Dear Librarian (2021)

by Lydia M. Sigwarth
Illustrated by Romina Galotta
ASIN/ISBN: 9780374313906
Publication: June 1, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through the publisher. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

After leaving their home behind, Lydia and her family stay with various relatives in their homes. She’s without a home of her own until she discovers the library, a place where her imagination can run wild and there is space to do so many things. The most special spot of all is where the librarian is located.

Dear Librarian is a touching story of the effects libraries and librarians have on children. Like Lydia, the library was a sanctuary for me when I was growing up, and it continues to be one when I need to escape the noise of adulthood. I loved the book. It made me tear up! It immediately reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s autobiographical middle grade read Gone to the Woods. In it he also attributes his path to a librarian. The illustrations are charming, especially the one above with the sun shining through. However, my favorite illustration is probably the first page, because the book opens to a drawing of a library checkout card. The library is indeed a magical place.

The View Was Exhausting (2021)

by Mikaella Clement and Onjuli Datta
ASIN/ISBN: 97815301010
Publication: July 6, 2021

**A positive review of the book from a fellow blogger prompted me to read an excerpt of it through NetGalley, which then lead me to purchase a copy because I needed to find out what happened.**

The View Was Exhausting is a book about a relationship of convenience used to quell negative media attention. Win’s and Leo’s on and off again “relationship” is complicated by, what appear to be, very real feelings. Win is reluctant to follow those feelings and pursue what she and Leo could be. While Leo has a seemingly laid-back attitude, Win is overly conscious of media scrutiny, which is why they are constantly reconnecting. Although her life appears glitzy and glamourous, melancholic overtones are scattered throughout as their past and present relationship unfold on the pages. At times, the interweaving of the past and present leads to some confusion about what is happening at the moment, making some things a little hazy. Their friendship and even their potential for more are at risk when something in Leo’s past comes to light.

The first few chapters lulled me into believing I would not get hurt by this book. Wasn’t it obvious these two individuals who couldn’t be themselves around many people were often only genuine toward one another? Wasn’t it obvious they had such sizzling chemistry? However, the book did a number on me. I wanted to slam it (but carefully and gently because it’s still a precious book) on the table because it left me vulnerable to a trigger I didn’t recognize I had until some books ago. At one point, I wanted to stop reading but the need to know what would happen next was ultimately greater–a testament to how much I liked the writing and even the storyline itself despite the pain I incurred. Would the dilemma get resolved? Are they in love with each other? What will Win choose?

Win and Leo won me over with their fabricated romance. Like the public they are trying to convince, I had beautiful illusions of two people on the road to figuring out that love, above all, is a worthy risk. Win and Leo are more vulnerable than they seem. Win has learned to reinforce herself with armor–she’s isn’t always likeable–but Leo often seems lost, without drive or purpose. Together, they’ve created a kind of haven. They’re friends who put their lives on hold for each other, who show each other their true selves even if they have to put on a show for the rest of the world. Underlining their trust in each other and how readily they rely on one another is their scorching chemistry, even if they both (mostly Win) try to hide from it. 

The social commentary also kept me glued to the novel. The undue pressure on members of marginalized groups when they succeed is captured well in the novel. There is an expectation that the successful individual is now representative of an entire group of people, and there requires a delicate balancing act the individual must endure. Every action is scrutinized and there are those just waiting for the person to fall. People want to place you neatly into a box, and if you break out of the box, they wait for any mistake, big or small, to put you “where you belong.” Win’s success places her in such a position. She loves acting and she’s great at it, but it all gets overlooked as soon as rumors begin to circulate about anything. She can be described as cold and calculating, but she’s learned to be this way to survive in an industry that is ready to strike her, to replace her on any whim. She succumbs to the pressure, and even when she wants to speak up, she self-censors because there is a price for her every action. 

Ultimately, this isn’t a feel-good type of novel. That was one of the more difficult parts of reading the book. I tend to read less angsty novels, those that are more toned down and focus on the good as opposed to the bad, but the writing coupled with leads I couldn’t help but want together propelled me to keep moving forward. 

Gin’s Tonic (2020)

by Olivia Owen
ASIN/ISBN: B085RQJYWR
Publication: April 16, 2020

Virginia “Gin” Lee’s life is turned upside after a devastating loss. Running away from what’s left of her life in So Cal and looking for a place where she can be no one instead of someone, she finds herself in small town Jasper, Colorado after nearly running someone over. Yup, it’s a “city girl looking for escape in a small town” book. This may prompt an eye roll because of the abundance of similar books but Gin’s Tonic is so well-written. I picked it up on a whim but it was the book I needed in that exact moment. It embraced me like only a comfort read could. With imperfect characters, found family, and healing, Gin’s Tonic soothed a part of me I didn’t realize needed it.

Gin is broken and aware of it. She recently takes up smoking to purposely shorten her lifespan. She considers ending her life, even attempting it at one point. Anyone in her situation–going through the motions of living while not really living at all–might act in a similar way. While I cannot relate to Gin on every level, there were things about her I identified with, making the story feel more personal in some ways. The town easily embraces her, and she finds herself becoming part of the town’s “we” rather than the no one she wanted to be. The church ladies break the typical church lady stereotypes and are a fun bunch, and Aunt May and Becca essentially adopts her into their small family.

Roman is a big brooding alpha male. He’s the silent, protective type and seems to always show up when Gin needs him most. If this was real life, I’d be a little bit terrified but it’s a romance book so, for now, let me have swoon. I’m always on the fence about alpha males and some of their tendencies but Roman’s personality and overall behavior doesn’t particularly trigger any of my alarms and eyerolls the way other alpha male characters normally do. I loved how patient he was with Gin.

It’s told solely from Gin’s perspective, which is surprising considering the majority of my romance reads alternate viewpoints of the potential couple. As much as I liked Roman and would have liked to hear his thoughts–in the beginning I was wondering when would I get his perspective–I quickly realized that I preferred it without. I liked that this was solely Gin’s story; this was her journey to healing.

I flipped back and forth on the romance. Initially, I loved it because Gin and Roman seemed to fit so well but upon rereading my favorite parts over, it was difficult to understand why they gravitated toward each other. In piecing their progression from strangers to lovers, I found I wasn’t as easily convinced the second time around. It’s attraction at first, but becomes this unexplained connection that draws them to each other. It’s attraction mingled with lust bordering on instalove but they talk about it as if it’s something more. Eventually, it could be but I don’t know if I believe it is. Of course, maybe it’s just the cynical me who comes out when I try to understand rather than simply believing. Alternatively, it makes just as much sense to say Owen just doesn’t explicitly write it. It could be the brokenness they see in each and their loneliness that connects them to each other or something but there’s no explicit confirmation. Of course, after all of that (I’m so sorry for putting you through my rant) the hopeless romantic in me still enjoyed them together.

This is Owen’s debut novel and I liked it so much. I continuously looked at how much I still had left to read every few pages because I was scared I was getting close to the end. And, I didn’t want it to just yet. While I wished it would keep going, my heart was content with the ending, epilogue included. The book leaves a lot of room to continue the stories of those connected to Gin, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave Gin and Roman behind just yet. I will be rereading this book many times over.

For the Wolf (2021)

by Hannah Whitten
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316592789
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1

For the Wolf was a challenge to read because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I had to read it in blocks so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. My final verdict? It was worth the nearly year-long wait and the teasing from Whitten on Twitter.

Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.

For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.

The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.

The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)

Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.

Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original taleFor the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.

The Summer of Broken Rules (2021)

by K.L. Walther
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728210292
Publication: May 4, 2021

Although still grieving her older sister’s death, Meredith and her parents finally return to Martha’s Vineyard for her cousin’s wedding. When the family’s summer tradition of playing Assassin commences, she’s determined to win for her sister. The summer brings with it an added surprise when she finds herself bonding with a groomsman and can’t help spending more time with him throughout the week.

The Summer of Broken Rules was a lovely escape not only for Meredith but for me as well. For a few hours, I was at Martha’s Vineyard enjoying a week-long game of assassin with a close-knit family while celebrating a wedding and on the edge of a meaningful relationship. While the book isn’t perfect, it provided an unexpected but welcomed distraction from reality.

Assassin as a family tradition was the initial draw for me, and the game did not disappoint. Not only was it hilarious to see the lengths players would go to “kill” each other, the things individuals did to avoid their assassin were just as amusing. One scene in particular made me laugh out loud as a standoff took place and then a chase ensued. This was the perfect setting to demonstrate how close the families were to each other and how Claire’s death affected everyone, not just Meredith. It pushed the book to more light-hearted territory even though Meredith was still trying to navigate life without her sister. Walther realistically portrays what grief is like, not as something that can be overcome, but something we learn to live with daily. It’s a constant ache, often hidden away, but can hit at any moment as it does to Meredith repeatedly throughout the week as her happy moments on the island are often interspersed with bouts of grief.

I was thankful Walther didn’t give me instant love nor was the romance packaged as true love but only suggests the possibility of it. Not only is Wit good looking with a playful demeanor but he is attuned to Meredith, more so than her ex had ever been. Without the expectation of a relationship, Wit and Meredith are honest in their interactions with each other. Sometimes it’s the people you’ve just met that you can tell nearly anything to, without the fear of judgment precisely because they don’t know much about you. I enjoyed their banter and the positive changes Wit appeared to have incited in her, helping her recognize what she’d been missing in her previous relationship as well as offering her a peek at what it means to effortlessly click with someone. The evolution of their relationship, even though it was only a week, felt genuine, as though it could lead to something long-lasting. (I’m a total romantic so I’m always hoping for that forever after.)

With Meredith’s path to romance the focus of the book, there left little room for her to mend her relationships with the friends she pushed away. They felt more like props that appeared only when needed, but were nonexistent most of the time. I had hoped her friends would be given a larger role. In addition to her friends (when they were present), there are also many side characters that contributed to a fun read. Be forewarned though, there are a lot of them, and it was difficult to keep them all straight. But, it’s a wedding, so it’s reasonable that there would be so many people. Also, assassin is just a lot more fun with more people.

I enjoyed the book immensely, smiling after it was over. The Summer of Broken Rules is probably one of my favorite May reads. It’s one I can see myself reading again just to enjoy the crazy antics to win the game. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read, something that will provide a momentary escape from life’s obligations.

Oddbird (2021)

by Derek Desierto
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250765314
Publication: May 25, 2021

Oddbird_page

Desierto is the illustrator of multiple books but Oddbird is his debut. The story follows a bird who isn’t like the rest of the other birds, who just wants to swim in the pool. Because he is different, not nearly as colorful as the other birds are, he is singled out. He finds a way to blend himself in with them, but ultimately finds that just being himself is best.

The book highlights being unique and accepting yourself the way you are even if other’s won’t necessarily do so at first. Apart from the positive storyline, the simple illustrations and the vibrant colors are some of the most memorable things about the book. I enjoyed the book. The nieces and I will be drawing some of our own birds after they finish with their online classes.

I had a chance to participate in a virtual meet with the author, and it was a complete joy to hear him speak about the book and the thought went into creating the different birds. He mentioned wanting to create birds that were simple enough for children to draw, and I appreciate that he took that into consideration. Not only does Oddbird offer a compelling story of being true to yourself, it also gives children an opportunity to create their own unique bird–any shape and any size, all sorts of colors and even different types of eyes. I’ll stop while I’m ahead, otherwise I might continue to rhyme.

Blade of Secrets (2021)

by Tricia Levenseller
ASN/ISBN: 9781250756800
Publication: May 4, 2021
Series: Bladesmith #1

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Ziva is a famous blacksmith, known for the magical weapons she makes, and people from all over commission pieces from her. Due to social anxiety, she prefers to stay in her forge, immersed in her craft, while her more beautiful and sociable sister Temra deals with the people side of things. After creating an indestructible blade that eats the secrets of its victims, Ziva and Temra go on the run to keep it away from the power-hungry warlord who commissioned it.

Blade of Secrets is a light YA fantasy full of laughs and likeable characters. It’s a fast read that felt like it was over as soon as I started it. Despite the fast pace, it never felt lacking in character development or world-building. I was immersed in the novel and engaged with the plot to outrun the warlord. With its medieval setting and Levenseller’s straightforward way of writing, the book immediately called to mind Tamora Pierce and her beloved works. I enjoyed the book for being uncomplicated and effortlessly itself.

The success of the novel also has a lot to do with a set of likeable characters.

  • Kellyn was a breath of fresh air for being so open and unguarded in his feelings. Being that he is a mercenary, I liked his honesty about what kind of a relationship he was looking for or could have if he suddenly found himself attracted to someone.
  • Petrik is a scholar and inexperienced in combat, but an asset for his cooking skills. It seemed like he would be annoying and even a hindrance, but Petrik ends up being the comic relief simply by being himself. I snorted a few times. 
  • Temra is flirtatious and boy crazy but loves her sister, which is why she is more than willing to uproot her life to go on the run. Being the one without magical abilities, Temra can often feel overlooked. 
  • Ziva, similarly, loves her sister but also tends to hide behind Temra during social hour. She also tends to smother her little sister and be slightly overprotective, but that’s what often happens when you’re the biggie trying to raise your little sister. She’s the book’s first-person narrator, and I found myself identifying with her at times, especially as she commented about her social anxiety. Her thoughts about how she wished people would just leave her alone often mirror mine, especially when forced to attend social gatherings.

I enjoyed the camaraderie that develops between our main characters as they begin to learn about each other and become more than just traveling companions. I have a confession to make though…After experiencing so many betrayals in books, I was a bit terrified of liking anyone too much. What if Temra actually hated her sister? What if Kellyn was leading them straight to the warlord? What if Petrik was a spy? I adored Ziva but was hesitant about everyone else. Any one of them could rip my heart out at any time! I’ve become utterly paranoid when I find a cast of characters I like. So…did they? You’ll have to pick it up to find out what happens. Ha! 

I had fun reading and it was hard to put down. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s been a bit difficult waiting to get my hands on the next book. I can’t underscore how much I liked other than to say it was soooo good.

Yang Warriors (2021)

by Kao Kalia Yang
Illustrated by Billy Thao
ASN/ISBN: 9781517907983
Publication: April 13, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Led by Master Me, ten cousins train daily in the Ban Vinai refugee camp. They have to in order to protect their families, which includes a plan to search for fresh vegetables after a week without any. They embark on this dangerous mission, leaving behind the five-year-old author to await her sister Dawb and the rest of the warriors’ return.

While I was born in the U.S., my family arrived as refugees.  I grew up hearing stories about life in Laos and the refugee camps, a life so vastly different from my own. The perspective of the author at five years old offers a different view of the refugee experience and affords an opportunity for children today to try to understand and possibly to even relate to the children in the book. Yang crafts an engaging story from memories of her time in Ban Vinai, drawing from the heroism of her older sister Dawb and her cousins. It’s a story of brave children in an adverse environment doing their best to survive.

The illustrations were exceptional, helping connect me to my family and the past of my people. I may not have experienced life in Ban Vinai, but the illustrations helped to tie my childhood to the Yang Warriors–what child hasn’t “trained” to prepare for their battles ahead? It may have been under different circumstances with different training for different missions, but the intent being similar, protecting those we care about.

It’s a heroic story that needs to be shared. It’s the perfect story to create opportunities to help my nieces and nephews begin to understand their roots.

We Free the Stars (2021)

by Hafsah Faizal
ASIN/ISBN: 9780374311575
Publication: January 19, 2021
Series: Sands of Arawiya #2

**Contains spoilers for We Hunt the Flame.**

I ended my review of We Hunt the Flame “crossing my fingers and hoping” We Free the Stars would “be similar to the last half of We Hunt the Flame.” Did it come to pass? Was it similar? Or…was it better??

It took me two months to finally open and read the second book of the Sands of Arawiya because I couldn’t contain how excited I was to find out the fate of the zumra and all of Arawiya. I kept wanting to jump to the end and that would have ruined the whole experience of the book–all nearly 600 pages of it. Once I got started on it, I practiced safe book binging by reading the first half in one sitting and taking a 4am nap before reading the rest in a second sitting. Heh…

The weight of all that has been lost and left behind haunts the beginning of the novel, but now back in the “real world,” the bonds forged through the shared experiences in Sharr continue to anchor each member of the zumra. This is especially the case for Zafira who carries an additional burden no one else understands. While the bonds appear nearly unbreakable, it’s more complicated than it appears. No longer isolated from the rest of the world, multiple forces at home threaten their success and their connections with each other.

For the two who are on the cusp of sharing something more than camaraderie, endangering their lives for the future of their country was easier than risking their hearts. I was frustrated throughout the first half of the book because of them. It’s a slow burn, but not necessarily the good kind of burn–okay, it was good and then it went on little too long so I couldn’t contain my frustration anymore. I was also conflicted. As much as I enjoy romance, there was a lot of time spent on the will they or won’t they when I was ready to spring into a little more action and prepare for battle. I was ready to go to war for Altair.

I missed Altair…a lot. I missed him and his inappropriateness, his playfulness…just about everything. Altair seemed more like comic relief throughout We Hunt the Flame, but at the end of the first book and throughout the second, it’s clear how integral he is. He is the heart of the zumra, connecting everyone to each other. His capacity for love, whether it be for the people or for his prince, moved me. His absence was terribly present. He needs to give me a hug now.

While I had mixed feelings about different aspects of the book, I enjoyed it a lot. There isn’t much recapping so I had to quickly flip through the end of We Hunt the Flame to recall some of the specifics of the ending. Similar to it’s predecessor, it does drag a bit in the beginning but builds to an exciting climax–the book will have your emotions spiraling up and down. While the romance plays a larger role than expected, there is more than enough to satisfy the reader looking for action and adventure. I won’t lie though, I don’t think it compares to the ending we were given in We Hunt the Flame, which was magnificent. However, when it ended, I clutched it to my chest, sighing with relief and contentment. The anxiety of waiting to read it was over, and it was good, nearly as good as I hoped. I wanted to cradle it and roll around from all the happy feelings it brought me. (I’m smiling just thinking about it right now…squee)

Overall, We Free the Stars is an excellent follow-up to We Hunt the Flame. It is a tome of a book so be ready to stay up all night reading it–or possibly taking a nap in between–because it’ll be difficult to stop turning the pages. Sands of Arawiya is easily one of the best duologies I’ve read.

Cars, Signs, and Porcupines! (2021)

by Ethan Long
ASN/ISBN: 9781250765987
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Happy County #3

**I was provided a complimentary copy from the publisher. I voluntarily read it and played activities with it. All opinions are my own…and that of my nieces of course.**

In Cars, Signs, and Porcupines, kids get the opportunity to learn about Happy County while porcupines go on the loose, subsequently learning about things they might see around the communities they live in. findsomethingblueAt first glance, it can seem a bit overwhelming because many of the pages have a lot going on, but once the reading begins and the fun starts, the feeling quickly subsides. The pages are colorful and bustling with so many potential activities beyond what’s written in the book.  It encourages children to interact with each other and with adults. My nieces and I spent more than an hour perusing the pages, going over the content, and playing “I Spy.”  One of my nieces was ruthless spying “something blue” while the other went easy on me with “something black and white.” We had a great time with it! My nieces loved it and were not ready to close the book.