will take different stances on, and that’s okay. This is a book that makes you think, and it does it without sounding like it’s trying to shove any kind of message down your throat.

Final verdict? This book was incredible and I highly recommend it.


Have you read Slay? Is it on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: Supernova, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, & The Last Hope

Supernova by Marissa Meyer
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Source: Borrowed

All’s fair in love and anarchy…

The epic conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s thrilling Renegades Trilogy finds Nova and Adrian fighting to keep their identities secret. While the battle rages on between their alter egos and their allies, there is a darker threat shrouding Gatlon City.

The Renegades’ worst enemy is back among them, threatening to reclaim Gatlon City. Nova and Adrian must brave lies and betrayal to protect those they love. Their greatest fears are about to come to life, and unless they can bridge the divide between heroes and villains, they stand to lose everything. Including each other.

Intrigue and action will leave readers on edge until the final, shocking secrets are revealed.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Renegades series, but I have to admit that Supernova was a little underwhelming. I didn’t hate it, or even really dislike it, but I feel that compared with the rest of the series, it’s the weakest book.

It felt a little bit like the resolution of all the different plot points was just thrown in there and I was left feeling more confused than surprised. Everything that happened felt so convenient, without the suspense or high stakes feeling the previous two books had.

I will say that the epilogue floored me, though. I hope there’s a spin-off, or at least a novella, coming.


Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

The second book in the Wayward Children series follows Jack and Jill, twins who have absolutely awful parents. They fall into a portal world called The Moors, where they’re finally able to step outside of the very narrow boxes their parents have tried to shove them into and live happily. The world of The Moors is dark, and often scary, but it’s a place where Jack and Jill finally find love and acceptance.

I liked the commentary on gender roles and parenting, but the world of The Moors wasn’t my favorite and Jack and Jill aren’t my favorite characters in this series. Final verdict? This one was good, but I liked the first one better.


The Last Hope by Krista & Becca Ritchie
Rating: DNF
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

A stunning conclusion to the sci-fi romance duology by writing duo Krista & Becca Ritchie, The Last Hope is filled with twists and turns you’ll never see coming.

Sacrifice all you have to survive.

Imprisoned for weeks on an enemy starcraft, Franny, Court, and Mykal have sat with an unfathomable revelation. But as they fight to stay alive, escaping prison means trusting a young mysterious stranger. He knows everything about their lost histories, and when answers aren’t given freely, the bonded trio are forced to join a mission. One that will determine the fate of humanity.

Legend says, a baby—the first of her species—has the power to cloak and teleport planets. Tasked with retrieving the infant, Court fears the baby is just a myth, and if they fail, they’ll never find the truth about their origins.

As Court and Mykal grow closer, their linked bond becomes harder to hide, and dynamics change when Franny begins to fall for someone new. Vulnerable and with no choice, the hunt for the baby sends the trio on a dangerous path to Saltare-1: a water world where their enemies can’t die and survival comes at a high cost.

Here’s the thing about Krista & Becca Ritchie — I used to be a really big fan of theirs. If you go back in my reviews archive, you’ll find reviews of every single book they’d written up until maybe two years ago. I’m not sure if my reading tastes changed or their writing changed, but this is the second book of theirs in a row that I’ve disliked.

They have a very distinctive, introspective writing style that I think lends itself pretty well to contemporary romance and not very well to fantasy. It was a little weird in The Raging Ones, but I was able to get past it. I couldn’t get past it here. The whole “I’m going to analyze everybody’s every move and what it means” thing was so tiresome. The plot barely moves. After five weeks, I was only halfway done and nothing had happened.

I saw another review that mentioned that it felt like the authors had spent all their time writing book one and then just before book two’s deadline, realized they had to write something. I agree. This is not the level of quality I expect from them, and I’m so disappointed that I had to DNF a book by authors who used to be my favorites.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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