Mini-Reviews: Heartstopper Vol. 3, Something is Killing the Children, and Happily Ever After & Everything in Between

Heartstopper, Vol. 3 by Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2020
Source: Purchased

In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

There’s this idea that if you’re not straight, you have to tell all your family and friends immediately, like you owe it to them. But you don’t. You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready.

After two volumes of Nick and Charlie being absolutely adorable, it wasn’t really a surprise to find some deeper themes in Volume 3. This volume follows the group through a class trip to Paris, along with all of the exploration they do and all the fun they have.

But despite all of the fun, Nick and Charlie do have to navigate some real issues in this volume. It’s definitely a darker feeling than the two previous volumes, but still so, so good. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Nick and Charlie. I may need to read Solitaire while I wait.

Content warnings for:homophobia, self harm, and eating disorder

Something is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

When children begin to go missing in the town of Archer’s Peak, all hope seems lost until a mysterious woman arrives to reveal that terrifying creatures are behind the chaos – and that she alone will destroy them, no matter the cost.


When the children of Archer’s Peak—a sleepy town in the heart of America—begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible details of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to be the only one who sees what they can see. 

Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it must be done.

GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new story about staring into the abyss.

Collects Something is Killing the Children #1-5.

The first graphic novel series I read by Tynion was The Backstagers, which I absolutely adored. I’d seen the individual issues of Something is Killing the Children on Hoopla, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out yet. Luckily for me, the first volume showed up on Netgalley and I was able to read it all at once!

First things first, this is a very different vibe from The Backstagers. This isn’t cute and fluffy, it’s dark and gritty. It features monsters and death and blood and gore. But it also features a pretty cool monster slayer and it takes place in my home state of Wisconsin, so that’s always a win for me!

If you like Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll probably like this graphic novel.

Content warnings for:blood/gore/violence/murder, homophobia

Happily Ever After & Everything in Between by Debbie Tung
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

From the bestselling author of Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love comes a funny and adorable collection of comics about married life, specifically an introvert married to an extrovert! Debbie Tung’s tender, funny, and utterly relatable comics are the perfect gift for anyone in a relationship.

The comics in Happily Ever After & Everything In Between may be inspired by Debbie Tung’s marriage to her extrovert husband, but any couple can relate to increasingly relaxed anniversaries, slowly seeing more of each other’s weird sides, or the punishment for taking care of your sick loved one (catching whatever they had). Happily Ever After humorously captures what everyday love looks like—both the sweet moments and the mundane—making it a fitting gift for weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.

I’ve previously read (and really enjoyed!) both Book Love and Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung. When I saw Happily Ever After & Everything in Between show up on Netgalley, I knew I had to read it too. I was expecting that same relatable quality that all of Debbie’s books have, and it was there. But there was just something about this one that didn’t sit quite right with me.

I think there’s a lot of the “everything in between” and not as much of the “happily ever after” as I might have expected. For instance, there are a few pages where Debbie shows herself doing all the housework while her husband makes excuses for why he can’t help, or while he just sleeps on the couch. Was that supposed to be cute? Am I missing something?

Overall, this was fine, but it isn’t a book that I’m going to recommend anybody run out to buy. If you’re looking to get into Debbie’s work, I’d recommend Book Love as a better starting place than this.

Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good graphic novels recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett

Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Source: ARC via publisher

In this coming-of-age romance perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, scandal and romance collide when an ambitious teen returns to her hometown only to have her plans interrupted after falling for the town’s “bad boy”—a.k.a. her childhood best friend.

Sometimes to find the good, you have to embrace the bad.

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

In case you weren’t aware, Jenn Bennett is one of my favorite authors. I absolutely adore her contemporary romances, and Starry Eyes especially is one of my all-time favorite books. (See below, where there’s a drawing of me holding it.) Chasing Lucky was probably my most-anticipated book for 2020, and it definitely did not disappoint.

As always, the characters in this book felt so real. Josie was dealing with so much — an absent father, a flighty single mother, gossip far beyond what an average teenager should have to handle — and yet she stayed so strong and tried so hard to rise above it. Lucky also had his fair share of problems, ranging from childhood trauma to a savior complex to his own (often exaggerated) rumors, and I loved watching Josie try to navigate her way through all of that to find the real Lucky inside.

There’s a lot of commentary in this book on honesty, trust, and communication, and I loved that. That’s not to say that sometimes the characters didn’t make absolutely terrible decisions or jump to entirely ridiculous conclusions, because what teenagers don’t, but I really loved that, even while all of that was happening, Josie questioned what she was doing and why she was doing it.

I really thought that I’d end up rating this one five stars, so now I’m going to talk about why I didn’t. The biggest reason is that some of the plot points, especially the story line with Evie and her ex, just felt too open at the end. There was a lot of time dedicated to that particular part of the story, and then it just kind of disappeared. I also would have liked a little bit more resolution of Josie’s family problems.

But, overall, this book was amazing. I flew through it, reading huge chunks of the book without even realizing that time was passing. At one point, I had to pause and say (out loud, to my cat), “I just love friends-to-lovers.” If you’ve previously enjoyed Jenn Bennett’s books, or if you’re looking for a good contemporary romance, I’d happily recommend this one.

#wian20: a given/first name

Have you read Chasing Lucky? What’s your favorite YA contemporary romance?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox by Christina Dalcher
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Set in a United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial. This can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words each day, but now women have only one hundred to make themselves heard.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

This is just the beginning…not the end.

I burned myself out on dystopian novels a few years ago, so now I like to wait until I’m really in the mood before I pick one up. I’d seen Vox just about everywhere when it was originally published. It was all over book blogs, all over bookstagram, in magazines and on TV and just… everywhere. I was a little nervous, honestly. I don’t always do well with hype. But eventually, I decided to read it.

What’s happened in Vox is that women have lost their voice. They get 100 words per day and are punished if they go over their limit. This has effectively banned them from employment and made them entirely dependent on their husbands. In addition to the ban on speaking, there are bans on homosexuality and premarital or extramarital sex. Women that were once at the top of their field, like Jean, the main character, are now limited to cooking and raising children, never really leaving the house because they can’t communicate if they do.

What’s terrifying about this book is that it’s not that unbelievable. I mean, do I think the government is going to strap a device to my wrist that electrocutes me if I talk too much? No. (But neither did the characters in this book, I guess.) But given the current political climate and attitudes toward women that we see from some politicians, this book hit pretty close to home.

I think that Dalcher did a great job of showing how out of control the constant regulations on women’s health could get, given the right circumstances. I just think she went about it in a very heavy-handed way. I was never 100% on board with the premise — after all, would an entire world just sit idly by while the U.S. government effectively silenced half of its population? — but I was going with it. Then we hit the second half of the book.

I don’t want to spoil what happens, so I’m not going to get into details. But the entire second half of this book was one over-the-top plot twist after another. Any plot twist you could think of probably happens. To the main character. To her family. To minor characters. In the government. Everything. And the ending really disappointed me. I can understand how it made sense, but it seemed to contradict the entire point of the book.

Regardless of how I felt about the second half, though, this book was an overall good read. If you’re in the mood for some feminism and some dystopian themes, you could definitely do worse than Vox.

#wian20: 4 letters or less

Have you read Vox? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Pet, Symptoms of Being Human, and With the Fire on High

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

I’m not sure the last time I finished a book feeling so confused as when finishing Pet, but at least I knew that I liked it. The thing about this book is that the writing style feels very middle grade, but the subject matter is very much not.

My favorite thing about this book was the representation. Jam is a trans black girl, and it’s not the focus of the story or really relevant to the plot in any way, it’s just who Jam is. I think this is the best kind of representation to have.

The book has an important, if maybe heavy-handed message, that just because we don’t expect people to be evil doesn’t mean that they’re not. In Jam’s world, evil has supposedly been eradicated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not lurking where we’d least expect it. Her journey, along with her best friend Redemption and the monstrous-looking (but not actually monstrous) Pet, to find out what’s been going on with someone they both care about, is absolutely heartbreaking.

In the end, I would recommend this book as long as you’re okay with the fairly obvious way the message is delivered.

Content warnings
  • child abuse/molestation
  • fairly graphic vigilante justice
  • (accidental) self harm with razor blades

#wian20: 4 letters or less

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Borrowed

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

We’re all taught from a young age that there are only two choices: pink or blue, Bratz or Power Rangers, cheerleading or football. We see gender in two dimensions because that’s what society has taught us from birth. But, are you ready for a shocking revelation? SOCIETY NEEDS TO CHANGE.

I’d had Symptoms of Being Human on my TBR for a while, but I still went in with no expectations. The reviews are pretty mixed, with most people agreeing that it has great genderqueer representation but very little plot. I guess I can see that.

The story revolves around Riley, who identifies as genderqueer. Riley’s parents don’t really understand. Riley’s classmates don’t really understand. So Riley starts a blog and finds some people to talk to about life. That’s really about it, and I’ll agree that it’s not much of a plot to go on, but it did hold my interest.

I will say that this book made me angry, though. I don’t have any children, but I hope to never make my future child feel like they’re not good enough the way they are, like they have to stuff themselves into a suffocating box to make me happy. I hope it made other people angry too.

Overall, I think the characters really carry the story here, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free. 

After really loving The Poet X, I decided to give another of Acevedo’s books a try and read With the Fire on High. I didn’t love it quite as much but it was still really, really good.

I loved Emoni. She was such a strong character and she was truly just trying to do her best with the circumstances in her life. I loved the relationship she had with her abuela. I loved her cooking and just wish that I could taste some of those recipes! There’s even a little touch of magical realism, which I thought was great.

As for why four stars and not five, I felt like, though the overall writing was very good, it did have some awkward parts. (I rolled my eyes every time Emoni let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding.) I also didn’t understand what purpose there was to all of the drama with Pretty Leslie, though it does get resolved nicely in the end.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. But if you have to pick one of Acevedo’s books to start with, I’d recommend The Poet X.

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

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ARC Review: Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson

Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: ARC via Publisher

A forbidden attraction grows even more complicated when the guy Lane Jamison has crushed on for years suddenly becomes her step-brother in this sexy and gorgeously written debut novel about the lines between love, desire, and obsession.

What happens when the boy you want most becomes the one person you can’t have?

Lane Jamison’s life is turned upside down the week before her senior year when her father introduces her to his new fiancée: mother of Grey McIntyre, Lane’s secret, longtime crush. Now with Grey living in Lane’s house, there’s only a thin wall separating their rooms, making it harder and harder to deny their growing mutual attraction—an attraction made all the more forbidden by Grey’s long-term girlfriend Sadie Hall, who also happens to be Lane’s friend.

Torn between her feelings for Grey and her friendship with Sadie—not to mention her desire to keep the peace at home—Lane befriends Sadie’s older brother, Connor, the black sheep of the strict, evangelical Hall family. Connor, a metal working artist who is all sharp edges, challenges Lane in ways no one else ever has. As the two become closer and start to open up about the traumas in their respective pasts, Lane begins to question her conviction that Connor is just a distraction.

Tensions come to a head after a tragic incident at a party, forcing Lane to untangle her feelings for both boys and face the truth of what—and who—she wants, in this gripping and stunningly romantic debut novel.

The book starts with an extensive list of content warnings, and so will I.Taken from the book:

This story contains content that might be troubling to some readers, including, but not limited to, depictions of and references to death, suicide, cutting and self-harm, vivid nightmare imagery, substance abuse, homelessness, childhood trauma, and PTSD.

I hadn’t heard anything about Together We Caught Fire before Simon Pulse reached out about an ARC. I’m so glad that they let me know that this book exists.

Together We Caught Fire is not the kind of book that I’d normally pick up on my own. I don’t go for heavy books. If the first thing I see when I open the book is an extensive list of content warnings, I’m probably going to stick it right back on the shelf. Life is dark enough as it is, and I don’t usually like that darkness to spill over into the books I read. But sometimes a synopsis will grab me and I’ll give it a shot. That’s what happened here.

There’s a lot going on here. Not only is Lane struggling with her long-time crush suddenly and unexpectedly becoming her stepbrother, but she’s dealing with PTSD, the debilitating pain of endometriosis, and an entire high school that thinks they know everything there is to know about Lane Jamison — and oh, they have opinions on her. And Lane’s only one character in this story. The other characters have their own issues, from controlling parents to insomnia to being disowned and kicked out of the house by their parents. Nobody’s issues are ever minimized. We didn’t play the “who has it worse” game. There are so many ways that this book could have gone wrong, but Gibson handled everybody’s situation with so much respect and absolutely no judgement.

I’ve read a lot of stepbrother romances over the years, and they usually follow a pretty predictable path. I thought I had this book figured out within the first 25 pages, but believe me when I tell you I was wrong. This book has so many twists and turns, so many wrenches thrown in Lane’s life, that even by the last few pages, I wasn’t entirely sure how things would end. I had to know, though, so I stayed up well past by bedtime to find out.

I’m so glad I gave this book a chance, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this author.

#wian20: one of the 4 natural elements

Have you read Together We Caught Fire? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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